Review: ‘Until We Meet Again’ (2022), starring Janel Parrish and Jackson Rathbone

April 27, 2022

by Carla Hay

Janel Parrish and Jackson Rathbone in “Until We Meet Again” (Photo courtesy of 1091 Pictures)

“Until We Meet Again” (2022)

Directed by Pece Dingo

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the dramatic film “Until We Meet Again” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with a few Asians and African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A singer/songwriter moves into a haunted mansion, where she falls in love with the ghost of the famous pianist who used to live there. 

Culture Audience: “Until We Meet Again” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching morbid and wretchedly made ghost romance movies.

Leslie Jordan, Antonio Fargas and Janel Parrish in “Until We Meet Again” (Photo courtesy of 1091 Pictures)

It would be a disservice to call “Until We Meet Again” a “train wreck,” because train wrecks get people’s attention and need energy to exist. “Until We Meet Again” is just lethargic mush about a creepy romance between a male ghost and a desperate woman. Aside from the morbid aspects of this terrible movie, “Until We Meet Again” fails to be entertaining on any level whatsoever. Everyone involved in making “Until We Meet Again” should be embarrassed, but this garbage movie is such a flop, hardly anyone will see it.

Written and directed by Pece Dingo, “Until We Meet Again” (which takes place in Los Angeles) also has an awkwardly matched cast that lacks realistic chemistry with each other. The cast members in “Until We Meet Again” just recite their lines, with no credible emotional connection to their characters. The characters that are supposed to have relationships with each other never look convincing as people in relationships, whether they are supposed to be friends or lovers.

Lisa Wagner (played by Janel Parrish) is a 21-year-old pop singer/songwriter, who’s struggling to make it big in the very competitive music industry. The most she’s been able to accomplish is to get occasional gigs at small nightclubs. In the beginning of the movie, she’s part of a musical duo with her guitarist boyfriend Shane (played by Justin Gaston), who soon becomes her ex-boyfriend.

While Shane and Lisa are doing a very unimpressive and bland performance on stage, Lisa notices that Shane and a woman in the audience are lustfully looking at each other. After the show, Lisa sees Shane and this mystery woman (played by Erin Boehme) kissing each other passionately in a car in the nightclub’s parking lot. That’s the end of Lisa’s relationship with Shane, who pops back up occasionally in the movie to harass Lisa to get back together with him. Lisa refuses.

After this breakup, an emotionally wounded Lisa ends up housesitting at a Hollywood Hills mansion for an unnamed period of time. Details on who owns the mansion are never fully explained. Lisa vaguely mentions that she answered an online ad to housesit for a woman whom Lisa does not know. There are many unexplained and sloppily written aspects of “Until We Meet Again.”

Getting to live in this mansion is one of the few bright spots in Lisa’s life. Another bright spot is her best friend Tiffany (played by LeToya Luckett), who is the first person Lisa invites over to the house to show where she is currently living. Lisa says if it weren’t for this housesitting job, she would never have been able to afford to live in a place like this mansion. As an added perk for Lisa, the house has a grand piano that Lisa will play several times during the course of the movie.

Lisa tells Tiffany, who’s also single, that although Lisa was upset by Shane’s infidelity and having to break up with him, Lisa says she was never really in love with Shane, so it was probably all for the best that she and Shane are no longer a couple. To celebrate Lisa’s new living situation, Lisa and Tiffany smoke some synthetic marijuana (also known as spice) together. This drug activity is something that will be a factor later in the story when Lisa calls the police after she thinks a ghost in the mansion is stalking her.

On her first night in the house, Lisa sees a mouse and predictably screams. The next day, she sees the mouse again, so she calls an exterminator service. Two elderly men show up at her door. Their names are Louie (played by Antonio Fargas) and Angel (played by Leslie Jordan), who say they are “pest eradicators.”

Angel, who is feisty and sarcastic, seems to be the one in charge. Louie is more laid-back than Angel, but he and Angel seem to get on each other’s nerves. They also have an odd way of inspecting the house for animal pests. Louie uses a doctor’s stethoscope to listen to the walls, while Angel takes notes on a clipboard.

Louie announces to Lisa: “You’ve got a big rodent problem here ma’am. ” Angel then chimes in, “I’m sure it’s nothing we can’t handle.” Louie and Angel then start bickering with each each other. Lisa overhears Angel tell someone in the room, “There’s nothing for you here, except to bother the girl.”

If all of this sounds like a very dull scene, that’s because it is, but it’s intended to be one of the movie’s comedic moments, because Louie and Angel are supposed to be the “comic relief” characters. Viewers should actually dread seeing Louie and Angel in a scene because these two characters are painfully unfunny. The dialogue throughout this movie is simply empty and horrendous.

As an example of how this movie is badly written, Lisa never bothers to get details on what kind of extermination these two miserable clowns are supposed to be doing before they leave the house. Of course, it’s easy to figure out from the strange way that Louie and Angel are acting, they’re not really exterminators. (Angel’s name is a big, glaring clue that this dimwitted movie serves up with no subtlety.)

Lisa soon finds out that she’s got a bigger problem in the house than a random mouse: The house is haunted by a mopey ghost named Eddie Conway (played by Jackson Rathbone), a famous pianist who died in 1969, at the age of 20. Lisa first sees Eddie sitting at the end of her bed before he disappears. Lisa doesn’t know who he is at first, but she eventually finds out his identity. She not only discovers that Eddie used to live in this mansion but she also finds out something about his past love life that leads to a very cringeworthy part of the movie.

The first time that Lisa sees Eddie, she’s shocked and frightened. A panicked Lisa calls the police to report an intruder. The cops who show up to take the report are Detective Morrison (played by Michael Madsen) and Detective Yamamoto (played by Anzu Lawson), who don’t find anything suspicious and can’t do anything to help Lisa except take her statement. Detective Morrison is more skeptical than Detective Yamamoto.

Lisa encounters these two cops multiple times when she calls the police after seeing Eddie in her home again. And each time, the police get more suspicious that Lisa is hallucinating, because they think she’s on drugs and/or mentally ill. It doesn’t help when Detective Morrison finds Lisa’s stash of spice, which she promptly denies is hers.

In between these “ghost encounters” with Eddie and Lisa, “Until We Meet Again” has some tedious scenes of Lisa trying to get a record deal. The more she sees Eddie and the more she gets to know him (they eventually start talking to each other), the more she starts to fall for him and vice versa. And you can almost do a countdown to the scene where Eddie and Lisa start writing songs together.

Angel and Louie show up from time to time (much to Eddie’s displeasure), because Angel and Louie are on a mission to get Eddie to go somewhere with them. Eddie likes hanging out at the house, and he doesn’t want to leave. And besides, he’s got a romance going on with a living, breathing human being.

Shouldn’t Angel and Louie know the silly romance movie rule by now that a mismatched couple in love cannot be stopped? In a nonsensical movie like “Until We Meet Again,” that means Eddie and Lisa have got to find a way to make this love connection work between a ghost and a human who’s still alive. The rest of “Until We Meet Again” pummels viewers with this attitude: “So what if someone in this couple is literally dead? Is there a law against having sex with a ghost? Take that, Detective Morrison!”

By falling in love with each other, Lisa and Eddie are supposed to find happiness from the heartbreak they had before they met each other. It’s all handled in a way that’s not only off-putting but also incredibly slow-paced and dreary. Eddie and Lisa’s ghost/living person romance isn’t the only thing that looks fake. The characters of Eddie and Lisa do not look like their stated ages in the movie. Rathbone (wearing ashy white makeup) and Parrish are supposed to be portraying people in their early 20s, but Rathbone and Parrish look a least 10 years older than that.

Simply put: Everything about “Until We Meet Again” is a misfire. The direction is amateurish, the screenplay is horrible, the acting is weak and sometimes unwatchable. The only good thing to say about this odious movie is it’s such a turnoff, there’s no chance that there will be a sequel.

1091 Pictures released “Until We Meet Again” on digital and VOD on February 15, 2022.

Review: ‘Do Not Reply,’ starring Amanda Arcuri and Jackson Rathbone

October 21, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kerri Medders, Jackson Rathbone, Elise Luthman and Amanda Arcuri in “Do Not Reply” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“Do Not Reply”

Directed by Daniel Woltosz and Walter Woltosz

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror flick “Do Not Reply” has a predominantly white cast (with one African American) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 17-year-old girl is seduced online into meeting a stranger, who kidnaps her and holds her captive with other teenage girls. 

Culture Audience: “Do Not Reply” will appeal primarily to people who like watching bottom-of-the-barrel exploitation horror films.

Jackson Rathbone in “Do Not Reply” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

The filmmakers of “Do Not Reply” must think that Lifetime hasn’t made enough “women in peril” movies where the killer has a thing for targeting cheerleaders. “Do Not Reply” has taken this cliché concept and has sunk it to new levels of badly filmed exploitation. And making things worse is that the pacing of this movie becomes so slow during much of the film that “Do Not Reply” is not only dreadful but it’s also excruciatingly dull. “Do Not Reply” has nudity and cursing in its attempt to be “edgier” than a Lifetime movie, but it uses the same template of any Lifetime movie about a psycho who wants cheerleaders to die.

Lazily written and directed by Walter Woltosz and his son Daniel Woltosz in their feature-film debut, “Do Not Reply” also rips off the same premise of any movie about a teenage girl who’s lured into a dangerous situation by a stranger online. The main character who’s the kidnapping victim in this story is a 17-year-old student in high school named Chelsea (played by Amanda Arcuri), who fits the predictable “good girl” virginal stereotype in horror movies like this one. Chelsea has been chatting online with a guy with the screen name VRCowboy, who claims to also be 17 years old, but anyone with a brain can see that he’s a much older man.

Chelsea has a friend named Mia (played by Ivon Millan), who’s exchanged nude photos of herself with a guy she wants to date named Dylan (played by Curran Walters), who’s also in high school and is a typical pretty boy who’s accustomed to girls having crushes on him. Chelsea is mildly horrified that Mia is so cavalier about sending nude photos to a guy who’s not even her boyfriend.

Chelsea asks Mia if she’s worried about Dylan showing Mia’s nude pics to his friends, and Mia shrugs it off and says she’s thought about it, but she naïvely thinks that Dylan wouldn’t do that. Meanwhile, Mia asks Chelsea if she wants to see the nude photo of Dylan’s penis that he sent to her, and Chelsea immediately says no. And with that, this movie checks off another cliché in stories about a virginal teenage female victim: She has a close friend who’s more “boy crazy” than she is.

Dylan has a close friend named Seth (played by Christian Hutcherson), who’s attracted to Chelsea. When Dylan invites Mia over to his place for a “party” at his house, Mia uses it as an excuse to bring Chelsea along to try and manipulate this situation into a “double date.” The “party” is really just Dylan, Mia, Chelsea and Seth, who all sit on a couch together.

It isn’t long before Dylan and Mia leave the room to go into a bedroom, thereby leaving Chelsea and Seth together on the couch. Seth makes a pass at Chelsea, who rebuffs his advances. The next day, when Chelsea tells Mia that Seth wanted Chelsea to give him oral sex, Mia’s response is that Chelsea should’ve done it. That tells viewers all they need to know about what kind of “friend” Mia is.

Meanwhile, Chelsea continues to chat with VRCowboy online, and they eventually get to talking on the phone. He tells her that his name is Brad (played by Jackson Rathbone) and they do some heavy flirting. Chelsea lies and tells Brad that she’s a cheerleader, so he asks her to send him a photo of herself in her cheerleader uniform. It just so happens that Chelsea’s snooty older sister Kristina (played by Savannah Kennick) is a cheerleader, who isn’t home at the time, so Chelsea borrows Kristina’s cheerleader uniform and poses for some flirty selfie photos that she sends to Brad.

As for Brad, he never sends her any photos of himself. And apparently, Chelsea never bothers to ask where she can find him on social media. It seems that he contacted her randomly by text and that’s how they “met” online. When Chelsea and Brad start doing video chats, his face is obscured and blurred-out on screen. His excuse is that the camera got damaged when he accidentally dropped his phone, and he hasn’t bothered to get it fixed.

Despite all of these red flags that Brad is a con artist, Chelsea becomes infatuated with Brad, because he says all of the right things to her. Based on the brief interactions that the movie shows Chelsea having with people close to her, it’s easy to see that she feels overshadowed by her popular sister Kristine, and Chelsea wants to experience dating the way that her friend Mia is experiencing dating. Instead of being comfortable with herself, Chelsea wants to be more like them.

These are the type of insecurities that sexual predators pounce on, and Chelsea is the type of victim who does everything that a predator hopes a victim will do. Brad makes arrangements to meet Chelsea in person. At first, he wants her to come over to his house alone, but she’s at least smart enough to say no. However, Chelsea doesn’t agree to go to Brad’s house mostly because she doesn’t drive and she thinks he lives too far away.

Instead, Brad and Chelsea agree to meet at a Halloween party that’s happening at an abandoned warehouse. Chelsea, who doesn’t tell anyone where she’s going, decides to go to the party dressed as a zombie cheerleader, while Brad goes as a zombie football player. This movie is so dumb that when Brad meets Chelsea at the party, he keeps his helmet on the entire time, and not once does she think it’s strange that he won’t show his face, nor does she ask him to take his helmet off. If Chelsea could see Brad’s face, she’d see that he’s definitely not 17. He’s actually in his 30s.

And then, when Brad gives her some fruity alcohol in a bottle, it’s very easy to know what’s going to happen next. The drink is drugged, of course, making it easy for Brad to put Chelsea in his car. Witnesses at the party who see Brad putting Chelsea in his car assume that she’s his drunk date, and he’s being a gentleman who’s giving her a ride.

Chelsea wakes up to find herself kidnapped and locked inside Brad’s house. And she’s got company: Three other girls who are around her age are there for the same reason: to satisfy Brad’s sick fetish for torturing and raping cheerleaders. It turns out that he has a twisted sexual obsession for someone in his past named Sadie, a blonde cheerleader who rejected him.

There are flashbacks to Brad’s encounters with Sadie (played by Nikki Leigh), who was close to Brad for a reason: Sadie was his sister. It’s not really a spoiler to reveal this information, because the only spoiler information for this utterly predictable movie is to reveal who survives and who doesn’t.

Brad has a computer room where he does his online predator activity. The room has a lot of technology, including video monitors for the surveillance cameras that are all over his house. Brad also has a virtual-reality system that comes with an elaborate headset where he watches videos of himself torturing his victims. Brad wants all of his victims to have blonde hair and wear cheerleader outfits, and he forces all of them to be called Sadie.

In addition to Chelsea, the three other kidnapping victims in the house are Meagan (played by Kerri Medders), who is the most brainwashed of the group because she’s convinced that she and Brad are in love; Heather (played by Elise Luthman), who tries to help Chelsea while pretending to obey Brad; and Tina (played by Ashlee Füss), who wants to escape too, but she’s severely injured from a leg wound and is confined to her bed.

Chelsea tries to escape soon after she gains consciousness, but Meagan stops her. Meagan wants to be Brad’s “favorite” so she’s immediately jealous of Chelsea as the “newcomer,” because she sees Chelsea as a potential threat for Brad’s “affections.” Meagan acts like a watchdog for Brad to make sure that the other kidnapping victims don’t try to escape.

Chelsea is a natural brunette, so one of the first things that Meagan tells Chelsea is that she has to dye her hair blonde. “Do Not Reply” is so badly made that instead of a dye job, an obvious, cheap-looking blonde wig is used for Chelsea. Why bother with mentioning a dye job when an unconvincing-looking wig is used instead? Why not just have a blonde wig in Brad’s house as an explanation and be done with it? It’s an example of how this movie insults viewers’ intelligence.

Another thing about the movie that doesn’t make sense is that later in the movie, Chelsea has access to a bottle of prescription medication in Brad’s house. Chelsea and Meagan are in charge of preparing the meals that everyone eats. Chelsea could’ve drugged Brad and Meagan with all that medication, and then found a way to escape by stealing Brad’s keys to the front door. It’s a huge plot hole that’s too big to ignore.

The movie takes a bizarre and dark turn when Chelsea commits a heinous act to impress Brad, in order to convince him that she’s fallen in love with him. It’s in this scene that “Do Not Reply” takes the point of no return, from being semi-suspenseful trash to being just trash. All of the acting is mediocre at best and downright embarrassing at worst. The only cast member who does a consistently adequate performance is Füss as Tina, but Tina is bedridden and doesn’t have much screen time in this horrible film that was obviously made to have young women running around looking terrified in cheerleader costumes.

“Do Not Reply” attempts to make itself look scarier than it really is, by having tacky-looking red lighting in the “torture room,” but it just looks like the back room of a low-rent strip club. And the movie tries to make Brad look like the VR headset version of “Halloween” villain Michael Myers. But because the “Do Not Reply” story is flimsy to begin with, the movie drags out in too many places.

Rathbone’s portrayal of Brad as a psycho villain isn’t convincing enough. Brad doesn’t look very menacing most of the time. Brad just looks constipated.

And at the end of the movie, there’s a statistic from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that states: “The average age of online enticement is 15 years old.” It’s as if the filmmakers tacked on this public-service announcement warning at the end of the movie to try to erase all the female exploitation in the movie. Too late. “Do Not Reply” is irredeemable garbage, and no PSA message at the end of the movie is going to get rid of the stink.

Gravitas Ventures released “Do Not Reply” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on October 2, 2020.

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