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HORROR

As a Film, ‘Head Count’ is a Step Above Most of its Contemporaries

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Genre : Horror-Thriller
Rating : Unrated
Director: Elle Callahan

Cast:
Issac Jay
Ashleigh Morghan
Bevin Bru

 

 

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.

 

 

Rating 5/10
Links : IMDB

Head Count is now on VOD and in select theaters

 

HORROR

Child’s Play: A Creditable Attempt To Breathe New Life Into The Chucky Franchise

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What’s your name?
Andy. ‘Sup?
Hi, Andysup.

It seems like a lifetime ago since I saw the original film with the demonic pop Chucky dangerously swinging around with a razor-sharp butcher knife. Well, It’s not a hundred years, but thirty years is a long time as well. That’s how long it’s been since I went to get the VHS of this movie in the local video store. Apparently several sequels have been made after the initial release. Somehow I’ve missed that. Me and sequels. It remains an eternal struggle. Because there wasn’t anything better to choose from and I had nothing to do, I still took the risk and watched this modern version. Apart from the fact that the doll looks slightly different, has been given a different name and the reason for its malicious behavior has changed slightly, it was exactly as if I went back in time. “Child’s Play” has the same 80s horror mood.

 

Child's Play

 

A pimped version.

But first of all a big compliment to the makers of this pimped version. Most reboots or remakes just seem like a duplicate of the original. Here they really deviate from the original story. It’s not the soul of a serial killer that transforms the doll into a bloodthirsty, diabolical murderous toy. Here it’s an aggrieved and irritated Chinese factory worker who starts to mess with the security software out of revenge. To be honest, I felt like giving up at that moment. A ragged and clearly unkempt Chinese guy reprogramming the source software was, in my eyes, completely absurd and exaggerated. Fortunately, I persisted. Because all in all “Child’s Play” wasn’t so bad.

 

Child's Play

 

Don’t expect creepiness.

What disappointed me a bit, was the doll itself. Especially the transformation from good to evil. In the original film, Chucky did get a diabolical and cruel expression. In this movie, they wanted to achieve the same effect by providing Buddi (as this child-friendly babysitter is now called) with red-glowing eyes. Well, it wasn’t really scary. And to be honest, this film isn’t creepy at all. I thought it was rather entertaining horror material, suitable for the novice horror enthusiast. Don’t expect any nasty-looking killings either. You’ll see clichéd situations where circular saws and a lawnmower (or something like that) are used in. The favorite murder instruments from the 80s.

 

Child's Play

 

Acceptable acting.

The acting was generally acceptable. Only Aubrey Plaza as Andy’s mother wasn’t really convincing. To be honest, she seemed to be the sister of Andy (Gabriel Bateman), the introverted boy with a hearing problem. David Lewis played the most annoying character. That means you can say that his acting was successful. The most light-hearted and comical part was provided by Brian Tyree Henry as police officer Mike, who lives with his mother. It’s not only the mother-son correlation that sometimes causes hilarious moments. There are also slapstick-like scenes, such as the gift-wrapped item (Well, I try to stay vague about this) that falls into the hands of Mike’s mother by mistake. Most surprising in this film was the fact that Mark Hamill (Yes, Luke Skywalker himself) was responsible for Chucky’s dialogues.

 

Child's Play

 

A nice time-killer.

In the end, this was a creditable attempt to breathe new life into the Chucky franchise. This modernized version is not an epic film but is anything but bad. It even tries to portray a failing A.I. and point out the dangers of a robotic society. And actually, what Chucky is doing, is simply the result of a learning process that he undergoes in the company of Andy. If the latter makes a remark that he would rather get rid of the cat Mickey Rooney, you already know the verdict. In the end, Chucky is nothing more than an electronic gadget that ignores the robotics laws of Asimov. It’s not really impressive or exciting at all. But “Child’s Play” was a nice time-killer.

 

My rating 6/10
Links: IMDB

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HORROR

Gary Oldman Boards a Sinking Ship in ‘Mary’

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Genre : Horror-Thriller
Rating : Unrated
Director: Michael Goi

Cast:
Gary Oldman
Emily Mortimer
Stefanie Scott
Jennifer Esposito

Things have been pretty rough for David (Gary Oldman) as of late. Working as the captain of a fishing tour boat he dreams of starting his own boating business to provide for his family. At a local boat auction he finds an old vessel, The Mary. Desperate and unable to resist the opportunity to be hi own boss he buys the ship despite the financial risk. With the help of his wife Sarah (Emily Mortimer) and daughters Lindsey (Stefanie Scott) and Mary (Chloe Perrin) are able to clean up the ship making it look as good as new. Joined by the young Tommy (Owen Teague) and David’s second in command Mike (Manuel Gracia-Ruflo) the family sets sail towards the Bahamas before the ship’s mysterious past comes to light.

 

 

Told in a series of flashbacks during a police interogation Mary should be great. In fact writer Anthony Jaswinski (The Shallows) has proven that an ocean setting is more than enough to craft a compelling tale of terror. Using it as the backdrop for a haunted house story seems like a no brainer. Sadly that isn’t quite what we get. With Jaswinski and director Michael Goi seemingly unsure what they wanted we get a mix of terror and family drama that doesn’t quite commit to either.

For the most part Mary sticks to jump scares. Whether it’s doors banging by themselves or mysterious footprints appearing out of nowhere, Mary treads very familiar waters through most of it’s run time. There are moments of intrigue such as when the ship that haunts The Mary takes control of Tommy but any chances for development are quickly glossed over in the next scene with just as much care going into the dramatic scenes. With tensions high from the time David buys the boat, we get hints through the film before Lindsey confronts her mother about committing infidelity. Although hardly the revelation they want it to be the scene is sold beautifully by Emily Mortimer. In fact, Mortimer does a wonderful job throughout the film.

 

 

Her first horror movie in nearly a decade Emily Mortimer is more than ready to carry the film on her shoulders. Playing an unreliable narrator to a criminally underused Jennifer Esposito she gives Mary her all with a performance that wouldn’t be out of place in some of her best roles. She particularly pops when paired up with Gary Oldman. While not given too much to do besides look concerned there are glimpses of suspicion when David catches Sarah talking to Mike. The two are so good together that you can’t help but be disappointed we aren’t watching the two in a straight up dramatic movie.

Between the performances from Emily Mortimer and Gary Oldman and the shots emphasising the isolation of the ocean you can see glimpses of brilliance in Mary. But like the ocean itself these hope spots are swept away just as fast. Instead what we get is a cliche ridden mess that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Leaving the door open for a sequel Mary has sunk before it even left port.

 

Rating 4/10 Links : IMDB

Mary is now on Bluray, DVD and on VOD

 

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Entertainment

First Teaser Trailer For Janelle Monáe‘s ‘Antebellum’

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Little is known about the secret film which stars Janelle Monáe‘, Marque Richardson II, Eric Lang, Jack Huston, Kiersey Clemons, Tongayi Chirisa, Gabourey Sidibe, Rob Aramayo, Lily Cowles, and Jena Malone.

The film is being brought to light by the people who produced Jordan Peele’sGet Out,’ and ‘Us.’

“Successful author Veronica Henley (Janelle Monáe) finds herself trapped in a horrifying reality and must uncover the mind-bending mystery before it’s too late,” the film’s synopsis states.

Antebellum’ hits theaters April 24, 2020

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