Reviewed by Plagiarize
Starring Henry Thomas, Kelli Garner, Lateef Crowder, Eric Jungmann
Directed by Bruce Dickson
When a film has a name like Red Velvet, it gives you certain impressions right away. The poster appears to portray a scantily clad woman beneath a sheet of red velvet. Thoughts like “David Lynch rip-off” start to dance around your head. When the producer grabs your wife to get her picture taken with a guy dressed up in a strange bunny suit because she’s wearing a Suspiria T-shirt, then you start thinking that maybe it’s a Suspiria and David Lynch rip-off. Maybe with some shades of Donnie Darko. Well, not that any of that is going to happen to you, of course, unless you’re walking with your similarly dressed wife past the Red Velvet booth at a horror convention.
Look, usually I can’t stand the AICN approach to movie reviews where you preface them with all the stuff you did leading up to the film, but sometimes it’s worth conveying the frame of mind you were in when you watched a film.
I was distracted. Disinterested. Concerned that it would be too derogatory. But there we were in a hotel room around midnight, most of the Dread Central crew about to watch the film with producer Sean Fernald, who seemed like such a nice guy. And damn if he ever loved the project. I don’t think I can remember seeing anyone so enthusiastic about a film they’d been involved in before. So I was pretty sure that I’d have to sit through this film and then pretend to like it behind his back until we could get out of there.
Don’t get me wrong … I love the same things he obviously does. Every film he name checked as we walked to the hotel room (after bumping into each other in the lift on the way up there) were all things I liked, but what I didn’t know is that he was trying to sell me on his film and that he didn’t know the kind of things that make me want to watch something.
So finally to the movie. I liked Red Velvet. I liked it a lot. I can’t wait to be able to own a copy for myself or, even better, see it on the big screen (which if there’s any justice I’ll get to do).
The film has a pretty simple concept. Aaron (Henry Thomas), who doesn’t much like the other people who live in the same apartment building as him, bumps into his neighbor Linda (Kelli Garner) in a launderette. She starts trying to talk to him but doesn’t get that he’s not interested in talking to her. He’s a little aggressive… a little abusive… but she takes his misogynistic demands as genuine invites, and before you know it, Aaron is telling Linda a story.
It’s a story of the weekend up at the cabin that she’s told him she can’t get to and a killer (Lateef Crowder) bumping the people that did make it there off one by one. They decide together what the killer should look like, and the film cuts back and forth between Aaron’s cabin story and Aaron and Linda’s conversations.
This structure gives everybody a lot of freedom to cut loose. The extreme comic book violence comes in the story segments, which are shot in a style that I’d call a note perfect homage to Suspiria and Creepshow … but it’s not just homage for the sake of homage. An Eighties feel is layered into the story parts, not just in the direction and cinematography, but in the writing, music, and acting as well. While Red Velvet is telling a serious story, half of it is filtered through a cracked mind obsessed with Eighties horror.
It’s not straight homage either. The kills are anything but clichéd, with at least two that I’m sure will make anyone reading this laugh as much as we all did. There’s a deranged brilliance to the story’s killer from his pink toolbelt to his instant camera and rabbit ear speakers. It’s macabre, yes, but in such a ridiculously way as to feel inspired. The playful nature of the shifting story as Aaron has to go back and correct things as Linda tells him more about her friends also lends itself to some of the film’s best moments.
I feel that some of the people we saw the film with would have preferred it to be purely a spoof, and I’m sure that a lot of people who see the film will feel the same way… but if you have any love for films that don’t hand you all the answers and take their time saying what they need to, I’m sure you’d agree with me that the pacing of the film is just perfect.
The conversation scenes are fairly long and, in contrast to the over-the-top, colour drenched story sections, may be boring in comparison to some. However, take them out, and the film wouldn’t be as smart, it wouldn’t be nearly as unique, and the payoffs wouldn’t be so satisfying.
You see Red Velvet is a puzzle. One I’m sure has an answer … and one I’m sure has all the pieces there if they can only be fit together properly. The big part of that puzzle is working out who Aaron is and whether or not there’s any truth buried in his ever changing story. The substance of the film is in those scenes between Aaron and Linda. The depth and the drama is in those scenes, and there’s a lot more going on than is initially apparent. At first you’ll probably just want Linda to shut up, but it’s a bit more cleverly crafted than first glances may suggest. Writers Anthony Burns and Joe Moe aren’t just filling out the film with these moments, and while they may make some people a little impatient, watching Aaron carefully manipulating the situation is as much a credit to them as Henry Thomas’ performance.
Henry Thomas yet again proves to be one of those hidden gems. Most child actors don’t grow up to be anything special, but as in Dead Birds, Henry Thomas shows that he’s really got what it takes if people would just pay attention to him. The strength of his performance is almost to the detriment of the film, highlighting as it does weaknesses in Kelli Garner’s performance. Overall Kelli does an adequate job with the type of thankless annoying straight character her role necessitates, but there are a couple of moments where she comes across as overly wooden, and next to Henry Thomas it just looks even worse. Everyone else gets to have much more fun as characters in Henry’s stories, free to cut loose and be as over-the-top as they want. Deserving special plaudits is Lateef Crowder as our rabbit-eared masked psycho, who is surprisingly good, adding comedy with surprising body language and movements.
There are one or two moments where the film’s creative camera work seems to be being flashy just for the sake of being flashy (not in the story sequences… it fits perfectly in those), but director Bruce Dickson has done really well considering Red Velvet is his directorial debut and could well be one to watch going forward.
Red Velvet is deranged and inspired in equal measures, sometimes both at the same time, and Sean Fernald is right to be proud of the film he’s produced. Sure, it may not be for everyone, and there will always be those that wish it was more of a straight spoof than an open-ended puzzle. But I know there’s a wider audience just waiting to appreciate Red Velvet, and I hope they get the chance to check it out.
4 1/2 out of 5
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American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.
In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!
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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
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