Every so often, Shudder releases a smart and provocative feature on its Exclusive and Original platform, and Influence certainly fits that bill.
Using social media influencers as the basis for contemporary horror isn’t necessarily an original format for a storyline to unfold but its the manner in which Director Kurtis David Harder and his writing partner Tesh Guttikonda weave through the psychological, thriller narrative that resonates so deeply.
We initially follow one of these social media influencers, Madison (Emily Tennant) as she struggles on a backpacking trip in Thailand. Here she meets a coil, calm and collected CW (Cassandra Naud), who despite her pleasant manner, may not as she seems to appear. In fact, the whole premise shifts and changes through perspectives and misconceptions throughout, playing with the audience viewpoint. Each character we’re introduced to have their dark traits, but then show glimpses of light too. As we then follow a murderous personality, we’re left wondering where our allegiance and loyalty should lie.
There’s more than meets the eye to this mysterious thriller. Beneath the beautiful facade of the Thailand scenery and behind the exterior of the personalities we portray on the social platform is a dark and sinister tale. Cassandra Naud is particularly gripping as the mysterious CW. Surprisingly hooked me into the web of deceit.
It is clear when watching Renfield that Director Chris McKay has channelled his comedic knowledge working on Robot Chicken and The Lego Batman movie to produce a film gilled with high energy and tongue firmly planted in cheek. This in part is due to Robert Kirkman’s (The Walking Dead) pitch following Universal Dark Universe reboot, but box office failure of The Mummy.
Using Bram Stoker’s Dracula as source material novel, the film centres on one of the price of darkness’ familiars, RM Renfield to build a modern setting upon. In the novel itself, Renfield is an important-yet-minor character in the grand scheme of things, but is ripe for exploration into a contemporary perspective.
Set in modern times, our protagonist played by Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies) finds himself drained by the everyday/night demands by his master to sustain the food supply and keep his power and strength to its fullest.
Renfield then takes himself to a voluntary self help group of people in codependent relationship with the plan to rid his peers from those who’ve been wronged and bring their abusive partners before Dracula.
A worthwhile plan that rewards his nobleness that is until he meets and falls for police officer Rebecca Quincy (Akwafina). Rebecca is also hellbent on proving her worth in the police community, striding to climb out of the shadows of her father and sister. It is here that thus unlikely duo team up against the forces of evil and stand up to their domineering counterparts.
All eyes will no doubt focus on Nicolas Cage’s portrayal of Dracula, which is suitably amped up to the nth degree and with plenty of nods towards Max Shreck and Bela Lugosi incarnations. Cage tips it onto the right side of camp without taking it too much into the extreme.
Nicholas Hoult also taps into bumbling Britism to bring a modern Renfield to the screen and when combined with Akwasfina’s dry wit, a fun, comic journey unfolds between them.
The action sequences are also gory and packed with humour, and decide a fairly mediocre storyline, the afore-mention3d elements allow for a decent flick that does just enough to entertain without being clouded by ridicule
– Saul Muerte
Renfield is currently screening in cinemas nationwide.
As Huesera: The Bone Woman opens up, we’re presented with a potentially dark and beautifully twisted journey into the heart of maternity. We’re promised a disturbing representation of this theme through a thinly veiled horror genre, when essentially this is a dramatic tale told from a Mexican folk perspective. What actually transpires is slightly off the mark though.
Valeria (Natalia Solán) has always felt that spiritual yearning to be a mother and at first her picture life appears to be forming nicely along with her partner, Raul (Alfonso Dosal) and cemented further when she learns that she is pregnant. These larger than life emotions soon diminish however and is replaced with one of fear and dread. This is combined with illusions or visions that haunt her waking hour. Are they really a fabric of emotional turmoil or is there a deeper presence at play. As the occult forces appear to be suppressing her, Valeria must find the strength to push through at the cost of her relationships or let go, giving in to the universe.
Huesera: The Bone Woman creeps along and wants to offer a horror tale but constantly drifts along without any really connection to the subject matter. The subject of maternity and struggling with coming to terms or accepting that role when we’re told it’s the most natural thing is a difficult one to convey. Director Michelle Garza Cervera does her best to twist and turn through a troubled field, and atmospherically grips hard in places and towards the final moments offers some genuinely terrifying and beautifully shot scenes. Ultimately though we’re left adrift and by the film’s end casually costing off to an unknown horizon.
Huesera: The Bone Woman is streaming on Shudder ANZ from Thu 11th May.
It must be hard to craft your way out from underneath the parental shadow, especially when it carries the name Cronenberg. Cronenberg Snr. has established a venereal horror scene to eviscerate the celluloid senses and cement a sub genre in his own right.
His son Brandon has been slowly ebbing away at this terrain but gradually shifting the focus from the physical body and into the intellect and its impact on the soul of humanity.
Where his freshman feature, Antiviral tapped into a similar vein to his father, exploring the warped world of celebrity status and bacterial infection, his follow up film, Possessor took a step further into the mind with a storyline centred on its infiltration by a secret organisation and the psychological residue left in its wake.
Now, he takes another bold step into the psyche and scrutinises the subject of morality and reasoning as his playground. Cronenberg still dips his toe into familiar waters for Infinity Pool and the vacuous facade of the riches, struggling to paste over their empty lives in the pursuit of feeling. To what extent will they be willing to go to and how long can they sustain this rush before it too ebbs away and reminds them just how insignificant they are?
Set on an isolated island, novelist James (Alexander Skarsgård) and his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are enjoying lapping up life’s pleasures but soon succumb to temptation when they meet the mysterious Gabi (Mia Goth). Lured beyond the realms of the resort they immerse themselves in a world of violence and hedonism but when tragedy strikes they are given an ultimatum. Death or immunity… at a price. And therein paves the way for morals to slide and immortality loom large. If money can pay your way out of your troubles and there is an exhaustible supply of it, is there any end to the depravity?
Where Cronenberg endeavours to explore a clearly passionate subject matter, he loses some essence of what allowed him to shine through in his earlier features. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty on show here for his vision to triumph in places. The theme explored in tainted luxury through sour milk and burnt honey is a creative’s dream. Skarsgård provides the anchor to drive the narrative through, but its Goth who is in her element, providing another avenue to the unhinged mentality that she gloriously embellishes and never fails to disappoint.
Infinity Pool is a curious delight which may pale in comparison to this writer’s eyes against his other features, but no doubt this attempt is a worthy addition to his canon and will warrant further scrutiny when he gains a weightier backlog. I can’t wait to see what direction Cronenberg goes in next.
Infinity Pool will be screening in cinemas nationwide from Thu May 11th.
This latest home invasion themed movie begins like a made-for-tv feature, but as it flows through the course of events, begins to become entrenched in a more complex and compelling storyline. Part of the draw is through Eliza Taylor’s (The 100) performance of Julie, ebbing with initial frailty through to a broken mind, questioning all her surroundings both physical and mental.
Julie is an emerging painter who struggles balancing her artistic passion and rise in interest with her family. She has a growing anxiety that consumes her and it is when her sister is killed, Julie’s world spirals. Her marriage is drifting to the state of separation but Julie is bound by her insecurity and need for ‘normality’, so agrees to move into her husband’s (Bob Morley) tech wiz home, isolated from the outside world. It is within these walls that Julie’s fears become paramount, relying on drugs and alcohol as a band-aid to her ailment.
When her husband leaves for 5 days on business, against their doctor’s (Bryan Batt) wishes, Julie is thrown further into paranoia, consumed further by wild dreams and an adamant belief that someone keeps breaking into her home. Is there more to these delusions? Is her life really in danger? If so, who is behind it all? There are plenty of suspects: Her husband? The mysterious tech guy? Or the mailman? Either way, she becomes more dependent on the computerised Artificial Intelligence system of the homestead named Hera, in the vein of Demon Seed’s Proteus.
Something of a mediocre movie that doesn’t offer anything new, except a decent lead performance, a twisty thriller and intrigue to keep you in your seat, not necessarily to the edge of it.
I’ll Be Watching is available on streaming digital platforms from May 2.
Grief can drive people to the extreme. Their senses numbed by the inner pain that they are trying to relinquish. The means in which they choose to do so can vary, and one can’t quite predict which direction or even the lengths that people will go to in order to feel human or re-connect with those they’ve lost again.
From Black chooses one of these paths when a young mother, Cora (Anna Camp – True Blood), a drug addict, is struggling to come to terms with her son’s disappearance five years ago. When at a rehabilitation centre, Cora meets Abel (John Ales – 9 Bullets), a man who claims to have lost a daughter, but curiously presents her with the option to not only revisit her past, but potentially correct the mistakes she made. As always with these promises, it comes with a catch; a price must be paid. The question is how far is she willing to go in order to see her son again and right the wrongs?
Thomas Marchese along with his co-writer Jessub Flower explore the ramifications of venturing into the dark arts for his second feature length movie from the Director’s chair. Some of the elements are all-too-familiar terrain, sparking similar themes explored in A Dark Song. There’s no question about the acting range with both leads cementing their characters with emotional depth. The entity that is drawn forth by the duo is also well portrayed with a nicely created look, emerging from the shadows to haunt and torment Cora.
Where the film does fall down is through the pace of the piece, shifting and ambling along at a snail’s pace that it’s hard to keep your attention focused on the narrative. There are moments that feel like short features in their own right but stringing these together to provide cohesion and still be entertaining can be a struggle.
There is a decent playing field on show here to wade through the grief and despair of a lost child, but too often the pace of the film lets down this concept. Hats off to the creature design and some of the tension that is drawn out, especially towards the end of the feature,
From Black is streaming on Shudder ANZ from Fri 28th Apr.
Talk about a movie of two halves. This low budget indie feature, Kids vs Aliens which is part of the Shudder Exclusive and Original range drags its heels in the first half, with a lot of establishing character and setting. Normally this would encourage me to connect with the picture, but in this case I was borderline straining to do so. This in part had more to do with overlay in foundation, we get the gist, a group of young kids, hard into recreating wrestling/end of the world role play that they shoot and capture on camera. They have their own troubles, including absent parental figures, sibling rivalry, surviving bullies, and… oh yeah trying to outlive an alien invasion. So in the film’s defence there are a few things to set up before the creatives turn the dial. And when it does, it goes off in a big way.
Director Jason Eisner (Hobo With A Shotgun) extends his vision from V/H/S 2 segment “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” to feature length, which does hinder the outlook as a result, stretching out this concept to meet a decent running time, but he more than makes up for it when the kids in question stumble headfirst into saving themselves from these creatures from outer space.
The kids, Gary (Dominic Mariche), Jack (Asher Grayson) and Miles (Ben Tector) are fully invested in completing their fantasy feature, with the help of Gary’s older sister, Samantha (Phoebe Rex). Samantha is fast realising that she is being weighed down by Gary and his friends, coming into her own, lured by the repugnant Billy (Calem MacDonald). The idea that an older boy has eyes for her, clouds her perception and it takes the alien invasion to restore her priorities. Billy also has other ideas, one that is purely about finding a place to host a party with his friends. It’s all about what we project upon others and the facade we use in order to impress others – the central theme of the movie.
When the alien presence comes in full force, the tension and action dials up a notch which is amplified by the guerilla style technique in cinematography (hats off to Mat Barkley). The combination of Special Effects (Gary Coates) and Visual Effects (Sebastian Harder) help cement Eisner’s vision further.
There’s an incredibly slow start to this film and one could easily turn off or tune out. It has all the hallmarks of tired formula in this section of the movie, but patience will reap its reward when the tempo ramps up at which point Director Jason Eisner uses all the tricks in his book to grip the audience through a manner of twists and turns.
The feature doesn’t shy away from taking controversial steps in its conclusion though, setting up the notion of further instalments down the track.
If you can wait out the slow pace beginning of the film and embrace the journey, Eisner presents an exciting, ramped up adventure that you want to be a part of.
Kids vs Aliens is currently streaming on Shudder ANZ.
For those keen to give their ears tuned to a thrilling horror ride, check out this 4 part series from the creative team at Heart Starts Pounding. The Timekeeper is a YA podcast that follows 17 year old Charlie (Judah Lewis – The Babysitter and The Babysitter: Killer Queen) and his friends, Gama (Arjun Athalye) and Zoe (Chandler Kinney) as they are pulled into a life and death game 13 Keys.
The award winning team, Heart Starts Pounding with over 1M TikTok followers have created a compelling and riveting narrative thanks to the co-directive partnership of Matthew Brown and Kaelyn Moore. Both of whom have a wealth of experience in creating stories that hook you in.
The fictional game that is driving the narrative, 13 Keys is the mastermind of Jacob Fairchild, who burnt down the tech companies’ facility with himself and his assistants inside. This marked a dark chapter in Shady Pines and once thought buried in history, only for the game to resurface and take the life of Charlie’s co-worker at the Funland theme attraction. Charged with a mission to find out the cause of this mysterious event, Charlie then has no option but to play the game to find out answers. With numerous people turning up dead when they choose to play the game, has Charlie entered a path with no return?
It’s an exciting premise, and with a countdown set for Charlie to complete his task, the audience are equally pulled into a gripping venture that will keep you on the edge of your seats until the conclusion to the series. There is a decently laid out pace to the narrative combined with a well thought out plot that twists and turns through the mystery within. The performances are also well delivered with characters that you gain a genuine interest in their survival and propel the action forward. In addition, the sound design by Jeff Schmidt and composer Josh Zimmerman lend weight to the atmosphere, generating a worthy score, ramping up the tension.
Actor Duane Jones deserves an accolade for his work on screen, having made his mark in zombie folklore as Ben for George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead,he would once again appear in another significant feature five years later. Ganja and Hess would be a vital and symbolic feature in American-African culture had initially been greenlit by producers Quentin Kelly and Jack Jordan as a response to replicate the formula generated by Blaxploitation feature Blacula. Thankfully the director charged with creating Ganja and Hess had a more sophisticated tale in mind, and one that would mark an integral voice for African-Americans in the celluloid world. Bill Gunn was most noted as a playwright, novelist and actor, would produce a feature that examined the impact of Christianity on African culture in a modern setting, infusing gothic elements as its guise.
This vampire tale would centre on Dr. Hess Green (Jones), a black anthropologist, with money to guide his research into an ancient African nation of blood drinkers. Hess’ path takes a dark turn however when he attempts to save the life of George Meda (played by Gunn) who flips proceedings by stabbing Hess with a ceremonial dagger and commits suicide. Hess survives the ordeal but takes up the practice of his studies, drinking the blood of Meda, transforming him into a vampire.
Ganja and Hess is also a character piece that is told with no clear drive from its protagonists, not necessarily guided by love or power, but by their ancestral history, tying them to their roots, shackled by their past, yet striving to break free. This is perfectly captured by the closing scene on the film when a young man is revived in his new frame and leaps gallantly in his birth suit (a symbol of rebirth) towards the camera.
The journey on the way to the climax fluctuates through the actions of Hess, and poignantly the arrival of Ganga (Marlene Clark – (Night of the Cobra Woman), Meda’s estranged wife who becomes entangled in Hess’ affairs, succumbing to vampiric charms, the two then entice others into their spiritual wake.
These activities are formed in juxtaposition to the Christian perspective, led by the films’ narrator and head of the Christian church Rev. Luther Williams (Sam Waymon), a man who strives to lure Hess towards his values. With Ganja carrying this heavy burden following Hess’ demise, this balance of perspectives is delicately poised and Gunn leads the audience to surmise their own thoughts on which way, (if any) that the pendulum should swing.
And with Bruce Campbell hanging up his chainsaw following the equally entertaining Ash vs Evil Dead series, it was hard to see where the franchise would go next, despite the success of both these enterprises. Thankfully writer, director Lee Cronin (The Hole in the Ground) came up with a bold new vision that looked to the heavens to unearth the deadites before a new audience waiting for some further demonic happenings. This one small glimmer of inspiration transports the evil from out of the cabin in the woods and sinking headfirst into a high-rise apartment is a brave move, but one that works in the isolated trappings of a struggling family, stuck in their apartment building when the words of the necronomicon are spoken.That’s not before first tantalising the audience with all-too-familiar stomping ground with usual twisted anarchy.
When the narrative picks up from the prologue, we’re introduced to Beth (Lily Sullivan – Picnic at Hanging Rock limited series), who has been living the life on the road, evidently running away from all her problems, or relying on her sister, Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland – Blood Vessel) to solve them for her. Faced with another potential ‘problem’, Beth heads to Ellie’s apartment only to be confronted with an entirely different issue; one that would raise hell and force her to stand on her own two feet, and battle for her life whilst saving as many of her families’ lives as possible.
Ellie meanwhile has her own demons to confront, with her husband bailing on her with three children to raise and barely any means to do so. It is after an earthquake hits, that the eldest sibling, Danny (Morgan Davies – The Hunter) uncovers a vault beneath the basement which holds the dreaded book of the dead, and a number of vinyl recordings. These recordings are of a hidden sect and the voices of priests (one of whom is Bruce Campbell) incantations and then things really start to dial up a notch.
While some viewers may groan at the slow build up, cinephiles will greatly appreciate the time and dedication poured into character development and subtle clues in set direction and props that dictate the events yet to unfold. When the gloves come off, the blood pours savagely and there’s even time for some zingers in the dialogue to pepper the pace along. Cronin is clearly a fan of the franchise, and not only delivers a powerful punch in the storyline, but does so with a perfect mix of macabre, mayhem and sheer glee at the atrocities that the family must endure, breaking them apart and fusing them back together again with a wonderful climatic finish. The nods throughout are plenty without diluting this new storyline and Lily Sullivan in particular carves out a dynamic performance in Beth to juxtapose Alyssa Sutherland’s unhinged mother deadite, Ellie. The other family members are also strong (Morgan Davies, Gabrielle Echols, and Nell Fisher) to deliver likeable siblings Danny, Bridget and Kassie. The most dynamic choice comes in packing in laugh out loud, gloriously gory sequences that are in tone of the Evil Dead franchise and make it so great, whilst providing a voice and style of its own. This is one of the benchmarks that the Surgeons team attest to what is essential in making a decent sequel. Here, Cronin truly delivers and it’s safe to say that the chainsaw has been passed onto a new direction. One that breathes new life for the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis to wreak more havoc and further features down the line, be it in the wilderness or the comfort of your own home.
So much blood, energy and fun spawns from the latest Evil Dead feature. There are great nods to the original trilogy throughout whilst still creating its own identity. You can tell that director Lee Cronin is a fan and brings that zest to every frame on screen. By taking the evil out of the woods and thrusting it into urban terrain, he has elevated the franchise to new heights.
Evil Dead Rise will be released nationwide from Thursday 20th April courtesy of Warner Bros. Australia and Universal Pictures Australia.