Review: ‘Saloum,’ starring Yann Gael, Roger Sallah, Mentor Ba, Bruno Henry, Evelyne Ily Juhen and Renaud Farah

September 21, 2021

by Carla Hay

Renaud Farah, Roger Sallah, Mentor Ba, and Yann Gael in “Saloum” (Photo courtesy of Lacme Studios)

“Saloum”

Directed by Jean Luc Herbulot 

French and Wolof with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2003 in Senegal and briefly in Guinea-Bissau and Gambia, the horror film “Saloum” features a predominantly African cast (with a few Latinos and white people) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: Three Sengalese mercenaries for hire are tasked with transporting a Mexican drug dealer to Dakar, but they end up in a camp in the Saloum Delta, where they encounter mysterious and sinister wind monsters.

Culture Audience: “Saloum” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in suspenseful horror movies that explore issues of fallouts from civil wars and exploitation of children.

Yann Gael and Evelyne Ily Juhen in “Saloum” (Photo courtesy of Lacme Studios)

The horror movie “Saloum” artfully poses this question: “What’s scarier: monsters on the outside or personal demons on the inside?” During this intensely suspenseful story, three African mercenaries for hire have to confront this question, as a trip to Senegal to transport a Mexican drug dealer turns into a living nightmare. “Saloum” had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

Written and directed by Jean Luc Herbulot, “Saloum” takes place in 2003, and begins with an Atlantic Ocean scenery in the African country of Guinea-Bissau. A woman says in a voiceover: “They say revenge is like a river. And our actions are the dugouts guided by the current, whose bottom is reached when we drown.” It’s revealed at the end of the movie who said these words, since these words are repeated in the movie’s last scene.

But most of the movie follows three Sengalese mercenaries who call themselves Bangui’s Hyenas. Chaka (played by Yann Gael), who is in his mid-30s, is the group leader and is the most fearless and ruthless of this trio. Rafa (played by Roger Sallah), who is in his late 30s or early 40s, is physically the strongest. Minuit (played by Mentor Ba), who is in his 60s, is the most spiritually minded and has a visually striking appearance with long white dreadlocks for his hairstyle.

The first time that viewers see this renegade trio, they are rampaging through Guinea-Bissau, where there’s chaos on the streets. According to a caption on screen: “The military declares a coup d’état. Their pledge to restore order looks more like bloodshed. First in their crosshairs is the international drug trade. Bad news for the pushers, unless you have a military plan.”

The mercenaries who call themselves Bangui’s Hyenas find several dead or dying people on the streets. Minuit (which means “midnight” in French) has a mysterious powder that he blows in people’s faces to render them unconscious. The three mercenaries burst into a building, where they emerge with several gold bricks and have captured a human as bounty.

The bounty is a Mexican drug dealer named Felix (played by Renaud Farah), who doesn’t talk much in this story because he spends about half of his screen time passed out from the powder blown in his face by Minuit. Rafa says a drug cartel is paying “a million” to bring Felix back alive. Felix insists that they take him to Dakara, the capital of Senegal.

But on the private plane ride in a small aircraft, something goes terribly wrong: The plane is shot at, and the bullets have penetrated the gas tank. The plane runs out of fuel while over Gambia. They are forced to make an emergency landing in the Saloum region of Senegal. It’s mostly a desert area.

Rafa is suspicious about who was shooting at the plane, and he wonders if they might have been set up to make this emergency landing. Chaka isn’t as skeptical because he doesn’t think that the drug cartel would risk this type of double-cross when the cartel wants Felix back alive. As a precaution, Chaka and Rafa bury their gold bricks near certain trees in the desert, while Minuit blows the powder in Felix face so he’ll lose consciousness and won’t see where the gold is being buried.

The down side to Felix being unconscious for a certain period of time is that he has to be carried through the desert. The four men, with Felix awake, eventually find a boat to use, and they end up in Baobub Camp, a isolated holiday gathering area in the coastal region of Sine-Saloum. The camp is so remote that the nearest village is 10 kilometers (about six miles) away.

These four interlopers try to pretend to be innocent tourists who are just passing through the area, in order to fit in with the other camp dwellers. They use alias to hide their identities. Chaka says his name is Cheikh, Rafa calls himself Rufin, Minuit is now known as Maudou, and Felix uses the fake name Felipe. But it isn’t long before these criminals expose how dangerous they can be.

The camp has a friendly host named Omar (played by Bruno Henry), who tells these new visitors: “Saloum is a natural sanctuary. It’s our job to preserve it.” The four guests are invited to a group dinner, where they get to know the other dwellers of the camp.

A woman in her 20s named Awa (played by Evelyne Ily Juhen) immediately stands out because she’s the only deaf and mute person in the group. She can communicate by sign language, which only a few people in the camp know. Awa is no pushover. When Rafa makes rude suggestive remarks to her, she scowls and gives him the middle finger.

One of the people at the camp notices that Chaka has gold dust on his hands. He fabricates a story about how he works in a gold mine. Chaka also lies and says that “Felipe” is a contact for South American investors who are interested in the gold. As time goes on, Minuit suspects that Chaka is being dishonest about other things, because he notices that Chaka has been acting as if his nerves are on edge ever since they arrived at the camp.

In a private conversation between Minuit and Rafa, Minuit mentions his suspicions that Chaka might be hiding something from them. It’s implied during the story that Minuit is can communicate with spirits or has a psychic side to him. At the very least, he’s the most intuitive member of this mercenary group. And he’s right: Chaka is hiding a big secret, which is eventually revealed in the movie.

Chaka tells Omar and the rest of the camp dwellers that the four men in Chaka’s group will eventually go to the Senegal city of Kedougou in three days. However, those plans go into awry when monsters suddenly descend on the camp. The best way to describe these creatures is that they look like swirling dust devils with black mop-like fur, like a Puli dog. And since “Saloum” is a horror movie, not everyone makes it out alive.

The terrified camp dwellers find out that these monsters can be killed with guns. But there’s something else that’s life-threatening: If the humans’ ears aren’t covered, they hear a distinct and dangerous sound from the monsters that causes humans to eventually get pustule infections on their bodies and they cough up blood. Headphones are used to block out this noise. Awa doesn’t need the headphones because she’s deaf.

“Saloum” isn’t the type of horror movie that doesn’t explain why these monsters suddenly arrive to plague the camp. There’s a clear cause-and-effect that conjured up the arrival of these sinister spirits. As the humans fight to stay alive, people who previously didn’t care for each other have to form alliances to help each other, while other people are left to fend for themselves.

All of the cast members are perfectly fine in their roles. However, the characters with the most intriguing backstories are Chaka and Awa, who are both trying in their own ways to heal from emotional pain. Awa knows the pain of being isolated because of her disability, while Chaka knows the pain of being isolated because of his dark secret. It’s eventually revealed that Chaka, who seems arrogant and fearless on the outside, is a mess of insecurities on the inside.

The monsters signify what can happen when evil intentions are unresolved and allowed to fester. “Saloum” is also a disturbing story about the fallout of war. This movie is not for people who are overly sensitive to seeing life’s atrocities, but it’s a riveting depiction of how sins of the past can haunt people in the present.

Review: ‘Earwig,’ starring Paul Hilton, Romane Hemelaers, Romola Garai and Alex Lawther

September 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

Romane Hemelaers in “Earwig” (Photo courtesy of Anti-Worlds, Petit Film and Frakas Production)

“Earwig”

Directed by Lucile Hadžihalilović

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed European country in the late 1950s, the horror film “Earwig” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A widowed former soldier, who has raised his young daughter ever since her mother died in childbirth, prepares to give up custody to her to some mysterious people. 

Culture Audience: “Earwig” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of artistic European horror films that take their time in unveiling clues to the mystery and don’t let the narrative unfold in a conventional way.

Paul Hilton in “Earwig” (Photo courtesy of Anti-Worlds, Petit Film and Frakas Production)

If you prefer fast-paced horror movies with a lot of gore or jump scares, then “Earwig” might not be your cup of tea. But if you’re a horror movie fan who is open to a Gothic-influenced European story that doesn’t easily reveal the answers to the story’s mystery, then “Earwig” is a compelling option. “Earwig” director Lucile Hadžihalilović and Geoff Cox co-wrote the movie’s slow-burn screenplay, which they adapted from Brian Catling’s 2019 novel of the same name. “Earwig” had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

The first 20 minutes of “Earwig” don’t have a lot of dialogue and is a bit repetitive in showing the home life of a 50-year-old former soldier named Albert Scelline (played by Paul Hilton) and his daughter Mia (played by Romane Hermelaers), who is about 7 or 8 years old. The movie takes place in an unnamed European country in the late 1950s. Albert is a somber loner who has kept Mia isolated in their apartment for her entire life.

Mia is mute, but she can occasionally be heard humming music. She also has an unusual physical characteristic: Mia has teeth made of glass. It’s never explained why she has such an unusual mouth, but Albert has to make custom-fitted teeth for her out of glass and replace the teeth on a fairly regular basis.

Glass is lovingly and sometimes obsessively inspected and perused by Albert, Mia and, by extension, director Hadžihalilović. The Scelline household has a cabinet filled with various drinking glasses. Albert and Mia like to take glasses out of this cabinet just to stare at these drinking utensils. The movie’s striking cinematography by Jonathan Ricquebourg frequently uses a technique taking some of the colored glasses and using them as a way to frame and morph visuals in a scene.

Albert also uses a drinking glass as a sound conductor when he places the glass on Mia’s bedroom door, in order to eavesdrop on his daughter’s non-verbal noises. (She has a habit of grinding her glass teeth, another sign of the characters’ fixation on glass.) And when any of the drinking glasses get broken in the household, Albert meticulously wraps each shard of glass inside a page from a newspaper.

Viewers soon find out how isolated Mia is during a phone conversation that Albert for his first lines of dialogue in the movie. He gets a phone call from an unidentified man, who asks Albert: “How’s the girl?” Albert replies, “Everything is well, sir.”

The caller than tells Albert: “There will be no future payments. You must start preparing the girl to leave. You will bring her to us on the 6th of next month—in 13 days’ time. In the meantime, you must teach her how to behave outside.”

It’s soon shown that Mia has never worn shoes or socks before Albert follows the orders to prepare her to go outside for the first time in her life. On their first outing, Mia is both hesitant and in awe of what she’s seeing. When she and Albert go to a creek area, she is so fascinated with the water that she dives head first into it and seems to almost drown.

Why was Albert being paid to take care of his own daughter? Why is he giving up custody of her so easily? Who are the people who are making these demands? Those questions are answered in the movie, but not in an obvious way. Observant viewers will start to suspect the reason for this unusual child custody arrangement. The reason is confirmed in the last 10 minutes of the film.

Without giving away too many details, it’s enough to say that Albert encounters some other people during the 13 days in which he prepares to give up custody of Mia. A pivotal scene happens at a pub, where Albert is joined by a creepy unnamed stranger (played by Peter Van Den Begin), who invites himself to sit at the same table as Albert. Even though Albert clearly wants to be left alone, the stranger starts saying things to Albert that make Albert very uncomfortable.

The stranger is well-acquainted with the pub waitress who serves them. Her name is Celeste (played by Romola Garai), who ends up being the target of Albert’s rage when he suddenly lashes out her. Albert breaks a beer bottle and viciously stabs Celeste on her right cheek before he runs away. Albert is not arrested for this crime because Celeste doesn’t press charges.

Celeste ends up in a hospital, where her medical expenses are paid for by another enigmatic man named Laurence (played by Alex Lawther). Meanwhile, as Albert continues to prepare to give up custody of Mia, she gets a new set of glass teeth from a dentist (played by Michael Pas), which is the first time that someone other than Albert has given her a new set of teeth. Mia also adopts a black cat that adores her but hisses in the presence of Albert.

Some of the biggest clues to the mystery in “Earwig” can be found in the flashback scenes with Albert and his wife Marie (played by Anastasia Robin), who had a happy marriage with him. In fact, the only time that Albert is seen smiling is in a flashback with Marie. This marital bliss serves as a motivation and catalyst for much of what happens to Albert and the decisions that he made in his life.

“Earwig” is not the type of movie that will be remembered less the actors’ performances (which are perfectly adequate) and more for the way the story can be unpeeled in layers. “Earwig” composer Augustin Viard’s chilling piano-based score enhances the mood of growing dread that spreads throughout the film. It’s the type of spooky movie where even when it’s daylight, the sun doesn’t shine too brightly.

Viewers need patience and a keen sense of observation to understand what “Earwig” director Hadžihalilović is conveying with the dark secrets that are eventually revealed in this story. It’s the type of movie where a lot can be deciphered by what’s implied but not portrayed on screen. What “Earwig” shows in a very shrouded and haunting way is that people can sometimes go to extremes to have some moments of happiness, even if most of their lives are plagued by misery.

Review: ‘We Need to Do Something,’ starring Sierra McCormick, Vinessa Shaw, Pat Healy, Lisette Alexis and John James Cronin

September 11, 2021

by Carla Hay

John James Cronin, Pat Healy, Sierra McCormick and Vinessa Shaw in “We Need to Do Something” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“We Need to Do Something”

Directed by Sean King O’Grady

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror film “We Need to Do Something” features an all-white cast representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A family of four people are trapped inside their bathroom during a storm and find out that they could be the victims of somethng sinister and supernatural. 

Culture Audience: “We Need to Do Something” will appeal primarily to people who like watching any nonsensical, horribly made horror flick, no matter how bad it is.

Sierra McCormick and Lisette Alexis in “We Need to Do Something” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

There are an untold number of talented aspiring filmmakers who have great screenplays and need a big break to get their first feature film made. And that’s why it’s almost offensive that garbage like “We Need to Do Something” gets spewed into the world. The title of this movie should be “We Need to Do Something About Warning People to Avoid This Toxic Trash Posing as a Horror Film.”

There are numerous horrifically bad horror movies that get made in any given year, usually by the same type of no-talent filmmakers who like to copy each other and try to outdo each other with disgusting or misogynistic content. “We Need to Do Something” can be considered among the worst of the worst because it’s truly time-wasting garbage with an almost non-existent plot, idiotic dialogue, horrendous acting, and worst of all for a horror movie: It’s not even scary.

Directed by Sean King O’Grady, “We Need to Do Something” is based on Max Booth III’s novella of the same title. Booth also wrote the “We Need to Do Something” screenplay. You can tell this was based on a short story because 90% of this movie is badly conceived filler that goes nowhere but is instead stretched out into a feature-length run time. However, the filmmakers did such a horrible job with this story, it’s doubtful that it would’ve been better as a short film.

The entire plot of “We Need to Do Something” is about a family of four trapped in their house’s bathroom during and after a storm. Something large and heavy is blocking the door, which leads to the front yard, so that the door can barely open. There’s a window in this bathroom, which these morons don’t try to break to escape when the storm ends.

Bizarre things start to happen. And then, the family’s teenage daughter, who has been dabbling in witchcraft in a same-sex romance with a classmate, becomes convinced that these spell experimentations have something do with the family being trapped. The father gets increasingly drunk until he becomes more dangerous than whatever is trapping the family in the bathroom. Oh, and there’s a rattlesnake that shows up twice.

The first thing that viewers might notice is how weird it is that a house is designed to have a bathroom open into the front yard, when most houses’ bathrooms are located further inside a house. But the terrible production design ideas are the least of this crappy movie’s problems. This entire cesspool of filmmaking is an absolutely dull chore to watch.

If you want to torture yourself and watch until the end, you’ll see repetition of these scenarios to irritating levels: There’s no food in the bathroom, but somehow patriarch Robert (played by Pat Healy) has enough liquor and other alcohol to guzzle so that he gets drunk and yells abusively at other members of his family. Robert’s wife Diane (played by Vinessa Shaw) does her best to try to calm everyone down, and she tries to stop Robert from doing some heinous things as he becomes increasingly unhinged,

Robert and Diane’s daughter Melissa (played by Sierra McCormick), who’s about 16 or 17 years old, spends most of the movie sulking, getting angry at her parents, and thinking about her girlfriend Amy (played by Lisette Alexis), who is only seen in flashbacks. Robert and Diane’s son Bobby (played by John James Cronin), who’s about 11 or 12 years old, spends most of the movie being terrified, which is only exacerbated when his abusive father unleashes a lot of rage on Bobby.

In the beginning of the movie, Diane is telling everyone that the gusty winds heard outside are just a regular thunderstorm. She insists it’s not a tornado. It’s not fully explained why they’re all huddled in the bathroom, but it’s mentioned at some point that the house’s roof has come off, so they’re afraid to go in the rest of the house. In other words, it’s not a regular thunderstorm, so how dumb does that make Diane? The foolishness continues.

Meanwhile, if you and your family are experiencing an emergency, such as your house’s roof coming off in a storm, the first thing that you would probably do is get help to rescue you and your family. But no, that’s not what happens in “We Need to Do Something.” Melissa is using her phone to text messages to an unidentified person (probably Amy) who’s not answering her messages. One of Melissa’s messages says: “Please talk to me. I’m scared.”

These idiots aren’t thinking about calling 911 for help. In fact, Diane asks in the middle of this crisis if they want to play a board game called Goths and Vandals. Who thinks like this when they’re stuck in a bathroom with their house roof blown off? Only moronic people in a horrendously bad horror movie.

The phone that’s working perfectly somehow ends up in Robert’s hands. When he tries to open the door to the front yard, he accidentally drops the phone outside. There goes their only method of communication to the outside world. The phone could possibly get blown away by the heavy gusts of wind outside.

Melissa is enraged that her phone is now lost. She tries to poke her hand out the door to find it, but it’s of no use. Her parents also tell her to shut the door since the wind gusts are too strong. Melissa sulks some more because her phone is lost, and now they have no way to call for help. You should’ve thought of that while you were texting a friend who wasn’t answering your messages.

“We Need to Do Something” has several flashbacks to Melissa’s relationship with Amy. Both teenagers dress like they’ve spent too much time at Hot Topic, because they wear clothes and makeup that look like shopping mall versions of being a Goth or steampunk. Melissa has pink hair and pink makeup spread around her eyes like a raccoon. Amy sticks to basic black.

These flashback scenes in the movie just seem like an excuse for the filmmakers to show teenage girls making out with each other, sometimes with blood on their faces after they’ve done a witch ritual. Amy and Melissa have told each other “I love you,” just so people watching the movie know that wannabe teenage witches need love too. Melissa and Amy are apparently secretive about their romance and will go to extreme lengths to not let other people at their school find out.

And so what do they do? They start kissing each other on some bleachers at school when they think no one else is around. Because apparently, they think the best way to keep their romance a secret at school is to make out with each other in a public place at school. Of course, someone does see Melissa and Amy kissing at school. It’s a fellow schoolmate named Joe (played by Logan Kearney), whom Amy describes as a creep who’s been stalking her.

But this is the problem for Melissa and Amy: Joe had his phone out and filmed the two girls kissing each other. Melissa and Amy are paranoid that Joe will do something with that video footage that will ‘”out” them, ruin their reputations, and make them outcasts. And so, Melissa and Amy decide to cast a spell on Joe to get revenge on him.

While this family of four is trapped, they hear voices of people or creatures outside but the door can’t open wide enough to see who or what is making these sounds. At one point, it sounds like a dog is outside the door. When Melissa tries to pet it and says, “Good boy,” whatever is outside suddenly has a sinister-sounding human voice that responds, “I’m a good boy.”

Believe it or not, rock star Ozzy Osbourne is that voice, according the film credits. Someone must’ve called in a big favor. Osbourne, who famously bit off the head of a real bat during a 1982 concert, is namechecked in this movie when the snake appears. Robert is able to push the snake out the door, but he wonders out loud if they should’ve killed the snake for food.

Robert thinks that the way he could’ve handled the snake would be to “bite the head off, like Ozzy.” Diane replies, “Wasn’t that a bat?” Robert says, “Snakes are just bats that can’t fly!” Apparently, Robert wasn’t paying attention in school when they taught the difference between reptiles and mammals.

The atrociousness of this story devolves into scenes involving tounges getting ripped out of mouths, as well as talk of cannibalism when the trapped people haven’t been able to eat anything for days. It all leads to a vile ending that serves no purpose except to show that the filmmakers of “We Need to Do Something” will sink to the lowest depths of stupidity to make a horror movie.

IFC Films/IFC Midnight released “We Need to Do Something” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on September 3, 2021.

‘Demonic’ (2021), starring Carly Pope, Nathalie Boltt, Chris William Martin, Michael J. Rogers, Terry Chen and Kandyse McClure

September 10, 2021

by Carla Hay

Carly Pope in “Demonic” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

Demonic” (2021)

Directed by Neill Blomkamp

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed Canadian city, the supernatural horror film “Demonic” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one Asian and one black person) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman undergoes scientific experiments that could uncover secrets of her estranged mother, a convicted serial killer who might be possessed by a demon. 

Culture Audience: “Demonic” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching horror films that are poorly constructed with a flimsy plot.

Nathalie Boltt in “Demonic” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“Demonic” is one of these terrible horror movies where hallucinations and nightmares are over-used to try and distract viewers from the badly conceived story. Expect to see a lot of boring, repetitive scenes that just lead to a ridiculous ending. The movie’s plot had the potential to be a lot better, but “Demonic” writer/director Neill Blomkamp didn’t take enough time to craft a well-honed screenplay. Some of the movie’s visuals are compelling, but they can’t make up for the weak storyline.

In “Demonic,” which takes place in an unnamed Canadian city (the movie was actually filmed in British Columbia), Carly Spencer (played by Carly Pope) is a bitter loner in her 30s. Carly spends the entire story obsessing over how much she hates her mother, a convicted serial killer who has been living in a psychiatric institution instead of a prison. Carly is written as such an incomplete character that viewers never find out anything about what she does for a living or anything else about her family. The movie makes it look like Carly has nothing going on in her life except to participate in mind-travel experiments and have nightmares/hallucinations about her mother.

Carly hates her mother Angela (played by Nathalie Boltt) because of the heinous crimes that Angela has committed. In 1998, Angela went on a murder spree where she set fire to a senior citizen care facility where Angela used to work. The fire killed 21 people. It was also discovered that over a period of time, before she committed this deadly arson, Angela had poisoned five people at her church, including Angela’s mother. Carly’s father is never seen or mentioned in the movie. It’s implied that Carly, who is an only child, was raised in a single-parent household.

Carly has one person in her life whom she turns to for emotional support: her best friend Sam (played by Kandyse McClure), an architect who is staying at a client’s remote house near a lake. It’s yet another horror movie that uses the “isolated lake house” cliché. Sam and Carly have almost opposite personalities. Sam is a bubbly and talkative extrovert. Carly is a moody and repressed introvert.

The movie’s opening scene shows that Carly keeps having nightmares of hearing her mother calling out to her in different houses, such as her childhood home. In her nightmares, when Carly finds her mother in a room, her mother is alone and usually has blood on herself. And then sometimes, the room gets set on fire.

Carly’s mother Angela barely looks older than Carly in these nightmares. It’s later explained that it’s because Angela appears to Carly in these nightmares looking like Angela did back in the late 1990s, when she committed her horrific crimes. In real life, actress Boltt is only a few years older than her “Demonic” co-star Pope, but the movie put aging makeup on Boltt for Angela’s present-day scenes.

Someone who knows Carly and Angela is a guy in his 40s named Martin (played by Chris William Martin), who has been trying to keep in touch with Carly, but she’s mostly refused to be in contact with him. It’s never really explained how Martin knows Carly and Angela and what he does for a living, even though he ends up being a crucial part of this story. You know a movie is poorly written when it doesn’t bother to mention basic elements of an important character’s life. The reason why Carly avoids being in contact with Martin is because she thinks he’s kind of crazy.

In a conversation between Carly and Sam, Carly apprehensively says that she recently got a text from Martin, even though she hasn’t been in contact with him for six or seven years. Sam tells Carly not to bother responding to Martin: “No one needs to hear his insane theories after what happened to your mother.” What are these “insane theories”? Carly is about to find out for herself if these theories might be true.

Carly ends up replying to Martin’s message. She agrees to meet with him in person to hear what he has to say. Martin tells her that Angela is currently in a coma and is a patient in a medical research facility. The facility is called Therapol. Soon after her conversation with Martin, Carly gets a phone call from a Therapol scientist named Michael (played by Michael J. Rogers), who asks Carly to come to the facility because Angela “isn’t doing so well.”

Carly is reluctant at first, but curiosity gets the better of her. When she goes to Therapol, she meets Michael and his assistant researcher Daniel (played by Terry Chen), who both are conducting top-secret mind experiments. Michael explains to Carly: “A lot of our technology is so new, it doesn’t exist outside of this building yet.” And they want Carly to participate in the main experiment that they’re conducting.

In this experiment, someone puts on a headset with electrodes linking to the brain. The participant can then enter the mind of someone else who’s wearing a matching headset. The participant entering the other person’s mind has an experience of being in a simulation or in a virtual reality world. The visuals for these “mind travel” scenes look like a pixelated video game, but they’re still striking to look at, even if these scenes end up being a lot of filler in “Demonic.”

Before Carly enters her mother Angela’s mind, Michael and Daniel show Carly what her mother looks like in a coma, which the scientists called “locked-in syndrome” or LIS. Angela is in terrible shape, with her veins bulging on her face and matted hair. It looks like she’s on her deathbed. Michael and Daniel want Carly to enter Angela’s mind to find out why Angela committed the murders. After some reluctance, Carly agrees to this experiment.

Daniel explains the technology in this mind simulation headset: “We redirect these [brain] impulses to a digital version of your mind. And in that virtual space, you will meet your mother. But you have to think of it as stepping into someone’s mind—her mind. It can be very confusing to the outsider, because a piece of one space can be inserted into another, kind of like a dream … We can hear and see you, but you cannot hear us. If you ask, we will pull you right out immediately.”

When Carly enters Angela’s mind for the first time, there’s a scene where, once again, Carly enters a house and sees Angela sitting on a bed. But in this mind simulation’s initial encounter, Angela’s back is turned to Carly and she won’t look at her daughter when Carly unleashes the pent-up animosity that she’s had for her mother for all these years: “I never got a chance to tell you how much I hate you! I’m here to tell you how fucking disgusting you are!”

Angela remains calm and accepting. She replies, “Carly, I know that. Now, I need you to leave. You have to go.” At first, Carly thinks she did what she needed to do and has gotten her anger out of her system. But she agrees to do more mind simulations, at the urging of Michael and Daniel. The movie than drags on with more mind simulations where Carly continues to confront her mother. It becomes very tedious after a while.

It’s not spoiler information to say that Martin believes that Angela has been possessed by a demon that caused her to commit the murders. The question then becomes, “Will Carly be cursed by this demon too?” The trailer for “Demonic” reveals way too much information about the movie, including what the demon looks like. The demon (played by Quinton Boisclair) can best be described as resembling the movie monster known as The Predator, but with a wild bird’s head.

There’s absolutely nothing surprising that happens in “Demonic,” which is just a series of half-baked scenes strung together with unremarkable acting from the cast members. The movie’s ending is embarrassingly bad, like a ripoff of other derivative horror flicks. It’s all such a letdown, considering that Blomkamp is the same writer/director behind the highly acclaimed 2009 sci-fi film “District 9,” which was his feature-film directorial debut. His subsequent feature films have been on a steep decline of quality. “Demonic” is nothing more than a disappointing and forgettable horror flick that doesn’t bring any interesting or original ideas to the genre.

IFC Films/IFC Midnight released “Demonic” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on August 20, 2021.

2021 Fantastic Fest: programming slate announced

September 9, 2021

Agathe Rousselle in “Titane” (Photo by Carole Bethuel/Neon)

The following is a combination of press releases from Fantastic Fest:

Mechanophilia, possessed nuns, possessed children, hallucinations, ghostly hauntings, time travel, exorcism, cerebral expansion, heavy metal, friendship, yakuza, canine trauma, multiple serial killers, coprophagia, cannibalism, tender embraces, vampires, copious bodily fluids, superheroes, warm laughs, disco-dancing firemen and more, more, more!  Yes, this can only mean one thing: Fantastic Fest is back. After 18 months of isolation and uncertainty, this year’s “Post-Apocalyptic” edition of Fantastic Fest is here to remind us of the joy of cinema, community, and weird and wonderful movies.  The first wave of films is headlined by the truly extraordinary 2021 Palme D’Or winner “Titane” from “Parasite” distributor Neon. It might not have seemed possible to top her staggering debut “Raw” (Fantastic Fest 2016), but Julia Ducournau has somehow done just that. A poignant study on loneliness, isolation and gender identity wrapped in a constantly surprising world of body horror, muscle cars, violence, and disco-dancing firemen. Fantastic Fest is so proud to share this singular vision. Fantastic Fest 2021’s opening night party will be dedicated to the instantly iconic visuals of “Titane.” Muscle cars will be on hand, and metallic-themed or “French firefighter” costumes are highly encouraged. “Titane” opens in US cinemas on October 1. 

Mondo Records is also celebrating its 10 year anniversary at Fantastic Fest this year and will be on-hand with a very special “Titane” soundtrack giveaway ahead of the official Mondo vinyl release later this year. Additionally, on opening night there will also be a Mondo Records pop-up featuring rarities from the vault. Additional studio premieres include A24’s “Lamb,” winner of the Un Certain Regard Prize of Originality at Cannes (opening in theaters on October 8); “Bingo Hell,” part of the Amazon Studios and Blumhouse Television “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series; and Netflix’s “The Trip,” starring Noomi Rapace in a delightfully twisted Norwegian mind-bender.

“We’re thrilled at how the program is coming together,” says Fantastic Fest Director of Programming Annick Mahnert. “For this Post-Apocalyptic edition, we’ve scoured the four corners of the globe to find weird, silly, terrifying, entertaining and fantastic movies directed by established and emerging filmmakers. Opening this year’s fest with a Palme d’Or winner from a Fantastic Fest alum is a real treat.

As always, we also try to find unforgettable repertoire titles, and we couldn’t be happier about hosting the US Premiere of the new restoration of Andrzej Zulawski’s “Possession.” This first wave is but the tip of the iceberg and we cannot wait to unveil the rest of the program to y’all!” 

Sidebar Programming

“Master of the Flying Guillotine”

The first sidebar will launch Lars Nilsen and Kier-La Janisse’s epic tome “Warped and Faded: Weird Wednesday and the Birth of the American Genre Film Archive. To celebrate the book, Nilsen and Janisse will present 35mm screenings of some of their all-time favorite exploitation classics, including “Snakes” and “The Visitor.” The second classic film sidebar comes courtesy of authors Grady Hendrix and Chris Poggiali, who will be in attendance to debut their new book “These Fists Break Bricks: How Kung Fu Movies Swept America and Changed The World.” Hendrix and Poggiali will premiere two of their favorite kung fu classics – Kino Lorber’s and the 3-D Film Archive’s brand new 3D DCP of “Dynasty 3D” as well as the rarely seen Jackie Chan-choreographed “Dance of Death.” They’ll also host a brand new event called “BingoDome” with the crown jewel of Bruceploitation films, 1977’s “The Dragon Lives Again.” As Bruce Lee inexplicably fights against Popeye, Clint Eastwood, James Bond, the Godfather and undead zombies in purgatory, participants mark matching squares on their bingo cards to win fabulous prizes, including signed copies of the new book! 

Also supporting the release, 36 Cinema is presenting “Master of the Flying Guillotine,” with live commentary by RZA, who provided the intro to “These Fists Break Bricks.” This event will be live-streamed for global audiences online to enjoy. 36 Cinema brings together film screening with live in-depth commentary with directors, actors, critics and fans. RZA will be joined by film programmer and historian Dan Halsted to dive deep into one of the greatest kung fu movies of all time. The Press Room will also be live-printing “Master of the Flying Guillotine” posters after the event. BingoDome is only the beginning of the movie-themed fun. Fantastic Fest will continue the time-honored tradition of daytime entertainment in The Highball including board game parties and podcast recordings.

As each day of movies comes to a close, The Highball really fires up its engines for eight days of raucous parties — live music, karaoke, 100 Best Kills, Fantastic Feud, Scripts Gone Wild, TriviaDome, Nerd Rap, feasts, games, disco-dancing firemen and more, more, more are all being crafted for your delight by the crack Fantastic Fest events team.  

“The Black Phone” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Leading the studio titles in the announce is the World Premiere of “The Black Phone,” penned by Scott Derrickson (“Doctor Strange,” “Sininister” franchise) and Austin screenwriter C.

Robert Cargill (“Doctor Strange,” “Sininister” franchise), based on the short story by Joe Hill. Universal Pictures, Blumhouse and Crooked Highway’s much-buzzed-about horror film reunites director Derrickson and four-time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke (“Sininister”) in one of the most terrifying Blumhouse films ever.

Additional studio titles include the U.S. Premieres of IFC’s “A Banquet,” a chilling psychological horror where a mother’s love for her daughter is pushed to the limits, and “The Innocents” (Cannes – Un Certain Regard 2021), a stunning Norwegian drama about children with supernatural powers that will shake you to the core. World Premieres include Netflix’s “There’s Someone Inside Your House,” a bloody and highly entertaining slasher from director Patrick Brice (“Creep”), and SYFY’s “Slumber Party Massacre.” a contemporary and fun reimagining of the 1982 slasher cult classic directed by Fantastic Fest alumna Danishka Esterhazy (“Level 16”).

Last but not least, Fantastic Fest is thrilled and excited to close the festivities with the U.S. Premiere of Camille Griffin’s pitch-black comedy “Silent Night,” starring Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode and Roman Griffin Davis (“Jojo Rabbit”). In sync with this year’s festival theme, you’re invited to witness the strangest holiday celebration of the year, when a family gathers for a high-stakes Christmas dinner in Griffin’s directorial debut.

This final wave of Fantastic Fest films presents 37 feature film titles and 56 short film selections, showcasing world, US and regional premieres, and one pre-fest screening.

We are excited to offer a special pre-fest presentation on September 22 of Utopia’s brand new 35th anniversary restoration of RAD, with star Bill Allen in attendance. Arrive early and check out a radical pre-screening bike stunt outside the theater featuring the riders of Austin’s 512 Wheelie Crew along with some surprise guests, sponsored by Rambler Sparkling Water.

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema has partnered with GroundUp Music to present seven silent film classics reimagined by five different artists from the label. The festival will World Premiere the 1924 Soviet silent classic AELITA: QUEEN OF MARS with a new score by Snarky Puppy’s Chris Bullock. Four additional film pairings will play on Fantastic Fest @HOME: House of Waters with the three shorts MENILMONTANT (1926), LE VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE (1902), and BALLET MECANIQUE (1923); PRD Mais with WAXWORKS (1924); Sirintip with THE LOST WORLD (1925); and Bob Lanzetti with NOSFERATU (1922). All seven titles will then be available on Alamo On Demand. Select projects will be presented as live score events at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s soon-to-be-opened Manhattan theater later this year.

After a successful virtual event in 2020, the decision to go hybrid in 2021 was a no-brainer. Fantastic Fest @HOME will take place 9/30-10/11 on Alamo On Demand. Rev.com will be sponsoring our new accessibility initiative.

“The first step to creating access was offering a virtual option with an affordable badge price,” says Ahbra Perry, Head of Alamo On Demand. “With help from our friends at Rev.com we’re going to be able to provide Closed Captions for the films and shorts playing virtually that can’t provide their own. That is a big step in the right direction and hopefully just the beginning.”

Over 30 films from the current festival lineup will be available virtually, including “Alone With You,” :uzifer,” “After Blue,” and “Baby Assasssins.” Badge holders will have access to films for 48-hour windows. We are also excited to include a special curation of Fantastic Fest films from years past, many of them hard to find, that will be available for the full duration of the virtual festival, and a virtual closing night party hosted by Fantastic Fest @ Home sponsor Alter.

COVID Safety Protocols Update

While we strongly prefer proof of vaccination, by state order, the festival will now also accept a negative COVID test from a state-approved test provider taken within 24 hours of each day’s screenings. Festival staff will check for either vaccine cards or test results as attendees enter the theater for all Fantastic Fest screenings. Attendees with a vaccine card will be given a wristband to make this process more efficient for attending multiple screenings. Additionally, masks must be worn at all times indoors when not eating or drinking.

FILM LINEUP

“After Blue”

AFTER BLUE (DIRTY PARADISE)

France, 2021

US Premiere, 130 min

Director – Bertrand Mandico

On a mysterious new planet populated entirely by women, teenager Roxy and her mother undergo a fantastical journey in pursuit of a murderous criminal.

AGNES

USA, 2021

Texas Premiere, 93 min

Director – Mickey Reece

Fantastic Fest favorite Mickey Reece is back with his most ambitious production yet, the story of a headstrong young nun accused of possession and her best friend who’s left to grapple with the aftermath.


ALONE WITH YOU

USA, 2021

World Premiere, 83 min

Directors – Emily Bennett & Justin Brooks

As a young woman painstakingly prepares a romantic homecoming for her girlfriend, their apartment begins to feel more like a tomb when voices, shadows, and hallucinations reveal a truth she has been unwilling to face.

BARBARIANS

United Kingdom, 2021

World Premiere, 90 min

Director – Charles Dorfman

An alpha male social media influencer and his beta brother meet for an explosive dinner with their significant others – one where secrets are revealed, lives are ruined, and chaos reigns (fox included).

THE BETA TEST

USA, 2021

Texas Premiere, 93 min

Directors – Jim Cummings & PJ McCabe

Jim Cummings is back as co-director and star in this pitch black film biz satire. Cummings revels in the full spectrum of bad behavior, leaving you laughing and gasping in equal measure.

BEYOND THE INFINITE 2 MINUTES

Japan, 2021

North American Premiere, 70 min

Director – Junta YamaguchiKato is a cafe owner in Kyoto who suddenly finds his bedroom computer screen linked to the one in his cafe, showing him exactly what’s going on downstairs – two minutes in the future. Things get really absurd when his friends find out and devise a way to go … BEYOND THE INFINITE 2 MINUTES.

BINGO HELL

USA, 2021

World Premiere, 85 min

Director – Gigi Saul Guerrero

The big, steel-toed boot of gentrification won’t stop one determined locally-grown advocate as a new building owner offers Bingo as a portal to financial prosperity – but the price is something far more sinister and much less liberating.

CANNON ARM AND THE ARCADE QUEST

Denmark, 2021

US Premiere, 97 min

Director – Mads Hedegaard

Kim Cannon Arm sets out to shatter records by playing Gyruss for 100 hours straight on a single coin and he can’t do it on his own in this funny and philosophical documentary about the importance of friends and community.

DANCE OF DEATH

Taiwan, Hong Kong, 1976

Repertory Screening, 90 min

Director – Chi-Hwa Chen

At the nexus point where Jackie Chan’s star began to rise and Angela Mao’s (ENTER THE DRAGON) was waning, they collaborated on this wild, rarely seen gem. Channeling Chan’s own acrobatic style, Mao avenges the defeat of her teachers using a powerful “dancing girl” kung fu style inspired by the gyrations of brothel attendants.

DEAD & BEAUTIFUL

The Netherlands, Taiwan, 2021

North American Premiere, 98 min

Director – David Verbeek

Five wealthy, fashionable friends wake up from a wild night in Taipei to find they’ve become vampires in David Verbeek’s aesthetically gorgeous thriller.

DYNASTY

Taiwan, Hong Kong, 1977

Repertory Screening, 92 min

Director – Chang Mei-chung

Now! DYNASTY! On the surface it looks like just another indie kung fu flick from Taiwan, but within minutes this crazy train has picked up a full head of steam and is on its way to a Never Never Land of wild weapons, mass mutilation, and major mayhem … all in 3-D!!!

THE EXORCISM OF GOD

USA, Mexico, Venezuela, 2021

World Premiere, 98 minDirector – Alejandro Hidalgo

When children in a small Mexican town start dying of demonic possession, the inhabitants seek the help of Father Peter Williams, a priest haunted by a past exorcism gone sinfully wrong. What follows is an epic battle between good and evil.

THE FOUND FOOTAGE PHENOMENON

United Kingdom, 2021

US Premiere, 102 min

Directors – Sarah Appleton & Phillip Escott

Whip out your phone cams and prepare to get immersive: Sarah Appleton and Phillip Escott’s THE FOUND FOOTAGE PHENOMENON is a documentary-shaped crash course on the wobbliest horror films out there.

HELLBENDER

USA, 2021

US Premiere, 82 min

Directors – Toby Poser, Zelda Adams & John Adams

Fantastic Fest favorite filmmaking family Toby Poser, John Adams, and Zelda Adams return with their newest creative endeavor HELLBENDER, a witchy, heavy metal coming-of-age thriller.

IKÉ BOYS

USA, 2021

World Premiere, 88 min

Director – Eric McEver

Two self-proclaimed geeks and a live-in Japanese foreign exchange student procure a long-lost anime classic that inadvertently turns them into superheroes … just in time for a Y2K-era Kaiju face-off!

KING CAR

Brazil, 2021

US Premiere, 97 min

Director – Renata Pinheiro

A young man’s ability to surreally “be one” with cars sparks a revolution that could save transport in his community. When his invention inadvertently accelerates the underlying problems, our hero’s quest must grow bigger than his own personal ambitions.

KNOCKING

Sweden, 2021

Texas Premiere, 78 min

Director – Frida Kempff

Molly seems to be the only one who hears strange knocking day and night in her apartment. But she won’t be deterred by unbelievers until she’s discovered the cause of the noises tormenting her.

LAMB

Iceland, Sweden, Poland, 2021

US Premiere, 107 minDirector – Valdimar Jóhannsson

On a remote farm in Iceland, a couple that experienced recent loss is caring for their flock of sheep. One day, one of their sheep gives birth to a very peculiar lamb that will change their lives forever.

LAST OF THE WOLVES

Japan, 2021

Texas Premiere, 139 min

Director – Kazuya Shiraishi

A hard-won truce between rival yakuza gangs threatens to erupt into bloody violence when a psychopathic hoodlum is released from prison and vows to avenge the death of his boss.

LET THE WRONG ONE IN

Ireland, 2021

World Premiere, 97 min

Director – Conor McMahon

Sibling rivalry takes on a whole new meaning when one brother is turned into a vampire and has to rely on his younger brother to protect him. Will brotherly love win out or is someone getting staked?

LIMBO

Hong Kong, 2021

Texas Premiere, 118 minDirector – Soi Cheang

A burnt-out cop and a by-the-book young detective team up to catch a vicious serial killer lurking in the garbage-filled alleys of Hong Kong in Soi Cheang’s grimy monochrome masterpiece.

MAD GOD

USA, 2021

US Premiere, 83 min

Director – Phil Tippett

An adventurer descends into a pit reaching the bowels of the Earth, searching for a spot on a crumbling map. On his journey in an apocalyptic world, he meets and fights monsters and creatures out of your worst nightmares in this passion project from stop-motion legend Phil Tippett.

THE MARCO EFFECT

Denmark, 2021

North American Premiere, 125 min

Director – Martin Zandlivet

When Marco, a Romani kid without papers, is caught at the Danish border with the passport of a man who went missing, Detective Carl Mørck from Department Q unknowingly opens Pandora’s Box on what was supposedly a simple case.

MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE presented by 36 Cinema

Taiwan, Hong Kong, 1975

Repertory Screening, 93 min

Director – Jimmy Wang Yu

A blind assassin armed with a vicious flying guillotine is out to kill the legendary one-armed boxer (martial arts superstar Jimmy Wang Yu). 36 Cinema presents MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE with live commentary by RZA!

MIDNIGHT

South Korea, 2021

Texas Premiere, 103 min

Director – KWON Oh-seung

Discover the twisted nighttime alleys of Seoul in the tense and thrilling MIDNIGHT, the gripping tale of a Deaf woman and the serial killer who has underestimated his opponent.

MOTHER SCHMUCKERS

Belgium, 2021

Texas Premiere, 70 min

Director – Lenny Guit & Harpo Guit

Issachar and Zabulon are two not-so-bright brothers who never manage to do anything right. When they lose Jacques-Janvier, their mom’s beloved dog, she gives them a day to find him … or else. And of course nothing goes smoothly.

NAME ABOVE TITLE

Portugal, 2020

North American Premiere, 59 min

Director – Carlos Conceição

A serial killer is propelled into fame after he kisses a dying woman who has just thrown herself off a balcony. Viewed by the world as an act of kindness, that gesture may well be hiding something far more sinister.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN UGANDA

USA, Uganda, 2021

World Premiere, 94 min

Director – Cathryne Czubek & Hugo Perez

Documenting the rise of Uganda’s Tarantino and his complex relationship with a middle-aged white dude from New York, ONCE UPON A TIME IN UGANDA tells the amazing story of a micro-film industry making $200 action films that have traveled the world, and how it happened almost by accident.

POSSESSION

France, Germany, 1981

US Premiere of 4K Restoration, 124 min

Director – Andrzej Zulawski

It took 30 years for people to catch up to POSSESSION’s bizarre, gelatinous majesty, and now it graces the Fantastic Fest screen in a breathtaking 4K restoration.

POUPELLE OF CHIMNEY TOWN

Japan, 2020

US Premiere, 100 min

Director – Yusuke Hirota

In this animated adventure, a young chimney sweep meets a sentient pile of junkyard scrap one Halloween night, raising questions about the world outside the isolated, walled-off community the boy has known his entire life.

PREMAN

Indonesia, 2021

Texas Premiere, 91 min

Director – Randolph Zaini

After Pandu witnesses a murder by a local gang – the unsavory mini-mob that his father works for – Deaf criminal Sandi has to turn against his own crew and flee town to protect him. Unfortunately, his boss Guru is not about to let go so easily.

THE SADNESS

Taiwan, 2021

US Premiere, 99 min

Director – Rob Jabbaz

As Taiwan succumbs to a viral pandemic that transforms ordinary peaceful citizens into sadistic, bloodthirsty maniacs, a young couple must battle to be reunited before they too become infected in this gleefully gory, morally reprehensible late-night splatterfest.

SHE WILL

United Kingdom, 2021

North American Premiere, 95 min

Director – Charlotte Colbert

After a double mastectomy, actress Veronica Ghent travels to a remote place in Scotland in order to recuperate. However, the land around the retreat radiates with a dark power that will ultimately help liberate her from a traumatic past.

SNAKES

USA, 1974

Repertory Screening, 83 min

Director – Art Names

An exceedingly odd rural snake revenge movie — made on a zilch budget and scored by electronic music pioneer Suzanne Ciani — that will make you question your relationship with reality, relativity, and reptiles.

THIS IS GWAR

USA, 2021

World Premiere, 110 min

Director – Scott Barber

GWAR is the galaxy’s greatest rock ‘n roll band, an intergalactic troupe of marauders who crash-landed in Antarctica and are committed to rocking your face off. But they’re also a bunch of amazing artists from Virginia determined to put on the wildest, bloodiest show you’ve ever seen. This is how.

TITANE 

France, Belgium, 2021

US Premiere, 108 min

Director – Julia Ducournau

A car accident irreparably changes the course of one woman’s life, sending her down a bizarre, twisted path in the search for love and acceptance.

THE TRIP

Norway, 2021

International Premiere, 113 min

Director – Tommy Wirkola

A married couple travels to their isolated cabin in the woods for some peace and quiet, with the husband planning to murder his wife. Of course, nothing goes as planned, and things only get worse from there ….

THE VISITOR

Italy, USA, 1979

Repertory Screening, 108 min

Director – Michael J. Paradise

This Italian-made horror/soap-opera/psychedelic light show was made to scoop up any stray dollars that THE OMEN and THE EXORCIST may have left on the table. Featuring an amazing will-work-for-food cast that includes John Huston as a kind of cosmic child pimp for the lord, Shelley Winters, Lance Henriksen, Sam Peckinpah (!!!), and of course Franco Nero as Jesus Christ.

YELLOW DRAGON’S VILLAGE

Japan, 2021

International Premiere, 67 min

Director – Hugo Sakamoto

And now for something completely different: Cannibal cultists and vengeful martial artists lead the way as found footage horror gets a cult film makeover courtesy of Hugo Sakamoto’s inventive and spirited debut.

ATTEND:

FAN Badges, 2ND HALF Badges, and MIDNIGHT Badges for Fantastic Fest 2021 are available for purchase here. The all-new FANTASTIC FEST @ HOME Badges are also available and provide access to the fest’s new virtual event which takes place from 9/30 – 10/11.

For the latest developments, visit the Fantastic Fest official site www.fantasticfest.com and follow us on Facebook & Twitter.


About Fantastic Fest

Fantastic Fest is the largest genre film festival in the U.S., specializing in horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action and just plain fantastic movies from all around the world. In years past, the festival has been home to the world and US premieres of PARASITE, JOJO RABBIT, BONE TOMAHAWK, JOHN WICK, FRANKENWEENIE, THERE WILL BE BLOOD, APOCALYPTO, ZOMBIELAND, RED, SPLIT, HALLOWEEN, BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE, MID 90s, and SUSPIRIA while the guest roster has included such talent as Tim Burton, Nicolas Winding-Refn, Lilly and Lana Wachowski, Bong Joon-Ho, Taika Waititi, Robert Rodriguez, Rian Johnson, Bill Murray, Keanu Reeves, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder, Edward Norton, Ryan Reynolds, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Karl Urban, Josh Hartnett, The RZA, Dolph Lundgren, Paul Rudd, Bill Pullman, Paul Thomas Anderson, Kevin Smith, Jon Favreau, George Romero, Darren Aronofsky, Mike Judge, Karyn Kusama, M. Night Shyamalan, James McAvoy, Vince Vaughn, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jonah Hill, Barbara Crampton and Jessica Harper.

Fantastic Fest also features world, national, and regional premieres of new, up-and-coming genre films. Fantastic Fest has seen the acquisition of many titles, including BULLHEAD, KILL LIST, MONSTERS, KLOWN, THE FP, PENUMBRA, HERE COMES THE DEVIL, NO REST FOR THE WICKED, VANISHING WAVES, COMBAT GIRLS, I DECLARE WAR, THE PERFECTION, and TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID. Fantastic Fest is held each year at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas. Alamo Drafthouse has been named the best theater in the country by Entertainment Weekly, Wired, and TIMEVariety included Fantastic Fest in a list of “10 Film Festivals We Love” and was also named one of the “25 coolest film festivals” by Moviemaker Magazine.

About Alamo Drafthouse

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema was founded in 1997 as a single-screen mom and pop repertory theater in Austin, TX. Twenty-four years later, with 38 locations and counting, Alamo Drafthouse has been called “the best theater in America” by Entertainment Weekly and “the best theater in the world” by Wired. Alamo Drafthouse has built a reputation as a movie lover’s oasis not only by combining food and drink service with the movie-going experience, but also introducing unique programming and high-profile, star-studded special events. Alamo Drafthouse created Fantastic Fest, a world-renowned film festival dubbed “The Geek Telluride” by Variety. Fantastic Fest showcases eight days of genre cinema from independents, international filmmakers, and major Hollywood studios. Alamo Drafthouse’s collectible art gallery, Mondo, offers breathtaking, original products featuring designs from world-famous artists based on licenses for popular TV and movie properties including Star Wars, Star Trek & Universal Monsters. Alamo Drafthouse continues to expand its brand in new and exciting ways, including the American Genre Film Archive, a non-profit film archive dedicated to preserving, restoring and sharing film, and Alamo On Demand, a new VOD platform boasting a growing and carefully curated library of entertainment for rental or purchase.

Review: ‘Blood Conscious,’ starring Oghenero Gbaje, DeShawn White, Lenny Thomas and Nick Damici

September 9, 2021

by Carla Hay

DeShawn White, Oghenero Gbaje and Lenny Thomas in “Blood Conscious” (Photo courtesy of Dark Sky Films)

“Blood Conscious”  

Directed by Timothy Covell

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror film “Blood Conscious” features a group of African American and white people representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A college student, his older sister and the sister’s fiancé travel to the home of the siblings’ parents in a remote lake area, for what they think will be a relaxing family vacation, only to find a bloody massacre and a madman who thinks demons disguised as humans are on the loose.

Culture Audience: “Blood Conscious” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching poorly made horror movies with unsatisfying endings.

DeShawn White, Nick Damici and Oghenero Gbaje in “Blood Conscious” (Photo courtesy of Dark Sky Films)

If you’re going to have an over-used “stranded in the woods with a murderer” plot, then you better be able to deliver a well-made story that’s actually scary. Unfortunately, the filmmakers of “Blood Conscious” couldn’t even deliver the basic elements of an interesting horror movie in this tedious, derivative and amateurish junk. “Blood Conscious” is the first feature film for writer/director Timothy Covell and some of the cast members. This lack of experience shows in almost every single minute of this dreadful film, which looks like it was made from a screenplay that wasn’t even close to being completed.

How many times has this concept been done in a horror movie? Too many times to count. A group of people travel to a remote area in the woods for what they think will be a nice vacation. Instead, their vacation turns into a bloody massacre. You might have already fallen asleep just reading about this boring idea.

In “Blood Conscious,” this idea is stretched and mangled in the most idiotic ways. A horror movie shouldn’t be about people sitting around in a remote house, having dull conversations after they’ve just found several murdered people on the property. If you want to make a movie about people having dull conversations in a remote area, then make a movie about a mediation retreat. Don’t try to fool people into thinking that they’re going to see a terrifying horror movie.

The three people at the center of this vortex of monotony in “Blood Conscious” are 19-year-old college student Kevin (played by Oghenero Gbaje), his older sister Brittney (played by DeShawn White) and Brittney’s fiancé Tony (played by Lenny Thomas), who sees himself as the “alpha male” of this group. They travel by SUV to a remote house in a wooded lake area to meet up with Brittney and Kevin’s parents, who own the house and some other dwellings on the property. It’s supposed to be a relaxing family vacation.

On the ride to this wooded area, which is in unnamed U.S. city (the movie was actually film in New York state), Tony lectures Kevin that the way to be a real man is to have the abilty to sell yourself as a brand and an image. “I’m not just selling,” Tony brags. “I’m closing [the deal].” Brittney also thinks that her younger brother has a lot of growing up to do. “He just plays video games,” she tells Tony in a condescending tone of voice.

During this car trip, Brittney has been trying to reach her parents by phone, but no one is answering. Not long after the trio gets to the house, they see why no one was answering the phone. They find four people murdered outside, including Kevin and Brittney’s parents. The other murdered people are two men who are unidentified strangers. The dead people all look like they’ve been shot.

Suddenly, a mysterious middle-aged man (played by Nick Damici), who’s armed with a shotgun, gets up from off of the ground and holds the three people at gunpoint. This aggressive gunman demands to know if Kevin, Brittney and Tony are humans or demons. Kevin replies, “We’re on vacation.” It’s this movie’s misguided attempt at comedy.

The gunman takes the car keys and holds Kevin, Brittney and Tony hostage in the main house. He tells them that if they’re really humans, “I’m sorry.” But, he adds, “I can’t take any chances. You ain’t seen what I’ve seen.” He then tells them to lock the door and don’t let anyone else in the house until the sun comes up. And then he leaves.

Whoever this mystery man is, he didn’t bother to take the hostages’ cell phones. But just as Tony is about to use his phone to call for help, their abductor comes back and sees the phone that Tony put on the floor and stupidly didn’t bother trying to hide. And so, the gunman takes all of the hostages’ cell phones and then leaves in the stolen SUV, without tying up his victims or locking them in a place where they can’t escape.

In other words, these “hostages” are free to move around and leave the house. They soon find out that even though the house has landline service, someone took the landline phones in the house. The parents’ car is on the property, but the car keys are nowhere in sight, and no one knows how to hotwire a car.

Instead of leaving to get help, these three dimwits walk around as if they’re doing a property tour. And that’s when they discover more murdered people they’ve never seen before. Kevin goes into a guest house and finds a dead woman holding a pistol. In the boathouse, Brittney finds a man who’s been stabbed with large scissors. Tony finds another dead man out by the lake. The bodies have photo IDs but no car keys or phones.

At this point, it’s still daylight. Despite going through this traumatic event, most people would have the common sense to leave and try to find help. But not this trio of morons. They stay at the house until nighttime, when they would be much more likely to get lost walking in this remote area in the dark, compared to walking during the daylight.

And only when it’s pitch-dark does Tony come up with the idea to leave to try to get help. He insists on walking alone, while Brittney and Kevin have to stay on the property with all the dead bodies. While walking in the dark on the road, Tony finds the trio’s cell phones have been broken and discarded. The SUV has been abandoned, and smoke is coming out of the engine.

And what do you know, the gunman comes back to the house. Kevin and the gunman get into a scuffle when Kevin tries to take the man’s shotgun. As an example of how badly written this movie is, just at that moment, Tony has suddenly come back to the house and gets in on the brawl too. The rest of the movie is just more nonsense that ultimately offers no real answers about what’s going on and why this story even exists.

At one point in the film, a middle-aged blonde woman who calls herself Margie (played by Lori Hammel) emerges from the woods at night and calls out for help. She says that her husband Walter was one of the people who was massacred, but she managed to escape and lost her phone in the process. Brittney takes pity on her and invites her into the house. However, Kevin is suspicious of Margie because he’s starting to believe the gunman’s story that there are demons on the loose, and Kevin thinks Margie could be one of them.

“Blood Conscious” seems to be making some kind of heavy-handed statement about racism with the Margie character, because slowly but surely, Margie reveals that she isn’t quite the mild-mannered victim that she first appears to be. She begins to act superior to her African American rescuers. And the next thing you know, she’s calling them “you people” and acting as if Kevin, Troy and Brittney are the ones who could be the violent thugs.

It’s all just an unimaginative distraction for a non-existent plot. The acting in “Blood Conscious” isn’t the worst you’ll ever see, but it’s wildly uneven, with a lot of awkward pauses in the horribly written dialogue. There are too many scenes of the characters just hanging out at the house, when most people in the same situation would do whatever it takes to leave and get help.

There’s no real sense of urgency that would be realistic for this type of emergency. Tony’s excuse for coming back to the house was that it was just too dark outside to continue walking. He thinks they should wait until the morning to get help. Brittney has one scene where she briefly cries and wails over the death of her parents. There’s no one way to grieve or process trauma, but the characters’ reactions to all these murders just don’t ring true at all because the screenplay is just so half-baked and sloppy.

The movie gets worse when certain characters have an idea that they should’ve thought about long ago. After a while, viewers are going to feel like the real horror isn’t with the killer on the loose but being stuck in a room with these boring imbeciles who spend half of their time arguing with each other instead of getting help in this emergency situation. And the ending of this movie is simply atrocious. “Blood Conscious” doesn’t look like a real horror movie. It looks more like a rejected film school project.

Dark Sky Films released “Blood Conscious” in select U.S. cities, on digital and VOD on August 20, 2021. The movie’s DVD release date is on September 28, 2021.

Review: ‘Candyman’ (2021), starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Colman Domingo

August 25, 2021

by Carla Hay

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in “Candyman” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Candyman” (2021)

Directed by Nia DaCosta

Culture Representation: Taking place in Chicago, the horror film “Candyman” features a predominantly African American cast of characters (with some white people and a few Asians) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: An up-and-coming conceptual artist (whose latest art exhibition explores themes of racism against black people) experiences the horror of Candyman, a legendary African American ghost representing black people who have been the targets of violent racism.

Culture Audience: “Candyman” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the 1992 “Candyman” movie, filmmaker Jordan Peele and horror movies that have themes of racial inequalities and social justice.

Teyonah Parris and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in “Candyman” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The 2021 movie “Candyman” is not a remake/reboot of the 1992 horror movie “Candyman” It’s a very worthy sequel that takes a more creative and more socially conscious approach to race relations and racist violence than the first “Candyman” movie. The 2021 “Candyman” somewhat sputters out toward the end, almost like the filmmakers ran out of ideas of how the story should conclude. But most of the movie strikes the right balance of paying homage to the original “Candyman” while coming up with its own clever sequel story.

The fact that the 2021 “Candyman” movie is a sequel, not a remake/reboot, is hinted at in the movie’s first trailer, which briefly features Vanessa Estelle Williams, who was a cast member of the original “Candyman” movie. She makes a non-flashback cameo in the 2021 “Candyman” that is memorable and not too surprising, considering her character’s story line in 1992’s “Candyman.” And there’s another non-flashback cameo from another original “Candyman” cast member that is supposed to be a sudden plot twist, but this person’s appearance not really a surprise. It would only be a surprise if this person wasn’t in this sequel.

One the main differences in the 2021 “Candyman” movie and the 1992 “Candyman” movie is that the latter film now has diversity in the race and gender of the writers, producers and directors. The 1992 “Candyman” had only white men as the director, writer and producers. Meanwhile, 2021’s “Candyman” has an African American woman as the director/co-writer (Nia DaCosta) and an African American man (Jordan Peele) as a co-writer/producer.

DaCosta and Peele co-wrote the 2021 “Candyman” screenplay with Win Rosenfeld, who is one of the producers of the film. Ian Cooper is the other producer of 2021’s “Candyman.” Peele was the first black person to win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay; it was for his 2017 horror film “Get Out.” He has said in many interviews that he wants the horror movies that he writes and produces to explore themes of racism and race relations.

He was originally going to direct this “Candyman” sequel, but instead handed over the directorial reins to DaCosta. “Candyman” is her second feature film, and it shows that she has immense talent, especially when it comes to crafting visuals that are perfectly suited for the story. It’s rare for a horror movie directed by a woman of color to be released worldwide by a major studio. Let’s hope that “Candyman” is a step in the right direction for more opportunities to be opened up to talented and qualified women of color directors for horror movies, a genre that is overwhelmingly dominated by white male directors.

People don’t need to see the 1992 “Candyman” to understand the 2021 “Candyman” movie, which does an excellent job of recapping and explaining the original “Candyman” film. Candyman is a mysterious and vengeful ghost of an African American man who died because of racist violence. Both movies takes place in Chicago, but the themes in both films speak to universal and ugly truths about how racism is usually the reason why black people are harmed by people of other races.

In the 1992 “Candyman” movie, Candyman’s real name was Daniel Robitaille (played by Tony Todd), an artist/slave’s son who was murdered by a racist white mob in 1890. Why was he murdered? He and Caroline Sullivan, the daughter of a white aristocrat, fell in love with each other, and she got pregnant. Daniel met Caroline because her father had hired Daniel to paint her portrait.

Before he was murdered, right-handed Daniel’s right hand was amputated. As a ghost, he now has a hook where his right hand was. The angry mob of people who killed Daniel covered him in honey and unloaded a swarm of bees onto him. The ghost of Candyman is supposed to appear when someone looks in a mirror and chants “Candyman” five times. If there are bees nearby, that means Candyman could be somewhere close.

In the 1992 “Candyman” movie, university graduate student Helen Lyle (played by Virginia Madsen) is researching the Candyman legend for a doctorate thesis. Candyman is summoned, and he ends up wreaking havoc in Helen’s life, as she is blamed for murders that Candyman committed. In the movie, Williams portrays a single mother named Anne-Marie McCoy, whose baby son was kidnapped. Anne-Marie lives in Chicago’s low-income Cabrini-Green area, where many of the African American residents believe that Candyman is real.

One of the criticisms that the original “Candyman” got was how a movie that was supposed to be about an African American ghost haunted by racist trauma instead centered the story on a white woman who was being blamed for a black man’s crimes. In addition, there was a sexual component to why Candyman specifically targeted Helen (it’s explained why in the movie), as if Candyman’s main priority was to go after a white woman as a sexual conquest. It played into the same racist stereotypes that got Candyman murdered.

The 2021 “Candyman” movie attempts to remedy some of these problematic racial depictions, by making toxic people the targets of Candyman’s wrath. There’s a middle-aged boss who abuses his power by sleeping with his willing young adult female interns, because he implies that he’ll give them career rewards if they sleep with him. There’s a racially condescending art critic who has no problem exploiting black people’s pain in art if it means she’ll get some glory from writing about it. There’s a small group of “mean girls” in high school who bully an African American female student. And, not surprisingly, racist white cops are the biggest villains in the story.

In the 2021 “Candyman,” up-and-coming conceptual artist Anthony McCoy (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) decides to make the Candyman legend the theme for an art installation that is part of a gallery display. Anthony’s live-in girlfriend Brianna Cartwright (played by Teyonah Parris) is a curator at the gallery, which is owned by her boss Clive Privler (played by Mike Davis), who is very impressed with Anthony’s talent. Anthony hasn’t been able to make money as an artist for quite some time, so this gallery exhibit is a big career boost for him.

Before he creates the art installation, Anthony does more research into the Candyman legend by going to the places in the area formerly known as Cabrini-Green, where Candyman was known to haunt. In real life, the Cabrini-Green housing project’s buildings were torn down from 1995 to 2011, to make way for gentrification. While in the former Cabrini-Green area, Anthony gets stung by a bee on his right hand.

Anthony also meets someone named William Burke (played by Colman Domingo), who claims to have seen Candyman. It happened when William was about 11 or 12 years old. Back then, William went by the name Billy (played by Rodney L. Jones III), who grew up in Cabrini-Green.

Billy first saw this man named Sherman Fields (played by Michael Hargrove) literally come out of a hole in the wall of public laundry room to offer William some candy. (It’s one of the creepier scenes in the movie.) At the time, someone was going around the neighborhood giving kids candy that had razor blades hidden in the candy.

Did Sherman do the same thing to Billy? That question is answered in the movie. But it’s enough to say that a sketch of Sherman is on a “Wanted” poster that the cops have posted in the neighborhood. Billy is frightened by this stranger and sees him as Candyman. Billy yells for help. Some patrol officers who were staked out in their car nearby storm into the room to rescue Billy and arrest Sherman. Things do not end well for Sherman, an unarmed black man surrounded by white police officers.

It’s not spoiler information to say that the 2021 “Candyman” movie takes the approach that several black men who were murdered by angry and racist white people could become Candyman. William says in the movie: “Candyman is how we deal with the fact that it’s happened—that it’s still happening.” At another point in the movie, William says, “Candyman ain’t a ‘he.’ Candyman’s the whole damn hive.”

“Candyman” also has plenty of social commentary on gentrification. Cabrini-Green has been renamed the North Side, which is the home of upscale residential buildings that were developed as low-income people were priced out of the neighborhood, and higher-income people (usually white) moved in. Anthony and Brianna live in one of these upscale high-rise buildings.

Brianna comes from a cultured and educated family, so her background is very different from Anthony’s background. But that doesn’t mean she had a perfect childhood, because she’s haunted by a childhood tragedy that’s revealed in this movie. Brianna’s openly gay and sassy younger brother Troy (played by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) provides much of the comic relief and “real talk” in the movie. He has a new-ish boyfriend named Grady (played by Kyle Kaminsky), who is as laid-back as Troy is energetic.

Troy is the one who actually tells Brianna and Anthony the legend of Candyman. It’s in an early scene in the film where Anthony and Brianna have invited Troy and Grady over to dinner for a small housewarming celebration, since Anthony and Brianna have recently moved into this loft apartment. Brianna scoffs at the idea of believing in ghosts, while Anthony is intrigued. Once he hears about Candyman and looks further into Candyman stories, he’s inspired to make it a theme for his current art installation. And it’s about time that Anthony gets paid for his work, because Troy is starting to disapprove of Anthony being constantly broke while Brianna has to pay all of the couple’s bills.

Brianna, Troy and some of the black people who interact with them at the art gallery represent the educated African Americans who too often are overlooked or underrepresented in American-made movies. The 1992 “Candyman” movie had some of this representation with Helen’s best friend Bernadette “Bernie” Walsh (played by Kasi Lemmons), who was also Helen’s partner in writing their doctoral thesis. However, the rest of the black people in the first “Candyman” movie were working-class or poor people from the ghetto.

Brianna and Troy are immersed in the art world. Their late father Gil Cartwright (seen in a flashback and played by Cedric Mays) was an artist. Brianna also mentions at one point in the movie that up until Troy started dating Grady, Troy had a pattern of dating European artists. The movie shows what often happens when black people have to navigate in an industry dominated by white people, some who are often racially condescending, racially insensitive or downright racist when it comes to judging people who aren’t white.

The snooty art critic Finley Stephens (played by Rebecca Spence) represents this entitled mindset of white supremacy. When she first sees Anthony’s at installation at the gallery, she dismisses it as mediocre and trite depictions of racial injustice, possibly because what she sees in the art installation makes her uncomfortable. But when certain murders happen and start to be linked to the Candyman legend, Anthony’s art gets a lot of media attention.

And suddenly, Finley changes her tune. She praises Anthony for being a visionary and arranges to interview him for an article. It’s an example of how some white people who are media influencers only seem to care about up-and-coming black artists when those artists are getting attention from media outlets that have a mostly white audience. When Finley interviews Anthony, more of her racial condescension is on display.

“Candyman” is a visually compelling movie that makes use of shadow puppetry to tell parts of the Candyman story. It’s a better alternative than using live actors to re-enact the racist violence that’s in the movie. DaCosta brings a confident tone to her horror storytelling, which remains grounded in realism, even as supernatural occurrences are happening around the characters. The first “Candyman” movie had some over-the-top hokey moments, but the 2021 “Candyman” movie never lets you forget that racist violence is a real-life horror story for too many people.

There are also some gruesome but realistic-looking visual effects and makeup, especially when Anthony’s bee sting turns into an alarming infection that spreads through his right arm and beyond. Musically, the 2021 “Candyman” movie score by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe (also known as Lichens) skillfully builds off of Philip Glass’ memorable score for the 1992 “Candyman,” including Glass’ haunting piano refrain that has become the franchise’s musical signature. Violence and gore are expected, but they aren’t gratuitous or exploitative in the 2021 “Candyman” movie. The point of the movie is to show that racism and revenge for racist crimes create a vicious cycle where there are no real winners.

The casting of this “Candyman” film is top-notch. The result is acting that is superior to the average horror movie. Everyone plays their roles well, with Abdul-Mateen, Domingo and Stewart-Jarrett as particular standouts. But realistically, no one in this cast is going to be nominated for Oscars because the acting isn’t Oscar-caliber. And this “Candyman” movie could have had more speaking roles for Asians and Hispanics.

The plot starts to get a little messy in the last 20 minutes of the film. Now that viewers know that several people could be Candyman, there could be an untold number of “Candyman” sequels. However, future “Candyman” sequels are better served by limiting the Candyman character to being depicted by just one person per movie and giving that person an interesting character arc. Otherwise, too many Candymen in a movie can spoil the story.

Universal Pictures will release “Candyman” in U.S. cinemas on August 27, 2021.

Review: ‘The Night House,’ starring Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Vondie Curtis Hall, Evan Jonigkeit and Stacy Martin

August 24, 2021

by Carla Hay

Rebecca Hall in “The Night House” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

The Night House”

Directed by David Bruckner

Culture Representation: Taking place in upstate New York, the horror film “The Night House” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A recent widow is convinced that her house is haunted because her late husband is trying to contact her. 

Culture Audience: “The Night House” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching slower-paced horror movies that are more about psychological terror than violent gore.

A scene from “The Night House” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

Moody and atmospheric, sometimes to a fault, “The Night House” still delivers enough mystery and intrigue to make it a noteworthy psychological/supernatural horror movie. Rebecca Hall’s effective performance improves the quality of what could have been a movie that’s too dull and repetitive. It’s not the best ghost story you’ll ever see, but at least it attempts to give more unique visuals and better acting than most horror movies.

There are long stretches of “The Night House” that will test the patience of viewers who might be expecting more action or more jump scares. “The Night House” (directed by David Bruckner and written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski) is essentially a long meditation on grief and finding out secrets of a deceased loved one. It has the added supernatural element of the loved one’s spirit hanging around and trying to make contact.

In an unnamed city in upstate New York, Beth Parchin (played by Hall) is a lonely widow whose architect husband Owen Parchin has recently died in a horrific way: He went in a row boat on the lake outside their house, and he shot himself with a pistol. The beginning of the movie takes place less than a week after Owen’s suicide. Owen (played by Evan Jonigkeit) is shown in flashbacks and in home videos that Beth watches in her grief.

Beth and Owen had been married for almost 15 years. He built their lake house for Beth. The house is isolated in a heavily wooded area, which is a horror movie cliché that works pretty well in this movie. Beth is unsure if she wants to sell the house, now that Owen is gone, and the house is filled with painful memories. Beth is a high school teacher, whose closest friend is another teacher at the school named Claire (played by Sarah Goldberg), who becomes increasingly concerned about Beth’s mental health as time goes on.

Beth confides in Claire that she has no idea why Owen wanted kill himself, because he was the more upbeat and positive person in their marriage. Claire says she’s the one in their marriage who’s had a history of depression and negative thoughts. It’s also revealed in the movie that Claire had a near-death experience at 17 years old, so she has very a strong opinion about what might happen to human souls after death.

Almost immediately after this movie begins, Beth has nightmares or visions that Owen is trying to contact her. Get used to multiple scenes of Beth hearing Owen’s voice in a room or getting text messages from Owen—only to have her wake up because it was just a dream. Or was it? It gets to the point where Beth starts to question her own sanity.

Things get more interesting when Beth goes through Owen’s phone and laptop computer and finds photos of women she does not recognize. Was Owen cheating on her? Beth is determined to find out. And she discovers things about Owen that take her down a very dark path.

Viewers of “The Night House” have to get used to many scenes of Beth having nightmares. These scenes are genuinely spooky but can get a little tiresome because the point is made over and over that Beth is being haunted by what she’s sure is the ghost of her husband. It isn’t until she tries to find out his secrets that the pace and intrigue start to pick up.

The parts of “The Night House” that seem the most awkward are scenes showing Beth at work less than a week after Owen’s suicide. These scenes don’t take up too much of the movie (less than 10 minutes), but they beg the question: Why is Beth back at work so soon after her husband’s suicide, when she’s obviously emotionally fragile? The movie never answers that question. Because people grieve in different ways, viewers will have to assume that Beth is the one who insisted on going back to work.

Beth also has a concerned neighbor named Mel (played by Vondie Curtis Hall), who checks up on Beth occasionally. During her sleuthing, Beth discovers Owen’s architect sketchbook, which has some major clues about what’s going on. She also finds a voodoo doll, as well as an occult book that leads her to a bookstore. She meets a bookstore employee named Madelyn (played by Stacy Martin), who discloses some information that leads Beth closer to solving the mystery.

Rebecca Hall—who’s in all of the movie’s scenes—gives a fairly riveting performance as a grieving widow who misses her husband so much that she’s willing to go down a proverbial rabbit hole to find out secrets that might end up destroying her happy memories of him. And if Beth does find out some disturbing truths about Owen, will it cut short her growing obsession to communicate with him and possibly summon him back, just so he can be with her again in some way? Those questions are answered in the movie, but “The Night House” will leave viewers guessing over what the long-term repercussions will be.

Searchlight Pictures released “The Night House” in U.S. cinemas on August 20, 2021.

Review: ‘Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman,’ starring Chad Michael Murray

August 16, 2021

by Carla Hay

Chad Michael Murray in “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” (Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures/Voltage Pictures)

“Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman”

Directed by Daniel Farrands

Culture Representation: Taking place in Washington state, Utah and Florida, from 1974 to 1989, the true crime/ horror film “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Hispanics) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Real-life serial killer Ted Bundy goes on a murder spree targeting adolescent girls and young women, as law enforcement officials try to apprehend him. 

Culture Audience: “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching tacky and exploitative re-enactments of true crime cases.

Jake Hays and Holland Roden in “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” (Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures/Voltage Pictures)

“Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” is the type of vile and idiotic movie that seems to delight in exploiting the murder sprees of serial killer Ted Bundy, who was imprisoned and electrocuted for his crimes. Too bad there’s no “filmmaker jail” for people who’ve made careers out of dumping this type of horrific garbage into the world. Everything about this movie is laughably amateurish, but it’s actually not funny to see how disrespectfully these filmmakers have treated a real-life horror story where people’s lives were destroyed. The movie has very little regard for these victims because the movie’s focus is on glorifying their murderer as if he’s some kind of legendary horror character.

“Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” was written and directed by Daniel Farrands, whose early career included producing documentary content for fictional horror movies such as “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Friday the 13th.” But now, as a feature-film director, he’s made it his specialty to do extremely cheesy dramatic versions of true crimes, beginning with 2018’s “The Amityville Murders” and continuing with 2019’s controversial schlockfests “The Haunting of Sharon Tate” and “The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson.”

Next on Farrands’ list of true crime stories to annihilate into irredeemable oblivion are “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” and “Aileen Wuornos: American Boogeywoman,” both set for release in 2021. Since there’s no shortage of notorious murders, we can assume that Farrands will keep shamelessly churning out this type of disgraceful dreck until he decides to stop. Farrands is also a producer of the trashy movies that he directs.

True crime stories and stories about real murderers will continue to be made into scripted films and TV projects. But a lot of what’s worth watching depends on the quality of these projects and how respectful these projects are to the victims. You don’t have to be a psychic to know that there’s a massive difference in the quality of 2003’s “Monster” (for which Charlize Theron won an Oscar for portraying Aileen Wuornos) and the tabloid-like excrement of “Aileen Wuornos: American Boogeywoman.”

Other actors have portrayed Bundy before—most notably, Mark Harmon in the 1986 NBC miniseries “The Deliberate Stranger,” Billy Campbell in the 2003 USA Network movie “The Stranger Beside Me” and Zac Efron in the 2019 Netflix film “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.” Luke Kirby portrays Bundy in the 2021 RLJE Films drama “No Man of God,” which is set for release on August 27, and got mostly positive reviews after the movie’s world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. Chad Michael Murray is woefully miscast as Bundy in “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” and is easily the worst portrayal of this notorious serial killer.

In addition to his subpar acting, Murray is in a cheap-looking wig and creepy moustache for the majority of the movie, even though the real Bundy was clean-shaven for most of his crime spree. It doesn’t help that Murray and the rest of the cast are given cringeworthy dialogue that wouldn’t even pass muster in an amateur film made by teenagers in someone’s backyard. “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” offers no real insight into Bundy’s psychology at all, unless you consider it illuminating that he keeps repeating in the movie things like, “I’m invisible” and “I am no one” when he commits his crimes.

Bundy’s murder sprees took place in many U.S. states, including Washington, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Oregon, California and Florida. He is believed to have murdered about 100 women and girls, but he confessed to 30 and was ultimately convicted of murdering three females, as well as attempted murder and kidnapping for some of his victims who escaped. Most of his victims were sexually assaulted, even after death. There are plenty of books, documentaries and news reports that have the disgusting details of his crimes.

Because “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” is a low-class, low-budget film, the movie only focuses on four law enforcement officials who worked on these cases of missing and murdered Bundy victims. Two of these law enforcement officials get the most screen time and all the credit in this movie for apprehending Bundy, who had escaped from jail in Colorado twice and was arrested for the last time in Florida after another killing spree. This movie is so highly inaccurate, the scene where Bundy is captured in Florida only has one cop going into the building to arrest him, and two other cops showing up later. In real life, Bundy’s fugitive status and notoriety would have warranted a large team of law enforcement to be there to take him down.

There’s a disclaimer before the movie’s opening credits that admits that parts of the movie were fabricated for dramatic purposes. Still, there’s so much that’s hard to take with how moronically everything is staged in the movie and how horrific the acting is. Holland Roden, who portrays real-life Seattle police detective Kathleen McChesney, could get a M.A. degree from this movie alone, if M.A. stood for “melodramatic acting.” Most of her performance looks like an unintentionally bad parody.

Kathleen is portrayed as the only woman on a small Seattle police task force that is investigating Bundy. She has to deal with two very sexist co-workers—a father-and-son lunkhead duo named Capt. Herb Swindley (played by Anthony DeLongis) and Shane Swindley (played by Sky Patterson), who assumes he’s eventually going to be promoted into his father’s job. The movie tries to make up for its rampant female exploitation by making Kathleen the biggest hero of the story.

Too bad they also make Kathleen say and do a lot of dumb things that no self-respecting cop would do, such as go without any backup into a building to arrest armed and dangerous Bundy. In an early scene, Kathleen is giving a lecture to other cops on the task force about the evidence gathered so far. Bundy had a type of victim whom he liked to target: adolescent girls and young women with long dark hair, usually parted in the middle.

Misogynistic cop Shane comments that some of the victims might have had other things in common: long legs and short skirts. He smirks that the victims were “the type that’s maybe out for a good time. Maybe they led this guy on. You know how the old saying goes: ‘If they’re advertising, they must be selling.'” Kathleen replies, “If stupidity were painful, Shane, you’d be in agony.” That’s what’s supposed to pass for “witty” dialogue in this brain-rotting film.

Meanwhile, FBI investigator/profiler Robert Ressler (played by Jake Hays) shows up at this Seattle police station, to inform the cops that the federal government is taking over the investigation. Capt. Swindley is angry about this change in command, because he thinks that the FBI is intruding on an investigation that he wants to lead. This toxic boss also makes a point of telling Robert that Kathleen was only hired as a token female, so that she could “soften up the witnesses” when needed.

Needless to say, any enemy of the Swindleys becomes a fast friend of Kathleen’s. The rest of the movie’s “investigation” essentially just shows Robert and Kathleen working on the case, even though in reality, there were dozens of law enforcement officials (federal, state and local) who were involved in investigating all of Bundy’s widespread crimes. Just because a movie has a low budget to hire a relatively small number of actors doesn’t mean that a movie has to lie about the truth.

In real life, Robert Ressler was credited with coming up with the term “serial killer.” However, this movie makes it look like it was Kathleen McChesney’s idea, and she generously let Ressler take all the credit for it. The scene is badly written as Kathleen comparing serial killers (originally called sequence killers) to serials on television, “because they leave people wanting more. It’s a never-ending cycle.”

Except that it’s law enforcement’s job to stop these serial killings, so that these murders shouldn’t be a “never-ending cycle” from the same person. In response to her asinine comment, Robert says to Kathleen, “You’re going to make one hell of an agent someday, McChesney!” In real life, McChesney eventually did join the FBI to great success, but it’s an insult to her that she’s portrayed as such an over-the-top drama queen in this movie. (By contrast, Hays’ portrayal of Robert Ressler is so bland, it makes barely an impression at all.)

The movie makes Kathleen look like she’s trying to be in Charlie’s Angels, because her long, flowing red hair is worn unrestrained and styled like an actress. In real life, cops who have very long hair usually have to wear their hair pinned up or pinned back while on the job, because long hair can get in the way of their vision if they have to run or fight. Long hair worn unrestrained also makes it easier for an assailant to attack by pulling the hair. It’s standard police procedure to wear long hair in a restrained way, but don’t expect this movie to care about a lot of realistic details.

Bundy’s kidnappings, assaults and murders are filmed just like a violent horror movie, but the filmmakers surprisingly had some restraint by not really showing a lot of the actual physical impact when Bundy bludgeons someone to death. The gruesome sound editing gives people enough of an idea of what’s going on during these blood-soaked scenes. The sexual assaults are not as explicit as some people might think they would be. However, there’s still plenty of disturbing violence that will nauseate people who get easily squeamish.

Even though there are horror movies that are much more graphic with blood and gore than this film, what’s offensive about “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” is that it treats the victims as just boxes to check off in Bundy’s “to do” list. The movie re-creates two of his most well-known methods to lure his victims into his Volkswagen Beetle: He either pretended to have an injured arm or injured leg and asked for help near his car, or he pretended to be an undercover cop who told the victim that he saw someone try to break into her car and she needed to come with him to the police station to file a report.

However, the movie makes some of these scenarios pathetically unrealistic. In the movie’s opening scene—which takes place on October 18, 1974, at a pizza place in Midway, Utah—two young female friends (who are in their late teens) become Bundy victims. Their names are Jill (played by Gianna Adams) and Melissa (played by Julianne Collins), and they both encounter Bundy separately, within minutes of each other. One of the pals avoids getting harmed, while the other one doesn’t.

Jill has gone outside to smoke a cigarette, when she sees Bundy (using crutches to fake a leg injury) in the pizza place’s back parking lot. He looks very suspicious, because he’s wearing a face covering from his nose down, like a burglar would. Bundy asks for Jill’s help in picking up his car keys, which are on the ground. And when she hands the keys to him, he drops the keys again—this time, underneath his car. And Jill still falls for this obvious ruse. Her friend Melissa comes out of the pizza place, just minutes later.

Here’s the thing: In real life, Bundy didn’t cover his face like that when approaching victims, because he wanted to catch the victims off guard by gaining their trust. He also told them his real first name. That’s how over-confident he was in not getting caught. It ended up being his undoing when one of his victims escaped and testified against him. And several women who didn’t fall for his scams also reported his suspicious activities to law enforcement.

Another more ridiculous scenario is staged in the movie in a nighttime scene that takes place on October 31, 1974, in American Fork, Utah. Bundy is driving in his Volkswagen Beetle on a secluded road that’s deserted except for a young woman named Laura (played by Gabrielle Haugh), whom he follows and asks, “Need a lift?”

She immediately yells at him, “Fuck off and die!” He gets angry, stops the car and runs after her. And instead of running toward an area where people will be, Laura runs into a dark greenhouse, thereby making it easy for Bundy to find her in that enclosed space. It’s so predictably stupid.

The movie also depicts Bundy’s abduction of the real-life Carol DaRonch (played by Olivia DeLaurentis), on November 8, 1974, in Murray, Utah. This time, Bundy uses his undercover cop scam in this kidnapping. Carol mistakenly gets in his car, instead of following him in her own car. Carol manages to escape but not before Bundy hits her on the head with a crowbar. He lets out a howl of frustration that might make people laugh at how terrible Murray’s acting is in this scene.

It gets worse. Bundy’s real-life obsession with violent pornography is depicted in the movie in ways that you can’t un-see, such as Bundy masturbating to this type of porn, which he looks at in magazines. The movie doesn’t show anything extremely explicit—just quick images of scantily clad female body parts, but no actuall full-frontal nudity. If you waited your whole life to see Chad Michael Murray as a vicious serial murderer in a movie where he’s shown getting off on sleazy snuff porn, then “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” is the movie for you.

At one point, just like in real life, Bundy (using the alias Chris Hagen) is shown renting a room at a mostly female boarding house near the Florida State University campus, after the second time he escaped from jail in Colorado. The boarding house’s manager Dottie (played by Alice Prime) was an aspiring fashion designer and still keeps many nude female mannequins inside the house. You know what comes next: There are scenes where Bundy is alone with the mannequins, and he starts kissing the mannequins like the pervert that he is. It’s implied that he does other things to the mannequins besides kiss them.

And then it turns into a weird hallucinatory scene (complete with psychedelic red lighting) of Bundy imagining himself rolling around on a bed with three hooded women dressed in dominatrix gear, while one of the women hits him with a club. At the end of the scene, it’s shown that Bundy actually took some of the house’s mannequins and was role playing this sex scene with the mannequins, which are now dismembered.

Horror film “scream queen” Lin Shaye embarrasses herself in her unhinged performance as Louise Bundy, Ted’s biological mother who comes across as having disturbing psychological problems of her own, except that she’s not a murderer. A famous true story about Ted is that he found out a dark family secret when he was a young man: The woman he thought was his older sister was actually his mother, who gave birth to him out of wedlock, and his mother’s parents raised him as their own son.

In the movie, Louise hints that Ted was born from incest rape by Louise’s abusive father, although in real life there was never any concrete evidence presented to prove who Ted’s real biological father was. Louise says like a woman possessed, “Father used to say that Ted was conceived in hell. I suppose that would make him the devil!” Louise is in the movie for just two scenes—both with her being interviewed by Kathleen and Robert. The second scene is one of the worst in this bottom-of-the-barrel trash dump of a movie.

If you still have the stomach to watch this movie until the very end (which includes a ludicrous re-enactment of Ted Bundy’s 1989 death by electrocution at the age of 42), you will learn nothing new or interesting about this notorious criminal, his victims or the real story of how he was caught by law enforcement. The only thing you will learn is that this movie will surely hold the title of the worst movie ever made about Ted Bundy. This isn’t just like watching a train wreck. It’s like watching a nuclear bomb of extremely bad taste and putrid filmmaking.

Dark Star Pictures and Voltage Pictures released “Ted Bundy: An American Boogeyman” in select U.S. cinemas (through Fathom Events) for one night only on August 16, 2021. The movie’s release date on digital, VOD and DVD is on September 3, 2021.

Review: ‘Don’t Breathe 2,’ starring Stephen Lang, Brendan Sexton III and Madelyn Grace

August 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

Stephen Lang and Adam Young in “Don’t Breathe 2” (Photo by Sergej Radovic/Screen Gems)

“Don’t Breathe 2”

Directed by Rodo Sayagues

Culture Representation: Taking place in Detroit, the horror flick “Don’t Breathe 2” has a predominantly white cast (with a few Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: In this horror sequel, a blind Gulf War veteran battles against more intruders who invade his home. 

Culture Audience: “Don’t Breathe” will appeal primarily to people who like watching mindless, ridiculous and violent horror movies.

Stephen Lang in “Don’t Breathe 2” (Photo by Sergej Radovic/Screen Gems)

At some point, the filmmakers of the “Don’t Breathe” franchise gave up all pretense of making realistic horror and decided to lean into very campy foolishness. In “Don’t Breathe 2” (a follow-up to the 2016 sleeper hit “Don’t Breathe”), the franchise’s elderly blind protagonist fights more like Marvel’s blind superhero Daredevil than a regular human being who is blind. Depending on your tolerance for dumb horror movies, you’ll either be amused and/or bored when watching “Don’t Breathe 2,” but you probably won’t be scared.

“Don’t Breathe 2” was written by Fede Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues, who also wrote “Don’t Breathe.” Álvarez directed “Don’t Breathe,” while Sayagues makes his feature-film directorial debut with “Don’t Breathe 2.” The difference in the quality of films is very noticeable. “Don’t Breathe” is a taut, believable thriller, while “Don’t Breathe 2” is a ludicrous mess. It might be hard for some viewers to believe that both movies were written by the same people.

In terms of characters, the only one from “Don’t Breathe” who’s in “Don’t Breathe 2” is protagonist Norman Nordstrom (played by Stephen Lang), who isn’t a virtuous hero but more like an anti-hero. In “Don’t Breathe 2,” viewers don’t even really find out Norman’s name. In the end credits, he’s only listed as “The Blind Man.”

Both movies take place in Detroit and have a small number of cast members. In “Don’t Breathe,” almost all the violence happened in Norman’s house, while “Don’t Breathe 2” has other locations for fight scenes in addition to Norman’s house. Fair warning to people who get easily squeamish: Compared to the first “Don’t Breathe” movie, “Don’t Breathe 2” has lot more gratutitous violence and is more fixated on showing close-ups of people’s bloody wounds.

People don’t need to see “Don’t Breathe” to understand what’s going in on “Don’t Breathe 2,” which is supposed to take place several years after what happened in “Don’t Breathe.” In “Don’t Breathe,” Norman battled against three young thieves who broke into his home to steal about $300,000 in cash that they knew he kept in the house. In “Don’t Breathe 2,” his home invaders are organ harvesters. Yes, you read that right.

What would organ harvesters want with a senior citizen who’s blind? It’s eventually revealed in the movie, but it has to do with the girl who is living with Norman. Her name is Phoenix (played by Madelyn Grace), and she’s about 12 or 13 years old. An early scene in “Don’t Breathe 2” shows that Norman has been training Phoenix to defend herself. In this idiotic movie, Norman is magically able to run through dense places like a forest or a cluttered hideaway he’s never been to before, without the use of a cane or guide dog. And he never trips or stumbles.

Phoenix is homeschooled, and she has no friends except for a young woman named Hernandez (played by Stephanie Arcila), who drives a van for a company called Lake Park Fern and Plant Sales. Norman is extremely protective of Phoenix, but he trusts Hernandez to take care of Phoenix when Phoenix needs to go somewhere that would require someone to drive her there. Hernandez comments to Norman about his parenting skills to Phoenix, “You know, you either need to loosen up that leash, or she’s going to bite it off.”

How did Phoenix end up living with bachelor Norman, whom she calls “Father”? That answer is also revealed in the movie. But a clue is in the movie’s opening scene, which shows a girl, who’s about 4 or 5 years old, walking from a burning house into the middle of a street and then lying down in the street, as if she’s in shock. The movie then picks up eight years later by showing Phoenix and Norman doing a personal safety test exercise, where he pretends to be a kidnapper who’s after her.

Phoenix fails the test because Norman was able to come up behind her and ambush her. She tells him that she’s sorry she failed the test. Norman says he won’t be able to give Phoenix more freedom until she passes all of her tests.

The movie reveals another clue about Phoenix’s identity when she’s giving Norman a haircut and asks him if the white streak in her hair is because Norman has white hair. Based on his answer, Norman has told Phoenix that she’s his biological daughter. And where is Phoenix’s mother? Norman has told Phoenix that her mother is dead.

And the reason why there are no photos of the mother is because “everything was lost in the fire,” says Norman. It’s implied that Norman told Phoenix that her mother died in this fire. However, there’s a major plot hole later in the movie. In order for this plot hole to be credible, viewers would have to believe that Phoenix has no memories of her childhood before she was 4 or 5 years old.

People who saw “Don’t Breathe” will know about Norman’s backstory that he lost his first daughter in a car accident that was caused by a wealthy woman, who gave him a $300,000 settlement that he kept hidden as cash in his house. And there’s something in that movie that reveals how far Norman was willing to go to have another daughter. In “Don’t Breathe 2,” Norman shows remorse by saying he’s sorry for all bad things that he did in his past. It’s so people who might not have seen the first “Don’t Breathe” movie will know that Norman is far from being a saintly victim.

Besides Hernandez, Phoenix’s closest companion is the family dog: a Rottweiler named Shadow. Strangely, the movie never really shows Shadow being a guide dog for Norman, who usually moves around like a person who can see. The only indications that he might be blind are in scenes inside the house where he occasionally extends his arms in front of him, or when he’s in attack mode and uses a weapon like a blind person.

But too often, there are scenes where Norman ambushes people with perfect precision, like someone who can see. One example is a laughably unrealistic scene where he attacks an intruder in the house by breaking a window from outside and putting a chokehold on the intruder who’s near the window. How did he see the intruder through the window if he’s blind? Don’t expect any logic in almost all this movie’s action scenes.

Norman is a Gulf War veteran, which is why he has combat skills. It still doesn’t explain why blind Norman can fight like a person who can see. He does use a few tactics that help him figure out where his targets are. But for the most part, the movie wants viewers to literally believe that blind luck is why Norman is able to fight like a superhero, even though there are no supernatural elements to the story.

One day, Phoenix and Hernandez are out for a drive together so that Phoenix can be outside for some exercise at a local playground. The playground is near an orphanage called Covenant Shelter. Some of the shelter kids are the playground too. But they ignore Phoenix, who is lonely and fantasizes that the kids have asked her to join them in their social activities.

When Phoenix has to use a public restroom nearby, she has a strange encounter with a sleazy-looking man who is loitering inside the restroom. He introduces himself as Raylan (played by Brendan Sexton III), and he tells Phoenix that she’s pretty. Phoenix, who has her dog Shadow with her, has her guard up and tells this creep to leave her alone, or else her dog will attack him.

Raylan backs off, but not before stroking Phoenix’s hair as she leaves the restroom. As Phoenix and Hernandez drive off in the van, Phoenix tells Hernandez about this uncomfortable encounter and assures her that she’s okay. Hernandez gets a good look at Raylan, who sees her eyeing him suspiciously. Instead of reporting the incident to the police—to at least alert law enforcment that a man is loitering in a public restroom and touched an underage girl there—Hernandez does nothing and takes Phoenix home. Do you think this will be the last time they’ll see Raylan? Of course not.

Meanwhile, a scene in the movie shows a TV news report that a doctor is under suspicion for operating an organ trafficking ring in the Detroit area. It should come as no surprise to viewers that Raylan and some other thugs are part of this gang that harvests and sells organs. And somehow, they end up crossing paths with Norman, Phoenix and Hernandez. And not everyone makes it out alive.

Rayland is the top henchman of this crew. All of the subordinate thugs are very generic with no backstories. They include Duke (played by Rocci Williams), a bearded tough guy; Jim Bob (played by Adam Young), a sadistic scumbag who wears his blonde hair in a mullet; Jim Bob’s younger brother Jared (played by Bobby Schofield), who looks like a broke version of Justin Bieber; and Raul (played by Christian Zagia), a muscular type who shows glimmers of having a moral conscience.

The fight scenes between these criminals and Norman are very predictable, violent and gory. The movie offers some suspense in a sequence where Phoenix has to use her agility and wit to try to hide in the house from the home invaders. But, for the most part, the showdowns are exactly what you would expect them to be, if you expect more ludicrous fight scenes on display. There’s a plot reveal in the last third of the movie that won’t have the intended impact because it’s just so moronic.

None of the “Don’t Breathe 2” actors does anything outstanding because their characters are written in such a two-dimensional way. The filmmakers wasted an opportunity to show more of the father-daughter relationship between Norman and Phoenix, which would have given more emotional resonance to what happens in the latter part of the movie. It seems like the filmmakers spent more time on the fight choreography than on crafting a good story.

“Don’t Breathe 2” is a perfect example of why so many movie sequels are inferior to the original movie. It’s a sloppily made film that took what could have been a solid horror franchise and ruined it with an asinine, boring story that uses formulaic violence and gore as a lazy way to try to scare people. “Don’t Breathe 2” won’t terrify most viewers, but it might give some unintended laughs at the stupidity of it all.

Screen Gems amd Stage 6 Films will release “Don’t Breathe 2” in U.S. cinemas on August 13, 2021.