Starring Andrew Keegan, John Heard, Esmé Bianco, William Sadler, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Jordan Hinson, Hunter Gomez, Chad Todhunter
Written by Brian A. Metcalf
Directed by Brian A. Metcalf
Brian A. Metcalf’s Living Among Us is a fun little riff on vampire mythos albeit an incomplete bite. It’s somewhere between Daybreakers and What We Do In The Shadows concerning theme, as the film utilizes found footage to normalize bloodsucking lifestyles – but execution sometimes goes pale in the face. Scenes benefit from characterized night creatures who crave television spotlights, while others couldn’t be more generic in terms of evidence playback hurdles. Note to future filmmakers – the more your characters ask the narrative filmer why they’re still rolling, the more we, your audience, will do the same. Just one of a few reasons Living Among Us whiffs on total immersion.
Introductory B-roll opens on newscaster clips that speak of vampirism as a medical affliction. It turns out that a local documentarian (Mike, played by Thomas Ian Nicholas) uncovered a deal between blood donors and vampires to keep infected bellies fed. New vampires preach domestication and want to be one with their human brothers, which leads Mike to an interview opportunity with a house full of agreeable vampires. He’ll interview them, witness their practices and hopefully turn people to the side of compassion – if that’s the vampire community’s true intention.
It all starts innocently enough upon meeting Metcalf’s “diseased” family. The late John Heard plays Andrew, his household’s venture capitalist leader, with Esmé Bianco as pristine wife Elleanor. There’s Andrew Keegan as playboy son Blake and Chad Todhunter as definitely-not-OK son Selvin. Their house echoes classic piano background notes and glows a charming sophistication, the family all dressed in different styles of black garb (Blake’s leather, Andrew’s buttoned attire). Maybe they’re the all-American family next door who just need to drink imported Croatian blood now and again?
As expected, Mike’s team – including Hunter Gomez as newbie cameraman Benny and Jordan Hinson as Mike’s ex-girlfriend/sound tech Carrie – find themselves a part of some bigger scheme. Footage should capture Andrew’s clan in their newly restrained, assimilated ways, but instead secrets of their savagery begin to leak. Sect Leader Samuel (William Sadler) is the one who sets Mike up with the unprecedented access, as it turns out for a double-sided reason. Granted, no one finds it a bit fishy or suspect that three humans would be asked to stay over and record a vampire family’s every move (except when asleep) – turn those blind eyes now, genre vets.
Highlights on the evidence tape include but are not limited to: Blake’s party-rock attitude about decapitating stoners and keeping up with old world ways, Selvin’s obvious creep factor, a basement rendezvous with reality – Metcalf has fun playing around with vampire norms. Blake, for instance, has adapted to indirect sunlight but still gets “crispy fried” under pure beams. Attitudes between Mike’s subjects vary from posh regality to Edward Cullen on a bender, and it’s somewhat inviting. Curiosity about Earth’s vampire epidemic teases some larger scale thinking that would have been an added bonus to explore, but we’re stuck with Andrew, Eleonore and the rest. Bound to basics.
Living Among Us is rarely about subtlety, starting with the first on-camera interview that Andrew immediately cuts off in a skittish huff. Then he nixes Blake only minutes later, in an obvious attempt to hide unsavory details. It’s never a question that nefarious plans are afoot, which Carrie somehow gets caught in when she’s stricken ill after night one. The more Andrew pulls back the curtain, the more Benny protests and the more Mike falls victim to mistakes of found footage corpses past. Corralled by vampires around every turn, imprisoned by his documentarian mindset and weak attempts to play it cool. Expect shadowy shades of every found footage plot ever faked for exposure – and an anticlimactic run-away-arms-flailing scene featuring Carrie.
I do believe Living Among Us will find an audience because there are certain mechanics that work towards updating vampire storytelling with a modern flair. Camera quality is crisp and somewhat steady, sans finicky spy lenses rigged through buttonholes. That said, character mapping is repetitive and intent is never hidden, which makes for predictability minus the lesbian sister vamps who make out in a pool (for no added clarity). Fun at times, festering at others. Hopefully you’ll be one of the minions who take to their vampire masters as Brian A. Metcalf hopes?
In the end, it’s not some questionable stretch of ADR tuning or masked CGI effects (which surprisingly work in context) that mark Living Among Us for the graveyard. Blake’s roasting forearm passes as a cool vampire magic trick, for example. Instead, it’s this on-screen progression that treats audiences like they’ve never seen found footage before. Explanations are swept under a pile of rugs in favor of characters who ignore red flags like senior year homework assignments. Generic to the core despite intriguing genre flare-ups – but worth your own investigation, nonetheless.
I like the world of Living Among Us and the medical explanations for vampirism, but only with less found footage redundancies. If only there was an air freshener livening up this stuffy casket watch.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 152 – Cloverfield Paradox & The Ritual
Last week Netflix shocked the world by not only releasing a new trailer for Cloverfield Paradox during the Superbowl, but announcing the film would be available to stream right after the game. In a move no one saw coming, Netflix shook the film industry to it’s very core. A few days later, Netflix quietly released horror festival darling: The Ritual.
Hold on to your Higgs Boson, because this week we’ve got a double header for ya, and we’re not talking about that “world’s largest gummy worm” in your mom’s nightstand. Why was one film marketed during the biggest sporting event of the year, and why was one quietly snuck in like a pinky in your pooper? Tune in a find out!
Meet me at the waterfront after the social for the Who Goes There Podcast episode 152!
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The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger
Written and directed by Derek Nguyen
Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.
Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.
Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.
Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.
Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.
The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.
Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.
The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.
Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.
Scorched Earth Review – Gina Carano Making Motherf**kers Pay In The Apocalypse
Starring Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins
Written by Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson
Directed by Peter Howitt
Let me preface this review by stating right off the bat that I’m a huge Gina Carano fan, and will pretty much accept her in any role that she’s put in (are you going to tell her no), regardless of the structure and plausibility behind it, and while that might make me a tad-bit biased in my opinions, just accept it as that and nothing more. Now that I’ve professed my cinematic devotion to the woman, let’s dive headlong into her latest film, Scorched Earth.
Directed by Peter Howitt, the backdrop is an apocalyptic world brought on by the imminent disaster known as global warming, and the air has become toxic to intake, generally leaving inhabitants yacking up blood and other viscous liquids after a prolonged exposure, unless you’re one of the privileged that possesses a filter lined with powdered silver. Filters of water and the precious metal are in high demand, and only true offenders in this world still drive automobiles, effectively speeding up the destruction of what’s left of the planet. Carano plays Atticus Gage, a seriously stoic and tough-as-nails bounty hunter who is responsible for taking these “criminals” down, and her travels lead her to a compound jam-packed with bounties that will have her collecting riches until the end of time…but aren’t we at the end of time already? Anyway, Gage’s main opponent here is a man by the name of Thomas Jackson (Robbins) – acting as the leader of sorts to these futuristic baddies, the situation of Gage just stepping in and taking him out becomes a bit complicated when…oh, I’m not going to pork this one up for you all – you’ve got to invest the time into it just as I did, and trust me when I tell you that the film is pretty entertaining to peep.
While Carano’s acting still needs some refining, let there be no ever-loving mistake that this woman knows how to beat the shit out of people, and for all intents and purposes this will be the thing that carries her through many a picture. There are much larger roles in the future for Gina, and she’ll more than likely take over as a very big player in the industry – hey, I’m a gambling man, and I’ve done pretty well with my powers of prognostication. With that being said, the thing that does hold this picture back is the plot itself- it’s a bit stale and not overly showy, and when I look for a villain to oppose the hero, I’m wanting someone with at least a shred of a magnetic iota, and I just couldn’t latch onto anything with Robbins’ performance – his character desperately needed an injection of “bad-assness” and it hurt in that particular instance.
In the end of it all, I’d recommend Scorched Earth to fans of directionless, slam-bang wasteland pics with a touch of unrestrained violence…plus, Gina Carano is in it, so you can’t go wrong. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, feel free to skate on along to another piece of barren territory.
Looking to get your butt kicked in the apocalypse with extreme prejudice? Drive on up, and allow me to introduce you to someone who’ll be more than happy to oblige.
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