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Bxx: Haunted (Web Series)

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Daniel Knauf's Bxx: Haunted ReviewStarring Jeffery Bell, Kalinda Gray, Lynda Reynoso, Ryan Hannah King, Brent McGregor, Michael O’Connell, Kayte Arnett

Created and written by Daniel Knauf

Directed by Cliff Osmond


When Daniel Knauf (“Carnivale”, “Spartacus: Vengeance”) created what he calls the Bxx narrative, he had to create new tools just to write the script. By opening up new dimensions in storytelling, he couldn’t rely on the tools that worked for him in the past on traditional projects.

I find myself in the same situation. This is going to be a slightly unconventional review because all of the usual methods of critique don’t quite apply here. This is a new kind of storytelling so a new form of critiquing that storytelling is needed. This is going to be a long review. Much like Haunted itself. For future Bxx projects I’m sure I’ll find a way to trim it down, but for now I need some room. Bear with me; it’s worth your while.

I have to start off by letting you know just what a Bxx narrative is.

Upon entering a Bxx site, you’re presented with controls to view the action of a linear narrative from different vantage points. Using those controls, you view the story. It’s entirely up to you how you view the story. You can skip around, watch it in chronological order, whatever you like. If you find a conversation or character that you want to follow, you can do so and ignore those you don’t care about.

That’s the innovation of Bxx: Tt’s the first multi-threaded narrative. It’s not exactly interactive, as a video game would be, in that you don’t influence the narrative in any way. This isn’t a “choose your own adventure” book converted to video. However, you control what you see, when you see it, what order you see it in, and how much time you spend on the story. You can view the entire story in a few hours, or hundreds of them – it depends on what you want to see.

So if that’s what Bxx is, what is Bxx: Haunted?

Haunted is best described as a prototype. Made for very little money and a great deal of sweat and crowd-sourced labor, Haunted is designed to be an example of what the Bxx narrative can do. This is where things get tricky: Both the technology and the format are prototypes, but so are the story and the performances. This is entirely new from top to bottom. Just like Bxx will split off from plot to plot, here’s where the review is going to split.

The Bxx Narrative and Technology

First I’m going to talk about the Bxx concept and the technology used in this specific application. This has to be considered separately from this exact story because the concept can fail while the story sails, and vice versa.

In the case of Bxx: Haunted (watch it here), you’re presented with an interface upon entering the site. The “dashboard” is a blueprint of a house. Inside this blueprint there are icons to select sixteen different cameras. Up top there are controls to select exact segments of time from the beginning to the end, thirty-two hours later. Segments are six minutes long. So, for each segment of time you have sixteen vantage points to view what happened in the house during that segment.

Daniel Knauf's Bxx: Haunted Review

While the story isn’t interactive, there is definitely a strong element of exploration, and that exploration is rewarded. As you follow the narrative, you collect evidence. If a character in a segment shoots a video on a handheld camera, or mentions a historical point, that item might be unlocked for you in the Evidence, Background, or Investigation tabs at the top of the interface. This allows you to dig deeper into the story, if you choose. Some of these are available from the beginning, which will allow you shortcuts to the “action”. If an investigator report says they saw something at a certain time on a specific camera, it’s easy to jump to that point and see what they saw.

Telling the tale of a paranormal investigation that goes very, very wrong, Bxx: Haunted implements an interface that fits the theme and works into the story. The sixteen cameras are placed there by the team to capture activity and record the investigation. In the case of Haunted, everything technical fits into the story itself. All video, audio, and other evidence is collected on-screen or otherwise fits directly into the narrative. Conceivably, a Bxx story could be written without giving a narrative excuse for the camera presences, but in this case everything is part of the tale.

The interface is intuitive. There’s a brief intro upon entering the site if you have trouble, but I spent weeks on the site before the intro was available and was never confused. Sliding the timeline control can be a little tricky when choosing a precise time, and selecting segments can be a little confusing. Once you find your segment, however, following the action is incredibly easy. This is one of the benefits of this type of project as opposed to other formats: They can make changes as they like, based on feedback from their users. The controls were almost completely redesigned between the closed beta and the public launch based on such feedback, for example.

I found a specific rhythm to how I followed things within just a few segments. I imagine most viewers would do the same. You can open multiple cameras and have them sync up, start one camera and then start another and have them out of sync so you can see action being referred to in the first happening in the second, etc. There’s a bit of creativity to how you want to take in the story, and this part of the Bxx concept works absolutely perfectly.

The primary roadblock that Haunted runs into is a technical one: The audio on the clips leaves a great deal to be desired. Likely due to budget limitations and exacerbated by the location chosen, the microphones on the cameras are relatively poor. Loud noises cause them to distort and fuzz out so when there’s shouting, it’s easy to lose what’s being said. Their sensitivity works against them in other areas as well. When someone is speaking softly, it’s extremely difficult to hear them…not because the mics can’t pick them up, but because they almost always pick up louder noises and voices in other areas of the relatively small house which drown out the softer talking. This is a critical problem, as people tend to talk softly when discussing critical plot points and loudly when they’re just shooting the breeze. While the actor who played Emil Grant did an amazing job, his voice is dramatically louder than the others, and if he’s in another part of the house while a quiet conversation is going on, you’re often going to hear him even though he’s a room or two away. It’s not his fault at all, just a limitation of the technology used, combined with the small location.

The video quality is solid enough for this project. It’s not amazing, but you never get frustrated trying to see a detail. It’s even clear enough to detect things such as palette shifts that denote plot points. Future projects will be in HD according to Knauf, which would be nice, but not as necessary as improved audio or even limited ADR to patch in important conversations that are lost.

None of this is a dealbreaker. Understanding that this is a prototype makes it easy to understand that issues such as the poor microphones and small, echo-prone location would easily be remedied with a bigger budget and with lessons learned. There’s still plenty here to enjoy; it’s just mildly frustrating at times. If you run into one, just move along; there’s more after it.

As for how the Bxx narrative works as a concept, Haunted does effectively prove what can be done. Within just a few hours on the site, I had probably half a dozen ideas of what could be done in various genres using the concept. I’m not sure it’s the next evolution in storytelling, as Knauf claims, but it shows enough promise to be a new and exciting way to present fictional stories using the technology of the web.

So that’s the Bxx concept and tech in this application; now I need to talk about the story.

Bxx: Haunted, The Story

In Haunted we join the investigation of a house that’s seen no small amount of horror. Dr. Jeremy Johnson and his team of three have won the right to do one last investigation of what’s known as the Blaylock House, named after its final occupants. They’re joined by Elizabeth Escobar, a psychic who was present during the last investigation of the house over a decade before, and Emil Grant, a lawyer with CalTrans, who now own the house and plan on demolishing it two days later to make room for a freeway expansion.

With sixteen cameras capturing the investigation, these six people plan to spend forty-eight hours inside the house in an attempt to prove the existence of an afterlife.

Things do not go well.

This project was shot entirely in real time. This has to be said upfront. I’ve wracked my movie-nerd brain and can’t think of another ensemble piece shot for thirty-two hours continuously, with no cuts or edits. Hasn’t happened before. These six performers have accomplished the unthinkable in acting out this story over that length of time with no breaks, having to sleep on camera multiple times, while staying in character, reacting to special effects not yet added, and pushing through a narrative. This, alone, makes Haunted worth watching. It’s an astounding feat of acting, and everyone involved does an incredible job. There are no bad performances, no one slacks, no one phones it in after twenty-four hours. Phenomenal. As an effort of acting and filmmaking, no one has had the testicular fortitude to even attempt something like this, even in experimental film. The fact that Knauf and his troupe have pulled it off on the first attempt is nothing short of miraculous.

Unfortunately, the project doesn’t do them as much service as it could. The primary problem that Haunted faces is that there’s just too much of it. You have thirty-two hours of story, spread out over hundreds of hours of segments across sixteen vantage points. When you figure that a lengthy season of narrative television would be twenty-four hours, all edited to focus on only what action needed to be told, you can see the potential trouble. There’s just no way to fill thirty-two hours of eventful story here. Even with the ability to skip forward using the controls, doing so is risky. You skip ahead a few hours, and suddenly you’ve missed a vital conversation or a paranormal event that matters to the plot. Then you backtrack, and you spend almost as much time as you’ve skipped picking up the breadcrumbs. It’s just a huge meal to ingest, and I’m afraid many viewers will give up before they pick up every important morsel of story.

The story needs a great deal of tightening. Well, that even gets tricky. Perhaps it wasn’t the story so much as the planning. Or how the actors played it out. Without knowing the inner-workings of how this project came off, there’s no way to know exactly where the problem lies.

In future Bxx projects, this has to be the primary lesson learned, and chances are Knauf and team already realize this. The key points of the story and plenty of spooky moments could have fit into sixteen hours, easily. That’s half the time, which is a massive cut.

There’s quite a bit done to attempt to make that time interesting. Paranormal events happen frequently, and that’s my second issue. They happen a little too frequently. Again likely due to the limitations of this project’s budget, there isn’t enough variety to the spooky goings-on. After a few hours of disembodied voices and specters appearing in one or two locations, it becomes a bit routine. With more money I’m certain this would have been quite different. In Haunted, however, it has to be noted.

There is also one problem inherent to the Bxx concept. Unlike other storytelling methods, it’s entirely possible to miss major plot points. Even while tracking things as closely as possible, you could spend over a month watching every segment thoroughly so you’re going to need to skip. When you do, it’s very easy to miss that one conversation or event. I did and had to go back when the ending didn’t make much sense. Whether this is a plus or a minus is up to you. I honestly didn’t mind it. With Bxx you get out what you put in. In the case of Haunted, in order to get everything, you’re going to be dedicating a lot of time. In future Bxx projects that will likely be reduced dramatically, but for now you have to be ready to dive in and poke around quite a bit to sort out every detail.

The overall message is simple: Less is more.

All that sounds relatively negative, but believe it or not, I don’t intend it to be. The story here IS solid and IS entertaining. I said I’ve spent weeks in the Bxx, and that’s not just because I needed to bring a review to you guys. It’s addictive. You find yourself saying “one more segment” and then move ahead to the next… and the next. Knauf certainly knows how to tell a story. This isn’t one of his more complex tales, but considering the fact that this is a prototype, I imagine that was intentional. Still, you have detailed, fleshed-out characters engaged in interesting things. The plot is interesting and not predictable. The finale is shocking, fitting, and provides resolution while also leaving the door open for a return to the world of Haunted. When Haunted shines, it shines extremely bright. The project is littered with excellent moments, visceral and emotional, touching and frightening.

Haunted does require patience, and a good deal of forgiveness, but the price is right. Due to the experimental nature of Haunted, it’s free for all. Just hop on, and you can see everything you want. Like I always say, it’s better because it’s free. For the price of your time, you are going to get a hell of a lot of entertainment. The concept works, the story works, and while there are both technical and narrative issues, Haunted is a heck of a lot of fun.

Settle in, some dark night, in a comfy chair. Perhaps with a glass of good wine. Plug some earphones into your computer. Log onto bxxweb.com. Start watching segments. Check out the evidence. Explore what you want, follow the characters you’re interested in, examine the footage as the story unfolds. You won’t regret it. It’s not perfect, but it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

3 1/2 out of 5

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Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

Directed by Charles Martin Smith


I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

Now let’s get to it.

First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

Rockstar lighting for days.

Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

  • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
3.5

Summary

Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

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User Rating 3.5 (14 votes)
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AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


** NO SPOILERS **

It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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User Rating 4.1 (21 votes)
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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods


The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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User Rating 3.95 (20 votes)
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