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Undocumented (2010)

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UndocumentedStarring Scott Mechlowicz, Alona Tal, Yancey Arias, Greg Serano, Kevin Weisman, Chad Brummett, Tim Draxl

Directed by Chris Peckover

Distributed by IFC Films


Undocumented comes at a very interesting time in both our political and cinematic climates. With Republican Presidential candidates arguing over the merits of building a fence at our Border with Mexico and debating whether or not children of illegals in the US are entitled to an education, a film about a documentary team following a group of immigrants attempting to enter the country, illegally of course, couldn’t be more pertinent. And of course since they’re making a documentary, that means Undocumented is just the next in a long line of cinéma vérité style flicks, right? Actually, wrong. There is some first-person footage, but the majority of what we’re watching is third-person so that in and of itself is quite an accomplishment these days!

We’ll get back to how successful the filmmakers’ refreshing hybrid approach is, but first let’s do a bit of plot crunching. Davie (Serano) and a crew that includes director Travis (Mechlowicz), producer Liz (Tal), soundman Jim (Weisman), and cameraman William (Draxl) have a mission: to help Davie’s cousin Alberto (Arias), his wife, and daughter cross the Border and join his family here in the States after Davie’s uncle is seriously injured in an accident at a plant run by ruthless capitalist Whitaker (Brummett). After paying off a rather shady character to hook them up, our fearless quintet, Alberto and his family, and a random few others head off on their journey. After an excruciating trek through an underground tunnel (my claustrophobia senses were tingling during this part for sure) and then being crammed into the back of a dark and almost airless truck cab (more tension and dread for this writer, thank you very much), our travelers find themselves hijacked, not by the Border Patrol officers they feared, but instead by a self-appointed group of cruel and bigoted extreme Right Wingers who have taken it upon themselves to impose their own form of vigilante “justice” on their unsuspecting captives in a makeshift prison they’ve constructed out in the middle of nowhere. As Travis is told menacingly upon their arrival, “Whatever you think this is, it’s much worse.” Scary words, aren’t they? And prophetic.

It doesn’t matter that Davie, Travis, Liz, and the others are Americans – the ringleader, Z, and his followers, all of whom keep their faces hidden throughout the ordeal, aren’t about to show any mercy to anyone. Until they realize that maybe they can use the situation to their advantage and force the crew to film them in action in order to both deter more Mexicans from crossing over and use the footage as a recruitment video for like-minded individuals. As you can imagine, things don’t go too well from there.

The first act of Undocumented kept me riveted. The script co-written by director Peckover and Joe Peterson was taut and engaging, and the entire cast rose to the occasion, especially Mechlowicz and Tal, whom fans of “Supernatural” will be pleased to see has improved immensely since her days of playing the much maligned “Jo”. But then it happened – the second act and our introduction to Z and his army. Things began feeling “off”, and some of the dialogue verged on cheesy as a result of its erratic delivery by the masked men. Undocumented started to lose me. But overall I loved the message and the way Peckover was steering the ship up to that point so I hung in there, and thankfully by the time Act 3 rolled around, the pace picked up, the violence increased dramatically, and our protagonists finally started on the course of action they should have taken from the very beginning. It isn’t often a film can recover from such a misstep, but kudos to Peckover and his actors for doing just that. A big pat on the back also to the actor portraying Z, who, after a somewhat rocky start, did finally manage to reel me in and get me to believe in him. I’m not going to say who it is and spoil the reveal because not knowing the actor goes a long way toward upping the believability. You may recognize the voice (or, like this reviewer, cheat and check the IMDB before the film is over), but keeping him anonymous as long as possible is the best way to go.

Now, as for the whole cinéma vérité/found footage phenomenon we’ve been inundated with over the past couple of years in films, kudos again to everyone involved with Undocumented who decided to go a different way. The traditional narrative approach serves the subject matter well and enables the audience to see things from all the various perspectives as an alternative to the ever so ubiquitous first-person angle. The amount of first-person footage utilized is just right, as is the screenplay’s point of view, which forces the viewer to think about how he or she might react in a similar situation. Would you stand idly by filming while acts of hate and depravity are taking place around you, or would you risk your life to help the victims? Heavy stuff for a horror film nowadays, and I can’t stress enough how welcome it is. Could we be seeing a return to the themes of politics and ethics so prevalent in the Sixties and Seventies? One can only hope!

Undocumented, while far from perfect, is a strong entry in today’s indie horror scene, and IFC is to be commended for taking a chance with it. Seek it out if you’re looking for something different than just another hand-held, shaky-cam snoozefest. It will put you on edge, make you think, and best of all reassure you that horror is far from dead in this decade. It just needed to take a little detour into the backwoods — and backward minds — of America for inspiration.

3 1/2 out of 5

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American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review

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Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo

Directed by Colin Bemis


Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.

The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.

As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!

Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.

Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.

In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.

On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.

In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.

Until then, check out the film’s trailer HERE, and follow the movie on Facebook.

  • Strawberry Flavored Plastic
3.5

Summary

Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.

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Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)

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We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.

In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.

Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!

If you like what you hear, please consider joining our Patreon subscribers. For less than the cost of a beer, you get bonus content, exclusive merchandise, special giveaways, and you get to help us continue doing what we love.

The Who Goes There Podcast is available to subscribe to on iTunes right here. Not an iTunes user? You can listen on our Dread Central page. Can’t get enough? We also do that social media shit. You’ll find us on FacebookTwitterInstagramTwitch, and YouTube.

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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View

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Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly

Directed by Marcel Sarmiento


Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as

17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?

What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.

  • Film
2.0

Summary

Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?

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