Review: ‘Knock at the Cabin,’ starring Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Kristen Cui, Abby Quinn and Rupert Grint

February 1, 2023

by Carla Hay

Ben Aldridge, Kristen Cui and Jonathan Groff in “Knock at the Cabin” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Knock at the Cabin”

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in an unnamed city in Pennsylvania, the horror film “Knock at the Cabin” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, Asian and African American) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two husbands and their 7-year-old adopted daughter are held hostage in a remote cabin by four strangers, who tell them that one of the family members must choose to kill another family member, or else there will be an apocalypse that will kill everyone on Earth except the three family members. 

Culture Audience: “Knock at the Cabin” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan and horror movies with apocalyptic themes.

Abby Quinn, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Dave Bautista and Rupert Grint in “Knock at the Cabin” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The apocalyptic horror film “Knock at the Cabin” has a more predictable story than the novel on which it is based, but the movie still delivers many tension-filled scenes and memorable characters. The cast members, particularly Ben Aldridge and Kristen Cui, elevate the film with their credible performances. “Knock at the Cabin” is one of those movies where you can figure out from watching the trailers how everything is probably going to end. It’s one of the few movies from filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan that does not have a shocking twist.

Shyamalan directed “Knock at the Cabin” and co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman. The movie’s screenplay is adapted from Paul Tremblay’s 2018 novel “The Cabin at the End of the World,” which has a very different turn of events than the movie version of this book. It’s easy to see why the filmmakers chose to make these changes, because there are many things in the book that would not be as “crowd-pleasing” to movie audiences.

Even though “Knock at the Cabin” plays it very safe in how the movie was adapted from the book, there’s still enough in the movie that brings a level of gripping suspense, thanks to skilled editing and capable acting performances. Except for flashbacks and scenes showing events on TV news, “Knock at the Cabin” takes place primarily in a remote area in an unnamed city in Pennsylvania. The filmmakers of “Knock at the Cabin” wisely chose not to clutter up the movie with extraneous characters and locations that are not in “The Cabin at the End of the World.”

“Knock at the Cabin” begins with showing a kind and intelligent 7-year-old girl named Wen (played by Cui) collecting grasshoppers in an open field and putting them in a bottle. Wen is an aspiring veterinarian—she says she wants to be “take care of animals” when she grows up. She is cataloguing the statistics of the grasshoppers that she has collected, and she has even named the grasshoppers. Wen (who is an only child) and her two gay fathers Andrew (played by Aldridge) and Eric (played by Jonathan Groff) are on a vacation trip in this isolated wooded area of Pennsylvania, where the family is staying at a cabin.

Suddenly, a hulking man named Leonard (played by Dave Bautista) emerges from the woods. He approaches Wen and makes small talk with her. At first Wen is wary of this stranger, but she starts to warm up to him when he shows an interest in her grasshopper collection by helping her get a grasshopper and asking her about the collection. Wen says she will turn 8 years old in six days. Leonard tells Wen that he wants to be her friend and he needs to go inside the home where her parents are.

Leonard is not alone. He has three companions with him, who all have the same intentions. Redmond (played by Rupert Grint) has an angry personality. Sabrina (played by Nikki Amuka-Bird) has a calm personality. Adriane (played by Abby Quinn) has a cheerful personality. Leonard is their leader, and he has a “take charge” personality. All four of these strangers are armed and dangerous.

As already shown in the movie’s trailers, all four of these strangers break into the cabin and take Andrew, Eric and Wen hostage. Andrew and Eric put up a fight in self-defense. Eric gets into a losing brawl with Sabrina, and he gets a concussion from being knocked to the ground. Andrew and Eric are then tied to chairs, although (as the movie trailer already reveals) Wen is not tied up, and she briefly escapes.

Leonard tells this captured family that they have to make a choice: someone in the family has to voluntarily kill someone else in the family, or else there will be an apocalypse where everyone on Earth except this family of three will be killed. Every time someone in the family refuses to kill someone else in the family, a plague will descend on Earth until the world-ending apocalypse will happen.

Andrew (the more outspoken and more assertive husband) is immediately skeptical and thinks that these four strangers are mentally ill. Andrew mentions later in the movie that he’s a human rights attorney, which goes a long way in explaining why Andrew thinks he can argue his way out of this horrible situation. At first, Andrew and Eric also think that this home invasion is a hate crime because Andrew and Eric are a gay couple. But Leonard denies it and says that he and his three cohorts did not know in advance that the targeted family would have a same-sex couple.

Andrew and Eric refuse to kill anyone in their family. As already shown in the movie’s trailer, as a result, a plague happens that kills numerous people near the Pacific Ocean. (Shyamalan continues his tradition of appearing in small roles as an actor in the movies that he directs. In “Knock at the Cabin,” he briefly appears on the cabin’s TV set as a host on a home-shopping show that is interrupted by breaking news.) Leonard shows the family the TV news to prove that this plague happening.

Andrew is convinced that the four strangers knew in advance that this catastrophe was going to happen. Leonard insists that he, Sabrina, Leonard and Adriane were all strangers with the same visions who found each other through the Internet. Leonard also says that several families over time have had to make the same decision. And he emphatically states that he, Sabrina, Leonard and Adriane are “heartbroken” that they have to force Andrew and Eric to make this life-changing decision.

In order to make themselves relatable, Leonard and the rest of the home invaders tells the captured family more about themselves. Leonard says he’s from Chicago and has two jobs: He’s an elementary schoolteacher who runs an after-school program for second graders, and he’s a bartender.

Sabrina is a hospital nurse who works at an intensive-care unit in Southern California. She says she feel guilty about Eric getting injured in their fight, so she tends to Eric’s head wounds. Sabrina also says that the rules are that Eric must be thinking clearly when making his decision with Andrew. But who exactly is making these “rules”?

Adriane says she’s a line cook at a Mexican restaurant in Washington, D.C. “I love to feed people,” she adds. Later in the movie, Adriane says she has a pre-teen son named Charlie, and she begs the hostage family to not let the apocalypse happen, or else her son is going to die.

Redmond is an ex-con who works at a gas company in Medford, Massachusetts. He mentions coming from an abusive family where “my father used to beat the shit out of me.” Later, Andrew is convinced that he knows Redmond from a traumatic event that happened in Andrew’s past.

As the tension builds over what decision will be made, “Knock at the Cabin” shows flashbacks of Andrew and Eric’s life together before this home invasion. Viewers will find out that Andrew’s parents (played by McKenna Kerrigan and Ian Merrill Peakes) disapprove of him being gay, while Eric’s mother (who is never seen in the movie) is accepting of Eric’s sexuality. Andrew and Eric also went to China to adopt Wen when she was a baby, but Andrew had to pretend to be the brother of Eric’s non-existent wife, in order to avoid any homophobic restrictions that would prevent them from adopting Wen.

There are also flashbacks to happy family times with Andrew, Eric and Wen, such as when they’re driving in their car while K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s 1975 hit song “Boogie Shoes” is playing. Andrew, Eric and Wen love this song so much, they sing loudly and joyfully move to the beat of the song. “Boogie Shoes” will be used again later in the movie in an emotionally powerful scene.

Because “Knock at the Cabin” is a horror movie, not everyone will make it out alive. At a certain point, it becomes very obvious which of the husbands will be more open to the idea of killing someone in the family, in order to save the world. But will that husband be able to convince his spouse?

There are no real surprises in “Knock at the Cabin,” except for how much the movie removed some of the risk-taking plot developments from “The Cabin at the End of the World.” With a total running time of 100 minutes, “Knock at the Cabin” is a taut thriller that doesn’t drag on for longer than the story needed, although some parts of the movie get a little repetitive. Knock at the Cabin” is a very Hollywood movie version of the book, but it’s ultimately satisfactory entertainment for horror fans who don’t want to see anything too disturbing on screen.

Universal Pictures will release “Knock at the Cabin” in U.S. cinemas on February 3, 2023.

Review: ‘Infinity Pool’ (2023), starring Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth and Cleopatra Coleman

January 27, 2023

by Carla Hay

Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth in “Infinity Pool” (Photo courtesy of Neon and Topic Studios)

“Infinity Pool” (2023)

Directed by Brandon Cronenberg

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed European country, the horror film “Infinity Pool” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: While on vacation at a luxury resort, a frustrated author is arrested for being the driver in a hit-and-run accident, and he is offered the high-priced option to avoid execution by having a body double created to be executed instead. 

Culture Audience: “Infinity Pool” will appeal primarily to people who are have a tolerance for watching grotesque body horror and dark observations about abuse of privilege and power in human cruelty.

Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgård in “Infinity Pool” (Photo courtesy of Neon and Topic Studios)

With disturbing visual images and loathsome characters, “Infinity Pool” will disgust and divide some viewers. This horror movie’s performances deliver the intended discomfort in the often-satirical social commentary about how people can become sadists. It’s a story that is definitely not for sensitive viewers, because “Infinity Pool” gets very bloody, dark, and weird. “Infinity Pool” had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

Written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg, “Infinity Pool” begins in what appears to be an idyllic location: a luxury resort in an unnamed European country. (“Infinity Pool” was actually filmed in Šibenik, Croatia, and in Budapest, Hungary.) The resort is near a beach and has all the comforts that people can expect from this elite getaway location. Two of the people on this resort will find their dream vacation turn into a nightmare.

James Foster (played by Alexander Skarsgård) is an American author with writer’s block. He’s on this vacation to get inspiration for his second novel. His first novel, “The Variable Chic,” was published six years ago and was a modest seller. James is starting to feel like he’s a fraud for not being able to start his second book.

James is on this vacation with his cynical and snobby British wife Em Foster (played by Cleopatra Coleman), who seems to be alternately irritated by or bored with James. It’s mentioned later in the movie that James and Em have been together for 10 years. At one point in the movie, Em says that she married James because she has “daddy issues” with her father, who did not approve of this marriage.

Em says she despises her father Alvin, a wealthy book publisher who warned her not to marry a financially poor writer. “So I married the first broke writer who spilled coffee on me,” Em says about James. However, Em now openly resents that James is living off her wealth without making any money of his own. She comments sarcastically, “I’m in danger of becoming a charitable organization at this point.”

Em makes these comments to another vacationing couple that James and Em have met at the same resort. Gabi Bauer (played by Mia Goth) and Alban Bauer (played by Jalil Lespert) are seemingly cheerful spouses who are outgoing and fun-loving. Gabi and Alban both live in Los Angeles. Gabi is an actress who’s originally from London, while Alban is originally from Switzerland, and he previously lived in Paris.

Gabi invites Em and James to have dinner with Gabi and Alban. Em is somewhat wary of Gabi being so enthusiastically quick to befriend them. Gabi is more than friendly to James, because when they’re alone together in a private area on the beach, she sexually pleasures him with her hands, without saying a word.

Soon after the two couples meet each other, they’re going on double dates in the evening—first at a restaurant, and later at a nightclub. One night after partying together at a nightclub, Alban is too drunk to drive the rental car that the four of them took to the nightclub, so James offers to drive instead. Everyone is in good spirits on this drive back to the resort.

But on this deserted road, James accidentally hits a man, who appears suddenly in front of the car. The man is killed instantly. James, who is understandably very distraught, wants to get help and let the authorities know that it was an accident. However, Gabi insists that they leave the body on the road and not tell anyone else. She warns James that he does not want to end up in jail in this country. James reluctantly goes along with the plan.

However, James does get caught. He knows it when police officers show up at the door of his resort suite, and they take James and Em into custody. The spouses are separated at the police station and interrogated in different rooms. The lead investigator Detective Thresh (played by Thomas Kretschmann) tells James that Em confessed everything. And the punishment for this crime is execution.

Detective Thresh also says that the dead man is a local farmer named Myro Myron, who comes from a family with a religion that states his death can be avenged by his eldest son. In other words, the son will be the one who gets to kill James. However, Detective Thresh says there’s one way for James to get out of this execution: For a hefty price (which is never detailed in the movie), the authorities in this country can create a body double of James. This body double will be executed instead, but James is required to watch this execution.

The trailer for “Infinity Pool” already reveals that James takes the option of the body double to be executed. However, this decision takes him down a very twisted path of blood lust and violence that is easy to predict but no less horrifying to watch. Each time a body double is executed, the body double is cremated, and the body double’s original person is given the ashes in an urn.

As already revealed in the trailer, Gabi becomes an instigator and manipulator for much of the chaos that happens to James and Em. Gabi and Alban soon introduce James and Em to some two other couples at the resort who are part of their hedonistic social circle: Charles (played by Jeffrey Rickets) and Jennifer (played by Amanda Brugel) and Dr. Bob Modan (played by John Ralston) and Bex (played by Caroline Boulton), who all blur the lines between pleasure and pain, and they don’t seem to have any boundaries for either.

“Infinity Pool” goes exactly where you think it’s going to go, with psychedelic drug-fueled sex orgies and gruesomely violent scenes. The violence escalates as a way of showing how James’ moral compass is tested and how he is psychologically affected by the increasingly unhinged actions of the group. Where is Em during all of this madness? The movie shows what happens to her, but it might not be what some people might assume in a horror movie.

Does James try to escape? Of course he does. It’s enough to say that Goth (who gave stellar performances in the 2022 horror films “X” and its prequel “Pearl”) steals the show again with another maniacal and murderous character. Gabi isn’t as interesting as Goth’s characters in “X” or “Pearl” (and 2023’s “Maxxxine,” which is a sequel to “X”), but she’s the type of character in a horror movie that viewers know that what she will say or do next is going to make someone else’s life hell.

“Infinity Pool” is a grotesque display of the cruelty that rich people can inflict on others, just because they can afford to do it and can afford to get away with it. The movie has some twists that aren’t too surprising, but they still provide some shock value to viewers who won’t see these twists coming. “Infinity Pool” is a bacchanalia of horror that isn’t subtle in delivering its message about the abuse of power and privilege, but it certainly makes an unforgettable impression for people who can tolerate this type of unnerving movie.

Neon and Topic Studios released “Infinity Pool” in U.S. cinemas on January 27, 2023.

Review: ‘M3GAN,’ starring Allison Williams, Ronny Chieng and Violet McGraw

January 6, 2023

by Carla Hay

Amie Donald and Violet McGraw (pictured at right) in “M3GAN” (Photo by Geoffrey Short/Universal Pictures)

“M3GAN”

Directed by Gerard Johnstone

Culture Representation: Taking place in Seattle, the horror film “M3GAN” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians ) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A robot doll with artificial intelligence goes on a rampage against anyone who harms the 8-year-old girl who thinks of the doll as her best friend.

Culture Audience: “M3GAN” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching predictable but entertaining horror movies about killer dolls.

Amie Donald, Allison Williams and Violet McGraw (pictured at right) in “M3GAN” (Photo by Geoffrey Short/Universal Pictures)

“M3GAN” (pronounced “megan”) can now join the 1988 “Child’s Play” movie (which introduced the murderous Chucky toy doll) as one of the all-time most memorable “killer doll” movies, gaining legions of fans and inspiring countless horror costumes. “M3GAN” is the type of movie that you know instantly is the start of a franchise. It’s a campy, creepy and comical horror romp that delivers more laughs than genuine scares. Audiences should be in on the joke, which loses its impact with a somewhat weak ending. However, the killer doll’s sinister sassiness is worth seeing.

Directed by Gerard Johnston and written by Akela Cooper, “M3GAN” doesn’t go down the usual supernatural route to explain why the killer doll is so evil. Instead, “M3GAN” is a tale of human-made technology run amok. In that sense, the story is grounded in a reality and a persistent fear that technology with artificial intelligence will develop a mind of its own and do widespread damage. In this case, the damage is done by a 4-foot-tall terror doll named M3GAN, an acronym for Model 3 Generative Android. “M3GAN” also has social commentary on the effects of relying heavily on technology instead of human interactions for handling child care, learning, and developing relationships with other people.

“M3GAN” begins by showing a commercial for automated, furry toy pets called Purrpetual Pets, which can receive commands from mobile devices. The Seattle-based company that makes these toys is named Funki, which considers Hasbro to be one of its biggest rivals. One of the kids who has a Purrpetual Pet is an 8-year-old girl named Cady (played by Violet McGraw), who is playing with a dog version of a Purrpetual Pet in the back seat of a car while her parents are in the front seat.

Cady, her father Ryan (played by Arlo Green) and her mother Nicole (played by Chelsie Preston Crayford) are traveling by car for a family ski trip. It’s snowing heavily outside. Nicole is slightly annoyed by how Cady is so preoccupied with her Purrpetual Pet toy because Cady would rather talk to the toy than talk to her parents. Nicole comments, “What is the purpose of the toy if you have to play it on an iPad?”

The show is coming down so thick that Ryan (who’s driving) temporarily stops the car and doesn’t see the snow truck that plows head-on into the car. Ryan and Nicole die in this accident, while Cady survives. Cady is sent to live with Nicole’s sister Gemma (played by Allison Williams), who lives in Seattle and becomes Cady’s legal guardian. (“M3GAN” was actually filmed in Montreal in Canada, and in the Auckland area of New Zealand.) Gemma, who is single with no biological kids, works as a roboticist at Funki, and was one of the chief creators of Purrpetual Pets. In fact, Cady’s Purrpetual Pet was a gift from Gemma.

It’s an awkward life transition for this aunt and niece. Gemma is a workaholic who has no experience in raising a child. Cady is still grieving over her parents’ death. The movie doesn’t show Gemma grieving too much because Gemma is portrayed as someone who buries her troubles by working at her job. Now that Gemma has become Cady’s guardian, Gemma has to figure out a way for them to adjust to their new living situation.

Cady was homeschooled when her parents were alive. Gemma has to work during the day, so she has to find a local school that will fit Cady’s needs. Later in the movie, Gemma and Cady have an orientation visit to an alternative school that likes to teach classes outdoors. In the meantime, Gemma has to partially work from home to look after Cady. Gemma doesn’t want Cady to feel bored or restless.

To help Cady with her grief and new life transition, Cady has counseling sessions with a therapist named Lydia (played by Amy Usherwood), who is kind and patient with Cady. There’s another reason why this therapist is working with Cady: The parents of Cady’s deceased father Ryan are thinking about taking full custody of Cady. Lydia is evaluating Cady and Gemma to determine if Gemma can be a better guardian than the grandparents.

Because Cady has lost her parents and doesn’t have any friends in Seattle, Cady is understandably a very mopey child. It just so happens that Gemma has been working on a prototype for the M3GAN doll, which she shows to her co-workers Cole (played by Brian Jordan Alvarez) and Tess (played by Jen Van Epps) in their work space. They are all under pressure to come up with a hot-selling new toy because a rival company has copied the Purrpetual Pets toys and selling them for half the price of Funki’s retail sale price.

The CEO of Funki is an egotistical, impatient and frequently rude taskmaster named David Lin (played by Ronny Chieng), who is often accompanied by his “yes man” assistant Kurt (played by Stephane Garneau-Monten), who is usually nervous and jumpy. Kurt’s resentment over being treated like a doormat comes out in later in the story. David and Kurt attend a demonstration of how M3GAN works in the office space of Gemma, Tess and Cole, but the demonstration is a disaster: Cole forgot to put in a polypropylene barrier in M3GAN, so the doll’s head catches on fire and explodes. (No one is hurt in this accident.)

Meanwhile, at Gemma’s home, Cady is curious about the boxed toys that Gemma has on display, but Gemma tells Cady that Cady can’t play with the toys because they are collectibles. Cady is dejected until Gemma shows Cady a robot named Bruce that Gemma keeps in her garage. The robot can walk and talk. Cady is immediately entranced and tells Gemma: “If I had a toy like Bruce, I don’t think I’d ever need another toy again.”

And you know what that means: Gemma and her co-workers fast-track making M3GAN into a toy that will be sold as Funki’s most technologically advanced toy so far. The timing couldn’t come soon enough, because a worried Tess tells Gemma that David can’t find out they spent $100,000 on research and development money on M3GAN before M3GAN was approved. It should come as no surprise that Cady is chosen as the first child who gets to test out M3GAN before the Funki does an official launch of this new toy.

M3GAN, who looks like a girl but acts like an adult, has encyclopedic knowledge of facts and knows all the right things to say in dealing with people’s feelings. M3GAN also has an ability to record and mimic voices. This robotic doll appears to be the perfect combination of a tutor, babysitter and best friend for lonely Cady. In what seems to be a pattern for Cady, she becomes instantly attached to M3GAN, just like Cady was attached to her Purrpetual Pet.

M3GAN also sings pop songs to comfort Cady. These singing scenes are some of the funniest in the movie. If you waited your whole life to see an evil robotic doll sing David Guetta’s “Titanium” to cheer up a girl, and then the doll unleashes some murderous mayhem just minutes later to “protect” the girl, then “M3GAN” is the movie for you.

Why is M3GAN overly protective of Cady? During the testing process, Gemma gave this programming order to M3GAN: Protect Cady from all physical and emotional harm. Of course, this order backfires in the worst ways. Gemma finds out too late that M3GAN has superhuman physical strength along with superhuman intelligence.

Cady also becomes overly attached to M3GAN and doesn’t want to go anywhere without this doll. Cady is so fixated on M3GAN being her “friend,” Cady throws nasty temper tantrums if M3GAN can’t be with Cady at all times. If Cady is separated from M3GAN, Cady acts like an addict being told that the addict can’t have whatever is causing their addiction.

And because this is a horror movie, some of the characters get caught in the crossfire of the havoc that M3GAN wreaks. Gemma’s next-door neighbor Celia (played by Lori Dungey) gets on Gemma’s nerves because Celia has a problematic dog and has a habit of spraying unwanted pesticide on Gemma’s front lawn. At the alternative school, it doesn’t take long for a child bully named Brandon (played by Jack Cassidy) to target Cady.

Williams and McGraw are perfectly fine in their performances as Gemma and Cady, but they have both done versions of these characters in other horror movies. Chieng looks like he’s having fun hamming it up as David, the boss from hell. All the other supporting characters are adequate in their roles.

The real star of the movie, of course, is the character of M3GAN. The M3GAN character is a combination of work from actresses Amie Donald (who does the live-action work) and Jenna Davis (who does the voice work), as well as the work of the movie’s visual effects team. The facial expressions, body language and sarcastic comments of M3GAN show that this dangerous doll has a mind of its own. It’s often hilarious to watch other characters react to M3GAN when they figure out this that M3GAN is not a harmless toy.

One of the biggest flaws of “M3GAN” is that M3GAN doesn’t make her debut as a fully designed talking toy until about 30 minutes into 102-minute movie. And if you’ve seen the trailers for “M3GAN,” you’ve already seen some of the best parts of the movie. All of this might diminish viewer enjoyment of “M3GAN,” but these flaws don’t ruin the movie. “M3GAN” is by no means the best horror movie you can see in a year, but it’s the type of horror movie where people will get hooked enough to want to see the chief villain in other movies.

Universal Pictures released “M3GAN” in U.S. cinemas on January 6, 2023.

Review: ‘Connect’ (2022), starring Nayanthara, Sathyaraj, Haniya Nafis and Anupam Kher

December 27, 2022

by Carla Hay

Haniya Nafis in “Connect” (Photo courtesy of Rowdy Pictures)

“Connect” (2022)

Directed by Ashwin Saravanan

Tamil with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2020, in Mahabalipuram, India, the horror film “Connect” features an Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: During the COVID-19 quarantine lockdowns, a widowed businesswoman finds out that her teenage daughter is possessed by a demonic spirit.

Culture Audience: “Connect” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching horror movies that don’t have many surprises but have above-average acting and plenty of suspenseful moments.

Nayanthara and Haniya Nafis in “Connect” (Photo courtesy of Rowdy Pictures)

“Connect” is not a groundbreaking movie about a teenage girl possessed by the devil. However, this horror flick delivers some effective jump scares and has very good acting, despite the predictable story. The movie excels at creating a foreboding and creepy atmosphere through its cinematography, production design and musical score.

Directed by Ashwin Saravanan (who co-wrote the “Connect” screenplay with Ramkumar Kaavya), “Connect” begins with a deceptively cheerful scene of four family members spending time together on a beach in Mahabalipuram, India. The family members are business executive Susan Joseph (played by Nayanthara), her doctor husband Joseph Benoy (played Vinay Rai), their teenage daughter Anna “Ammu” Joseph (played by Haniya Nafis) and Susan’s father Arthur Samuel (played by Sathyaraj). The adults watch in delight as Ammu, who is a talented singer/musician, plays an acoustic guitar and sings a song for them.

Ammu, who is about 16 or 17 years old, has been accepted into the prestigious Trinity School of Music in London. She’s excited about this opportunity. However, her parents aren’t quite ready for Ammu to live so far away from home. Susan tells Ammu that she can pursue whatever dreams she wants, but the timing has to be right. Ammu can sense that her parents won’t let her go to this school, but something happens that prevents the family from discussing the matter in more detail.

The COVID-19 pandemic comes on in full force, causing worldwide quarantine lockdowns. Joseph is a medical doctor at a hospital, where he has to work long hours during the pandemic crisis and he doesn’t have time to go home. Susan and Ammu communicate with him by videoconferencing. Ammu is considered a “daddy’s girl,” so she is very worried about what will happen to her father being around so many people infected by COVID-19.

Within a matter of days, the family’s worst fears come true: Joseph gets infected, and he quickly dies. The family is devastated by this loss. One night, Ammu secretly goes into a room by herself, lights a candle in front of a Oujia board, and communicates via a video chat with an unnamed woman (played by Mekha Rajan) who claims to be a spiritual medium. Ammu wants this spiritual medium to help Ammu contact the spirit of Joseph.

A ritual is performed. The spirtual medium sings an eerie song that seems to put her in a trance. Suddenly, Ammu’s computer screen freezes, and the room where the spiritual medium is goes dark. And almost immediately, the closed door behind Ammu opens, and Ammu notices that no one visible has opened the door. Ammu gasps in fright. And then the scene fades to black.

The next scene shows Susan on the phone with a doctor to report that Ammu hasn’t been eating or sleeping very well. Susan thinks that she and Ammu might have been infected with COVID-19 but are not showing severe-enough symptoms to go to a hospital. Ammu and Susan have been quarantining, and the only person Susan can think of who might have infected Susan and Ammu is the family housekeeper, who is never seen in the movie.

Ammu then begins to act strangely. She stays in her room for hours and refuses to let Susan inside. By the second day of Ammu appearing to be sick, Ammu refuses to talk to Susan. The rest of “Connect” goes exactly how you think it might go in a movie about a teenage girl plagued by demonic possession.

However, what will keep viewers interested is seeing how what happens during Ammu’s transformation and how Susan deals with it. Because they are stuck in a house together during pandemic lockdowns, it’s not as simple as leaving the house to get help. Similarly, people who could help are reluctant to make home visits during the pandemic. A priest named Father Alex (played by Avinash Yelandur) and a therapist named Sheela (played by Praveena Nandu) are contacted and try to help, but viewers see how Ammu deals with them. (It’s not as cliché as you might think it is.)

There’s also a great deal of the story where Susan has no idea that Ammu is possessed. She thinks that Ammu is going through a mopey teenage phase and grieving over the death of Joseph, until it reaches a point where Susan sees some things that she can’t ignore. It’s one thing for Ammu’s bedroom to have upside-down crosses drawn on the walls like graffiti. But it’s another thing when Ammu starts hiding in dark places and hissing, or when Ammu vomits when Susan makes Ammu drink a glass of water that Ammu doesn’t know has holy water in it.

As shown in the movie’s trailer, Anupam Kher has a supporting role as Father Augustine, the priest who is contacted to perform the exorcism. (Ammu and her family are Roman Catholic.) “Connect” is convincing in how it depicts Susan’s claustrophobic fear of being stuck inside because of quarantining from a deadly pandemic but also feeling like her life is in danger because of the person who’s stuck inside with her.

Nayanthara gets most of the screen time in “Connect” as Susan, but Nafis makes an impessive feature-film debut as Ammu, who becomes a genuinely sinister character. “Connect” director/co-writer Saravanan cleverly keeps Ammu off screen for most of the movie, in order to keep viewers on edge to see when Ammu might show up again and what she might do next. “Connect” isn’t gory by most standards of scary movies. What the movie does so well is show the horror of feeling trapped somewhere with a loved one who has become a monster.

Rowdy Pictures released “Connect” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on December 22, 2022.

Review: ‘Mid-Century’ (2022), starring Shane West, Sarah Hay, Bruce Dern and Stephen Lang

December 19, 2022

by Carla Hay

Chelsea Gilligan and Shane West in “Mid-Century” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Mid-Century” (2022)

Directed by Sonja O’Hara

Culture Representation: Taking place in mainly in the fictional city of Mandarin, California, the horror film “Mid-Century” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos, African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Two spouses who are doctors move into a haunted house built in 1955 by an architect with a sinister past. 

Culture Audience: “Mid-Century” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching boring and predictable horror movies.

Mike Stern and Stephen Lang in “Mid-Century” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Mid-Century” does nothing unique or interesting in this witless and dreadfully dull story about ghostly revenge. The cast members’ performances are as flat and unremarkable as the wood panels of the mid-20th century house that spawned the movie’s title. It’s yet another formulaic movie about people who unwittingly move into a haunted house and find out too late what the house’s secrets are.

Directed by Sonja O’Hara and written by Mike Stern (who is the movie’s producer and who has a supporting role in the movie), “Mid-Century” doesn’t have an original concept, but it could have at least delivered a lot of suspense. Unfortunately, the movie fails on every level of horror entertainment. Instead of jump scares, “Mid-Century” is more like to bring big snores to people who waste any time watching this lackluster misfire.

“Mid-Century” begins by showing a renowed architect named Frederick Banner (played by Stephen Lang), sometime in the 1950s, in the fictional city of Mandarin, California. Frederick seems to be a friendly when he greets his new neighbor Anthony Waxtan (played by James Gaudioso) when they’re outside: “How does the Mrs. like the neighborhood?” Anthony replies cheerfully, “She’s on cloud nine.”

Anthony’s wife Joanne Waxtan (played by Ellen Toland) might like the neighborhood overall, but she doesn’t like the way that Frederick has been leering at her. Joanne tells Anthony that she caught Frederick staring at her in the couple’s garden on a previous day. A concerned Anthony tells Joanne not to speak to Frederick.

Later, Anthony gives Joanne some lingerie as a gift. While she’s alone in the room, Joanne tries on the lingerie, while intruder Frederick lurks in the hallway and watches. Frederick then makes his prescence known by creepily saying to Alice: “You and Anthony look so happy together. I admit, I haven’t felt like that since my Alice passed. You sure do look lovely, Joanne.”

A startled Joanne shouts for Anthony to help her. Frederick tells her, “Lower your voice, please. Don’t make me take off my belt.” It’s then that viewers see that Anthony can’t help Joanne. Anthony is outside the house, and he’s dead, hanging from a noose. It doesn’t take a genius to know who killed Anthony.

After “Mid-Century” reveals from its very first scene what Frederick was all about, it takes a sluggishly long time for the current residents of a Frederick Banner-designed house to discover his sinister past. The movie fast-forwards to the present day, when married couple Tom Levin (played by Shane West) and Alice Dodgeson (played by Chelsea Gilligan) have arrived in Mandarin to temporarily live in a house that was designed by Frederick Banner and built in 1955. Tom and Alice are both doctors who previously lived in San Diego, but they moved because Alice was sexually harassed by a supervisor named Dr. Volker (played by Bill Chott), and she quit her job over it.

Tom and Alice have rented the house for the weekend, but they might settle permanently in Mandarin if they like the area and if Tom can set up his own practice there. The house is owned by a weird man named Eldridge (played by Stern), an acquaintance of Tom and Alice’s who recommended the house to the couple. The trailer for “Mid-Century” already reveals what was supposed to be a surprise in the movie: Eldridge is really Frederick’s son, who grew up in foster care after his parents died. And you know what that means.

Later in the story, Tom and Alice find out that Frederick’s first wife Alice disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1958. Frederick’s next wife was Joanne, the widowed neighbor whose husband was killed by Frederick. Joanne and Frederick died a month apart in 1983, in the same house where Tom and Alice currently live. Frederick passed away first. Joanne died of a heart attack.

“Mid-Century” is a overstuffed with a multitude of horror clichés: It isn’t long before Tom and Alice find out that the house is haunted. The usual things happen: Dead people appear and disappear in ghostly form. The house’s current residents do research in old books and newspaper articles to try and find out the history of the house. And certain people in the story end up dead.

Two other characters are part of the story, but not in a very interesting way: Marie Verdin (played by Sarah Hay) is someone connected to Frederick’s past. The truth about Marie is incredibly predictable. Another name from Frederick’s past that comes up is Emil Larson (played by Bruce Dern, shown in flashbacks), who died in 1976, at the age of 92. Emil, who had a huge influence on Frederick, is described in the movie as an author, futurist, painter and agnostic mystic.

“Mid-Century” has a “reveal” about Frederick that is supposed to be shocking, but it’s really as bland and underwhelming as the rest of the movie. All of the cast members play their roles as if they’re going through the drab motions of people who just don’t care enough to give convincing performances. “Mid-Century” is so monotonous and lacking in creativity, it’s the type of dud that will be forgotten quicker than you can say, “Stupid horror movie.”

Lionsgate released “Mid-Century” in select U.S. cinemas on June 17, 2022. The movie was released on digital, VOD, Blu-ray and DVD on July 26, 2022. Peacock began streaming the movie on October 24, 2022.

Review: ‘Bhediya,’ starring Varun Dhawan, Kriti Sanon, Abhishek Banerjee and Deepak Dobriyal

December 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

Varun Dhawan in “Bhediya” (Photo courtesy of Jio Studios)

“Bhediya”

Directed by Amar Kaushik

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ziro, India, the horror comedy film “Bhediya” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A land developer, who is employed by a company that intends to construct roads in a rural area, becomes a werewolf and is suspected of going on a killing spree of humans. 

Culture Audience: “Bhediya” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching predictable horror comedies with stale jokes and substandard acting.

Pictured clockwise from bottom left: Varun Dhawan, Paalin Kabak, Deepak Dobriyal and Kriti Sanon in “Bhediya” (Photo courtesy of Jio Studios)

“Bhediya” is a horror comedy that is neither scary nor funny. It’s a silly werewolf movie where a “surprise reveal” is too easy to predict. The visual effects in Bhediya are overrated and can’t make up for a weak story with too many plot holes.

Directed by Amar Kaushik and written by Niren Bhatt, “Bhediya” (which means “wolf” in Hindi) is just scene after scene of the horror diluting the comedy, and the comedy diluting the horror. The end result is a movie that’s a tonal mess, made worse by the overly exaggerated acting by the principal cast members. The movie’s slapstick comedy is very basic and juvenile, which undermines the serious message environmental protection that “Bhediya” wants to convey.

It’s a movie that tries to do too much in balancing absurdity with real-life issues, but ultimately fails by not being able to do any of it very well. In the beginning of “Bhediya,” two land development employees in their 30s—self-assured Bhaskar (played by Varun Dhawan) and his goofy cousin Janardhan (played by Abhishek Banerjee), nicknamed Jana or JD—go on a trip to visit the small town of Ziro, India. The purpose of this trip is to convince the local people to let the land development company construct a road through Ziro’s forest.

During this trip, Bhaskar (who is the “alpha male” of this duo) and Janardan get acquainted wth two men from Ziro: Jomin (played by Paalin Kabak), who is in his 30s, meets the cousins at the airport and becomes their unofficial tour guide. Panda (played by Deepak Dobriyal) is the liaison officer who has lived in Ziro since he was a child. Therefore, Panda knows a lot Ziro’s secrets.

Bhaskar will soon find out the hard way that one of Ziro’s secrets is that the area has been plagued by werewolves. One night in the woods, Bhaskar gets bitten on the rear end by a black werewolf, which runs away after attacking him. Jomin tells Bhaskar and Janardan that Bhaskar needs immediate treatment from a local veterinarian named Dr. Anika Mittal (played by Kriti Sanon). Bhaskar and Janardan never question why they don’t go to a doctor for humans. It’s one of many sloppily written aspects of “Bhediya.”

It isn’t long before Bhaskar finds out that the werewolf bite has caused him to turn into a werewolf. The rest of “Bhediya” is a drawn-out, redundant caper where Bhaskar is suspected of a series of murders, and he tries to hide his secret identity as a werewolf. Who finds out this secret and when are entirely formulaic in the movie. As for the identity of the black werewolf and why this werewolf bit Bhaskar, the answer to that mystery is also very predictable.

Unfortunately, “Bhediya” has a total running time of 156 minutes, which is excessively too long for a movie that doesn’t have much of a plot. Expect to see a lot of nonsense, including clownish JD shrieking (he has a tendency to scream for his mother when he gets frightened); Bhaskar saying stupid things; and an over-used gag that Bhaskar wears boxer underwear when he becomes a werewolf. As an example of the dimwitted dialogue in “Bhediya,” Bhaskar tries to convince Panda that the werewolf virus can be wiped out by “herd immunity”—as if a pack of werewolves in the community, instead of one or two werewolves, will suddenly make things better.

The action scenes aren’t too interesting because the visual effects look so phony. And because much of the movie wastes time in repetitive scenarios and annoying performances, “Bhediya” quickly becomes a chore to watch. The movie tries to turn into a tearjerker drama in the last 30 minutes, but it just makes “Bhediya” look inconsistent, because it tries too hard to be a wacky comedy for most of its duration. No one is expecting “Bhediya” to be award-worthy, but a movie like this should be more fun to watch instead of being just a long-winded, mindless bore.

Jio Studios released “Bhediya” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on November 25, 2022.

Review: ‘Phone Bhoot,’ starring Katrina Kaif, Ishaan Khatter and Siddhant Chaturvedi

November 20, 2022

by Carla Hay

Ishaan Khatter, Katrina Kaif and Siddhant Chaturvedi in “Phone Bhoot” (Photo courtesy of Viacom18 Studios)

“Phone Bhoot”

Directed by Gurmmeet Singh

Hindi, Punjabi and Tamil with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India and Pakistan, the comedy film “Phone Bhoot” features an all-Indian cast representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two housemates/best friends start a paranormal investigation business, they meet a seductive ghost who offers to help them if they help her, and a series of ghostly misadventures ensue. 

Culture Audience: “Phone Bhoot” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s stars and don’t mind watching mindless horror comedies that are not scary at not very amusing.

Ishaan Khatter, Katrina Kaif and Siddhant Chaturvedi in “Phone Bhoot” (Photo courtesy of Viacom18 Studios)

“Phone Bhoot” is an intentionally silly “Ghostbusters” ripoff that isn’t nearly as funny as it thinks it is. This mindless movie needlessly drags out to 130 minutes, which is excruciatingly too long for its flimsy plot. “Phone Bhoot” is nothing but a bunch of scenes where two bungling paranormal investigators find themselves in dumb predicaments (usually of their own making) while they are at the beck and call of a very seductive female ghost.

Directed by Gurmmeet Singh and written by Ravi Shankaran and Jasvinder Singh Bath, “Phone Bhoot” (which takes place mostly in India and partially in Lahore, Pakitsan) begins by introducing the two dimwitted clowns who decide to launch a paranormal investigation business. Galileo “Gullu” Parthasarthy (played by Ishaan Khatter) and Sherdil “Major” Shergill (played by Siddhant Chaturvedi) are unemployed best friends in their late 20s who share a one-bedroom rental house in an unnamed city in India. Gullu and Major are big fans of horror entertainment. They also pray to a fictional god named Raka and have a life-sized statue of Raka in their home.

One night, Gullu has a nightmare that Major is taking a shower in blood. It’s an example of one of many scenes in “Phone Bhoot” that have no real purpose and are just there to fill up time. Gullu has started a paranormal channel on YouTube called BhootTube (“bhoot” means “ghost” in Hindi), but the channel is not a success because of its low number of subscribers and viewership. Most of BhootTube’s subscribers are fake accounts created by Major. Gullu and Major pray to Raka to help them out of their bleak financial situation.

One night, Gullu and Major get electrocuted when they try to reignite the statue of Raka. The two pals fall into state of unconsciousness. When they appear to wake up, they go to a Fright Night party at an abandoned warehouse. It’s an event similar to a Halloween party, where people dress up in costumes.

At this party, Gullu and Major meet a mysterious woman who’s about 10 years older than they are. They are immediately attracted to her beauty. Gullu and Major both have instant crushes on her, but Gullu eventually becomes much more infatuated. Before the two pals even find out this woman’s name, all of the people at the party suddenly disappear, except for Gullu and Major.

And it happens right at the same time that police officers show up to tell Gullu and Major that this party was illegally held on public property, so Gullu and Major are arrested. This arrest is an unnecessary plot development because the consequences of this arrest are never mentioned for the rest of the movie. Gullu and Major try to explain to the arresting officers that they weren’t responsible for the party and that there were a lot of other people there, but the cops don’t believe them.

The sudden disappearance of all the othe party attendees except for Gullu and Major should be a big-enough clue to Gullu and Major that something ghostly or supernatural happened. Long after viewers of “Phone Bhoot” will have it figured out, Gullu and Major will have no idea that they can see ghosts, until these two buffoons literally have to be told this information by a ghost. Until then, “Phone Bhoot” wastes some time showing Gullu and Major involved in more stupid shenanigans.

The movie then abruptly shifts to a scene of Major driving himself and Gullu in a car on a fairly deserted road, when Gullu irresponsibly decides to give Major a pill of an unnamed psychedelic drug. Gullu takes the same drug at the same time. They both hallucinate that the car has turned into an airborne plane.

Their minds quickly leave the hallucination when the car accidentally hits a middle-aged woman on the road. Viewers later find out that her name is Lady Diana (played by Nidhi Bisht, wearing ghoulish makeup) and should not be surprised that she is a ghost who can manifest herself in a physical human body. The woman flies off into the air and into a nearby tunnel. (The visual effects in “Phone Bhoot” are very tacky and unrealistic.)

And then, the movie wastes time with a not-very-funny sequence of Gullu and Major thinking that the woman is dead and planning to bury her body. Major and Gullu begin twisting the feet of the woman to make her body easier to bury, but she’s screams out in pain. This slapstick scene has low-quality sound effects.

Major says as a joke when he hears the woman screaming in pain: “She must have polio.” This is the type of garbage comedy that “Phone Bhoot” wants viewers to think is hilarious. Lady Diana then crawls away and hides. She shows up again later in the film to get revenge.

The mystery woman from the Fright Night party then shows up at the house where Gullu and Major live. Her name is Ragini (played by Katrina Kaif), and she tells Gullu and Major that she’s a ghost. Major says, “Ghosts aren’t sexy.” To get back at Major for this insult, Ragini temporarily invades his body and makes himself hit his groin repeatedly with a paddle. He’s suitably humbled.

Ragini explains that she’s a “wandering spirit” who doesn’t have full control over all of her movements. She wants Gullu and Major to help her with something that only living humans can do. Ragini says she will tell them all the details later, but they have to promise to help her, no matter what she asks of them.

In exchange, Ragini says that if Gullu and Major start a paranormal business where the two pals charge money to do exorcisms of people and haunted places, she will help make the business a success. The business will also include Gullu and Major claiming that they can contact people from the dead and can pass on messages to the dead people’s loved ones. To make up for the business being a money scam, Ragini makes Gullu and Major promise to donate any proceeds they earn from the business to charity.

Gullu and Major name their business Phone Bhoot. They set up a phone hotline and launch an app, so potential customers can contact them. With Ragini’s help, Gullu and Major are able to convince people that they have special powers to control demons and contact ghosts. The business becomes a success, but the scenarios presented in the movie are mostly dull and unimaginative.

A scene were Gullu and Major are called to perform an exorcism on a girl named Dolly (played by Shreya Lodhia), who’s about 7 or 8 years old, relies heavily on showing Dolly levitating and hitting Gullu and Major with a stick. It’s not nearly as comedic as it could have been, mainly because this move is polluted with bad acting and terrible dialogue.

The last half of this long-winded dud of a movie involves Gullu and Major having to keep their end of the bargain to Ragini. It has to do with Ragini wanting to reunite with her boyfriend, a prince named Dushyant Singh (played by Armaan Ralhan), who became suicidal after Ragini died in a car accident caused by Dushyant. Ragini was the passenger in a car that Dushyant was driving, when he momentarily took his eyes off of the road to propose marriage to her. Dushyant feels responsible for her death. He plans to kill himself at the site of the accident on the two-year anniversary of Ragini’s death.

This subplot becomes jumbled up in another subplot where a demonic underworld lord named Atmaram (played by Jackie Shroff), who rules over other evil ghosts, becomes jealous of Gullu and Major because the Phone Bhoot business is ruining Atmaram’s business. Lady Diana is one of Atmaram’s minions. And what a coincidence: Atmaram also has a grudge against Dushyant and wants Dushyant to die. It all just leads to the inevitable showdown of good versus evil, with a lot of badly staged fights and even more stupidity.

The movie wastes considerable time in yet another subplot of Gullu and Major feuding over Ragini’s affections. “Phone Bhoot” has some joke gags that might bring a few chuckles, in the way that people laugh at small-minded and cheesy jokes. But “Phone Bhoot” overloads on this moronic comedy without the foundation of an interesting story. The end result is a completely obnoxious and boring movie.

Viacom18 Studios released “Phone Bhoot” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on November 4, 2022.

Review: ‘Bones and All,’ starring Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet and Mark Rylance

November 19, 2022

by Carla Hay

Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet in “Bones and All” (Photo by Yannis Drakoulidis/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Bones and All”

Directed by Luca Guadagnino

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1988 to 1989, in various parts of the United States, the horror film “Bones and All” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After being abandoned by her single father, an 18-year-old loner who has a terrible secret (she’s a cannibal) becomes a nomad and falls in love with a young man who’s also a nomadic cannibal, and they go on a road trip where they feed their deadly desires.

Culture Audience: “Bones and All” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet; filmmaker Luca Guadagnino; and gruesome horror movies that know how to make people squirm.

Taylor Russell and Mark Rylance in “Bones and All” (Photo by Yannis Drakoulidis/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Bones and All” is more than just a gory horror film about a cannibal couple. The movie also has clever social commentary about the pitfalls of judging people by outward appearances. Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet portray the attractive young couple at the center of the movie, but supporting actor Mark Rylance steals the show with a creepy performance as a middle-aged cannibal with a sinister obsession. Sensitive viewers, be warned: “Bones and All” is not a cute horror romance. This movie has very explicit scenes showing human cannibalism.

Directed by Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino, “Bones and All” is his first movie filmed in the United States. Chalamet and Guadagnino previously worked together in 2017’s “Call Me by Your Name,” starring Chalamet in his Oscar-nominated breakout role as a 17-year-old American in Italy who falls in love with a 24-year-old American man who works as a college teaching assistant. “Bones and All” is based on the 2015 novel by Camille DeAngelis. David Kajganich wrote the “Bones and All” adapted screenplay. “Bones and All” had its world premiere at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival in Italy, where Guadagnino won the festival prize for Best Director, while Russell won the Marcello Mastroianni Award, a prize given to emerging actors and actresses.

Taking place in 1988 and 1989, “Bones and All” begins in 1988, in an unnamed U.S. state. Shy and introverted 18-year-old Maren Yearly (played by Russell), who is in her last year of high school, has been invited to a slumber party by a fellow student named Sherry (played by Kendle Coffey), who is a popular student in the school. Maren doesn’t have any close friends at this school, so she’s very surprised by this invitation. Maren tells Sherry that Maren’s overprotective father won’t allow her to go this party, but Sherry suggests that Maren sneak out f Maren’s home at night.

Maren takes this advice and goes to the slumber party, where the female teenagers in attendance are curious to know more about Maren, who is fairly new to the area. Maren and her father Frank Yearly (played by André Holland) have moved around a lot, and they currently live in a trailer in the working-class/poor part of town. Maren recently moved to the area from “the Eastern shore.” She tells the other girls at the party that she doesn’t have any memories of her mother, who abandoned Maren and Frank when Maren was a very young child.

Maren has a big secret about herself that will soon be exposed: She has an intense craving to eat human flesh. The party starts off as festive and friendly. However, Maren’s urges take over, and she suddenly lunges at Sherry and bites off one of Sherry’s fingers. While Sherry and the other partygoers scream in horror, Maren runs back to her home in a panic.

As soon as Frank sees that Maren has come home in a distressed state of mind, he immediately figures out that she snuck out against his wishes and has revealed her cannibal ways. It’s only a matter of time before the police show up at their door. Maren tells Frank that she’s sorry, but he is visibly annoyed and doesn’t want to hear any excuses.

Maren and Frank quickly pack up what they can and leave that night, with no intention of ever going back. Frank and Maren hide out and stay at a motel in Maryland for a few days. It’s not the first time they’ve had to suddenly leave an area because of Maren’s cannibalism.

One morning, Maren wakes up in the motel room and finds out that her father has abandoned her. Frank has left a note saying that he can no longer be around her because he doesn’t know how to deal with her anymore. Frank has also left behind these items for Maren to keep: Maren’s birth certificate, some cash and an audio tape of Frank’s diary-like messages.

In his farewell note, Frank asks Maren to destroy the tape after she’s finished listening to it. In his audio recordings, which Maren plays throughout the movie, Frank tells Maren that when she was 3 years old, she killed her babysitter. Frank covered up that crime and many other cannibal-related crimes committed by Maren. He says after the babysitter’s murder, he changed the family’s surname.

Now completely on her own and homeless, Maren spends the majority of the story as a nomad. Maren is deeply ashamed of being a cannibal, but she also won’t ignore her cannibalistic urges. And now that Maren has her birth certificate, she’s determined to find her mother, whose name is Janelle Kerns (played by Chloë Sevigny).

One night, Maren is out on the street when she meets a soft-spoken, eccentric man named Sully (played by Rylance), who tells her that he’s a cannibal too. Sully says that he knew that Maren is a cannibal because cannibals can smell each other. He also tells Maren that he can tell that Maren has not eaten human flesh in months.

Sully, who is middle-aged and speaks in a Southern drawl, has a very unusual appearance of wearing long, braided hair and a fisherman’s vest. Later, viewers find out that Sully has a gruesome fascination with braided hair: After he eats a human, he takes the dead person’s hair, braids it, and keeps it in a collection.

Knowing that Maren is hungry for human flesh, Sully invites her to go with him to a house where a dying, elderly woman lives alone. Upstairs in her bedroom, the woman is barely conscious. Sully tells Maren that he found the woman in this condition. Sully convinces Maren that if they kill the woman, it will be a mercy killing. And you can imagine what happens next.

Sully tells her a few things about cannibal life that Maren did not know: He says that the most important rule is that cannibals should not eat other cannibals. Sully also warns Maren that her cravings for human flesh will increase as she gets older.

Sully lives in a small, unassuming house. He invites Maren to stay with him for as long as she wants. At first, Sully gives the impression that he wants be a protective father figure to Maren. But it soon becomes apparent that Sully is sexually attracted to Maren and will eventually expect them to be more than friends. Maren knows it too, which is why she secretly gets on a bus to leave the area without saying goodbye to Sully.

The bus is going to Minnesota. Maren’s plan is to eventually travel to Ohio, the state where Maren has her mother’s last-known address. Along the way, she meets another wayward cannibal named Lee (played by Chalamet), who’s a runaway in his late teens. He’s originally from Kentucky and has been living on his own since he was 17. Lee has a truck that he stole from one of his victims: a bachelor named Barry Cook from Centerville, Indiana. Lee invites Maren to travel with him, and they take turns driving.

Lee is not as conflicted as Maren about giving in to his cannibalistic urges. He also tells Maren that he prefers to kill someone who lives alone so he can steal that person’s car and other belongings. As if to justify his crimes, Lee says he usually chooses victims who do something awful to show Lee that these victims “deserve” to be killed.

Lee knew that murder victim Barry lived alone, so he and Maren go to Barry’s home to look for things to steal. Because the vehicles that Lee steals will eventually be reported stolen, he says that’s the motivation he needs to find and kill other people who have cars that he can steal. It’s a vicious cycle that puts Lee and Maren at great risk of getting caught.

Maren isn’t entirely comfortable with what Lee does, but she goes along with everything because she’s lonely and very attracted to him. Lee and Maren become friends and eventually lovers during their extended road trip. During this trip (which takes them to states such as Missouri and Iowa), Lee and Maren experience a lot of highs and lows.

Over time, Lee and Maren share some of their previous cannibal experiences. Lee says that his first cannibal victim as his babysitter. He remembers feeling a like a “superhero’ the first time that he killed and ate her. Maren shares an experience she had when she was 8 years old and went on a camping trip, where a boy was one of her victims.

A memorable part of the movie is when Lee and Maren encounter two other middle-aged cannibals named Jake (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) and Brad (played by David Gordon Green). Over a campfire, Jake and Brad tell Lee and Maren that eating a body, “bones and all,” can give a cannibal an ecstatically powerful feeling like no other. Stuhlbarg, who co-starred with Chalamet in “Call Me by Your Name,” has a much smaller role in “Bones and All,” but his screen time in the movie is still meaningful.

One of the most pivotal parts of “Bones and All” takes place at a carnival, where Lee decides to target a booth worker (played by Jake Horowitz), for reasons that are shown in the movie. This experience is a turning point, because it’s the first time that Maren sees firsthand what Lee is capable of doing. She has to decide if it’s worth staying with him, or if she should continue her journey on her own.

“Bones and All” has stellar acting and a few surprises that make this movie better than the average horror flick. Russell and Chalamet are believable as an emotionally damaged couple who find comfort with each other but are always on edge because of the terrible secrets that they have to keep. Lee and Maren make an interesting pair who are opposites in some ways. Maren is quiet and doesn’t like to call attention to herself, while talkative Lee (with his magenta-streaked hair) has a way about him that practically screams, “Look at me!”

Unlike Maren, whose parents abandoned her, Lee has chosen to abandon his family. Lee has a backstory involving his turbulent relationship with his younger sister Kayla (played by Anna Cobb), who has a lot of resentment toward Lee for leaving the family. Lee confides in Maren that he feels guilty about leaving Kayla behind when he had promised her that he would give her driving lessons.

Chalamet (who is one of the producers of “Bones and All”) is perfectly fine in the role of a troubled young rebel, but it’s the type of character that’s been seen and done in many other movies and TV shows. Russell has the more difficult role, since Maren is very guarded and insecure about her feelings and not a typical wisecracking or sweet ingenue character that would usually be the female love interest in this type of story. Russell capably expresses many emotions through facial expressions and body language because Maren is often afraid of saying what she’s thinking out loud.

And although Sully is not in most of “Bones and All,” his scenes in the movie are what might disturb people the most. Rylance is riveting as this utterly sleazy character, who deliberately disarms people into thinking that he’s just a harmless oddball. On a different level, Lee is a con artist too, because he presents himself as a down-on-his-luck charmer to his victims, who are fooled into thinking that he won’t hurt them.

“Bones and All” has a total running time of 130 minutes, which is a little long for a movie that could have easily been a little under two hours. Although a few scenes in “Bones and All” weren’t entirely necessary, the overall film will still leave a big impression on people. One of the movie’s biggest strengths is that it could have ended in many predictable ways, but it has a twist that many viewers won’t see coming. “Bones and All” goes down a path that will no doubt upset some viewers, but it’s bold enough to not take the easy way out in how to end this grisly and often-heartbreaking story.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures released “Bones and All” in select U.S. cinemas on November 18, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on November 23, 2022.

Review: ‘The Menu’ (2022), starring Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, Judith Light and John Leguizamo

November 16, 2022

by Carla Hay

Cast members of “The Menu.” Pictured from left to right, in front: Judith Light, Reed Birney, Nicholas Hoult, Anya Taylor-Joy, Paul Adelstein, Janet McTeer, Ralph Fiennes, Rob Yang, Aimee Carrero, Arturo Castro, Mark St. Cyr and John Leguizamo. (Photo by Eric Zachanowich/Searchlight Pictures)

“The Menu” (2022)

Directed by Mark Mylod

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in an unnamed part of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, the horror film “The Menu” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians and Latinos and one African American) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Eleven people gather to dine at an exclusive, high-priced restaurant on an isolated island, where they eventually find out that the chef has prepared a deadly menu.

Culture Audience: “The Menu” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy, and who are interested in well-acted horror films that are satires of wealthy people and social climbers.

Ralph Fiennes and Hong Chau (center) in “The Menu” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

“The Menu” succumbs to horror stereotypes in the last 15 minutes of the film. However, the overall movie is an entertaining ride that pokes fun at pretentiousness and obsessive ambition that are spawned from the pursuit of fame, wealth, and power. The sinister intentions in the story are foreshadowed early on, so the main suspense comes from finding who will survive in this horror film that is both gruesomely grim and wickedly comedic. “The Menu” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival before screening at several other film festivals in 2022, such as Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, and the Zurich Film Festival in Switzerland.

Directed by Mark Mylod, “The Menu” was co-written by Will Tracy and Seth Reiss. The movie was inspired by a real-life experience that Tracy had when he want to an exclusive, upscale restaurant on a private island in Norway. In the production notes for “The Menu,” Tracy remembers how he felt: “It was a small island. And I realized, ‘Oh, we’re stuck here for four hours. What if something goes wrong?’”

As shown in the trailers for “The Menu,” it’s a movie where the worst things that can possibly go wrong become a nightmarish reality for the restaurant guests. “The Menu” takes place almost entirely on an unnamed private island somewhere in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. (“The Menu” was actually filmed in Savannah, Georgia.) And it’s an isolated island where the only attraction is an exclusive, invitation-only restaurant called Hawthorn, which is surrounded by a wooded area.

Hawthorn’s chef is a stern taskmaster named Julian Slowik (played by Ralph Fiennes), who has become legendary in culinary circles for his highly unusual menu items. Getting an invitation to Hawthorn (which has a sleek, modern decor) is considered one of the highest achievements for people who want to be in the upper echelon of elite foodies. Much of the movie’s satire and horror come from the characters’ desire to have this social status at any cost.

In addition to paying the fee of $1,250 per person, invited guests at Hawthorn have to agree to two main rules: They cannot go to the restaurant solo. And they cannot take photos while they’re at the restaurant. The multi-course dinner at Hawthorn is supposed to take place over four hours and 25 minutes, ending at around 2 a.m.

“The Menu” begins by showing the 11 people who are Hawthorn’s current dinner guests, as they travel on a boat taking them to the island where Hawthorn is located. They are greeted by Hawthorn’s no-nonsense captain Elsa (played by Hong Chau), who acts as a knowledgeable hostess and an unforgiving disciplinarian to the customers. Viewers will later see that all of Hawthorn’s employees act like cult followers of Chef Slowik.

The 11 dinner guests who take this fateful trip are:

  • Tyler Ledford (played by Nicholas Hoult), who is in his early 30s, considers himself to be a foodie extraordinaire. He is a superfan of Chef Slowik, and it’s a dream come true for Tyler to be invited to dine at Hawthorn.
  • Margot Mills (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), who is in her mid-20s, is Tyler’s date, and she doesn’t really care about the prestigious reputation of Hawthorn. Margot is Tyler’s last-minute companion for this dinner. He was originally going to take a girlfriend, but that relationship recently ended, and he didn’t have time to inform Hawthorn in advance that Margot is his replacement guest.
  • George Diaz, a fast-talking movie star in his 50s (played by John Leguizamo), is annoyed that his assistant didn’t book the reservation under his preferred alias, Damian Garcia, because he’s concerned about the paparazzi knowing that he’s at Hawthorn. He is self-centered, demanding and paranoid. His career as an actor has been on the decline, and he’s at Hawthorn as research, because he wants to reinvent himself as the host of a food/travel show.
  • Felicity (played by Aimee Carrero), who is in her 20s, is the movie star’s personal assistant. She reacts to his ego posturing and rude bossiness with a mixture of apathy, pity and disdain. Felicity, whose mother is a movie-studio executive, has the attitude of someone who is close to quitting her job but is staying out of a misguided sense of loyalty to a boss who doesn’t appreciate her.
  • Lillian Bloom (played by Janet McTeer), who is in her early 60s, is a haughty and very pretentious food critic whose ego has been overblown by whatever fame she has. She likes being the center of attention and thinks that her opinion is the only opinion that matters.
  • Ted (played by Paul Adelstein), who is in his early 50s, is Lillian’s “yes man” editor at the magazine where they work. Ted pathetically agrees with almost everything that Lillian says, even if he might secretly disagree with her. Lillian and Ted both like to take credit for helping make Chef Slowik a star, since their magazine gave him positive coverage early in Chef Slowik’s career.
  • Richard (played by Reed Birney), who is his late 60s, is a rich man whose wealth is not really explained in the movie. He conducts himself with an air of someone who is used to getting what he wants.
  • Anne (played by Judith Light), who is in her early 70s, is Richard’s wife who appears accustomed to living in his shadow. Unlike the other guests, Richard and Anne have dined at Hawthorn many times. Anne and Richard are longtime spouses, but their marriage appears to be stagnant and strained.
  • Soren (played by Arturo Castro), Dave (played by Mark St. Cyr) and Bryce (played by Rob Yang), who are in their 30s, are co-workers who have become recent millionaires in the technology industry. Their boss Doug Varick is the chief investor and owner of Hawthorn, so these three “tech bros” go into the restaurant with an extreme sense of entitlement. They also like to show off and brag about their wealth. Soren is the cockiest and loudest of the three pals.

During the check-in process, Elsa is immediately annoyed because Margot’s name is not on the guest list. Tyler nervously explains that the woman he originally invited couldn’t be there, and Margot is his date instead. Elsa reluctantly allows Margot to go to Hawthorn. Later, Chef Slowik also gets irritated that Margot is not someone who was on the expected guest list. Because, yes, “The Menu” is one of those horror movies where people were invited to an isolated area for a specific reason.

As the dinner becomes increasingly ominous, the invited guests eventually find out why they were brought to Hawthorn, as secrets about the guests are revealed in different parts of the movie. Margot’s unexpected presence and her obvious lack of admiration for Hawthorn end up unnerving Chef Slowik so much, he follows Margot into the restroom to demand to know why she doesn’t seem to be impressed with the food and the restaurant.

“The Menu” has a simple concept and very few surprises. However, the movie has a crackling intensity to it, punctuated by moments of dark comedy, because of the snappy dialogue and the cast members’ always-watchable performances. The obnoxiously pompous conversations between Lillian and Ted are some of the comedic highlights of the movie.

Chau’s portrayal of dour Elsa also has its funny moments because of her cynical insults and the ways she passively-aggressively gets revenge on customers she thinks are getting out of line. The “tech bros” repeatedly request bread for their table, but their requests are refused by Elsa, so the “tech bros” react by trying to use their connection to Hawthorn owner Doug Varick as clout. Bryce impatiently asks her: “You know who we are, right?” Elsa calmly says that she knows who they are, but they still won’t be served any bread. She then says quietly in Soren’s ear: “You’ll eat less than you desire and more than you deserve.”

The menu items look decorative when served as they’re masterpieces, but they are often examples of theater of the absurd, such as a second-course serving that consists of a “breadless bread plate.” Chef Slowik haughtily explains, “Bread is for the common man. You are not the common man.” The dinner guests look like they don’t want to think that some of what they’re being served is a joke—and the joke’s on them.

Tyler and Margot, who barely know each other, end up clashing on many different levels, because they view the Hawthorn experience so differently. Margot is quick to call out any rudeness and disrespect she sees at Hawthorn, but Tyler is quick to ignore any bad conduct because he doesn’t want to get banned from Hawthorn. Hoult and Taylor-Joy have some memorable scenes together, but Taylor-Joy has the more substantial role in the movie. It should come as no surprise that there’s more to Margot than what she first appears to be.

As for chief villain Chef Slowik, he reveals things about his past that partially explain his obsessive need for control, perfection and being considered one of the best restaurant chefs ever. The movie has some predictable scenes of Chef Slowik humiliating some members of his staff, including sous chefs named Jeremy Loudon (played by Adam Aalderks) and Katherine Keller (played by Christina Brucato). Chef Slowik’s mother Linda (played by Rebecca Koon) is seated by herself in the restaurant’s dining area, but she spends most of the movie in a drunken stupor.

Chef Slowik doesn’t own Hawthorn, so there’s an underlying insecurity to his madness that’s impossible to ignore. Fiennes brings both cold calculation and unbridled rage to his role as this evil chef with murderous intentions. Chef Slowik is both transparent and mysterious, consistent yet unpredictable. This dichotomous nature makes him a fascinating character to watch.

“The Menu” also hilariously lampoons the way that people mindlessly buy into whatever overpriced ridiculousness they think will give them higher social status than others. For example, at one point during the dinner, Chef Slowik orders the guests: “Do not eat. Taste, relish, savor. Do not eat. Our menu is too precious for that.”

Imagine being served a meal at a restaurant, but then being told not to eat that meal because it’s “too precious” to eat. Some of the guests, especially Tyler, are so enthralled with whatever Chef Slowik has to say, they could have an empty plate put in front of them at Hawthorn and be convinced that the plate’s “aura” is the greatest thing they ever experienced at a restaurant. Tyler gushes about Chef Slowik to Margot: “He’s not a chef. He’s a storyteller.”

Of course, things eventually get very ugly and un-glamorous at Hawthorn. “The Menu” falls apart a little bit when it turns into a standard schlockfest, with the expected attempts to escape from the island, and some bloody fights for survival. Some of the characters are very underdeveloped, such as the “tech bros” and Chef Slowik’s mother. Even though the concept of people trapped in an isolated area is an over-used basis for a horror movie, “The Menu” serves up enough of freshness and originality to make it a thrilling and terrifying story.

Searchlight Pictures will release “The Menu” in U.S. cinemas on November 18, 2022.

Review: ‘When I Consume You,’ starring Evan Dumouchel and Libby Ewing

October 31, 2022

by Carla Hay

Libby Ewing and Evan Dumouchel in “When I Consume You” (Photo courtesy of 1091 Pictures)

“When I Consume You”

Directed by Perry Blackshear

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the horror film “When I Consume You” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and one Asian) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A brother and a sister, who are in their 30s and live together, have an evil stalker who tries to ruin their lives. 

Culture Audience: “When I Consume You” will appeal primarily to people interested in supernatural horror movies that can do a lot on a low-budget and take their time to reveal the cause of the terror in the story.

Evan Dumouchel and Libby Ewing in “When I Consume You” (Photo courtesy of 1091 Pictures)

“When I Consume You” is an effectively atmospheric horror movie with a story that unfolds in layers. This brooding film, which is about a brother and a sister plagued by a mysterious stalker, is not what it might first appear to be to some viewers. “When I Consume You” explores themes about loss, loneliness, power and control that aren’t obvious at the outset. However, these themes that become clearer further into “When I Can Consume You” can give viewers something to think about after watching the movie. This is not the type of horror film that people will see and then instantly forget.

Written and directed by Perry Blackshear, “When I Consume You” centers on the very insular personal lives of unmarried siblings Wilson Shaw (played by Evan Dumouchel) and Daphne Shaw (played by Libby Ewing), who are both in their 30s and who live together in a small apartment in New York City. Why are Wilson and Daphne living together at an age when most siblings live apart in own households? Wilson and Daphne have a murky and traumatic past that is hinted at with some details but never fully disclosed in the movie.

It’s enough to say, based on the siblings’ conversations in the movie, that Wilson and Daphne are very close. They have what could be described as a co-dependent relationship. Daphne is younger than Wilson, but she the bolder and more outspoken of the two siblings. Their parents are still alive, but Wilson and Daphne are no longer in contact with them, apparently by choice. The movie brings up questions that it doesn’t always answer, such as why Wilson and Daphne are estranged from their parents.

In opening scene of “When I Consume You,” Daphne has locked herself in the apartment bathroom and seems to be distress. She pulls a bloody tooth out of her mouth. Wilson is in the next room and worriedly asks Daphne to come out of the bathroom, because he can sense that something is wrong. Daphne tries to pretend that everything is fine with her and says that she’s just taking a shower.

But everything is not fine with Daphne. A flashback scene shows Daphne confronting a man wearing a black hoodie jacket in a deserted parking lot. This hoodie-wearing man is seen multiple times in the movie. And eventually, it’s revealed that this man has been stalking Daphne and has been physically attacking her. Eventually, Wilson sees this man too, under some very tragic circumstances.

Daphne and Wilson are at crossroads in their lives where they want to turn their lives around and have a more stable family. Daphne is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic who has applied to adopt a child. She works as a project manager at a company called Behemoth that is in an industry that is not mentioned in the movie. Daphne is never seen working at her job.

Wilson is a janitor at an unnamed school for underage kids. He is hoping to get a job as a schoolteacher. Wilson has an upcoming job interview to become a schoolteacher, and Daphne helps him rehearse what he’s going to say in the interview. It’s an example of how Wilson is not as confident about his communication skills as Daphne is.

Daphne has her own important upcoming interview. She’s supposed to meet with an adoption counselor named Anete (played by Margaret Ying Drake), who will decide if Daphne is a good candidate to adopt a girl who has recently become available for adoption. Daphne has a lot of nervous tension when she meets with Anete, who is skeptical about moving Daphne’s application forward to have Daphne meet the child.

In a very defensive tone, Daphne explains that she’s clean and sober for at least a year, and she has a steady job. There was apparently a incident in the recent past where Daphne lost her temper and possibly got violent. When Anete brings up this incident (which is vaguely mentioned), Daphne quickly says that she’s sorry it happened and that it will never happen again.

As for her own attitude about parenting, Daphne says in the meeting: “People think they own their kids. They’re not [to be owned]. They’re their own [people]. You’re only there to help and protect them.” Anete still doesn’t look convinced that Daphne is qualified to be an adoptive parent and tells Daphne: “With your history, what would you do if you were me?”

Needless to say, Daphne gets rejected for this adoption. And things don’t go well either for Wilson and his job interview. These two siblings are about to have something even worse happen to them: One day, Wilson comes home to find Daphne on her bed, dead of an apparent opioid drug overdose, because there is drug paraphernalia nearby.

However, almost immediately after Wilson finds Daphne’s body, he sees a man wearing a black hoodie jump out of the window and onto the street. Wilson chases this stranger, but the stranger is able to escape out of sight from Wilson. A terrified Wilson frantically tells police about this stranger, whom he is sure had something to do with Daphne’s death. However, Daphne’s death is ruled as a self-inflicted drug overdose, not a murder.

The rest of “When I Consume You” shows Wilson’s quest to find out the truth. The man who was stalking Daphne now begins to stalk Wilson. And the movie has a major plot development that will come as a surprise, but it leads to more information being revealed about who this stalker is and why this stalker has been targeting Daphne and Wilson.

“When I Consume You” has some slow-paced parts of the movie where Wilson does a lot of moping around New York City. Because he doesn’t talk much and he is in almost every scene of the movie, don’t expect there to be a lot of dialogue in this movie. The dialogue is not wasted on nonsense though. Observant viewers can also discern a lot of the personality traits of Daphne and Wilson, thanks to Dumouchel’s and Ewing’s skillful use of facial expressions and body language.

This is not a horror movie that has a lot of jump scares, but it has slow-burning tension that eventually erupts into an inevitable showdown scene. The “When I Consume You” musical score by Mitch Bain is pitch-perfect in creating a foreboding atmosphere, while Blackshear’s cinematography maintains the movie’s gloomy tone, even during the scenes that take place during the daytime. The villain in the story has a very creepy whisper that can give more chills to viewers than a lot of violent and bloody scenes in other horror movies.

Beyond the horror aspects of the movie, “When I Consume You” shows a tender relationship between siblings whose strong bond with each other has as much to do with trauma and fear as it does with love and respect. Wilson and Daphne are both emotionally damaged siblings who rely on each other for support but seem unaware of how much their co-dependency has stunted their emotional growth. For example, Daphne and Wilson don’t seem to have any other people they are close to in their personal lives.

Dumouchel and Ewing give nuanced performances that make the most of scenes that don’t always telegraph to viewers where the story is going. “When I Consume You” has some imperfections, such as in the last third of the movie that tries to rush in some ambitious action sequences that occasionally look awkward. The middle of the movie has a pace that drags at times, especially during scenes where Wilson is grieving in solitude. These flaws do not ruin the movie, however. Even with all of the horror depicted in “When I Consume You,” the movie offers thoughtful contemplation about love that continues after death.

1091 Pictures released “When I Consume You” on digital and VOD on August 16, 2022.

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