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Dark Mountain (2014)

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Dark Mountain (2014)
Starring Sage Howard, Andrew Simpson, and Shelby Stehlin

Directed by Tara Anaïse

Distributed by Gravitas Ventures


“Better late than never” is an expression that has been used in many instances – it simply states that it’s better to do something late, than never to have done it at all… and I can understand that, but only to a point. In a movie-sense, if it’s been done already and the same format has been reproducing like a couple of pharmaceutically-inspired jackrabbits on a blind date, then get ready for the furry fallout.

Amidst the pantheon of found-footage horror, it can be debated that The Blair Witch Project not only set, but also broke the mold for shaky-cam spookiness that has been often imitated but never duplicated for the past 15 years. Some have come close in their dogged pursuit to unseat the current (and long-standing) champion, but none have been able to capture the sheer volume of uneasiness that hounded our beloved camping troika on their venture into the Black Hills of Burkittsville, Maryland.

While nothing definitive was shown on-camera as to the root of the wooded terror, I always believed that it wasn’t necessarily what you saw that scared you the most, but what you didn’t, and I’m completely at ease with the fact that I’m in a small percentage of my thinking of this, but why is it that the majority of found-footage followers have attempted the same gameplan in the years following?

Dark Mountain – directed (and written) by Tara Anaise, follows yet another group of three budding filmmakers as they make their way to the Superstition Mountains that run deep into the Arizona desert. Their man focus is set upon the Lost Dutchman mine, that according to legend, is housing approximately 200 million dollars in gold after the rush in the late 1800s. Supposedly an old miner by the name of Jacob Waltz, was one of only a handful of souls that knew the location of the mineral windfall (alongside his partner that “disappeared” upon their first trek, and a group of Apache warriors that allegedly defended the location). The local storytellers entail that whomever goes up to the mountains to search for the gold, never come back… (cue ominous music).

Sage Howard (in her role as Kate), offers an eerie comparison to Heather Donahue in Blair Witch – her relentless approach to obtain the truth all the while acting as an unofficial leader of the group, right down to an opening shot of an apologetic, on-camera fear & tear-filled declaration to her parents. Boyfriend Paul (Andrew Simpson), the strong & silent type & prankster pal Ross (Shelby Stehlin) round out the remainder of our soon-to-be-doomed backpackers. Armed with their video cameras & smartphones (providing creepy sepia-toned shots), they set out into the vast masses of pure Arizonian desolation.

Now comes the part where I systematically dissect the ins & outs of this film in direct relation to its predecessor back in 1999… I mean I COULD do that, but I wouldn’t want to bore the audience to tears. Not that this is a bad movie – far from it… it just happened to have been seen already… 15 years ago. Our group initially frolics in their new surroundings, debates over both shooting styles and the local lores they’ve been told, and then we progress to the sights and sounds of what may (or may not be) the axis of their undoing. Quick flashes of light are seen on mountaintops in panoramic shots, giving the illusion to our band of pseudo-Scorseses that they could potentially be followed. We then progress on to the bickering, loss of direction, and all-out disregard to the simple-set of cardinal rules that will most assuredly ensure your safety when on a venture like this – when you’re told by a plethora of individuals “don’t take ANYTHING from the cave” …well then, there really isn’t any issue to debate now, is there? When one of the three becomes a victim of a type of possession, all guidelines are tossed out the window and we drive straight on past the road-sign for “psychological thriller,” and take the express exit towards “carbon-copy found-footage automaton.

The saving grace here are the visuals – sprawling and sweeping vistas are on display with regularity, and provide a backdrop that gives the viewer not only a calming sense of peace, but an odd disparity that invokes a feeling of isolation, and at times, claustrophobia. Scares are minimal, but effective at times – a blaring radio that seems to go off at random instances will make you shift in your seat after slow-paced acts, and varying distant noises in the dead of night will give those little hairs on the back of your neck a chance to stand up and stretch. All of the following lead to a payoff that many can see coming, but you’ll sit through anyway just to see how it all ends up.

In closing, I can’t throw Dark Mountain under the bus, as Anaise does provide a semi-entertaining 82-minute jaunt into the unknown, I just can’t get over the fact that it was much more creepy the first time I’d seen it… 15 LONG years ago.

2 out of 5

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The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger

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Starring Nhung Kate, Jean-Michel Richaud, Kim Xuan

Written and directed by Derek Nguyen


Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.

Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.

Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.

Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.

Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.

The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.

Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.

The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.

  • Film
3.0

Summary

Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.

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Scorched Earth Review – Gina Carano Making Motherf**kers Pay In The Apocalypse

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Starring Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins

Written by Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson

Directed by Peter Howitt


Let me preface this review by stating right off the bat that I’m a huge Gina Carano fan, and will pretty much accept her in any role that she’s put in (are you going to tell her no), regardless of the structure and plausibility behind it, and while that might make me a tad-bit biased in my opinions, just accept it as that and nothing more. Now that I’ve professed my cinematic devotion to the woman, let’s dive headlong into her latest film, Scorched Earth.

Directed by Peter Howitt, the backdrop is an apocalyptic world brought on by the imminent disaster known as global warming, and the air has become toxic to intake, generally leaving inhabitants yacking up blood and other viscous liquids after a prolonged exposure, unless you’re one of the privileged that possesses a filter lined with powdered silver. Filters of water and the precious metal are in high demand, and only true offenders in this world still drive automobiles, effectively speeding up the destruction of what’s left of the planet. Carano plays Atticus Gage, a seriously stoic and tough-as-nails bounty hunter who is responsible for taking these “criminals” down, and her travels lead her to a compound jam-packed with bounties that will have her collecting riches until the end of time…but aren’t we at the end of time already? Anyway, Gage’s main opponent here is a man by the name of Thomas Jackson (Robbins) – acting as the leader of sorts to these futuristic baddies, the situation of Gage just stepping in and taking him out becomes a bit complicated when…oh, I’m not going to pork this one up for you all – you’ve got to invest the time into it just as I did, and trust me when I tell you that the film is pretty entertaining to peep.

While Carano’s acting still needs some refining, let there be no ever-loving mistake that this woman knows how to beat the shit out of people, and for all intents and purposes this will be the thing that carries her through many a picture. There are much larger roles in the future for Gina, and she’ll more than likely take over as a very big player in the industry – hey, I’m a gambling man, and I’ve done pretty well with my powers of prognostication. With that being said, the thing that does hold this picture back is the plot itself- it’s a bit stale and not overly showy, and when I look for a villain to oppose the hero, I’m wanting someone with at least a shred of a magnetic iota, and I just couldn’t latch onto anything with Robbins’ performance – his character desperately needed an injection of “bad-assness” and it hurt in that particular instance.

In the end of it all, I’d recommend Scorched Earth to fans of directionless, slam-bang wasteland pics with a touch of unrestrained violence…plus, Gina Carano is in it, so you can’t go wrong. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, feel free to skate on along to another piece of barren territory.

  • Scorched Earth
3.0

Summary

Looking to get your butt kicked in the apocalypse with extreme prejudice? Drive on up, and allow me to introduce you to someone who’ll be more than happy to oblige.

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The Good Friend Book Review – A Slasher Story for the Facebook Generation

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Written by Marcus Sabom


I’m not usually a big fan of murder mysteries, but Marcus Sabom’s novel The Good Friend has certainly done a lot to make me reconsider my stance on the genre. Sabom, who is currently turning the book into a film, appears to have a real gift when it comes to keeping the reader on the edge of their seat

Usually, if you were told that a book contains an ensemble cast of four central characters instead of one main protagonist, you’d probably lose interest right away because we tend to connect with singular point of view characters more than we do with ensembles. However, Sabom proved me wrong in this regard, because each of the four leading women in The Good Friend were such engaging people with such real problems that I never felt like there were too many characters and plot threads to keep track of.

To give a brief overview of our four principal players, we have Sarah, who wants to be in a meaningful relationship after her asshole boyfriend dumps her, Alana, a slightly older woman stuck in a loveless marriage with a manipulative husband who tries to turn her kids against her, Megan, who has to deal with crazy stalkers, and Rita, who is traumatized by a vengeful psycho named Caleb after he attempts to belittle and humiliate her.

With this being a book set in modern times, they naturally use social media to broadcast their problems to the world. Now, we all know about the dangers of chronicling every step of our lives on social media, but Sabom takes things to a whole other level. Because after the aforementioned women post about their troubles on Faceplace (which is basically Facebook, but with a name Mark Zuckerberg can’t take legal action against), a masked killer begins to permanently put an end to their man problems. Whoever the knife-wielding psycho is, he’s clearly a mutual friend of all the women, because he obviously looks at their posts.

One of the only male characters in The Good Friend who wasn’t a complete asshole was Detective Jack Miller, a cop investigating the case of the misandrous serial killer. Miller is described as occasional leaning towards antinatalism, the belief that people should stop reproducing because the human race should not continue to exist. I’ve also always believed that human beings should stop reproducing because we are beyond saving, so I’m glad that Sabom was able to tap into an area that deserves far more open discussion rather than being a social taboo.

The book itself is just under three-hundred pages in length and uses relatively large text, so most readers will probably get through the whole thing in about three days. Whilst the prose was certainly easy to digest, there were a number of errors and typos that would be painfully obstructive to most of us, the most obvious being that it confuses the phrase ‘couldn’t care less’ with ‘could care less’, which, as you know, means the exact opposite.

However, if you’re looking for a easy to digest murder mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end, The Good Friend is certainly an ideal recommendation. At the very least, the book should teach you not to make negative posts about people on Facebook or other social media sties, because a knife-wielding killer might be looking at your status.

  • The Good Friend
4.0

Summary

An easy to digest slasher story that will keep you guessing until the very end, The Good Friend serves as a perfect reminder of the darker side of social media.

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