Genre : Horror-Thriller
Rating : Unrated
Director: Elle Callahan
With summer break just beginning a reluctant Evan (Isaac Jay) heads to Joshua Tree to spend the weekend with his estranged brother Peyton (Cooper Rowe). Meeting a group of other twenty-somthings he captures the eye of photographer Zoe (Ashleigh Morghan). With sparks beginning to fly between the two Evan accepts an invitation to party with Zoe and her friends, leaving Peyton behind. As the night wears on and the drinks continue to flow they all settle around a fire and tell scary stories around a campfire. Without a story of his own Evan goes online and finds a poem entitled Hisji. As he reads it to his new friends he accidentally unleashes a deadly being unlike anything he could ever dream of.
The latest in the quickly growing Creepypasta-based movie subgenre writer-director Elle Callahan deviates from the norm by creating her own urban legend. A mix of The Babadook and The Thing, the Hisji is a humanoid that can shape shift and look like other people. Slowly infiltrating groups of five it ritualistically stalks them before forcing them to commit suicide. Callahan and co-writer Michael Nader give audiences just enough of the Hisji’s lore to keep audiences hooked. A similar level of care can be seen behind the camera.
Stylishly capturing the desolate California desert in her feature debut Elle Callahan shows a technical skill that belies her time behind the camera. Despite Head Count‘s limited budget Callahan is able to deliver some blockbuster scares with things as simple as camera tricks or gradually building tension to its breaking point. She possesses the kind of skills that lull audiences into a false sense of security from a drunken game of Never Have I Ever and turn it into one of the best jump scares of the year. It’s a talent doesn’t necessarily extend to other aspects of the film.
As interesting as Head Count can be on a technical level it stumbles as an actual story. Although performed well by Isaac Jay, Evan can feel unbearable at times. Either afraid or angst-ridden for the majority of Head Count the only time Evan shows any real life is when he is with Zoe. Portrayed by Ashleigh Morghan (Snowfall, The Land) she is able to bring a cheeriness out of Evan that is sorely missing most of the movie. The second-too-long stares, the awkwardness around your significant other’s friends, Jay and Morghan do a marvelous job capturing the awkward yet magical feeling you get when you fall for someone. The same can’t be said of the rest of the supporting cast. For the most part Zoe’s posse, while well performed, come off as beyond cliché. Whether it’s the alpha male Max or the constantly stoned Nico they feel more like Degrassi extras than actual characters.
The other thing holding Head Count back is the film’s lack of budget. Not to say you necessarily need Avengers money to make a good film but Head Count clearly had some pretty big ambitions for its third act. After meticulously crafting a creeping, subtle terror it rushes as fast as it can to the finish line leaving as much chaos in its wake as it can muster. Culminating with a less than impressive CG Hisji it feels out of place in a movie that felt so deliberate in its choices before. It doesn’t necessarily ruin the film but it makes for a jarring change of pace.
As a film, Head Count is a step above most of its contemporaries. With an intriguing lore for the Hisji and a skillful hand behind the scenes, Elle Callahan’s first feature shows that the director has a lot of potential. So does that make Head Count a good movie? Not quite. Despite being good on a technical level an indie level budget, paper thin characters and a too predictable sequel hook hurt the film to outright recommend. But if it’s any indication of Callahan’s future then her next film Witch Hunt, now in pre-production, should be one to look out for. Just don’t go in a group of five.
Links : IMDB
Head Count is now on VOD and in select theaters
Z: Its Presence Is Clearly Felt In Every Dark Grim Scene
Z likes it dark.
Movies with creepy little boys. With “Z” you also have the feeling you are getting yet another horror in which such a demonic boy is in command. Only recently I saw “The Prodigy” where the son of the house slowly develops a deviating pattern of behavior. That movie was about reincarnation. In “Z” it’s about having an imaginary friend. When Joshua Parsons (Jett Klyne) introduces his friend “Z” to his parents, they don’t really worry at first. They think it’s probably just a phase their kid has to struggle through. They even think it’s cute, in a certain way. Until suddenly school friends don’t want anything to do with Josh anymore, Elizabeth (Keegan Connor Tracy) becomes aware of strange things and finally, Joshua is also suspended from school because of intolerable behavior. At that moment, Elizabeth starts to realize that this imaginary friend has a tremendous influence on her sweet son.
Just an ordinary horror, I thought.
Until halfway through the film it seems like an ordinary average horror. Including, something terrible happening to one of Joshua’s school friends (with or without Z’s collaboration) and Joshua revealing a horrible drawing in his bedroom. Believe me. Draw a black top hat on the head of this scary creature and you have the twin brother of “The Babadook” in front of you. Now is the time for Elizabeth to sound the alarm, while dad Kevin (Sean Rogerson) is still in a phase of denial and suffers from utter blindness, and get in touch with psychologist Dr. Seager (Stephen McHattie) to present the problem. The well-known tricks from the horror genre are being used in “Z” of course. So again the shady spots with scary sounds. Toys that come to life. And nocturnal wanderings through the semi-darkness (while every sensible person would turn on the light anyway) with a few jump-scares as a result. Even a creepy bath scene couldn’t fail to come.
Hey, it turns out to be completely something different.
And yet the film cleverly changes the mood and shifts the focus from a scary invisible friend to a long-forgotten childhood trauma that set the whole mechanism in motion. And before you realize it, the creepy horror story has given way to a sort of psychological thriller. From here, Joshua is no longer central, but the story focuses on Elizabeth. And frankly, the way Keegan Connor Tracy gives shape to this character was of exceptionally high level. An obviously confused person who slowly but surely sinks further into complete madness as a tormented soul. The father’s character contrasts sharply with that of his family members. In the end, I found it a meaningless person and quite implausible as a father figure. On the one hand, he said nothing about the red notes from school that exposed Joshua’s misconduct. On the other hand, he’s blind with anger when hearing that his son has been prescribed medication without his knowledge. Ah, as always in horror movies, it’s usually the fathers who navigate through the story carefree and never notice anything suspicious. It’s usually the mother figure who experiences strange sensations and concludes that disaster is imminent.
It’s not such a scary movie.
I can’t say the film “Z” was really scary. Maybe deliberately not depicting the phenomenon “Z” explicitly, does cause some tension. A cleverly applied gimmick so the viewer’s imagination has to do most of the work (with a terrifying wall drawing as inspiration). Ultimately, it’s mainly the mood that’s essential in this film. In hindsight, the film covers different topics. Youthful growing pains and parental concerns. Nightmarish phantoms and unresolved trauma. As a parent, you expect your offspring to inherit some of your character traits or personal qualities. However, in “Z” this legacy is not something you’d expect. And even though this delusion isn’t excessively visualized here, its presence is clearly felt in every dark, grim scene.
My rating 6/10
El Hoyo: A Bizarre Story That Leaves You With An Oppressive Feeling
Don’t speak to the people below. Why?
Because they’re down below.
The people above won’t answer you. Why?
Because they’re above.
“El Hoyo” is not just a frightening movie. It’s a movie with a moral. A film that makes you think. Could you call it horror? You could have an extensive discussion about this. For some of the detainees who are locked up in the prison portrayed in this film, it’s indeed horror. It depends on which floor they end up after a month of extensive eating or a month of terrible hunger. The first thing that came to mind was “Hey, they designed a vertical “Snowpiercer”. Be warned though. It’s brutal. Confronting. And as I said before, a moral lurks beneath the symbolic surface.
A platform filled with delicious food.
However, the set-up of the film is very simple. Take a sky-high building. A magically moving platform (hence the movie title). A group of convicts who are locked in groups of two on each floor. Finally, you establish a culinary department full of kitchen staff who all master the right culinary skills. And this department ensures that this platform is filled with delicacies every day with the same dose of enthusiasm, dedication, and love for their profession. From roasts, fruit bowls, and enormous chocolate cakes to haute cuisine with langoustines, lobster, and other gastronomically refined food. You can guess the outcome. As the platform sinks, the richly filled table turns into a desolate table full of empty dishes, pots, and smashed dinnerware, where you can’t even find a crumb on anymore.
Can you break the system?
Despite the simple concept and the fact that the entire film is set in one location, the film remains fascinating until the end. The denouement, however, is rather disappointing. That’s the only thing that put a damper on this film. Not that everything is very clear in this film. Why this facility has been designed in this way, isn’t explained anywhere. Is it to talk a conscience into the viewers? Is it a psychologically justified experiment? Or was there just someone random who came up with this brilliant idea to design this alternative penal institution? Besides, it’s not only convicts who were admitted here. Take Goreng (Ivan Massagué). This person will receive a diploma (as a social worker?) after serving a 6-month prison sentence. Is it a form of an internship? Or self-flagellation? Even the mechanism behind the falling platform remained a mystery to me. But I got no problem with these unresolved questions. Unfortunately, the main question of how the system could be beaten is left unanswered. Or was it just the intention to leave everyone in the dark?
Let’s make it a better place.
It’s crystal clear they tried to deliver a socially critical message. It’s broadly an allegorical representation of our contemporary society. A society with an unfair distribution of prosperity and richness. And the vast majority of those who own the most wealth in our society, are disinclined to share it with those of the lower classes. And the plea of the less fortunate falls on deaf ears, so they are doomed to rely on less humane practices. And, of course, there are the world improvers among us and people thinking they are a newborn St. Martin, who make frantic efforts to convince others to participate in working on a better world and to call for solidarity. A fairer world. And mocking laughter and derision are usually the results of their efforts. The only difference with real life is that people change in the social ladder from month to month in this prison. Some in a positive, others in a negative way.
Bizarre and repugnant.
“El Hoyo” is a bizarre story that leaves you with an oppressive feeling. As the film progresses you realize how awful it is for some in this gray, grim tower. And these abject conditions are also explicitly shown. Suffocatingly realistic. So expect some bloody and gory images full of excessive violence as well (not suitable for sensitive souls). For some, the sight of men eating food like animals (which reminded me a bit of “La Grande Bouffe”), it will be repugnant already. But otherwise, this original film is easy to digest (just to stay with the subject). And not only because of the splendid acting. It’s not without reason that the film is a great success on Netflix. So you can see that this film platform occasionally programs better movies.
My rating 7/10
A Night of Horror : Nightmare Radio | There’s Something For Everyone
Are you a fan of horror anthology films (such as “Tales from the crypt“, “Creepshow“, “Tales of Halloween”, “XX” or “Tale of Tales”)? Well, you might as well like this movie. Provided you are not an avid lover of short films and continuously seek for horror short films on YouTube or other channels. Because then it may well be that you’ve already seen a few of the films that are used in “A Night of Horror: Nightmare Radio“. This anthology isn’t a collection of newly made short films. It’s a collection of pre-existing short films. And these are all connected through a central storyline with DJ Rod Wilson (James Wright) who broadcasts a night program on some local radio station. A program in which he (and also a few nightly callers) tries to delight listeners with some chilling and creepy ghostly stories. It’s not Halloween yet, but it would be a suitable movie for that period of the year.
“Post Mortem Mary” is an eye-opener (no pun intended).
Frankly, I thought the beginning of the film looked very promising and exciting. The first short (“In the Dark Dark Woods”, a sort of alternative version of “The Invisible Man”) and the introduction of the bearded, radio guy gave me a taste for more. And when the second short story (highlight of the whole movie and my absolute favorite) was over, I was already getting ready for even more of that. “Post Mortem Mary” isn’t only fantastic in terms of content. The handling of the camera, the way in which the story was portrayed and the ever-rising suspense in this excruciatingly exciting short story, produced a very successful end result. It’s the story of a mother and her young daughter Mary earning their living in Australia in 1840 as post-mortem photographers. The idea is to photograph the corpse as vividly as possible. Something Mary has yet to learn. It’s a fantastic short film that was well received at some festivals in 2017 and won some prizes worldwide.
More stories to come.
Unfortunately, none of the subsequent stories reached the same level as the previous short films. Not that they were awfully bad or of a sadly low level. But “Post Mortem Mary” is head and shoulders above the rest. “A little off the Top” is a bit of a sinister story that focuses on the insanity (Or craftiness. It’s just how you look at it) of a hairdresser. “Drops” demonstrates how a traumatic experience torments a Spanish young dancer. I thought “The Disappearance of Willie Bingham” was kind of successful. A somewhat different story about how a death penalty is converted into a more alternative punishment. In my view a fairly funny story. “The smiling man” undoubtedly deserves a place behind Mary’s story. Concise and terrifying at the same time. Without too much fuss. The final short films “Into the Mud” and “Vicius” were, in my opinion, the weakest ones.
Diversity and Quality. What more do you want?
The fact is that by making a selection of existing short films in “A Night of Horror: Nightmare Radio“, the quality level is very high. None of the stories gives you the feeling as if they were quickly produced, such that the intended playing time of the feature-length film could be reached. Another advantage is that the movie scores well in terms of diversity. There’s something for everyone. Only “Into the Mud” (a kind of mythologically oriented fantasy story) feels a little bit like the odd one out here. The only downside was the overarching story of the DJ himself. First of all, I didn’t think it was convincing enough. It even felt a bit boring. And the denouement was a bit of an anti-climax. Yet to my surprise, I enjoyed this movie more than I expected. So if you feel like hearing some scary, paranormal stories with a lurid touch, then you’ll be fine with this film.