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Kemper (DVD)

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Kemper reviewReviewed by The Foywonder

Starring Christopher Stapleton, Kate Danson, Robert Sisko, Sean Thomas

Directed by Rick Bitzelberger

Distributed by Lionsgate Home Entertainment


I hesitate to call Kemper a true crime thriller since there’s very little about it that’s actually true. The real Ed Kemper was a young man when he committed his murders. The Ed Kemper of this film is a middle-aged guy who spends the first half-hour looking like Bobby Riggs in his pajamas. The real Ed Kemper committed his crimes in the early 1970s. The use of cellular phones and laptop computers makes it abundantly clear this film is set in modern times. I could go on. Kemper is more like a piece of serial killer fan fiction, a speculative “what if” tale plugging a real-life serial killer from the past into an entirely fictitious tale set in the present, as if it started out as a relatively generic serial killer thriller that the producers insisted be rewritten to base the killer on an actual psychopath in order to help market the movie with little regard for the facts of his case. Kemper is “Inspired by Actual Events” in much the same way Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure could proclaim itself as “Historically Accurate”.

I went in suspecting this would be yet another sleazy exploitation flick designed to make a quick buck off of the pain and suffering wrought by a true-life mass murderer, romanticizing the psychopath and reveling in his carnage for kicks. Though it does have some scenes of brutality, Kemper aims to be more of a suspenseful crime drama: part police procedural, part cat & mouse thriller. It was not exactly what I expected in that aspect and for that I will give the filmmakers credit.

What I cannot give them credit for is having made a good movie. Kemper isn’t god awful. It’s mostly just a tediously uneventful film. There’s not a single moment of tension no matter how much the film score tries to ratchet things up, and I assure you the person who scored the film was trying harder than the director. The director has a background shooting Cinemax After Dark programming and it shows with all the static shots, poorly framed scenes of characters just standing or wandering about; a couple scenes even felt more like the rehearsal takes than the final cut. The actors, try as they might, are left to flounder amid weak material and slapdash direction.

Two serial killers with differing styles appear to be at work in a California town. Working both cases is police detective Tom Harris. Tom Harris: no doubt an in-joke as Thomas Harris is the name of the author of Silence of the Lambs who has said he based the character of “Buffalo Bill” on Ed Kemper.

Detective Harris is friends with an intelligent oddball named Ed Kemper who he converses with about the facts of the killings unaware that Kemper is one of the very serial killers he’s after. Kemper murders his abusive mother and reveals his true nature to Detective Harris around the end of the first act. From then on it’s a cat and mouse mind game between Harris and Kemper with a few innocent people murdered in between their countless phone conversations. At minimum half the movie consists of the two playing phone tag. The climax then consists of two face-to-face conversations. Suffice to say this is a very talky movie and very little of what they talk about is engaging.

Harris also spends considerable amount of time talking to his comforting wife who appeared to have been glued to the living room sofa. You just know they’re building her up so that Kemper can put her in mortal danger and Harris has to come to the rescue. That never happens. The movie culminates not with a showdown but with a face-to-face conversation between Tom and Ed.

This movie can be summed up with a single word: dull. Kemper as portrayed here is a fairly dull psychopath. Tom Harris is quite the dull policeman. Their conversations and attempts to get under each other’s skin are also dull. Even the slayings prove dull.

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    The Cured Review – Ellen Page Fights for Her Life

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    Starring Ellen Page, Sam Keeley, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Paula Malcomson

    Written and directed by David Freyne


    Taking a cue from AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the new Irish horror film The Cured begins where most zombie stories end. Drawing more comparisons, the themes of mistrust and social upheaval are front and center here as well. We’re the real villains, and the infectious disease turning humans into monsters is only there to hold up a mirror to show the worst sides of ourselves. The Cured uses the zombie mythos as Romero intended as a commentary on culture, with a little cannibalism thrown in for good measure.

    Against the backdrop of a military takeover attempting to reintroduce the recently cured back into society, two people try to return to some kind of normalcy in a war-torn Ireland that’s been turned upside down by the zombie menace. Recently widowed, Abbey (Page) allows her now virus-free brother-in-law Senan (Keeley) to live with her and her son, even though most survivors are forced to live in an army encampment. Under constant surveillance, Senan’s old friend Conor (Vaughan-Lawlor) radicalizes the mistreated survivors of the virus into open rebellion.

    The treatment of the survivors isn’t entirely unfair considering that they still have a connection and are not detected by a small percentage of the infected that haven’t responded to the cure. As both sides size each other up, Abbey and Senan are caught in the middle as they try to restore their humanity before the powder keg around them erupts.

    Given its far out premise, the story stays firmly grounded in reality, focusing on the growing resistance and its political implications, drawing parallels to the protest movements such as the “Black Block” that have dominated some recent news cycles. When the virus divided the population, it was easy to know what side you were on; now, the cure has created a new class structure where the lower class is maligned until they cross the line and overthrow the uninfected. Clearly still affected and haunted by the heinous acts they committed when they were infected, the cannibalistic rage they still carry reflects the rage felt by the mistreated masses hellbent on overthrowing the powers-that-be.

    Whether for budget reasons or simply a style choice, the eating frenzies that occurred before the cure are never fully shown so any gore and graphic images that could’ve been showcases for effects are left to the imagination. Maybe they weren’t shown because these acts were so unspeakable that they are too horrific to see and too painful to fully be remembered by the survivors. The top-notch sound design ratchets up instead and roars to life to the point where just hearing the carnage is enough to make you turn away.

    Page’s performance is the emotional core of the film as she goes from understanding to fear to dealing with the ultimate betrayal. It’s important for a slow-developing story like this to have an actress with some star power, and director David Freyne and his team were fortunate to have a high caliber actress ready to deliver in some of the film’s quieter, more intense moments. Freyne directs these smaller character moments with care and also delivers once things open up to show the inevitable anarchy brimming under the surface.

    The Cured may feel too closed off at times to allow its bigger ideas to fully breathe, but it never pretends to encompass a more epic scope that would be more in the vein of something like World War Z. Without ever addressing it directly, Freyne, as an Irishman, seems well aware of the history of the country; and he and cinematographer Piers McGrail inject their film with a pathos that makes Dublin come to life inside the world of the undead.

    • The Cured
    3.5

    Summary

    The Cured is a gritty take on the genre that fits nicely into the new type of storytelling that these stories need to embrace in a post-Romero world.

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    Bad Apples Review – Rotten Fruit, Indeed

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    Starring Brea Grant, Graham Skipper, Alycia Lourim

    Directed by Brian Coyne


    Like a seriously bad rash, some films stick with you regardless of whichever topical ointment you slather in generous fashion over your regions – ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce today’s orbital irritant: Bad Apples.

    Directed (rather misdirected) by Brian Coyne, this lamentably sterile piece of celluloid follows a couple of murderous sisters, donning horrific (and not in a good sense) masks, and generally putting the sharp edges to random folk on Halloween night…case closed. Only problem here is this: the film has no pulse, no interesting characters to speak of, and basically nothing to redeem or recapture the time that you’ll have spent watching this complete dud. A husband and wife duo has a spotlight on them as well, but their tempestuous relationship makes rooting for them about as pleasing as sitting through 3 hours of Olympic curling…absolutely brutal. Also, you’re reading the babblings of a guy who loves to put the boots to any film that has been deemed “unwatchable”, but this complete wreck of a production is entirely that – something so remedial and uninspired that to type an endless array of rightful vitriol would be an utter waste of time.

    So I’ll go on a bit longer with my public display of vehemence, as the casting seems WAY out of whack, and the production? Whoa…don’t even get me started on this – okay, I’ll go on a bit. With differing levels of sound editing, you’ll get the feeling at times like you could pick up a needle drop inside of a concert hall, and other frames of dialogue are so muddled they’re incomprehensible (not like you’ll feel the need to know what’s going on). Wonky camera angles and following shots are so horrendously captured, you’ll be wishing to watch your Mom and Dad’s old home movies just to gain a sense of stability. I normally pride myself on not begging this particular audience to take what I say to heart, or to shy away from something that could potentially ruin their eyesight, but believe me when I plead with you: do not waste your valuable time on this shipwreck – even if your time isn’t all that valuable: don’t waste it. Find something else to do and take a big ol’ pass on this wannabe slasher.

    • Film
    1.5

    Summary

    I don’t mean to pick on the low-hanging fruit, but these Apples should be batted away with a Louisville Slugger.

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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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