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Thriller ‘Knives and Skin’ Cuts Deeper Than Most

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Genre : Thriller
Rating : Unrated
Director: Jennifer Reeder

Cast:
Kate Arrington
Tim Hopper
Marika Engelhardt

A small rural town is turned inside out when local student Carolyn Harper goes missing. Despite the best efforts of the suburban sheriff and Carolyn’s mother she cannot be found. As the days go by a wave of fear and distrust slowly begin to seep into the town’s foundations. As more and more townspeople try to figure out how to deal with their shared trauma a collective awakening takes over the town’s youth.

As simple as that synopsis may sound Knives and Skin is so much more. Written and directed by indie favorite Jennifer Reeder (2017’s Signature Move), Knives and Skin is a hard movie to explain. What starts out as a conventional teen thriller becomes a surrealist take that’s two parts Twin Peaks, one-part Rian Johnson’s Brick with a dash of Heathers to help it all go down. And although Knives and Skin is a grounded mystery it tackles so much more including toxic masculinity, LGBTQ issues and shared trauma.

Just as unique is how Reeder and cinematographer Christopher Rejano present their tale of tragedy. Nostalgic for the bright and vibrant look of the 80’s Knives and Skin uses deep blues and reds feel like they belong more in an Argento film than grounded thriller. Just as intricate are the relationships and characterizations of the town’s inhabitants. Mostly focused on Afra (Haley Bolithon), April (Aurora Real de Asua) and Joanna (Grace Smith) the most compelling performance Carolyn’s mother Lisa (Marika Engelhart). Over the course of the film we watch Lisa go from choir teacher and concerned mother to unraveling mess to a weird kind of acceptance. Marika’s performance is able to straddle tightrope between tragic and touching all at the same time.

As unique as Knives and Skin is in presentation it has its drawbacks. By taking inspiration from David Lynch it also replicates his signature acting style. How his style could make a performance feel stacato and suddenly give off a burst of intensity. Or how someone who was a normal teenager in the scene before would do a complete 180 and feel like a nihilistic monster in the next. Although David Lynch has shown that this style of telling a story can work it can just as often feel off putting. Just as confusing is the narrative of the story. Although the story itself is straight forward I found the way it was being told to be a bit jumbled in execution. Needless to say, Knives and Skin isn’t the kind of movie you put on as background noise.

A bit of a sleeper on the festival circuit Knives and Skin emerges as one of the most unique thrillers of the year. Jarring in presentation and story it isn’t for everyone. And that is probably it’s biggest strength. Not only does writer-director Jennifer Reeder show a skill at genre conventions but she also shows a willingness to look at topics we don’t typically talk about in genre cinema. Whether you love it or hate it Knives and Skin will speak to you in some way.

Rating 7/10
Links : IMDB

Knives and Skin is now in theaters and on VOD

HORROR

Little Monsters: “It Was Like A School Project In Which The Creatures Were Played By Fellow Students”

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Can we play the shooty game,Uncle David?
I don’t want us to get in trouble, Felix.
We’ll have to play it with the sound off.

 

Well, there’s always the award “Disappointment of the year”. I’m afraid this year the film “Little Monsters” will take the credits for this. I had regained confidence in the combination of horror and comedy after watching “Monster Party” and “The dead don’t die“. I’ve always had a problem with it when moviemakers mix these two genres. But these last two films managed to rekindle my enthusiasm. Well, “Little Monsters” has nipped that enthusiasm in the bud. There were some highlights in this zombie movie. But overall, I was plagued by a yawning attack and I was constantly annoyed about certain situations.

 

Little Monsters

 

Not my kind of humor.

I do understand that all kinds of new perspectives have to be devised nowadays to make the zombie genre even more interesting. In “The dead don’t die” they largely succeeded in that. But that’s personal taste. Coincidentally this film used the type of humor that I like the most. In “Little Monsters” the humor was generally absent. The absurdist tone of “The dead don’t die” was traded for flat and childish humor. Believe me, the amount of irritation exceeded the allowable level several times. After 2 minutes I was already annoyed by the opening scene where Dave (Alexander England) and his girlfriend constantly yelled at each other. Just like their friends, I felt ashamed on their behalf. And that wasn’t the only time while watching this film.

 

Little Monsters

 

Lupita dazzles.

First, let me list the most positive aspects. Without a doubt, there’s first and foremost the presence of Lupita Nyong’o. This Oscar winner moved me in “12 Years a slave“. And played a hair-raising role in the movie “Us“. In this movie, she’s such a ray of sunlight with that dazzling yellow dress. Probably strategically chosen so it contrasts sharply with the splattered blood. And with her ukulele and catchy version of Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off“, it seemed like I was looking at a modern Maria from “The Sound of Music“. Certainly when the entire classroom joins her with the song like a real Von Trapp family. But apart from the fact that she’s very musical and fashion-conscious in this film, you also have to admit that Lupita is simply a beautiful woman. Even if she opens her mouth in a panic and produces an uncontrolled scream with her eyes wide open, she’s still adorable. And she’s actually the funniest one in the film.

 

Little Monsters

 

Dave. An annoying big kid.

To a lesser extent, I also thought Alexander England was pretty good. This irresponsible, sometimes imbecile klutz, is quite annoying at times. But nonetheless, due to his clumsy attitude and behavior (mainly in terms of social skills), he still manages to arouse some sympathy. I found his encounter with Miss Caroline quite endearing. That suddenly emerging urge to seduce this teacher. But then, in the next scene, you see him giving a demonstration of solo sex on the toilet while drooling over a class photo (with school teacher Carolina in it of course) of his nephew Felix (Diesel La Torraca). Would I be a teenager, I would chuckle about this. Now a raised eyebrow was the only result.

 

Little Monsters

 

It’s a zom-com.

This would-be-creepy zom-com also had its charms. The clumsy way in which Dave tries to impress Miss Caroline is quite funny to see. And of course, eventually, she gives in, even though she hates Dave from the start because of his brutal and stupid remarks. And finally, there are a few very funny moments such as the Darth Vader scene and the horde of singing zombies. I got the most spontaneous smile on my face when I saw a bewildered zombie attempting to clap to the rhythm and he found out that both his arms were missing. And here and there there was a pretty good joke or one-liner.

 

Little Monsters

 

A lot of irritating stuff.

But still. Unfortunately, the number of irritating things was overwhelming. I was relieved when this zom-com ended. First of all, I thought the zombies were extremely ridiculous. It was like a school project in which the creatures were played by fellow students. A Wednesday afternoon activity that involves a lot of fun. You can’t call it a horror, in my opinion, because of the lack of tension. The most bloody scenes always take place off-screen. This is probably due to the budget. Perhaps the much-used photo with Lupita covered in blood and those anxious-looking children in the background, raised wrong expectations for me. And as I mentioned before, the humor was missing. But mainly I was annoyed by the figure of Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad). Such an annoying character. If I could, I would have personally fed him to those bloodthirsty undead. I know it’s an Australian indie. But to be honest, it looked really cheap (literally as figuratively). The only question I had was: “What’s a famous, talented Hollywood star like Lupita doing in this movie?“.

 

My rating 4/10
Links: IMDB

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HORROR

Monster Party – The Acting Is Far From Amateurish Or Toe Curling Bad

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Them fucking yuppie scums
won’t know what hit them.

Perhaps it would be better that future burglars screen the residents of the targeted house first and then see if there’s something to get. That’s certainly a lesson those young burglars have learned in the movie “Monster Party“. After seeing the mansion they’re planning to rob, they’re convinced that the loot will be big enough. What they didn’t expect was an utter crazy company at dinner with a fairly dark secret. A kind of AA meeting. But not the “A” of alcohol but the “A” of aggression. And this with a capital A.

 

Monster Party

Oh boy, a humorous horror.

My expectations weren’t high at all. I thought the movie would be a second-class slasher once again. And what bothered me the most about the film, was the fact that it’s a combination of humor and horror. And let that now be the combination I least believe in. While watching most of these types of horrors I always get the feeling that neither of the two genres is completed. Most of the time the humor is so lousy that I can’t even smile. And at the same time, the horror story is usually only moderately worked out. Well, a person can be wrong. In the case of “Monster Party” I was completely wrong. Both the cynical, black humor (the kind of humor I like the most) and the bloody and creepy parts weren’t that bad.

 

Monster Party

 

It certainly is a hornet’s nest.

When the three juvenile criminals Dodge (Brandon Michael Hall), Casper (Sean Strike) and Iris (Virginia Gardner) choose this larger target where they can demonstrate their burglar’s talent, they aren’t realizing that they are plunging into a hornet’s nest. The Dawsons are a wealthy family who organizes a dinner party at their large country house and Iris happens to work there as a waitress for the appointed catering company. The three youngsters all have a good (financial) reason to take the risk. From the outset, you have this feeling that the members of this company aren’t functioning normally.

 

Monster Party

 

Just wait till the madness starts.

Have you watched the trailer already? Well, then you already know how it unfolds. Impatient gore fans most probably will be waiting nervously for that moment when the madness starts. And that waiting will be rewarded. Not only because of the bloody situations (and they were reasonably inventive as to how some were slaughtered). But also because of the extraordinary acting performances. Especially Kian Lawley, as the crazy son Elliot whose gaze is a mix of madness and sadism (and he enjoys it), and Julian McMahon as host Patrick whose ultra-calm appearance is really nothing more than a masquerade. Virginia Gardner also acts excellently at specific moments. And for the first time, I even thought that these bloody events were amusing. And there’s more. Director Hoffman has a little surprise in store. Normally I would say this type of surprise was a bit exaggerated. Not now. I thought it was a nice contribution to the movie.

 

Monster Party

 

A noteworthy low-budget slasher.

I’m pretty sure “Monster Party” was made with a micro-budget. The number of locations in this film is fairly limited and the massacres usually take place off-camera. But the main characteristic of a low-budget film wasn’t present here. Mostly the acting-part is rather tedious and crappy in low-budget movies. But in “Monster Party” the acting is far from amateurish or toe-curling bad. On the contrary. And they acted with noticeable pleasure. Cinematographically it looks slick. The pace is just right. And there’s even a feeling of tension as the plot unfolds. In short, a noteworthy film you definitely don’t need to avoid. Watch it when you get the opportunity.

 

My rating 6.5/10
Links: IMDB

 

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HORROR

Pledge – “One Of The Better Low-Budget Indie Horror Movies I’ve Seen In The Last Year”

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Do I tuck my shirt in?
I don’t care, you look like you’re gonna fix the computer anyway.

This straightforward movie “Pledge” managed to surprise me. At first, I didn’t expect much from it. But as the story unfolded, I thought that the makers of this horror story had incorporated some strong elements into it. Those who have experienced the rush into a fraternity personally will be happy that they didn’t have to endure a similar experience. It’s extremely difficult to stand out with horror when you see the number of horrors being released these days. After the first 20 minutes, it looks like you are going to watch a remake of “Porky’s“. Or better still, “Revenge of the Nerds“. You could say it was funny one way or another. But the fun part soon made way for the disturbing section. An atmosphere of panic, fear, and despair prevails until the end of the film.

 

Pledge

They didn’t have to ask twice.

Three close friends, who probably always sit on the sidelines when it comes to social events, do their utmost to be admitted by a fraternity. Hence the title of this film. The film starts with David (Zack Weiner, writer of this film), Ethan (Philip Andre Botello) and Justin (Zachery Byrd) who visit one clubhouse after the other. The three nerds, however, are rejected, ridiculed or simply denied access everywhere. Until they suddenly receive an invitation from a hot looking girl to attend a private party somewhere on a remote domain. An orgasmic experience with ditches of alcohol in the company of a horde of ravishing looking young ladies. Young ladies who they refer to as being “out of their league” most probably. Not surprisingly, all three (and a few other “freshmen”) over-enthusiastically agree with Max’s (Aaron Dalla Villa) invitation to join this exclusive student association. An elitist club with only a limited number of members.

 

Pledge

 

It certainly isn’t a typical ritual.

Unfortunately, the hazing procedure is rather rough on our 3 friends. It’s well known there are often oddities and extreme things involved during hazings here in Belgium. Binge drinking, beating with a cricket bat, sexually charged assignments and eating disgusting things. Other academies are taking it a bit easier. There, students have to work out a translation or explanation about a certain topic as an assignment. Boring! The club our three nerds want to join has another agenda. The assignments are painful, disgusting and especially deadly in nature. It’s not really terrible “torture porn”. So don’t expect situations as in “Hostel” or “Saw“. Could be I’m insensitive to that. When you’re able to watch a movie such as “Martyrs” without feeling disturbed, the humiliations the newbies have to undergo are of Sesame Street level.

 

Pledge

 

Decent acting.

There’s a lot of decent acting in “Pledge“. The three silly friends portray those typical characters who are mostly the center of mockery and bullying in American schools. A chubby dude who’s always asking for something to eat and cannot really be praised for his speed. The nerdy guy who most likely spends his days sitting behind a screen and always says the wrong things. And finally, a kind of a sissy who reacts girlishly to threatening situations and most certainly will jump on a chair when a mouse appears in front of him. Three types that are convincingly interpreted by Zachery Byrd, Zack Weiner, and Philip Andre Botello. But especially Aaron Dalla Villa made an impression. That demonic look and sadistic tone fit perfectly with the cruel Max.

 

Pledge

 

Low-Budget but certainly successful.

Thanks to the short playing time, “Pledge” is suitable as an in-betweener during a weekday evening. Thanks to the pace of the film, it never gets boring. And although I found the horror level quite average, they managed to deliver an intense and exciting film. And despite the fact that it was a low-budget film (“Pledge” was funded through Kickstarter), I thought the cinematography was of high quality. The lurid and threatening atmosphere was not only delivered by the story but certainly also by the supplied footage. To be honest, “Pledge” is one of the better Low-Budget indie horror movies I’ve seen in the last year. Certainly a must-see for lovers of the genre.

 

My rating 6.5/10
Links: IMDB

 

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