Review: ‘The Cellar’ (2022), starring Elisha Cuthbert, Eoin Macken, Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady and Abby Fitz

March 14, 2022

by Carla Hay

Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady and Elisha Cuthbert in “The Cellar” (Photo by Martin Maguire/RLJE Films/Shudder)

“The Cellar” (2022)

Directed by Brendan Muldowney

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ireland, the horror film “The Cellar” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A married couple and their two children move into a house that has a history of being haunted and where previous residents have mysteriously disappeared. 

Culture Audience: “The Cellar” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching formulaic horror movies that don’t do anything truly unique.

Eoin Macken and Abby Fitz in “The Cellar” (Photo by Martin Maguire/RLJE Films/Shudder)

“The Cellar” succeeds in creating a spooky atmosphere, but it fails to rise above countless other haunted house stories, because of the movie’s weak screenplay, mediocre acting and dull pacing. “The Cellar” is too generic to be a memorable horror film. There are so many overused concepts in “The Cellar” that are in better haunted house movies, you can really do a checklist of all the ideas that are recycled in “The Cellar.”

Written and directed by Brendan Muldowney, “The Cellar” is based on his short film “The Ten Steps.” It’s yet another story about a family moving into a house with very dark secrets that the family won’t discover until it’s too late. And the people living in the house stay much longer than most people would in real life, just so the terror in the movie can be stretched out in repetitive scenes. “The Cellar” had its world premiere on the same date at the 2022 editions of the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival and FrightFest Glasgow.

The family at the center of “The Cellar” are spouses Keira Woods (played by Elisha Cuthbert) and Brian Woods (played by Eoin Macken) and their children Ellie Woods (played by Abby Fitz) and Steven Woods (played by Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady). Ellie, who’s about 16 or 17 years old, is a stereotypical pouty teen. Her idea of rebelling is reading books on anarchy and getting an ankle tattoo of the anarchy symbol. Steven, who’s about 10 or 11 years old, is a stereotypical adorable tyke with the expected wide-eyed, open-mouthed, shocked reactions when the terror in the house begins to happen.

The Woods family’s new home is a drab and shabby mansion in an unnamed city in Ireland. (The movie was actually filmed on location in Roscommon, Ireland.) And as haunted houses typically are in horror movies, this house is in an isolated wooded area. The family members are all natives of Ireland, except for Keira, who’s either Canadian or American. (Cuthbert is Canadian in real life.)

“The Cellar” opens with the Woods family’s first day and night in the house. Brian and Steven are already there, while Keira and Ellie arrive separately by car. Ellie is already sulking because she didn’t want to move away from her friends. Upon seeing the house for the first time, Ellie says, “Holy shit. It’s so ugly!”

Why is this the first time that Ellie is seeing this house? It’s because Brian and Keira bought the house at an extremely low price at an auction. And they later find out the hard way that this bargain was too good to be true. And yes, “The Cellar” is another haunted house movie where the new residents didn’t bother to find out any background information about the house before buying it. The house still has furnishings and decorations left behind by the previous owner.

“The Cellar” doesn’t waste any time in showing that the house’s cellar is a place where sinister things happen. Within minutes of being in the house for the first time, Ellie goes in the cellar and declares to Keira, who’s near the door: “It’s filthy!” Keira replies, “I like to think of it as character.” And sure enough, Ellie mysteriously gets locked in the cellar, she freaks out, and then manages to escape. “I’m not staying in this house!” Ellie wails.

But of course, Ellie does stay in the house. After all, where else is she going to go in a hackneyed horror movie? Of course, all of the house’s rooms are predictably dark, as if everyone who’s lived there couldn’t be bothered to get a proper lamp or lighting than can illuminate more than certain corners of a room.

Ellie gets even more irritated with her parents when she finds out she has to look after Steven like a babysitter on their first night in the house. That’s because Keira and Brian, who are independent TV producers, have to work late because of an important pitch meeting related to their business. Keira tells Ellie that they need to sell this pitch in order for the family to financially survive.

Meanwhile, back in the mansion that doesn’t know the meaning of full-wattage light bulbs, Ellie is bitterly complaining to her boyfriend on the phone about how she much she dislikes her new home and how it’s unfair that she and Brian have to be in this creepy house alone on their first night there. The boyfriend listens to Ellie gripe about how much she misses him and their friends, and he suggests that he stay with her, even though Ellie’s parents wouldn’t let her do that. Ellie tells him why her parents are working late and says, “I hope they go bust, and we have to sell this house!”

Keira and Brian are independent TV producers who are trying to launch a reality show geared to teenagers called “Natural Selection,” where a young actress will pretend to be a popular vlogger. The pitch meeting takes place in a darkly lit conference room (everything in this movie is darkly lit or in tones of gray), where Keira and Brian are trying to sell this show to TV executives. There are vague mentions about viewer voting based on the physical appearances of the reality show’s cast members. It sounds like a horrible idea.

While Keira and Brian are in this meeting, the electricity suddenly goes out in their house. And what a coincidence: The circuit breaker is in the cellar. Guess who has to be the one to go back to the dreaded cellar to figure out what’s going on with the circuit breaker? Ellie calls Keira, who excuses herself from the meeting and tells Ellie that she has to be the one to fix the electricity problem by finding the circuit breaker.

Ellie is in a near-panic because she’s scared and reluctant to go back to the cellar. During this phone conversation, Keira instructs Ellie on how to find the circuit breaker in the cellar. And because this movie is filled with as many horror clichés as possible, Ellie is holding a lit candle in the cellar, instead of a more practical flashlight or a smartphone light.

Keira guides Ellie by telling her how many steps she needs to take to get to the circuit breaker. To help calm down Ellie, Keira tells Ellie to count out loud how many steps she’s taking for this walkthrough. During this counting out loud, the phone disconnects. Keira calls back and gets no answer. And when Keira and Brian get home, they find out to their shock that Ellie has disappeared.

A police investigator named Detective Brophy (played by Andrew Bennett) is called to the scene. Keira and Brian aren’t completely alarmed because they tell the detective that Ellie has run away before, and she’ll probably come back in a few days. A small search team looks though the woods to no avail. Keira puts up some missing-person flyers around the area. Meanwhile, “The Cellar” is so poorly written, it never shows Keira or Brian contacting any of Ellie’s friends to find out if these friends have seen her, which would be one of the first things that parents of a missing child would do.

The rest of “The Cellar” gets a bit monotonous, as Keira discovers strange symbols in the house and tries to find out what they all mean. Eventually, the search for Ellie becomes less of a priority in the movie than Keira playing detective to find out the history of the house and to get more information about the previous residents. Ellie contacts the auction manager, who says that the house was previously owned by an elderly woman whom he never met because her attorney was his main contact for the auction.

Because clues are easily given to Keira throughout the movie, she notices that the house has a portrait painting of a university mathematician named John Fetherston, the deceased patriarch of the family that previously lived there. She goes on a quest to find out this family’s background. The answers she gets are utterly predictable.

During this investigation that takes up a lot of Keira’s time, the movie never bothers again to address Keira and Brian’s job predicament that has made them financially desperate. As the days go by, and Ellie remains missing, these parents of a missing child don’t have realistic conversations about this family crisis of a child’s disappearance. It’s why “The Cellar” mishandles the separate terror of a family who has a missing child.

Instead, the movie puts more emphasis on the banal horror trope of a woman being perceived as mentally ill if she suspects what’s going on has to do with the supernatural. Brian questions Keira’s mental health when she divulges some of her theories about why the house might be haunted. Keira also begins to believe that Ellie didn’t run away but that Ellie was abducted—and not necessarily by a human being.

Meanwhile, more stereotypical haunted house hijinks ensue. Doors mysteriously open on their own. Objects get moved with no explanation. Steven gets locked in a room on one occasion, even though no one else appears to be there. The house’s electricity malfunctions again. It all just leads to a conclusion that would only be surprising to people who fell asleep during the movie’s boring middle section. The movie’s last scene is actually one of the few highlights of “The Cellar,” but it’s too little, too late.

One of the more commendable aspects of “The Cellar” is composer Stephen McKeon’s effectively haunting score. This music is sometimes used in over-the-top ways, but it does bring a consistent level of invoking the right moods for each scene. The production design for “The Cellar” is also noteworthy, although nothing in this movie is going to win any awards. The movie’s visual effects are adequate and not gruesome, for viewers who don’t like seeing bloody gore. Still, most of the movie’s “jump scares” just aren’t very scary, and they lack originality.

Unfortunately, the quality of “The Cellar” is lowered by Cuthbert’s stiff performance. She’s never really believable as a mother who’s frantically worried about her missing child. And in scenes where she should be conveying more emotion, Cuthbert just delivers her lines flatly. All the other cast members are in underwritten and underdeveloped roles, with nothing particularly special about their acting. “The Cellar” isn’t the worst horror movie ever, but it doesn’t have the spark, personality or creative imagination to make it stand out from other horror movies with the same ideas.

RLJE Films will release “The Cellar” in select U.S. cinemas on April 15, 2022, the same date that the movie premieres on Shudder.

Review: ‘Deadstream,’ starring Joseph Winter and Melanie Stone

March 13, 2022

by Carla Hay

Joseph Winter in “Deadstream” (Photo by Jared Cook)

“Deadstream”

Directed by Joseph Winter and Vanessa Winter

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Utah, the horror movie “Deadstream” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A controversial Internet prankster does a livestream event from a haunted house, and he experiences unexpected terror.

Culture Audience: “Deadstream” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching poorly made horror movies with an extremely annoying main character.

“Deadstream” is dead on arrival with its bungled attempt at taking the over-used concept of a haunted house and blending it with the tech concept of Internet livestreaming. It’s the type of idiotic horror flick where the obnoxious main character hides in a van to avoid being killed by an attacker, but then he keeps screaming loudly, thereby exposing his hiding place. In fact, throughout this movie, viewers will wish that the dimwitted, motormouth main character of “Deadstream” would just shut up and go away.

Written and directed by husband-and-wife duo Joseph Winter and Vanessa Winter, “Deadstream” could have been a better movie on so many levels. The movie’s plot—horror during a livestream, set in one location—is not completely original but it has a lot of potential for some genuine scares and compelling characters. Unfortunately, “Deadstream” is ruined by a whiny-voiced protagonist whose non-stop annoying chatter is the equivalent of verbal diarrhea.

It’s one of those movies where you can immediately tell, without even looking at the film credits, that the irritating and off-putting main character is the movie’s director. How can you tell? Because the acting is horrible, and everything about this character (and this movie) is extremely self-indulgent with no real self-awareness of how bad everything is, which is usually a sign that if the director is an actor, then he cast himself as the star of the movie.

Unfortunately, in “Deadstream,” viewers are stuck with this insufferable main character, who is in every scene of this dull, unimaginative and sloppily made film. His name is Shawn Ruddy (played by Joseph Winter), a Utah-based cretin who makes his living as a controversial Internet personality. Shawn, who is in his 30s, films himself doing extreme pranks and stunts, and he puts those videos online.

Shawn’s entire act is to do things where he says he’s facing his greatest fears. “Deadstream” is filmed almost entirely as if it’s a livestream of what happens to Shawn in the movie. Although “Deadstream” takes place in an unnamed city in Utah, the movie was actually filmed in Spanish Fork, Utah. “Deadstream” had its world premiere at the 2022 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.

What Shawn has done in his quest for more Internet fame has gotten him banned and/or de-monetized from several social media platforms. Some of his pranks and stunts include intentionally provoking a police officer (there’s brief flashback footage of Shawn picking a fight with a cop in uniform and being chased by the cop), as well as some other tacky and dumb things that aren’t shown in the movie but are mentioned, such as smuggling himself across the U.S./Mexico border, so he could ridicule undocumented Mexican immigrants. Another of Shawn’s controversial stunts was paying a homeless man to fight Shawn, and then beating up the homeless man.

The movie obviously wants to be a spoof of the real-life Internet jerks who do these tasteless and often-illegal stunts, but the comedy in “Deadstream” falls very flat. The biggest problem with this movie’s failed attempt at satire is that “Deadstream” has nothing clever or funny to say about this subculture of people who seek fame and fortune on the Internet by putting themselves and other people in harm’s way. The beginning of the movie shows Shawn trying to redeem himself by announcing to his audience that he will do a stunt where he won’t hurt other people.

Shawn is now livestreaming on a website called Livid.tv, which is one of the last places on the Internet that will host his shenanigans. It’s never mentioned in the movie how many Internet followers Shawn has, but he has a devoted group of people who still want to see his mindless antics. Shawn announces to his audience one day: “I’m mortally terrified of ghosts. For my next livestream event, I will be spending one night alone in a haunted house.”

An unnamed sponsor is paying Shawn to do this livestream. Under the terms of the sponsor contract, Shawn has to be the only person in the house during this livestream. And if he sees or hears anything unusual, he has to check it out. If he breaks these rules, he won’t get paid. However, one of these rules gets broken, in order to service what happens in most of the movie.

The first third of “Deadstream” is a monotonous slog of Shawn talking on camera while he’s in the haunted house, explaining the house’s history, and showing viewers each room in the house. In between, he makes wisecracks that aren’t funny at all. The small, abandoned house, which is nicknamed Death Manor, is in an isolated wooded area. The house is dirty, damaged, and has been boarded up since the 1950s.

When Shawn first arrives at Death Manor (which he calls “the most haunted house in the world”), he shows his livestream audience that he’s serious about not leaving in case he gets scared. On camera, he removes his car’s spark plugs and throws them into the woods. The history of Death Manor is that it was built in 1880 by a wealthy Mormon pioneer, who built the house for his adult daughter named Mildred Pratt, who was a poet and a social outcast.

As a young woman, Mildred had a long-distance love affair with a book publisher named Lars Jorgensen, who was based in Boston. Lars proposed marriage to Mildred, and she accepted his proposal. But tragically, two days before Mildred was going to travel to Boston to be with Lars, he died in an accident. Distraught over Lars’ death, Mildred committed suicide in the house. Over the years, several other people, including five children, have mysteriously died in the house, with the legend being that Mildred is the ghost who’s haunting the house and causing these deaths.

One of the men who died in the house wrote about a recurring dream of seeing a ghost in the house, with the ghost saying, “The pond water is still.” The movie wastes some time with Shawn showing his audience some archival clips of paranormal investigators who spent time in the house. None of this is really spoiler information, because most of the movie’s “horror” is about whether or not Shawn will encounter Mildred or other ghosts.

One of this livestream event’s rules is broken when a woman in her 20s named Chrissy (played by Melanie Stone) unexpectedly shows up and says that she’s a major fan of Shawn, and she wants to hang out with him at this house and possibly help him. Shawn wants Chrissy to leave because his sponsor contract says that he has to spend the night alone in the house. However, several viewers demand that Chrissy stay in the house because they think she looks sexy.

Shawn takes a viewer vote over whether or not Chrissy can stay in the haunted house with him, and the vast majority of viewers vote for Chrissy to stay. Shawn says on camera that the sponsor can make an exception to the rule since Chrissy being in the house is what the majority of Shawn’s audience wanted. Chrissy is very much a fawning “fangirl” who seems to have a big crush on Shawn. Some of the viewers commenting online also notice that Chrissy is a lot braver than Shawn in this haunted house. Of course, this wouldn’t be a horror movie if things didn’t go terribly wrong, and some dangerous madness ensues.

One of the missed opportunities in “Deadstream” is how inconsistently it shows Shawn’s engagement with his live audience. There are some viewer comments shown on screen, and Shawn occasionally responds directly to some of these comments. But then, there are other scenes where the comments should be on the computer screen, but they’re not. Some of the comments say exactly what “Deadstream” viewers will be thinking, when they talk about how boring everything is.

Shawn wears or holds a camera that can show the audience what he’s seeing. He also wears a helmet with built-in flashlight, since the house has no electricity or other lighting. In addition to having a computer tablet and a laptop computer, Shawn has a camera with a ‘”selfie” angle. Expect to see a lot of close-ups of Shawn’s face in “Deadstream,” which has many scenes that were obviously inspired other horror movies about people who film themselves during a ghost investigation, such as 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project” and 2009’s “Paranormal Activity.”

Shawn does a lot of talking at the camera, but he’s so self-absorbed that he doesn’t interact with the audience as much as he should, even though audience interaction is one of the main purposes of a livestream. When a lot of the mayhem starts, Shawn is obviously preoccupied with what’s in front of him, but “Deadstream” doesn’t really show a lot of live-reaction terrified comments from people in Shawn’s audience, who are supposed to be witnessing the horror in real time.

Instead, there are parts of the movie where Shawn occasionally logs on to video messages to get advice or knowledge from people in the audience. These parts of the movie look awkward and don’t transition well in the already-erratic flow of the story. There are parts of the movie involving poems and spell chants that are very bottom-of-the-barrel silly with no creativity.

In fact, there are huge sections of “Deadstream” that seem to want viewers to forget that everything is happening in front of people in a live audience. That’s because the movie clumsily handles the scenes where Shawn repeatedly screams for help. Shawn apparently didn’t bring a phone with him. And even if he did, it’s unlikely he would get a signal, because that hindrance is typical in horror movies with people stuck in isolated areas.

One of the movie’s biggest plot holes is that it never explains where Shawn is getting his WiFi service in this remote, wooded area and in an abandoned house with no electricity. Because of this plot hole, the entire concept of the movie falls apart. “Deadstream” comes across as a movie where the filmmakers think viewers are too stupid to see this obvious plot hole.

Sometimes, plot holes can be overlooked in a horror movie if it really delivers on some genuinely scary moments. Unfortunately, “Deadstream” falls short of this basic standard. The movie has too much of Shawn’s incessant yakking, moronic shrieking and self-centered posturing, but not enough action, which doesn’t really kick in until the last third of the film. The visual effects and makeup for the supernatural entities are creepy, but not terrifying. “Deadstream,” much like its dreadful main character, ultimately wears out its welcome long before the movie is over.

Shudder will premiere “Deadstream” in 2022, on a date to be announced.

Review: ‘Sissy,’ starring Aisha Dee, Hannah Barlow, Lucy Barrett, Emily De Margheriti, Daniel Monks and Yerin Ha

March 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

Aisha Dee in “Sissy” (Photo by Steve Arnold)

“Sissy”

Directed by Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes

Culture Representation: Taking place in Canberra, Australia, the horror movie “Sissy” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people and one Asian) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A social media influencer is invited to a weekend getaway party by a former childhood friend, and bitter emotions lead to murder and mayhem.

Culture Audience: “Sissy” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in horror movies that have a satirical tone.

The darkly comedic horror film “Sissy” sarcastically combines bloody gore with incisive commentary about friendships, bullying and social media culture. It’s a movie that might start off seeming to be one way, but some clever twists and turns take viewers on a bumpy and unpredictable ride. The scares aren’t so much in the violent and gruesome deaths but in the horror of how easily people can be manipulated into thinking certain ways about other people, based on contrived and superficial images. “Sissy” had its world premiere at the 2022 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.

“Sissy” is written and directed by Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes, who previously teamed up for the 2017 comedy/drama feature film “For Now.” Barlow is also an actress in “For Now,” as she is in “Sissy.” The title character in “Sissy” (which takes place in Canberra, Australia) is named Cecilia (played by Aisha Dee), but her childhood nickname was Sissy. This childhood is shown in several flashbacks depicted through Cecilia’s memories and home videos that she has kept over the years.

The flashbacks show Cecilia/Sissy when she was 12 years old (played by Amelia Lule) and hanging out with her best friend at the time: Emma (played by Camille Cumpston), who is the same age. The two girls are seen doing what adolescent best friends often do: They dance together to pop songs, they talk about their hopes and dreams, and they pledge to be best friends forever. In one of the flashbacks, Emma tells Cecilia/Sissy: “Let’s make a pact: No matter what happens, we end up in the nursing home together. You’re the only person I want to poop my pants with.”

The movie opens 12 years after these home videos were made. Cecilia and Emma (played by Barlow) haven’t seen or spoken to each other in years. Cecilia is now making a living as a social media influencer who gives New Age positive self-help and self-esteem advice on videos that she puts online. Using the social media name Sincerely Cecilia, she currently has about 200,000 followers on social media, where she talks a lot about meditation and creating “safe spaces.”

One day, Cecilia is in a drugstore pharmacy when she randomly sees Emma. Cecilia seems alarmed and backs away, as if she doesn’t want to Emma to see her. But Emma does see Cecilia, and Emma is very happy to see her. Emma and Cecilia give each other updates on what they’ve been doing with their lives.

Cecilia is uncomfortable and a little bit guarded during this conversation, but Emma doesn’t notice this discomfort at all. In fact, Emma seems to be very impressed with Cecilia being an “influencer” with a six-figure following on social media. Emma is also eager to have Cecilia back in her life, so she impulsively invites Cecilia to the engagement party that’s she’s having to celebrate her impending marriage to her fiancée Fran (played by Lucy Barrett). Cecilia reluctantly accepts the invitation.

At this festive party, which is held at a nightclub, Cecilia meets Fran, who is very friendly and tells Cecilia that Emma talks a lot about her. Cecilia doesn’t know anyone else at the party except for Emma, whose many friends in attendance include gossipy Jamie (played by Daniel Monks) and talkative Tracey (played by Yerin Ha). After some initial hesitation, Cecilia ends up having a fairly good time at the party, even though a drunken Emma pulled Cecilia on stage and forced her to sing karaoke with her, and Emma vomited on Cecilia. It’s one of the many comedic moments in the movie.

Emma and Cecilia’s reunion goes well enough that Emma insists that Cecilia come along to a weekend getaway trip that Emma is having with a small group of friends at a remote house in a wooded area. On this trip are Emma, Cecilia, Fran, Jamie and Tracey, who travel in one car to the vacation house. Another guest is already at the house when they arrive. And she’s not happy to see Cecilia at all. In fact, she’s absolutely furious about it.

Her name is Alexandra “Alex” Kutis (played by Emily De Margheriti), who knew Emma and Cecilia in their childhoods. (In the childhood flashback scenes, Alex is played by April Blasdall.) Through a series of events, viewers find out why there’s bad blood between Alex and Cecilia. It’s enough to say that in their childhoods, Alex was a rival to Cecilia to be Emma’s closest friend.

That rivalry opens up old emotional wounds, because Alex is now in Emma’s life as a close friend. On Alex’s social media, she describes Emma as her “best friend.” At this getaway trip, Cecilia is treated like an outsider, since she barely knows anyone in the group except for Emma and Alex. Emma’s friends are very superficial and catty, as they talk about people on social media and are preoccupied with watching a tacky reality dating show called “Paradise Lust.”

Alex delights in making Cecilia as uncomfortable as possible on this trip. For example, Alex smirks when telling Cecilia that Cecilia has to sleep on the couch because Emma didn’t tell Cecilia would be on this trip, and there are no more beds available. Alex also deliberately calls Cecilia her former childhood nickname “Sissy” numerous times, even though Cecilia politely corrects her and tells her that she no longer goes by the name Sissy, which has painful memories for Cecilia.

During a group dinner, Alex’s hostility toward Cecilia is on full display, when Alex belittles Cecilia for being a “public figure” who’s “profiting from people’s pain.” This remark comes after Tracey rudely asks Cecilia how much money she makes from being a social media influencer. Emma tries to keep the peace and says that it’s no one’s business how much money Cecilia makes. Meanwhile, Cecilia is visibly embarrassed by this barrage of disrespectful judgments about who she is from people she’s just met.

Alex also questions the ethics of anyone who gives self-help advice for a living but who’s not a trained and qualified professional in psychology. Even though Cecilia tells everyone that she’s upfront with her audience that she’s not a trained professional, Alex and eventually Jamie attempt to demean Cecilia to make her feel unworthy of her accomplishments. And to make Cecilia feel even more insecure, Alex mentions that Fran is studying to get her doctorate in psychology. Alex snipes to Cecilia, “Fran is helping real people with real problems.”

The story behind the shared history of Cecilia, Emma and Alex unfolds in layers to reveal why there’s so much resentment, jealousy and other negative feels that come out and affect what happens on this trip. The dialogue in this movie is both satirical and authentic when it comes to the psychological warfare that people can play on each other. All of the actors portray their roles with just enough parody to show viewers that “Sissy” is not a movie that’s taking its too seriously.

“Sissy” has fun playing with some horror movie stereotypes, such as “terror in the woods” and a dimwitted cop who is called to the scene when the mayhem is in full swing. This cop’s name is Constable Martindale (played by Shaun Martindale), and he embodies the typical horror movie cop who arrives alone and has to make quick decisions on how to handle some chaos. The movie is also a hilariously brutal send-up of how people use social media in the worst ways.

As a low-budget movie, “Sissy” makes very good use of cinematography (by Steve Arnold) to convey certain moods. Certain pivotal scenes are bathed in an eerie crimson red. And the color pink is a constant presence in the movie, to conjure up the childhood friendship of Cecilia/Sissy and Emma as a reminder of not only their happy memories but also what went wrong to cause their long estrangement.

Before going on the getaway trip, Cecilia looks back on a childhood video of her and Emma where they were wearing pink wigs, so Cecilia decides to dye her hair pink. It’s a symbolic of how Cecilia wishes she could go back to this happy time in her life. “Sissy” also has an original score (by Kenneth Lambl) that also skillfully goes back and forth between whimsical and ominous, to reflect these contrasting moods in the movie.

But all of these elements really wouldn’t work as well without the performances of the cast members and the direction of the film, which get the tone of a satirical horror film just right. The heart of the movie (as well as the terror) is really about the cauldron of emotions stirred up when Cecilia, Emma and Alex are all on this unsettling trip together. Dee, Barlow and De Margheriti give the movie’s best performances as this trio of women coming to terms with their past. And because Cecilia is the most complex of these characters, Dee has the standout performance.

“Sissy” is not for viewers who are easily disturbed by seeing bloody violence in movies. However, for people who can tolerate this type of content, “Sissy” offers more than the usual horror movie clichés. It’s easy for horror movies to stage bloody death scenes that are messy. But what “Sissy” accomplishes is much harder: It shows in intriguing and sometimes uncomfortably funny ways how life, relationships and people’s inner psyches can be messy too.

Shudder will premiere “Sissy” in 2022, on a date to be announced.

AMC Networks partners with Adopt-A-Pet.com for FurFest adoption promotion

October 20, 2020

The following is a press release from AMC Networks:

AMC Networks today announced it has teamed up with Adopt-a-Pet.com, North America’s largest non-profit pet adoption website, for AMC’s annual horror marathon FearFest, to raise awareness for pet adoption with ‘FurFest.’ All month long, AMC, AMC+, and Shudder are encouraging viewers to support Adopt-a-Pet.com’s mission to end the overpopulation of companion animals in shelters and help pets find loving forever homes through custom, PET-tacular spots airing across linear, digital, and social channels.

The custom spots, featuring a few four-legged horror fans, encourage viewers to find their perfect watch buddies through adoptions and especially raise awareness for black cat and black dog adoptions this spooky season. Halloween may be the season for magical black cats, but in reality, they are most often left behind in shelters because of the color of their fur. Many animal welfare organizations call this “black cat syndrome,” with the phenomenon happening with black dogs as well. Through the collaboration, audiences are encouraged and inspired to help fight “black cat syndrome” by adopting these furry friends or by donating to Adopt-a-Pet.com. See the custom spot: 

“We all know that spooky season is best enjoyed with a buddy by your side, which is why we’re thrilled to join forces with Adopt-a-Pet.com to help viewers find their perfect four-legged watch companions,” said Linda Schupack, President of Marketing, AMC Networks Entertainment Group. “The movies on AMC’s FearFest and Shudder are already scary enough. How great to cuddle up with a lovely black cat or black dog for Halloween and beyond.”

“Teaming up with AMC Networks is an exciting and unique way to spread the word about pet adoption,” said Dana Puglisi, Chief Marketing Officer of Adopt-a-Pet.com. “We appreciate AMC and Shudder’s efforts to help get more pets into loving homes. And we love all the extra snuggles those newly adopted pets will receive while their people binge through the FearFest thrills!”

Now in its 24th consecutive year, AMC’s annual horror marathon FearFest brings the frights with an entire month of genre programming from iconic franchises like Halloween and Insidious, and the return of award-winning docuseries Eli Roth’s History of HorrorShudder, dubbed “the ultimate in streaming horror” by Newsweek, offers the best selection of original and classic horror, thriller and supernatural films and series, uncut and commercial free. Both are also now available as part of the new AMC+, a premium streaming bundle featuring only the good stuff, which also includes IFC Midnight’s best genre cinema from independent, foreign and documentary films. In addition to the largest slate of classic horror movies such as Friday the 13th and Halloween, AMC+ also includes all series within The Walking Dead Universe, as well as AMC’s Eli Roth’s History of Horror, and new Shudder programming, such as Joe Bob’s Halloween Hideaway Special and A Creepshow Animated Special, and much more.

See the full FearFest lineup.


Find the Best in Horror at Shudder.

About AMC Networks

Known for its groundbreaking and celebrated original content, AMC Networks is the company behind the award-winning brands AMC, BBC AMERICA, IFC, SundanceTV, WE tv, and IFC Films. Its diverse line-up of popular and critically-acclaimed series and independent films include Killing EveBetter Call Saul and The Walking Dead, which has been the #1 show on ad-supported cable television for ten consecutive years, as well as PortlandiaBrockmireLove After Lockup, and the films BoyhoodDeath of Stalin, and many more. Its original series Mad Men and Breaking Bad are widely recognized as being among the most influential and acclaimed shows in the history of TV. The Company also operates AMC Studios, its production business; AMC Networks International, its international programming business; the subscription streaming services Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now, and UMC; and Levity Entertainment Group, the Company’s production services and comedy venues business. For more information, visit http://www.amcnetworks.com.

About Shudder

AMC Networks’ Shudder is a premium streaming video service, super-serving members with the best selection in genre entertainment, covering horror, thrillers and the supernatural. Shudder’s expanding library of film, TV series, and originals is available on most streaming devices in the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Germany, Australia and New Zealand. For a 7-day, risk-free trial, visit ​www.shudder.com​.

About Adopt-a-Pet.com

Adopt-a-Pet.com is North America’s largest non-profit pet adoption website, helping over 19,000 animal shelters, humane societies, SPCAs, pet rescue groups, and pet adoption agencies advertise their purebred and mixed breed pets for free to millions of adopters each month. Sponsored by companies including Purina, Chewy, and Elanco Animal Health LLC, Adopt-a-Pet.com helps homeless dogs, cats, and even rabbits and other animals go from alone to adopted.

Review: ‘La Llorona,’ starring María Mercedes Coroy, Sabrina De La Hoz, Margarita Kenétic, Julio Díaz and María Telón

August 15, 2020

by Carla Hay

María Mercedes Coroy and María Telón in “La Llorona” (Photo courtesy of Shudder)

“La Llorona” 

Directed by Jayro Bustamante

Spanish and Kaqchikel with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Guatemala, the horror film “La Llorona” has an all-Latino cast representing the wealthy and the working-class.

Culture Clash: A convicted war criminal and his family are haunted by the sins from his past.

Culture Audience: “La Llorona” will appeal to people who like horror films that have social commentary beyond the usual scares.

Sabrina De La Hoz in “La Llorana” (Photo courtesy of Shudder)

“La Llorona” (written and directed by Jayro Bustamante) goes where few horror movies have gone before, by taking a well-known folk story and giving it a new spin that’s a scathing commentary on human-rights violations committed during war. The movie should not be confused with the vastly inferior 2019 horror flick “The Curse of La Llorona,” a not-very-scary movie that got a lot of criticism for being a “whitewashed” Hollywood version of Hispanic folklore. Instead, “La Llorona” is much better than the average horror flick because it makes a bold statement about the aftermath of war and how the pain doesn’t end after the war is over.

The movie begins with a striking scene of several women gathered in a circle, with lit candles all around, and praying in a chanting manner asking an unknown entity: “Come back to us.” The next scene is of a group of men who are being told, “Remember, you are heroes, not victims.” They are also told that they should wear dark suits, as long as they’re not black suits, and they must never lower their heads.

What do these two groups of people have in common? It’s made clear later in the story, but most of the activity in the movie takes place in a wealthy family’s mansion that is experiencing a lot of emotional turmoil. The family patriarch is Enrique Monteverde (played by Julio Díaz), a former government army general in Guatemala’s civil war in the early 1980s, when General Efraín Ríos Montt’s totalitarian regime fought against insurgent armies (many of whom consisted of indigenous people) that wanted a more democratic rule.

Guatemala eventually made a new constitution allowing free and democratic elections in 1986. But the civil unrest in Guatemala resulted in thousands of people being tortured and killed, with indigenous people as the target of much of the government’s genocide. And decades later, Enrique is on trial for these war crimes that he is accused of committing in 1982 and 1983. 

While he is awaiting trial, Enrique and his family have been living a semi-sequestered life in the mansion. His family members in the household are his wife Carmen (played by Margarita Kenétic); their daughter Natalia (played by Sabrina De La Hoz); and Natalia’s daughter Sara (played by Ayla-Elea Hurtado), who’s about 9 or 10 years old. Sara is aware that her grandfather Enrique is a controversial public figure, because she asks her mother Natalia, “Why do people say bad things about my grandpa?” When Natalia asks Sara where she heard these things, Sara tells her that it’s been mostly on the Internet.

One night, Enrique wakes up to the sound of someone taking a shower and breathing heavily in a nearby bathroom. When he goes in the bathroom to investigate, no one is there. The movie has many symbolic and literal references to water and drowning, in a nod to the La Llorona folklore, which is about a ghost woman who’s tormented by the memory of drowning her two young sons.

Is Enrique delusional or was he just dreaming? It’s clear that he has some mental anguish because he’s so freaked out by what he hears in the bathroom that he takes his gun with him. And when his wife Carmen (played by Margarita Kenétic) checks up on him in the bathroom to see what’s going on, he thinks she’s an intruder and he shoots at her and barely misses. The bullet instead hits the bathroom door frame.

The family’s chief maid Valeriana (played by María Telón) has also gone to see what all the ruckus is about. But Enrique, in a state of panic, grabs Valeriana and holds her as if she’s a hostage. During the chaos, Enrique and Carmen’s daughter Natalia runs into the room and sees what’s going on and calls out for the family’s trusted security employee Letona (played by Juan Pablo Olyslager), who manages to get the gun away from Enrique and calm things down.

This disturbing incident was witnessed by several of the live-in servants, who are all indigenous people. The next day, they band together with Valeriana to tell Carmen and Natalia that they want to quit. But Carmen and Natalia convince the servants to stay, by telling them that no other employers will treat them as well as they’ve been treated by the Monteverde family. This scene can be considered symbolic of Spanish colonialism in Guatemala, where indigenous people were kept subservient by Spanish invaders, who believed that they knew what was best for the native people.

It’s also the first real sign of the condescending attitude that Carmen and Natalia have toward people whom they considered “inferior” to them, especially if they are working-class and indigenous people. And it’s also the first indication of how Carmen and Natalia deny and enable Enrique’s bad behavior. Later in the story, it becomes apparent that Carmen is a lot worse than Natalia when it comes to the snobbery toward indigenous people and the covering up of Enrique’s crimes.

And the reason why Carmen has particular disdain for indigenous women is also revealed. (The reason why isn’t so surprising.) Carmen’s willingness to stay silent and cover up for her husband, in order to maintain her outwardly privileged lifestyle, is an attitude that is very common with the spouses of powerful men who are corrupt. 

During the trial, people testify about the Guatemalan government army’s vicious torture and killings during the civil war in the early 1980s. One of the witnesses is a woman who testifies to being raped by government soldiers, who then murdered her family. Enrique’s attorney argues that Enrique never ordered the Guatemalan army to kill a specific race or religion. Enrique testifies that any actions he took were to help better establish a national identity.

Enrique is found guilty, and the verdict causes an eruption of chaos in and outside the courtroom. Enrique looks like he’s about to have a heart attack, so he is rushed to a hospital. A huge crowd outside celebrates the verdict. It’s a mob scene of protestors and media that follow the family back to their home. Letona advises that the family stay fully sequestered in their home until the situation dies down.

While Enrique is recuperating in a hospital, Natalia and Carmen have a private conversation at their home. Natalia starts to question Enrique’s mental stability and wonders if they should get him psychiatric help and possibly put him in a psychiatric institution, but Carmen is against the idea. Natalia is also disturbed by the testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses, because she believes them, and she wonders if her father participated in the atrocities that he was accused of ordering.

Carmen’s response is to tell Natalia that many of the women who claimed that they were raped were “whores” who offered themselves to the soldiers, and those who were raped were violated by lower-level soldiers. Carmen says that although Enrique was never a faithful husband, she implies that his military ranking was too high to be a common soldier raping people. Carmen then questions Natalia’s family loyalty by asking, “Which side are you on?” She also asks Natalia if she’s turning into a leftie Communist.

And when Enrique is released from the hospital, it’s another chaotic event with a large crowd of angry protestors surrounding the ambulance that takes Enrique home. It’s revealed later in the story that Enrique’s guilty verdict was overturned. Although he won’t be incarcerated for his crimes, his home has turned into another type of prison.

As the protestors are gathered outside the mansion, they shout angry statements during all hours of the day, but Carmen and Natalia appear to be stoic about all the mayhem. There’s a scene of them sunning themselves outside in their backyard (Natalia is meditating), as if they want to tune out all the uproar surrounding them. But things become dangerous, as the protests start to become violent, with objects being thrown at the house and through windows.

During all of this uproar, a young woman with big, haunting eyes suddenly appears in the crowd. She is let into the house by Valeriana. Her name is Alma (played by María Mercedes Coroy), who has come to work as a live-in maid for the Monteverde family. It isn’t explained why she is in now in the family’s life, but she knows Valeriana very well, so it’s implied that Valeriana is the one who helped get Alma the job.

Alma immediately develops a bond with Sara, who wants Alma to teach her how to hold her breath underwater. It’s soon revealed that Alma has had a tragic life: Her two children (a son and a daughter) have died, and her husband has disappeared. Natalia’s husband (Sara’s father) has also been missing for the last few years, with no signs of foul play. Enrique is convinced that Natalia’s husband abandoned her because her husband doesn’t love her anymore, which is a theory that he cruelly brings up to Natalie when she talks to Enrique about her missing spouse.

After Alma arrives in the household, more strange things starts happening. Carmen begins having nightmares. Enrique does something very creepy, which makes it obvious that he hasn’t changed his ways. And there’s a pet frog that Sara has grown attached to that ends up being the basis for a startling scene in the movie.

“La Llorona” is not the type of horror movie where someone gets attacked or killed every 15 minutes. Instead, the seeping and growing terror is more psychological, although there’s still some disturbing violence in the movie. Alma is the catalyst for many of the things that happen later in the story, but the movie’s emotional center is really Natalia, who becomes increasingly conflicted as she starts to find out that the man she thought her father was directly contradicts with who he actually is.

Writer/director Bustamante has impressively crafted a story not just about revenge for human atrocities but also family betrayal. “La Llorona” has many scenes that are visually striking, beginning with the opening scene, that will send chills up the spines of people watching the movie. And unlike a lot of horror movies, “La Llorona” will make people think about the social issues raised in the film. The movie vividly juxtaposes the brutalities of war with the torment caused by the aftermath of war—and the film makes people wonder which is worse.

Shudder premiered “La Llorona” on August 6, 2020.

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