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Hole, The (Blu-ray / DVD)

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The Hole (Blu-ray)Starring Chris Massoglia, Nathan Gamble, Haley Bennett, Teri Polo, Bruce Dern

Directed by Joe Dante

Distributed by Big Air Studios


As someone who grew up on a steady diet of Joe Dante between films like Explorers, Gremlins 1 & 2, The Burbs, The Howling and Innerspace, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that it’s been almost 10 years since we saw the iconic filmmaker’s work on the big screen (the dismal Looney Toons: Back in Action sequel in 2003 being Dante’s last theatrical bow).

Thankfully, Dante’s latest The Hole is a return to form- while it certainly doesn’t capture Dante’s darkly comedic flair as much as the previously named classic films do, this family-friendly fright flick has its own sense of mischief and offers up enough entertainment to keep younger audiences enthralled while giving adult horror fans a flawed but fun look at the human psyche and what happens when your worst nightmares come to life.

At the start of The Hole we’re introduced to teenager Dane (Chris Massoglia) and his younger brother, Lucas (Nathan Gamble), who are stuck moving from Brooklyn to suburbia with only each other to rely on. Both kids are struggling with a history of abuse at the hands of their jailed father, and their now single mom, Susan (Teri Polo), is forced to put work ahead of her kids in order to make a better life for them all.

Left to entertain themselves in the final days of summer vacation, Dane and Lucas make nice with their new neighbor Julie (Haley Bennett), and one day while horsing around in their basement like kids often do, Dane and Lucas discover a locked door in the ground hidden away and latched shut for good measure. Undeterred by the numerous locks keeping the door shut, the boys find a way to break it open, only to find a mysterious bottomless hole waiting for them.

What they don’t realize at first is that by opening the door, the trio have just unleashed an evil spirit hellbent on tormenting them by preying on their worst fears- for Lucas it’s clown dolls; for Julie it’s a childhood friend who died and for Dane it’s a demonic version of his abusive father. Forced to deal with these nightmares come to life, the kids track down the previous homeowner and local lunatic, Creepy Carl (the always fantastic Bruce Dern), in search of answers on how to seal the hole and put an end to the evil spirit’s reign of terror for good.

While a much “simpler” movie than many of his earlier exploits, Dante seems right at home in The Hole, once again capturing the banality of suburbia and wonder of what happens when you invite a malevolent force into such a world in this lively young adult horror story. As someone who’s always had great success while working with younger actors and wildly inventive material, Dante once again finds similar success in The Hole, merging juvenile concerns with darker stories, making for an experience akin to watching teen genre series like “Goosebumps” or “Are you Afraid of the Dark?” but with far edgier material.

And while the clown doll that stalks Lucas and the creepy little girl haunting Julie are certainly your usual fare in tales like these, Dante takes things one step further emotionally in The Hole with the inclusion of Dane and Lucas’ abusive father being the older brother’s tormenting force throughout the flick. It’s rare to see someone approach the idea of child abuse in a “family film,” but Dante handles the subject matter unflinchingly but never exploitatively. We hear some stuff, and clearly these kids have been through the ringer, but Dante never dwindles too long on it as it would have dragged down the playfulness of his usual approach.

Unfortunately, this is also where The Hole hits a few road bumps; Dante does go all out in his third act when he makes his trio of protagonists face down all their fears, and that’s when the film loses a bit of its spark- the tone shifts greatly, and things go a bit more serious, which feels disjointed considering the tone of the story beforehand. While I appreciate The Hole getting deep on us (there’s nothing worse than a kids’ movie that talks down to its audience), plunging viewers right into this deep psychological abyss of children dealing with abusive parental figures is pretty much the ultimate terror any child can face. This changes the landscape of The Hole, and the story gets heady and over-dramatic briefly, but thankfully Dante finds his way back and brings the story full circle, finishing as strongly as he starts, making The Hole one of his best efforts in decades.

In terms of the Blu-ray and DVD, each shares the same special features, which are comprised of three quick featurettes that are home to your basic stuff like interviews, etc. Certainly nothing to write home about. Image-wise the Blu-ray gets the edge and looks pretty stellar, but we should be used to this by now. A 3D transfer would have been nice since the movie was shot in that style, but alas, it’s not to be.

While The Hole is a modest production in comparison to his earlier efforts, Dante serves up younger viewers a hearty sense of scare and fun in his latest, tunneling deep into the childhood psyche that gives us both human monsters and creatures to fear. It may not be his best effort, but it’s good to see Dante back behind the camera with his always welcome sense of mischief since his storytelling approach has always been unique even in comparison to his Master of Horror peers- here’s hoping we don’t have to wait almost another 10 years before Dante’s next feature.

Special Features

  • Behind-the-scenes featurette
  • Making-of
  • Cast and crew interviews

    Film:

    3 out of 5

    Special Features:

    2 out of 5

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    Edge of Isolation Review – A Movie with a Simple Message: Don’t Trust Anyone

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    Starring Michael Marcel, Marem Hassler, Alexandra Peters

    Directed by Jeff Houkal


    Sometimes, relying on the kindness of strangers is the thing that’ll do your gullible asses in – kindness? Strangers? Come on – think about it! Even further proof of said warning comes in the form of director Jeff Houkal’s brutally blatant film, Edge Of Isolation – won’t you come inside and grab a seat? You see! You fell right into another trap – jeezus, people…don’t trust just anyone, will ya?

    Set up in a simplistic format, we’ve got a traveling couple (Lance and Kendra) whose Jeep, conveniently enough decides to shit the bed along a desolate stretch of roadway, leaving them at the mercy of the Polifer family, a slightly odd bunch of backwoods residents. This particular clan isn’t exactly wrapped too tightly, and they’re not afraid to let their freak flags fly, that’s for sure. You see, the family has been deeply-rooted in these here woods, and their “hospitality” has kept them fed for quite some time, and with a fresh supply of unsuspecting commuters stopping in at varying spells, their stomachs never truly seem to growl out of sustained hunger…oh, that kindness will bite you in the ass every single waking moment.

    As I mentioned earlier, the film is constructed fairly simple, yet effective in its barbarism, and those who dig survivalist-horror will be wringing their mitts in anticipation for this one. While some editing does look a bit hokey, the practical effects more than make up for an at-times bit of strewn-about plot navigation, but who’s keeping score? Certainly not me, that’s for sure. I absolutely revel in low-budgeted films that don’t necessarily have the looks and feels of such, and Edge Of Isolation is one of those presentations that is certainly worth its weight in blood and guts – do yourself a solid and give this one a look when it becomes available to the masses, and for f**k’s sake, don’t take up anyone’s offer to chill at their place when your ride breaks down – get AAA and save your life (the previous statement was in no way affiliated or endorsed by the Triple A Automotive group – just sayin’).

    • Film
    3.5

    Summary

    Edge Of Isolation doesn’t need a full-blown allocation to keep future stranded motorists from losing their heads – all they have to do is push “play.”

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    Threads Blu-ray Review – The Horror of Nuclear War Hits Home Video

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    Starring Death, Destruction, Famine, Unimaginable Suffering

    Directed by Mick Jackson

    Distributed by Severin Films


    Although not quite reaching the tense heights felt during the Cold War, talk of nuclear annihilation has nonetheless been on the tips of tongues following a recent public spat between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un. The difference being that unlike the decades-long stalemate between America and Russia, this kerfuffle feels more like two boys breaking out the ruler to measure package size. Regardless, the truth remains that as long as nuclear weapons are held by any country the risk of a catastrophic event is always on the table – and their use should never be used as a casual threat. The world has seen firsthand the level of devastation that can be wrought with their use; a reminder none want to endure again. This seems as fitting a time as any for Severin Films to breathe new life on home video into Threads (1984), a frightening portrayal of what could happen in the U.K. following nuclear war. Similar in concept to America’s The Day After (1983), Threads is a chilling, bleak vision that showcases the breakdown of society prior to, and after, the detonation of nuclear weaponry. Nothing is glamorized; there are no heroics. By the time the credits roll viewers will be left chilled to the core, having witnessed so much destruction that should never be allowed to occur in a modern society.

    The action is centered in Sheffield, U.K. where we follow the lives of a few distinct families and citizens who represent different sectors of the populace. The events leading up to nuclear war are depicted via television and radio broadcasts, with anchors reporting on increasing tensions in Iran following a coup allegedly backed by the U.S. In response, the Soviet Union moves troops into northern Iran to protect their own interests. The standoff becomes increasingly strained when the U.S. reports the submarine USS Los Angeles has gone missing in the Persian Gulf. Soon after, a collision between Soviet and American battle cruisers forces the U.S. President to issue a warning to the Soviets that any further action may lead to armed confrontation.

    As all of this is occurring the citizens of Sheffield are attempting to go about their normal lives… until a melee involving nuclear-tipped weaponry prompts the government to assemble emergency operations groups. With the U.K. now completely gripped by fear, the threads of society begin to rapidly unspool, with citizens divided over local government response while runs on grocery stores and looting become widespread. Finally, in the early morning a few weeks after this skirmish began air raid sirens are sounded and within minutes a nuclear warhead is detonated over the North Sea, emitting an EMP and knocking out all communication in the country. The attack wreaks havoc, decimating the country and wiping out millions of lives in one swift blow. Those are the lucky ones.

    Those who survive the initial blast are met with highly-radioactive fallout, disease, famine, radiation sickness, crumbling infrastructure and streets littered with rotting corpses. Society has suffered a complete breakdown. Money no longer holds any value. Nuclear winter brings about a dearth of crops and a massive drop in temperatures. Food is the only commodity with any value – and it is long before any can be produced. Population levels reach those of the medieval times. Even a decade after the blast, the areas devastated by nuclear war have only rebuilt to a level on par with the Industrial Revolution. Children are still born. Language is limited, due to the lack of proper schooling. Little hope looms on the horizon as those left alive scrounge and scavenge, eking out a miserable existence.

    Director Mick Jackson made a smart decision by shooting Threads using a neorealist lens, employing unknowns in place of familiar faces. This gives the picture a documentarian feel while also scuttling the notion of seeing famous faces either survive the catastrophe or become heroes. There is no silver lining to be found. The initial blast rocks the U.K. on a grand scale, brought to visceral life by Jackson’s use of miniatures and montage to convey a massive scale of destruction. Fires rage, Sheffield is in ruins, charred corpses line the streets, and radiation poisoning leaves survivors roiling in pain and vomiting endlessly. The brutal verisimilitude is gut-wrenching; Jackson ensures every bit of pain and perseverance is palpable.

    Threads should be mandatory viewing, serving as a warning of the very real potential outcome should civilized nations resort to using nuclear weaponry on a global scale. No good can come of mutually assured destruction. All of the posturing and battling between the U.S. and Russia pales in comparison to the annihilation of millions of lives and decades of industry, all wiped out in the blink of an eye. This is true horror.

    Given its low budget and television roots, it should come as no surprise that Threads looks on a rougher side of HD. Severin touts the 1.33:1 1080p image as being a “new 2K remaster”, though the provenance of the elements used is not mentioned. Truthfully, the grainy, rough-hewn picture is a perfect complement to the gritty imagery seen throughout and anything more polished might have lessened the impact. The film was shot on 16mm and blown-up to 35mm; again, a smart aesthetic decision given the documentarian feel Jackson wanted. The cinematography reminded me of Harlan County U.S.A. (1976), an American documentary on coal workers. Damage can be seen throughout, as well as plenty of flecks and debris but, again, none of this was particularly irksome because it feels organic to this decaying world.

    Audio comes in the form of a simple English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. First off, I highly recommend turning on the subtitles because the English accents are thick and plenty of U.K.-specific colloquialisms are used; it helps – a lot. This is a thin track without much direction, employing a workmanlike sound design to get the point across. Explosions have a bit of roar and oomph, but the biggest impact is made by a scene of total silence post-attack. Dialogue is clean and well set within the mix. Subtitles are available in English.

    An audio commentary track is included, featuring director Mick Jackson, moderated by film writer Kier La Janisse & Severin Films’ David Gregory.

    “Audition for the Apocalypse” is an interview with actress Karen Meagher.

    “Shooting the Annihilation” is an interview with director of photography Andrew Dunn.

    “Destruction Designer” is an interview with production designer Christopher Robilliard.

    “Stephen Thrower on THREADS” finds the author and film historian discussing the production history and impact of the film.

    A “U.S. trailer” as well as a “Re-release trailer” are included.

    Special Features:

    • NEW 2K REMASTER of the film prepared for this release
    • Audio Commentary with Director Mick Jackson, Moderated by Film Writer Kier–La Janisse and Severin Films’ David Gregory
    • Audition For the Apocalypse: Interview with Actress, Karen Meagher
    • Shooting the Annihilation: Interview with Director of Photography, Andrew Dunn
    • Destruction Designer: Interview with Production Designer, Christopher Robilliard
    • Interview with Film Writer, Stephen Thrower
    • U.S. Trailer
    • Threads
    • Special Features
    3.5

    Summary

    Brutal and unflinching in its desire to convey a story true to reality, Threads is a difficult and necessary viewing experience that shows firsthand the level of terror wrought by man’s hand.

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    Annihilation Review – A Fascinating, Gorgeous New Take on Body Horror

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    Starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac

    Written and directed by Alex Garland


    Have you ever walked out of a theater and thought to yourself, “That was more than just a movie. That was an experience!“? It’s only happened to me a handful of times, the last one I remember being Mad Max: Fury Road. Last night that sensation washed over me as the credits for Annihilation began their crawl after a near two-hour runtime. I remained in my seat until every name slipped by before I found it within myself to stand up and leave the theater. All I could think was, “I’ve just witnessed something incredible.

    An adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s first book in his The Southern Reach trilogy, Annihilation follows Lena (Portman), an ex-soldier-turned-biologist professor at Johns Hopkins whose husband, Kane (Isaac), has been missing for a year after leaving on a covert mission about which Lena has been able to get zero information. When Kane mysteriously returns and almost immediately falls gravely ill, Lena finds herself in a secret government facility that is monitoring a strange and potentially cataclysmic phenomenon: a strange shimmering dome that appeared in a remote region after a meteorite landing, a dome that grows larger with each passing day. Realizing that the answer to her husband’s malady may very well lie within that area, Lena joins four other women as they embark on an expedition into what is called “Area X.” However, it’s quickly realized that nothing is quite what it seems to be and that the laws of nature no longer apply.

    The majesty of Annihilation is the time it takes to build the story and to ramp up the tension. While it has no problem with frenetic scenes, the film moves at an almost poetic pace, every moment adding something to the overarching narrative. From showing the relationship between Lena and Kane to the interactions among the five women who venture into “Area X” to the action sequences, every part of the movie feels necessary. This is even seen in the climax of the film, which is a 10-minute scene that features almost zero dialogue and yet feels fraught with danger.

    Visually, the movie is absolutely gorgeous. The jungle that takes up most of Area X is lush and beautiful. Crepuscular rays break through the leaves and tease a rainbow iridescence thanks to the “shimmer.” A wide variety of flowers impossibly blossom from the same source, a result of the genetic mutations occurring within the dome. Strange fungal patterns explode across the walls of abandoned buildings, their patterns a tumorous cornucopia of colors and textures. Even when the movie brings gore into the equation, it does so with an artist’s gaze. Without ruining the moment, there is a scene where the team comes across the body of a man from a previous expedition. For as macabre as the visual was, it was equally entrancing, calling to mind the strangely beautiful designs of the “clickers” from The Last of Us.

    Each setting in the story has a visual style that sets it apart from one another but still feels connected. The governmental facility feels cold and sterile while the jungles of Area X are warm and verdant. As the team ventures further into the contaminated zone, we are taken to the beach next to the lighthouse that acts as “ground zero” for the mysterious event. Here we see trees made of crystal and bone-white roots clinging to the nautical beacon. In this third act, we’re taken into the basement of the lighthouse, which can only be described as Giger-esque, with strange ribbed walls that feel like they pulsate with a life of their own.

    The characters of Annihilation feel real, and the exposition given doesn’t feel forced. When Lena is rowing a boat with Cass, the sharing of information feels like camaraderie, not awkward plot reveals. Additionally, no character is without his/her flaws. Even Lena has her own issues that burden her with guilt, making her journey into Area X all the more understandable. As the stress of the mission wears on these women, the seeds of distrust begin germinating into deadly situations that have very real consequences, including the appearance of a bear that would be right at home in the Silent Hill universe. Also, kudos to Garland for writing the film in such a way where the gender roles not only feel natural but are never focused on in a disingenuous manner.

    Musically, Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, who scored Garland’s previous film Ex Machina, create a soundtrack that is atmospheric, haunting, and hypnotizing. The music elevates the dreamy phantasmagoria of the film without overpowering any scene. Meanwhile, cinematographer Rob Hardy, who also worked on Ex Machina, helps create a film where nearly every frame is a work of art.

    Those entering Annihilation expecting a clearly defined sci-fi/horror offering will be disappointed. There is certainly a great deal of both to be had, but the movie doesn’t want to offer something fleeting. Instead, it uses those genres as a foundation to create a film that will stay with viewers long after they leave the theater. When you get to the core of Annihilation, it’s a body horror film that pays homage to the work of David Cronenberg while carving an entirely new path of its own. Just don’t expect it to hold your hand and answer all of its mysteries. Some questions are left for you to see through on your own.

    I do not say this lightly, but I truly believe that Alex Garland has offered audiences one of the best genre films in recent years.

    • Annihilation
    5.0

    Summary

    Annihilation is a bold, gorgeous, and stunning melting pot of horror, sci-fi, and drama, culminating in one of the most fascinating films I’ve seen this decade.

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