Review: ‘Halloween Kills,’ starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Thomas Mann and Anthony Michael Hall

October 16, 2021

by Carla Hay

Judy Greer, Jamie Lee Curtis and Andi Matichak in in “Halloween Kills” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Halloween Kills”

Directed by David Gordon Green

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional Haddonfield, Illinois, the horror flick “Halloween Kills” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Serial killer Michael Myers is on the loose again and will murder anyone who gets in his way.

Culture Audience: “Halloween Kills” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching horror movies that care more about creating bloody murder scenes than creating any suspense or an interesting story.

Michael Myers (also known as The Shape, pictured at left) in “Halloween Kills” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Halloween Kills” is an apt description for what this boring slog of a horror movie does to further destroy the already damaged “Halloween” franchise. It also commits the unforgivable sin of confining “Halloween” icon Laurie Strode to a hospital for most of the movie. Horror movie aficionados will find nothing scary about this cynical cesspool of lazy filmmaking, because “Halloween Kills” is just a series of gory murders thrown into an incoherent and flimsy plot.

The 2018 “Halloween” movie indicated that Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode character (the most famous survivor of mask-wearing serial killer Michael Myers) would return to the franchise as an active hero doing battle against Michael Myers, who is also known as The Shape. The movie also introduced Laurie’s estranged daughter Karen (played by Judy Greer) and Karen’s daughter Allyson (played by Andi Matichak) into the mix, to make this hunt for Michael Myers a multi-generational family mission. At the end of the movie, Laurie and Karen had begun to mend their relationship, with Allyson being somewhat of a bridge between the two.

In “Halloween Kills,” which picks up right after the 2018 “Halloween” movie ended, any expectation that Laurie, Karen and Allyson would join forces is shattered. The three women spend most of the movie apart from each other. And when they are together, they often bicker with each other about who should or shouldn’t go after Michael Myers, who has returned to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, to wreak more havoc on Halloween night. (“Halloween Kills” was actually filmed in North Carolina.) Meanwhile, men dominate in the planning of vigilante mob actions that play out in “Halloween Kills” in the most ludicrous ways.

David Gordon Green directed 2018’s “Halloween” and “Halloween Kills,” and he co-wrote both movies with Danny McBride. Jeff Fradley was the third co-writer of 2018’s “Halloween,” while Scott Teems was the third co-writer of “Halloween Kills.” It’s difficult to know if replacing Fradley with Teems is the reason why the quality of the “Halloween Kills” screenplay took a noticeable descent into moronic hell. The 2018 “Halloween” movie is by no means a classic horror flick, but it’s an exceedingly better film than the dreck of “Halloween Kills.” The director is chiefly responsible for how a movie turns out, so it’s disappointing that Green chose to coast off of the success of his “Halloween” movie and churn out such a formulaic and unimaginative dud with “Halloween Kills.”

Simply put: “Halloween Kills” wallows in the worst stereotypes of awful horror flicks. Characters go into a house alone to try and confront the extremely dangerous killer on the loose. When opportunities come to capture or kill the murderer once and for all, characters stand around talking to (or screaming at) the mute psycho killer Michael Myers, as if they think striking up a one-way conversation with him will suddenly turn him to a reasonable, law-abiding citizen. (In “Halloween Kills,” Michael Myers is portrayed by three actors: James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle in the 2018 scenes and Airon Armstrong in the 1978 scenes.)

And even though this serial killer is murdering people all over town, police officers and ambulances are mysteriously absent for most of the mayhem because almost all the imbecile characters in this movie usually don’t call 911. The nonsensical explanation in the movie is that the vigilante citizens think they can take Michael Myers on their own. Many of them think the Haddonfield police are incompetent. But that still doesn’t explain why the police aren’t showing up in force anyway.

And worst of all for a horror movie: There’s almost no suspense and nothing is truly terrifying. Gruesome? Yes. Scary? No. It’s very easy to predict who will die and who will survive in this movie. There’s also the predictable ending scene of someone who might or might not be dead. (It’s the most obvious way for a horror movie to set up a sequel.) The murders are done in such a monotonously routine way, it would be understandable for viewers to think that Michael Myers is sleepwalking. There is absolutely nothing creatively done in this movie when it comes to the plot, dialogue or action sequences.

“Halloween Kills” also squanders a compelling idea of reuniting many of the characters who survived the Michael Myers massacre that took place in the original 1978 “Halloween” movie. Several characters are introduced as having a meaningful connection to “Halloween” lore, but “Halloween Kills” won’t let viewers get to know these characters in a meaningful way. There are flashbacks in “Halloween Kills” that are ultimately a waste of time.

In one such flashback, which takes place in 1978 during Michael Myers’ first massacre in Haddonfield, viewers see a rookie cop in his 20s named Hawkins (played by Thomas Mann) and his older, more experienced partner Pete McCabe (played by Jim Cummings) on the scene. They are among the first cops to respond to this emergency. It’s enough to say that McCabe doesn’t make it out alive, but Hawkins does. In 2018, Hawkins (played by Will Patton) is still a Haddonfield cop, and he’s been wounded in this latest Michael Myers massacre.

Laurie is also wounded, because Michael stabbed her in the abdomen, as shown in 2018’s “Halloween.” She’s first seen in “Halloween Kills” bleeding profusely and in agony in the back of a truck with Karen and Allyson, as the truck speeds to the nearest hospital. It’s at this hospital that Laurie will stay for most of her screen time in “Halloween Kills.” She’s sidelined into being either being unconscious or, when she wakes up, being a cranky grandmother who thinks she knows best when it comes to who should go after Michael Myers.

And what a coincidence: A wounded Hawkins ends up being in the same hospital room as Laurie. There’s an almost laughable backstory put in “Halloween Kills” that Laurie and Hawkins had a flirtation with each other back in 1978. And so, in the midst of all the madness and mayhem with this latest Michael Myers killing spree, Laurie and Hawkins make goo-goo eyes at each other in their hospital beds, as they reminisce about their “could’ve been” near-miss romance. It’s an example of how off-the-rails this movie is in keeping Laurie mostly out of the action.

Besides Laurie and Hawkins, these are the other Haddonfield survivors from the original 1978 massacre who become targets of Michael Myers in the 2018 massacre:

  • Tommy Doyle (played by Anthony Michael Hall): In 1978, Laurie was babysitting Tommy and his sister on the Halloween night when Michael Myers went on his deadly rampage. Tommy’s sister became one of Michael Myers’ murder victims.
  • Lindsey Wallace (played by Kyle Richards): She was also a kid in 1978, and her babysitter was murdered by Michael Myers that night.
  • Marion Chambers (played by Nancy Stephens): She was the nurse of the late Dr. Loomis (played by Donald Pleasance), the psychiatrist who was treating Michael Myers when Michael escaped from the psychiatric institution on that fateful Halloween in 1978. (Stephens reprises her role that she had in 1978’s “Halloween” movie.)
  • Lonnie Elam (played by Robert Longstreet): When he was 9 or 10 years old, he had a near-miss encounter with Michael Myers on a sidewalk on Halloween night 1978. (Tristian Eggerling portrays Lonnie as a child in a flashback scene.)

“Halloween Kills” also has some other characters who encounter Michael Myers on Halloween night in 2018. Lonnie’s son Cameron Elam (played by Dylan Arnold) happens to be Allyson’s boyfriend. Cameron is also the person who finds a wounded Hawkins on the street. It’s one of the few times that someone in this movie has the common sense to call 911 for help. But that’s not what happens later in the movie when Lonnie, Cameron and Allyson foolishly decide to hunt down Michael Myers on their own.

Married couple Marcus (played by Michael Smallwood) and Vanessa (played by Carmela McNeal), who are dressed in Halloween costumes as a doctor and a nurse, meet Tommy at a local bar and quickly befriend him after he gets up on stage and talks about being a Michael Myers survivor. And there’s a gay couple named Big John (played by Scott MacArthur) and Little John (played by Michael McDonald), who work together in real estate. Big John and Little John happen to live in the house that Michael Myers used to live in before Michael was sent to a psychiatric institution in 1963 for killing his 17-year-old sister Judith when he was 6 years old. What are the odds that Michael will go back to his childhood home when Big John and Little John are there?

Michael Myers was supposed to be in his 20s in 1978, which means that he’s getting too old to have the type of superhuman strength that he has in these “Halloween” movies. He’s also been “killed” in several ways in various “Halloween” movies, but he still keeps coming back. All of that is explained in “Halloween Kills” when Laurie gives an absurdly bad monologue about how she’s come to the conclusion that Michael Myers is not human and he feeds off of people’s fear of him.

The “mob justice” aspect of “Halloween Kills” is idiotic and badly mishandled. Expect to see Tommy shout, “Evil dies tonight!” multiple times, as it becomes a rallying cry for the vigilante crowd. Just by coincidence, two psychiatric patients have escaped that night from a psychiatric institution that held Michael Myers. It’s a plot contrivance that’s set up for a silly “mistaken identity” subplot.

Even though the people of Haddonfield should know by now what Michael Myers’ height and general physical build should be (his body type hasn’t changed since 1978), the crazed vigilantes go after one of these escapees who’s considerably shorter and stockier than Michael Myers. Apparently, for this mob, any old psychiatric hospital escapee will do.

Karen is the only one with an iota of common sense to notice that this escapee doesn’t have Michael Myers’ physical characteristics. As the practical-minded Karen, Greer gives the best performance of this movie’s cast members. However, that’s not saying much because everyone’s acting in “Halloween Kills” is mediocre overall.

Oddly, there’s a lone elderly cop in uniform who gets swept up in the vigilante mob. His allegiances are never really clear. One minute, he seems to want to try to stop the mob madness. The next minute, he seems to be going along with the crowd. He doesn’t ask for backup from his fellow police officers. The only thing that’s clear is that he’s a terrible cop who should be fired and can kiss that pension goodbye.

There are many plot holes in “Halloween” that the filmmakers want to cover up with some cringeworthy dialogue and bloody action sequences. “Halloween Kills” has so much arguing and melodrama in a hospital, viewers will be wondering: “Is this a horror movie or a soap opera?” At one point, Laurie rips out her medical tubes and injects herself in the rear end with a painkiller. If you waited your whole life to see Laurie Strode give herself a butt injection, then “Halloween Kills” is the movie for you.

During one of her hospital rants, Laurie says to Karen about why Michael Myers is still on the loose and what Laurie wants to do about it: “The system failed … Let him come for me! Let him take my head as I take his! … You and Allyson shouldn’t have to keep running because of the darkness I created.”

But wait a minute, Laurie. “Halloween Kills” doesn’t want you to take all the credit for Michael Myers going on a rampage. Hawkins thinks Michael Myers is on this killing spree because of Hawkins. He makes a guilt-ridden confession that doesn’t make any sense at all for why Hawkins would be the reason for Michael Myers’ serial killings. There’s a badly written flashback scene involving a cover-up that wouldn’t be plausible in the real world because of autopsy reports and how bullet trajectories would be investigated.

It’s not as if viewers should expect a terrible horror movie like “Halloween Kills” to be realistic. But the movie just doesn’t offer a horrifying mystery, engaging new characters, or even twist-filled “hunt for the killer” chase scenes. It’s all so predictable, hollow and generic. “Halloween Kills” puts too much emphasis on a mindless and forgettable mob of people while sidelining Laurie Strode, the most memorable and iconic hero of the “Halloween” franchise. That’s the real injustice in “Halloween Kills.”

Universal Pictures released “Halloween Kills” in U.S. cinemas and on Peacock on October 15, 2021.

Review: ‘Sweet Thing’ (2021), starring Lana Rockwell, Nico Rockwell, Jabari Watkins, Karyn Parsons, ML Josepher and Will Patton

July 20, 2021

by Carla Hay

Nico Rockwell, Lana Rockwell and Jabari Watkins in “Sweet Thing” (Photo by Lasse Tolboll/Film Movement)

“Sweet Thing” (2021)

Directed by Alexandre Rockwell

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the dramatic film “Sweet Thing” features a cast of white, African American and biracial people representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 15-year-old aspiring singer and her 11-year-old brother run away from home after a violent incident involving the boyfriend of their divorced mother. 

Culture Audience: “Sweet Thing” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in realistic dramas about adolescent angst and dysfunctional families.

ML Josepher and Nico Rockwell in “Sweet Thing” (Photo by Lasse Tolboll/Film Movement)

The dramatic film “Sweet Thing” is in black and white, but the movie aptly shows how problems of abuse, parental neglect and family dysfunction are experienced in life’s shades of gray. It’s a movie where kids grow up too fast and learn very early about harsh realities, but they try to find some kind of normalcy by fleeing into a fantasy world where they think they have total control. “Sweet Thing” takes place over less than nine months, but viewers will be left wondering how the fateful summer that’s presented in this movie will have long-term effects on these troubled kids in the future.

Written and directed by Alexandre Rockwell, the siblings at the center of “Sweet Thing” are 15-year-old Billie (played by Lana Rockwell) and 11-year-old Nico (played by Nico Rockwell), who are very close and protective of each other in their messed-up family life in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Lana and Nico Rockwell are director Alexandre Rockwell’s real-life children. Lana and Nico also starred as different characters in their father’s 2013 movie “Little Feet.” In interviews, Alexandre Rockwell has said that “Sweet Thing” is not biographical, but some elements of the movie are what he experienced in his own childhood.

Billie and Nico both have rebellious sides (they play pranks, such as putting nails in the tires of strangers’ cars), but Billie is the more responsibly minded sibling. She’s sensitive, strong-willed and intelligent. Nico has a more extroverted and talkative personality than Billie. But on the flip side, Nico is more likely than Billie to make rude comments to his peers and authority figures. Billie and Nico have an unstable home life, but their loyalty to each other is unwavering.

Billie is a poetry-loving singer and guitar player who dreams of becoming a professional music artist. When she’s having a bad day, Billie retreats into a fantasy world where her namesake Billie Holiday (played by Kelly Charpent) is taking care of her and is like a fairy godmother to her. In one of these fantasy visions (which is one of the movie’s rare scenes that’s in color), Billie Holiday comforts Billie by combing Billie’s hair.

It’s easy to see why Billie would want to escape into these fantasies, because life isn’t going so well for Billie and Nico. Their bickering parents are divorced. Billie and Nico’s father Adam (played by Will Patton), who has custody of the kids, is an alcoholic who gets cranky and impatient when he’s drunk, which seems to be every day. Billie is really the mature “parent” in the household, because she often has to help Adam to his bed when he’s drunk and it’s time for him to go to sleep.

In the beginning of the movie, it’s around the Christmas holiday season. Adam is dressed as Santa Claus. And he’s drunk, as usual. And you know what that means: He’s probably going to ruin his children’s Christmas with his alcoholic ways.

Meanwhile, a teen named Darla (played by Naejaliesh Pierre) has a crush on Nico. Billie likes to tease Nico about it. When Darla shows up at the family home to look for Nico so that she can give him a Christmas present, Nico pretends that he isn’t home, much to Billie’s amusement.

Billie has gotten a Christmas gift that she absolutely loves: an acoustic guitar. But when an angry alcoholic is in the household, it’s only a matter of time before something bad will happen to that guitar. Nico and Billie’s Christmas is about to go downhill for another reason: They’re going to see their mother Eve (played by Karyn Parsons), who’s in and out of the children’s lives and doesn’t seem to want custody of them. (In real life, Parsons is married to director Alexandre Rockwell and is the mother of Lana and Nico Rockwell.)

Adam brings Billie and Nico to a parking lot so that the kids can meet up with Eve. She introduces them to her new live-in boyfriend Beaux (played by ML Josepher), who seems to be a shady “ne’er do well” type. Eve isn’t much better, since viewers will see that she’s very flaky, although she does make a few attempts to be a good mother. While Billie and Nico are waiting in the car, Adam gets into a physical tussle with Beaux. Needless to say, the rest of the short time that the kids have with Eve that day is filled with tension.

When Adam takes the kids home, he’s in a very foul mood. Adam suddenly decides that he wants to give Billie a haircut, but Billie doesn’t want him to do it. Billie and Adam start arguing, Adam flies into a rage, and he locks Billie and Nico in the bathroom and accidentally breaks Billie’s new guitar.

Adam forces Billie to get a haircut from him, as he says sternly, “Think of it as a Christmas trim.” After this ordeal is over, Billie sees that Nico has cut his own hair, as a way to show solidarity to his sister. Nico says to Billie, “I did it for you. I didn’t want you to be alone. Daddy didn’t mean it. He’s just sad. I promise.”

Adam will have even more reason to be “sad,” because he’s arrested for a crime he committed outside the home, and he’s sent to court-ordered rehab. And so, Nico and Billie reluctantly have to live with Eve and Beaux at Eve’s summer house by the beach. It’s never really made clear what Eve and Beaux do for a living, but they spend their days drinking heavily. Eve and Beaux also like to sun themselves on the beach a lot.

For the most part, Eve and Beaux let Nico and Billie spend a lot of unsupervised time together. Beaux even takes some time alone with Nico to teach him how to fish. However, Beaux soon shows that he’s a very nasty person.

Beaux becomes abusive to Eve, Nico and Billie. He’s the type of mean drunk who yells and gets physically aggressive. For example, Beaux orders Nico to get him a beer, and slaps Nico when Nico replies, “Get it yourself.” Beaux then flings whipped cream on Eve, Billie and Nico. Eve doesn’t do anything to defend herself and her children. In fact, she blames the kids when Beaux takes out his anger on them.

Things get even more disturbing when one day, Nico tells Billie that Beaux sexually molested him. A horrified Billie tells Eve, who doesn’t believe her and ends up slapping Billie. The tension in the household escalates into a violent incident that won’t be described here, but it’s enough to say that it causes Nico and Billie to run away.

Most of “Sweet Thing” shows what happens during Billie and Nico’s experiences as runaways. On the beach, they meet a skateboarding, runaway teen named Malik (played by Jabari Watkins), who’s about the same age as Billie. Malik, who also comes from a troubled family, becomes fast friends with Billie and Nico. In many ways, Malik is even more rebellious than Billie and Nico, and he’s usually the one who comes up with the ideas for any mischief making.

“Sweet Thing” is a minimalistic independent drama that shows the ripple effects of growing up in a very damaged family. Viewers will only see less than a year in the lives of Nico and Billie, but it’s a snapshot of how a traumatic cycle of abuse can be passed down to a family’s next generation. Questions that will be raised that the movie can’t answer are: “How it will all affect Nico and Billie as adults? Will they be able to stop the cycle of abuse when they’re old enough to not be under parental supervision?”

And although it would be easy to say that Nico and Billie’s parents should lose custody, and the kids should be put in foster care, the harrowing reality is that many kids (but not all) in foster care experience even more abuse. There’s some melodrama toward the end of the film, but it doesn’t come across as overly contrived. (Van Morrison’s song “Sweet Thing” is used in the movie in an effective way.)

“Sweet Thing” doesn’t glorify or glamorize the experience of being a runaway, because Nico, Billie and Malik are still “trapped” by fear and paranoia of getting caught. Their “freedom” is just an illusion and comes at a heavy price. Alexandre Rockwell’s unpretentious direction of “Sweet Thing” is very much like what you would expect of a low-budget drama where the acting is naturalistic and doesn’t look over-rehearsed. And although the adult actors have their compelling moments, the children are really the heart and soul of the movie.

Film Movement released “Sweet Thing” in New York City and in U.S. virtual cinemas on June 18, 2021. The movie will be released on digital and DVD on October 12, 2021.

Review: ‘The Forever Purge,’ starring Josh Lucas, Ana de la Reguera, Tenoch Huerta, Cassidy Freeman, Leven Rambin, Alejandro Edda and Will Patton

June 30, 2021

by Carla Hay

Leven Rambin in “The Forever Purge” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“The Forever Purge”

Directed by Everardo Valerio Gout

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Texas and Mexico, the horror film “The Forever Purge” features a cast of mostly Latino and white people (with a few black people and Native Americans) representing the wealthy, middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: Two families—one wealthy and white, the other working-class and Mexican—try to stay alive when a violent mob of white supremacists go on a killing spree targeting people who aren’t white and people who don’t agree with the mob.

Culture Audience: “The Forever Purge” will appeal primarily to people who want to see formulaic, violent movies that have the worst racist hate crimes as gimmicks.

Jeffrey Doornbos and Ana de la Reguera in “The Forever Purge” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Completely predictable and lacking in substance, “The Forever Purge” tries to come across as a horror movie with a social conscience about racism. The movie is really just a badly written gorefest that uses racist hate crimes as a hook. The heroes in the movie have forgettable personalities, while the villains are so over-the-top with their hate speech that they seem almost like a cringeworthy parody of racism. The violence in the movie becomes so repetitive that it lessens any intended impact of being surprising or scary.

“The Forever Purge” is the fifth movie in the horror series that began with 2013’s “The Purge” and continued with 2014’s “The Purge: Anarchy,” 2016’s “The Purge: Election Year” and 2018’s “The First Purge.” The basic premise of each movie is that in a fictional version of the United States, all crime is legal once a year on a designated day, for a 12-hour period. The 12-hour legal crime spree is from dusk until dawn. This legal crime period is called the Purge, because the idea is that if people who are inclined to commit crimes had one day a year to purge their worst actions out of their system, then crime would decrease for the rest of the year. During the Purge, police and other emergency services are not available.

It’s a concept for a horror franchise (which also spawned the 2018-2019 “The Purge” TV series) that has been stretched so thin, that now “The Forever Purge” has ripped that concept apart. In “The Forever Purge,” which takes place mostly in Texas, the 12-hour legal crime period still happens. However, a group of white supremacist marauders have decided that the Purge will no longer have a time limit for them, as they continue with their crime spree to hunt and kill people who aren’t white. These rogue racists have a particular hatred for non-white immigrants.

Directed by Everardo Valerio Gout and written by James DeMonaco (who has written all “The Purge” movies so far), “The Forever Purge” has two protagonist families who represent two different versions of the American Dream. One is a white family who has lived in the United States for generations and has accumulated wealth. The other is a Mexican immigrant family who has relocated to the U.S. in search of better opportunities and a safer life.

The Tucker clan is a family of ranchers living in a large compound in an unnamed Texas city that’s near the Mexican border. Widowed patriarch Caleb (played by Will Patton) is a kind and generous boss to the ranch’s employees, who are mostly Mexican immigrants. Caleb’s son Dylan (played by Josh Lucas) is mistrustful of people who aren’t from the same racial and social class as he is.

Caleb’s other child is his daughter Harper (played by Leven Rambin), who is more like her father than Dylan is, because she doesn’t have racist tendencies. Dylan and his wife Cassie (played by Cassidy Freeman) are expecting their first child together. They don’t know yet what gender the child is, but Cassie is about eight or nine months pregnant.

Meanwhile, a Mexican couple in their 30s named Adela (played by Ana de la Reguera) and Juan (played by Tenoch Huerta) have crossed over the border into Texas as undocumented immigrants in search of the American Dream. They are also seeking a safer place to live, since where they used to live in Mexico has been overrun with drug cartels. Juan finds work as a ranch hand at the Tucker ranch. Adela becomes a cook at a restaurant.

Early on in the movie, it’s shown that Dylan is a jerk who thinks Mexicans are inferior. He likes to wrongfully accuse the Mexican workers of committing an employee violation, and he threatens to fire them to instill fear into them. One of the Mexican workers is a young man named T.T. (played by Alejandro Edda), who is Juan’s closest friend at the ranch.

Dylan has a particular dislike of Juan, who is kind of like a “horse whisperer” for the ranch. There’s a scene near the beginning of the movie that shows how Dylan tried and failed to get a stubborn horse under his control during training, and the horse knocked Dylan to to ground. However, Juan was able to easily calm the horse into submission.

Caleb respects Juan, who is a responsible and hard-working employee, and that makes Dylan jealous of Juan. Dylan tries to intimidate Juan with a false accusation of being tardy, but Juan remains unrattled. However, it’s the type of harassment that Juan can longer tolerate. Juan tries to talk to Caleb about Dylan’s animosity, by candidly telling Caleb that he thinks that Dylan doesn’t like Mexicans.

Caleb’s denies it and says, “I always taught my son to be a proud American. Maybe I didn’t really teach him what that meant. I don’t even know what that means anymore. The world is changing all around us. We are at each other’s throats. Confusing times.”

“The Forever Purge” keeps hammering this point with all the subtlety of a jackhammer on full blast. Within the first 10 minutes of the movie, there’s a series of news voiceovers that report how issues over Mexican immigration have caused increasingly violent tensions in the United States. White supremacist hate crimes, which the perpetrators try to disguise as “patriotism,” are on the rise against non-white immigrants.

As a result, the U.S. government has re-instated the Purge, which had been banned at the end of “The Purge: Election Year.” (“The First Purge” was a prequel to “The Purge.”) All crimes will still be legal for the designated 12-hour period, but government officials are not allowed to be crime victims during the Purge. It’s a precaution to prevent any assassinations of high-ranking leaders.

This re-instated Purge will begin 10 months after Adela and Juan have arrived in the United States. In the days leading up to this Purge resurrection, an anti-Purge activist named Chiago Harjo (played by Zahn McClarnon), who’s identified in the media as a “Texas tribal leader,” has been giving TV interviews denouncing the Purge. And that’s how “The Forever Purge” makes it easy to know that Chiago is going to end up joining forces with the movie’s protagonists in fighting the racist villains of the story.

On the day before the Purge begins again, Dylan, Cassie and Harper are having dinner with two friends who are a married couple: Dalton Levay (played by Joshua Dov) and Emily Levay (played by Annie Little). Earlier that day, Dalton had invited Dylan and Cassie to stay with the Levay family during their Purge lockdown, but Dylan declined the offer. His reason? “I hate the damn Purge. It’s hard to be social on that night, but thank you for the invite.”

During dinner, Emily says that if Cassie and Dylan need a nanny for their soon-to-be-born child, then she suggests hiring the sister of Emily’s nanny Anna. Dylan declines that offer too, because he says that they don’t need a nanny. Anna (played by Lupé Carranza) happens to be nearby with one of the Levay kids, and Dylan notices that Anna and the child are speaking Spanish to each other.

Dylan blurts out another reason why he doesn’t want Anna’s sister to be a nanny for him and Cassie: “I don’t know if I want our kids to be speaking Spanish in this house.” Cassie, Harper and Emily look shocked and embarrassed at this bigoted comment. However, Dylan is the type of racist who doesn’t think he’s racist.

As he says later in the movie to Juan: “I don’t think white people are better than anyone else … but we should just stick to our own.” It’s the type of racist mindset that historically has made racial segregation legal, by saying that society should be “separate but equal” when it comes to race. The problem with the “separate but equal” argument is that the U.S. was built on the very unequal system of white supremacy, where slavery and racial segregation were legal, and white people were given better access to resources such as education, housing, job opportunities and health care.

It’s easy for someone like Dylan (who’s already wealthy) to say “separate but equal” when he has privileges that give him more advantages in life than people who don’t have the same privileges. It’s a message that “The Forever Purge” attempts to convey in a very superficial manner. “The Forever Purge” ultimately abandons this message when the movie devolves into a typical violent free-for-all with deadly shootings, stabbings and other types of violent murders.

The day before the Purge, Caleb gives each of the ranch employees a cash bonus, to help them fund whatever defense methods they need for the Purge. A ranch hand named Kirk (played by Will Brittain), who appears to be the only white employee of the Tucker family, snarls after taking the cash: “I know what I’m using my money for—and it’s not for protection.” And when Kirk gripes to the other ranch hands that the Tucker family is just using the employees as “slave labor,” it’s an obvious foreshadowing of what comes later in the movie when the Tuckers become victims of a home invasion.

During the Purge, the Tucker family is on lockdown by having bulletproof barriers that can be lowered over their doors and windows. The Tucker property also has an extensive video surveillance system that Dylan monitors. Meanwhile, Adela and Juan stay at a public lockdown facility that is protected by armed guards. There seem to be many other Spanish-speaking immigrants at this facility.

Adela is curious about what Purge night looks like outside, so she goes up on the building’s roof where some armed guards are keeping vigil. One of the guards advises her to go back inside the building, as the sounds of gunshots and explosions ring through the air. Adela says to him, “There are parts of Mexico that sound like this every night.”

While looking out on the streets below, Adela is alarmed to see a truck with the words “Purge Purfication” emblazoned on the side. A recording blares from the truck’s loudspeakers: “We will no longer tolerate foreigners raping and pillaging the United States of America! We will find you and disinfect you! America will be American once again!”

She also sees that there’s a black man being held captive inside the truck. He looks like he’s being assaulted and will probably be killed. However, the crime that Adela is witnessing is legal, because it’s happening during the Purge. The tragedy of the situation still shocks her though.

Later, when Adela shows weapons skills that a typical cook would not have, it should come as no surprise when she reveals that it’s because when she was in Mexico, she was part of a group of women who fought drug cartels. This isn’t spoiler information, because the only real spoilers for this obvious movie is revealing who lives and who dies during the violent mayhem that ensues.

After the Purge ends for the year, people think their lives have gone back to normal. But there would be no “The Forever Purge” movie if that happened. Not long after the Purge ends, there’s still a large presence of white supremacists going around in groups and committing hate crimes. The Purge Purification truck is part of a nationwide Purge Purification movement that doesn’t want the Purge to end. Their motto (which they repeat to the point of stupidity) is “Forever After Purge.”

Adela finds out the hard way when she sees an abandoned goat in a cage in a back alley and tries to rescue it. It’s a trap, of course, and the two white supremacists who set the trap try to kill her. Adela is saved by a Good Samaritan named Darius (played by Sammi Rotibi), who is African American. Together, Darius and Adela kill their attackers in self-defense.

And as soon as this deadly battle ends, guess who suddenly shows up at the scene? Two cops, who weren’t around when they were needed. The cops quickly arrest Adela and Darius, who protest and say they were acting in self-defense. Their proclamations of innocence are ignored, so Adela and Darius end up in the back of a police van with some other people who’ve been arrested.

One of those other people just happens to be a mentally unhinged neo-Nazi skinhead (played by Edward Gelhaus), who has a swastika tattooed on his left cheek. By this time, the city has become a chaotic and violent mess, with gunshots heard everywhere. In one of the more laughably ludicrous parts of the movie, the neo-Nazi begins identifying the types of guns being used, based on the gunshots that are heard.

“Listen to that bass!” the Nazi crows like a loon about the gunshots. “Homegrown music from the heartland right there! That’s American music, motherfucker!” Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

Every lunatic racist group in a movie like this needs a leader, and in “The Forever Purge,” it’s Elijah Hardin (played by Jeffrey Doornbos), who spouts white supremacist rhetoric that sounds like it came straight from the Ku Klux Klan Handbook of Clichés. Elijah has an equally nasty wife named Mother Hardin (played by Susie Abromeit), who’s intent on proving that women can be just as dangerous as men when it comes to violent racism.

“The Forever Purge” has a very unsurprising storyline of the protagonists being separated from their spouses and trying to find them in the chaos. And that means that Dylan and Juan end up working together for a common goal, which leads to Dylan’s inevitable change of heart in how he feels about Mexicans. There’s also a part of the movie where the protagonists trie to flee to safety in Mexico, which is an obvious ironic flip to show Americans what it would be like to be refugees seeking asylum in another country.

The violence just becomes filler before the movie’s hackneyed conclusion. “The Forever Purge” has a lot of action, but it’s so unimaginative and easy to predict that it ends up becoming very tedious after a while. The acting is nothing spectacular, mainly because almost all of the characters have no real depth and often utter moronic dialogue during the fight scenes. Now that “The Forever Purge” filmmakers have destroyed the series’ original concept so that the mayhem of the Purge now has no time limit, this once-unique movie franchise has just become another run-of-the-mill slasher flick series.

Universal Pictures will release “The Forever Purge” in U.S. cinemas on July 2, 2021.

Review: ‘The Devil Below,’ starring Alicia Sanz, Adan Canto, Chinaza Uche, Zach Avery, Jonathan Sadowski and Will Patton

April 6, 2021

by Carla Hay

Adan Canto, Chinaza Uche, Zach Avery and Alicia Sanz in “The Devil Below” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“The Devil Below

Directed by Bradley Parker

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional rural town of Bluefield, Kentucky, the horror flick “The Devil Below” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: Four geologists and their tour guide try to solve the mystery of an abandoned mine that trapped 195 people decades earlier, and the explorers uncover sinister forces during their excursion. 

Culture Audience: “The Devil Below” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching formulaic and mindless horror movies.

Will Patton and Alicia Sanz in “The Devil Below” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

There’s absolutely nothing creative or original about the dreadfully predictable horror flick “The Devil Below.” It’s about a group of people who go somewhere remote and “forbidden” to try to find out why numerous people have mysteriously died or vanished in this death trap. The group of explorers think nothing will happen to them. And you know what happens next. Even though this concept has been recycled countless times in horror movies, there are ways to bring some freshness to this concept, but the “The Devil Below” fails miserably.

Directed by Bradley Parker and written by Eric Scherbarth and Stefan Jaworski, “The Devil Below” (formerly titled “Shookum Hills”) checks every horror cliché box in this lazy and unimaginative story. The acting is mediocre and the dialogue is forgettable. The movie starts off explaining that the death trap is a now-abandoned coal mine that was owned by the Shookum Hills Mining Company in the fictional rural town of Bluefield, Kentucky. In 1970, 33 people died and 162 went missing in an unexplained mining accident.

The opening scene shows another death in the present day: A miner named Schuttmann (played by Will Patton) is with his son Eric (played by Duncan Novak) near the mine, when a strange force seems to grab Eric and pull him down into the mine shaft. Meanwhile, someone or something stabs Schuttman in the neck. It won’t be the last that viewers will see of Schuttman though.

Sometime later (the movie doesn’t saw how much later), a feisty tour guide named Arianne (played by Alicia Sanz) is getting ready to lead a group of four geologists, who want Arianne to take them to the Shookum Hills mine, which is no longer on any current maps. Arianne doesn’t want to tell these geologists that she has no idea how to find the place. She needs the money that they’re paying her, so she decides to just “wing it” and hope they won’t figure out that she doesn’t really know how to get to the abandoned mine.

The four geologists are:

  • Darren Atkins (played by Adan Canto), the group’s ambitious and aggressive leader who has a checkered past that is eventually revealed in the story,
  • Terry Ellis (played by Jonathan Sadowski), a structural geologist, who is the jokester of the group.
  • Shawn Harrison (played Chinaza Uche), a field geologist/comparative mythologist, who is the skeptical worrier in the group.
  • Jaime Cowan (played by Zach Avery), the laid-back and easygoing member of the group.

The town of Shookum Hills in Kentucky burned down years ago and also isn’t on any current maps. On the way to the abandoned mine that Arianne doesn’t really know how to find (Arianne and the four geologists are in Arianne’s Jeep), she decides to stop at a nearby convenience store. The store is predictably dark and dingy, and the scruffy store clerk looks at this obvious out-of-towner with some suspicion.

When Arianne shows the clerk an old map of the Shookum Hills mine and asks how to get there, he immediately becomes hostile and says he doesn’t know. When Arianne leaves, the clerk gets on the phone and tells the person on the other line, “Dave, we have a problem.” The next thing you know, Arianne and the geologist crew are being chased through the woods by some of the local residents in a truck.

Arianne figures out that the people chasing them will go straight to the mine if they lose track of Arianne’s Jeep. And sure enough, that’s what happens. Arianne sees the direction where the truck is headed. And that’s how Arianne and the geologists find the mine. Or is it a sinkhole from hell? It’s easy to predict what will happen from there.

Shawn explains why he’s skittish about being there: “The prevailing theory is there was never actually a coal mine but America’s response to the well to hell … The Russians drilled about eight miles in Siberia until the drill broke, and they lowered a heat-resistant microphone into the well and heard this sound. Some say it’s the screams of the damned.” He then plays a scratchy audio recording of people wailing in agony. And with that, Shawn has already telegraphed what’s going to happen in this story.

As the body count piles up, “The Devil Below” uses the annoying horror movie trickery of making it look like someone has died but that person is really still alive. The first two-thirds of the movie are quite dull, but the last third is just absolutely moronic. Let’s put it this way: People who should have no logical reason to realistically move about or be alive, due to severe bodily injuries, end up acting as if they only have some pesky bruises. What’s lurking inside the mine is also very stereotypical.

The cinematography of “The Devil Below” is an ugly brownish hue for most of the film, except in the underground mine scenes, which at times has a bright red glow. This underground death trap is supposed to be hellish, so of course the filmmakers chose the most predictable color to represent hell. There’s a certain hell that viewers will experience if they watch “The Devil Below” to the very end. And that’s the hell of knowing that they wasted time watching this idiotic and boring movie.

Vertical Entertainment released “The Devil Below” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on March 5, 2021.

Review: ‘Minari,’ starring Steven Yeun, Alan S. Kim, Yuh-Jung Youn, Yeri Han, Noel Cho and Will Patton

February 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

Steven Yeun, Alan S. Kim, Yuh-Jung Youn, Yeri Han and Noel Cho in “Minari” (Photo by Josh Ethan Johnson/A24)

“Minari”

Directed by Lee Isaac Chung

Korean and English with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the 1980s, in an unnamed part of rural Arkansas, the drama “Minari’ features a cast of Asians and white people portraying the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A Korean American family moves from California to Alabama, so the patriarch can start a farm, but the family experiences culture shock and unexpected hardships.

Culture Audience: “Minari” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in well-acted dramas about family struggles and the American Dream.

Will Patton and Steven Yeun in “Minari” (Photo by Melissa Lukenbaugh/A24)

The standout drama “Minari” makes an emotional impact in moments of quiet desperation and anxiety during a family’s quest to achieve the American Dream. It’s not a movie packed with fast-paced action, nor does it fall into predictable clichés of how immigrant families in America are often portrayed on screen. It’s an intimate “slice of life” portrait of a pivotal time in a Korean American family’s history, with impressive performances from the movie’s cast.

Written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, “Minari” won the 2020 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Award in the U.S. dramatic category (the festival’s top prize) and the Audience Award in the same category. And it’s an arthouse film that’s also a crowd-pleaser. There isn’t a false note in the entire movie, although the deliberate pacing of “Minari” might not be to everyone’s taste, especially if a viewer is expecting more melodramatic antics in this story.

Set in the 1980s, “Minari” centers on the Yee family, who have recently moved from California to rural Arkansas. Jacob (played by Steven Yeun) and his wife Monica (played by Yeri Han) are in their 30s and have opposite feelings from each other about this relocation. Jacob is excited and optimistic about this new chapter in the family’s life, while Monica is skeptical and worried. When they drive up to their new home, which is a trailer, Monica expresses her disappointment to Jacob: “This isn’t what you promised.”

Jacob and Monica’s children are daughter Anne (played by Noel Cho) and son David (played by Alan S. Kim), who are aware that their mother isn’t thrilled about moving to rural Arkansas, where the family doesn’t know anyone. But the children have no choice but to go along and see what happens. Anne, who is about 11 or 12 years old, is an obedient and unfussy child. David is 7 years old, very precocious, and a little bit rebellious. David also has a heart murmur, so he’s often reminded by his parents that he can’t run or do any physical activity that could over-exert his heart.

It’s mentioned in the movie that Jacob and Monica are Korean immigrants who moved to the United States after they became a couple, while Anne and David were born in the U.S. It’s why Jacob and Monica usually speak to each other in Korean. Anne and David are also bilingual, but they prefer to speak English.

There are other signs that Anne and David are more open to assimilating with Americans than Jacob and Monica are. The children (especially David) want to make new friends in their new hometown, while Jacob and Monica prefer to keep to themselves and feel more comfortable around the few other Korean immigrants in the area. (“Minari” was actually filmed in Tulsa, Oklahoma.)

In California, Jacob was a very skilled farm worker whose specialty is being a chicken sexer: someone who identifies baby chickens by their sex, so that the males can be separated from the females. Female chickens are considered more valuable than male chickens because females can produce eggs. When the Yee family arrives in Arkansas, Jacob gets a chicken sexer job at a place called Wilkinson Hatcheries, which employs mostly Korean immigrants. Anne works there too, doing the same thing, but she’s new at learning this skill.

There’s been tension brewing between Jacob and Monica. When she first sees that they’ll be living in a trailer, instead of a house, she mutters to herself, “It just gets worse and worse.” And several times during the movie, Monica expresses regret about moving to Arkansas, and pines for what she says was the better life that the family had in California.

But Jacob has other ideas. The property they own in Arkansas comes with about one acre of land that’s ideal for farming. One of the first things that Jacob does is scoop up some of the grassy soil in his hands. He marvels, “This is the best dirt in America.”

Monica is dismayed that Jacob’s plans to have a backyard garden as a hobby quickly turns into plans to start a small farm. It’s a lot to handle for Jacob, who also needs to keep his day job at the hatchery company. Monica reluctantly goes along with Jacob’s decision for her and Jacob get a bank loan to start the farming business. Jacob’s plan is to sell his farm produce to places that carry Korean food. Jacob immediately begins teaching David some aspects of farm life, no doubt because Jacob thinks that David might want to inherit the farm someday.

Jacob determines that there’s enough water flow on the land to build a well and irrigation system. He then buys a tractor from a local, scruffy eccentric named Paul (played by Will Patton), who offers to work for Jacob on the farm. Paul is a Christian who’s a religious fanatic. One of the first things Paul does during the tractor sale is pray in tongues over the land. This behavior makes Jacob uncomfortable, so he declines Paul’s offer to work on the farm.

However, it soon becomes clear that Jacob has no one else to turn to in this sparsely populated area. Paul ends up working for Jacob, who learns to tolerate Paul’s religious quirks. For example, Jacob is a smoker, and the first time that he lights up a cigarette in front of Paul, the reaction from Paul is as if he’s near the fire of hell. In his free time, Paul has a habit of walking down the area’s dirt roads with a large, heavy wooden cross on his shoulder, to recreate the biblical story of Jesus doing the same thing.

Throughout the movie, it’s made every clear that the Yee family is very isolated. Monica suggests to Jacob that they move to a bigger city called Rogers in Arkansas, but he brushes off that suggestion and says they’ve invested too much in the property that they have now. Anne and David are homeschooled, but since Monica and Jacob have to spend their weekdays at the hatchery, they need someone to help take care of the kids during the day.

And that’s why Anne’s feisty mother Soonja (played by Yuh-jung Youn) comes to live with the family. She travels from Korea to Arkansas, but her immigration situation is never explained in the movie. Due to visa restrictions and how quickly that Soonja was able to get to Arkansas, it’s implied that her stay in Arkansas will be temporary. Jacob wants to make enough money through the farm so that eventually, he and Monica don’t have to work at the hatchery anymore and will be able to work from home while the kids are there.

However long Soonja plans to stay, “Minari” takes place over the course of about five or six months, with Soonja coming into the picture during the last couple of months that the story take place. In the movie, Anne mentions that she’s the only living relative for Soonja, who lost her husband in the Korean War. When Soonja arrives with food from Korea, such as chili powder and anchovies, Anne gets so emotional that she cries.

Soonja doesn’t get a very warm welcome from David though. It doesn’t help that David has to share his room with Soonja, even though she sleeps on the floor. David tells Soonja and his other family members why he doesn’t trust Soonja: David thinks she doesn’t act like a “real grandmother,” because she can’t read, she often curses, and she wears men’s underwear. Soonja tries to bond with David by cracking open a nut with her mouth and then telling him to eat it what she just spit out. Naturally, David refuses.

Soonja also tries to be friendly to David by giving him a pack of playing cards. Monica asks Soonja if that’s an appropriate gift for a 7-year-old. Soonja replies: “Start him young to beat these other bastards!”

David has a bed-wetting problem, and when Soonja finds out, she teases David by saying to him in Korean: “Penis is broken.” David replies, “It’s not called a penis! It’s called a ding-dong!” In an act of impish revenge, David plays a prank on Soonja that won’t be described in this review, but it’s enough to say that the prank can be considered amusing, nauseating or both.

Soonja and her minor clashes with David are the movie’s main comic relief, as the stress continues to build in the family because of problems with the farm. Starting the business has been a major financial drain on the family’s funds and there are some setbacks which make it questionable when or if the farm will be profitable. The more that it looks like the business will fail, the more that Monica wants to leave Arkansas.

Jacob refuses to quit, and he tells an increasingly frustrated Monica that it’s about more than the money. It’s about a sense of accomplishment and setting an example for their children: “They need to see me succeed at something,” Jacob says.

More than once, Jacob tells Monica that if the farm fails, she can do whatever she wants, including leaving him and taking the children with her. In other words, the stakes are pretty high for this family, which also has the added worries of some health problems that happen later in the story. Except for the bank loan and Paul’s assistance, Jacob doesn’t ask for much help. Part of it is because of his pride, but part of it could also be Korean culture, which teaches that families should try to keep their problems to themselves so that they won’t burden society.

Because the Yee family lives on a fairly isolated farm and the children are homeschooled, they don’t come in contact with a lot of the local people in their part of Arkansas. Therefore, “Minari” doesn’t have any scenarios where the Yees experience any blatant racial discrimination. Shortly after Soonja arrives, the Yee family attends a local church service, where the Yees are the only non-white parishioners. The white churchgoers are friendly and occasionally culturally ignorant, but they do not deliberately exclude the Yees.

The title of the movie comes from a noteworthy scene when Soonja and David are in the woods and she notices that a nearby creek would be ideal to grow minari. Soonja mentions that minari is the type of herb that can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of their ethnicity or socioeconomic status. The minari becomes a metaphor not just for following a dream but also for persistence when there’s an obstacle to that dream.

Chung’s writing and direction for “Minari” are uncluttered but rich with emotions that are relatable to people who have close-knit families. There are some arguments and hard decisions that have to be made in how this family will move forward, but these scenes of conflict never look gimmicky just for the sake of bringing more drama to the story. The movie’s production design, cinematography and production design are assets in bringing authenticity to this family tale.

Yeun, Kim and Han deliver the movie’s most memorable performances. There’s an underlying power dynamic between their three characters in the movie that are the catalysts for the biggest developments in the story. Soonja’s arrival puts added pressure on Jacob to be the family’s chief provider, because he doesn’t want to look like he’s incapable of taking care of his family.

David and Jacob also know that Soonja is a reminder of Korea, a country that Jacob and Monica left to seek a better life in America. At one point, David comments about Soonja in a disdainful tone of voice that she “smells like Korea.” Even at this young age, David is aware that his parents think that they’re better off in America than in Korea. However, Soonja’s vibrant presence, even in her unsophisticated glory, is a reminder of how people shouldn’t be dismissive of their family heritage and the value of wisdom that comes with age.

“Minari” takes its time to get to the most dramatic part of the story. But viewers who like to immerse themselves in the everyday lives of a very specific family will find a lot to admire about this film. The movie takes place in the 1980s, but there are lessons learned in the story that are timeless.

A24 released “Minari” in select U.S. cinemas on February 11, 2021, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on February 12, 2021. The movie’s VOD release date is February 26, 2021.

Review: ‘Blood on Her Name,’ starring Bethany Anne Lind, Will Patton and Elisabeth Röhm

February 28, 2020

by Carla Hay

Bethany Anne Lind in “Blood on Her Name” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Blood on Her Name” 

Directed by Matthew Pope

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed small U.S. town, this crime thriller has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latino and African Americans in supporting roles) that represent the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A divorced mother who has killed a man tries to cover up the crime.

Culture Audience: “Blood on her Name” will appeal primarily to people who like tension-filled crime stories about ordinary people caught up in terrible circumstances.

Will Patton and Jared Ivers in “Blood on Her Name” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Blood on Her Name” sounds like it might be the title of a horror film,  but the story is really a crime thriller about choices that a desperate woman makes that will have long-lasting effects on her family. It’s suspenseful from beginning to end, and it will make viewers wonder what they would do if they were in the same situation.

In the beginning of the story, auto-body shop owner Leigh Tiller (played by Bethany Anne Lind) is bruised and battered from an obvious physical fight. But that’s not the worst of her problems. The man who caused her injuries is now dead, and Leigh is desperately trying to figure out where she should dump his body and get rid of the weapon (a mechanic’s wrench) that she used to kill him. The movie never shows the fight, even in flashbacks, so viewers will have to speculate about what took place during this fatal altercation.

With the body wrapped in tarp, Leigh takes the corpse with her in a canoe out to a lake, where she throws the wrench into the water.  The movie’s only real plot hole is that it doesn’t explain how Leigh, who is of average height and weight, could carry a dead body of that size by herself and load it in her car and then a canoe. Adrenaline has been proven to give people extraordinary strength, so that will have to be the only logical explanation.

As Leigh is about the throw the body into the lake too, the dead man’s cell phone rings. She lets it go to voice mail and then listens to the message. It’s the dead man’s son, who sounds concerned that he hadn’t come home the night before. In that moment, she decides not to dispose of the body in the lake, and she puts the body back in the trunk of her car.

Leigh is obviously in a major panic and isn’t thinking straight. Not only does she seem unsure of what to do with the body, she’s also taken no precautions to prevent her DNA or fingerprints from being on the body or the tarp used to cover it. The other less-than-smart thing that she does is keep the dead man’s cell phone. Apparently, she doesn’t know that police can track a cell phone’s location and travel route by the nearest cell phone towers that pick up the cell phone’s signal.

The next day, Leigh is in the car with her delinquent teenage son Ryan (played by Jared Ivers), as they drive to a meeting with Ryan’s parole officer. It isn’t specifically said what Ryan did that got him arrested, but it was bad enough where he ended up in jail, Leigh has to pay restitution, and Ryan has to do drug testing by urine sample.

While in the car, Leigh tells Ryan not to worry about the man who came to their home last night because he left right after Ryan left. From the expression on Ryan’s face, he’s somewhat skeptical, but he doesn’t press the matter. When Ryan and Leigh meet with parole officer Nathan Parrish (played by Tony Vaughn), the officer asks what happened to Leigh’s face, and she lies and tells him that she got injured on the job.

And where is Ryan’s father? He’s divorced from Leigh and is in prison for dirty deals involving stolen cars. It’s implied in the movie, but not said outright, that he used the auto-body shop to sell parts from these stolen automobiles. While he’s in prison, Leigh has taken over the shop, which is so small that only two people work there: Leigh and her loyal mechanic Jimmy Gonzales (played by Reynoso Dias), who immediately asks what happened to Leigh when she goes to work and he sees the injuries on her face.

Leigh tells Jimmy that that a junkie broke into the shop when she was alone, and she fought him off. When he tells her that she should report the break-in and assault to the police, Leigh says she won’t, because she doesn’t want the shop to have “a bad reputation with the few customers we have left.” When she’s alone, Leigh checks the computer surveillance video from the previous night and deletes what appears to be damning evidence.

And then Leigh does something strange: She goes back to the body to retrieve the dead man’s wallet, she takes out the driver’s license to get his address, and then drives to the address that’s on the license. She parks a little way down the street so she can get a good look at what’s going on at the address.

While parked in her car, she sees on the dead man’s cell phone that he’s been getting increasingly angry text messages from a woman who’s the mother of the son who left the voice mail from the previous night. The profile picture on the text messages shows what the woman looks like, and the same woman is sitting out front in the trailer. Her son, who appears to be in her late teens, is seen outside of the trailer too. The woman’s name is Dani Wilson (played by Elisabeth Röhm), and her son’s name is Travis (played by Jack Andrews).

While Leigh is spying on the dead man’s family, Leigh is startled by a cop, who asks why she’s parked there in the middle of the day. And the cop happens to be Leigh’s widowed father Richard (played by Will Patton), who’s on patrol duty. Even though this story takes place in an unnamed U.S. city, it’s obviously a small town because Richard doesn’t have a cop partner when he’s on patrol. And as the story unfolds with Leigh trying to cover up what she did, it’s even more obvious that the city where she lives has a very small police force.

Why was Leigh parked in front of the dead man’s home? We find out that it’s because she wanted to see where she could return the body to his family without being caught. She goes back to the home at night to dispose of the body in the family’s shed. She then leaves a hand-written note in the family’s mailbox that says, “He’s in the shed. I’m sorry.”

Even though it would have been easier to get away with what she did if the body was never found, one can only speculate that she wanted the body to be found because she felt guilty and wanted to give closure to the dead man’s family. In a weird way, she’s thinking that it’s more “respectful” to leave it at the dead man’s home instead of leaving it at a random place where a stranger would find it.

But how much will this decision cost Leigh in the end? And who exactly was the dead man? Those questions are answered in the movie. But there are some twists and turns along the way, including Leigh noticing that her unusual necklace (a tiny wrench on a chain) is missing, and she might have dropped it when she left the body in the shed.

“Blood on My Name” (ably directed by Matthew Pope, who wrote the screenplay with Don M. Thompson) maintains a panic-stricken tone throughout the film. If some of Leigh’s decisions might seem illogical, consider that this is probably the first time she’s killed someone, and the death doesn’t appear to have been planned in advance. And then factor in that her father is a cop who would be investigating the disappearance/death of this man, and it’s easy to see why her thought process would be scrambled by extreme fear and guilt.

During different scenes in the movie, Leigh starts to have flashback visions of herself as a child of about 8 or 9 years old. It’s here that we see that she used to idolize her father at that age, and she admired his job as a cop so much that she would ride in the back of his police car. But she now has a strained relationship with her father, no doubt because she was married to a man who’s now in prison. In case it wasn’t clear from her actions, Leigh’s nickname could be “Bad Life Choices.”

“Blood on Her Name” is not a groundbreaking film, but it’s a taut thriller with solid acting and a few unpredictable revelations that add depth to the movie. The morality dilemmas in the story aren’t just about what someone would do to cover up a crime but also what someone would do to protect a family.

Vertical Entertainment released “Blood on Her Name” in select U.S. cities and on VOD on February 28, 2020.