In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Originally posted on Cinema76.
In response to the many challenges impacting the film community amid the Covid-19 pandemic and the concerns of safety and security that presently come with physical exhibition and festivals, a collective online initiative is being launched by organizers of a number of American genre festivals for the upcoming fall season to offer a singular experience for U.S. audiences. Together the Boston Underground Film Festival (MA), Brooklyn Horror Film Festival (NY), North Bend Film Festival (WA), The Overlook Film Festival (LA), and Popcorn Frights Film Festival (FL) have joined forces under the banner of NIGHTSTREAM to present a dynamic and accessible virtual festival in October 2020.
Hunted (dir. Vincent Paronnaud, 2020)
A half animated folktale opening sets the stage for an incredibly intense chase thriller that starts in the dark confines of a nightclub and works its way to the open woods. When young professional, Eve (Lucie Debay) finds herself the target of a wannabe snuff film director and his partner, she’s forced to channel her inner beast and embrace the energy of the forest if she’s going to make it through the night. She does have work in the morning, after all.
Debay puts forth a killer performance that requires her to transform from victim to aggressor in much the same way as the great badass ladies of grindhouse cinema. Still, she’s a contemporary woman, and the script weaves modern ideas of sexual/gendered violence into things in a way the doesn’t feel exploitative. Ariel Worthalter cranks up the insanity as a villain whose actions are never predictable. His presence is absolutely chilling from beginning to end.
Artful direction wins the day, keeping the look of the vast forest exciting while never losing the sense of geography required to make a chase movie sing. There are a few wonky choices up front, but they fade from memory as this masterfully paced, hyper violent machine gets pumping, leading to a a finale that, when I saw it, had me exclaiming to no one at all, “this is so metal.”
An Unquiet Grave (dir. Terence Krey, 2020)
One of the coolest things about independent cinema, and more specifically, independent horror, is witnessing the ways a team of filmmakers can maximize the use of a very small budget. In the case of An Unquiet Grave, it feels like the story itself was written to rely on as little money as possible, instead focusing on milking as much imagination as possible out of a relatively simple idea. And when you have two totally game actors to carry the tale, what results is a deeply effective, chilling little horror movie.
Recent widower Jamie (Jacob A. Ware), seems to think he can bring his wife back from the dead, but in order to do so, he’s going to need the help of his wife’s twin sister Ava (Christine Nyland). The film follows this duo as they complete the ritual needed to bring back their loved one, and then deal with the supernatural fallout from doing so. I don’t think its a spoiler to say that things don’t really go as planned.
There are no special effects to speak of, nor are there any grand moments of horror. Nope, this is a small, localized film, that evokes its chills using a powerful combination of performance and mood. It creeps under the skin undetected, and by the time the credits roll, an indelible and unsettling feeling takes over. I haven’t shaken it since.
Lapsis (dir. Noah Hutton, 2020)
There’s simply no way to describe the plot of this bizarre flick, and even if I did so in full detail, I’d still be leaving a ton out. So credit where it is due: Lapsis is about a lot of things, both plot-wise and thematically. So much so that any self-respecting editor would say that it’s just too much. But in execution, it’s not too much at all. This wildly entertaining film never overstays its welcome, and always manages to be both interesting and exciting.
The story takes place in an unspecified future where quantum computing has become mainstream. In order to keep the quantum network alive, cables need to be run from generators on a massive, nationwide scale. In order to do this, independent contractors called “cablers” can make bank by manually walking cables through predetermined routes. They work through an app (think Postmates), and are constantly in competition with robotic cablers that exist to keep a fire under everyone’s ass. The cabling world has its own rules and subcultures which our hero Ray (Dean Imperial) finds out rather quickly on his first weekend on the job. Alas, he’s got to power through the drama if he’s going to make enough scratch to pay for his brother’s treatments at a specialized facility for people suffering from a new form of fatigue. He meets with a fellow cabler, Anna (Madeline Wise), and the two form a cautious friendship which could prove mutually beneficial…if things go smoothly.
It’s a truly strange, but very fun adventure, with pointed commentary on capitalism, privilege, and the responsibility that comes with power. The imaginative concept is bolstered by a bizarre sense of humor, and a lot of big, pertinent ideas. I should add that Dean Imperial looks like a perfect cross between James Gandolfini and Bruce Willis, and once I got that into my head I couldn’t unsee it. This is a very good thing.