Movie review – Surrogate (2022)


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First things first, Surrogate has been improperly overlooked by the film going public, potentially cast aside as a typical ghost horror story, but there’s more than meets the eye for Australian director David Welling’s debut feature film.

Secondly, it boasts Kestie Morassi (Wolf Creek) who deserves more screen time as she carves out another powerful performance for the lead character, Natalie.

On face value, you could be forgiven for your preconceptions as the narrative slowly unfolds but all this allows for Natalie’s plight to become entrenched and equally for Morassi to invest in delivering a deep portrayal of her character.

Natalie is a single parent, who has to rely heavily on her own mother, Anna (Louise Siverson) and her brother, William (Darcy Kent) to raise her daughter Rose (Taysha Farrugia). This is because Natalie is also a full time nurse, which requires her to work out of town every once in a while, taking her away from her family. It is on one of these nights that Natalie encounters an erratically behaved woman. Choosing to ignore her plight, and in doing so these inactions would go on to haunt her. This is one of Welling’s subjects that he wants the audience to pay close scrutiny to. Society is all-too-willing to shirk the responsibilities or face up to any problems that warrant attention. Let’s face it, we’re all so consumed by our own daily tribulations. When Natalie then encounters the woman again that night, thrown into trying to save her life, she unwittingly becomes the ‘surrogate’ of a ghostly presence. Upon returning home, Natalie exhibits all the hallmarks of a pregnancy that baffles doctors and brings the attention of Lauren Balmer (Jane Badler), a child welfare officer. With this comes another subject that Welling zooms in on, with the troubles that single mothers face when under pressure from their commitments and in some cases the wrongful accusations that surmount from external means. 

Natalie’s maternal instincts kick in when the phantom presence becomes a physical one, placing all those close to her, under threat. Is there an ulterior motive for these expressive and harmful measures? Or is there an inherent evil the cause of all this maliciousness? 

The Prognosis:

Welling’s feature is a decent effort for a debut. It embarks on some important issues that unfold through the course of a well-built narrative. 

He also skilfully draws out the best in his players to support his vision with Morassi leading the charge in a captivating performance of a woman struggling to build the best world for her daughter to live in.

  • Saul Muerte

Surrogate is currently screening on TubiTV.

Movie review – Boston Strangler (2023)


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It’s hard to envisage a psychological thriller that captures the pursuit and tension surrounding a serial killer at large without Zodiac coming to mind, such is the masterpiece directed by David Fincher. To do so though is to cast Boston Strangler in the wrong light for it’s main drive is not just about unearthing the identity of one of America’s most notorious serial killers, but also the outdated attitudes of the role of women during the 1960s, which this true crime story is set.

Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game) is charged with taking on the more-than impressive, real life investigative journalist, Loretta McLaughlin who is the first reporter to connect the Boston Strangler murders. Accompanying her at the Record American newspaper is colleague and confidante, Jean Cole (Carrie Coon – Ghostbusters: Afterlife). Together they make a formidable pair where one comes with inexperience but a strong will and instinct to uncover the truth, the other is a wise figure who knows the “rules” of the industry and how to ensure that they can work within the frame of sexism and still assert authority and eventual respect.

Both McLaughlin and Cole face the fear of an unsettled world, where a mysterious killer has been murdering women of all ages in the American town, but are soon persecuted by unknown assailants through phone calls and letters. Is this to deter them from uncovering the truth or a means of repression because of their sex? It’s evident that there are some men in position of authority who find the concept of a woman in the workplace abhorrent, and the fact that they happen to be proficient in their job only frustrates them further. 

So, in this minefield of arrogance McLaughlin and Cole  must trust in their own abilities and unite to find that truth. For Cole this is a tried and tested road that she is used to traversing, but for McLaughlin who has a family at home, the adjustment is one she finds difficult to adapt to and must answer the question of why she must bow to the pressures of society an have to prove herself in the face of adversity.

To amplify their oppressed position, Writer/Director Matt Ruskin has steadfast actors in Alessandro Nivola (“Amsterdam”), David Dastmalchian (“Dune”), Morgan Spector (“Homeland”), Bill Camp (“Joker”), and Academy Award® winner Chris Cooper (“Adaptation”) but this is not to detract from Knightley and Coon who rise to meet the more than worthy women they portray on screen. Their performances are both gripping and riddled with emotion throughout the film’s narrative, providing the hook to lure the audience through to the end.

The Prognosis:

This is not just a psychological thriller based on the true crimes of the Boston Strangler, but more importantly, the tale of two women who must stand strong in their beliefs and abilities to uncover the truth in a world dominated by the male perspective. 

Knightley and Coon deliver equally compelling performances, which is vital in casting Ruskin’s message and vision across. At times the story can trudge along a little, but thanks to the strength of the female leads, there’s enough to keep the audience locked in to also find the truth behind the murders.

  • Saul Muerte

Boston Strangler is streaming March 17 exclusively on Disney+ under the Star banner

Retrospective – The Crazies (1973)


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A young brother and sister teasingly play together one evening when all of a sudden their father begins smashing up their living room with a crowbar and dousing it all in gasoline. The young girl rushes to her Mother, only to find her lying dead in bed. The house goes up in the flames and the opening credits begin. It has been fifty years since George A Romero’s The Crazies hit screens. Now sitting down to watch this film in a post-pandemic world there is certainly a strange element of familiarity here at times though certainly this is a much darker and bleaker imagining.

The pace of the first 20 minutes is rapid, from the opening scene that hooks you right in we’re introduced to our main characters, ex-green beret and volunteer fire-fighter, David and his wife, Judy, a local nurse. Both awoken in the night from calls for both of their professional assistance, David to the house fire and Judy to two children who have barely survived the arson of their home. Already the military has boots in the ground and quickly take control of the situation, we’re informed via an exposition dump montage as the various levels of military confer on the situation across locations; a military plane crash landed in the hills near this town, an experimental vaccine (we later learn bio-weapon) has leaked and found its way into the water supply. The goal is to maintain a quarantine of the town so that the virus does not spread further. The way that Romero injects so much energy into this set up is a little disorientating, it feels stylised yet authentic and immediately hooks us.

The Crazies was Romero’s third film post-Night of the Living Dead, (after There’s Always Vanilla & Hungry Wives) and truly feels like the spiritual successor to Night.  The film follows a group of townsfolk, bound together by happenstance, trying to survive a plethora of dangers: a virus that has leaked into their water supply, the infected Crazies violently causing destruction, the hazmat-suited soldiers trying to contain the outbreak and the uninfected townsfolk fighting against this forceful quarantine. The main theme of the film is a distrust of the government and the bureaucracy in charge of keeping us safe that will ultimately lead to more bloodshed. The shadow of the Vietnam War looms large here, we even have two of the main characters being vets, with one of them experiencing bursts of paranoid violence evoking wartime flashbacks thanks to the virus. The soldiers rush into peoples homes, dragging them out of bed, displacing them. A character even remarks that “this will feel like an invasion”. Romero has always passionately struck at the structures of power and control with his social commentary. It’s messily done here but the ambition and obvious talent gives this film a level of depth and interest that is utterly lacking in so many other grindhouse movies of the time.

The film truly feels like the stepping stone from Night to Dawn, the scale is sized up from a farmhouse to a whole town. The imagery of the hazmat suits is iconic and a deeply unsettling force that is often undercut by the ADR lines inserted for them, often comedic or mundane. The soldiers are mostly unaware of what they’re doing here and so there is some empathy built towards them. It’s the lines of communications, the unnecessary red-tape that ends up being the main villain of this film.

The Virus code-name Trixie, is initially reported to be an experimental vaccine that has been let loose, the truth is that it is a man-made bio-weapon, when infected the victim often becomes violent and acts straight-up coo-coo. This element is a lot of fun, giving us an old woman knitting happily while her husband is having an active shootout one room away, a priest setting himself on fire, and a father and adult daughter almost- Ok maybe FUN isn’t the right word. It gives us absurd and unsettling variety though, like the image of a bunch of infected townsfolk rushing violently towards the soldiers, accompanied by a woman that is just sweeping with a broom, unperturbed. It all lacks the clean and simple effect that we get from the Night of the Living Dead’s ghouls but when a character starts giggling at danger or acting a little goofy you start getting nervous. It’s interesting to think that if this film was more successful at the time Romero could’ve made Dawn of the Crazies, robbing us of the modern zombie genre but giving us something that would have been far wilder and weirder.

I had a lot of fun watching this but it does feel a little strung together. The initial impact wanes in the middle chunk with a few great impactful moments scattered towards the end, particularly with the main scientist desperately working towards a cure. It’s a fascinating piece of horror history and an important DNA strand for the zombie genre as we know it. The fans of Romero will find a lot to enjoy here, but it ultimately lacks the finesse and character depth that would elevate Dawn and Day of the Dead into crossover appeal. It’s an inventive grindhouse flick with the makings of greatness, and that is definitely something worth witnessing.

  • Oscar Jack

Further links:

Podcast: George A Romero’s The Crazies

Podcast: George A Romero’s Night of the Living Dead

Podcast: George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead

Podcast: George A Romero’s Day of the Dead

Podcast: Lori Cardille interview

Movie review – Leave (2023)


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Much like Morgan Saylor’s performance in Shudder’s exclusive and original feature A Spoonful of Sugar, the horror streaming platform has released another gripping lead performance in its latest outing, Leave. In this instance the performance in question comes from Alicia Von Rittberg, better known for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth 1st in Becoming Elizabeth. Unfortunately though, this is the only redeeming strength in an otherwise slow plodding, unfulfilling film.

Essentially the premise is bound by Rittberg’s Hunter character yearning to find the missing piece of the picture, namely who her parents and real family are. Having just graduated to University, Hunter embarks on a detour to discover her true origins. All she knows is that as an infant, she was left abandoned in a cemetery, wrapped in garments emblazoned with satanic symbols. This probably would be enough warning for anyone not to venture down a seemingly treacherous path to resolution, but Hunter continues pressing forward, even when a malevolent spirit appears, warning her not to do so. 

As we journey alongside Hunter, the audience endures some slow, moving scenes aimed at adding tension to the piece, but instead feels too close to grinding to a halt. Despite Rittberg’s efforts, and she pulls up all the stops to ground her character and add depth to her trauma, we are left ambling along with little care to connect with her inevitable plight. 

The Prognosis:

For all his best efforts Director Alex Herron struggles to add enough atmosphere to his psychological thriller, a necessary ingredient for the subgenre. Where he tries to apply a dark and moody setting, he loses sight of building up tension for admittedly a substandard script. Alicia Von Rittberg is a joy to watch, and potentially the only ray of sunshine in a pretty mediocre narrative.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie Review: Pearl (2023)


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Sometimes a bad situation can produce gold, or even a Pearl.

While in New Zealand shooting the very fantastic “X”, director Ti West and star Mia Goth decided to make productive use of their COVID lockdown time. Rather than perfect their sourdough recipe they began writing a prequel or backstory for “X’s” psychopathic geriatric, Pearl.

So, straight off the back of filming “X” they began pre-prod then the subsequent shooting of “Pearl”.

Set sixty years before “X”, Pearl is a young woman rapidly going mad by her own ambitions, unfulfilled sexual desires, and a general lack of human interaction. It’s 1918, The Great War and the Spanish flu are almost done, and new bride Pearl is whiling her isolated days away murdering small livestock, humping a scarecrow, and dreaming of being a movie star (pretty normal stuff really), on the same farm (only newer) we saw in “X”.

 “Pearl” is a dark, ingenious character study that showcases the intense talent of Mia Goth. Her 7-minute monologue at the end of the film alone is a performance that demands to be studied in all screen-acting classes. And that deranged ‘smile/cry’, holy moly it is truly unnerving.

West and Goth have done something remarkable here. They’ve added layer upon layer to the character of Pearl and quite frankly this is treatment almost never reserved for the ‘villain’ of a horror film. Oh, and it may be a hip little indie A24 art film but at its core it’s still a gory AF horror.

The Prognosis:

I really loved “X”, I was blown away by “Pearl” and now I wait in eager anticipation for the third film in this mythology – “Maxxxine”.

  • Myles Davies

Retrospective – The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959)


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To conclude the decade, following a string of successful hits in the horror genre, Hammer Films would produce an oft neglected feature when placed alongside their showpieces, The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy, possibly as a result of poor distribution in the States. It’s a shame as it bears all the hallmarks of Director Terence Fisher’s classic traits that made such an impression on moviegoing audiences, and stars Christopher Lee as our potential hero and romantic love interest.

The stage is set in Paris at the turn of the century where we meet a doctor named Georges Bonnet (Anton Diffring, who for years I thought was the same guy who played Decker from the A-Team (Lance LeGault) Where Eagles Dare). Bonnet harbours a disturbing secret however, the secret to eternal youth, using a procedure that belies his 104 years of age. The only way that he can maintain this is through a surgical operation on the glands, and needs the assistance of long time accomplice Dr. Ludwig Weiss (Arnold Marle) and the use of human fluid. Not exactly something that is available on tap, and so Bonnet resorts to murder, all in the name of immortality.

When Ludwig’s age becomes a hindrance though, Bonnet must seek alternative means, perhaps in Pierre (Lee) a fellow surgeon with a high degree of promise. Bonnet is also slipping up however when a model Margo (Delphi Lawrence) goes missing in mysterious circumstances, and Janine (Hazel Court – The Curse of Frankenstein) continues to pursue his love interests. How long can Bonnet hide his secret? And will Pierre (who also has an adoration towards Janine in this macabre love triangle) find out the truth and put an end to Bonnet’s evil doings?

Initially based on a play by Barry Lyndon called The Man in Half Moon Street and starred both Diffring and Marle in their respective roles in an anthology tv series, in which an adaptation was scripted by Jimmy Sangster. Hammer would garner the rights to a movie adaptation peppered with their current look and feel through Fisher’s more than capable hands. Initially if Producer Anthony Carreras had his way, another Lee, Cushing vehicle would have been produced but Cushing would have to step aside due to illness, a move that infamously had Carreras fuming and seeking legal action against the high profile actor.

Some may feel that there is more style than substance on show here, which I can see their position but despite this and the dialogue heavy sequences, both Diffring’s performance and the effects when the ageing process starts to take effect, make this a worthy watch.

  • Saul Muerte. 

Movie review – Scream VI (2023)


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So far, the rise of the requel has struggled to tread the fine line of capturing the initial appeal of a much-loved franchise. Where David Gordon Green’s Halloween tapped into the brutal energy and awakened Michael Myers for a whole new generation, before whimpering into disappointing conclusion to the trilogy; other movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Grudge have failed to spark the right kind of allure. When it comes to the return of Ghost face back in 2022, from the creative minds of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Ready or Not), they managed to produce a compelling entry into the franchise and carve their way into the Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson slasher world with their own identity and a whole bunch of likeable new characters, whilst also boldly killing off a fan favourite, proving that no one is safe from the grim reaper.

The question, however, would be, could they repeat this formula and harness the quips and kills from last year and walk the rope of integrity or lose the faithful with a cheap and ill-effective turnaround for the sake of bringing bums back into the cinema seats? And there would also be some who can’t imagine the franchise without Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) making an appearance.

It starts off with full swagger, introducing us to Samara Weaving’s horror film scholar awaiting a date at a swanky bar in New York. We are far away from Woodsboro now. Much like when Jason ventured into Manhattan, Ghost face takes a stab at injecting horror into the big apple.

After a few twists and turns, we left with the face of the franchise, asking ‘Who gives a @#$!, about the movies?’ A tad insensitive perhaps, considering we’re all here to watch him rip up some new and perhaps old victims.

The journey that we are taken on is an enjoyable ride, as we follow our “Core Four” sisters Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega – Wednesday) , movie buff Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), and Chad (Mason Gooding) all present and semi-equipped to face off against Ghost Face once more. We also have some returning legacy characters in Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere) and some fresh faces Anika (Devyn Nekoda), Danny (Josh Segarra), Ethan (Jack Champion) Quinn (Liana Liberato), Jason (Tony Revolori), Det. Bailey (Dermot Mulroney), and Dr. Stone (Henry Czerny), all of whom line up as possible suspects or victims. 

There are some issues however, as the road is not an easy one to traverse with some questionable plot choices, and the sometimes overbearing statements about legacy characters up for the chopping block or being expendable. Yes, we know that Sydney is not present and we may or may not see Gale or Kirby being bumped off, or some of the “Core Four” for that matter. The Scream franchise does seem a little caught up in being meta that it forgets to relax, go along with the flow of blood and mayhem when it arises. Instead, it gets a little self-consumed and neglects to surprise or throw you off scent. As the narrative strides to entertain and delight, which it does well, the shock factor gets lost and we strangely find ourselves in all too safe terrain where the realms of believability gets stretched.

The Prognosis:

Yes. Ghost Face is back to entertain and delight with some delightfully macabre kills. There are even some tension-racked moments, most notably the subway scene, but the film suffers in the final act and the inevitable reveal feeling a little bit of a letdown.
If rumours abound that a third instalment into the requel is in the works, then Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett will need to break the mould and force the franchise into a brave new world.

  • Saul Muerte

Further links:

Retrospective: Scream (1996)

Retrospective: Scream 2 (1997)

Retrospective: Scream 3 (2000)

Retrospective: Scream 4 (2010)

Movie Review: Scream (2022)

10 Scream inspire movies

Movie review – Rebroken (2023)


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There could be worse things than hearing Tobin Bell’s hypnotic, vehement tones being recited over and over again. Repetition is an oft explored theme in this psychological thriller that finds its home in the subject of grief.

Our lead protagonist, Will (Scott Hamm Duenas) is doomed to dwell in the depths of sorrow, following the disturbing and tragic death of his daughter. This has reduced him to resorting to the bottle to drown out his emotions. His consumption has led him to a counselling group, one from which he struggles to assimilate to. There is something unnerving about the attendees, with suggestions that something darker lies beneath their “good intentions”.

Among their group is outsider, Lydia (Nija Okoro) who is adrift from the pack, armed with the promise of resolving her internal conflict. She is the pathway for Will being introduced to a mysterious stranger, Von (Bell). Here is a man who is at the crossroads in Will’s descent or rise from misery, equipped with offering to tempt his soul and bring his daughter back from the dead. With the seductive trap set, Will then finds himself ensnared in a cyclical third state of grief bargaining. But what exactly does Will have left to bargain with? And will this warren only lead him deeper into a point of no return? 

The manner in which Von tempts Will is also one carried on a circular motif through vinyls; carefully etched out grooves of time that draw ever closer to its centre, before it must reach its inevitable conclusion.

The Prognosis:

Kenny Yates does well to string together a murky screenplay by stars Scott Hamm Duenas and Kipp Tribble. When dealing with time and how we can manipulate proceedings to fix the past, the creative team has a strong concept on their hands. 

The issue arises in becoming too lost in its own mythology, drowning in a slow and weighty narrative. The focus was in creating style and in doing so neglecting enough substance for the audience to grasp a hold of. Not even Tobin Bell can save it from being lost in the ether,

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review – Spoonful of Sugar


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Once you get past the nagging thought of trying to place the face of the lead, Morgan Saylor before pausing the film, googling and then cursing the fact that you should have known that she was Dana Brody from Homeland, you can finally settle into this warped variant on the Mary Poppins nanny with an ulterior motive theme of the movie. 

Spoonful of Sugar takes its name from that upbeat warbling song is the juxtaposition to the remedy riddled answer to life’s woes. Millicent (Saylor) is working on a thesis on children with severe allergies. Believing that she may have the perfect insight when landing the role of looking after Johnny (Danilo Crovetti), a mute child with a plethora of allergies and severe Mummy issues. It helps that part of the appeal to her idyllic job happens to have a hot father figure (yes, this movie is ripe with oedipal-like situations), Jacob (Myko Oliver) who walks around shirtless most of the time to show off his carpentry skills. 

With all the amped up sexual tension drifting around the place, it’s little wonder to find out that this is a mask to greater obstacles in the household. But who or how many of the central characters are wearing masks to protect their true intentions plays an integral part to the proceedings. And more importantly one that relies upon which of these facades will slip away first and what will the cost be when it occurs? 

With the mother, Rebecca (Kat Foster) clearly the main breadwinner in her pursuits as a successful author, and the reason for her continual absence, it paves the way for Millicent to play out her own fantasies as a Florence Nightingale figure, and delusions of fulfilling her own desires. 

The Prognosis:

Writer Leah Saint Marie and Director Mercedes Bryce Morgan have a clear vision in twisting the playing field of the human mind combined with the warped sexual drive that we have. When that playground is the home of a bandaged couple, healing their psychological wounds whilst raising a heavily dependent child, there is a dense and macabre world to drive a hefty wedge in and expose the inner most desires that can harbour deep inside. 

Spoonful of Sugar stretches the realms of believability which can distance the audience from the content, but this is Saylor’s showpiece and she shines as the delectably macabre Millicent. She is ably supported by a creative team willing for her to stretch her acting abilities, allowing her to explore every facet of an intriguing character.

  • Saul Muerte

Spoonful of Sugar will be streaming on Shudder from Thu 2nd March.

Movie review – Attachment (2023)


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Philophobia can be a powerful thing and consume your waking soul to the point of constant rejection of any would be partners. Perhaps it’s the fear of being rejected yourself, or that the fear itself is so overwhelming that you feel constricted and lose any sense of your own identity.

Sometimes the anxiety levels can run so high that you begin to question everything and you’re already deemed a bit quirky or a loner, so why break this habit?

Or this loss of control leaves you amped up and fueling a violent relationship that could potentially put you or your partner at risk.

All these things become moments of scrutiny in Gabriel Bier Gislason’s feature Attachment. Guiding this area of focus is a Danish has-been actress Maja (Josephine Park), who has a chance encounter with Leah (Ellie Kendrick, who eagle-eyed viewers may recognise as Meera Reed from Game of Thrones).The attraction is instant with that early flicker of awkwardness which soon becomes embroiled in lust. 

Then there’s those little clues, hints that something is awry, like when Leah starts walking around in her sleep. Or when she has a mysterious seizure that leads her to returning home in London. Still driven by this desire, Maja follows Leah to England where she is greeted by a strange and overbearing mother, Chana (Sofie Gråbøl). 

As the days pass, the curiosities rise. Is this just a case of an overprotective and smothering parent, but is there more lurking beneath the surface. Why are there so many secrets being held, and who is this Uncle Lev figure? (David Dencik). 

The film plays heavily into the realms of xenophobia, tapping into the unknown. As an outsider, Maja constantly questions with genuine curiosity whether the devout Jewish practices are what segregates and isolates her from finding the true connection with Leah, or is there an occult operation at play? If it’s the latter, then  is there a greater fear to be had? And who is the one that is really needing the protection?

The biggest question is will Maja be willing to go to extreme lengths in order to pursue love?

The Prognosis:

There’s some great performances to be found here, in what is essentially a straight down the road piece. The twists and turns that the audience face are navigable and in some cases predictable. Despite the road ahead seemingly transparent in places, the talent on show and the depth of character is weighty enough for you to be carried along to its final destination.

  • Saul Muerte

Attachment is currently streaming on ShudderANZ.