Movie review: Kids vs Aliens (2023)


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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. 

The Prognosis:

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.

  • Saul Muerte

Kids vs Aliens is currently streaming on Shudder ANZ.

Podcast review: The Timekeeper


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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.

If you are keen to dive into this well crafted mystery, told in a tightly produced 2 hour storyline you can listen wherever you get your podcasts.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective – Ganja and Hess (1973) 50th anniversary


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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. 

  • Saul Muerte. 

Movie review – Evil Dead Rise (2023)


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It’s been 10 years since Fede Alvarez (Don’t Breathe) spun a new tale in the Evil Dead franchise, with arguably one of the greater reboots in recent years. 

S3 Ep 7: The Evil Dead franchise: The Evil Dead (2013)

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.

The Prognosis:

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.

  • Saul Muerte

Evil Dead Rise will be released nationwide from Thursday 20th April courtesy of Warner Bros. Australia and Universal Pictures Australia.

Movie review – Cube (2021)


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When Vincenzo Natali made his mark with his directorial feature Cube, infusing a kafkaesque science fiction horror into the popular mainstream, there has been a desire to go back into the mechanical, cubic prison structure, and its elaborate traps. 

The latest instalment to the franchise comes in the form of a Japanese remake of the original from Yasuhiko Shimizu charged with overseeing directorial duties for a modern audience. The question is however, could he create the magic that Natali generated whilst still providing something new?

From the initial outset, one would be led to believe that the answer to that question is Yes, when we follow a escapee contender roving through the nicely designed cube, (hats off to production designer, Naoyuki Hashimoto) before being thwarted by one of those hidden traps in a manner that strays from its predecessor but not without a cheeky nod. 

Once we sit up and take notice however, the film slips all too easily into familiar terrain, happily trudging along to the same beats we’ve seen before. We have six central participants, all loosely based on the 1997 flick: Yuichi Goto (Masaki Suda), a 29-year-old engineer, based on David Worth; Asako Kai (Anne Watanabe), a 37-year-old staff employee, based on Joan Leaven; Shinji Ochi (Masaki Okada), a 31-year-old freeter, based on Dr. Helen Holloway; Chiharu Uno (Hikaru Tashiro), a 13-year-old middle school student, based on Kazan; Hiroshi Ide (Takumi Saito), a 41-year-old mechanic, based on Rennes; and Kazumasa Ando (Kōtarō Yoshida), a 62-year-old company executive, based on Quentin McNeil. All of whom deviate slightly though from these characters enough to keep you guessing how the creatives will lead them to a satisfying conclusion.

Despite these differences, the path is all-too-familiar and it feels like an age before anything remotely interesting occurs. In shifting the personalities a little, we lose depth in their character. The tension is lost in a predictable algorithm which becomes all too easy to navigate and notably one character in particular drifting all too easily into the background, your left pondering what their purpose actually is until a twist final revelation. By pushing them into obscurity though, is to neglect character building and results in lazy writing. 

The Prognosis:

Too timid to push the remake into new terrain, and when it does attempt to be different and make its own mark, it’s a half-hearted affair. The original was a tense albeit ham-fisted tale, that struck a chord with both visual, and character development that belied the low budget. The remake sits in the comfort zone, rarely breaking out of conformity, with the exception of the one fleshed out character of Shinji Ochi played out with heart and appeal by Okada. There’s promise of a franchise expansion, but based on this outing it’ll be hard to determine if the creatives will be given the chance to break out of the cuboid prison that they have confined themselves in.

  • Saul Muerte

Cube is streaming on SCREAMBOX on iOS, Android, Prime Video, Roku, YouTube TV, Samsung, Comcast, Cox, and from Apr 11.

Movie review – Bunker (2023)


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There will always be an infinite fascination with the evil of mankind and this association with humanity’s most extreme atrocities that were carried out with the Second World War by Nazi Germany. And not for the first time, the horror film genre takes this theme and plants a group in an isolated environment where they are trapped from any hope of escape.

This is the basic premise for Bunker, where a group of soldiers embark on a mission that takes them deep in the trenches of a war-torn land and ventures into the titular bunker. Once underground and retreating from the torrent of carnage above they find something far disturbing and cataclysmic.

The warning signs are there for the squadron, charged with the mission as the trenches appear deserted and the bunker in question barricaded by the Nazis from the outside. There must be something truly evil to break fear in mankind’s darkest tribe.

Once inside, the troop encounters a German officer, Kurt (Luke Baines) constrained, (another clue to the danger they are yet to face) and slowly they become fractured and the bond much needed to survive becomes frayed. This is no longer a physical conflict but a psychological warfare, where they must use their wits and prevent any external threat from entering their minds. Is this a case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the works? Or is there something far more sinister at prey?

The Prognosis:

The feature is a little on the lengthy side for what is essentially a psychological trauma flick placed in a darkly, destructive setting. While the characters could have more depth to them, Patrick Moltane’s Lt. Turner is delightfully twisted and you can see the fun being played in his portrayal of the commander of the group. 

If there was a little more attention on character to provide substance to the piece, and some time shaved off from the running time, Bunker could have been a worthy watch. Instead it’s just average viewing. 

  • Saul Muerte

Bunker is available on TELSTRA TV Box Office, Google Play, YouTube Movies, Fetch TV, and iTunes. 

Movie review – Living With Chucky (2023)


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Child’s Play along with its iconic killer doll Chucky has been classified as a gateway horror feature. I was 10 years old upon its release and the moment that Maggie (Dinah Manoff) fell out of the apartment window and to her death, was embedded in this impressionable mind. I’ve been hooked on the highs and lows of Chucky’s exploits ever since and immersing in each instant that it traversed from straight horror, to comedy and back again, evolving as Chucky did along the way and willing to be taking along the ride. Why? If anything it’s simply that with any Chucky film, you’re guaranteed to be entertained, whether it’s the one-liners, or the outrageous steps in story arc decisions that Chucky makes to carry out his kills. In many ways, I’m the right kind of audience for this documentary feature, because like the players involved, I too have grown up with Chucky and allowed him into my room so that he can play to his heart’s content and satiate my need for benevolent horror.

Where Living With Chucky fills the void between creativity and audience is that it steps into the Chucky vortex and drifts through the years, engaging in interviews and memories from the team that brought you the seven features from the franchise (with the exception of the one that shall not be named 2019 reboot… ahem.)

It could easily serve up as one of those memory lane doco’s that run the gauntlet of interviews with its key players, but the essential ingredient is one of ‘family’. Something that the creatives identify with or as, throughout the years that they have been devoted to the franchise. Integral to the narrative, is the films’ director, Kyra Elise Gardner who is also the daughter of special effects guru Tony Gardner, the man behind the many puppetry changes that Chucky has embodied over time. This father – daughter relationship is at first only the understory as we (the audience) go through the motions of the intricate details and recollections that went into each feature. By the film’s conclusion it is the heart of the documentary and sings to each tale that is told. Naturally involved in this is the more notable father – daughter team who collaborate on screen, the brilliant Brad Dourif and Fiona Dourif. And of course, Jennifer Tilly who marked the most significant change in the franchise with her role of Tiffany and here her accounts are equally engaging here. To complete the evocative journey we also have Alex Vincent, Christine Elise, Billy Boyd, John Waters, David Kirshner and Chucky creator Don Mancini to guide our nostalgic yearnings and tick all the necessary needs that fans of the franchise could possibly need.

The Prognosis:

This is more than a Chucky fan’s bible to instil the desire to walk through each of the franchise’ features and cast your mind back with the key players of the time. Living With Chucky speaks to the central premise and the reason that we keep going back to pint-sized elaborate kills from out favourite serial-killing doll. The sheer fun and frivolity that is had in the making of these films and the bond that is formed by the creatives in doing so. It’s what has united them and formed a family-like atmosphere with each passing tale. One that is evident when watching these films and here, this doco provides a window into the inventiveness and artistry.

  • Saul Muerte

Living With Chucky is streaming on SCREAMBOX on iOS, Android, Prime Video, Roku, YouTube TV, Samsung, Comcast, Cox, and

Movie review – The Unheard (2023)


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Shudder once again attempt to open the horror portals and explore all terrains of the genre in their latest Exclusive and Original feature, The Unheard. 

From the creative writing team behind Crawl, The Rasmussen brothers team up with Director Jeffrey A. Brown (The Beach House) to weave a tale centred on a young woman, Chloe (Lachlan Watson) who has a hearing impairment. Chloe undergoes a revolutionary new and experimental treatment that will hopefully restore her hearing and takes off to her family beach home to recover. While there, old memories rise to the surface along with links to her past and strange disappearance of her mother. Embedded in these evocations, Chloe is thrust into a confusing world tempered by these auditory hallucinations that she keeps experiencing. There is also the haunting feeling that she is not alone, constantly being watched at all hours. Are these temporal side effects to her rehabilitation? Or is there something far sinister going on?

Part of the picture’s appeal is the blurred lines that are created between fantasy and reality as Chloe’s convoluted world dilutes her perception. This chosen narrative combined with her isolation ramps up the tension and the fear from the audience where the dial is being turned up with a slow, gradual ascent. B.y its conclusion, Chloe may find the answers to her life’s troubles, but the resolution may not be what she had desired.

The Prognosis:

The pace and ambience that is built up to create the tense atmosphere may be served a little too laggard for some. Lachlan does create a hypnotic performance in her portrayal of Chloe with a fairly solid character. The stylised direction ebbs and flows throughout the narrative to deliver these moments of animosity through an investigation into her past. This is also emphasised by the parallel world that lies in an unheard or hidden state which seeps into Chloe’s world through the auditory soundscape, twisting the way the  information in line with the lead protagonist.
All these elements are played out well and an interesting world is created as a result, but it treads a fine line between captivating and alienating in its execution.

  • Saul Muerte

The Unheard is currently screening on Shudder from 31st March.

Retrospective – The Birds (1963)


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Before Steven Spielberg instilled our fear of the ocean and created the first Summer Blockbuster in Jaws, Alfred Hitchcok attempted to do something similar but instead of sharks, the attack on humanity came from the skies for his feature adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds.

Not for the first time would Hitch go to Du Maurier’s bibliography for inspiration having done so some twenty years earlier in arguably his first success in Hollywood, Rebecca. That film would go on to receive Best Picture Academy Award, but notably had Producer David O. Selznick’s fingerprints all over the production’s end result. By 1963 however, Hitch had firmly established himself as a prominent actor in the Golden Hills with a style remarkably his own and riding on the crest of the success of Psycho.

The Birds, a short story, would be given a face lift from the small Cornish town from which it was initially set, being transported to north of San Francisco and the idyllic Bodega Bay (a place and region that Hitch fell in love with).

Looking back at this film at the time of writing to celebrate its 60th Anniversary, there are obvious flaws that come to light when contrasted with Jaws. Namely, depth of character, which has often been criticised towards the screenwriter, Evan Hunter, but to do so would be to neglect the Hitchcock style and direct precision choices made by the auteur. The Birds is the epitome of style over substance. 

We initially follow Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), the depiction of Hitchcock Blonde captured on screen, the perfect mould for him to carve out his vision of the “statuesque blonde with a cool, sophisticated manner”. The scene is set in San Francisco as we witness her enter a pet store and encounter the brash, machismo Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) and a cool-yet-flirtatious dialogue sparks between them. Enough to encourage Daniels to buy lovebirds and drive off to his hometown of Bodega Bay to give his younger sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright – yes, that Veronica Cartright) as a birthday present. As you do. All this foolish foreplay is a facade and symbolic of the complacency that is created in humanity. It serves as the true horror lurking in the clouds and the menace that hangs in the air – The Birds. After all, as Hitch put it, The Birds are the stars. Hitch was the king of suspense, and this is what he plays with, delicately enticing the fear to come to the audience in strong steady beats, starting with the one swooping gull attack Melanie Daniels head, then the attack on the farm, which leads Mitch’s mother, Lydia (the magnificent Jessica Tandy to play the overbearing matriarch) to discover the bloodied remains of a local farmer. This scene is also the only real gory sequence shot, the rest, by design, leads the audience to fill in the gaps. 

The film would be iconised by two particular sequences, the school attack as birds descend on the children trying to escape. And the moment that Melanie gets trapped inside the attic with the feathered frenzy in an isolated environment. That’s not to forget the carnage that escalates outside the town eatery, when a further attack ensues, following a weighty dialogue sequence where local townsfolk try to unpack the cause of the bird attacks. The real moment of despair would be in the picture’s final sequence as a traumatised Daniels has been reduced to her core, escorted away in her car with Mitch and his family surrounded by a sea of birds, never knowing when the next strike will come, if it all. This ambiguous ending, one that is echoed from the source novel, left a lot of moviegoers bewildered, but for me, it’s the killer stroke deliberately left hanging in the air that hits strong and true. 

By flipping the perspective of caged birds to caged humans, hiding in fear of predators, seeking protecting behind fimble walls, and also leading to an unknown conclusion and embracing the exterior, the audience are also thrust into the wilderness with a faint sign of hope to lead the way.

  • Saul Muerte

 1 Counts, K. B. (1980). The Making of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Cinemafantastique, 10, 15-35.

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.