Reviewed by Debi Moore
Starring Kim Basinger, Lukas Haas, Jamie Starr, Leonard Wu, Luis Chávez, Craig Sheffer
Written and directed by Susan Montford
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
When he put up DC’s first news story about While She Was Out the other day, Butane mused about why we hadn’t covered it before considering it was coming out in a few weeks. He jokingly said it was because we’re lazy. I say regardless of why, it’s a good thing we kept our distance. This one should have been released around Thanksgiving instead of Christmas because it is indeed a turkey! Aw, look; I gave away the ending of my review already, which is exactly what the creative geniuses behind While She Was Out do by way of its elaborate setup of Kim Basinger’s character, the well-to-do but rather vacant Della, who happens to be married to your typical Lifetime-esque sleazy and abusive Kenneth (a sadly underutilized Sheffer).
It’s Christmas Eve, and Della needs more wrapping paper. After a tediously uninspiring 15 minutes or so of Kenneth yelling, Della cowering, and their two children (boy and girl, twins of course) looking sufficiently pathetic so that the viewers know they both have years of therapy ahead, she takes off to do her last-minute shopping. At first I wasn’t sure if she was actually going to the mall or running away from home, but eventually she does pull into a parking lot, where she gets extremely aggravated by one particular car that’s taking up two spaces. She writes a note, leaves it on the windshield, and goes on her merry way. Certainly you know what happens when she’s ready to leave. The recipient of her message is none too pleased to have been so insulted. And he isn’t alone. No, Chuckie (Haas) — yes, that’s really his name — is accompanied by his Asian friend Vingh (Wu), his Latino amigo Tomás (Chávez), and his Black homeboy Huey (Starr). A lone security guard tries to intervene, but hot-tempered Chuckie makes quick work of him. A silly car chase ensues, ending up with the bad guys following Della around an under construction housing development. The poor woman has no chance against these United Thugs of Benetton!
At least that’s what you’d think, but Della is no ordinary desperate housewife. She’s been taking a Mechanics class along with her weekly Pilates so she knows what it takes to fight off gangstas like these: a fully loaded Toolbox of Terror™! Della goes from timid victim to ninja in a flash — wielding a lug wrench like a seasoned pro with no remorse. Even so, Basinger is mostly believable and at times sympathetic despite her lack of any firm and clear direction. Our gang-bangers on the other hand? All four actors are painful to watch, particularly Haas. I can appreciate his wanting to try the tough guy role on for size, but the emphasis he places on every single swear word that leaves his mouth is rivaled only by Lindsey Lohan in I Know Who Killed Me. I’d love to make a taped loop of her “fuck” and his “cunt” for those days when I really need a laugh.
And laugh I did — many times and out loud — thanks to While She Was Out‘s horrendous script. I’m tempted to track down the short story by Edward Bryant on which it’s based. I cannot imagine it was anything like what I saw. Not only does our band of idiots spout such ridiculous notions as smelling Della’s blood, sense when one of their group has been killed, and use totally out of character college-level vocabulary, but (I’m not kidding) at one point two of them actually debate whether or not Della is wearing Chanel No. 5 perfume. They go from Keystone Criminals who are easily thwarted by wrenches and tree branches to expert trackers. (Kate from “Lost” better watch her back!) There’s even one point when Chuckie drops his bad guy persona and turns philosopher. At least he’s talking instead of yelling “Della!” over and over a la Brando’s “Stella!” But by far the most peculiar scene is when everything stops for a Goth music interlude of Vingh and Tomás paying “tribute” to their fallen compadre. I literally had no idea what was going on and thought two new people had been introduced into the storyline. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case; the audience and I were stuck with the same cast until the very end.
And what about that ending I alluded to earlier? During ten tense minutes right before the climax, I had a feeling that maybe writer/director Susan Montford was going to surprise us and take things over the edge into some really dark and twisted territory … but nope; it wasn’t meant to be. Things predictably wrap up just as they started: slower than molasses and duller than dust. If it sounds like I’m being unduly harsh, it’s only because someone obviously dropped a major ball with While She Was Out. You’ve got Guillermo del Toro as one of your producers; seasoned vets handling the cinematography, editing, and music; an Oscar-winning leading lady; and a co-star who has proven he knows how to handle himself in front of the camera. You don’t need to resort to clichés. With a concept like this, all you need is authentic dialogue and a plausible situation. Montford helped produce Shoot ‘Em Up; she should know better.
On the plus side the building site setting is fairly original, the kills are well executed, and Basinger still looks pretty fabulous. But that does not a good movie make. Is it a so-bad-it’s-good movie though? One that ranks up there with those cherished guilty pleasures we ridicule around our friends but pop into the DVD player when in need of a chuckle or two? By damn, it just might be! Let me finish changing the oil and rotating the tires, and I’ll get back to you.
1 1/2 out of 5
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Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 152 – Cloverfield Paradox & The Ritual
Last week Netflix shocked the world by not only releasing a new trailer for Cloverfield Paradox during the Superbowl, but announcing the film would be available to stream right after the game. In a move no one saw coming, Netflix shook the film industry to it’s very core. A few days later, Netflix quietly released horror festival darling: The Ritual.
Hold on to your Higgs Boson, because this week we’ve got a double header for ya, and we’re not talking about that “world’s largest gummy worm” in your mom’s nightstand. Why was one film marketed during the biggest sporting event of the year, and why was one quietly snuck in like a pinky in your pooper? Tune in a find out!
Meet me at the waterfront after the social for the Who Goes There Podcast episode 152!
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The Who Goes There Podcast is available to subscribe to on iTunes right here. Not an iTunes user? You can listen on our Dread Central page. Can’t get enough? We also do that social media shit. You’ll find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Twitch, and YouTube.
The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger
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.
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.
Scorched Earth Review – Gina Carano Making Motherf**kers Pay In The Apocalypse
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.
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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