Directed by Heitor Dhalial
When the closing credits of Gone began to roll, there was a sudden smattering of enthusiastic applause from a small group of women seated in the back of the theater. I came very close to eyeballing them and asking, “Really?” These ladies were truly riveted by what amounts to a Nancy Drew story for the Lifetime Network murder-mystery crowd? Apparently so.
Amanda Seyfried does give a strong performance as emotionally fragile heroine Jill Parish even if it is wasted on a mystery thriller devoid of both mystery and thrills built around a serial killer that exudes little to no menace.
A year ago Jill narrowly escaped an encounter with a serial killer that abducted her from her bed and tossed her in a hole in an Oregon national park. A year later she comes home from her late night waitressing job to find her college student sister missing from her bed in a scenario not all that different from how her ordeal began. She rushes to the police department to tell them the serial killer she escaped from came back looking for her but took her sister instead. The police don’t believe her and tell her it’s Friday and if her sister is still missing on Monday to come back.
Why are the police so unwilling to help? Because when they found Jill wandering the park a year earlier raving about being abducted and dumped in a hole, they couldn’t find any evidence to corroborate her story or the existence of any predator; and because she had gone a little crazy after her parents died and was briefly committed to a mental institution as a teenager; and because in the year since her alleged abduction, every single time a young women is reported missing, she’s trounced into the police station convinced the person that abducted her is responsible.
If there was supposed to be an element to the script to try and make viewers think as the police do that it’s all in her head, it got badly bungled along the way. It’s pretty apparent that she’s not hallucinating and the cops are contemptibly disagreeable only for the sake of furthering the plot.
Jill knows her sister will be dead by the end of the day if she isn’t found, and since the police think she’s nuts, it’s up to her to make like Nancy Drew and save her sibling by personally cracking the case of the mysterious hole-digging murderer known only as “Digger”. Well, she’s like Nancy Drew if Nancy Drew had a history of mental problems and brandished a snub-nosed revolver that would put a smile on Charles Bronson’s face.
More effort is put into mining suspense from Jill eluding police capture than just about anything actually involving the whereabouts of her sister and the maniac responsible. From the moment she pulls her gun on locksmith Joel David Moore, whom she confronts after asking a neighbor about any strangeness in the neighborhood the night before, who told her to go ask the creepier neighbor that saw a locksmith van in her driveway late at night, as much time is devoted to the police tracking her down as it is about her tracking the killer. According to police Lt. Michael Pare, if a former mental patient gets hold of a gun and shoots someone, somehow the local police department is fully liable, and therefore, bringing her in becomes their top priority. This leads to many near miss encounters with the cops, like the (sarcasm alert!) riveting scenes in which Jill has to find a way to escape from a hardware store bathroom after two police patrolmen have her cornered and when she fools another patrol car chasing her by pulling her hoodie over her head and walking up to some teen girls to blend in by talking about their mutual love of Justin Bieber.
I wasn’t kidding with all the Nancy Drew comparisons. In the early stages of her investigation, for every perfect stranger she questions, she gives them a cover story straight out of the Nancy Drew playbook. Did you see anyone suspicious in the neighborhood last night because someone stole my bicycle? I kid you not. She finds a receipt the killer left behind in a van that reads like a laundry list of kidnapper tools and takes it to the store they were bought under the guise that these items were purchased by her Alzheimer’s ridden grandfather who wandered off in the night.
This movie got a round of applause from grown adults? Really? I find that even harder to believe after the underwhelming finale that actually left me longing for a Shyamalan twist to the ending.
There is no real surprise to the killer’s identity, and the showdown the whole movie has been building up to resolves so quickly and easily the only way it could have been more underwhelming would have been if the moment Jill and “Digger” were finally in each other’s presence the cops jumped out of the bushes and arrested him.
From the moment his character was introduced, I kept thinking Wes Bentley was going to be killer because he was the only cop willing to believe Jill and he had this sinister expression on his face at nearly all times. I should have known better because this is Wes Bentley we’re talking about; constant creepy leering is his acting style. Like Joel David Moore and Jennifer Carpenter, Bentley is just there in a purposeless role not even developed enough to qualify as a red herring.
You know what “Dexter” co-star Jennifer Carpenter’s biggest contribution is to the plot? Her character loans a desperate Jill her car at the 11th hour. That’s it. That’s her big scene. One scene early in the film even went out of its way to establish her vehicle ownership just to set up this scene near the end when Jill shows up to tearfully beg to borrow her car.
You know why this movie is called Gone>? Because the suspense is gone, the tension is gone, and the intrigue is gone. Everything you want from a psychological thriller and a serial killer chiller is gone.
1 1/2 out of 5
The Dollmaker Short Film Review – Welcome to Heebie Jeebie City!
Starring Perri Lauren, Sean Meehan, Dan Berkey
Directed by Alan Lougher
The loss of a young child drives a mother to take a set of unusual measures to preserve his memory, and all it takes is one call to The Dollmaker.
When the short film by Alan Lougher opens up, we see a rather disturbing image of a little boy inside a casket, and the sound of a grieving mom speaking with an unidentified man in the background – he’s requesting something personal of the child to help “finish” his product, and it’s not before long that mom has her little boy back…well, kind of. What remains of the child is the representation of his former self, although it’s contained within the frame of a not-so-attractive doll, and the boy’s father isn’t a believer in this type of hocus-pocus (or the price to have this constructed, either). The doll comes with a specific set of instructions, but most importantly, you cannot spend more than one hour a day with the doll, or else you’ll go mad thinking that the soul inside of it is actually the person that you lost – sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?
Well this is just too good to be true for Mommy, and as the short film progresses, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to her mind – it’s ultimately a depressing scenario, but Lougher gives it that creepy feel, almost like visiting a relative’s home and seeing their dearly departed pet stuffed and staring at you over the fireplace – HEEBIE-JEEBIE CITY, if you ask me. All in all, the quickie is gloomy, but ultimately chilling in nature, and is most definitely worth a watch, and if I might use a quote from one of my favorite films to apply to this subject matter: “Sometimes…dead is better.”
Ultimately chilling in nature!
DIS Review – Not for the Faint of Heart!
Starring Bill Oberst, Jr., Lori Jo Hendrix, Peter Gonzales Falcon
Directed by Adrian Corona
I’ve made this claim many a time on this website before, and in the company of film friends as well: Bill Oberst Jr. is one of those actors that can literally be thrust into ANY role, and deliver a performance with so much harnessed electricity that you couldn’t believe that it was possible. I was the lucky recipient chosen to get a look at his latest project, titled DIS, and I think that I can honestly say – this is the stuff that nightmares are constructed of.
Directed by Adrian Corona, this 60-minute dive into the black depths of hell, and in actuality DIS is located between circles # 6 and 9 in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and trust me when I tell you – there’s not a shred of comedic relief in this demented presentation. Oberst Jr plays an ex-soldier named Ariel, and his seemingly harmless jaunt through the woods will become anything but that, and judging from the film’s opening scenes, you are meant to feel as uncomfortable about this watch as any you might have checked out in recent memory.
Perversion is the norm here, and lord help you if you’re caught where you shouldn’t be…my skin’s crawling just thinking about what I saw. Ariel’s travels are basically dialogue-free, but it only adds to the infinite levels of creepiness – you can tell he’s being stalked, and the distance between he and the horrors that await are closing in rather quickly.
Visually by itself, this hour-long chiller can sell tickets without any assistance – hollowed-out buildings and long sweeping shots of a silent forest give the movie that look of complete desolation. Sliced up into three acts, the film wastes no time in setting up the story of a killer needing fresh blood to appease his Mandrake garden – seriously guys, I can’t type as much flashy stuff as there needs to be in order to describe this innately disturbing production.
If you’re one of those types who tends to shy away from the graphic side of things, then I’d HIGHLY advise you to keep your TV tuned to the Hallmark Channel for some holiday entertainment, because this one registers high on the “I can’t believe someone thought of this” meter. So the quick recap is this: Oberst Jr in a standout performance, visual excellence, and an unshakable sense of debasement on a cellular level – keep the kiddies out of the living room with this one. Corona should be lauded (or locked up – just kidding) for his work on this one – HIGHLY recommended, and one that I’ll throw down as a top 5 for me in 2017.
Director Corona should be lauded (or locked up – just kidding) for his work on this one – HIGHLY recommended!
Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End Review – A Heavy Metal Massacre In Cartoon Form
Starring Alex House, Bill Turnbull, Maggie Castle, Melanie Leishman, Chris Leavins, Jason Mewes
Directed by Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace
“Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil” – Canadian television’s greatest blend of Evil Dead, Superbad and Deathgasm? Yes. That answer is yes. For two face-melting seasons, Todd “protected” Crowley High from episodic villains who were bested by metal riffs, stoner logic and hormonal companionship. Musical interruptions showcased stage theatrics like Sondheim meets pubescent Steel Panther and high school tropes manifested into vile, teen-hungry beasts. It was like a coming-of-age story got stuck between Fangoria pages – all the awkwardness with 100x more guts.
That – for worse – was until Todd fell to a premature cancellation after Season 2’s clone-club cliffhanger. Indiegogo became the show’s only way to deliver a feature-length finale, except to reduce costs and ensure completion, the project would have to be in cartoon form. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End suggests an animated curtain call for this otherwise live-action production, and from a fan’s perspective, familiar maturation follies befall our favorite bloodsoaked friend group. But for new viewers? Start with the far-superior original show – you’ll be lost, underwhelmed and baffled otherwise.
Alex House retains his characterization of Todd Smith (in voice only). At this point, Todd has thwarted the book’s apocalyptic plan, Hannah (Melanie Leishman) has died, longtime crush Jenny (Maggie Castle) isn’t as horny for Todd anymore, and best friend Curtis (Bill Turnbull) has sworn Todd’s name to Hell (since Hannah was his girlfriend). Guidance Counselor Atticus Murphy Jr. (Chris Leavins) is now Janitor Atticus Murphy Jr. because Janitor Jimmy (Jason Mewes) is now Counselor Jimmy, yet Crowley High finds itself plagued by the same satanic uprisings despite these new changes. Why is evil still thriving! How is Hannah back in class! Who is the new “Pure Evil One” now that Todd has denied the book! Welcome to the end, friends – or is it a new beginning?
At just north of 80 minutes, structure runs a bit jagged. We’re used to Todd battling one baddie over a half-hour block – backstory given time to breathe – but in The End Of The End, two mini-boss cretins play
second fifth-fiddle to the film’s big-bad monster (well, monsters – but you’ll see). A double-dose of high school killers followed by a larger, more important battle with the gang’s fate hanging in the balance. Not a problem, it’s just that more length is spent singing songs about Todd’s non-functioning schlong and salvaging relationships from the S2 finale. Exposition (what little there is) chews into necessary aggression time – fans left ravenous for more versatile carnage, underwhelmed by the umpteenth cartoon erection gag. Did I mention there’s a lot of boner material, yet?
These two mini “chapters” – “No Vest For The Wicked” (yarn demon)/”Zits Alors” (acid acne) – never come close to rivaling Hannah Williams’ doppelganger bombshell (“Songs About Boners”/”This Is The End Of The End Of the End”). Hannah [X]. Williams waking up in a room full of other Hannahs, emerging from some sleep-pod chamber; Todd’s gang facing off against this new “chosen one” in a way that erases “Sack Boy” and “Pizza Face” from memory. The End Of The End dashes dildoes-swinging into the show’s biggest mystery while dropping call-backs and bodies with equal speed – maybe too hastily for some.
Now, about the whole pivot to animation – a smooth rendering of Crowley High and all its mayhem, but never representative of Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil‘s very Ash Vs. Evil Dead vibe. All the practical death effects (gigantic man-eating cakes, zombie rockstars) are lost to one-dimensional drawings, notable chemistry between cast members replaced by edited recordings lacking signature wits. This isn’t Metalocalypse, where dismemberment and bloodshed are gruesome on levels that outshine even live-action horror flicks. There’s no denying some of the magic is missing without Chris Leavins’ “creepy uncle” overacting (a Will Forte breed) or the book’s living incarnations of evil. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End plays hooded minion to Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil’s dark ruler – less powerful, a bit duncier, but still part of the coolest cult around. Just try not to think about how much radness is missing inside hand-traced Crowley High?
It’s hard not to strike comparisons between “reality” and ‘toon, because as noted above, live actors are sorely missed in a plethora of situations. Be they musical numbers, heretic slayings, Todd and Curtis’ constant references to wanking, wangs or other pelvic nods (no, for real, like every other sentence) – human reactions no longer temper such aggressive, self-gratifying cocksmanship. It doesn’t help that songs never reach the memorable level of “Horny Like The Devil,” but the likes of House, Leishman, Turnbull and Castle were masters of selling schlock, shock and Satan’s asshole of situations. Instead, lines now land flat like – for example – Leavins’ lessened ability to turn pervy, stalkerish quips into hilarious underage stranger-dangers. Again, it’s not Metalocalypse – and without that kind of designer depth, a wall prevents inter-dimensional immersion into Todd’s extracurricular madness.
If this review sounds over-negative, fret not – it’s merely wishes of what could have been. None of this is to say Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End should be skipped. When you’re already known for masterstrokes of ballbusting immaturity, metal-horned malevolence and vicious teen-angst creature vanquishing, expectations are going to be sky high. Directors Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace successfully service fans with a smile, ensuring that rivers of red scribbled blood spurt from decapitated school children just like we’re used to. It’s just, I mean – ugh, sorry, I just have to say it one more time. BY DIMEBAG’S BEARD, this would have been an epic live-action flick. As is? Still one fine-with-a-capital-F-YEAH return to Crowley High for the faithful who’ve been waiting some 5-or-so years in a Todd-less purgatory.
Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End brings closure to hungry fans in all the ways they’d hope – albeit turned down a notch through animation. Over-the-top kills and headbanging metal riffs still reign supreme, they’re just drawn by hand instead of oozing practical effects this time.
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