2021 Critics Choice Super Awards: ‘Lovecraft Country,’ ‘Palm Springs’ are the top nominees

November 19, 2020

Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollett and Michael K. Williams in “Lovecraft Country” (Photo by Eli Joshua Ade/HBO)

The following is a press release from The CW:

The Critics Choice Association (CCA) announced today the nominees for the inaugural Critics Choice Super Awards, a special event honoring the most popular, fan-obsessed genres across both television and movies, including Superhero, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Horror, Action and Animation. The winners will be revealed in a special television presentation, which will be produced remotely following COVID safety protocols, hosted by writer/director/podcaster Kevin Smith and actress/writer Dani Fernandez. The ceremony will air on The CW Network on Sunday, January 10, 2021 (8:00-10:00pm ET/PT) and will stream the next day for free on The CW App and cwtv.com.

The Critics Choice Association will also present the Legacy Award to the “Star Trek” franchise, recognizing the cultural impact it has had across multiple decades while continuing to appeal to and grow its loyal fanbase with new stories and characters. “Star Trek” icon Patrick Stewart, and “Star Trek: Discovery” trailblazer Sonequa Martin-Green will personally accept this special honor, which comes as the franchise celebrates its 55th anniversary.

Hulu and NEON’s “Palm Springs” leads this year’s film nominees, with a total of five including Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie, Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie for Andy Samberg, Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie and Best Villain in a Movie for J.K. Simmons, and Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie for Cristin Milioti. Several films followed close behind with four nominations including “Birds of Prey” (Warner Bros.), “Freaky” (Universal), “Onward” (Disney+), “Sonic the Hedgehog” (Paramount), “The Hunt” (Universal), “The Old Guard” (Netflix), and “The Willoughbys” (Netflix).

“Lovecraft Country” (HBO) received the most television nominations, with a total of six possible wins, including Best Horror Series, Best Actor in a Horror Series for Jonathan Majors, Best Actor in a Horror Series for Michael K. Williams, Best Actress in a Horror Series for Wunmi Mosaku, Best Actress in a Horror Series for Jurnee Smollett, and Best Villain in a Series for Abbey Lee. Amazon’s “The Boys” received five nominations including Best Superhero Series, Best Actor in a Superhero Series and Best Villain in a Series for Antony Starr, Best Actor in a Superhero Series for Karl Urban, and Best Actress in a Superhero Series for Aya Cash.

Several performers received recognition for both their film and television work. Hilary Swank was nominated for Best Actress in an Action Movie and Best Villain in a Movie for “The Hunt” (Universal), as well as Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series for “Away” (Netflix), making her the most nominated individual. Maya Rudolph was nominated for Best Voice Actress in an Animated Movie for “The Willoughbys” (Netflix) as well as Best Voice Actress in an Animated Series for “Big Mouth” (Netflix). Jurnee Smollett was nominated for Actress in a Superhero Movie for “Birds of Prey” (Warner Bros.) and Best Actress in a Horror Series for “Lovecraft Country” (HBO).

“What a celebration this is going to be!” said Critics Choice Association CEO Joey Berlin. “We are so pleased to be spotlighting the brilliant work of so many artists who bring to life some of the most engaging and beloved movies and television series! We are certain that Kevin and Dani will serve as tremendous hosts, who, as fans themselves, will bring energy and enthusiasm to the stage, as we honor these genres that so often go overlooked and underappreciated.”

The inaugural Critics Choice Super Awards show will be produced by Bob Bain Productions. The CCA is represented by Dan Black of Greenberg Traurig.

Follow the Critics Choice Super Awards on Twitter and Instagram @CriticsChoice and on Facebook/CriticsChoiceAwards.

About the Critics Choice Association (CCA)

The Critics Choice Association is the largest critics organization in the United States and Canada, representing more than 400 television, radio and online critics and entertainment reporters. It was organized last year with the formal merger of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, recognizing the blurring of the distinctions between film, television, and streaming content. For more information, visit: www.CriticsChoice.com.

About The CW

The CW Television Network, a joint venture between Warner Bros. and CBS, launched in 2006. The CW is a multiplatform network that broadcasts a six-night 12-hour primetime lineup, Sunday through Friday and streams its ad-supported content, free, without login or authentication on CWTV.com and The CW app which is available on every major OTT platform. In daytime, The CW broadcasts a Monday through Friday afternoon block, and a three-hour Saturday morning kids block. The CW’s digital network, CW Seed, launched in 2013, and offers beloved limited-run series, as well as past seasons of recent fan-favorite television shows. For more information about the network and its programming, visit www.cwtvpr.com.


Bad Boys for Life (Sony)
Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)
Extraction (Netflix)
Greyhound (Apple TV+)
The Hunt (Universal)
Mulan (Disney+)
The Outpost (Screen Media)
Tenet (Warner Bros.)

Tom Hanks – Greyhound (Apple TV+)
Chris Hemsworth – Extraction (Netflix)
Caleb Landry Jones – The Outpost (Screen Media)
Delroy Lindo – Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)
Will Smith – Bad Boys for Life (Sony)
John David Washington – Tenet (Warner Bros)

Betty Gilpin – The Hunt (Universal)
Yifei Liu – Mulan (Disney+)
Blake Lively – The Rhythm Section (Paramount)
Iliza Shlesinger – Spenser Confidential (Netflix)
Hilary Swank – The Hunt (Universal)

Onward (Disney/Pixar)
Over the Moon (Netflix)
A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (Netflix)
Soul (Disney+)
The Willoughbys (Netflix)
Wolfwalkers (Apple/GKIDS)

Jamie Foxx – Soul (Disney+)
Will Forte – The Willoughbys (Netflix)
Tom Holland – Onward (Disney/Pixar)
John Krasinski – Animal Crackers (Netflix)
Chris Pratt – Onward (Disney/Pixar)
Sam Rockwell – The One and Only Ivan (Disney+)

Tina Fey – Soul (Disney+)
Honor Kneafsey – Wolfwalkers (Apple / GKIDS)
Maya Rudolph – The Willoughbys (Netflix)
Phillipa Soo – Over the Moon (Netflix)
Octavia Spencer – Onward (Disney/Pixar)
Eva Whittaker – Wolfwalkers (Apple / GKIDS)

Birds of Prey (Warner Bros.)
The Old Guard (Netflix)
Secret Society of Second-Born Royals (Disney+)
Sonic the Hedgehog (Paramount)
Superman: Man of Tomorrow (Warner Bros. Animation)

Skylar Astin – Secret Society of Second-Born Royals (Disney+)
Jim Carrey – Sonic the Hedgehog (Paramount)
Chiwetel Ejiofor – The Old Guard (Netflix)
Ewan McGregor – Birds of Prey (Warner Bros.)
Ben Schwartz – Sonic the Hedgehog (Paramount)

Kiki Layne – The Old Guard (Netflix)
Peyton Elizabeth Lee – Secret Society of Second-Born Royals (Disney+)
Margot Robbie – Birds of Prey (Warner Bros)
Jurnee Smollett – Birds of Prey (Warner Bros)
Charlize Theron – The Old Guard (Netflix)

Freaky (Universal)
The Invisible Man (Universal)
Relic (IFC Films)
The Rental (IFC Films)
Sputnik (IFC Films)

Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù – His House (Netflix)
Pyotr Fyodorov – Sputnik (IFC Films)
Michiel Huisman – The Other Lamb (IFC Films)
Dan Stevens – The Rental (IFC Films)
Vince Vaughn – Freaky (Universal)

Haley Bennett – Swallow (IFC Films)
Angela Bettis – 12 Hour Shift (Magnet Releasing)
Elisabeth Moss – The Invisible Man (Universal)
Kathryn Newton – Freaky (Universal)
Sheila Vand – The Rental (IFC Films)

Love and Monsters (Paramount)
Palm Springs (Hulu and Neon)
Possessor (Neon)
Synchronic (Well Go USA)
The Vast of Night (Amazon Studios)

Christopher Abbott – Possessor (Neon)
Jake Horowitz – The Vast of Night (Amazon Studios)
Anthony Mackie – Synchronic (Well Go USA)
Andy Samberg – Palm Springs (Hulu and Neon)
J.K. Simmons – Palm Springs (Hulu and Neon)

Ally Ioannides – Synchronic (Well Go USA)
Katherine Langford – Spontaneous (Paramount)
Sierra McCormick – The Vast of Night (Amazon Studios)
Cristin Milioti – Palm Springs (Hulu and Neon)
Andrea Riseborough – Possessor (Neon)

Jim Carrey – Sonic the Hedgehog (Paramount)
Kathryn Newton – Freaky (Universal)
Martin Short and Jane Krakowski – The Willoughbys (Netflix)
J.K. Simmons – Palm Springs (Hulu and Neon)
Hilary Swank – The Hunt (Universal)

* Superhero categories also include Comic Book and Video Game Inspired Movies


12 Hour Shift (Magnet Releasing) – 1
Best Actress in a Horror Movie – Angela Bettis

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (Netflix) – 1
Best Animated Movie

Animal Crackers (Netflix) – 1
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Movie – John Krasinski

Bad Boys for Life (Sony) – 2
Best Action Movie
Best Actor in an Action Movie – Will Smith

Birds of Prey (Warner Bros.) – 4
Best Superhero Movie
Best Actor in a Superhero Movie – Ewan McGregor
Best Actress in a Superhero Movie – Margot Robbie
Best Actress in a Superhero Movie – Jurnee Smollett

Da 5 Bloods (Netflix) – 2
Best Action Movie
Best Actor in an Action Movie – Delroy Lindo

Extraction (Netflix) – 2
Best Action Movie
Best Actor in an Action Movie – Chris Hemsworth

Freaky (Universal) – 4
Best Horror Movie
Best Actor in a Horror Movie – Vince Vaughn
Best Actress in a Horror Movie – Kathryn Newton
Best Villain in a Movie – Kathryn Newton

Greyhound (Apple TV+) – 2
Best Action Movie
Best Actor in an Action Movie – Tom Hanks

His House (Netflix) – 1
Best Actor in a Horror Movie – Sope Dìrísù

Love and Monsters (Paramount) – 1
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie

Mulan (Disney+) – 2
Best Action Movie
Best Actress in an Action Movie – Yifei Liu

Onward (Disney/Pixar) – 4
Best Animated Movie
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Movie – Tom Holland
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Movie – Chris Pratt
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Movie – Octavia Spencer

Over the Moon (Netflix) – 2
Best Animated Movie
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Movie – Phillipa Soo

Palm Springs (Hulu and Neon) – 5
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Andy Samberg
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – J.K. Simmons
Best Villain in a Movie – J.K. Simmons
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Cristin Milioti

Possessor (Neon) – 3
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Christopher Abbott
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Andrea Riseborough

Relic (IFC Films) – 1
Best Horror Movie

Secret Society of Second Born Royals (Disney+) – 3
Best Superhero Movie
Best Actor in a Superhero Movie – Skylar Astin
Best Actress in a Superhero Movie – Peyton Elizabeth Lee

Sonic The Hedgehog (Paramount) – 4
Best Superhero Movie
Best Actor in a Superhero Movie – Jim Carrey
Best Actor in a Superhero Movie – Ben Schwartz
Best Villain in a Movie – Jim Carrey

Soul (Disney+) – 3
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Movie – Jamie Foxx
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Movie – Tina Fey
Best Animated Movie

Spenser Confidential (Netflix) – 1
Best Actress in an Action Movie – Iliza Shlesinger

Spontaneous (Paramount) – 1
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Katherine Langford

Sputnik (IFC Films) – 2
Best Horror Movie
Best Actor in a Horror Movie – Pyotr Fyodorov

Superman: Man of Tomorrow (Warner Bros. Animation) – 1
Best Superhero Movie

Swallow (IFC Films) – 1
Best Actress in a Horror Movie – Haley Bennett

Synchronic (Well Go USA) – 3
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Anthony Mackie
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Ally Ioannides

Tenet (Warner Bros) – 2
Best Action Movie
Best Actor in an Action Movie – John David Washington

The Hunt (Universal) – 4
Best Action Movie
Best Actress in an Action Movie – Betty Gilpin
Best Actress in an Action Movie – Hilary Swank
Best Villain in a Movie – Hilary Swank

The Invisible Man (Universal) – 2
Best Horror Movie
Best Actress in a Horror Movie – Elisabeth Moss

The Old Guard (Netflix) – 4
Best Superhero Movie
Best Actor in a Superhero Movie – Chiwetel Ejiofor
Best Actress in a Superhero Movie – Kiki Layne
Best Actress in a Superhero Movie – Charlize Theron

The One and Only Ivan (Disney+) – 1
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Movie – Sam Rockwell

The Other Lamb (IFC Films) – 1
Best Actor in a Horror Movie – Michiel Huisman

The Outpost (Screen Media) – 2
Best Action Movie
Best Actor in an Action Movie – Caleb Landry Jones

The Rental (IFC Films) – 3
Best Horror Movie
Best Actor in a Horror Movie – Dan Stevens
Best Actress in a Horror Movie – Sheila Vand

The Rhythm Section (Paramount) – 1
Best Actress in an Action Movie – Blake Lively

The Vast of Night (Amazon Studios) – 3
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Jake Horowitz
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Sierra McCormick

The Willoughbys (Netflix) – 4
Best Animated Movie
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Movie – Will Forte
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Movie – Maya Rudolph
Best Villain in a Movie – Martin Short and Jane Krakowski

Wolfwalkers (Apple/GKIDS) – 3
Best Animated Movie
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Movie – Honor Kneafsey
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Movie – Eva Whittaker


9-1-1 (Fox)
Hanna (Amazon)
Hunters (Amazon)
S.W.A.T. (CBS)
Vikings (History)
Warrior (Cinemax)

Daveed Diggs – Snowpiercer (TNT)
Andrew Koji – Warrior (Cinemax)
Logan Lerman – Hunters (Amazon)
Alexander Ludwig – Vikings (History)
Shemar Moore – S.W.A.T. (CBS)
Al Pacino – Hunters (Amazon)

Angela Bassett – 9-1-1 (Fox)
Jennifer Connelly – Snowpiercer (TNT)
Esme Creed-Miles – Hanna (Amazon)
Mireille Enos – Hanna (Amazon)
Katheryn Winnick – Vikings (History)
Alison Wright – Snowpiercer (TNT)

Archer (FXX)
BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
Big Mouth (Netflix)
Central Park (Apple TV+)
Harley Quinn (HBO Max)
Rick and Morty (Adult Swim)
Star Trek: Lower Decks (CBS All Access)

Will Arnett – BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
H. Jon Benjamin – Archer (FXX)
Nick Kroll – Big Mouth (Netflix)
John Mulaney – Big Mouth (Netflix)
Jack Quaid – Star Trek: Lower Decks (CBS All Access)
Justin Roiland – Rick and Morty (Adult Swim)
J.B. Smoove – Harley Quinn (HBO Max)

Kaley Cuoco – Harley Quinn (HBO Max)
Tawny Newsome – Star Trek: Lower Decks (CBS All Access)
Maya Rudolph – Big Mouth (Netflix)
Amy Sedaris – BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
Aisha Tyler – Archer (FXX)
Jessica Walter – Archer (FXX)

The Boys (Amazon)
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (The CW)
Doom Patrol (DC Universe and HBO Max)
The Flash (The CW)
Lucifer (Netflix)
The Umbrella Academy (Netflix)

Jon Cryer – Supergirl (The CW)
Tom Ellis – Lucifer (Netflix)
Grant Gustin – The Flash (The CW)
Antony Starr – The Boys (Amazon)
Karl Urban – The Boys (Amazon)
Cress Williams – Black Lightning (The CW)

Melissa Benoist – Supergirl (The CW)
Aya Cash – The Boys (Amazon)
Diane Guerrero – Doom Patrol (DC Universe and HBO Max)
Elizabeth Marvel – Helstrom (Hulu)
Lili Reinhart – Riverdale (The CW)
Cobie Smulders – Stumptown (ABC)

Evil (CBS)
The Haunting of Bly Manor (Netflix)
Lovecraft Country (HBO)
The Outsider (HBO and MRC Television)
Supernatural (The CW)
The Walking Dead (AMC)

Jensen Ackles – Supernatural (The CW)
Mike Colter – Evil (CBS)
Michael Emerson – Evil (CBS)
Jonathan Majors – Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Ben Mendelsohn – The Outsider (HBO and MRC Television)
Jared Padalecki – Supernatural (The CW)
Michael K. Williams – Lovecraft Country (HBO)

Natalie Dormer – Penny Dreadful: City of Angels (Showtime)
Cynthia Erivo – The Outsider (HBO and MRC Television)
Katja Herbers – Evil (CBS)
T’Nia Miller – The Haunting of Bly Manor (Netflix)
Wunmi Mosaku – Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Victoria Pedretti – The Haunting of Bly Manor (Netflix)
Jurnee Smollett – Lovecraft Country (HBO)

The Mandalorian (Disney+)
Outlander (Starz)
Raised by Wolves (HBO Max)
Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access)
Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access)
Upload (Amazon)
What We Do in the Shadows (FX)

Robbie Amell – Upload (Amazon)
Travis Fimmel – Raised by Wolves (HBO Max)
Sam Heughan – Outlander (Starz)
Kayvan Novak – What We Do in the Shadows (FX)
Pedro Pascal – The Mandalorian (Disney+)
Nick Offerman – Devs (FX on Hulu)
Patrick Stewart – Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access)

Caitriona Balfe – Outlander (Starz)
Amanda Collin – Raised by Wolves (HBO Max)
Natasia Demetriou – What We Do in the Shadows (FX)
Sonequa Martin-Green – Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access)
Thandie Newton – Westworld (HBO)
Hilary Swank – Away (Netflix)
Jodie Whittaker – Doctor Who (BBC America)

Tom Ellis – Lucifer (Netflix)
Abbey Lee – Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Samantha Morton – The Walking Dead (AMC)
Sarah Paulson – Ratched (Netflix)
Antony Starr – The Boys (Amazon)
Finn Wittrock – Ratched (Netflix)

* Superhero categories also include Comic Book and Video Game Inspired Series


9-1-1 (Fox) – 2
Best Action Series
Best Actress in an Action Series – Angela Bassett

Archer (FXX) – 4
Best Animated Series
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Series – H. Jon Benjamin
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Series – Aisha Tyler
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Series – Jessica Walter

Away (Netflix) – 1
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Hilary Swank

Big Mouth (Netflix) – 4
Best Animated Series
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Series – Nick Kroll
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Series – John Mulaney
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Series – Maya Rudolph

Black Lightning (The CW) – 1
Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Cress Williams

BoJack Horseman (Netflix) – 3
Best Animated Series
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Series – Will Arnett
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Series – Amy Sedaris

Central Park (Apple TV+) – 1
Best Animated Series

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (The CW) – 1
Best Superhero Series

Devs (FX on Hulu) – 1
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Nick Offerman

Doctor Who (BBC America) – 1
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Jodie Whittaker

Doom Patrol (DC Universe and HBO Max) – 2
Best Superhero Series
Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Diane Guerrero

Evil (CBS) – 4
Best Horror Series
Best Actor in a Horror Series – Mike Colter
Best Actor in a Horror Series – Michael Emerson
Best Actress in a Horror Series – Katja Herbers

Hanna (Amazon) – 3
Best Action Series
Best Actress in an Action Series – Esme Creed-Miles
Best Actress in an Action Series – Mireille Enos

Harley Quinn (HBO Max) – 3
Best Animated Series
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Series – J.B. Smoove
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Series – Kaley Cuoco

Helstrom (Hulu) – 1
Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Elizabeth Marvel

Hunters (Amazon) – 3
Best Action Series
Best Actor in an Action Series – Logan Lerman
Best Actor in an Action Series – Al Pacino

Lovecraft Country (HBO) – 6
Best Horror Series
Best Actor in a Horror Series – Jonathan Majors
Best Actor in a Horror Series – Michael K. Williams
Best Actress in a Horror Series – Wunmi Mosaku
Best Actress in a Horror Series – Jurnee Smollett
Best Villain in a Series – Abbey Lee

Lucifer (Netflix) – 3
Best Superhero Series
Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Tom Ellis
Best Villain in a Series – Tom Ellis

Outlander (Starz) – 3
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Sam Heughan
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Caitriona Balfe

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels (Showtime) – 1
Best Actress in a Horror Series – Natalie Dormer

Raised by Wolves (HBO Max) – 3
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Travis Fimmel
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Amanda Collin

Ratched (Netflix) – 2
Best Villain in a Series – Sarah Paulson
Best Villain in a Series – Finn Wittrock

Rick and Morty (Adult Swim) – 2
Best Animated Series
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Series – Justin Rolland

Riverdale (The CW) – 1
Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Lili Reinhart

S.W.A.T. (CBS) – 2
Best Action Series
Best Actor in an Action Series – Shemar Moore

Snowpiercer (TNT) – 3
Best Actor in an Action Series – Daveed Diggs
Best Actress in an Action Series – Jennifer Connelly
Best Actress in an Action Series – Alison Wright

Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access) – 2
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Sonequa Martin-Green

Star Trek: Lower Decks (CBS All Access) – 3
Best Animated Series
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Series – Jack Quaid
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Series – Tawny Newsome

Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access) – 2
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Patrick Stewart

Stumptown (ABC) – 1
Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Cobie Smulders

Supergirl (The CW) – 2
Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Jon Cryer
Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Melissa Benoist

Supernatural (The CW) – 3
Best Horror Series
Best Actor in a Horror Series – Jensen Ackles
Best Actor in a Horror Series – Jared Padalecki

The Boys (Amazon) – 5
Best Superhero Series
Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Antony Starr
Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Karl Urban
Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Aya Cash
Best Villain in a Series – Antony Starr

The Flash (The CW) – 2
Best Superhero Series
Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Grant Gustin

The Haunting of Bly Manor (Netflix) – 3
Best Horror Series
Best Actress in a Horror Series – T’Nia Miller
Best Actress in a Horror Series – Victoria Pedretti

The Mandalorian (Disney+) – 2
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Pedro Pascal

The Outsider (HBO and MRC Television) – 3
Best Horror Series
Best Actor in a Horror Series – Ben Mendelsohn
Best Actress in a Horror Series – Cynthia Erivo

The Umbrella Academy (Netflix) – 1
Best Superhero Series

The Walking Dead (AMC) – 2
Best Horror Series
Best Villain in a Series – Samantha Morton

Upload (Amazon) – 2
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Robbie Amell

Vikings (History) – 3
Best Action Series
Best Actor in an Action Series – Alexander Ludwig
Best Actress in an Action Series – Katheryn Winnick

Warrior (Cinemax) – 2
Best Action Series
Best Actor in an Action Series – Andrew Koji

Westworld (HBO) – 1
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Thandie Newton

What We Do in the Shadows (FX) – 3
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Kayvan Novak
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Natasia Demetriou


Netflix – 35
HBO / HBO Max / DC Universe and HBO Max – 18
Amazon / Amazon Studios – 16
Disney+ – 15
CBS / CBS All Access – 13
The CW – 10
Universal – 10
FX / FXX / FX on Hulu – 8
IFC Films – 8
NEON – 8
Paramount – 7
Warner Bros. / Warner Bros. Animation – 7
Apple TV+ / Apple/GKIDS – 6
Hulu – 6
History – 3
MRC Television – 3
Starz – 3
TNT – 3
Well Go USA – 3
Adult Swim – 2
AMC – 2
Cinemax – 2
Fox – 2
Screen Media – 2
Sony / Sony Pictures – 2
ABC – 1
BBC America – 1
Magnet Releasing – 1
Showtime – 1

Review: ‘Freaky,’ starring Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton

November 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton in “Freaky” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)


Directed by Christopher Landon

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional U.S. city of Blissfield, the horror comedy “Freaky” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 17-year-old girl and a middle-aged serial killer swap bodies in a freak magical spell accident. 

Culture Audience: “Freaky” will appeal primarily to people who like teen-oriented horror with adult humor and who have a high tolerance for bloody gore.

Kathryn Newton, Celeste O’Connor and Misha Osherovich in “Freaky” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The horror comedy “Freaky” is a zany and often-raucous ride that puts a gruesome but memorable spin on the body-swapping concept. The entire premise of the movie is “Freaky Friday” meets “Friday the 13th.” Directed by Christopher Landon (who co-wrote the screenplay with Michael Kennedy), “Freaky” delivers as many laughs as it does explicitly brutal scares with all of the violent murders that happen throughout the entire story.

“Freaky” also cleverly lampoons many of the clichés and over-used tropes in teen comedies and horror movies. “Freaky” is from Blumhouse Productions, the same production company behind Landon-directed horror flicks “Happy Death Day” and “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones.” Blumhouse movies have been “hit or miss,” in terms of quality. “Freaky” is a definite hit.

The movie begins in the fictional U.S. city of Blissfield, with four teenagers hanging out and partying at night at the upper-middle-class home of one of the teens. The house belongs to the parents of Ginny (played by Kelly Lamor Wilson), who looks like a popular blonde cheerleader type. Ginny’s parents are away on a trip, which is why Ginny and her friends have the house to themselves. The other three teenagers at the house are Ginny’s boyfriend Evan (played by Mitchell Hoog); Sandra (played by Emily Holder); and Isaac (played by Nicholas Stargel). Evan and Isaac are athletic types, while Sandra is a sensible brunette type.

It’s Wednesday, November 11. While the teens are gathered in the living room and drinking alcohol, they start talking about the urban legend of the the Blissfield Butcher, also known as The Butcher, a mysterious serial killer who began murdering people, especially teenagers during homecoming season, back in the 1990s. This serial killer, who seems to have stopped his murder spree in the 2000s, was never caught.

Is he dead? Is he in prison for another crime? Or did he just disappear and become a law-abiding citizen? No one seems to know, but the teens have a laugh at how “geriatric” the killer would be if he were still alive. It’s at this point that horror aficionados know that the killer will be somewhere in the house and ready to go on a rampage.

Sure enough, The Butcher (played by Vince Vaughn) has somehow snuck in the house. (He wears a mask, just like a prototypical serial killer such as Jason Vorhees from the “Friday the 13th” movies or Michael Myers from “Halloween” movies.) And one by one, The Butcher kills all four teenagers, who each have vicious deaths. The Butcher ambushes Isaac in a wine cellar and rams a wine bottle down his throat. The killer then traps Sandra in a bathroom and repeatedly slams a toilet seat on her head, in order to beat her to death.

The Butcher than chases Evan onto to the home’s tennis court, breaks a tennis racket in two, and uses both ends to simultaneously stab Evan on both sides of his head. As for Jenny, she manages to hide and elude the killer for a while, but he eventually finds her and impales her on the wall of the living room. That gives you an idea of how over-the-top the murders are. And The Butcher has stolen a rare dagger in a glass case that’s in the living room.

The next day (Thursday the November 12), a widowed mother and her two daughters, who all live in the same house, are gathered around the dining table for breakfast. Coral Kessler (played by Katie Finneran), who’s a sales clerk at a department store called Discount Bonanza, has been a widow for about a year. (It’s never stated how her husband died.) Coral’s older daughter Charlene Kessler (played by Dana Drori) is in her 20s and is a police officer in Blissfield. Carol’s younger daughter Millie Kessler (played by Kathryn Newton) is 17 years old and a senior at Blissfield Valley High School.

There’s tension in the household because Charlene disapproves of how Coral has been overprotective of Millie and has been using Millie as an emotional crutch. Coral has also been drinking heavily and tries to keep it a secret, but her daughters know that Coral has been drinking so much that she sometimes passes out. Coral goes to great lengths to hide her depression by putting on a falsely chipper demeanor.

Blissfield Valley High School is having a homecoming dance, but Millie tells Charlene that she won’t be there. Why? Because Millie and Coral made plans to see a regional production of “Wicked” together. Coral thinks that homecoming dances are just excuses for teenagers to get drunk or cause mischief, so she’d rather have Millie be safe and keep her company. Charlene thinks it’s pathetic that Coral won’t let Millie have any fun in ways that teenagers in high school are supposed to have fun.

Millie’s two best friends at her school are smart and outspoken Nyla Chones (played by Celeste O’Connor) and openly gay and sassy Josh Detmer (played by Misha Osherovich), who think that Millie is also missing out on a lot of fun by catering to Coral’s needs over her own. Millie is very introverted and too shy to do anything about her crush on a fellow student named Booker (played by Uriah Shelton), who sits next to her in their woodworking class.

The instructor of the woodworking class is Mr. Fletcher (played by Alan Ruck), who belittles Millie any chance that he gets. Every teen-oriented horror movie seems to have clique of bullies. In “Freaky,” there’s not one but two of these cliques.

The “mean girls” clique is led by a queen bee named Ryler (played by Melissa Collazo), who corners Millie at her locker to make snide comments about Millie’s discount clothes. Ryler is a stereotypical, conceited snob who cares more designer labels and other superficial things instead of someone’s character. She’s also a gossip who like to get “dirt” on other people and use it to her advantage.

The “bullying jocks” clique—Phil (played by Magnus Diehl), Squi (Tim Johnson) and Brett (played by Ezra Sexton)—make sexist and crude comments about Millie. (One of them says they would only have sex with Millie if she had a paper bag over her head.) Booker is a friend to these lunkheads, but he doesn’t participate in bullying Millie. However, Booker doesn’t exactly stop his pals from making mean-spirited comments to Millie either.

Early on in the movie, before Millie goes through a transformation, certain students at the school make offhand comments implying that Millie a mousy plain Jane. It’s a little hard to believe, given that Newton looks like a pretty Hollywood actress throughout the entire movie. The way that some of the mean girls treat her, you’d think that she comes to school in rags, but Millie’s wardrobe isn’t out of the ordinary.

It isn’t long before news spreads all over the high school about the four murdered teens who were killed the night before. However, the homecoming football game that night isn’t about to be cancelled. Millie is a beaver mascot for the school’s football team, the Blissfield Valley Beavers. It’s a thankless job and she gets no respect for it. In fact, some of the “cool kids” make fun of Millie when she wears the costume.

We get it. Millie is bullied by a lot of people at school. And that means when a serial killer inhabits her body, watch out.

The body swap happens after the football game, when everyone has gone home and Millie is stuck on a bench outside the football field, waiting for her mother to pick her up. Coral hasn’t been answering Millie’s calls and text messages because she’s passed out drunk. It’s late at night, there’s a killer on the loose, and Millie is getting scared because her phone battery has died. Right before her phone stopped working, Millie was able to call home and talk briefly with her sister Charlene, who had just arrived at the house and told Millie that their mother was passed out drunk again.

It’s now past midnight. And it’s Friday the 13th. And then, just like a typical serial killer in a slasher movie, The Butcher appears from out of nowhere and chases after Millie. He catches up to her in the football field and stabs her in the shoulder with the dagger that he stole. The heavens open up and some strange mystical things happen because that particular dagger has been used.

By this time, The Butcher has his mask off and is about to kill Millie. Just then, Charlene shows up (because she knew that Millie needed a ride home) and sees Millie being attacked. Charlene fires her gun, the killer runs away, but the dagger is accidentally left behind. The dagger is brought to the police station as evidence.

The next morning, Millie wakes up in her bed. It must be the fastest recovery ever from a stab wound. There’s no mention of Millie ever being in a hospital to get the wound treated. Maybe that’s because the hospital would’ve found out the same thing that this person who’s woken up in Millie’s bedroom has found out: Although the body looks like Millie’s, the person inside the body is the Blissfield Butcher. Likewise, Millie has now discovered that she is in the body of the Blissfield Butcher, who lives in a creepy loft-like place that’s filled with morbid-looking souvenirs and decorations.

When Millie finds out that she now looks like The Butcher, she goes to school to tell Josh and Nyla about the transformation. Nyla and Josh are predictably freaked out and don’t believe it first. There’s a big chase scene where they think The Butcher is trying to kill them. A police sketch of the serial-killer suspect, which was presumably based on Charlene’s eyewitness description, has been shown in the media and it’s a pretty good composite drawing of The Butcher.

While Josh and Nyla run through a school hallway to try to escape what they think is The Butcher, Josh shouts to Nyla, “You’re black! I’m gay! We are so dead!” It’s snarky commentary on the stereotype of someone from a minority group dying first in a horror movie.

Millie ends up convincing Josh and Nyla that she really is in The Butcher’s body, by telling them things only Millie would know. Through basic research, the three pals find out something important about the dagger that was used in the attack on Millie: The dagger is an ancient Aztec artifact called The Dola, which was used in ritual sacrifices. If two souls swap bodies while The Dola is being used, the souls have 24 hours to get back in the correct bodies—using The Dola in the same way that it was used when the souls were transferred—or else they will be trapped in the wrong bodies forever.

And so begins the race against time to get the The Dola dagger. The expected hijinks ensue about mistaken identity. And because the two people in this body-swapping comedy are of opposite genders, there are the predictable gags about male/female body parts and sexually suggestive situations that happen with people who don’t know about the body swap.

Because so much of “Freaky” has a lot of teen slang and of-the-moment technology, the movie is eventually going to look very dated. But the performances from the cast will make “Freaky” a crowd-pleaser for generations to come. Newton and Vaughn are hilarious to watch as they inhabit the personalities of Millie and The Butcher who are trapped in the wrong bodies. The humor goes a long way in taking some of the disturbing edge off of the horrific murders that are depicted in the movie.

Meanwhile, Osherovich is a total scene stealer who has some of the best lines in the movie. Some people might take issue with how his Josh character might be perceived as a flamboyant gay stereotype. However, Osherovich brings a lot of authenticity and respect to the role, which shows what it’s like to be a teenager who’s proud to be gay. Rather than being marginal tokens, Josh and Nyla actually do a lot of heroic things in the movie.

“Freaky” does a great balancing act of embracing horror clichés in a satirical way while rejecting other horror clichés in a defiant way. And there are a few surprisingly sweet sentimental moments. “Freaky” has some plot holes and very predictable scenes, but that doesn’t take away from how well the cast members portray these characters under the competent direction of Landon. The violence in the movie is cruel, but the movie has an underlying message of tolerance in showing how people shouldn’t be judged by their appearances alone.

Universal Pictures released “Freaky” in U.S. cinemas on November 13, 2020.

Review: ‘Entwined’ (2020), starring Prometheus Aleifer and Anastasia Rafaella Konidi

November 8, 2020

by Carla Hay

Anastasia Rafaella Konidi and Prometheus Aleifer in “Entwined” (Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures)

“Entwined” (2020)

Directed by Minos Nikolakakis

Greek with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Greece (primarily in the fictional village of Alytis), the horror flick “Entwined” has an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A doctor moves to a rural area and gets entangled with a mysterious young woman who is a social outcast and who is believed to be cursed. 

Culture Audience: “Entwined” will appeal primarily to people who like horror movies that focus more on psychological terror and supernatural scares than on bloody gore.

Prometheus Aleifer and Anastasia Rafaella Konidi in “Entwined” (Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures)

“Entwined” is a “slow burn” supernatural movie that entices viewers into a mystical yet suffocating world, much like the seductive actions of the mysterious young woman who is at the center of story’s mystery and intrigue. The movie is a great example of how a film doesn’t need to have a large cast to be effective. “Entwined” also has an underlying message about the ongoing debate of science versus superstition, as well as which belief system should be trusted more. There’s also a more obvious theme about the power of nature and how it can turn on people if the environment is not respected.

Directed by Minos Nikolakakis (in his feature-film debut), “Entwined” is set in present-day Greece, but the story takes place mostly in a part of rural Greece that might as well be stuck in a previous century. A 35-year-old doctor named Panos (played by Prometheus Aleifer) is grieving over the death of his father, who passed away from cancer. The opening scene is of Panos and his older half-brother George (played by John De Holland, who wrote the screenplay for “Entwined”) at their father’s funeral.

Panos is feeling a certain level of guilt that his medical expertise couldn’t save his father, whose chemotherapy treatments weren’t enough to get rid of the cancer. George comforts Panos by saying to him, “You’re going to be a fine doctor. Don’t beat yourself up … Science doesn’t have all the answers, as much as you might want it to.”

Perhaps in an effort to get away from it all, Panos (who is a bachelor with no children) moves from a big city to the rural village of Alytis. (“Entwined” was filmed on location in Mountain Parnonas in the Peloponnese peninsula.) It’s never explained why Panos chose Alytis as the place to relocate. But it’s clear from his first day in the village that he’s really not welcome there, since he’s considered an outsider from a big city. 

There are two elderly people who seem to be the village’s unofficial leaders, and they seem to know everyone else’s business in the village: Mrs. Makri (played by Anna Kozadinou) and an unnamed police officer (played by Manos Vakousis). When Panos arrives, he doesn’t get a warm welcome. Mrs. Makri gruffly tells him that he is Alytis’ first doctor. And when he tries to talk to villagers, they usually turn away and ignore him.

While driving through a deserted forest area in his first day as an Alytis resident, Panos almost has a terrifying car accident when a young woman in her late teens or early 20s (played by Anastasia Rafaella Konidi) suddenly appears in front of his car. He screeches to a halt before he can hit her. She’s lying on the ground and appears to have fainted.

While he tries to revive this stranger and asks if she’s okay, she suddenly wakes up and runs off into the woods without saying a word. Is this the last time that Panos will see this mystery woman? Of course not. This is a horror movie.

Alytis is so small and behind-the-times that the people don’t seem to have televisions or computers. That’s why Panos is lucky enough to at least get cell-phone service. He and his older brother George check in with each other by phone. Panos has a very small medical office in the village, but he has no patients and it doesn’t look like he will get any patients anytime soon because the villagers would rather trust their centuries-old superstitions instead of modern medicine. However, when Panos talks to George over the phone, he lies to George by saying that his medical practice is a big hit in the community.

Out of boredom and curiosity, Panos decides to look for the mystery woman whom he almost hit with his car. He finds her at a small wooden house tucked away deep into the woods. She lets him into the house without hesitation—perhaps a little too quickly, if Panos really thought about it.

Panos introduces himself as the village’s new doctor, and she tells him that her name is Danae. She has an aura of both innocence and worldliness that Panos finds intriguing. Danae tells Panos, “I don’t trust motorcars or their drivers.” (Then why did she let him into her house so quickly?)

Panos makes a sincere apology for almost hitting her with his car. Danae responds by saying that she prefers horses for transportation. He asks to examine her at his office to make sure that she’s not physically hurt. Danae seems very reluctant to venture outside of the woods. Panos also notices that Danae has strange scars on her body. 

There’s some eerie moaning and grunting in the house, which Danae explains is her elderly, overprotective father. She pushes Panos toward the front door and tells him in an urgent and fearful voice to leave before her father wakes up and sees Panos. But just as Panos is making his way back through the woods to his car, the house’s old man (played by Kostas Laskos), who is skeletal with a white, unkempt mane of hair and beard, chases after Panos and breaks a wine bottle near Panos.

Panos is unnerved by this incident. And when he arrives back in residential part of the village, he is frantically approached by a villager named Mrs. Sevasti (played by Aleka Toumazatou), who asks him if she’s seen her missing son. She hold up a picture of a man in his late 20s or early 30s. Panos walks past her in a dismissive manner because he’s got something else on his mind: finding out more about Danae.

The village has a social gathering area where Panos’ doctor office and other business are located. Panos asks about Danae and mentions the scars that he saw on her body, because he’s convinced that she needs medical treatment. Panos overhears the police officer say that Danae is the “cursed girl” in the forest. Mrs. Makri also says, “It’s not our place to help,” while the police officer adds, “God marked the evil ones so we might tell them apart.” Mrs. Makri scolds Panos for thinking that “science has all the answers.”

Within a few minutes of this discussion, Mrs. Savasti appears with a serious, bleeding head wound. Mrs. Makri and the police officer attend to her. Panos tries to help too, by applying some iodine. But the villagers are too suspicious of Panos’ modern medical techniques for him to be allowed to help much more.

The villagers’ warnings about Danae aren’t enough to keep Panos away from her. The suspicion they have toward Danae probably makes him more curious. And so, he goes back to Danae’s house (always unannounced, because it’s not as if Danae has a phone so he can call ahead), and this time he sees something even more disturbing: The old man is having sex with Danae.

Panos confronts the old man, who lunges at him, they get into a physical fight, which ends when Panos pushes the old man, who hits his head on concrete. Panos rushes the old man to his doctor’s office and treats his head wound. When the old man reaches a stable condition, a very distressed Panos goes back to Danae’s house to once again plead with her to get help and report the abuse. He also asks Danae to corroborate that Panos acted in self-defense in the fight.

The rest of the story is about Panos being increasingly drawn into Danae’s world. She has an enchanting effect on him. And she also has some strange quirks, such as insisting that the house’s fireplace remain lit. Panos gets so wrapped up and obsessed with Danae that he cuts himself off from the outside world, much to the dismay of older brother George, who finds it increasingly difficult to get in touch with Panos. George frets to his wife Athena (played by Maria Eglezaki) about this decrease in communication from Panos.

Is Danae some kind of witch? And what about the mysterious disappearance of Mrs. Savasti’s son? Those questions are answered in the movie, which takes a chilling turn in the last third of the film.

Most of “Entwined” consists of scenes of only Panos and Danae together. In these roles, Aelifer and Konidi play well off of each other, as their characters go through various personality arcs and power struggles in their relationship. “Entwined” cinematographer Thodoros Mihopoulos infuses a sense of menace amid the beauty of the forest, since the movie has more than a few hints that the forest might have a life of its own. 

“Entwined” is an impressive feature-film debut from director Nikolakakis and a screenwriter/actor De Holland, because the movie takes a concept that has been done before in many movies (a mysterious young woman seduces an older man) and puts a unique spin on it, by setting it a remote, enigmatic forest in Greece and making the forest almost like another character in the film. The dialogue of “Entwined” isn’t as compelling as what happens in the movie. Rather than cramming the movie with predictable killings from beginning to end, “Entwined” is an alluring story about the type of horror that sneaks up on people who make the mistake of being fooled by outward appearances. 

Dark Star Pictures released “Entwined” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on August 28, 2020, and on digital and VOD on September 8, 2020.

Review: ‘Spell’ (2020), starring Omari Hardwick and Loretta Devine

October 30, 2020

by Carla Hay

Omari Hardwick in “Spell” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Spell” (2020)

Directed by Mark Tonderai

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the rural Appalachian area of West Virginia, the horror flick “Spell” has a predominantly African American cast of characters (with a few white people) representing the poor, middle-class and upper-middle-class.

Culture Clash: After a plane crash, an attorney who’s a family man finds himself held captive by a hoodoo priestess who uses body parts for her potions.

Culture Audience: “Spell” will appeal primarily to people who like to see gory movies with voodoo/hoodoo themes, but the movie has too many dumb plot holes to be considered a quality story.

Omari Hardwick and Loretta Devine in “Spell” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

The horror movie “Spell” has an interesting social theme that is rarely seen in narrative films: The class divide and prejudices that can exist between African Americans who are upper-middle-class and African Americans who have less financial advantages. Unfortunately, this theme, which could have made “Spell” a more interesting film, is squandered and buried in order to go to down yet another predictable and gory horror path. Even the suspenseful scenes are badly handled with plot holes that ruin any credibility that “Spell” hoped to have.

Directed by Mark Tonderai and written by Kurt Wimmer, “Spell” begins with the introduction of the family who will be involved in the fateful plane crash that sets off this movie’s horror. Marquis T. Woods (played by Omari Hardwick) is a successful corporate attorney working in an unnamed big city in the United States. He’s well-respected by his boss Wyman Thatcher (played by Andrew Jacobs) at the law firm.

Marquis is a very tough and very competitive lawyer who doesn’t let the fact that he’s African American get in the way of wanting to win a case if the opponents are also African American. During a conversation between Wyman and Marquis, they discuss a class-action lawsuit where the plaintiffs are African American and the plaintiffs’ attorneys are white. The law firm that Marquis works for is representing the defendants in the lawsuit, and Marquis is the lead attorney in the case.

The exact details of the lawsuit aren’t revealed in the story, but it’s implied that it has to do with accusations of racial discrimination. In other words, Marquis doesn’t really care if people might think of him of being a “race traitor” for representing the defendants in this case. He just wants to win.

He might be a ruthless attorney in the courtroom, but at home, Marquis is a loving and loyal family man with a disciplinarian streak and hints of being a control freak. The movie opens with a somewhat odd scene of Marquis’ wife Veora Woods (played by Lorraine Burroughs) accidentally locked in their bedroom. She pleads with Marquis, who’s on the other side of the door, to break down the door and let her out. He refuses because he says the door cost $1,500.

As a prank, Marquis pretends that he can’t do anything to help her, and he says that he’s going to call a locksmith. It could take more than an hour for locksmith to come over and break the lock and then replace it. Veora says she doesn’t have that kind of time.

After some more begging and pleading from Veora, Marquis finally puts Veora out of her misery and uses a pin to unlock the door. She rushes out with relief, but she’s slightly irritated that Marquis would put her in this uncomfortable situation as a joke. It shows a manipulative side to Marquis that may not be violent, but it demonstrates how he might get some pleasure out of seeing people squirm.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Marquis has an abusive past. When he was a child, his father often beat, tortured and emotionally abused Marquis, who is so haunted by these memories that he still has nightmares about the abuse. (In flashback scenes, Ri-Karlo Handy plays Marquis’ father, while twins Bodhi Tonderai-Hodges and Sahara Tonderai-Hodges portray Marquis as a child.)

Marquis also grew up very poor in the Appalachian area of West Virginia. It’s a past that he left behind 25 years ago and doesn’t want to go back to anytime soon. Marquis hasn’t lied about his personal history of growing up poor and abused, but he’d rather forget that it happened. And it fuels his drive to be as wealthy and successful as possible.

That’s why he’s instilled in his teenage kids—son Tydon “Ty” Woods (played by Kalifa Burton) and daughter Samsara “Sam” Woods (played by Hannah Gonera)—who are both in their mid-teens, a strong sense of wanting them to become high achievers. But with that ambition also comes a certain snobbery where Sam and especially Ty look down on people who are poor and unsophisticated. Ty doesn’t hesitate to call other black people the “n” word if he thinks they’re of a lower class than he is. When Veora hears Ty use this racial slur, she scolds him and tells him that she doesn’t want him to use that language.

In another scene, Veora tells Marquis in front of their kids that she’s worried about the children turning into entitled jerks. Marquis responds by saying, “If I had my way, your son and daughter will spend their lives in a boardroom, not in some jungle I couldn’t get out of fast enough.” Veora says, “Except sometimes, Marq, that jungle comes back to find you, no matter what boardroom you’re hiding in.”

This conversation takes place on a private single-engine, four-seat plane that Marquis is piloting, with Veora, Ty and Sam as the passengers. They are on the plane because Marquis has been notified that his father has died, and the family is going to back to Marquis’ hometown in West Virginia for the funeral and to take care of some other matters related to the death.

Marquis makes a pit stop in a rural area at a small-strip gas station with a convenience store. An elderly man (played by Leo Wringer) who works at the gas station and a young man (played by Tafara Nyatsanza) who happens to be there too are exactly the type of “country” African Americans who make Marquis and Ty uncomfortable. Ty doesn’t do much to hide his condescension, while these two local men think that Marquis and his family are stuck-up city folks.

Marquis and his family aren’t at the gas station for long, when the local sheriff (played by Tumisho Masha) pulls up to find out why this small plane has landed in his jurisdiction. Marquis reminds the sheriff that it’s legal for him to land there, since it’s a single-engine plane. Marquis also shows his pilot license and tells the sheriff why they’re at the gas station. The sheriff is friendly but a little wary of these newcomers.

After the plane is back in the air, a massive storm hits and the plane looks like it’s in danger of crashing. The crash is actually never shown in the movie. The next thing that happens is that Marquis wakes up in a bed in a house attic, with a head injury and his left foot bleeding and bandaged. Where is he and what happened to his family?

Marquis finds out that he’s being held captive at a farmhouse by a woman named Eloise (played by Loretta Devine), a demented voodoo priestess who has a dual persona of being a friendly “church lady” and a wicked witch. Her mood swings are unpredictable, but largely based on whether or not she thinks she’s in control of a situation. She can get menacing very quickly if she thinks Marquis is trying to escape.

Eloise tells Marquis that he was found in the plane crash, and she insists that no one else was with him. Marquis doesn’t quite believe her and he desperately wants to escape and find his wife and kids. Eloise, who calls herself a “root worker,” says that she doesn’t believe in a lot of technology and inventions, such as phones, computers, radios and television.

The rest of the movie is basically a series of attempted escapes by Marquis, who finds out that Eloise uses body parts (human and animal) for her potions and spells. She tells Marquis she can nurse him back to health with the Boogity, a hoodoo doll that she has made from his skin and blood. She blows powdered potion in Marquis’ face to drug him. And later, Marquis witnesses a revival meeting with Eloise working her magic on some local people with disabilities.

Ms. Eloise has two accomplices who help her keep Marquis captive on her rundown farm: Earl (played by John Beasley), who seems to be Eloise’s love partner/common-law-husband, and a hulking handyman named Lewis (played by Steve Mululu), who looks like he’s strong enough to permanently injure someone with his bare hands. Miss Eloise says of Lewis, “People think he’s slow, but there’s nothing slow about him.”

Later, when Marquis asks Eloise if she really believes in the hoodoo that she practices, she responds in an irritated tone, “I guess I have to. We don’t have much in the way of Obamacare around here.” She also responds to Marquis’ obvious condescension toward her beliefs and lifestyle: “You a city boy. You better than all of this.”

There are a few moments where “Spell” goes from being a mildly interesting horror movie to being a disappointing dud with too many plot holes to ignore. The first big nonsensical moment comes when Marquis gets a chance to run away and escape, but instead he sticks around to watch one of Eloise’s revival gatherings. The second and more improbable scenario that plays out is when Marquis removes a very long nail from his injured foot (the nail is so long that it would definitely destroy tendons) and then shoves it back in his foot, for reasons that are shown in the movie.

What’s ludicrous about these scenes with Marquis removing the nail and then putting it back in his foot, is that in real life, he would go into medical shock if he performed those procedures on himself and would most likely pass out from the shock and infections. And yet, he’s still able to run around (with a limp) before and after this self-surgery. It can’t be stressed enough that this is not a tiny nail. The nail is almost as long as his foot. The only reason to have these unrealistic scenes of Marquis removing the nail and slamming it back in his foot is to just have a gross-out scene that people will remember about this movie.

As for the acting in “Spell,” Devine at least seems to be having some fun hamming it up in this role as the unhinged hoodoo priestess Eloise. However, there’s absolutely no real backstory for this character (there’s only small hint), and Eloise ends up being a generic villain after a while. In fact, all of the characters are fairly generic, as are most of the performances in this movie. There are hints of Marquis’ complicated and traumatic personal history, but any further exploration of his troubled past is largely abandoned when the rest of the story becomes about his kidnapping ordeal.

“Spell” needed to bring something fresh and creative to the story, considering that the 1990 Oscar-winning horror film “Misery” already set a gold standard for a movie about a man held captive by an evil woman who does something awful to his legs. The ending of “Spell” is very unimaginative, predictable and feels too rushed. The movie’s production design and cinematography are very effective, but the screenplay and overall direction lack the spark, cohesiveness and personality that are needed to make a better-than-average film. The good news for people turned off by “Spell” is that it’s highly unlikely to get a sequel.

Paramount Pictures released “Spell” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and on VOD on October 30, 2020.

Review: ‘Chop Chop,’ starring Jake Taylor, Atala Arce, David Harper, Mikael Mattsson, Jeremy Jordan, James McCabe and Nicholas Correnti

October 30, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jake Taylor and Atale Arce in “Chop Chop” (Photo courtesy of Kamikaze Dogfight/Gravitas Ventures)

“Chop Chop”

Directed by Rony Patel

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror flick “Chop Chop” has almost all-white cast (with one Latina) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A husband and a wife go on the run after they get involved in a killing spree.

Culture Audience: “Chop Chop” will appeal primarily to people who have the tolerance to watch any horror movie, no matter how terribly made it is.

David Harper in “Chop Chop” (Photo courtesy of Kamikaze Dogfight/Gravitas Ventures)

There are some movies that are so bad that they’re not just excruciating to watch. They’re also the types of movies that are so pointless and nonsensical that even describing them seems like a waste of time. The dreadfully dull and horribly acted “Chop Chop” is one of those movies.

“Chop Chop” is the feature-film debut of Rony Patel (who co-wrote the “Chop Chop” screenplay with Andrew Erickson), and it’s the kind of movie that’s so amateurish that it probably wouldn’t get a passing grade at a mediocre film school. There isn’t one single redeeming quality of “Chop Chop,” except the feeling of relief that it’s over by any viewers who’ve managed to stay awake to watch the movie from beginning to end.

“Chop Chop” is an extremely derivative horror movie that is neither scary nor suspenseful in any way, shape or form. The only reasons why it’s a horror movie are because of the bloody murders and because of the movie’s creepy characters, who are actually more annoying than fearsome. There are some horror flicks that are bad, but at least they’re entertaining because the filmmakers know the movie is bad and have fun with it anyway. “Chop Chop” doesn’t have this self-awareness.

The sloppily written story of “Chop Chop” essentially comes to down to this premise: A married couple named Chuck Matthews (played by Jake Taylor) and Olivia “Liv” Matthews (played by Atala Arce) are home at their apartment one night when an unexpected fateful encounter with a pizza delivery guy sends them on a badly conceived journey where people are kidnapped, assaulted and sometimes killed.

The movie is filled with long, awkward pauses between dialogue. All of the characters often stand around as if in a daze, move slowly, and do things that make no sense whatsoever. The pizza guy is hinted at being someone who’s sinister (he’s seen in the beginning of the movie carrying a plastic bag that seems to have a bloody head in it), but viewers never find out for sure what the pizza guy’s story is, because he dies in the beginning of the movie. In fact, no one in this movie has any backstory or real personality.

The death of the pizza guy, whose name is Teddy (played by David Harper), happens when he shows up unexpectedly one night at the apartment of Chuck and Olivia. When the doorbell rings, Chuck is on the toilet and listening to music on his headphones. Olivia answers the door and tells Teddy (who looks like he’s an Uncle Fester reject from the Addams Family) that they didn’t order any pizza.

As Olivia is about to shut the door, Teddy prevents her. At this point, most people in a situation like this would forcibly shut the door because it’s starting to look like a possible home invasion. But Olivia just stands there and stares at Teddy, while he says of the pizza box he’s holding in his hand, “It’s for you.”

Olivia finally manages to shut the door, but just seconds later, she sees Teddy on the living room couch, watching TV with the remote control in his hand. He gives her a sleazy smile and says, “I have abilities.” How did Freddy get in the apartment so quickly? Is he a supernatural being? “Chop Chop” is so dumb, it never answers those questions.

It isn’t long before Freddy has a meat cleaver in his hand and is about to attack Olivia, but she stabs him in the leg with a kitchen knife. Chuck comes out of the bathroom and overpowers Freddy and hits Freddy until the pizza guy is unconscious on the floor. Instead of calling 911, Chuck says, “God, I’m out of shape.”

And then, Chuck and Olivia talk about what just happened and still don’t call for help. If the movie had a campy or satirical tone, it might be easier to take. But the sense of humor in the film is almost non-existent. “Chop Chop” also has an out-of-place music score that sounds like it came from an obscure, cheesy detective movie from the 1970s.

It comes as no surprise that Freddy suddenly regains consciousness and is about to attack again while he’s lying on the floor. Olivia steps on Freddy’s neck, which kills him. While Chuck thinks that they should call the police, Olivia is completely against the idea. And then, “Chop Chop” takes the point of no return into the Garbage Dump of Irredeemably Bad Horror Movies. Chuck and Olivia, who could easily claim self-defense in this killing, decide not to call for help. Instead, they decide to dismember Freddy’s body in their shower.

Meanwhile, a plainclothes police officer named Detective Minaya (played by Jeremy Jordan, not to be confused with the Broadway/TV actor Jeremy Jordan) has been looking for the pizza guy, who is apparently suspected of murder. He has the pizza guy’s description and license plate number. Detective Minaya does not have a cop partner in this movie, not just because this low-budget film probably couldn’t afford to hire another actor, but mainly because this movie has too many other problems with its illogical plot.

Chuck and Olivia are suddenly seen in their car in a dark and empty outdoor parking lot. And who happens to roll up in his car and ask what they’re doing there? Detective Minaya, of course. Without giving away too much of this movie’s almost non-existent plot, Olivia ends up hitting Detective Minaya on the head with a tire iron, and Chuck and Olivia put him in the back of the trunk because the cop appears to be dead.

And so begins Chuck and Olivia’s outlaw life on the run, where they encounter more boring and stupid people just like them. Chuck calls a shady female friend named Rex (played by Natasha Missick) to help him and Olivia. Rex tells Chuck to pick up a package from a lowlife named Jeffrey (played by James McCabe), and then Chuck has to deliver the package somewhere else.

When Chuck arrives at Jeffrey’s scuzzy place, he’s followed around suspiciously by Jeffrey’s jealous boyfriend (played by Nicholas Correnti), who keeps asking Chuck: “You ain’t fucked my man, right?” While at Jeffrey’s place, Chuck meets someone named Butch (also played by Harper), who looks exactly like the pizza guy Teddy. (Butch and Teddy are supposed to be twins.)

Jeffrey describes Butch as “the best sword craftsman in the business.” It’s at this point that you know that Butch is going to pull out a sword at some point in the movie. But before that happens, Chuck leaves Jeffrey’s place with the “package,” which is really the size of a cologne box, because he has to deliver it to another sleazeball named Clark (played by Mikael Mattson), who lives on an isolated farm.

The movie doesn’t get any better, as it slogs from one tedious scene to the next. Even the violence in the movie is monotonous. In addition to the soulless acting, “Chop Chop” has nothing but cringeworthy dialogue. At one point, Chuck and Olivia are held captive somewhere, and their kidnapper says to Olivia: “I can’t wait to slice you like string cheese.” And then he makes a slurping noise. “Chop Chop” is the worst type of mindless horror movie, because instead of viewers reacting with screams or chills, viewers are more likely to react with yawns and snores.

Kamikaze Dogfight and Gravitas Ventures released “Chop Chop” on digital and VOD on October 20, 2020.

Review: ‘Come Play,’ starring Gillian Jacobs, John Gallagher Jr., Azhy Robertson and Winslow Fegley

October 30, 2020

by Carla Hay

John Gallagher Jr., Azhy Robertson and Gillian Jacobs in “Come Play” (Photo by Jasper Savage/Amblin Partners/Focus Features)

“Come Play”

Directed by Jacob Chase

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror film “Come Play” has a predominantly white cast (with some African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A mute autistic boy comes across a mysterious computer app where a sinister creature named Larry wants to make a human friend.

Culture Audience: “Come Play” will appeal primarily to people who like horror movies that have a simple story, good visual effects and scares that aren’t very bloody or gruesome, but other viewers might be easily bored by the repetitive nature of this story.

Gavin MacIver-Wright, Winslow Fegley, Azhy Robertson and Jayden Marine as “Mateo” in “Come Play” (Photo by Jasper Savage/Amblin Partners/Focus Features)

“Come Play” is the type of horror movie that would have been better off as a short film. Although “Come Play” benefits from better-than-average performances from the movie’s main actors, and the final third of the film is the most impactful, the movie’s concept ultimately stretches too thin for a feature-length film. There are too many long sections of the movie that become repetitive and dull before the climactic “showdown” scene. “Come Play” will also draw inevitable comparisons to writer/director Jennifer Kent’s far-superior 2014 horror film “The Babadook,” a movie that’s also about a sinister creature that lives in the pages of a children’s story, and the creature can transport itself into the world when people read the story.

Written and directed by Jacob Chase, “Come Play” (which is based on Chase’s short film “Larry”) demonstrates that he has a good eye for creating the right spooky atmosphere in the right places. The casting for this movie is also well-done. However, the first two-thirds of the film are essentially a repeat loop of a mute kid trying to convince his parents that an evil monster lives in a spooky story app that keeps showing up mysteriously on his computer tablet and phone. His frustration over not being believed becomes tedious to watch after a while, because it doesn’t progress the story until one of his parents start to believe him more than the other parent.

The 8-year-old child at the center of the story is Oliver (played by Azhy Robertson, in a terrific performance), who is autistic and mute. Oliver communicates through a talking computer device that can say the words that he selects. Oliver’s autism has not prevented him from going to a regular public school, but in the beginning of the movie, it’s shown that he is an outcast and a loner at school.

Oliver’s well-meaning parents are Sarah (played by Gillian Jacobs) and Marty (played by John Gallagher Jr.), who end up separating during this story. Their separation had already been decided before this story took place, and there are hints that Marty is going to be the one who moves out of the house. In the opening scene, Marty is sleeping on the couch, while Sarah is sleeping alone in their bedroom. And there are some packed boxes in the living room, as if he’s already started his move out of the home.

Oliver doesn’t know yet that his parents have decided to split up when he first encounters the creepy monster named Larry. The creature is a skeletal, hunched-over figure that Oliver first sees as an illustration in a children’s story app called “Misunderstood Monsters” that shows up on his computer tablet one night when he’s lying awake in bed. As Oliver swipes through the pages of this story, he sees these words: “This is Larry. Larry never gets to play pretend. He gets made fun of because he’s different. Larry just wants a friend.”

When Oliver gets to another page screen on the tablet, the lights suddenly go off in his room and in the hallway outside of his room. And then he hears the sound of dragging footsteps that get closer and closer, until he screams. And then, Oliver’s mother Sarah comes in the room and tells Oliver that he must have had a nightmare.

The pattern happens every time someone looks at the “Misunderstood Monsters” app and reads Larry’s story. The only variations are when Larry “appears” or seems to appear, Larry sometimes does something a little different. Larry might be crouched in a corner of the living room or kitchen. Larry might be lurking in a hallway. Eventually, it’s revealed that when any computer device with the Larry story is aimed right at Larry, the creature can only be seen on the device’s camera.

When the Larry creature is shown in its full-body entirety, the visuals effects are fairly good, but not uniquely impressive enough, considering that the “skeleton man” archetype has been used before in many other horror movies. But since “Come Play” isn’t a gory horror movie, Larry doesn’t seem to be a vicious murderer. If he does want someone to play with, how is that going to happen?

Even if Oliver tries to stop using his computer tablet and hides it, Larry has a way of coming back into Oliver’s life. Marty works the late shift as a security guard in an outdoor parking lot. For whatever reason, in one of those “only in a movie” coincidences, Marty sees a computer tablet that was in the lost-and-found bin at his work station. This tablet has the Larry story on it, and Marty starts reading it while he’s on the job. Several lights in the parking lot suddenly go out. And then, cars in the parking lot start blink their lights or mysteriously revving their engines.

Marty thinks it’s a freak electricity malfunction, but viewers of “Come Play” know better. Marty brings home the computer tablet and gives the tablet to Oliver as a replacement for the one that Byron threw away in the field. And with that, Larry is back in the family home and back in Oliver’s life.

The plot of “Come Play” is a little too flimsy to be sustained with these mild scares. It’s not a spoiler to reveal that the movie never really explains why Larry has targeted this family, although viewers can assume that Oliver’s “outcast” loneliness might have been what attracted Larry. At one point in the story, Larry tells Oliver through computer language: “Your parents want you to be normal. I just want to be your friend.” Oliver is the first one in the family to see Larry, but eventually, Oliver’s not the only one.

Even though there are some Larry moments that are genuinely creepy, there’s absolutely no context of how Larry came into existence and how long Larry has possibly existed. The simple plot of this movie really is that a monster comes after a boy, who has a hard time convincing his parents and everyone around him that what he’s experiencing is real. The adults predictably think that Oliver just has an active imagination.

And then there’s the cliché horror subplot of a bully who gets a comeuppance. Oliver is bullied by a brat named Byron (played by Winslow Fegley), who is in the same class as Oliver at school. One day, Byron and two of his cronies—Zach (played by Gavin MacIver-Wright) and Mateo (played by Jaden Marine)—lure Oliver into a deserted field. After some taunting and roughing up of Oliver, who calls Byron “ugly” in response, Byron gets so angry that he takes Oliver’s talking device and throws it so far into the field that Oliver can’t find it.

Why does Byron seem to hate Oliver so much? It turns out that Byron and Oliver used to be best friends, but they had a falling out, and Byron still has a lot of resentment over it. Bryon’s mother Jennifer (played by Rachel Wilson) was also a close friend of Sarah’s, but when their sons stopped being friends, Jennifer and Sarah grew distant from each other too. The details of these estrangements are revealed later in the film, because it’s the catalyst for the story’s more sentimental emotional moments.

After the bullying incident in the field, Sarah decides the best way to end the bullying is to try to get Byron to become friends with Oliver again. Sarah invites Byron to come to their house for a sleepover with Oliver, but Byron will only accept the invitation if he can bring Zach and Mateo with him. It’s during this sleepover that Byron, Mateo and Zach find out about Larry the monster.

Sarah isn’t just trying to repair Oliver’s relationship with Byron. She’s trying to improve her relationship with Oliver. As a homemaker, Sarah spends more time with Oliver than Marty does, and that becomes even more so after Marty moves out of the house. Sarah is the one who accompanies Oliver to his speech therapy sessions, while Marty makes excuses not to go or he has work commitments that prevent him from being there.

Sarah is also the parent who’s more of a disciplinarian, while Marty tends to be more lenient with Oliver. Therefore, Sarah thinks Oliver loves her less than he loves Marty because she’s not the “fun” parent. It’s caused some long-simmering resentment that Sarah has toward Marty, although it’s unclear how much this resentment has caused their marriage to deteriorate. In fact, it’s never really explained why Sarah and Marty broke up, but apparently, the breakup was a long time coming.

It’s an example of how parts of this story are too vague and why this movie would’ve worked better as a short film. A feature-length film can and should have time for more context so viewers can have better insight into the characters’ personalities. Jacobs and Gallagher are very good in their roles, but their characters are just a little too generic for this story.

As for Robertson, he’s by far the best aspect of this movie. Because Oliver is mute, Robertson has to do a lot of acting with his wonderfully expressive face. And even though his character doesn’t use his mouth to talk, Robertson is still able to convey a lot of emotions that will endear people to Oliver. It’s refreshing to see an autistic character portrayed in a way that is poignant yet not exploitative.

Unfortunately, by the time the action really heats up by the end of the film, it’s somewhat diluted when Sarah and Oliver are hiding under a bed and are supposed to be quiet, but then Sarah uses that moment to have a whispered heart-to-heart talk with Oliver. It doesn’t make sense to drop this conversation in the moment where they’re supposed to be the most silent. Even though “Come Play” has a touching message about the strength of a mother’s love, that message is not enough to overcome all the time that’s wasted where not much happens in the movie except a slightly varied rehash of several other scenes.

Focus Features released “Come Play” in U.S. cinemas in October 30, 2020.

Review: ‘Don’t Look Back’ (2020), starring Kourtney Bell, Skyler Hart, Will Stout, Jeremy Holm, Jaqueline Fleming, Damon Lipari and Dean J. West

October 29, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kourtney Bell in “Don’t Look Back” (Photo courtesy of Kamikaze Dogfight/Gravitas Ventures)

“Don’t Look Back” (2020)

Directed by Jeffrey Reddick

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror film “Don’t Look Back” features a predominantly white cast (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Six witnesses to a homicide seem to be targeted by a vengeful killer because the witnesses stood by and didn’t do anything sooner to help the homicide victim.

Culture Audience: “Don’t Look Back” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching low-budget horror flicks with an unimaginative story, big plot holes and mediocre acting.

Dean J. West in “Don’t Look Back” (Photo courtesy of Kamikaze Dogfight/Gravitas Ventures)

The horror movie “Don’t Look Back” was written and directed by Jeffrey Reddick, the writer/creator of the “Final Destination” horror-movie series, which featured survivors of various traumas who are haunted and killed off, one by one, by mysterious forces. (Each “Final Destination” movie had a deadly trauma, including a plane crash, a multi-car accident, a building collapse, and a roller-coaster derailment.) Reddick brings a similar premise to the subpar “Don’t Look Back,” a story about witnesses to a murder who become the targets of supernatural terror and serial killings. Unfortunately, “Don’t Look Back” has too many predictable clichés and too many shoddily written scenes for it to be considered “so bad it’s good.” It’s just plain bad.

“Don’t Look Back” has this over-used horror stereotype: the protagonist is a young female with a “good girl” image. However, the “Don’t Look Back” filmmakers at least defied racial stereotypes in horror movies, by casting the lead character Caitlin Kramer (played by Kourtney Bell) as an African American woman. Usually in horror movies, when an African American woman is the lead character, the rest of the cast is predominantly African American too. (One of the few exceptions is 2019’s “Ma,” starring Octavia Spencer.)

Caitlin’s race is never mentioned in the movie, because it doesn’t need to be. Even though “Don’t Look Back” is not a typical horror movie in its racial casting for the main protagonist, it still doesn’t erase the movie’s biggest flaw: the very hackneyed screenplay. People who’ve seen enough horror movies will be able to easily predict exactly how this story is going to go. But the movie’s ending still manages to disappoint because it comes across as a bad parody instead of something that should be terrifying.

“Don’t Look Back,” which takes place in an unnamed city, begins on Caitlin’s birthday, which is on August 27. The number 27 is repeatedly brought up in the movie as a symbolic number. But ultimately, it’s an element of the plot that’s not very important in figuring out who’s going to be next target of the murderous rampage in the story.

Caitlin (who appears to be in her mid-20s) is spending a quiet birthday with her widowed father (played by Orlando Eric Street) at their house. It’s morning, and he’s just made her some birthday pancakes, when the doorbell rings. Caitlin answers the door, and two masked intruders with guns burst in the home, while one of the home invaders asks Caitlin’s father: “Where’s the money?”

Caitlin and her father barely have time to react before they’re both shot. Caitlin survives, but her father doesn’t. Caitlin’s hospitalization is never seen in the movie, but she mentions later in the story that she was “dead” for three minutes. And she starts to believe that her near-death experience has given her psychic abilities or at least the ability to see dead people.

After the home invasion, the movie flashes forward to an unspecified time, but it can be assumed that it’s at least a year later. Caitlin is in therapy. She’s feeling survivor’s guilt and she’s also experiencing nightmares. She’s still living in the same house where the murder happened. But this time, she has a loving and supporting live-in boyfriend named Josh Bowman (played by Skyler Hart), who suggests that they move to a new home. However, Caitlin is reluctant to move because the house has too many memories of her father that Caitlin doesn’t want to leave behind.

Caitlin is trying to get her life back on track, because in one of the movie’s early scenes, she mentions to Josh that she “asked the school for my job back,” which is an indication that she stopped working during her recovery. There isn’t much context to these movie’s characters. For example, it’s never explained how long Caitlin and Josh have been together or how they met, but it’s briefly mentioned that Josh is a rising star at his unnamed corporate business job.

One day, while Caitlin is jogging in a public leisure area called Bristol Park, she accidentally drops her thermos. A stranger walking near her kindly returns the thermos to her. They introduce themselves to each other—he says his name is Douglas (played by Dean J. West)—and Caitlin thanks him and is about to continue on her way. But within seconds, she sees another man (played by Eric Stratemeier) run up to Douglas and start viciously attacking and beating up Douglas.

Caitlin and other people who are witnessing this assault stand by in shock. One of the bystanders takes out his phone and begins video recording the attack. Before Douglas collapses, he manages to gasp out, “Help me.” Caitlin snaps out of her shock and grabs the bystander’s phone and calls 911 for help.

However, several hours later, it’s reported in the news that Douglas died from his injuries, and his murderer is still on the loose. The murder victim was Douglas Helton, a local philanthropist who was well-respected in the community. One of Douglas’ ongoing charity endeavors was building shelters for victims of domestic violence.

The murder becomes a high-profile story in the news, and the people who were the bystanders to Douglas’ murder get a lot of criticism from the media and the general public. Rainn Wilson has a cameo in the movie as a TV news host named George Reed, who verbally blasts these bystanders and tries to portray them as complicit in the murder of Douglas. Some people in the general public think that the bystanders should be arrested, even though technically the bystanders didn’t do anything illegal during this murder.

At first, the public only knows the identity of one of the bystanders: computer programmer Nathan Rome (played by Stephen Twardokus), the man who recorded the murder on his phone in a video that has gone viral. Nathan is interviewed on George’s news program to defend his actions of video recording the assault instead of calling for help. Nathan explains that he didn’t call for help because he didn’t know if he would be attacked too. It’s an excuse that doesn’t help Nathan look more sympathetic, and there’s further backlash from the public.

In addition to Caitlin and Nathan, the other bystanders (who are mostly in their mid-to-late 30s) are single mother Althea Minnis (played Jaqueline Fleming); Tony Cusumano (played by Han Soto); Curt Miley (Damon Lipari); and hair stylist Maria Sanchez (played by Amanda Grace Benitez), who appears to be in her late 20s. The lead police investigator on the case is Detective Boyd (played by Jeremy Holm), who is written as a somewhat generic homicide cop.

Caitlin attends a candlelight vigil for murder victim Douglas. The vigil, which takes place at the site where the murder happened, was organized by Douglas’ brother Lucas (played by Will Stout), who is handing out flyers at the vigil for an upcoming memorial tribute to Douglas. Caitlin and Althea see each other at the vigil. They introduce themselves to each other and talk about how they’re dealing with the trauma of witnessing the murder and how the public is judging them for being bystanders.

As the two women are talking, Lucas happens to walk up to them to give them memorial flyers, and he asks Caitlin and Althea how they knew Douglas. The two women lie and tell Lucas that they used to work with Douglas. A guilt-ridden Caitlin and Althea go their separate ways and don’t show any interest in keeping in touch with each other.

But then, while Caitlin is looking mournfully at scene of the crime, which is decorated with flowers and candles, she whispers, “Please forgive me.” And all the candles are suddenly extinguished. Cue the spooky music.

The rest of the movie shows Caitlin experiencing visions of a bloodied and menacing Douglas appearing to her at random times, either in her dreams or when she’s awake. Caitlin then takes it upon herself to play private investigator when some of the other bystanders start to die from gruesome deaths. Caitlin doesn’t think that these deaths are a coincidence. And every time something bad is about to happen, a crow appears nearby.

The first bystander to die is Nathan. And it’s one of the more ludicrous scenes in the movie. After Douglas has died, Caitlin and Josh are having a nighttime meal outside of a bistro. At a nearby table, two gay boyfriends are looking at Nathan’s bystander video on their phone and commenting out loud about the brutality of the attack video. One of the men mentions the coincidence that Nathan happens to live in an apartment that’s located right above the bistro.

Caitlin notices a crow standing on a nearby garbage can. Seconds later, Nathan falls out of an open window, right in front of Caitlin and Josh. This body plunge causes instant death to Nathan. Caitlin quickly looks up and briefly sees a shadowy figure in the apartment window from where Nathan fell. Even though the police later found a suicide note in the apartment, Caitlin is pretty sure that Nathan’s death was a murder, not a suicide.

She takes her suspicions to a skeptical Detective Boyd, who calls in Caitlin and the other bystanders to Douglas’ murder to meet at the police station for further questioning. While these witnesses are all waiting in a police conference room, Lucas happens to be at the police station too. When Lucas passes by the conference room (another “coincidence” that’s too convenient), he figures out that all the people in the room are the bystanders who witnessed Douglas’ murder. Lucas has a very angry response when he confronts them in the room, and he’s particularly incensed that Caitlin and Althea lied to him about who they really are.

Not long after that confrontation, Lucas holds a press conference, where he names and shames the bystanders. As a result, the bystanders get even more public scorn and backlash. For example, Althea, who’s a single mother to a teenage son, gets spit at in the face by a random woman while Althea and her son are walking down the street. Maria loses customers at the hair salon where she works. It’s eventually revealed in the movie that Maria is Curt’s mistress, and she was on a date with Curt on that fateful day in the park, so Curt’s wife finds out and leaves him. Predictably gory deaths soon follow.

There’s a minor subplot about how Caitlin and Josh are very different when it comes to spiritual issues. Caitlin is a religious Christian who goes to church on a regular basis. Josh is an atheist or non-religious. And on the rare occasion that Josh goes to church with Caitlin, it’s only because he wants to be polite and show her support. “Mad Men” alum Bryan Batt has a brief and inconsequential cameo as Reverend Farmer, the pastor for Caitlin’s church.

The differences between Caitlin and Josh when it comes to spiritual beliefs are in the movie to make sure that Josh, the person closet to Caitlin, is skeptical of her ghostly visions of Douglas. Caitlin becomes increasingly suspicious that an evil spirit is targeting her and the rest of the bystanders. But some people in the story start to think she’s becoming mentally unstable.

It doesn’t help that Caitlin happens to be at the crime scene every time one of her fellow bystanders dies. Guess who becomes a “person of interest” in these mysterious deaths? And when the murdered body count starts to pile up in a short period of time, it leads to a very formulaic showdown, because we all know which of the bystanders will be the last one standing. There are two surprise “twists” toward the end of film that are easily predicted and not very surprising at all. And because the crow is over-used in the movie to signal when something bad is going to happen, that obvious foreshadowing leaves no room for suspense whatsoever.

“Don’t Look Back” could have been a better film if it didn’t rip off other movies that have had similar concepts. Overall, Bell (as beleaguered heroine Caitlin) does an adequate performance, as do the most of the film’s other actors, but there’s not much more that can be elevated when the screenplay is of such low quality. “Don’t Look Back” is also directed in a substandard way that is not very terrifying. There are many other horror films that have set the bar very high for true originality and creativity, but “Don’t Look Back” prefers to stay in the low depths of horror clichés that are the equivalent of recycled garbage.

Kamikaze Dogfight and Gravitas Ventures released “Don’t Look Back” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on October 16, 2020.

Review: ‘The Craft: Legacy,’ starring Cailee Spaeny, Zoey Luna, Gideon Adlon, Lovie Simone, David Duchovny and Michelle Monaghan

October 28, 2020

by Carla Hay

Lovie Simone, Gideon Adlon, Cailee Spaeny and Zoey Luna in “The Craft: Legacy” (Photo courtesy of Rafy Photography/Columbia Pictures)

“The Craft: Legacy” 

Directed by Zoe Lister-Jones

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, “The Craft: Legacy” features a predominantly white cast (with some Latinos and African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Four teenage witches use their witchcraft to turn a school bully into a politically correct, enlightened person, but they find out these actions cause a major backlash.

Culture Audience: “The Craft: Legacy” will appeal primarily to people who like stories about witches that play it very safe. 

David Duchovny, Michelle Monaghan and Cailee Spaeny in “The Craft: Legacy” (Photo courtesy of Rafy Photography/Columbia Pictures)

Just like Blumhouse Productions’ 2019 remake of the sorority horror flick “Black Christmas,” the foundation of Blumhouse Productions’ 2020 teenage witch film “The Craft: Legacy” (a reimagining of the 1996 movie “The Craft”) is about empowering women in the #MeToo feminist era. But “The Craft: Legacy” (written and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones) makes the same mistake that the 2019 remake of “Black Christmas” did: By telegraphing these feminist intentions so early in the movie, it’s very easy to figure out who the “villains” are in the story.

The heavy-handed preachiness of “The Craft: Legacy” would be easier to take if the movie delivered a better story that wasn’t filled with major plot holes and had a more consistent tone. This movie needed more horror gravitas and more impressive visual effects instead of ill-suited comedic bits and cheap-looking visual effects that weaken the story’s message.

There are parts of “The Craft: Legacy” that work fairly well: The cast members do adequately good jobs in their roles, and there’s a realistic handling of awkward issues in blended families. But too many other parts of the movie don’t work well at all and are at times quite dull and predictable.

“Black Christmas” and its remakes at least made concerted efforts to be terrifying. By contrast, “The Craft: Legacy,” which obviously has a younger audience in mind than an adult-oriented slasher flick like “Black Christmas,” only has mild scares that are disappointing and often take a back seat to the movie wanting to look more like a teen drama than a horror film. That doesn’t mean that “The Craft: Legacy” had to have a lot of gore, but there are several noteworthy horror movies that are suitable for underage audiences and are still able to be effectively terrifying. Some examples include 1982’s “Poltergeist,” 2001’s “The Others” and 2002’s “The Ring.”

The basic premise of “The Craft” remains intact in “The Craft: Legacy.” Three teenage witches, who are social outcasts at their high school in an unnamed U.S. city, are powerless because they need a fourth witch to complete the circle of their coven. They find out that a new outsider girl at their school is also a witch, and they invite her to join their coven. The four teen witches then use their newfound magical powers to make their wishes come true and get revenge on people who hurt them in some way. The “new girl” is the story’s main protagonist.

In “The Craft,” Neve Campbell, Fairuza Balk, and Rachel True were the original trio of witches, while Robin Tunney played the “new girl” invited into the coven. In “The Craft: Legacy,” the “new girl” is Lily Schechner (played by Cailee Spaeny), while the original coven trio consists of sassy transgender Lourdes (played by Zoey Luna), goofy jokester Frankie (played by Gideon Adlon) and Afrocentric-minded Tabby (played by Lovie Simone).

Spaeny gets the most screen time of the four, and she does a fairly good job in portraying Lily’s angst, although she’s not as assertive as Tunney’s “newbie” character in “The Craft.” Lily is the only one of the four witches whose home life and family are shown in the movie. It’s a big change from the 1996 “The Craft,” where viewers got to see the home lives and family members of three out of the four witches.

Luna is memorable as Lourdes, the member of the coven who’s the most emotionally mature and the unofficial “alpha female” of the group. Adlon will either delight or annoy people with how she portrays Frankie, whose hyperactive and somewhat ditzy energy can get on people’s nerves after a while. Just like True’s character in “The Craft” movie, Simone plays the “supportive friend” whose personality is overshadowed by the other members of the coven.

“The Craft” was set in a private Catholic school where the students had to wear uniforms, whereas “The Craft: Legacy” is set in a regular public school. It’s a change of setting that alters the impact of what being an “outsider” in the school really means. Someone who wears Goth makeup (as does one of the teenage witches in each “Craft” movie) and who’s suspected of being a witch is less likely to be a considered a rebel or an outcast at a public school, compared to a private Catholic school with strict policies about religion, hair, clothes and makeup.

Because the school in the original “The Craft” movie was a private institution, there was more of an elitist aura to the school, which made the teen witches’ “outsider” status a little bit more socially dangerous for them at the school. The World Wide Web was fairly new in the mid-1990s. Social media and smartphones didn’t exist back then. Therefore, the teen witches of “The Craft” probably felt more isolated for being “different” than they would be in modern times when they could find other like-minded people on the Internet.

In “The Craft: Legacy,” social media is not seen or mentioned at all, which is probably writer/director Lister-Jones’ way of trying not to make the movie look too dated when it’s viewed years from now. In fact, the movie has several “throwback” nods to pop culture from a past era. For example, during a car ride, Lily and her mother sing Alanis Morissette’s 1995 hit “Hand in My Pocket.” And in multiple scenes, Lourdes uses a Polaroid camera.

Lily is a pixie-ish and introverted only child who has recently moved to the area with her single mother Helen Schechner (played by Michelle Monaghan), who is a therapist from New Jersey. Lily mentions later in the story that she doesn’t know who her father is, and Helen has never told her. Helen and Lily have relocated because Helen is moving in with her boyfriend Adam Harrison (played by David Duchovny), a motivational speaker/author whose specialty is giving empowering advice and self-help therapy for men.

Adam has three teenage sons, who are introduced to Lily for the first time on the day that Lily and Helen arrive to move into their two-story house. Oldest son Isaiah (played by Donald MacLean Jr.) is about 17 years old. Middle son Jacob (played by Charles Vandervaart) is about 16 years old. Youngest son Abe (played by Julian Grey) is about 14 years old. People who see this movie and have knowledge of Judeo-Christian history will notice right away how biblical these names are.

Isaiah is a “strong, silent type” who’s somewhat of an enigma. Jacob is a popular but brooding heartthrob at school. (Goofball witch Frankie has a mild crush on Jacob.) Abe seems to be the kindest and most sensitive of the three brothers, and he’s the only one of the brothers to attempt to befriend Lily. It’s strange that Helen and Adam would wait until move-in day for their children to meet each other for the first time, but there are stranger things that have happened in real life.

Meanwhile, although Adam isn’t overtly sexist, he is very much about male bonding and men’s rights. Living with two females in the house is quite an adjustment for him and his sons. (The mother of Adam’s sons is not seen or mentioned in the movie.) Adam spends a lot of time traveling to host male-only retreats, where he helps men get in touch with their masculinity and innermost feelings. Adam has a mantra that he instills in his sons and his followers: “Power is order.”

Lily’s mother Helen has a different view of power: She constantly tells Lily, “Your differences are your power.” It’s clear that Lily and Helen both know that Lily has supernatural powers, but Lily hasn’t been able to harness those powers for anything major that would fully expose her for being a witch. That is, until she joins the coven.

Adam has gotten notoriety for a book called “Hollowed Masculinity,” which basically preaches that men shouldn’t be afraid of or apologetic for being dominant leaders. One day, while Lily is getting to know the different rooms in her new home, she goes in the home’s study/library and sees the book. When she picks up the book, she drops it quickly, as if the book could’ve burned her. This movie is not subtle at all.

Just like in “The Craft,” there’s a school bully who gets put under a spell by the witches. In “The Craft: Legacy,” the bully’s name is Timmy (played by Nicholas Galitzine), and he happens to be Jacob’s best friend. Lily has a humiliating experience in her first day at the school, when she gets her menstrual period while she’s sitting down at a desk in class. Lily doesn’t know that she’s gotten her period until Timmy announces it and points out the blood on the floor to everyone in the class. “Did you drop something?” Timmy sneers. And then he cruelly adds, “It looks like a crime scene.”

A mortified Lily runs into a restroom and locks herself into a stall to clean up after herself. And she’s soon followed by Lourdes, Frankie and Tabby, who give her sympathy and tell Lily that Timmy has bullied them too. Tabby offers her gym shorts for Lily to wear, since Lily’s jeans are too bloody to put back on again. It’s a generous and kind gesture that goes a long way, because Lily ultimately befriends this trio.

Another big difference between “The Craft” and “The Craft: Legacy” is that the newcomer fourth witch joins the coven a lot quicker in “The Craft: Legacy.” Lily becomes a part of their group within a few days of knowing Lourdes, Frankie and Tabby. They begin to suspect that Lily’s a witch when Timmy taunts Lily again in the school hallway, and she’s able to throw Timmy up against a locker and make him fall down, just by using her mind. This incident puts both Timmy and Lily in detention.

While she’s in detention, Lily begins to hear the voices of the other witches talking to her in her mind. They tell her to meet them in a hallway restroom, and she does. And that’s how Lourdes, Frankie and Tabby are able to confirm that Lily is a witch too. Not long after that, all of four of them start doing spell experiments, such as levitating, before they decide to unleash their full powers. And just like in the first “Craft” movie, snakes and butterflies are in some scenes in the movie where supernatural things happen.

One of the frustrating things about “The Craft: Legacy” is that it doesn’t really expound on the unique powers that each witch has in this coven. Lourdes represents the north, with her power derived from the earth. Frankie’s power represents the east, with her power derived from air. Tabby’s power represents the south, with her power derived from fire. And to complete the circle, Lily’s power represents the west, with her power derived from water.

You would think that these specific powers would be incorporated more into the spells that they cast on people. But aside from some cutesy colors that swirl around when they chant, their unique powers are all talk and almost no action. There are lots of ways to cause witchcraft terror by using the earth, air, fire or water, but those avenues are not fully explored in this movie. Maybe the movie’s budget was too low for the visual effects that would be needed.

And speaking of visual effects, the witch characters in “The Craft: Legacy” mention being fans of the 2008 teen vampire film “Twilight” multiple times. And it’s somewhat ironic, because the much-ridiculed “sparkling vampire” aspects of “Twilight” get sort of a nod in “The Craft: Legacy,” in scenes where there are sparkly effects around the witches, most notably when Lily takes a bath in sparkly purple water.

It’s an aesthetic that’s more like “My Little Pony” instead of “Mistress of the Dark,” and it’s really hard to take “The Craft: Legacy” seriously as a horror movie at that point. There are scenes in the Disney movie “Maleficent” that are scarier than “The Craft: Legacy,” and that’s a major disappointment because Blumhouse movies shouldn’t skimp on the scares.

Another aspect of the film that’s dangled in front of viewers and never quite comes to fruition is that it’s mentioned fairly early on that the foursome coven will get to enact four stages of their full powers: Stage One is telekinesis. Stage Two is mind infiltration. Stage Four is shapeshifting. Frankie tells Lily that Stage Three will be revealed later. But that reveal is another big disappointment. And the shapeshifting (which was used to great effect in the 1996 “Craft” movie) becomes an abandoned idea for the witches in “The Craft: Legacy.”

Whereas the original “Craft” movie had the over-the-top, unhinged performance of Balk as the “loose cannon” witch of the group, there is no such unpredictable personality in this “Craft: Legacy” coven. In fact, all of the witches in this coven are extremely cautious of not going too far to hurt people. If you can believe it, these witches are too politically correct, which doesn’t really work in a story that’s supposed to be about teen witches who want to get revenge on people who’ve tormented them.

Instead of a variety of individual spells that made the original “Craft” movie entertaining to watch, the story of “The Craft: Legacy” focuses on one big group spell, which they put on Timmy. After the spell, he goes from being a sexist bully to a “woke” guy who’s a walking stereotype of an uber-sensitive, progressive liberal. While that mindset might be scary to people on certain ends of the political spectrum, this movie should have been more about horror instead of the political leanings of people who aren’t even old enough to vote.

“The Craft” had a spell put on the class bully so that he would be lovesick over the newbie witch. “The Craft: Legacy” goes one step further and makes the reformed bully not only a potential love interest for the newbie witch (Lily), but he also becomes a feminist who would rather pal around with all four of the witches than hang out with his male buddies. It’s the movie’s way of saying that men can be feminists too, but the message ultimately isn’t that great if the only way a male in this story becomes an “enlightened” feminist is if he’s “tricked” into it by a witch’s spell.

Galitzine is quite good in his role as Timmy, who goes through this drastic personality change. One of the best scenes in the movie is when Timmy and his four new gal pals hang out together and confess some of their biggest secrets. Timmy’s biggest secret is one of the movie’s few major surprises. It’s an emotional scene, but it’s completely different from the “jokey teen antics” tone that the movie was going for in the first half of the film.

After Timmy’s secret is revealed, things take a dark turn in the movie, which would’ve benefited from a dark tone from the beginning. But by the time the big showdown happens at the end of the movie, there are two major plot holes that just can’t redeem this disappointing film.

The first major plot hole involves a “bound spell” that prevents a witch or witches from casting any more spells to do harm. And yet during the big showdown, this “bound spell” is completely forgotten in the plot, as if it never happened. The second big plot hole involves the reveal of the chief villain, who should have several allies in the movie’s climactic showdown, but the villain inexplicably and strangely is the only adversary in this big fight.

And this crucial action sequence in the movie is more talk than suspenseful action. The action just brings more sparkles instead of true terror. There are other parts of the movie that are even more tedious and might induce boredom or the urge to go to sleep.

There’s a “surprise” cameo at the end of the film that isn’t much of a surprise. (And if people really want to know who does this cameo, it’s not a secret, because this person’s name is in the Internet Movie Database list of cast members for “The Craft: Legacy.“) The cameo isn’t that big of a deal because this person does not speak any lines in the movie and is only seen in the last few seconds of the film.

“The Craft: Legacy” seems to have had the right intentions when it was conceived as an updated version of “The Craft.” But somewhere along the way, the filmmakers made the mistake of diminishing the horror of the original “Craft” movie and making “The Craft: Legacy” more of a sparkly teen soap opera.

Columbia Pictures released “The Craft: Legacy” on digital and VOD October 28, 2020.

Review: ‘Synchronic,’ starring Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan

October 24, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jamie Dornan and Anthony Mackie in “Synchronic” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)


Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans, the sci-fi/horror film “Synchronic” has a predominantly white cast (with a some African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two paramedics who are best friends try to find out if a synthetic party drug has something to do with the disappearance of the teenage daughter of one of the men.

Culture Audience: “Synchronic” will appeal primarily to people who like horror movies that blend a mystery with compelling visuals representing other world dimensions.

Jamie Dornan and Anthony Mackie in “Synchronic” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Synchronic” is a noteworthy thriller that’s has a tone that strikes an interesting balance between gritty noir and trippy psychedelic. That’s because the mystery in the movie revolves around a new hallucinogenic party drug called Synchronic that has infiltrated New Orleans and seems to be causing mysterious and gruesome deaths of people who take Synchronic. The movie has a very predictable ending, but the story is immersive, the acting is very good, and it’s worth checking out if people are interested in a well-paced and intriguing sci-fi/horror flick.

Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, “Synchronic” (which was written by Benson) has a friendship between two paramedics at the heart of the story. Steve Denube (played by Anthony Mackie) and Dennis Dannelly (played by Jamie Dornan) are two longtime best friends who work together as employees of New Orleans Emergency Medical Services. And something strange has recently been going on in New Orleans when Steve and Dennis get called to the scenes of suspected drug overdoses.

In addition to the usual OD patients at these emergency scenes, they find people viciously murdered. Also found nearby are packets, which resemble condom packets, that have a Synchronic logo. At one druggie house, a woman has overdosed on heroin in the back room, while man has been stabbed to death by what appears to have been a 3-foot long sword. The two drugged-out witnesses in the house aren’t much help to the cops.

At an apartment building, a couple named Leah (played by Betsy Holt) and Travis (played by Shane Brady), who took Synchronic (which is a pill) both had different hallucinogenic experiences, which are shown at the beginning of the movie. Leah was on a bed and saw a snake come out from under the sheets and toward her. Travis went into an elevator and saw himself transported into a swamp area.

By the time the paramedics arrive, Leah is in a catatonic state with a snake bite, while Travis is dead in the elevator shaft with an eerie smile on his face. A fellow paramedic named Bob (played by Martin Bats Bradford) speculates that Leah was bitten by an eastern diamondback rattlesnake, which hasn’t been seen in New Orleans for decades.

Another bizarre Synchronic incident happens when a man’s body that seems to have been completely burned by spontaneous human combustion is found at an amusement park, with empty packets of Synchronic near his body. Another man (played by Jean-Pierre Vertus), who’s dressed as a voodoo skeleton, is found babbly incoherently with a cackling laugh after he’s taken Synchronic. Steve and Dennis aren’t detectives, but they’re wondering what’s going on with this drug and why it’s linked to these unusual freak-outs, injuries and deaths.

During this mystery related to their job, Steve (who’s in his mid-40s) and Dennis (who’s in his late 30s) are each dealing with personal issues. Steve, who is a womanizing bachelor, has recently found out that he has a brain tumor, but he doesn’t tell Dennis about it right away. Dennis is stuck in a rut in his marriage to his wife Tara (played by Katie Aselton), who is dealing with the stress of working full-time and taking care of their 1-year-old daughter. Dennis and Tara also have a rebellious 18-year-old daughter named Brianna (Ally Ioannides), who is resisting Dennis’ pressure on her to go to college.

Steve is like a “cool uncle” to Brianna. At an outdoor picnic with several of Tara and Dennis’ friends, Steve sneaks a beer for Brianna to drink. She can open up and talk to Steve more than she can with her father. And when Brianna goes missing from a party where she’s taken Synchronic, Steve takes it upon himself to experiment with the drug to try to get to the bottom of the mystery.

“Synchronic” is the type of movie where almost everything looks gloomy, even during the daytime. Moorhead, who is also the movie’s cinematographer, infuses the movie with a lot of sepia and gray tones, to give a sense of doom throughout the entire story. Synchronic is not a “shiny, happy” drug, but one that induces terrifying scenarios that might be more than visions.

These visions almost always include someone or something attacking the person who’s taken the drug. And if the person who’s taken the drug gets out of this drug-induced trance, there is evidence from wounds or other injuries that the attack really happened. How exactly can Steve find Brianna by taking Synchronic? It’s explained in the movie.

Mackie and Dornan have a believable rapport as best friends Steve and Dennis, who have a the type of age-difference male friendship that isn’t seen to often in movies. There are some scenes in the movie that also realistically show the devastating impact that a missing child can have on a crumbling marriage. The stress of Brianna’s disappearance takes a major toll on Dennis and Tara.

The movie’s visual effects are convincing, but they’re not going to nominated for any major awards. What really drives the story in the last third of the film is how much involved Steve gets in investigating Brianna’s disappearance. And if you consider that Steve has a terminal illness, it’s easy to understand the motivations for a lot of what he does in the story. It’s that extra layer of a life in crisis that gives “Synchronic” an emotional urgency that’s portrayed in the story in a captivating way.

Well Go USA released “Synchronic” in select U.S. cinemas on October 23, 2020.

Review: ‘Alone’ (2020), starring Jules Willcox and Marc Menchaca

October 23, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jules Willcox in “Alone” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Alone” (2020)

Directed by John Hyams

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed parts of Oregon, the horror flick “Alone” features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A widow traveling by herself on a road trip is kidnapped by a stranger after a a road-rage incident.

Culture Audience: “Alone” will appeal primarily to people who like watching realistic and suspenseful “women in peril” movies.

Jules Willcox and Marc Menchaca in “Alone” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

If you consider how many movies are about women who’ve been kidnapped and held captive in an isolated area, then it’s pretty commendable that “Alone” takes this very unoriginal concept and still makes it a very suspenseful movie that isn’t tacky or overly melodramatic. “Alone” (directed by John Hyams) also makes great use of locations and having a small number of people in the cast to make this a satisfying thriller that is horrifying without being exploitative.

When it comes down to it, there are really only two main characters in this film: the kidnapper and his victim. The movie (written by Mattias Olsson) is told from the perspective of the protagonist Jessica Swanson (played by Jules Wilcox), a woman in her 30s who is on a road trip in an unnamed rural part of Oregon. Jessica is taking this trip by herself, and the beginning of the movie shows her closing the door of a U-Haul trailer where she’s packed her possessions, as she’s about to embark on this trip.

Jessica is moving somewhere to start a new life. She’s grieving over the death of her husband Eric (played by Jonathan Rosenthal), who’s shown in brief flashbacks in home videos that Jessica watches on her computer tablet. Eric died six months earlier, and his cause of death is revealed later in the story.

There’s almost nothing else about Eric that’s stated in the movie, such as how long he and Jessica were married or what he did for a living. But it’s very clear, based on the snippets of home videos that Jessica watches while she silently cries, that she and Eric were happy together. They had no children together, and Jessica seems to be a loner, because her concerned parents (who do not have names in the movie) are only people she checks in with by phone during her road trip. (Betty Moyer is the voice of Jessica’s mother. Shelly Lipkin is the voice of Jessica’s father.)

Jessica has an independent streak, because it’s revealed in her phone conversations with her parents that she impulsively decided to pack up and leave early for her road trip, after making plans for her parents to come over to her place and help her move. This sudden change of plans doesn’t case major problems with her parents, but they seem to be a little bit thrown-off they didn’t get a chance to help her pack and say goodbye to her. They’re also worried about her traveling by herself, but Jessica assures them that she will be just fine.

Her final destination is never talked about in the movie, but Jessica is heading north, and she begins her trip during the day. As she drives through an isolated, heavily wooded area of Oregon where each side of the road has only one lane, Jessica comes across a black Jeep that’s driving too slow in front of her. She tailgates the Jeep, but the driver either doesn’t see her or doesn’t take the hint to speed up. The Jeep’s license plates are covered in mud, making it impossible to get a clear view of the license plate number.

Finally, in frustration, Jessica decides to pass the Jeep, even though it means she would have to go in the lane for traffic that’s going in the opposite direction. She waits until the coast is clear and then goes in the opposite lane. But the driver of the Jeep (played by Marc Menchaca) sees her and speeds up, to indicate that he doesn’t want her to get in front of him.

Just as this happens, a big-rig truck is driving right toward Jessica, and it looks like she’s about to crash into it, but she’s able to increase her speed fast enough and swerve into the correct lane in front of the obnoxious Jeep driver, who then decides to tailgate her. Rather than continue this cat-and-mouse road rage situation, Jessica drives off the nearest side exit and waits long enough to let the Jeep drive ahead, so that by she gets back on the main road, the Jeep is nowhere in sight.

However, miles later, when she’s at a gas station, she’s startled by someone tapping on her window. It’s the Jeep driver: a bespectacled, red-haired man who’s in his late 30s or early 40s. This stranger tells Jessica that he’s sorry for the road-rage incident earlier. He makes a weird excuse that he had been texting while driving and didn’t see her at first, and when she swerved in front of him, he kind of got angry.

Jessica accepts his apology, but senses that something is “off” with this guy, because he’s being too nosy when he asks her what her name is, where she’s headed, and if she lives nearby. He doesn’t volunteer the same information about himself. Jessica tells him her first name only, and gives a vague reply that she’s headed north.

This guy seems to want to continue the conversation, but Jessica politely cuts it short and tells him that she needs to go. However, he’s obviously seen her U-Haul trailer, so he can figure out that she might be someone who’s not from the area and might be unfamiliar with the terrain if she gets kidnapped. Because you know that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

The movie builds up suspense to this kidnapping, by showing this mystery man encountering Jessica at other times during the trip, just like a predator stalking his prey. His name is revealed toward the end of the movie, but for the purposes of this review, he’ll just be referred to as the “kidnapper” from now on.

The next time Jessica sees the man who will kidnap her, his Jeep is blocking the road, and he’s got the car lid up, as if he’s having car problems. He’s also got his arm in a sling. Because his car is stopped in the middle of the lane, Jessica stops her car.

He flags her down and tells her that his car engine suddenly died, and he needs a ride to the nearest gas station. He also asks Jessica to help him move his Jeep off of the road. In a lot of kidnapping movies like this, the victim is fooled too easily and makes bad decisions in order to be polite or look like a Good Samaritan. What’s great about this movie is that the victim doesn’t make bad decisions and doesn’t easily fall for a seemingly harmless-looking person.

Instead of agreeing to let this strange man into her car, Jessica offers to call the nearest gas station for him. She tells him she that she can use her car’s GPS to find it. Seeing that Jessica is no fool and that she has a working cell phone, the kidnapper then says that he knows which gas station it is, and then tries to get Jessica to open the car door so that she can help him move his car out from the road.

Of course, getting a “stuck” car off of the road is what a tow truck is supposed to do. Jessica knows it, the kidnapper knows it, and she senses that this guy is up to no good because he’s acting as if she’s the only one who can help him. And it’s a red flag that he declined Jessica’s offer to call the nearest service station, and there’s no mention if he has his own phone to call for help. Jessica makes an excuse that she has to go because she’s late for a meeting, and she drives away.

It should come as no surprise that the kidnapper doesn’t really have an arm injury. He wore a sling on his arm to make himself look harmless. Faking an arm injury by wearing a sling or a cast is a tactic that kidnappers sometimes use to lure their victims when they ask for the victims’ help as a way to catch them off-guard. It’s a tactic that notorious serial killer Ted Bundy used for many of his victims.

During her road trip, when Jessica parents call her or she calls them, Jessica doesn’t really tell her parents about her encounters with this stranger, because there’s nothing they can do about it. What exactly can she say anyway? This guy didn’t break any laws with her. She doesn’t know his name or license plate number. She only has the description of him and his Jeep.

However, Jessica starts to become frightened when she sees the man in the Jeep again. This time, it’s at night and she’s at a nearly deserted rest stop. She quickly leaves the area and calls 911 when she thinks he’s following her. But it’s a false alarm, because it’s another car that was behind her.

However, as soon as she hangs up the phone, Jessica suddenly loses control of her car, which swerves off into a grassy area by the side of the road. When she gets out of the car, she sees that one of her tires has been slashed. As she gets back into the car to call for help, that’s when the guy in the Jeep suddenly drives up, uses a tire iron to smash her front passenger window, assaults her and kidnaps her.

Jessica wakes up to find that she’s in a locked basement in an isolated cabin in the woods. She begs the mystery kidnapper to let her go and promises she won’t tell anyone. He replies with a sadistic smile, “Do you think you’re the first one to say that?” The rest of the movie shows Jessica’s ordeal in trying to escape.

The believability of “Alone” rests largely on how the actors portray their characters. And fortunately, Willcox and Menchaca give very believable performances in their roles. The horror of “Alone” comes from the fact that there are many real-life kidnappers and serial killers who look like “average people” with “average lives” but they have an evil, twisted side to them that’s well-hidden from a lot of people. And as previously stated, “Alone” doesn’t make the female victim a gullible dimwit, which is an annoying flaw of other kidnapping movies.

The only slightly false note in “Alone” is when Jessica calls 911 and tells the 911 operator that she doesn’t know where she is and can’t even give a general location. This is after viewers see that Jessica’s car is equipped with GPS. However, this fairly minor plot hole could have an explanation that maybe Jessica was in panic mode and wasn’t thinking clearly.

In terms of kidnapping movies, “Alone” doesn’t do anything innovative. But it keeps the suspense throughout the entire film and presents enough realistic scenarios that it will definitely serve as a cautionary tale for anyone taking a long road trip alone. This movie is proof that you don’t need flashy action stunts or a large cast to make a very effective thriller.

Magnet Releasing released “Alone” in select U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on September 18, 2020.