Review: ‘The Manor’ (2021), starring Barbara Hershey, Bruce Davison, Nicholas Alexander, Jill Larson, Fran Bennett, Katie Amanda Keane and Ciera Payton

December 31, 2021

by Carla Hay

Barbara Hershey and Nicholas Alexander in “The Manor” (Photo by Kevin Estrada/Amazon Content Services)

“The Manor” (2021)

Directed by Axelle Carolyn

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror film “The Manor” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A retired dance teacher checks herself into a manor facility for senior citizens and finds out that mysterious and deadly things are happening in this facility. 

Culture Audience: “The Manor” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Barbara Hershey and formulaic stories about nursing homes from hell.

Pictured clockwise from top left: Jill Larson, Fran Bennett, Bruce Davison and Barbara Hershey in “The Manor” (Photo by Kevin Estrada/Amazon Content Services)

“The Manor” starts off as an intriguing movie showing parallels between a horror story and people’s fear of aging and diseases. But the movie is ruined by a campy ending, which has a big decision that will leave viewers divided. One of the problems with “The Manor” is that it tries to frontload the movie with too much in the first two-thirds of the film, and then rushes to explain everything in the last third of the film. Not everything is adequately explained by the end of the movie, which badly mishandles depictions of Parkinson’s disease.

“The Manor” is part of Blumhouse Television’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series partnership with Prime Video to showcase horror/thriller movies directed by women and people of color. Written and directed by Axelle Carolyn, “The Manor” should be commended for at least trying to do something different in a horror movie, by having the protagonist/lead character as a woman who’s in her 70s. It’s also rare for a horror movie to be set in a nursing home.

However, this concept could have been treated with better attention to details over the health issues that are crucial to the plot. “The Manor” has some genuinely creepy cinematography, and the visual effects are adequate. But there are too many moments that stretch the bounds of credibility, even for a fictional horror movie. One of the biggest flaws of “The Manor” is the mind-boggling, sloppy inconsistency in depicting how the main character has Parkinson’s disease.

At the opening scene of “The Manor,” retired dance teacher Judith Albright (played by Barbara Hershey) is celebrating her 70th birthday at an outdoor party. Judith is a widow whose dance specialty was ballet. Everyone seems to be good cheer. Among the party attendees are Judith’s widowed daughter Barbara (played by Katie Amanda Keane) and Barbara’s 17-year-old son Josh (played by Nicholas Alexander), who has a close relationship with Judith. Suddenly, Judith collapses at the party.

The movie then fast-forwards to six months later. Judith is shown checking voluntarily into Golden Sun Manor Nursing Home, which is a large estate on a sprawling property near a wooded area in an unnamed U.S. city. (“The Manor” was actually filmed in Los Angeles.) It’s revealed that Judith has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and might be showing signs of dementia. Josh doesn’t think Judith belongs in a nursing home, but his mother Barbara thinks it’s the best decision for Judith because Barbara can’t or won’t be responsible for taking care of Judith.

For someone who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Judith is unrealistically nimble and in firm control of her muscles and motor skills. She’s never seen shaking uncontrollably, and she has no problems speaking. “The Manor” would have been more believable if the movie just didn’t even have Parkinson’s disease as one of Judith’s health problems and just made her someone who might be showing signs of dementia.

The dementia part of the movie is why Judith is constantly doubted when she describes her terrifying visions and suspicions that people are being harmed at the nursing home. Judith’s suspicions start when she begins to see a strange creature lurking at night in the room that Judith shares with a wheelchair-using woman named Annette (played by Nancy Linehan Charles), who has Alzheimer’s disease.

Annette rarely talks, but when she does, it’s often incoherent rambling. During one of the few times that Annette can speak clearly, she shouts out a warning to Judith: “Don’t you see? He’s watching us sleep!” It’s enough to confirm to Judith that Annette can see this ominous creature too. But who’s going to believe two people with faulty memories and diminished abilities to distinguish between reality and fantasy?

And just to make sure that Judith will feel more helpless, she’s told when she checks into the nursing home that the residents aren’t allowed to have cell phones. The excuse is that cell phones aren’t allowed, in order to have “peace and quiet” in the building. It’s just a horror movie’s way to prevent characters in distress to be unable to use a cell phone to call for help.

Judith acts surprised by this “no cell phones” rule, but the stern nursing home director Ms. Benson (played by Stacey Travis) reminds Judith that this rule was in the contract that Judith signed. Judith’s only real lifeline to the outside world is her grandson Josh, who visits her on a regular basis. Eventually, Judith tells Josh about her horrifying suspicions about the nursing home.

At one point, Judith is officially diagnosed with dementia by the resident physician Dr. Geoghegan (played by Andrew Tinpo Lee), who tells Barbara that Judith is required to have constant supervision because of her dementia. It means that the nursing home’s staff will have more control over her life. The two staffers whom Judith is in contact with the most are a friendly attendant named Liesel (played by Ciera Payton) and a no-nonsense manager named Elizabeth (played by Shelley Robertson), who always seems to be on the lookout for residents doing something wrong.

Elizabeth and a registered nurse named Gary (played by Devin Kawaoka) are the two staffers most likely to use physical force to subdue a resident or to force a resident to do something that the resident doesn’t want to do. At one point, Judith witnesses Gary overpowering a frightened resident named Imogen (played by Cissy Wellman), who lives across the hall from Judith. As Imogen is forced back into her room, Imogen screams, “I want to go home!”

It’s not the last disturbing thing that Judith will see in this nursing home. And at different points in the movie, Imogen tries to give signals to other people that she wants to escape. Meanwhile, Judith balks at any attempt to get Judith to take medication that will sedate her.

Judith’s new living situation is brightened by the fact that she makes three new friends in the nursing home: Trish (played by Jill Larson) and Ruth (played by Fran Bennett) are talkative roommates. Roland (played by Bruce Davison) is a widower who seems immediately attracted to Judith. The four of them often sit together for meals, and talk about their lives, including a lot of reminiscing about their youth.

Judith confides in her new friends that her relationship with Barbara has some tension. Judith explains that after Barbara’s husband/Josh’s father died, Barbara had a hard time coping, and Judith found herself helping take care of Josh. As a result, Judith and Josh grew closer emotionally, but Barbara has some resentment over this closeness. “He keeps me young,” Judith says proudly about Josh. “He’s the light of my life.”

Judith is allowed to walk outside on the nursing home property, as long as a staffer is with her. During one of Judith’s first tours of the outdoor area, Ciera takes her to a picture-perfect part of the woods that she says is a popular spot for young local trespassers to gather at night and party. “The Manor” is not subtle at all in showing that there’s a tree in this part of the woods that’s “special,” because there’s an almost-blinding white glow around the tree, every time it’s shown in the movie.

Despite the seemingly picturesque surroundings, too many odd and unsettling things are happening to Judith for her to think that the nursing home is a safe place. And when Judith suddenly starts acting like a senior citizen Nancy Drew by snooping around in rooms where she’s not supposed to be, her Parkinson’s disease is all but forgotten. She’s able to quickly crawl underneath a bed to hide from someone, she makes lightning-fast deductions like a seasoned detective, and she vigorously fights back against staffers who try to subdue her.

It all just leads to a shoddily filmed conclusion that’s not earned or believable. Hershey does her best to play a role that gives her a lot of screen time to show some acting range. However, she’s a talented actress who deserved a much better showcase than what is essentially a substandard horror movie that makes an insulting mockery of real health problems faced by people with Parkinson’s disease.

Prime Video premiered “The Manor” on October 8, 2021.

Review: ‘Madres’ (2021), starring Tenoch Huerta, Ariana Guerra, Evelyn Gonzalez, Kerry Cahill and Elpidia Carrillo

December 31, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ariana Guerra in “Madres” (Photo by Alfonso Bresciani/ Amazon Content Services)

“Madres” (2021)

Directed by Ryan Zaragoza

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1977 in California’s fictional Golden Valley, the horror film “Madres” features a predominantly Latino cast (with some white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A Mexican immigrant and his pregnant American-born wife relocate from Los Angeles to rural Golden Valley and find themselves caught in a dangerous mystery over why women in the area have a history of pregnancy trauma and infertility. 

Culture Audience: “Madres” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching movies that are based on real-life horror stories.

Tenoch Huerta and Ariana Guerra in “Madres” (Photo by Alfonso Bresciani/ Amazon Content Services)

“Madres” is a “slow burn” horror movie that’s bound to make people uncomfortable. Even though there are supernatural elements in the story, it’s based on real-life traumatic incidents involving motherhood. The final 20 minutes of the movie make up for the aspects of the story that tend to get repetitive. The cast members of “Madres” also capably handle the material.

“Madres” is part of Blumhouse Television’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series partnership with Prime Video to showcase horror/thriller movies directed by women and people of color. Directed by Ryan Zaragoza and written by Marcella Ochoa and Mario Miscione, “Madres” at first appears to be a standard ghost story about a couple who have seemingly moved into a haunted house. But by the end of the movie, viewers will know that even though “Madres” takes place in 1977, the film makes an impactful statement about a shameful problem in society that still happens today.

In “Madres,” happily married couple Beto Obregon (played by Tenoch Huerta) and Diana Obregon (played by Ariana Guerra) are shown arriving in the rural, fictional town of Golden Valley in the northern part of California. Beto (who is 30 years old) and Diana (who’s about the same age or slightly younger than Beto) have moved to Golden Valley because Beto is a farm worker who has been offered a job to manage a farm. It’s his first managerial job, so the couple is excited about this job opportunity and increased salary, especially because Diana is pregnant with their first child.

Beto is an immigrant from Mexico who has been living in the United States for the past five years. He comes from a poor family, but he has the ambition and work ethic to want to achieve the American Dream. Diana was born in the United States and comes from a middle-class family who was originally from Mexico. Because Diana doesn’t speak Spanish and because she has a light skin tone, she could be mistaken for being a white American. It’s mentioned in the movie that Diana’s parents discouraged her from learning Spanish, which implies that her parents want to distance themselves from their Mexican roots.

“Madres” doesn’t just look at nationality issues. The movie also touches on conflicts that arise because of social class and colorism. In a phone conversation between Diana and her sister Veronica, viewers find out that Diana’s parents do not approve of her marriage to Beto, because he’s uneducated, he’s dark-skinned, and because the parents think Beto will be nothing but a poor farmer. Because of this disapproval, Diana has kept her distance from her parents, who seem to prefer Veronica as the “favored child.”

Diana has a journalism degree. Before she got pregnant, Diana worked as a journalist, but she got fired from her job for being pregnant, but she plans to go back to work when she can. In the meantime, during her pregnancy, Diana has been working on a book. It isn’t long after Diana and Beto are settled into their fixer-upper home that problems start happening.

Diana starts having nightmares, including one shown during the movie’s opening scene where Diana dreams that she has a newborn baby who disappears when the baby’s crib suddenly fills with dirt. Diana also starts to see and hear frightful things at various times of the day and night, such as shadowy figures, a boy with a bloody eye who’s hiding in a tree, and some egg yolk that looks like it starting to bleed.

“Madres” is definitely a “things that go bump in the night” movie, since a lot of scenes are about Diana witnessing something and starting to question her sanity. Sometimes, Beto goes to investigate things that Diana says that she’s seen, but he doesn’t find anything. In the meantime, Diana and Beto become increasingly worried about all of this stress will affect their unborn child.

At his new job, Beto’s supervisor is Tomas (played by Joseph Garcia), who seems to have a lot of confidence in Beto as a new hire. Beto earns the respect of his co-workers (who are all Hispanics/Latinos), but Diana has a harder time fitting into this farm community. At a company picnic, Diana feels like an outsider because she seems to be the only one who doesn’t know how to speak Spanish. And as a newcomer to the area, she also finds it difficult to adjust to living in a rural way of life in this tight-knit community

Even though Diana doesn’t speak Spanish fluently, she does know some words in Spanish. Therefore, Diana can still understand that she’s getting catty and jealous remarks from some of the other wives at this gathering. They think that Diana is too uppity for this clique because she’s light-skinned, college-educated, and never bothered to learn how to speak Spanish. A woman named Rosa (played by Leydi Morales), who is married to a farm worker named Rafael Ernesto (played by René Mena), seems to be the most jealous one in this group of farm worker wives.

During this picnic, Diana finds out that pregnancy and motherhood are touchy subjects in this community. Many of the women in the area have had miscarriages or can’t get pregnant. There are stories going around that maybe the women of Golden Valley are cursed.

Not long after moving to Golden Valley, Beto and Diana go to a gift shop, where they are greeted by Anita (played by Elpidia Carrillo), the shop owner. She offers to give a blessing to the Beto, Diana and their unborn child. Anita sells a lot of trinkets in shop, which looks like she caters to a lot of people who believe in superstitions. It should come as no surprise that Anita is called “The Witch Lady” by many of the locals.

One day, Anita shows up unannounced at Beto and Diana’s house and tries to give Diana a necklace for “protection.” Diana, who is put off by this unexpected visit, says that she’s not superstitious and she firmly refuses this gift. Anita insists that she gives this gift to all pregnant women in the town, but Diana still refuses to take the necklace.

The rest of “Madres” follows Diana’s pregnancy journey that goes from hopeful to harrowing. At one point, Diana ends up in a hospital maternity ward where someone named Nurse Carol (played by Kerry Cahill) is exactly like the type of nurse that you think she is when she interacts with Diana. Along the way, she tries to get to the bottom of the mystery of the house’s previous resident: A woman named Teresa Flores, who died in 1955, and left many of her possessions behind.

Why was the house unoccupied for 22 years before Beto and Diana moved there? Is Teresa possibly haunting the house? And if so, why? And does Anita know more than she’s telling Diana? All of those questions are answered in the movie.

“Madres” is not the type of horror movie that has a lot of action and gore. Anyone looking for that type of content throughout the film will probably be disappointed. The movie overall doesn’t do anything groundbreaking, in terms of jump scares or cinematography. Guerra’s performance is believable and carries the movie. Whether are not viewers like “Madres” largely depends on how much they can connect with Guerra’s portrayal of Diana.

And it takes a while for the movie to pick up its pace. The second half of “Madres” is better than the first half. By the end of “Madres,” it will become clear that the movie isn’t the usual ghost story. The biggest horror in the film doesn’t come from the supernatural but from human beings who commit heinous acts of evil.

Prime Video premiered “Madres” on October 8, 2021.

Review: ‘Black as Night,’ starring Asjha Cooper, Fabrizio Guido, Mason Beauchamp, Frankie Smith, Abbie Gayle, Craig Tate and Keith David

December 30, 2021

by Carla Hay

Fabrizio Guido, Mason Beauchamp, Asjha Cooper and Abbie Gayle in “Black as Night” (Photo by Alfonso Bresciani/Amazon Content Services)

“Black as Night”

Directed by Maritte Lee Go

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans, the horror film “Black as Night” features a racially diverse cast (Latino, white, African American and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Teenagers battle vampires that are plaguing their city. 

Culture Audience: “Black as Night” will appeal primarily to people who want to see botched preaching about racism in a low-quality horror movie.

A scene from “Black as Night” (Photo by Alan Markfield/Amazon Content Services)

The vampire flick “Black as Night” uses racism and colorism as punchlines in ways that aren’t very funny and end up being grating in how these jokes are repeated. It’s an awful horror movie that thinks it’s being clever, when it actually dumbs everything down for the audience in a very formulaic way. As an example of how shoddy and phony the filmmaking is in “Black as Night,” the movie takes place in New Orleans and was filmed on location in New Orleans, but no one in the movie sounds like they’re from New Orleans.

“Black as Night” is filled with degrading stereotypes of African Americans and gay men. The movie’s protagonist is an African American teenage girl who is constantly made to feel inferior because she has darker skin than her African American peers. (It’s the reason why the movie’s title “Black as Night” has a double meaning.) And when viewers find out who the chief villain is in the story, it just shows more terrible stereotyping of African Americans.

“Black as Night” is part of Blumhouse Television’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series partnership with Prime Video to showcase horror/thriller movies directed by women and people of color. Directed by Maritte Lee Go, and written by Sherman Payne and Jay Walker, “Black as Night” wants desperately to look authentic, when it comes to African American culture and how an African American female is supposed to act. However, the filmmaking team chose not to include any African American women as a director, writer or producer for this movie. It’s why so much of “Black as Night,” which centers on an African American female, smacks of so much inauthenticity.

The protagonist and narrator of “Black as Night” is a teenager named Shawna (played by Asjha Cooper), who’s about 16 or 17. Her best friend/classmate is an openly gay, Mexican immigrant named Pedro (played by Fabrizio Guido), who is every bit of the “sassy and gossipy gay best friend” stereotype that has been overdone in movies and TV. Shawna and Pedro spend a lot of their time making racist comments about white people, because they automatically think most white people are racists.

The first time that Shawna and Pedro are seen in the movie, they’re sunning themselves on the roof of a building that could be where Shawna or Pedro lives. In a hindsight voiceover, Shawna says, “We didn’t know it yet, [but] the summer I got breasts was the same summer I fought vampires.” That’s the first sign that this movie about a teenage girl was written by men.

Before the part of the movie happens where Shawna and Pedro fight vampires, their biggest worries are about school and their families. Shawna says she won’t try out for the school’s dance team because “90% of the girls they pick are Creole because of a certain look.” In other words, they look light-skinned or biracial.

Meanwhile, Pedro is a track athlete who’s been offered a full athletic scholarship to a prestigious boarding school in Texas, but Pedro doesn’t want to go because he says that doesn’t want to go to a school that has a lot of white people. He also says that he doesn’t want to move far away from his family in New Orleans. In other words, Shawn and Pedro deprive themselves of opportunities and want to blame their self-sabatoging on other people. Immediately, viewers can see how annoying these two characters are going to be with this negative attitude.

And it gets worse. Shawna has a crush on a good-looking and popular student named Chris Thompson (played by Mason Beauchamp), but she believes she doesn’t have a chance with him because she thinks that Chris is out of her league. Why? Shawna worries that her skin might be too dark for him. It doesn’t help that Shawna’s older brother Jamal (played by Frankie Smith) tells her that Chris prefers “Creole girls.” Jamal also taunts Shawna for her skin color by calling her “Wesley Snipes with braids.”

The negative stereotypes continue. Shawna and Jamal’s mother Denise (played by Kenneisha Thompson) lives in a separate household because she’s a drug addict. The filmmakers have Denise live in a “ghetto” building in a “ghetto” part of town. There is absolutely no good reason for why the filmmakers made Shawna’s mother be a drug addict, except to reinforce negative stereotypes that most African American kids have a parent who’s a drug addict and/or a criminal. In reality, that stereotype is not true for most African American kids and most African American parents.

Shawn and Jamal’s father Steven (played by Derek Roberts) has full custody and is raising Shawn and Jamal as a single parent. There’s a scene where Shawna visits her mother, who seems more concerned about how much money she can get from Shawna than spending quality time with Shawna. And since “Black as Night” is a movie has no use for showing any African American woman as a positive female role model for Shawna, viewers shouldn’t be surprised to find out what happens to Denise.

Meanwhile, community activists are protesting the impending demolition of the Ombreaux housing projects to make way for the construction of higher-priced residential buildings. The reconstruction will displace low-income residents, who won’t be able to afford the new housing that will be built. What does this all have to do with the vampire story in “Black as Night”? It’s because homeless or low-income African Americans in the area are being turned into vampires, as shown in the movie’s opening scene.

The “Black as Night” plot has a few twists and turns that aren’t very imaginative. But it’s enough to say that Shawna has very personal reasons for the “race against time” to find the head vampire to kill. Keith David appears toward the end of the movie as a character named Babineaux, who holds the key to the mystery.

Meanwhile, Shawna and Pedro enlist the help of another teen named Granya (played by Abbie Gayle), who’s the leader of a vampire book club for other teenage girls. Shawn and Pedro need Granya to teach them about how to hunt vampires. Pedro and Shawna make a lot of snarky racist comments about Granya because she’s white and comes from a well-to-do family—as if those are good-enough reasons to automatically ridicule someone.

Anyone who watches “Black as Night” has to endure a lot of bratty teen talk and politically correct preaching that tries too hard to make this low-quality horror flick look like it has a social conscience. It’s all so fake because of all the reverse racism that is condoned and celebrated in this movie. That’s not to say that the movie shouldn’t acknowledge that white supremacists exist, but the movie is unrelenting in repeating Shawna’s and Pedro’s belief that all white people are racists until proven otherwise. That belief is racist too.

The acting in “Black as Night” isn’t very impressive. Cooper shows potential if she’s given better characters to play. The rest of the cast members either play stereotypes or characters with bland and forgettable personalities. Shawna is supposed to be a hero, but the filmmakers have this misguided belief that it’s heroic to make African Americans blame everything on white supremacy. It’s an oversimplified and irresponsible portrayal about the complex issues surrounding racism and colorism. And it’s an understatement to say that this horror movie badly mishandles these issues.

The answer to the movie’s vampire mystery is a complete cop-out that just reinforces negative stereotypes of African Americans. The final battle scene isn’t very creative and actually quite irritating because the characters make wisecracking jokes during this fight. It’s one of many examples of how “Black as Night” can’t decide if it wants to be a social justice horror movie or a comedic horror movie. Trying to be both at the same time just cancels any credibility of either intention.

And arguably worst of all, “Black as Night” has an unbelievably weak and moronic ending. There are at least a dozen better ways that the movie could have ended. The ending is so bad, it’s like the filmmakers wanted to give a middle finger to viewers who wasted their time watching this smug trash dump of a film. If movie fans want to see a quality horror movie, then the best way that they can give a middle finger back to this filmmaker contempt of viewers is to avoid watching “Black as Night.”

Prime Video premiered “Black as Night” on October 1, 2021.

Review: ‘Bingo Hell,’ starring Adriana Barraza, L. Scott Caldwell, Richard Brake, Clayton Landey, Jonathan Medina, Bertila Damas and Grover Coulson

December 30, 2021

by Carla Hay

Richard Brake in “Bingo Hell” (Photo by Brian Roedel/Amazon Content Services)

“Bingo Hell”

Directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional U.S. city of Oak Springs, the horror film “Bingo Hell” features a racially diverse cast of characters (Latino, white, African American and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A working-class city affected by gentrification gets targeted by a sinister gambling mogul, who promises to make people rich by playing bingo. 

Culture Audience: “Bingo Hell” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching horror movies that put more emphasis on campiness than being scary.

Clayton Landey, Bertila Damas, Adriana Barraza, L. Scott Caldwell and Grover Coulson in “Bingo Hell” (Photo by Brian Roedel/Amazon Content Services)

“Bingo Hell” takes a good concept for a horror movie and squanders it on a cheap-looking flick that’s short on scares and too heavy on campiness. It’s like a very inferior episode of “Tales From the Crypt” but made into a movie. Not even the charismatic talent of “Babel” Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza can save this misguided and monotonous film, because the “Bingo Hell” filmmakers make her protagonist character into a simplistic and annoying parody of a busybody senior citizen.

“Bingo Hell” is part of Blumhouse Television’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series partnership with Prime Video to showcase horror/thriller movies directed by women and people of color. The movie touches on issues that many underprivileged people of color face when they are priced out of neighborhoods that become gentrified. However, this social issue is flung by the wayside when the movie devolves into a predictable and dull story about a demon taking over a community, culminating in a badly staged showdown with no surprises.

Gigi Saul Guerrero directed “Bingo Hell” and co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Shane McKenzie and Perry Blackshear. For Hulu’s “Into the Dark” horror anthology series (another Blumhouse production), Guerrero directed and co-wrote 2019’s “Culture Shock,” which did a much better job of combining horror with socioeconomic issues of race and privilege in America. One of the worst aspects of “Bingo Hell” is the movie’s musical score, which sounds like irritating sitcom music. The score music (by Chase Horseman) is very ill-suited for a horror movie that’s supposed to be terrifying.

In “Bingo Hell,” Barraza plays a widow named Lupita, a feisty, longtime resident of the fictional U.S. city called Oak Springs. Most of Oak Springs’ residents are low-income, working-class people. Senior citizens and people of color are a large percentage of the city’s population. Lupita, who lives by herself, has been getting letters in the mail from real-estate developers asking her to sell her home, but she refuses.

As an example of how she feels about being unwilling to sell her home, an early scene in the movie shows Lupita getting one of these letters, from a company called Torregano Real Estate. She takes a lit cigar and stubs it on the letter. Lupita rants to anyone who listens that no amount of money can make her sell her home. She also doesn’t like that some of her friends have taken offers to sell their homes, and she fears that more of her neighborhood friends will also sell their homes and move away.

And if it isn’t made clear enough that Lupita hates that her neighborhood is being gentrified, when she walks down a street and sees a young hipster woman drinking coffee, Lupita deliberately bumps into the woman so that she spills the coffee. Lupita pretends to be sorry for this “accident,” but she really isn’t sorry. She has a smug grin on her face, as if she’s glad that that she caused this mishap. Lupita is a senior citizen in her 60s, but she has the emotional maturity of a 16-year-old.

Lupita is a stereotypical nosy old lady who has to be in everybody else’s business because she has too much time on her hands. One by one, she visits her four closest confidants. Yolanda (played by Bertila Demas) is a friendly owner of a hair salon, where gossipy grandmother Dolores (played by L. Scott Caldwell) is a regular customer. Just like Lupita, Dolores says she doesn’t want to sell her house.

Clarence (played by Grover Coulson) is a laid-back mechanic who’s been working on one of his vintage cars for years. He’s been working on it for so long, it’s become an inside joke among these friends. Morris (played by Clayton Landey) is a “regular guy” plumber who comes into the hair salon one day to do some pipe repairs. Morris has a crush on Yolanda. Since they are both single, there’s some flirtation between them that’s not very interesting.

The community has been talking about the mysterious death of a widower named Mario (played by David Jensen), who is shown dying in the movie’s opening scene. He is sitting at a table in his home with a crazed look on his face, as he says: “I sold the house to him. I love him.”

A sinister-sounding male voice in the distance can be heard saying, “She would be so proud,” in reference to Mario’s late wife Patricia. Mario suddenly begins gorging on bingo balls until he chokes and dies. Meanwhile, a suitcase of cash is seen nearby in the room where Mario has died. All of these are obvious clues about what’s to come later in the story.

Meanwhile, Dolores has been having some family drama at home. Her rebellious teenage grandson Caleb (played by Joshua Caleb Johnson) and Caleb’s single mother Raquel (played by Kelly Murtagh) have come to stay with Dolores because Raquel has been having financial problems. Dolores’ son is Caleb’s father, who is described in the movie as a deadbeat dad who is not involved in raising Caleb.

Raquel and Dolores frequently clash because Dolores thinks that Raquel is a terrible mother who’s too lenient with Caleb (who’s about 15 or 16), while Raquel thinks Dolores is too strict and a failure as a mother because Dolores’ son turned out to be an irresponsible person. The movie wastes a lot of time with this family squabbling. The only purpose is to show that Raquel is money-hungry but she’s too lazy to want to find a job, which is an attitude that affects her decisions later in the movie.

It’s also problematic that the one character in the movie who’s a young African American male is portrayed as someone who commits crimes. Caleb’s misdeeds include breaking into cars. It’s such a lazy and unnecessary negative stereotype that is over-used in movies and TV. This gross stereotype doesn’t accurately represent the reality that most African American teens are not troublemaking criminals.

Dolores spends a lot of time at Oak Springs Community Center East, where she and some of her friends like to play bingo. The community center is also a place for support-group meetings. Eric (played by Jonathan Medina) is a local man in his 30s who leads a support group meeting.

Lupita invites Eric to the next bingo game, but he declines, by saying: “Bingo is not my thing. Maybe in 50 years, when I’m your age.” Eric isn’t disrespectful to Lupita, because he calls Lupita and Dolores “legends” of Oak Springs. Lupita feels good enough about the community center that when she finds a $100 bill on the street (the bill is covered with a mysterious white gummy substance), she donates the $100 to the community center by dropping the bill in a donation box.

Not long after this act of generosity, a big black Cadillac shows up in town. The driver calls himself Mr. Big (played by Richard Brake), a gambling mogul who speaks in an exaggerated Southern drawl and has an evil smirk. Mr. Big has come to town because he’s opening Mr. Big’s Bingo, a gambling hall specifically for bingo games.

Mr. Big talks in the type of grandiose clichés that you might expect from a carnival huckster or an infomercial hawker. He shouts to a crowd in Oak Springs: “They say that money can’t buy happiness! I disagree! You know what kinds of people believe this nonsense? Losers! Now tell me, Oak Springs, are you losers?”

Mr. Big makes a big splash in the community by showing off his wealth and with a flashy ad campaign where he promises that people can win thousands of dollars per game at Mr. Big’s Bingo. After this bingo hall opens, people in the community who play at Mr. Big’s Bingo inevitably get greedy and competitive. Because it’s a horror movie, you know where this is going, of course.

The horror part of “Bingo Hell” is frustratingly undercut by hammy acting from Brake and the aforementioned sitcom-like musical score. Meanwhile, the characters in the movie act increasingly like caricatures, as the cast members give average or subpar performances. What started out as a promising portrait of how gentrification and greed can cause horror in a community turns into a silly gorefest with ultimately nothing meaningful to say and nothing truly frightening to show.

Prime Video premiered “Bingo Hell” on October 1, 2021.

2021 New York Comic Con: What to expect at this year’s event

 

Antony Starr and Erin Moriarty in “The Boys” (Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video)

October 4, 2021

by Carla Hay

The 16th annual New York Comic Con takes place October 7 to October 10, 2021, in New York City. For the first time, New York Comic Con will be a hybrid event, where people can attend in person or virtually. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, New York Comic Con was cancelled as an in-person event in 2020 and instead presented as a scaled-down virtual-only event. Before the pandemic, New York Comic Con attracted about 250,000 people per year since 2017, according to ReedPOP, the company that produces the event. The first New York Comic Con took place in 2006.

In 2021, New York Comic Con’s main hub remains the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, New York Comic Con in 2021 has less activities, panels and locations than in previous years. For example, in 2019, New York Comic Con took place at several other locations in New York City, including Hammerstein Ballroom, the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, the New York Public Library, the Way Station (in Brooklyn) and AMC 34th Street. Anime Fest (an offshoot of Anime Expo that was presented in conjunction with New York Comic Con in 2018 and 2019) will not take place at New York Comic Con in 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in new safety requirements for New York Comic Con. All attendees ages 12 and up must show proof of vaccination. Attendees younger than age 12 must be accompanied by a fully vaccinated guardian and provide proof of either a negative rapid antigen COVID-19 test taken within six hours of entry to each day of the event,  or a negative lab PCR COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of entry of each day of the event.

Checkpoints have been set up at or near the Javits Center for attendees to obtain wristbands indicating that people have shown proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. No one can be admitted into New York Comic Con without these wristbands. The checkpoint locations and open hours can be found here. All attendees must wear a face covering at all times while inside a New York Comic Con building, except when eating or drinking.

TV shows continue to dominate the most high-profile panels and activities. New York Comic Con in 2021 has the following TV shows with in-person panel showcases: Amazon Prime Video’s  superhero series “The Boys” on October 8; USA Network’s and Syfy’s horror series”Chucky” on October 8; Starz’s fantasy drama series “Outlander” on October 9; Paramount+’s sci-fi series “Star Trek: Discovery” on October 9;  FX’s sci-fi series “Y: The Last Man” on October 9; and FX’s vampire horror comedy series “What We Do in the Shadows” on October 10.

There are very few feature films that have panels at New York Comic Con this year. The movie panel that is expected to get the biggest crowd is Columbia Pictures’ “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” on October 8, featuring in-person appearances by director Jason Reitman, producer Ivan Reitman (who directed the first two “Ghostbusters” movies) and members of the “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” cast. Amazon Prime Video’s 2021 installment of its “Welcome to the Blumhouse” movie anthology horor series has a virtual-only panel on October 7. Funimation will have two in-person movie panels featuring the English-language voice cast members: “My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission” on October 8 and “Demon Slayer -Kimetsu no Yaiba- The Movie: Mugen Train” on October 10.

In addition, New York Comic Con will have one-on-one Q&As that each spotlight a different actor: William Shatner (“Star Trek”) on October 7; George Takei (“Star Trek”) on October 8; and David Harbour (“Stranger Things,” “Black Widow”) on October 9. Meanwhile, in a virtual-only, pre-recorded Q&A on October 8, “Game of Thrones” alum Emilia Clarke discusses her comic book writing debut, “M.O.M.: Mother of Madness.”

Broadway stars are represented on several panels. “The Big Broadway Nerd Panel” will feature panelists such as Anthony Rapp (“Rent”) and James M. Iglehart (“Aladdin”) on October 8. Other Broadway-related panels inlcude “The Broadway Bard Party” on October 9; “E-Ticket to Broadway” Podcast LIVE at Comic Con!” on October 9; “#BroadwayToHollywood: A New Age of Musicals” on October 10; and “Broadway’s A.J. Holmes: Creating One-Man Musical Yeah, But Not Right Now” on October 10.

The 2021 Harvey Awards Hall of Fame ceremony will be livestreamed during New York Comic Con on October  8. The recipients are manga artist Rumiko Takahashi (“Urusei Yatsura,” “Inuyasha”), horror illustrator Bernie Wrightson (“Swamp Thing”), painter and cover artist Jeffrey Catherine Jones, award-winning comic book artist Barry Windsor-Smith (“Conan the Barbarian,” “Weapon X”), and Michael Kaluta (“The Shadow,” “Starstruck”).

And, of course, there will be plenty of panels, exhibits and previews for comic books, video games, fantasy novels and other pop-culture attractions. It wouldn’t be a Comic Con without cosplaying and merchandise sales. The Cosplay Central area returns in a new location: on Level 1 in Room 1A02 (right across from Artist Alley) at the Javits Center. While at Cosplay Central, cosplayers can mingle, pose for photos, use the dressing rooms and attend panel discussions. New York Comic Con also has an enormous amount of merchandise for sale for numerous types of entertainment.

AUTOGRAPH SESSIONS AND PHOTO OPS

Several stars from movies and TV shows will have individual autograph sessions and/or photo opportunities with fans, for a fee. All celebrities are offering autographs and photos, unless otherwise noted. Prices will vary, according to the celebrity. Participants include:

  • John Cena (“The Suicide Squad,” “Peacemaker,” “F9”) on October 9.
  • Wes Chatham (“The Expanse”) on October 8  and October 9.
  • Hayden Christensen (“Star Wars: Attack of the Clones,” “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith”) on October 9 and October 10.
  • Chace Crawford (“The Boys”) on October 8 and October 9.
  • Karen Fukahara (“The Boys”) on October 8, October 9 and October 10.
  • David Harbour (“Stranger Things,” “Black Widow”) on October 9 and October 10.
  • Mary McDonnell (“Battlestar Galactica”) on October 7, October 8 and October 9.
  • Erin Moriarty (“The Boys”) on October 8, October 9 and October 10.
  • Kate Mulgrew (“Star Trek: Voyager,” “Star Trek: Prodigy”) on October 9.
  • Edward James Olmos (“Battlestar Galactica”) on October 7, October 8 and October 9.
  • Jack Quaid (“The Boys”) on October 8, October 9 and October 10.
  • William Shatner (“Star Trek”) on October 7, October 8 and October 9. (Autographs only.)
  • Jurnee Smollett (“Lovecraft Country,” “Birds of Prey”) on October 9.
  • Antony Starr (“The Boys”) on October 8, October 9 and October 10.
  • Steven Strait (“The Expanse”) on October 8 and October 9.
  • George Takei (“Star Trek”) on October 7, October 8 and October 9.
  • Janet Varney (“The Legend of Korra”) on October 8.

TELEVISION AND WEB SERIES PANELS

(All panel descriptions are courtesy of New York Comic Con.)

Virtual = Panelists will not appear in person; panel is available for viewing in person and online.

In Person = Panelists will appear in person; panel is available for viewing in person and online.

“Welcome to Earth”

October 7, 2021, 11:15 AM – 12:15 PM (Virtual)

Room 411

See the planet as you’ve never witnessed it before with “Welcome to Earth,” the new, awe-inspiring Disney+ original series from National Geographic and starring Will Smith. Meet the Explorers that guide Will through an intimate journey as he travels to the ends of the Earth to observe the strangest, most unusual, and dangerous spectacles the planet has to offer. Learn directly from the Explorers what it takes to unlock some of nature’s most well kept secrets.

“Among the Stars

October 7, 2021, 12:45 PM – 1:45 PM (Virtual)

Room 411

“Among the Stars” is a six-part Disney+ original series with fly-on-the-wall access into the world of NASA. With cameras stationed on both Earth and the International Space Station, the series follows NASA astronaut Captain Chris Cassidy for one last mission to repair the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) which aims to reveal the origins of the universe. Hear directly from the Astronauts and scientists who take on space missions and the challenges they face every day!

“The World According to Jeff Goldblum”

October 7, 2021, 2:15 PM – 3:15 PM (Virtual)

Room 411

Jeff Goldblum is back, and he’s as curious as ever. For season two of the Disney+ original series, premiering on Disney+ Day November 12, Jeff uncovers the surprising secrets and passionate people behind a whole new host of topics, including magic and illusions. Jeff finds out just how magic has shaped the world we live in. Join Jeff along with legendary Magicians Penn & Teller as well as Street Magician Erik Blackwell to go behind the curtain of the mysterious world of MAGIC.

“Battlestar Galactica Retrospective”

October 7, 2021, 3:30 PM – 4:30 PM (In person)

Main Stage 1D Hall

The stars of the iconic show are coming to New York Comic Con! Join Edward James Olmos (Commander William Adama) and Mary McDonnell (President Laura Roslin) as they recount their journey aboard the Battlestar Galactica and answer questions from fans. Cylons and Humans are both welcome. So Say We All!

“Blade Runner: Black Lotus”

October 7, 2021, 6:45 – 7:45 PM (Virtual)

Room 411

Explore the intricate approach to writing the dystopian future with the producers and directors of “Blade Runner: Black Lotus” with futurist, Maurice Conti, who shares his take on how the Blade Runner world stacks up against our future.

“The Legend of Vox Machina”

October 8, 2021, 11 AM – 12 PM (Virtual)

Main Stage 1D Hall

“The Legend of Vox Machina” is an animated fantasy-adventure series for adults that follows Vox Machina, a band of misfits with a fondness for boozing and brawling. In a desperate attempt to pay off their mounting bar tab, these unlikely heroes end up on a quest to save the realm of Exandria from dark magical forces. From a sinister necromancer to a powerful curse, the group confronts a variety of obstacles that not only test their skills, but also the strength of their bond. Join the entire cast of Critical Role as they discuss the process of adapting a role-playing game (RPG) campaign into a series for Amazon Prime Video, as well as share a special sneak peek of footage from the series. Please note, this panel is recommended for mature audiences and contains content not suitable for younger audiences.

“Chucky”

October 8, 2021, 1:00 PM – 2:15 PM (In Person)

Empire Stage

Everyone’s favorite killer doll is coming to television! Join us for the world premiere of the first episode of the new series “Chucky,” ahead of its October 12 debut on USA and Syfy, followed by an exclusive conversation between creator and showrunner Don Mancini and franchise icon Jennifer Tilly (Tiffany Valentine). Get ready to play!

“I Know What You Did Last Summer”

October 8, 2021, 4:30 PM – 5:30 PM (Virtual)

Room 404/405

Written and executive produced by Sara Goodman, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” is based on Lois Duncan’s 1973 novel, which was also the basis of the iconic 1997 film. One year after the fatal car accident that haunted their graduation night, a group of teenagers find themselves bound together by a dark secret and stalked by a brutal killer. As they try to piece together who’s after them, they reveal the dark side of their seemingly perfect town—and themselves. Everyone is hiding something, and uncovering the wrong secret could be deadly. Join the series cast and creator as they discuss what fans can most look forward to when the series premieres Friday, October 15, exclusively on Amazon Prime Video. Please note, this panel is recommended for mature audiences and contains content not suitable for younger audiences.

“The Boys”

October 8, 2021, 4:45 PM – 5:45 PM (In Person)

Empire Stage

Join Karen Fukuhara, Erin Moriarty, Jack Quaid and Antony Starr as they look back on their favorite moments from the first two seasons of “The Boys.”

“Evil”

October 8, 2021, 5:15 PM – 6:15 PM (Virtual)

Room 411

“Evil” is a psychological mystery that examines the origins of evil along the dividing line between science and religion. The series focuses on a skeptical female psychologist who joins a priest-in-training and contractor as they investigate the Church’s backlog of unexplained mysteries, including supposed miracles, demonic possessions and hauntings. Their job is to assess if there’s a logical explanation or if something truly supernatural is at work. The second season brings evil closer to home. Kristen struggles with her darker nature, while David suffers temptation as he gets closer to his ordination. Meanwhile Ben is visited by night terrors that prey on his greatest fears. Please join series stars Katja Herbers, Mike Colter, Aasif Mandvi, Michael Emerson, Christine Lahti and Kurt Fuller, along with co-creators and executive producers Robert King and Michelle King for a panel discussion about the second season. “Evil” airs Sundays on Paramount+.

“Outlander”

October 9, 2021, 11 AM – 12 PM (In Person)

Empire Stage

Travel through the stones of Craigh na Dun and go back in time with the cast and executive producers of “Outlander” as they take on New York Comic Con in support of the sixth season, premiering early 2022.

“All Elite Wrestlng”

October 9, 2021, 12:45 PM – 1:45 PM (In Person)

Main Stage 1D Hall

Join the stars of “All Elite Wrestling” as they take the stage at New York Comic Con once again for a ringside view of their wildly popular wrestling shows airing weekly on TNT. Panelists: Orange Cassidy, Tony Schiavone, Adam Cole, Thunder Rosa, Darby Allin.

“Star Trek: Discovery”

October 9, 2021, 12:45 PM – 1:45 PM (In Person)

Empire Stage

In advance of the season four return of “Star Trek: Discovery” on Paramount+, join cast members Sonequa Martin-Green, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Wilson Cruz, David Ajala and Blu Del Barrio and executive producer Michelle Paradise as they tease the upcoming season of the hit series, which finds Captain Burnham and the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery facing a threat unlike any they’ve ever encountered. With Federation and non-Federation worlds alike feeling the impact, they must confront the unknown and work together to ensure a hopeful future for all. Produced by CBS Studios, “Star Trek Discovery” will premiere on Paramount+ on November 18.

“Psych 3: This Is Gus”

October 9, 2021, 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM (Virtual)

Room 404/405

Calling all Psych-Os! Wait for iiiiiiiiiit……the Psych cast is back with an all-new movie! In preparation for a shotgun wedding before the birth of Baby Guster, Shawn and Groomzilla Gus go rogue in an attempt to track down Selene’s estranged husband, as Lassiter grapples with the future of his career. The cast and creators of the Peacock Original, “Psych 3: This Is Gus” reunite to discuss the upcoming film and reveal some exciting news! Moderated by Chancellor Agard.

“The Expanse”

October 9, 2021, 2:30 PM – 3:30 PM (In Person)

Main Stage 1D Hall

Join the main leads: Wes Chatham and Steven Strait of the hit Amazon show “The Expanse,” as they reflect on the series and answer fan questions!

“Hanna”

October 9, 2021, 3:30 PM – 4:30 PM (Virtual)

Room 404/405

“Hanna” follows the journey of an extraordinary young woman as she strives to destroy Utrax, the sinister organization that genetically engineered her and others to be the perfect assassins. In the upcoming third season, Hanna attempts to destroy Utrax with the help of troubled ex-CIA agent Marissa Wiegler. The story crisscrosses Europe and builds to a dramatic climax when Hanna and Marissa discover the true, horrifying scope of the operation as well as who was ultimately behind it all. Join the cast and creators as they preview season 3, coming to Amazon Prime Video this fall.

“One of Us Is Lying”

October 9, 2021, 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM (Virtual)

Room 404/405

Meet the cast and executive producers of Peacock’s highly-anticipated new original series “One of Us Is Lying.” Based on Karen M. McManus’s New York Times best-selling novel of the same title, this is the story of what happens when five high schoolers walk into detention and only four make it out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide. Join the cast and EPs of the Peacock Original series, Annalisa Cochrane (Addy), Chibuikem Uche (Cooper), Marianly Tejada (Bronwyn), Cooper van Grootel (Nate), and Mark McKenna (Simon), as well as executive producer Erica Saleh and showrunner/executive producer Darío Madrona, to discuss how they brought this fan-favorite book to life. Moderated by Ashley Bellman. ”One of Us Is Lying” starts streaming October 7, exclusively on Peacock.

“The 4400”

October 9, 2021, 5:15 PM – 6:15 PM (Virtual)

Room 411

Based on the original TV series by Scott Peters and Renee Echevarria, 4400 overlooked, undervalued, or otherwise marginalized people who vanished without a trace over the last hundred years are all returned in an instant, having not aged a day and with no memory of what happened to them. Join series stars Brittany Adebumola, Joseph David-Jones, Ireon Roach, TL Thompson, Jaye Ladymore, Derrick A. King, Khailah Johnson, Cory Jeacoma, AMARR, and Autumn Best in a conversation moderated by showrunners Ariana Jackson and Sunil Nayar as they discuss the exciting, reimagined story and what to expect when the series premieres Monday, October 25 on The CW.

“Y: The Last Man”

October 9, 2021, 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM (In Person)

Empire Stage

Based on the best-selling comics from Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, FX’s highly anticipated adaptation of “Y: The Last Man” traverses a post-apocalyptic world in which a cataclysmic Event kills every mammal with a Y chromosome except for one cisgender man and his pet monkey. The series follows the survivors of this new world as they struggle with their efforts to restore what was lost and the opportunity to build something better. Currently streaming on FX on Hulu, join Executive Producer/Writer/Showrunner Eliza Clark and cast for and advanced screening of Episode 7 and a moderated discussion about how they updated the beloved books and brought them to life.

“The Girl in the Woods”

October 9, 2021, 6:45 PM – 7:45 PM (In Person)

Room 411

Peacock brings NYCC an exclusive first look at “The Girl in the Woods,” a much-anticipated series adaptation of one of the biggest IPs in Crypt TV’s monster universe. Set in the Pacific Northwest, “The Girl in the Woods” follows Carrie’s escape from her mysterious, cult-like colony that guards the world from monsters hidden behind a secret door within the woods. Join executive producers Jack Davis and Darren Brandl (Crypt TV), co-executive producer Jasmine Johnson, and director and co-executive producer Krysten Ritter as they discuss bringing this supernatural story to life and what fans can expect when the Peacock Original YA drama “The Girl in the Woods” premieres Thursday, October 21, exclusively on Peacock.

“The Hot Zone: Anthrax”

October 10, 2021, 11:15 AM – 12:15 PM (Virtual)

Room 411

Nat Geo’s “The Hot Zone” anthology series delves into real-life stories of outbreaks and the heroes on the frontlines. Following the dark days of 9/11, America faced a second wave of attacks: the anthrax letters, which targeted journalists and politicians. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the haunting attacks that killed five people and caused panic across the United States. Inspired by true events, “The Hot Zone: Anthrax” is a timely scientific thriller that follows an FBI Special Agent as he tracks down the killer. While many of us can remember the breaking news headlines and widespread fear that arose during this time, there are many layers to this shocking and unbelievable story that have not yet been told. In this panel, go behind-the-scenes of this chilling crime story with co-stars Tony Goldwyn and Daniel Dae Kim, and showrunners Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson.

“Star Trek: Prodigy”

October 10, 2021, 12:45 PM – 2:00 PM (In Person)

Empire Stage

Join Paramount+, CBS Studios and Nickelodeon for a premiere screening for the whole family of the highly anticipated upcoming “Star Trek” animated kids’ series “Star Trek: Prodigy.” Following the screening, voice cast members Kate Mulgrew, Brett Gray, Rylee Alazraqui and Dee Bradley Baker, producers Kevin Hageman, Dan Hageman and Ben Hibon, and Ramsey Naito, President, Animation & Development, Paramount Animation and Nickelodeon Animation, will take the stage for a moderated panel discussion.

Developed by Emmy® Award-winners Kevin and Dan Hageman (“Trollhunters” and “Ninjago”) the CG-animated series “Star Trek: Prodigy” is the first “Star Trek” series aimed at younger audiences and will follow a motley crew of young aliens who must figure out how to work together while navigating a greater galaxy, in search for a better future. These six young outcasts know nothing about the ship they have commandeered – a first in the history of the Star Trek Franchise – but over the course of their adventures together, they will each be introduced to Starfleet and the ideals it represents. Produced by the Nickelodeon Animation Studio and CBS Studios, “Star Trek: Prodigy” will premiere on Paramount+ on October 28.

“Just Beyond”

October 10, 2021, 12:45 PM – 1:45 PM (Virtual)

Room 411

Inspired by the writings of R.L. Stine, the Disney+ series “Just Beyond” tells astonishing and thought-provoking stories of a reality just beyond the one we know. In each of the eight unique stories, viewers meet a new cast of characters who must go on a surprising journey of self-discovery in a supernatural world of witches, aliens, ghosts and parallel universes. Join cast Cedric Joe, Megan Stott, Lexi Underwood along with creator and executive producer Seth Grahame-Smith and co-executive producer R.L. Stine for a Q&A moderated by TV Guide Magazine’s Damian Holbrook

“The Badass Women of ‘The Walking Dead'”

October 10, 2021, 2:00 – 3:00 PM (Virtual)

Room 404/405

We’ve seen the women of The Walking Dead Universe take down massive herds, horrible villains and lead their communities through hardship. This panel will celebrate the evolution of these fierce, strong female leads from every walk of life, starting from when we are first introduced to these characters and how we’ve watched them survive the apocalypse. Join EPs, directors and cast members as they discuss their favorite character storylines, their journeys and the importance of having strong female representation onscreen. Panelists: Alexa Mansour, Aliyah Royale, Angela Kang, Annet Mahendru, Christine Evangelista, Denise Huth, Jenna Elfman, Karen David, Lauren Cohan, Paola Lazaro. Moderator: Yvette Nicole Brown.

“What We Do in the Shadows'”

October 10, 2021, 2:45 – 3:45 PM (In Person)

Empire Stage

FX’s Emmy®-nominated vampire comedy “What We Do in the Shadows” returns to New York Comic Con for a live discussion with members of the cast and creative team. Catch a special presentation of an upcoming episode and join special guests in a lively conversation about the series Rolling Stone named “the funniest show on television.” What We Do in the Shadows is a documentary-style look into the daily (or rather, nightly) lives of four vampires who’ve “lived” together for hundreds of years. Seasons 3 currently airs Thursdays at 10pm ET/PT on FX and streams the next day on FX on Hulu.  Don’t miss the chance to attend the Vampiric Council of the Eastern Seaboard of the New World’s first public meeting! BAT!

MOVIE PANELS

(All panel descriptions are courtesy of New York Comic Con.)

Virtual = Panelists will not appear in person; panel is available for viewing in person and online.

In Person = Panelists will appear in person; panel is available for viewing in person and online.

“Welcome to the Blumhouse”

October 7, 2021, 3:45 PM – 4:45 PM (Virtual)

Room 411

This October, Welcome to the Blumhouse returns exclusively to Amazon Prime Video with the worldwide release of four electrifying new thrillers that plumb the depths of humanity’s deepest and darkest fears: “Bingo Hell” (directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero), “Black as Night” (directed by Maritte Lee Go), “Madres” (directed by Ryan Zaragoza) and “The Manor” (directed by Axelle Carolyn). Join all four directors, with a special introduction by Founder and CEO of Blumhouse Productions Jason Blum, as they discuss the importance of showcasing female and emerging directors while delivering original stories to audiences everywhere. “Bingo Hell” and “Black as Night” premiere October 1, “Madres” and “The Manor” premiere October 8, all on Amazon Prime Video. Panel moderated by Dino-Ray Ramos.

“My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission”

October 8, 2021, 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM (In Person)

Empire Stage

Your sneak peek into the next chapter of the global anime phenomenon starts here. Presented by Funimation, the panel includes an exclusive preview of My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission. Hear from the dub cast and crew before the movie hits theaters October 29! Panelists: Voice cast members Ryan Colt Levy (Rody), Sarah Roach (Clair Voyance), Lisa Oritz (Burnin), Cristina Vee (Pino), Series and movie ADR Script Writer, Jeramey Kraatz. Moderator: Lauren Moore.

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife”

October 8, 2021, 6:30 PM – 7:30 PM (In Person)

Empire Stage

Director Jason Reitman and producer Ivan Reitman will be joined by some of the cast of Sony Pictures’ “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” for an in-depth conversation. The panel will cover the highly-anticipated new film and the franchise at-large, one of the most beloved in pop culture history. In addition to insightful conversation the panel will feature never-before-seen clips from the film.

“Demon Slayer -Kimetsu no Yaiba- The Movie: Mugen Train”

October 9, 2021, 2:30 PM – 3:30 PM (In Person)

Empire Stage

Board the Mugen Train once again! Presented by Funimation, this panel is your deep dive into “Demon Slayer -Kimetsu no Yaiba- The Movie: Mugen Train.” Join the English voices of some of your favorite characters as they discuss everything from heart-wrenching scenes to moments that fans love most.

Review: ‘Evil Eye’ (2020), starring Sarita Choudhury, Sunita Mani, Omar Maskati and Bernard White

October 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Omar Maskati and Sunita Mani in “Evil Eye” (Photo by Alfonso Bresciani/Amazon Studios)

“Evil Eye” (2020)

Directed by Elan Dassani and Rajeev Dassani

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans and Delhi, India, the horror film “Evil Eye” features a predominantly Indian cast (with a few white people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A married, middle-aged mother, who experienced domestic abuse from an ex-boyfriend when she was younger, fears that her abuser has been reincarnated in the man whom her daughter is currently dating.

Culture Audience: “Evil Eye” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in horror movies that have characters and storylines focused on Indian culture and family generational issues.

Bernard White and Sarita Choudhury in “Evil Eye” (Photo by Alfonso Bresciani/Amazon Studios)

For better or worse, it’s become a cliché that a great deal of movies with predominantly Indian casts are about families preoccupied with the wedding or marriage of the young adults in the family. Most Indians who follow tradition have arranged marriages where members of the family play matchmaker. The horror film “Evil Eye” adds a cultural blend to this formula by having the story set in two places (the Indian city of Delhi and the American city of New Orleans) that represent the push-and-pull conflict of wanting to follow family tradition and wanting to lead a more modern, independent life. “Evil Eye” might disappoint people who are expecting more action scenes, but the movie is commendable as a sobering reflection on domestic abuse and parents’ fears that their children might be doomed to repeat the same mistakes that the parents made.

“Evil Eye” is part of Blumhouse Television’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series partnership with Prime Video to showcase horror/thriller movies directed by women and people of color. Directed by identical twins Elan Dassani and Rajeev Dassani, “Evil Eye” is based on the Audible Original production of the same name by Madhuri Shekar, who wrote the “Evil Eye” screenplay. The audible version of “Evil Eye” centered on a series of phone conversations between an Indian mother and her daughter over the mother’s worries about the daughter’s love life and when she’s going to get married.

The movie version of “Evil Eye” obviously goes beyond those phone conversations to actually show the two different worlds and outlooks on life that the mother and daughter have in the story. In the “Evil Eye” movie, Usha (played by Sarita Choudhury) is a happily married mother who is constantly pressuring her daughter Pallavi (played by Sunita Mani) to find a nice man to marry, preferably someone who is also of Indian heritage. Years ago, Usha and her laid-back and pragmatic husband Krishnan (played by Bernard White) immigrated from India to New Orleans, where they raised Pallavi, but the couple moved back to India some years ago because Krishnan (who’s a science professor) was offered a great job at a university.

Despite living so far apart, Usha and Pallavi communicate with each other on a regular basis. Lately though, their relationship has become strained because Pallavi thinks that Usha is putting too much pressure on her to get married. Pallavi is not opposed to the idea of getting married, but she’s not in a rush to find a husband and she would rather do it on her own terms.

Usha is heavily into astrology and the spirit world, which is a belief that Pallavi does not share. Krishnan is very scientific-minded, but he tolerates Usha’s superstitions with mild amusement. (For example, when Usha prays, she will say something like, “Protect my child from the Evil Eye so that she may be married.”) Krishnan also doesn’t interfere in the squabbles that Usha and Pallavi might have over Pallavi’s marital status. He tells his daughter that he’s proud of her no matter what.

Out of respect for her mother, Pallavi allows Usha to arrange for Pallavi to meet eligible Indian bachelors who are in the New Orleans area. One such bachelor (played by Satya Nikhil Polisetti) has recently moved from Houston to New Orleans. Pallavi agrees to meet him for a casual blind date at a café.

When Pallavi arrives at the café, she sees a handsome stranger in his late 20s or early 30s who’s seated at a nearby table. They make eye contact in the way that people do in movies where you know they’re going to end up being together. Pallavi’s date is more than an hour late, so Pallavi decides she’s not going to wait any longer and she gets up to leave.

The handsome stranger sees that Pallavi has been stood up for her date, and he goes over to her table and asks her if he can join her at her table. He introduces himself as Sandeep Patel, who works in the technology industry. The attraction between Pallavi and Sandeep (played by Omar Maskati) is immediate, and they end up staying at the café while they talk about their lives.

Sandeep tells her that his family also lives in India. He mentions that he used to run with a partier crowd in New York City. And he used to be engaged to a beauty contestant who was a runner-up for Miss India. Sandeep says that the relationship ended badly, and she attempted suicide after their breakup. “She wasn’t who I thought she was,” Sundeep comments morosely.

Pallavi and Sandeep inevitably begin dating each other. He’s romantic, attentive and seems like the perfect catch. He also has enough money where he buys sapphire earrings for Pallavi just one month after they begin dating each other. Pallavi politely declines the gift because she thinks it’s too much, too soon. She jokingly comments that Sandeep can give her the earrings when they get engaged.

Sandeep seems to have all of the qualities that Usha wants for Pallavi’s future husband. Pallavi thinks that Usha will be happy when she tells Usha the happy news that she’s been dating someone special and describes Sandeep in detail to her mother. However, Usha has reservations because she thinks Sandeep is too good to be true. And when Usha hears about the sapphire earrings, she feels even more alarmed.

It’s eventually revealed that when Usha was in college, she dated a fellow student, who ended up being very controlling and abusive to Usha, so she broke up with him. He took the breakup hard and began viciously stalking Usha until something happened to him to take him out of Usha’s life: He died by falling off of a bridge, not long before Pallavi was born. (The relationship is shown in flashbacks, with Nupur Charyalu as the young Usha and Asad Durrani as the ex-boyfriend, who does not have a name in the movie.)

And guess which gift this boyfriend gave Usha when they were together? Is it a coincidence that Sandeep wanted to give Pallavi sapphire earrings too? The more that Pallavi tells Usha about Sandeep, the more alarmed Usha becomes because Sandeep’s personality and the way that he courts Pallavi are strikingly similar to how Usha’s abusive ex-boyfriend was in the beginning of their relationship.

Meanwhile, the romance between Sandeep and Pallavi gets more serious when he asks her to move in with him and quit her boring office job so that she can pursue her dream of becoming a writer. Sandeep offers to pay all the expenses while she lives with him. Pallavi considers herself to be very independent, so she’s reluctant at first to accept this offer.

But the more Pallavi falls in love with Sandeep, the more she thinks it’s likely that she and Sandeep will get married, so she ends up moving into his large, upscale apartment. She also quits her job to work on a writing project that she’s always wanted to do. Usha isn’t pleased when she hears this news because she fears that Pallavi might be losing her identity and that Sandeep might be too controlling.

And now, it’s Pallavi’s turn to be upset because she thought that her mother would be happy that Pallavi is on track to get married to the man of Pallavi’s dreams. She argues with her mother and accuses Usha of being someone who will never be satisfied with the choices that Pallavi makes in her love life. But what Usha is really concerned about is her growing suspicion that Sandeep might be the reincarnation of Usha’s abusive ex-boyfriend.

Usha confides in her husband Krishnan about her fears, but he scoffs at her and thinks she’s being ridiculous. Usha is reluctant to tell Pallavi because doesn’t want to alienate her and she doesn’t want Pallavi to think that she’s crazy. But Usha’s inner turmoil and concerns about Sandeep become too much for her to bear, and eventually something is done about it in a dramatic way.

“Evil Eye” is not the type of horror movie where bad things happen to people every 15 minutes. Instead, it’s a no-frills thriller that mostly succeeds in presenting various dichotomies within a cohesive story that’s not cluttered with too many characters. There are the aforementioned dichotomies of Indian culture versus American culture; traditional marriage arrangements versus modern dating choices; and superstition versus science.

But there’s an underlying dichotomy that’s less obvious: how society viewed domestic abuse before the #MeToo movement versus how society has viewed domestic abuse since the #MeToo movement. Since the #MeToo movement, certain laws have been passed in many areas that give abuse survivors more chances to get justice. Abuse survivors are also getting more encouragement to share their stories as part of the healing process, whereas before the #MeToo movement, survivors were more likely to be shamed into silence.

This shaming is what Usha experiences—not just from society’s discomfort in dealing with abuse allegations, but also the shame she puts on herself. Usha mistakenly thinks she was somehow at fault for the abuse that was inflicted on her. And she still finds it difficult to talk about her abuse trauma to her own family members. It’s this unspoken communication barrier that affects Usha’s relationship with her daughter Pallavi, whom she fears might experience the same abuse that Usha went through when Usha was young.

As Usha, Choudhury gives a very nuanced portrayal of this inner conflict in how much of her past she wants to reveal to Pallavi. Mani is also very good in her role, although at times her Pallavi character seems a little bit underwritten. It would’ve helped if Pallavi had more of a backstory for her past relationships, so viewers would know if she’s the type to easily fall for smooth-talking charmers.

As for Maskati, his Sandeep character really does give off “too good to be true” vibes from the moment he appears on screen, so there really isn’t much to do with this character but play the “perfect guy who might have a dark secret.” Sandeep’s over-eagerness with the sapphire earrings gift is a big red flag that something is “off” with him. Therefore, people with enough experience in life and in watching horror movies know that it’s going to be a matter of time before Sandeep’s true nature is exposed.

However, “Evil Eye” directors Elan Dassani and Rajeev Dassani admirably keep the movie focused on the mother/daughter relationship instead of going down the predictable “it’s all about the boogeyman” route that so many other horror films take. The movie’s climactic scene is a little melodramatic and hokey, but “Evil Eye” capably and authentically depicts the cultural and familial conflicts that American children of Indian parents experience when they have to choose one way of life over another. At the heart of Usha’s and Pallavi’s conflicts with each other is their fear that one of them might lose respect for the other. And for many people, not having the respect of your family or a ruined relationship with a beloved family member is a lot scarier than any spirit that might come back from the dead.

Prime Video premiered “Evil Eye” on October 13, 2020.

Review: ‘Nocturne’ (2020), starring Sydney Sweeney, Madison Iseman, Jacques Colimon and Ivan Shaw

October 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Sydney Sweeney in “Nocturne” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“Nocturne” (2020)

Directed by Zu Quirke

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror film “Nocturne” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians and black people) representing the middle-class and upper-middle-class.

Culture Clash: An evil spirit affects the relationship between fraternal twin sisters who are rival classical pianists.

Culture Audience: “Nocturne” will appeal primarily to people who like teen-oriented horror stories that delivers scares that are effective but not particularly groundbreaking.

Madison Iseman and Sydney Sweeney in “Nocturne” (Photo by courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“Nocturne” takes an intense sibling rivalry, mixes it in with a lot well-worn occult tropes, and lets the results slowly seep over the audience like a sticky, poisonous stew that’s hard to clean off. The movie doesn’t do a lot that’s very innovative, but quality performances from the cast and the movie’s ability to maintain an unsettling tone throughout the story make it worth watching for people who want to see a teen horror story that isn’t a predictable slasher movie.

“Nocturne” is part of Blumhouse Television’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series partnership with Prime Video to showcase horror/thriller movies directed by women and people of color. It’s the feature-film debut by British writer/director Zu Quirke, who set “Nocturne” primarily in an elite American arts school called the Lindbergh Academy. The academy, which is in an unnamed city, is also a co-ed boarding school that’s attended by students from mostly well-to-do families. It’s a school that steeped in tradition and classical music. In other words, the school isn’t for wannabe rock stars and wannabe rappers.

Many of the students have ambitions to become professional musicians in prominent orchestras or as solo stars. Such is the case with fraternal twin sisters Vivian “Vi” Lowe (played by Madison Iseman) and Juliet “Julie” Lowe (played by Sydney Sweeney), who are aspiring classical pianists. Even though their parents David (played by Brandon Keener) and Cassie (played by Julie Benz) are supportive of the twins’ dreams, they also warn Vi (pronounced “vee” in the movie) and Julie that the chances are very slim that they can make a career out of being classical pianists.

There’s a rivalry between the sisters that has been simmering for years but boils over with dangerous intensity during the course of the story, which takes place in the last year that the twins are enrolled in the academy before they graduate. Vi, the older twin, is the “golden child” who excels at everything thing she does. She’s been accepted into the prestigious Juilliard School, while Julie has been rejected by Juilliard and has decided to take a “gap year” before she applies again to Juilliard.

Vi has a loving and attentive boyfriend named Max (played by Jacques Colimon), who’s a little bit of a rebel because he does illegal drugs when he parties, and he admits that he only wants to be a musician because he likes the attention that he gets from women. Vi and Max’s relationship seems to be going well, and Vi is considered a “star” student of the school, both academically and socially. By contrast, Julie is a loner who doesn’t date and is a student who’s hard-working but not considered as exceptional as Vi. It’s no wonder that Julie feels overshadowed and jealous of Vi.

Lindbergh Academy has recently been devastated by the suicide of another star student named Moira Wilson (played by Ji Eun Hwang), a violinist who jumped off of the ledge of one of the school’s buildings. The suicide (which is shown in the beginning of the movie) is shocking because Moira had a promising future and wasn’t considered to be a troubled kid. During a school assembly after the suicide, Lindberg Academy administrators announce that the annual senior competition recital, which is the school’s biggest event, will still go ahead as planned.

One day, while a school administrator is cleaning out Moira’s locker, one of Moira’s notebooks accidentally drops on the ground. Julie happens to be nearby and picks up the notebook. She sees many occult-like illustrations and musical compositions in the notebook. And there’s a strange symbol of the sun on the notebook’s cover. This sun symbol plays a big role in many other parts of the story.

After Julie finds and keeps the notebook, mysterious things start to happen. When she’s in a room that’s used for music practice, she hears a violin playing, but no one is there. She starts having hallucinations and blackouts. Julie is on anti-anxiety medication, but is what she experiencing the side effects of the drug, mental illness, or is it something else? This is a horror movie, so the answer is obvious.

Moira’s notebook seems to have other effects on Julie, as she becomes more arrogant and ruthless in her rivalry with Vi. Julie decides that she’s going to play the same composition that Vi chose for the senior competition recital: Giuseppe Tartini’s “The Devil’s Trill.” Vi is understandably furious with Julie for blatantly trying to copy her, so the feud escalates between the two sisters.

Julie’s one-on-one piano instructor is a middle-aged alcoholic named Roger (played by John Rothman), who used to be an important pianist, but it’s implied that his drinking problem ruined his career as a pianist, and now his job is teaching piano to teenage students. Roger’s alcoholism is still an issue, because Julie mentions during their teaching lessons that she can smell alcohol on his breath.

One day, Julie (who is constantly looking for approval) asks Roger, “Are you proud of me?” He tries to tactfully tell Julie that she’s a good student but doesn’t really have what it takes to be a star soloist. Roger says that Julie is a “sensitive accompanist” and that not everyone can be the conductor of an orchestra.

This “damning with faint praise” triggers some anger in Julie, because she then tells Roger that she wants to quit his class. It leads to an argument where something happens that gets Roger fired. Julie is then assigned to take piano lessons from Dr. Cask (played by Ivan Shaw), who’s considered one of the top instructors in the school because he will only teach the best students. Dr. Cask, who is handsome and distinguished-looking, is also in charge of the senior competition recital, which is judged by a panel of school officials.

“Nocturne” is far from subtle in telegraphing what’s behind the horror in this story. Moira’s notebook is filled with demonic drawings. And when Dr. Cask has a piano lesson with Julie, he comments to her about Vi: “You know what makes her a star? She plays like the devil’s at her door.” And he says of dead student Moira: “She played like the devil is in the room.”

There aren’t many “jump scares” in “Nocturne.” Instead, the horror is more gradual and starts to slowly ramp up as the story moves along. It’s easy to figure out what the source of the terror is, but the appeal to the story is to see how this evil presence is going to affect the relationship between these two sisters.

The movie is told from Julie’s perspective, so Sweeney is the main actor who has to carry the story. Her performance is good, but just like her Julie character, she’s not particularly outstanding. Vi is not as complex as Julie, but Iseman capably shows glimmers into Vi’s interior thoughts that don’t always line up with the “perfect student” image that Vi portrays to almost everyone around her.

The best aspects of “Nocturne” are how writer/director Quirke successfully evokes moods such as toxic jealousy and eerie foreboding in the realistic dialogue and increasingly suffocating environment that surrounds Julie and Vi. The movie’s cinematography from Carmen Cabana also persuasively immerses people into this world. “Nocturne” delivers a knockout ending that will make people wonder if certain people can be possessed by evil or if evil is a manifestation of wicked inclinations that people already have inside themselves.

Prime Video premiered “Nocturne” on October 13, 2020.

Review: ‘Black Box’ (2020), starring Mamoudou Athie, Phylicia Rashad, Amanda Christine, Tosin Morohunfola, Charmaine Bingwa and Troy James

October 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Mamoudou Athie and Phylicia Rashad in “Black Box” (Photo by Alan Markfield/Amazon Studios)

“Black Box” (2020)

Directed by Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr.

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the sci-fi/horror movie “Black Box” has a predominantly African American cast of characters (with some white people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A widowed father suffers from amnesia because of the car accident that killed his wife, and he undergoes a radical scientific experiment to try to recover his memories.

Culture Audience: “Black Box” will appeal primarily to people who like horror movies that blend science fiction with family drama and have unexpected twists.

Amanda Christine and Mamoudou Athie in “Black Box” (Photo by Alfonso Bresciani/Amazon Studios)

At first glance, the sci-fi/horror film “Black Box” seems to be a story about how unchecked scientific experiments can wreak havoc on someone’s life. But beneath all the creepy and mind-bending scenes is a story about yearning for chances to start over and renew relationships with loved ones. Directed by Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr., “Black Box” has some familiar influences (the 1990 film “Total Recall” immediately comes to mind), but the movie has its own unique elements that make it a worthwhile offering for people who like horror movies where a lot of terror can exist in someone’s mind.

“Black Box” is part of Blumhouse Television’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series partnership with Prime Video to showcase horror/thriller movies directed by women and people of color. The movie is the feature-film debut of Osei-Kuffour, who co-wrote the “Black Box” screenplay with Stephen Herman. It’s not a straightforward movie that is supposed to be told chronologically. Instead, viewers have to put the pieces of the puzzle together, just like fragmented memories that could become whole.

In “Black Box,” Nolan Wright (played by Mamoudou Athie) is a 33-year-old photographer and widowed father who is struggling physically, financially and emotionally. He is recovering from a car accident that killed his wife Rachel six months ago and left him in a coma. When he emerged from the coma, he found out that he has amnesia, and he is now coping with feelings for guilt over Rachel’s death and the stress of not remembering a great deal of his life.

Because of his injuries and ongoing recovery, Nolan hasn’t been able to work, and the bills are piling up. There’s a wall in Nolan’s living room that looks like it was punched in anger, and it’s later revealed in the movie that he punched the wall because he got frustrated over being hounded by bill collectors. This type of violence goes against Nolan’s mild-mannered nature. He’s also a kind and attentive father.

Nolan’s lively and very precocious daughter Ava (played by Amanda Christine), who’s about 8 or 9 years old, has become the “lady” of their household. She helps Nolan get ready in the morning, makes meals and helps him remember things, since Nolan as short-term and long-term memory loss. Nolan worries that the big chunks of his life that he doesn’t remember are memories that he’ll never get back.

In the beginning of the movie, Nolan is ready to go back to work at the magazine job he used to have before the car accident. He has a meeting with his former boss Cathy (played by Gretchen Koerner), who also used to be the supervisor for Nolan’s late wife Rachel. But Cathy tells him some bad news: She can’t rehire Nolan because her publisher boss doesn’t think that Nolan’s current work doesn’t reach the same quality level as his past work.

Nolan’s best friend is a doctor named Gary (played by Tosin Morohunfola), who offers to lend Nolan money to help pay Nolan’s bills, but Nolan is politely declines to accept this offer. Nolan tells Gary about being rejected by his former job, and Gary comforts Nolan by telling him, “You don’t need to change your career, Nolan. You just need to remember who you are.”

While Nolan is visiting Gary at the hospital where Gary works, Gary recommends that Nolan try undergoing some of the experimental memory treatments conducted by Dr. Lillian Brooks (played by Phylicia Rashad), who is considered a somewhat controversial visionary because not all of her experiments have been government-approved. And it just so happens that a video of Dr. Brooks giving an instructional lecture to an audience is playing in the waiting room where Nolan is sitting.

Feeling he’s got nothing to lose, Nolan makes an appointment with Dr. Brooks, who knows Nolan’s personal and medical history and decides he’s a good candidate for her Black Box memory recovery experiments. Dr. Brooks tells Nolan that the Black Box converts memories into an “immersive virtual experience, like a dream.” Therefore, when Nolan gets a Black Box treatment, he will have a virtual recreation of his memories.

Dr. Brooks puts Nolan under hypnosis, where he sees himself in a house with different rooms. Before he goes into the trance, Dr. Brooks tells him that the first room he will be in is a “safe room.” There are no safes in this room, but it’s supposed to represent the safest room in the house and the room that Nolan has to be in if he wants to emerge safely from the hypnosis.

Nolan can go from room to room by pushing down on the crown of an imaginary analog watch. However, he cannot open the doors in the safe room. If he wants to leave the safe room, he has to use the watch. And what Nolan sees when he goes under hypnosis would be enough for most people to completely call off the Black Box experiment.

While under hypnosis, Nolan has flashes of memories, but the other people in these memories have their faces blurred out and the rooms are usually very shadowy or dark. One vivid memory that Nolan relives is his wedding ceremony in the church where it took place. But what’s supposed to be happy memory turns into a nightmare.

An unwelcome guest emerges from a church pew. It’s an unknown humanoid creature that can contort limbs at sickening angles. The menacing creature is called Backwards Man (played by Troy James), and every time it moves, you can hear the sound of bones cracking. Just like everyone else in these visions, the face of Backwards Man is obscured. Every time Backwards Man sees Nolan, the creature rushes to attack Nolan, who then has to quickly find a way back to the safe room so that he can come out from the hypnosis.

The first time that Nolan has this terrifying experience, he’s hesitant to go back under hypnosis again. But his desire to recover his memories outweighs any fear that he has, so he goes back under hypnosis again. Another vision that he sees is of a bruised and crying woman in a kitchen. It appears that someone in the home has beaten her and she’s afraid of that person.

Nolan has never seen this woman before, but he later finds out that her name is Miranda (played by Charmaine Bingwa), and she doesn’t live very far from Nolan. He also sees in his visions that Miranda has a crying baby in another room. And once again, Backwards Man suddenly appears to try to attack Nolan.

Nolan begins to wonder if the visions he’s seeing are really memories or delusions. He asks Gary if he’s ever had a history of abusing women. Gary tells Nolan absolutely not and says that Nolan and Rachel were an ideal, loving couple. Gary only remembers bits and pieces of his marriage to Rachel, so he has to take Gary’s word for it. (There’s no mention in the story if Nolan has any other relatives. If he does, he doesn’t communicate with them and vice versa.)

The mysteries of Nolan’s strange Black Box visions are explained by the end of the film. Throughout the movie, “Black Box” writer/director Osei-Kuffour achieves a delicate balance between the Nolan who’s trying to keep things together in the “real world” to be a responsible parent and the Nolan who keeps getting pulled back into the dark and murky world of the Black Box memory experiments. Nolan isn’t quite sure what’s being done to his mind but he’s willing to risk everything just to get back his memories.

But the darker world of these memory experiments spills over into Nolan’s real world, as he has nightmares and blackouts that affect his ability to function as normally as he would like. For example, one day he forgets to pick up Ava from school (it’s not the first time it’s happened), and the concerned teacher who brings Ava home threatens to report Nolan to child protective services if it happens again.

As Nolan, Athie does an admirable job of portraying someone who’s torn between these two worlds, while Christine shows a lot of talent as a child who’s perceptive beyond the level of most children her age. Nolan and Ava’s father/daughter relationship is adorable and realistic. Rashad portrays Dr. Brooks as someone who is passionate about her work, but the movie doesn’t really go into details about other patients whom Dr. Brooks has treated. The only work with patients that Dr. Brooks is shown doing in the movie is her Black Box sessions with Nolan.

The Backwards Man in “Black Box” brings some chills, but this contortionist creature looks too human and familiar for it to become a horror villain that people will be talking about for years. (When the face of Backwards Man is finally revealed, it’s no surprise.) Ultimately, the message of “Black Box” is that no matter how advanced technology becomes and how many material possessions people can have, people’s human connections and memories have intangible value and are treasured the most.

Prime Video premiered “Black Box” on October 6, 2020.

Review: ‘The Lie’ (2020), starring Joey King, Peter Sarsgaard and Mireille Enos

October 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Peter Sarsgaard and Joey King in “The Lie” (Photo by Jasper Savage/Amazon Studios)

“The Lie” (2020)

Directed by Veena Sud

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the suspenseful drama “The Lie” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A divorced couple go to extreme lengths to cover up a crime committed by their troubled teenage daughter.

Culture Audience: “The Lie” will primarily appeal to people who are interested in movies that have very Lifetime TV type of concepts but with higher budgets and a higher caliber of actors.

Mireille Enos and Peter Sarsgaard in “The Lie” (Photo by Jasper Savage/Amazon Studios)

When parents cover up a crime that their child committed, who’s worse? The child or the parents? These are questions that the dramatic thriller “The Lie” wants viewers to think about and possibly change their minds about the answer several times during the course of the movie. Unfortunately, “The Lie” (written and directed by Veena Sud) is so caught up with trying to fool viewers with twists and turns in the story (including an ending that people are going to either love or hate) that the movie could be considered one big lie if viewers are expecting a coherent plot. Above-average acting from the lead actors in the cast can’t quite save this convoluted mess of a movie.

“The Lie” is part of Blumhouse Television’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series partnership with Prime Video to showcase horror/thriller movies directed by women and people of color. “The Lie” definitely has a strong female point of view, since two of the three main characters are female: troubled 15-year-old Kayla (played by Joey King) and her mother Rebecca (played by Mireille Enos), a former homicide cop who’s now a corporate executive for an unnamed company. (Sud and Enos used to work together on the crime drama series “The Killing.”)

The other main character in “The Lie” is Kayla’s rock singer/musician father Jay (played by Peter Sarsgaard), who’s been divorced from Rebecca for about five or six years. Jay and Rebecca have moved on to new love partners. Jay is dating his bandmate Trini (played by Dani Kind), while Rebecca’s boyfriend Greg (Alan Van Sprang) is planning to move in with Rebecca and Kayla. Jay doesn’t know it yet though, and Rebecca wants to postpone telling him this big news.

It’s established early on in the movie that Rebecca has primary custody of Kayla because she’s the more reliable parent with the steadier income. The income disparity is obvious, since Rebecca and Kayla live in a spacious, upper-middle-class home, while Jay lives in a cramped apartment. Jay isn’t a complete deadbeat dad, but there’s tension between Jay and Rebecca because he’s been an irresponsible, inattentive parent in the past (a lot of it has to do with him being a musician), so Rebecca often has a hard time trusting him. She also thinks that Jay can be too lenient with Kayla, maybe out of guilt for being a sometimes-absentee father.

Kayla’s relationship with Jay is less resentful than how Rebecca feels about him, but there’s still some tension between Kayla and Jay because Kayla wishes that her father paid more attention to her. Jay is the type of musician who’s still trying to make it big. He’s not completely broke, but he’s not at a level where he has a comfortably steady income. He’s the lead singer of an indie rock band that releases its own music and doesn’t get played on the radio, but is able to make money by playing nightclubs. Viewers of “The Lie” will get the impression that he’s been at this level for his entire career.

On the fateful winter day that the lives of Kayla, Rebecca and Jay change forever, Jay is driving Kayla to a ballet retreat that she doesn’t really want to go to but is being pressured to attend by Rebecca. There’s a lot of ice and snow outside, and when Kayla sees a teenage friend named Britney (played by Devery Jacobs) standing alone at a bus stop, Kayla asks Jay to pull over so they can talk to Britney, who’s going to the same ballet retreat.

Britney (who sometimes goes by the name Brit) says that she’s taking the bus because her father backed out on his promise to drive her to the retreat, so Kayla asks Jay if they can give Britney a ride to the retreat. Britney mentions that she and her divorced father haven’t been getting along lately, and that’s probably why he bailed out of driving her to the retreat. It’s later revealed in the movie that Britney moved to the area with her father Sam about two or three months ago. Britney’s mother abandoned Britney and Sam years ago.

As Kayla and Britney sit in the back of the car and make small talk, Kayla notices that Britney has a bruise on her chin. When she asks Britney about it, Britney avoids answering the question and jokingly tries to make Kayla feel intrusive by calling Kayla a “stalker.” The drive goes by fairly uneventfully on a deserted road near the woods until Britney and Kayla ask Jay to stop the car so they can go in the woods and relieve themselves. Jay obliges their request, but he’s reluctant because it’s cold outside and he’s wary about the two girls being in an isolated wooded area. Jay doesn’t go with them into the woods, out of respect for their teenage privacy.

After a reasonable period of time has passed, the girls still haven’t come back to the car, so Jay goes into the woods to find out what’s going on. To his horror, he sees Kayla, who looks like she’s in a state of shock, on a small bridge overlooking icy and treacherous water. Britney is nowhere in sight. When Jay frantically asks where Britney is, Kayla says that they were “joking around,” and Britney fell off of the bridge into the water.

A few minutes later, after Jay tries desperately to find Britney in the water, Kayla changes her story and makes a darker confession to Jay: She says that she and Britney actually had an argument, and Kayla deliberately pushed Britney off of the bridge. Kayla and Jay decide to stop looking for Britney, who is presumed to be dead. Kayla, who’s asthmatic, also seems to be having an asthma attack, so Jay decides that they’re going to leave the scene of the crime and pretend that they never saw Britney that day.

Kayla is too distressed to go to the ballet retreat, so Jay also decides that he will just take her back home and they will pretend that she was sick and use that as an excuse for why she didn’t show up for the ballet retreat. Jay also decides that he and Kayla will fabricate an alibi for the time that they were on the road, by saying that during that time, she was with Jay at his place before he drove her back to the house where Kayla lives with Rebecca.

While Kayla and Jay are near the parked car, a truck passes by, and Kayla and Jay duck down quickly, so they won’t be seen. It’s a possible problem with their fake alibi if anyone in the truck remembers seeing Jay’s car on the road at that specific time. There are other things that happen later in the story that could unravel and expose the lie.

But before that happens, Kayla and a panicked Jay go to Rebecca’s office. Rebecca is furious to see that Kayla is not at the ballet retreat. But Jay pulls Rebecca aside and tells her that she needs to go back to her house. He will bring Kayla there and explain everything. When Rebecca arrives at the house and finds out what happened, she is shocked, but she has a very different idea on how they should handle the situation.

Rebecca wants to go immediately to the police and report what happened, as well as try to see if a search team can look for Britney. Jay insists that it’s a bad idea because Britney is probably dead already, and he will get in trouble for not going to the police sooner. It’s also why Jay rejects Rebecca’s suggestion that they tell police that it was an accident: If it were an accident, Jay would’ve called 911 for help in trying to rescue Britney from the water.

Jay thinks the best thing to do is to stick to the lie and get a good lawyer for Kayla. After much arguing back and forth, Rebecca agrees to Jay’s idea to tell the lie to cover up for Kayla. They agree to craft an airtight alibi for Kayla and stick to the story no matter what.

And what does Kayla think about what’s going on? At first, she seems to feel guilty about what happened and wants to go to the police. But then, when she sees that her parents have joined forces to protect her, she seems to find comfort in that situation, and Kayla lets her parents handle everything. They coach Kayla on what to say when the police inevitably start questioning Kayla, who seems to be one of Britney’s closest friends.

But the morning after the incident, Kayla is oddly calm and acts like nothing really happened. She exhibits this nonchalant behavior several times throughout the movie. But then other times, she loses control of her emotions, such as she when she has a public meltdown outside the house and her father has to restrain her.

Kayla’s meltdown in the front yard is loud enough for neighbors to see and hear, but there are conveniently no neighbors who report suspicious activity coming from Kayla’s home. And the police certainly don’t find out about it, because the meltdown is written in this movie for melodrama purposes only.

Later in the story, Kayla reveals to her father Jay that she’s been cutting herself. “It helps take away the pain,” Kayla tells Jay, as she shows him the cutting scars on her wrist. “No one likes me at school,” she adds.

Jay seems disturbed by finding out that Kayla is a cutter. And he’s in for more of a shock when he finds out that Kayla has been cutting herself for a few years, and Rebecca has known about it too. Rebecca gives Jay a weary excuse that she tried to get Kayla help for this self-harm problem, but nothing worked.

If it isn’t obvious enough, Kayla is deeply troubled. But is she a sociopath? Is she bipolar? The movie plays guessing games with viewers over what Kayla’s state of mind really is. Her parents know that something is very wrong with her, but they’re more concerned with covering up the crime that she confessed to rather than trying to get her professional help for her mental problems.

Britney’s father Sam (played by Cas Anvar) eventually comes over to Rebecca’s house to see if he can talk to Kayla about where she thinks Britney might be. It isn’t the first time that Britney has disappeared for a few days without telling anyone, so Sam isn’t too worried when he first goes over to the house to talk to Kayla. Rebecca stalls Sam, with the excuse that Kayla has been sick. Rebecca plays the part of a concerned parent by giving Sam her personal cell phone number so that he can contact Rebecca, but it’s really Rebecca’s way of finding out what Sam is going to do about Britney’s disappearance.

Rebecca and Jay do everything possible to prevent Kayla from talking to Sam and other people, by lying and saying that Kayla is too sick to talk to anyone. Rebecca and Kayla also avoid returning Sam’s messages. As Britney’s disappearance stretches into more than 48 hours, Sam gets more frantic and suspicious that Kayla and her parents might be hiding something.

Rebecca and Jay end up doing some despicable and extreme things to throw any suspicion off of Kayla and possibly put the blame on someone else. Rebecca gets in touch with Detective Kenji Takada (played by Patti Kim), a former colleague at the police department, and manipulates her into thinking that someone else could be involved with Britney’s disappearance. Kenji just happens to be part of the investigation with her cop partner Detective Rodney Barnes (played by Nicholas Lea), who shows more than a hint of racism when he suspiciously asks Britney’s father Sam (who’s Pakistani American) what his ethnicity is.

One of the big flaws in the screenplay is in all the illogical decisions made by Rebecca and Jay. By keeping Kayla isolated at home and preventing her from continuing her routine school activities, it actually makes Kayla look even more guilty and suspicious. At one point, Jay and Rebecca tell Sam that Kayla is at a doctor’s appointment, but since that’s a lie, there are no medical records to back it up in case Sam tells the police this information. And Jay and Rebecca’s attempts to prevent Sam from talking to Kayla just makes it look like Kayla has something to hide. Sam senses it too.

And about that lawyer that Jay said should be hired to help Kayla. It’s one of the reasons why Rebecca agreed to go along with Jay’s idea to cover up for Kayla. However, it’s not a spoiler to say that a lawyer is never hired for Kayla, although Jay and Rebecca are going to need attorneys, based on all the illegal things that Rebecca and Jay do to cover up for Kayla and all of their lies. The non-existent lawyer is one of many ways that “The Lie” dangles something in front of viewers and then just leaves it hanging.

And the ending of the movie is basically undermined by the fact that earlier in the film, the police investigating Britney’s disappearance found some important email between two people involved in the case. In order for the ending of the movie to be plausible, viewers would have to believe that the police overlooked other email and cell phone records from the same two people. And that investigator oversight doesn’t seem logical or plausible, considering the email between those two people that was already discovered by the police. Even if text and email messages are deleted, they can still be retrieved on hard drives through computer forensics that are available to police investigators.

Although the screenplay is problematic, “The Lie” does have very good acting from King, Enos and Sarsgaard, who do the best they can with the flawed script that they’ve been given. There are plenty of suspenseful moments, but too often they are followed by another ludicrous and extreme act by one of the loathsome main characters.

And what makes the cover-up worse in this story is that Rebecca is a former cop who makes some dumb decisions that no self-respecting person with police training would make. Main characters in a suspense thriller don’t have to be likable heroes, but they should at least be believable. And because the movie has too many characters who do too many incredibly stupid things, “The Lie” lacks credibility as a suspense thriller.

Prime Video premiered “The Lie” on October 6, 2020.

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