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Devil’s Due (2014)

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Devil's Due (2014)Starring Allison Miller, Zach Gilford, Sam Anderson, Roger Payono, Vanessa Ray

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett


Perhaps the sole bright spot in the otherwise disappointing recent horror anthology V/H/S was “10/31/98”, the concluding segment of that film that featured some truly horrific moments and wonderful effects work. The directors of that short, known collectively as Radio Silence, knew how to effectively exploit the found footage conceit in a believable way while showcasing some jaw-dropping set pieces that played more as well-executed magic tricks than lazy digital trickery. Now, one-half of that directing team (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett) is responsible for the new found footage supernatural thriller Devil’s Due, out today (1/17/14) at a theatre near you. Does it live up to the promise shown in their earlier effort?

Meet the McCalls – Zach (Gilford) and Samantha (Miller), a young couple who have just tied the knot and have taken off to Santo Domingo for their honeymoon. While there, they travel, hit the beach, do some ziplining, and – on their last night – are shepherded to an underground club by a shady cabbie (Payono) where they dance and drink their way into unconsciousness.

Once they arrive back home in the States, Samantha discovers that she’s pregnant, overjoying Zach and their family (if not the somewhat apprehensive mother-to-be). However, a series of bizarre incidents involving ominous stalkers, strange symbols and piles of ash being left on their property, and some frightening changes to Samantha’s body (to say nothing of her increasingly violent episodes and newly-discovered carnivorous appetite), all lead Zach to believe that something truly sinister may have happened to his wife in Santo Domingo, and that the child they’re expecting may not be his own.

If you’re thinking “Found footage Rosemary’s Baby”, you’re just about there (minus one opportunistic asshole of a husband, mind – Zach is a good guy, not a Guy guy). And really, that’s a neat premise. Watching a couple become the unwitting pawns of a satanic sect wishing to bring about the birth of the antichrist (one of them, anyway), all captured with the immediacy that the POV subgenre provides (when done well) is a very cool idea. Unfortunately, far too little is done here to shake up this rather basic story, which is quite predicable throughout (Spoilers for the intuitive, but – this includes the fate of one of the central characters, which is practically given away in the film’s opening sequence. End Spoilers).

Still, use of overly familiar genre tropes aside, credit must be given to writer Lindsay Devlin for finding a deft and believable way to excuse the use of the found footage approach in this movie. By actually giving the lead characters a reason to be constantly recording (in a way that’s more buyable than the usual ”We HAVE to keep filming!” “…why?” “…just…BECAUSE, dammit!” hokum that we deal with in flicks like this), the film manages to sidestep all of the more annoying aspects of this subgenre. In addition to seeing events through the leads’ camcorder, Due takes the Chronicle approach to found footage, in that any video recording device may be employed to help tell the story (whether it be spy-cams, security cameras, or even those adventure cams that people strap on before doing batshit stuff like sky-diving). Clearing the believability hurdle is always tough for most movies that choose to adopt this format, and Devil’s Due acquits itself well with its creative choices throughout.

Credit must also be given to Devlin and the lead actors for creating two of the more likeable protagonists to be seen in theatrical horror in a while. As Zach and Samantha, Gilford and Miller give quite realistic portrayals of newlyweds in love (and expectant parents in danger), making us fully invest in the pair even as one of them becomes more and more frightening as the flick progresses. It’s sadly rare these days to find a high concept horror flick that’s as concerned with its characters as it is its plot, but Devil’s Due succeeds in making us give a damn about these poor people hurled into harm’s way. If the movie falters with its originality (or lack thereof), I still applaud it for managing to make me care.

And as for the directors behind Devil’s Due? Did they live up to the promise shown in their previous trip to our favorite genre? Yes and no. While I appreciate their characters-first approach in telling their tale, far too little happens in the opening three-quarters of the film to effectively grip the attention of those expecting plentiful shivers and scares. However, though the slow-burn approach they begin with may yield too few frights, two big set pieces in the film’s final act (one set in broad daylight involving a group of unfortunate teenagers, the other being the film’s climax) give viewers what we expect from this type of tale. The all-out mayhem in these moments is a direct continuation of the style found in “10/31/98” and is as enjoyably nerve-wracking as it is spectacular. If only a bit more of this approach had been sprinkled in throughout the first two acts, the film might have been far more successful.

Ah, well. I wish the directing duo all the best and look forward to their next project.

While Devil’s Due doesn’t reinvent the devil-baby wheel, it is a solid (enough) shocker worth a look for those interested in catching a bit of terror on the big screen this weekend. If you’re agreeable to found footage horror, you could do far worse than giving this film a look.

3 out of 5

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Inside (Remake) Review – Is It as Brutal as the Original?

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Starring Rachel Nichols Laura Harring

Directed by Miguel Ángel Vivas


While the directing duo of the cringe-inducing and original 2007 French grand guignol thriller Inside have gone on to refurbishments of their own—Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo recently helmed a retread of Leatherface’s origin story—their flick now has an American stamp on it with the release of the remake, also titled Inside.

A cheerless Christmas eve sets the stage for heavily-pregnant widow Sarah’s (Rachel Nichols) oncoming ordeal. It’s a frigid and snowy night. She’s got a huge house to herself, following the accidental and violent death of her husband. She wants to sell the home that was meant to hold a family, to forget the nascent memories it once held. But she’s got to ride it out until the baby is born. While Sarah is lonesome, she won’t be alone. She’s got her genial gay neighbor nearby, and her mum is going to come and stay with her for a few days. Oh, and there will be an unexpected visitor too.

When a shadowy, seemingly stranded stranger (Laura Harring) knocks on the door pleading to be let inside, Sarah instinctively balks. She even calls the cops. But the woman leaves and all seems well. Crisis averted. Sarah puts the housekeys in the mailbox outside for Mom, and goes to bed. Big mistake.

Mystery Lady shows up at Sarah’s bedside armed with chloroform, an IV bag, and a case full of sharp-and-pointies (sorry, ’07 fans… those implements do not include a pair of scissors). The horror unfolds and the expected yet lively game of gory cat-and-mouse ensues. Then the tete-a-tete becomes a body-count chiller featuring one shocking moment after another.

Nichols is fantastic in the role, giving it her all. When the original Inside came out eleven years ago, she was starring in another French-helmed horror, P2—also set on Christmas eve—and she stole the show. She does the same here but with a less-intense adversary. Harring’s killer character, unlike her European counterpart, has a lot to say—which takes away from her initially mysterious manner as the minutes tick off. Still, the girl-on-girl action is a welcome change from the usual gender dynamic one sees in these things. Both deserve kudos for their performances.

While Inside isn’t a died-in-the-wool “Hollywood” remake (Miguel Ángel Vivas directs, while [REC] co-creator Jaume Balagueró wrote it) it feels like one. For those who’ve seen the original, there will be mild disappointment (which turns to major letdown at the very end). However, Inside is still a serviceable thriller that’s well-acted, beautifully shot, and effectively scored. Folks coming in fresh, and casual horror fans, will more than likely enjoy it.

  • Inside (Remake)
3.0

Summary

Inside is a serviceable thriller that’s well-acted, beautifully shot, and effectively scored. Folks coming in fresh, and casual horror fans, will more than likely enjoy it. For those who’ve seen the original, there will be mild disappointment (which turns to major letdown at the very end).

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What If Tina Fey Wrote Jennifer’s Body? My Friend’s Exorcism Book Review

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“Rummaging in one of his duffel bags, [the exorcist] pulled out and athletic cup and slid it down the front of his pants. ‘First place they go for,’ he explained. He then adjusted himself and picked up a well-worn Bible. ‘Let’s do the Lord’s work.'”

It was about a year ago now (it seems) that I first saw the cover of “My Best Friend’s Exorcism.” If you haven’t seen it for yourself in all of its glory, make sure to click the image over to the right for a more in-depth look. Awesome, right? Got to love all the VHS details such as the “Horror” and “Be Kind Rewind” stickers. Classic. Utter classic.

Now I’m fully aware that one should not judge a book by its cover. Literally. But still the moment I saw this work of delicious art crop up in the inbox I had to read the book asap. Well, it turns out asap was about a year later, but all the same, I’ve now had a peek at the inside of the book as well as the outside. Does the content inside match the content outside?

Let’s find out…

For those who might not know, “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” (henceforth referred to as MBFE) tells the tale of two best friends named Abby and Grethen. One night the two, and a few of there other friends, drop a bit of acid for the first time. While the drug never kicks in (no worries, there’s no lame twist-ending to be had here) poor Gretchen still wanders off into the woods and gets possessed like a motherf*cker in some creepy abandoned building. From there, things go from bad to worse until an unlikely exorcist is called in and things go off the wicked walls in all the best ways possible.

Now, to review. First of all, let it be know that MBFE is more of a teen romance (between two friends) than a straight tale of terror. Think of it as “What if Tina Fey wrote Jennifer’s Body?” and that will give you a good hint at what the book holds in store for you. Not that that’s a bad thing. Still, you should be aware that the first 2/3 of the book is almost exclusively teenagers not getting along, bitch about losing touch, who is sleeping with who, and yada, yada, yada for pages on end. Dramarama for days. Mostly.

That said, not only is the teen drama bearable (and truthfully quite sweet in spots), Hendrix keeps the horror in the spotlight just enough that I never lost faith the book was heading somewhere truly balls to the wall. And it does. Oh, boy does it. From the time the unholy shite hits the fan in the last third, to the time the last word is read, the book is filled with horror moments that will make even the most jaded fright-fiction fan gag, grimace, or stand up and cheer!

You just have to get through all the angst first…

But speaking of angst, let me get a bit of extremely personal business out of the way real quick. Can I trust you with this info? Sure I can. MBFE made is cry like a baby. Not kidding. There have been very few times in my life that I have literally burst out crying. I’ve had some sad shite happen in my days, and I have seen some sad-ass movies, but nothing has made me cry out of the f*cking blue like MBFE. I’m not going to go into details about the final 10 pages of the book, but it tore my poor horror-heart a new one. It was bad. Like snot and hyperventilating type shite. Again, not kidding. Thank the lord I wasn’t in public is all I can say. I would have arrested and thrown in the booby-hatch.

MBFE goes along like a slightly horror-centric version of Mean Girls and Heathers for most of its page count. If you’re a straight horror fan, you’ll be at odds with whether you should bother finishing it or not. You will. Trust me. But listen to me now and know that once our heroine goes into the dark, dank bedroom of the school’s resident bitch to find out why she hasn’t been in school the past few days/weeks, the horror hits like holy hell. And it only gets worse (RE: better) from there.

In the end, MBFE is a book ever horror fan should own – if only for the cover. I dug the hell out of the book (eventually) and I’m sure the majority of you guys will too. But even for those hard-hearts out there that just can’t stand to read about things like uncompromising love, and hellfire-forged friendship, you still need to own the book. You still owe it to yourself to give it a try. If you don’t care for it, that’s cool, just display in on your bookshelf in all it’s VHS glory. It will make you look cool.

  • My Best Friend's Exorcism - Book Review
3.5

Summary

Grady Hendrix’s “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” is a killer mixture of Mean Girls, Heathers, and The Exorcist. Just think of it as “What if Tina Fey wrote Jennifer’s Body” and you’ll have a good indication of what lies in store for you within the amazing VHS-inspired cover art.

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Knock Knock Review – This Throwback To The VHS Era Packs A Fun Punch

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Starring Kerry Tartack, Sisi Berry, Chuk Hell

Directed by Toby Canto


I remember the glory days of my youth back in the early to mid-80’s, renting every friggin horror flick on VHS and keeping the cassettes well past the return dates, eventually blacklisting my name from damn near all of the movie shops in my hometown. For the sole reason of wanting to hop back in the time-machine, I’ll never turn down the opportunity to check out a film that promises to ship you back to the days of all of that cheesy-neon attire and overblown hairdos.

Director Toby Canto was generous enough to offer his latest film up onto the sacrificial stone, and it’s called Knock Knock – about a WAY past his prime pugilist named Sam (Tartack) who is unwillingly thrust into a throwdown with a bloodsucker who happens to reside in the same apartment – damn noisy neighbors! His only birthday wish is to spend his 60th go-round safely hold up in his domicile, away from pesky residents alike. Well, that plan goes to shit when his kooky neighbor (Berry) comes by and pitches the idea of throwing hands with the newest tenant: a real creature of the night (Lucas Ayoub).

Sam initially nixes the idea wholeheartedly, but when more of his quirky neighbors show up to his place to substantiate the vampiric-claims, Sam finds himself lacing up the leather for one more round…or two, depending on if he can still take a beating. Filled with more than a handful of goofy instances, this near-hour presentation won’t blow the doors off of the horror/com vehicle, but should more than suffice in the short-term until the next spooky-laugher comes slithering out of its hole.

  • Film
3.0

Summary

Historians alike, this movie’s for those who want a reminder of how loopy those VHS days were, and the best part is you don’t have to rewind a freakin’ thing.

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