Starring Georgie Henley, Kara Hayward, Willa Cuthrell-Tuttleman
Directed by Caryn Waechter
First looks aren’t necessarily all they’re cracked up to be – you can be completely swept aside with feelings for a film before you even lay eyes upon it, and when it turns your thinking in the opposite direction once you’ve completed watching it, I’d definitely say that it’s done its job when it comes to derailing your mindset.
The Sisterhood of Night, from director Caryn Waechter (in her first feature film directorial-spin), takes a myriad of issues that are plaguing the adolescent platforms, such as bullying, sexual promiscuity, and internet prowling, balls them up, and wraps a bow tie of cultish activity around them.
Filmed (and set) in Kingston, New York, the movie takes the audience directly into a high school where a small group of young ladies are participating in more than just the current set of academic guidelines. Led by the innocent (sarcasm) eyes of Mary Warren (Henley in a tremendous performance), and followed by her hallway cohorts, Catherine Huang (Tuttleman) and Lavinia Hall (Olivia DeJonge) – the three are powerful in one aspect, and that’s in the way their classmates fear their every move, mainly due to the word that all three are secretly conjoined in cult-like activity, after dark and in the secrecy of the nearby woods.
On the flipside, each respective teen has her own issues away from the school, from a terminally-ill mother to a mother who is seriously lacking in parenting skills and right down to a case of “you’ll never be good enough to succeed.” These are the boundaries that hang heavy over the group of three, and therefore the Sisterhood is born.
They all remain steadfast in silence regarding their actions, but with the ever-growing advent of social media invasiveness, it’s not long before the girls are labeled cult-like and devil worshipers: a most serious accusation among the proud churchgoing populous. Things really heat up when one student (Hayward as Emily Parris) comes forward to spill the beans on one night when she was sexually abused by the girls while spying on them in the forest. Her claims are immediately brought to light, an investigation into the Sisterhood is under way, and even high school counselor Gordy Gambhir (Kal Penn) can’t seem to drag any useful information out of the girls.
Emily takes on the role of “digital savior” to thousands of sexual abuse survivors who flock to her online blog to share their stories, furthering a damning pseudo-trial against the supposed band of “witches.” Are these girls deviants at heart, or is there a much bigger problem at hand that makes them seek the solace and tranquility of the woods? I’ll admit that this one kind of threw me for a loop… and I’m a big guy, so it would take a weighty toss, indeed.
Backed by an amazingly strong Kickstarter campaign that ran a mere 36 days, the movie was shot with the look and feel of a big-budget production, and it delivers a strong punch to the gut that will wake up people who think that teens in trouble are merely acting out – these are different times indeed than the ones that the majority of us grew up in. There are many ways of contending with issues such as the ones detailed in this film, and the display goes much, much further than the “Satanist” aspect. All the performances are spot-on, with Henley leading the pack – her eyes tell the story, and she uses them to convey fear, anger, and most importantly, innocence lost. Despite the slow pacing of the presentation, it shouldn’t be looked at as a negative: It sets the story up and aids in the interpretation of the end product.
Overall, The Sisterhood of Night is a film that might look as if it should be marketed towards the young female set, but with undertones of The Craft deeply seated within, it most certainly can be viewed by anyone, especially those who are looking for a solemn peek into the social issues of today’s children.
Edge of Isolation Review – A Movie with a Simple Message: Don’t Trust Anyone
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’).
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.”
Threads Blu-ray Review – The Horror of Nuclear War Hits Home Video
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.
- 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
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.
Annihilation Review – A Fascinating, Gorgeous New Take on Body Horror
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 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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