Written and directed by Victor Salva
With an opening aerial shot of a tree-lined and manicured cul-de-sac besieged by braying dogs and the strobing lights of emergency vehicles, writer/director Victor Salva’s feature film Rosewood Lane immediately sets the stage that something isn’t right in the suburbs of America. Unfortunately, however, for this writer and a good portion of the Screamfest audience who with anticipation greeted the flick (it had its world premiere there on October 15th), we found during its subsequent running time that there isn’t much right with the film itself either.
Filmmaker Salva, whose previous writer/director credits include several genre films, most notably Clownhouse, Powder and the well received Jeepers Creepers series, here turns in his addition to the sub-genre of ‘evil next door’ flicks and has likened the intended tone of Rosewood Lane to John Carpenter’s classic Halloween. Delivering the story of radio talk show host and psychiatrist Doctor Sonny Blake (portrayed by Rose McGowan), who upon returning to her childhood home following the death of her alcoholic father finds herself beleaguered by local paperboy and sociopath Derek Barber (actor Daniel Ross Owens), Salva’s set-up certainly allows for plenty of creative leeway. Artistically the narrative roads available here are myriad, and given that the filmmaker first wrote the script nearly twenty years ago, one would hope that during the ensuing decades it would have been honed to a razor’s edge, or at the very least would attempt to introduce a villain even fractionally as memorable as the one in the flick Salva pays homage to (i.e., Halloween).
Paperboy Derek is no Michael Myers, however.
Herein lays the problem. Salva’s opus is supposed to be a horror film, yet comes across as if it were tooled as a Lifetime Network drama, and with the exception of McGowan’s rather unnerving face-to-face introduction to the paperboy (his newspaper subscription selling technique isn’t going to earn him any commissions, let’s put it that way), Rosewood Lane simply isn’t scary. As an audience we are to believe (as the residents of the titular community communicate) that the teen with the black eyes is truly a force to be feared, although his terror tactics simply fail to resonate. Case in point: The act of breaking into someone’s home to rearrange their collection of ceramic figurines may be unnerving to the one who endures such a personal invasion (as McGowan’s character suffers in the film), but as a plot point it doesn’t cinematically translate. The actress’ subsequent scripted and emotional reaction of “Don’t you see? The bear always goes on the left, and the ballerina always goes on the right!” thusly comes across as unintentionally funny, which clearly was not what Salva had in mind.
Other scripted methods of ‘terror’ as perpetuated by the paperboy include phone calls to McGowan in which he ominously recites to her… nursery rhymes. Thusly, the ‘thriller’ aspect intended never manifests either, although given such half-hearted methods of harassment, how could it? Masked killers wielding butcher knives tend to lend an audience anxiety; an adolescent glowering from the seat of his Schwinn? Not so much.
These moments and the script overall leave audience members scratching their collective heads as the film is rife with baffling plot turns, characters who consistently make the most illogical of decisions, abandoned sub-plots (and players), plot holes a’plenty and a second act sequence that betrays the third reel’s reveal (a reveal that ultimately makes little sense anyway); and while lead McGowan does her best with the material she’s been given, her acting prowess alone can’t buoy the proceedings. As for the supporting cast, which is comprised of the talented Lauren Vélez, Ray Wise, Lin Shaye and Lesley-Anne Down, they unfortunately aren’t given much to work with either, and subsequently their characters register as rather one-dimensional (actor Rance Howard is the one exception; he somehow fills his character’s boots with significant sand in the brief screen time he’s given as the neighborhood’s fearful historian).
While production values are good — cinematographer Don E. FauntLeRoy effectively sets the suburban tone, and film editor Ed Marx keeps things moving along briskly — Rosewood Lane struggles with its identity. Themes of child abuse permeate but are never adequately explored, and Salva seems to inject the film with a perplexing sensibility which does little to serve the narrative. A scene in which the impaled, subversive and unrepentant paperboy mockingly laughs at the Rockwell’ian residents of Rosewood Lane is perhaps telling, as is actor Sonny Marinelli’s espousing of “There’s no good or evil. There’s simply what can hurt you and what won’t. The rest is only opinion.” None of these moments do much to inform the characters’ depth or back-story, although as art reflects life, they may be intended to communicate something else. A scene of backyard cat-and-mouse which culminates in an ocular and rather bizarre ‘glory hole’ moment and the rumination on the judicial system’s outlook regarding minors’ legal culpability, too, do little to foment a compelling narrative, nor do they elicit audience empathy for the film’s principals, all whom exist in shades of grey and self-absorption.
Perhaps it is in these underpinnings that Rosewood Lane ultimately succeeds in being frightening.
1 out of 5
Us and Them Review – Fantastic Acting Bolsters a Tense Standoff
Starring Jack Roth, Andrew Tiernan, Tim Bentinck, Sophie Colquhoun
Written by Joe Martin
Directed by Joe Martin
The age old debate of “Is this movie actually horror?” has been around for decades and will probably carry on for the rest of eternity. As Kristy Puchko recently tweeted, “Just because you think it’s also art doesn’t mean it’s not horror. It just means your definition of “horror” is too damn narrow.” Horror should be able to cast a wide net, just as films in the comedy and drama genres are able to. Where that goes awry is when a film simply doesn’t know its own identity, as is the case with Joe Martin’s feature-length directorial debut Us and Them.
The film follows Danny (Roth), a young man struggling in his lower class status and bristling with untapped rage at the 1% who use the downtrodden as footstools for their enterprises. Hatching a plan with his pals Tommy and Sean to break into the home of a wealthy banker, that scheme quickly becomes unraveled as thread after thread beings unraveling from the original tapestry. Determined but without a Plan B, Danny attempts to use the opportunity to drive home a message to the masses via social media to show that the 99% need to rise up against the 1% and create, as he says, some consistency. But as tensions arise within Danny, Tommy, and Sean, it’s questionable whether or not the night will end in triumphant rebellion or sadistic revenge.
Clocking in at a lean 83 minutes, Us and Them doesn’t waste any time getting straight to the point. Within the first few minutes, we’re already deep mix and ready to watch Danny take on the “man”, to see him wage war against the establishment. But as the film goes on, his mission begins to feel empty as his lack of a plan is mirrored by the misdirection of his anger towards a family that, for all intents and purposes, might be snobbish but haven’t been shown to hurt anyone personally.
This resulting conflict then raises questions about the greater fight that Danny has decided to undertake and champion. Who is the real villain of this story? Who is the hero? Who are we even supposed to care one bit about? While Danny spouts on and on about the injustices of the world, his tortuous methods are cruel and manipulative, undermining his own self-righteousness.
Us and Them practically screams its Ritchie, Tarantino, and de Palma influences. From split screen scenes to “hip” and “cool” licensed background music, Martin clearly wants to be seen in the same realm. The problem is that his script leaps around with reckless abandon in an attempt to overly explain the simple story instead of finding ways to break it into new and exciting territory.
Despite these issues, it must be said that the performances are fantastic across the board. Roth shines as Danny, torn by his own personal griefs that can easily draw sympathy, while Bentinck’s almost frothing, slobbering disdain splashes across the screen. Even with only a few lines each, both Colquhoun as Phillipa and Carolyn Backhouse, who plays her mother, Margaret, revel in their terror. And while I have my critiques about the violence Danny inflicts, I cannot deny that it is brutal and makes for a squeamish experience. Martin milks every drop of the family’s fear to great effect.
While Us and Them comes at a time when financial inequality is undeniably an issue, the film loses its purpose just as it fails to cement itself as a heist thriller, a horror home invasion, or even a black comedy. Its unwillingness to embrace any, or even all, of these genres makes it a lacking film experience.
Us and Them is anchored by stellar performances, Roth especially, but it can’t decide what it wants to be or whom it wants to champion.
SockMonster Short Film Review – The Day The Laundry Fought Back
Starring Briana Evigan, Derek Mears, Soso Bianchi
Directed by Wesley Alley
While some might detest the prospect of doing laundry, I personally find it quite therapeutic – the act of separating the whites from the colors, the perfect amount of detergent to spruce up that awkwardly funky favorite shirt of yours, and then there’s the dryer…a beast all its own. Too long a cycle will have your garments shrunken down to the point where they could become a fashion accessory for a chihuahua – too short will have them wet, wrinkled and limp to the touch, kind of like grandma tucked away in the basement – okay, forget that last part. But what if one day, your laundry had just enough of your shit and decided to strike back in blinding semblance?
Enter Wesley Alley’s short film, SockMonster – produced by Darren Lynn Bousman, this 4 minute front-row seat to “laundrycide” if you will stars Briana Evigan as a grieving woman who looks longingly into the tumbling cylinder of her cellar dryer, almost as if something of hers has gone missing. Crouched on a cold-slab cement floor, she awaits for the door to open as soon as the appliance has run its course…and the results are less than spring-fresh. Alley’s direction coupled with the horror know-how of Bousman all add up to a seriously fun few minutes, and toss in the towering, menacing form of one Derek Mears, and you’ve got yourself an insanely concocted quickie that only has one glaring negative – it’s too damn short! Overall, I can’t recommend this one enough to those wanting a little blood with their bleach…just make sure to use the appropriate amount of stain-lifter, or that shit will NEVER come out.
Hate doing the wash? Well, maybe for one hot minute did you think about how much your wash hates you right back?
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep159 – Demons at the Door
For the last year, Producer Shane has been bugging the shit out of us to give him a “Producer Shane Pick”. After doing everything in our power to get him to forget about “his pick” Shane got his wish. This week we’re discussing 2004’s Demons at the Door, a movie who’s entire soundtrack is provided by none other than the Insane Clown Posse. Yup, it’s gonna be one of those shows!
You think you’ve got what it takes? I’ve been guarding my gate for a long time, bitch. It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 159!
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