Category Archives: Indie Reviews

Fear, Inc. (2016) Film Review

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Starring: Lucas Neff, Caitlin Stasey, Chris Marquette, Stephanie Drake, and Abigail Breslin

Written By: Luke Barnett

Directed By: Vincent Masciale

Grade: A-

Like most horror fans, Joe Foster (Neff), the lead character in the smart, surreal, and sadistically fun horror comedy, Fear, Inc., finds himself so hungry for a good scare this Halloween season, but feels constantly let down. Every haunt he goes to seems so predictable and not nearly real enough. After consuming so many gory, disturbing horror films and visiting haunts that put millions of dollars in to effects and art design to put you inside a hellish world, after a while it can lose the impact and feel like you’ve seen it all. How do you really outdo it? Especially some of these immersive horror theater experiences or even extreme haunts where you can get physically and possibly emotionally scarred? How far can you go in making a simulated living nightmare real when you know it is staged? Fear, Inc. plays with the question of what it would take for such a desensitized horror fan to really be immersed and believe in a personal horror coming alive around him and just how horribly wrong that could go. It’s quite an amazing feat just how many times the film pulls you back and forth between the mentality of this is real and this is just a masterful bloody, cruel illusion and all a part of the game. The end game is completely unpredictable, perhaps the real illusion our characters experience is control and any sense of safety.

Fear, Inc. is incredibly written, acted, and directed film,  especially being the first feature film by director Vincent Masciale. It has such a vibrant tone and energy I guarantee will be the fuel to the fire horror fans crave. I’ve been rather disappointed by a lot of horror films in the past few years and Fear, Inc. was really a breath of fresh air. It teeters between being pure horror homage fun and making you so invested in the horrors before you. It really is horror comedy perfection. The creators list Scream as one of their favorite movies and what they were looking to create something in a similar vein, they completely nailed it. There are about as many horror movie and genre movie references in this film that one could possibly fit, while still being its own unique story with relevant intriguing exploration on the current climate of the immersive horror theater and extreme haunt world.

The film is colorful, fun, witty, psychological, and most importantly is horror with a purpose. Horror comedy can be a very tricky thing to pull off, but Fear, Inc. excels at this too. The comedy doesn’t overpower the horror; you are utterly invested in it all. You care about the characters and are in the same position as them, enjoying it, but also realizing at a certain point this has to be real and you are horrified and fear for them greatly as the horrors unleash and the fun horror fanboy’s fantasy world and the grim, shocking reality collide and clash again and again. We are affected by this mind fuck just as much as Joe is so we are really experiencing this all through him, getting us to question what we would do in his shoes.

There’s some very interesting questioning of what crossing the line is with horror simulation, which I think is an equally fascinating and terrifying subject. It also questions would anyone of their right mind really want to be pushed so far to experience even seemingly real torment? And what type of person does a company like this attract, the people that willingly sign up to invoke real fear and a power play over someone in an environment where in a way they have permission to do this because the client “wanted this”. The nature of what Fear, Inc. as a company does is a bit different than extreme haunts, but it still is very obviously in the same realm and exploring it and inherent themes in their own way. With haunts and simulation experiences becoming more and more real, where there isn’t necessarily the safety net of thinking “Oh nothing can really happen to me, it’s all a show” if one seeks out an extreme enough production, Fear, Inc. tackling and really exploring these themes from many different angles is very interesting and offers great substance to the film. In fact, I think this subject matter is really its saving grace in retaining its individuality and having its own voice. Being an homage to so many horror films it would be easy to lose its identity, but I think it’s key that by the chosen subject matter, it manages to have it’s own identity and be its own surreal macabre journey.

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Things of course are pushed to the extreme here and you do need to suspend some disbelief that all this could be pulled off and the victim would perceive it a certain way, whether it’s fake or real. It’s well worth it to suspend that disbelief and play along, to lose yourself in the madness of it all. The one thing I wouldn’t have mind being dug in to more was this concept that this company made custom scares. I think it would have been more interesting to dive in to that client’s personal most crippling fears. I didn’t get a sense that anything that happened was Joe’s greatest fear he was being forced to face. Most of it was homages to all of his favorite movies and was fun for him to play and be a a part of it until of course things got a little too real. In some ways that limited his vulnerability and didn’t focus on fear itself as much as I would have liked. I think it could have been even more dark and fascinating, questioning the very nature of fear and how our own fears say so much about us and can push something out of us.

Hearing people who really do enjoy going to the most extreme haunts in the world, where they are being physically hurt and they come back again and again, this is why they say they do it; because it allows them to understand something about themselves and who they are in the face of true fear. Touching on that would have made the film that much more relevant, wise, and important I thought it might go there when I read “custom scares” were a part of the plot, but that would have just been a different way to go about it. Personally I think that could have propelled the film to greatness, but I totally respect that wasn’t the story they were quite looking to tell. Instead they took ones’ horror fantasies and twisted them on the person to show the devastation it could bring once it became more than a game. It was simply a different approach so I don’t have any real issues with this. As is it was quite an enthralling story.

fearincbreslinfear656The cast was absolutely incredible. Abigail Breslin, one of my favorite young horror starlets, had a great cameo in the opening that gave us a taste of what Fear, Inc. was all about. It was an intense, yet fun classic horror scene and let us in on the secret that this is not a game you can quit. Lucas Neff as the horror loving Joe was perfect. He nailed all of the comedic timing, he was loveable and relatable, and at times a bit insane, yet still realistic, for how much he relished in being the star of his own horror film by the hands of Fear, inc. Yet when it called for it the emotion and fear was there just as strong. I’ve been a fan of Chris Marquette’s for a long time and it was wonderful to see him in this as Joe’s right hand man and fellow horror buff, but much more cautious and the voice of reasoning. There were some great buddy moments between the two, but Marquette certainly held his own as well, especially when you consider the back and forth between supposed fiction and reality and how at times his character was on a different psychological playing field than the audience even realized.

This if my first time seeing Caitlin Stasey outside of The CW’s Reign and she was just as strong and at home in the horror realm with great emotional range. Patrick Renna (most well known for The Sandlot and The Big Green) brought his A creep game and the instigator for the warped world of Fear, Inc. to come in Joe’s life in the first place. There were a number of fun chilling moments with featured genre actors like Naomi Grossman and Maria Olsen. Really every actor gave a great performance, no matter how small the role was, which just made it feel like it was all that much more real and a compelling fight for your life adventure you could get lost in.

The film’s pacing really was a great strength as well. It gets higher paced and intensity as it goes on, eventually being a whirlwind of enticing meta slasher chaos. Yet it also takes its time and lingers on moments that deserve it. The escalating terror isn’t immediate of course, but the first act of the film doesn’t drag for a moment either. There was no one moment where I wasn’t totally engaged in the film. We spend time with our characters and really get a chance to connect and love them as well as just sit back and enjoy the wonderful horrorphile talk that really touches on the genuine love the characters, the audience, and clearly the writer and director feel for the genre, which really gives the film an infectious spirit that makes it an admirable horror entry among the likes of Scream and The Cabin in the Woods. This is a film not to be missed, it’s very much a film for the horror fans.

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Review: Within These Walls (2015)

MV5BMjE3MDYyOTQwOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzgxNjY0MTE@._V1_SX640_SY720_Directed by: James Tucker
Written By: Kelsey Zukowski (screenplay) & James Tucker (story)
Starring: Kelsey Zukowsk, Laura Godown-Mortensen, Felissa Rose, Marv Blauvelt, Jessica Rogers, James Tucker, Kate Atack.

Genre: Horror

Plot: A prisoner in her own home, a captive in her own body. Assaulted and trapped with no one to hear her cries for help…and knowing no one will believe her if they do. This is the terrifying reality Alaina finds herself in when she moves in to the house her mother died in. At first she thinks it’s the loss of her mother that is haunting her, but she is soon shown it is something far more malicious and unrelenting. The spirit taunts her as it invades her body, mind, and soul, completely trapping her. Alaina has to fight for answers on what really happened to her mother if she has any hopes of survival. She must find a way to endure this monster who lives and breathes to rob her of her sanity as it demands a savage hold on her.

Reviewed by Clifford Kiyabu (The Doctor)

Rating: 8/10

My Thoughts: What is it about the paranormal that sparks our curiosity? It is in our very nature as human beings to be drawn to the unknown… To bask ourselves in that which we don’t understand. Or is it the thirst for answers that pulls us in? Or is it something else? What happens when we stare deep into the abyss in search of answers and something stares back?

Directed by James Tucker and written by Kelsey Zukowski comes Within These Walls (2015). A haunting and chilling tale of a young woman’s endurance to unearth answers behind her mother’s death. Her search leads her down a dark and turbulent path of both physical and mental torment. Her only hope for survival is to endure and persevere.

WTW combines both classic and modern horror in a disturbingly delightful way while also setting its own artistic mark in the indie-horror genre. There’s no denying the film has qualities that are inspired by such cult classics as The Entity (1982), but by no means does it have similarities to it, nor does it rely solely on the inspiration. No, it relies on its own originality, which is wonderfully displayed in the writing, directing and performances. It’s a breath of fresh air in my opinion. Many horror films today (even in indie-horror) rely too heavily on shock value to carry itself rather than allow the story do its job, WTW however focuses on the actual plot to guide the film rather than cheap chills and thrills to keep viewers interested. Which in a sense has also become a signature of MS Zukowski’s style of writing. Anyone whose read her previous works know that everything has its purpose, nothing in place is there for mere shock value or cheap eye candy. WTW proves that good horror doesn’t require A-List actors, a superior budget, or even an over the top production to be astonishing. All that is needed is a cast and crew whom are passionate about the work and are dedicated to the art of filmmaking.

Where the directing and writing is impressive without question, the performances by the cast also proved to live up to expectations. Kelsey Zukowski performance as Alaina Olsen is amazing. You feel her pain, her torment… her struggle. You want to see her fight through it all to beat the odds. This is largely due to how fluent Zukowski comes off in the role and how well she’s able to project her emotions in the role. Marv Blauvelt and Laura Godown-Mortensen, who played Alaina’s parents were fantastic. Both actors share a form chemistry with the lead actress on screen that comes off as natural and honest.

Final Thoughts: WTW proved to be as amazing and fascinating as it was disturbing. I believe in the saying less is more, and in WTW’s case, the less you know going in the more you’ll get out of it. I highly recommend.

The Lifeguard (2013) Film Review

The LifeguardStarring: Kristen Bell, Mamie Gummer, Martin Starr, David Lambert

Written & Directed By: Liz W. Garcia

Grade: A

The Lifeguard is a completely heartbreaking and honest indie gem. It attracted me initially as an interesting character examination and something a bit different for Ms. Bell. It exceeded expectations. When embarking on the journey with our characters it held so much more raw emotion and grim and unsettling perspective. You go from witnessing a rough patch to having complete empathy for our characters, feeling it all with them as the anxiety and dread build. It’s almost unbearable to see how  things pile up and only seem to be getting worse for our already very lost and scared characters. We realize this is life. This isn’t just our confused protagonist; it’s everyone, young and old. No one really knows what’s right, but we all struggle for the answers among the chaos.

Leigh (Bell) has always had everything figured out. She graduated as the valedictorian of her class, thriving and ready to grab hold of the future. Fast forward 10 years she’s a journalist in New York City, coming far from her small town upbringing. It all means nothing without her happiness or any sense of understanding. Knowing she needs a change Leigh abandons her job and city life to move back in to her parent’s home at 29. She holds on desperately to having the remainder of the year before she’s 30. She knows she’s backtracking out of confusion, but the thought of simply remaining where she is without trying to find something more is more terrifying than how this might look like failure to others. Her parents aren’t thrilled about this, but try to allow her some time.

Leigh reconnects with her old high school friends and even takes on her old high school job as a lifeguard at the local pool. She even befriends some new friends, including 16 year-old Jason (Lambert) and his restless high school buddies. They’re very much in the same place she was, desperate to get out of town and start their lives. She wants to guide Jason, to share her melancholy wisdom so he doesn’t make the same mistakes she did. Leigh and Jason seem to connect out of sadness and feeling misunderstood. Leigh jokes that she’s “sucking up his youth like a vampire”. It’s partially a chance for her to revisit her youth, but it’s cathartic and reflective for them both. They’re there for another in a very unexpected way.

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This was a fantastic move for Kristen Bell, very different from roles that she’s played recently. It’s a stripped down, back to basics, painfully emotional role for her. I would argue it’s her best since Veronica Mars. There’s something about her character and the film that feels very organic and genuine, which makes it that much more painful to watch as it’s a fairly bleak tone throughout. It was wonderful to see Martin Starr in such strong, dramatic material. It showed his range and that he can be far more than just the awkward comedic sidekick. This just adds another layer to his potential as an actor.

Bell and Lambert in "The Lifeguard"
Bell and Lambert in “The Lifeguard”

Mamie Gummer’s performance is full of rich subtly to show us even once you do “figure things out”, holding it together can be so very fragile. Her character is trying to play her part and put on a happy face, but it just makes her realize she’s just as lost as Leigh. David Lambert (The Fosters) does an incredible job and hits so many crucial elements as Jason.  He comes off as the typical rebellious and angry teenager, eager to get away and never look back. Most of us have been there. There is a lot more pain and darkness surrounding his friends and him than it seems at first glance. He shows a certain spark in him with equal amounts of wreckage within. There’s an odd energy between Bell and him that almost shouldn’t be there, yet has a way of feeling so fitting. He definitely holds his own again Bell, which is pretty impressive among this material.

 

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There has been a lot of criticism on several elements of the film, which is a bit troubling to me. I hope people are able to take the film for what it is and soak it all in. There are complaints that it could have been better as a quirky comedy, but to me that would have been wasting the film’s potential. The dramedy is not an easy balance to tackle; often one element is sacrificed for the other. This is a dreary film with little peaks of light throughout. The whole point is that people are struggling to be more carefree and lighthearted and can’t seem to find their way back there. It is a bit depressing, but it’s refreshing that it is an honest exploration. There is hope and compassion in sight. It just takes a while to sort through everything to get there. Another major complaint among viewers is the taboo relationship between Leigh and Jason. I don’t think it is condoning this type of relationship or claiming it’s healthy, but it also isn’t treating it as black and white. The film recognizes it as something ultimately not right for either of these characters, but it’s also necessary in finding themselves again. In some ways, it’s a way to reverse the roles. At times Jason shows more maturity than Leigh does and they’re indulging in each other as they try to figure out the rest.

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The Lifeguard captures fear among nearly every character no matter their age or their stage in life. Everyone is so scared; of life, of failure, of being trapped, of not rising to their own expectations. It’s easier to make excuses than to really face it and let yourself be vulnerable. We only have one life to live. To make that a life worth living isn’t always an easy task. Actually it hardly ever is with so many burdens and things crippling your carefree joy and ambition. We forget that happiness in life is really the most important thing, more so than our job, income, or others’ perceptions of you.  That isn’t always something easy to come by and everyone has a different route to get there. Sometimes we have to take several steps back before we can move forward and tackle life again. The Lifeguard allows us to take this journey with our troubled, but good natured characters and gets us to step away from the film with some added perspective.

Review: Words Like Knives (2013)

Directed by: Travis Legge
Written by: Kelsey Zukowski
Genre: Short / Drama / Horror
MPAA: Not Rated (But does contain mature content not suitable for young viewers)
Released: 2013
Starring: Kelsey Zukowski, Michael Wexler, Melissa Revels, Myke Wilson, Valerie Meachum, Michael Dilacova.

Synopsis: Words Like Knives is a dark, discomforting, and surreal psychological horror that focuses on a young girl’s inner turmoil as she tries to dismiss horrendous rumors that are being spread about her.

Review: 8/10

My Thoughts: They say rumors and knives are one and the same; both with an edge as sharp as it is deadly and those who weld it can strike without notice. The only difference between the two is while a knife can only kill us once, a rumor can kill a thousand times over… in the old nursery rhymes they teach us “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”, sadly in today’s age words can in fact hurt you, and in some cases, do for worse imaginable. What the children of yesteryear lacked was social networking, but in the cyber age of Twitter, Facebook and instant messaging, bullying and malicious rumors run wild and ramped, leaving no corner untouched by its poison. Today you’re an innocent princess, an honor student, and loved by many. And then tomorrow you’re a slut, a whore, and the scum of the earth… and treated like a leper by those you thought you could count on… there’s no going back from the life changing damage caused by a fictitious rumor that began with something as simple as “I heard”, or “did you hear?” And even when everything is said and done, the horrendous lie remains polluting your life, and forever poisoning the minds of others with doubt in you. Because the thing about rumors is once enough people hear it, it takes on a life of its own, and the lines between truth and lie fade away.

Written by Kelsey Zukowski, and directed by Travis Legge, “Words Like Knives” is a dark psychological drama which bring forth the disturbing nature of bullying front and center, and portrays the abuse and horrid scrutiny many have to live with because of the cruel intentions caused by others. Zukowski’s screenplay is dark and disturbingly surreal, and at times, unnerving to watch. And coupled with Legge’s own brand of atmospheric style behind the camera, and the result invokes such raw emotion teeming from its cinematic pores. You cannot help but feel some level of mixed, raw emotion as you watch; it invokes a sense of emotional disturbance so brilliantly… Upon finishing my viewing of WLK, I was left provoked in thought, thoughts filled with many questions, questions only another viewing may shade light on… after I allowed it to sink in a bit, I eagerly drank in the film once more, and upon my second viewing I found the writing of WLK to be far more complex than originally thought from my first viewing, it’s not as simple as black and white, and the further I looked into it I discovered how multi-layered it is. I also found myself noticing details I hadn’t picked up on during my first viewing, which made the second viewing all the more enjoyable and worth the watch.

As for the acing: While I enjoyed the film and its narrative a great deal, the acting was a hit with a few misses, but generally I enjoyed the cast overall. Kelsey Zukowski delivered a star stellar performance in the leading role of Emma, she displayed a level of professionalism that was both daring and forthcoming of her, and is a perfect display that proves she can do more than talk the talk. In short, as both an actress and writer, Zukowski is arriving. Michael Wexler and Valerie Meachum delivered spot on performances as Mr. and Mrs. Price. What I found most impressive was how both actors handled themselves on screen, body language plays a big role to a great performance, and both actors showed a good display of that. Melissa Revels who played Madison, did fairly okay, although there were certain instances where I felt the delivery was underdone. But nothing that was by any means hindering to her role. My only issue with the acting came from Michael Dilacova and Myke Wilson. Both actors clearly gave it their best shot, and I commend them greatly for it, but I just wasn’t feeling their performance like I ought to. In my opinion, it felt like both actors were holding back…

Final say: Words Like Knives lived up to expectations and then some. While the nature of the content in the film is suitable for a mature audience, I recommend mature teens view WLK at least once, as many who have suffered the effects of bullying will find relation to this dark psychological horror. I highly recommend it!

Review: Mother’s Red Dress (2012)

Starring: Timothy Driscoll, Alexandra Swarens, Alisha Seaton

Written By & Directed By: Michael Edgar Bravo

Mother’s Red Dress is the next feature from the collaborative team of writer/director Edgar Michael Bravo and producer, John Paul Rice. Their previous film, One Hour Fantasy Girl, was an incredible tale of the hardships of runaways in the deceitful land of Hollywood that swallows up young hopefuls looking for a better life. For me, One Hour Fantasy Girl is the better of the two although they follow some of the same themes and haunting pasts continuing to hold our characters back.

The film centers around Paul (Driscoll), a young man trying to start over after a traumatic event at home. His dad left him and his mother when he was only six years old. He has tried to be there for his mother as much as he could, but she has continued to struggle more and more in her life, men usually being the center of that, being both initially caring yet truly deadly. This progresses to a point where it’s clear there is no going back.

After that, he decides he needs to go somewhere new, get a new job, maybe get in to college and try to find if a new life with less damage and destruction is a possibility for him. Paul seems to particularly cling to a local coffee shop where a girl he quickly forms a crush on works. She’s hesitant, but he convinces her to give him a chance and give him a tour of the local college. She’s his main focus as things progress between them. His happiness can only last so long as his family puts all this to a stop. His mother tells him she’s sick; she only has a few months to live. Paul’s father has finally agreed to be a part of their lives, which doesn’t sit too well with him. He feels like he is being dragged back in, but he has no choice. He has to face things once and for all.

The best thing about Mother’s Red Dress is the mother and the incredible, Alexandra Swarens. She gives an outstanding, raw, and meaningful performance. She carries so much emotion and realism, we can really feel what she’s going through as heartbreaking it is as we realize she has more strength than she realizes and we desperately want her to hold on to that and fully fight back to set things right. Even the small things went so far with her. I really would have liked her to have been the main character although I realize what the film ended up being about at the end isn’t as centered on her despite her being a key component. I wanted to know more though; get deeper inside her troubles, motivations, and complicated psyche.

Swarens outshines everyone else acting wise, almost too much so. I really had trouble really feeling for any other character. A big part of this is there just wasn’t the depth in the performances there needed to be. Most people were pretty hollow without much range or real humanity. It seemed like they were mostly going through the motions of things without bringing any type of life to their characters or the world they were in. Especially for Timothy Driscoll, it made it hard for me to have any investment in Paul, who’s the main character. That was a huge issue that held me back from really being able to experience all the movie was going for. The romance seemed a little rushed and I just didn’t believe he was as consumed and in love with her as he seemed to think he was. If he simply viewed her as an escape I could see that, but there really didn’t seem to even be much battling of dark feelings from his past. His features are very stone faced and one dimensional, which makes it harder to understand what the character is supposed to be going through. He does shield the truth from himself for quite some time, but even when the final confronting comes out the realism and emotion in the realization is not there.

Towards the end, things get a bit confused. There are some major twists and things are presented in a very different mentality than they were before. The intentions behind them and the lifelong hardships this brings out definitely spoke to me. It shows the power of what that can do to a person. It just felt a little disjointed and sudden. I admire and am intrigued with the very real life horrific issues, emotions, and very human struggles that the film is centered around. In the case of the mother this spoke to me and made me yearn for more of her story. Unfortunately, most of the performances don’t portray this with the deserved mentality and emotions. In most cases, the execution is holding all of the potential back. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Again, one character is the embodiment of this and is radiating tragic truth in so many ways, this just isn’t the case across the board. Having these meaningful intentions at hand has worked wonders in the past for this team and I will still be interested to see their future endeavors.

Review: The Night Never Sleeps (2012)

Directed by: Fred Carpenter
Written by: Michael A. Lovaglio
Genre: Action/Drama/Crime
MPAA: Not Yet Rated (But does contain Nudity, Violence, Language, and Rape)
Released: 13 July 2012 (USA)
Starring: Dan Brennan, Eric Roberts, Russ Camarda, Armand Assante, Robert Clohessy, Stephanie Finochio, Jose Hernandez Jr.

Synopsis: Set in New York City and written by career cop Michael Lovaglio, “The Night Never Sleeps” follows the journey of New York Street Crimes Sargent Thomas Cavanaugh (Dan Brennan) during the course of one night as he and his partners Rourke (Stephanie Finochio) and Jablonsky (Robert Clohessy) hunt down murderers of one of their task force.

Review: 7/10

My Thoughts: George Orwell once said “Good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because tough men stand ready to do the violence on their behalf.” When the sun sets and the average working stiffs clear out, the animals come out to play. The drug dealers and prostitutes, the muggers, the peddlers and psychos, the streets become their playground, and all that stands between us and the injustice that lurks about are those whom put others before themselves.

Written by career cop Michael Lovaglio, “The Night Never Sleeps” follows the journey of a New York Street Crimes Sargent investigating a murder linked to multiple crimes which is quickly spiraling out of control during the course of one unfortunate night. Every officer’s worst nightmare is encountering that moment, that one defining moment on the force when the bad escalates into the unimaginable… For Sargent Thomas Cavanaugh (Dan Brennan) tonight will be that night. Similar in tone and narrative of the crime dramas of the 70’s and 80’s, TNNS offers an honest look at the gritty and morally corrupt streets of the big apple after hours. I’m not going to lie to you here: I’ve seen so many crime/cop dramas over the years, especially dealing with New York that the crime genre itself no longer strikes me with the level of appeal like it once used to… but I digress; Michael A. Lovaglio’s screenplay was something I found quite intriguing. It doesn’t try to be bigger than what it is, nor does it attempt to give you some kind of hidden message; it’s straightforward and to the point. It’s a story about vengeance and redemption of past mistakes, it’s about a cop going the extra mile and doing what must be done to put an end to madness, adding that with Fred Carpenter’s blunt gritty film style and the results were the perfect combination for a classic cop drama.

The film is mostly split between officer Cavanaugh (Brennan) and Iceman (Camarda). What’s interesting is how opposite these two are: Cavanaugh is a dead to rights honest cop just trying to keep the sickos and scumbags off the streets the best way he can, though his methods on how to deal with crime could be viewed by some as a tad bit extreme as for as procedural protocol dictates. Still, Cavanaugh has his reasons. However, Iceman on the other hand, has no reasons; he’s not killing for money or the drugs, though those are bonuses for the line of work. He murders, steals and rapes simply because he can, and because he can, he will. The level of extreme that Iceman’s personality tip toes on was a fine line between anarchy and madness. What I admired most about the film was the atmospheric tone it had, the brute honesty in the way it presents itself on screen, from the blunt unadulterated rawness of the city, to the way each and every character is presented on screen; it’s very alluring to get lost in the moment at times. Now mixing that with the composed work of jazz musician Vincent Nigro, “The Night Never Sleeps” is an impressively well done movie. My only real complaint with this movie was that a few scenes weren’t entirely needed and only slowed the pacing down a tad bit in certain areas.

As for the acting: the acting is where the TNNS really excels. The cast consisted of some fine veteran actors of the 80’s and 90’s both mainstream and indie which included the talents of Robert Clohessy, Armand Assante and Eric Roberts, whom did magnificent in their performances. Their presence added a touch of nostalgia that was very much appreciated. Dan Brennan, the film’s lead, did a fantastic job as officer Cavanaugh. Having seen Brennan in “The Video Guys” and “Maggie Marvel”, I already knew what to expect out of him performance wise. However, I was really impressed to see him pull off a less comedic-more serious character role for a change; it was different yet enjoying. I’ve heard of stuntwoman Stephanie Finochio by reputation for her remarkable work on so many different projects over the years, but TNNS is the first time I got to see her performance as an actress. And I must say, she handled herself on screen pretty well as Officer Rourke, her and Brennan definitely have good on-screen chemistry going as partners.

Robert Clohessy did pretty well as Detective Jablonsky, his performance was well done for the role. Now anyone who’s watched their fair share of films from the 80’s and 90’s will easily remember Armand Assante. Armand, whom is classically known for his tough guy roles, did great as Inspector Romanelli. He brings a sense of authenticity to the film with his tough as nails New York attitude. Eric Roberts proved satisfactory in the role of slumlord/pimp Hector, the thing about Eric as an actor, is he fully enjoys playing the part of the bad guy, you can see he’s most comfortable being the villain to a degree where he embraces the role entirely. His performance was noteworthy.

But the main attraction for the film was Russ Camarda, who delivered an extraordinary performance as Iceman. I found myself fully engulfed into the film every time Russ’ character appeared on screen, you loved to hate him and hated yourself for wanting to see more of him in the film. His actions are irredeemable and unforgiving. The Iceman is a strong representation of, in a lack for a better work, humanities’ dark side. Now adding that with Jose Hernandez Jr. performance as Vargas, Iceman’s laid back business partner, and the end result is a yin & yang style character chemistry that blends well together.

Finale Say: The Night Never Sleeps was a very enjoying film; while it did have its fair share of flaws, mostly dealing with pacing issues, it was still a well done film all things considering. I recommend it.

Short Film Review: Familiar

Starring: Robert Nolan, Astrida Auza, Cathryn Hostick

Written & Directed By: Richard Powell
Reviewed by: Kelsey Zukowski (The Scream Queen)
Grade: B+

Familiar is a dark short film that immediately shows us the twisted fate at hand. It comes full circle, showing how we got to this point and reveals the uncompromising gritty reality behind it. Of course, this is really just setting the tone for what is to follow. At first glance, we really have no real understanding of what’s going on or the weight it holds.

John Dodd’s only escape from his family life misery is the hope o f being essentially free from fatherhood when his daughter goes away to college. He’s done his time and he’s nearly out now, needing freedom behind his residential prison more than ever. Life seems to have other plans though. John’s wife tells him that she is pregnant. It may be a miracle to her, but to John it’s a fate worse than death. He can’t just sit back and allow himself to be stuck again for another 20 years.  He still has some control and he’s not willing to go out without a fight. John resorts to abortion methods and drugs his wife. Things don’t stop there. John’s boundaries are clearly ripping off the seams. A darkness in him getting stronger until it completely takes over piece by piece.

Familiar is a beautifully shot film with excellent production levels, something I rarely see in low-budget  indie horror screeners like this. The acting is spot on and simply incredible. It is the glue that holds the film together. Robert Nolan as John as is clearly the stand out performance. He shows an outstanding range and real understanding of a character who is so teetering. He nails it all from the subdued, hollow, and distantly numb to the scared, out of his element individual who loses his grip on reality and is determined to go out with a fight no matter how viciously suffocating it might be. Astrida Auza gives a much more subtle performance as his wife, but it’s the little touches that really make it notable. She doesn’t seem like an actor, she seems like a real person who is somewhat content in life, but still struggles and aches for something more.

Familiar is constantly interesting and engaging. Each act of the film is significantly different from the previous, almost seeming like a different being altogether. Still, it all works as a progression. It just has you intrigued and not really sure what is going on. It weaves quite an intricate web and ends up revealing a nightmarish reality far beyond fears of fatherhood. Yet it is that fear of the loss of freedom that takes an entirely different horrifying physical manifestation. Or is it the physicality that brings light to the true terrors of parenting, and tragic domestic  living that are merely brought light to by more jarring visuals? That is up to you to decide.

Review: Hand of Glory (2012)

Directed by: Stuart Wahlin
Written by: Stuart Wahlin
Genre: Drama / Horror / Thriller
MPAA: Not Rated
Released: March 25th, 2012.
Starring: Heather Dorff. Darren Marlar. Justin R. Romine. Michael Schmid. Brian Kramer. Joe DeBartolo.

Plot: Lonely delivery falls uses a mystical relic known as the Hand of Glory to win the affections of the woman he loves and make all his dreams possible, but soon discovers everything comes with a price.

Synopsis: Lonely delivery man Joseph falls in love with an alcoholic prostitute named Karen, who frequents one of the stops along his route. Though they soon become friends, Joseph is unable to figure out what makes the very-guarded Karen tick. While Karen drowns the sorrows of her mysterious past, keeping him at bay, Joseph remains committed to winning her affection, resorting to extreme measures in his search for the key to her heart. Embarking on a dark journey with a mystical relic -a ‘Hand of Glory,’ whose legend purports the ability to unlock any door- Joseph soon discovers that such feats come at a dire price.

Review: 7/10

My Thoughts: Love is a tricky thing. It can be a powerful driving force that lifts you up high, or derails you off the tracks. Love makes you do things, terrible things you never imagine was possible. But as the old saying goes; the heart wants what it wants, and it’ll do anything to get it. In his directorial debut, actor, writer and director Stuart Wahlin brings us HAND OF GLORY, a dark drama about Joseph, a lonely delivery man (Marlar) who falls for an alcoholic prostitute named Karen (Dorff). Karen has made it crystal clear that a romantic relationship will never be in the cards. However, Joseph refuses to give up on getting the girl of his desire and will stop at nothing until he wins her affection. Sounds innocent and a little sweet right? Well you’d be right if Joseph didn’t turn to dabbling in the use of a mystical relic known as the Hand of Glory, which is clouded by strange and dark properties that come with most unfortunate price.

I had no idea what I would be walking into prior to viewing hand of glory other than the fact it’s filmmaker managed to lock down the details about the film tighter than Fort Knox. So with that in mind, I sat down to watch this film with an open mind and absolutely no expectations. The only thing I could do at this point was prepare, prepare for the unknown and more importantly, prepare for the worst possible scenario… that it would turn out to be a big disappointment. Fortunately the film did not turn out as the disappointment I feared, but instead a rather interesting look into the darkness that dwells within. The plot itself was quite intriguing; I was very pleased at the notion that Wahlin was able to keep me, as a viewer, questioning what would happen next, believe me that is indeed a rarity for someone like me. Though the film did suffer from some obvious flaws, like sound issues and noticeable dubbing (which I have no problem tolerating.) However, there are a few instances in the film where it became quite noticeable which I could not ignore, however that I can somewhat forgive and let live this particular flaw, seeing that many films both indie and mainstream seem to suffer from these types of common hiccups from time to time.

As for “gore” value, for a film that uses a severed hand on its poster, the movie wasn’t as gory as I originally thought it would be. Was it eerie? Yes! Was it dark and somewhat disturbing? You bet your apple bottom it was! But overly bloody it was not. Now with that being said, one of the qualities I enjoyed a great deal about hand of glory was the scenery and setting; from Karen’s apartment to the bar beneath it, the elements of each location in the film were well played to the elements that brought on an atmospheric tone for the cinematography. From Joseph creeping through the keyhole, to a scene in which I cannot detail without giving away major spoilers, everything about it had a shade of gloom and gray to it, and it worked so perfectly, but more importantly, the most memorable aspect about Hand of Glory was the fact it managed to throw in a twist towards the end that I did not see coming, and whether this revelation was a positive or a negative, the fact I did not see this twist coming from a mile away was indeed enjoying.

As for the acting: this is where the film really shines in glory! Heather Dorff’s performance as Karen was breath taking to say the least; her character was literally oozing with such raw emotion that felt natural and organic for the setting, much like her performance in “What They Say.” You felt Heather’s pain and hurt suffice from deep down inside and understood why she is the way she is. Darren Marlar did a fantastic job in the role of Joseph. He pulled off the lonely obsessive delivery man without a hitch, not to mention very believable as a total creeper. Justin R. Romine delivered a fine performance as the ex pimp, in my opinion, off-screen Justin naturally doesn’t come off as the intimidating type, however this was not the case in hand of glory as he pulled it off quite well which was both enjoying and surprising to see him as the violent aggressor type. Also I want to point out that Michael Schmid, Brian Kramer, Joe DeBartolo, Richard Bunch and the rest of the supporting cast did fairly good as well.

Final Say: Hand of Glory was quite the little film; though it had its flaws, it still managed to do what it intended to do. I recommend it!

Review: The Secret Friend (2010)

Directed by: Flavio Alves
Written by: João Silvério Trevisan (short story), Flavio Alves (screenplay)
Genre: Short / Comedy / Drama
MPAA: Not Rated
Released: June 27, 2010
Starring: Viola Harris, Siobhan Fallon, Jerry Jaffe, Richard Scott, Beau Hauser, Melvin Shrebnick.

Plot: A reclusive, elderly widow, living alone in the city, begins a mysterious friendship with a silent caller.

Review: 8/10

The Story is about: A reclusive, elderly widow, Anna Marshall, lives in quiet desperation following her husband’s death until she begins receiving daily phone calls from a silent stranger. At first Anna finds the calls intrusive, but as the calls continue unabated Anna finds herself waiting for her phone to ring with growing anticipation prompting her to reach out to her silent prankster. An odd and mysterious friendship evolves between the two as Anna shares her life experiences with startling honesty. Empty days are given new hope, but when the calls abruptly end a devastated Anna is compelled to surprising action to fill the unbearable void.

My Thoughts: Rarely do we see a truthful depiction of the lonely senior lifestyle, because society willingness to casts aside seniors from the general public comes all too easily because once they’ve reached the end of their usefulness suddenly no one would bother to give two shakes about what happens next.

For example; If you were to go to any one of the countless fast-food joins or malls open before the morning rush in my neck of the woods, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a flock of elderly folk gathered in vast numbers, no this is not because they enjoy the scenery or the cheaply processed cuisine, they gather because they’ve come to cherish one of the most important things in life, companionship. In a world of technology and life driving by in the fast lane, we often enough find ourselves disjointed by that which makes us human. A connection, it’s what the elderly yearn for and what many of us have chosen to isolate ourselves from.

Director Flavio Alves’s short film “The Secret Friend” shows us just how important the human connection is essential to the soul especially in the dark times of our lives. There are very few short films out there that have sparked much praise by me, but when they do its message speaks volume and never fails to lose itself in the grand scheme of things. With that being said, The Secret Friend does just that by connecting to viewers through delivering a touching story about lost, loneliness and finding yourself through it all. The situation that the main character, Anna Marshall (Harris) is in is sadly something everyone will go through in one point or another in their life. Losing someone close to us is never easy, nor is it something we can simply recover from.

But unlike Anna Marshall, most people have family and friends to help them deal with the damning situation. But what if you had no one to help you move on with your life? No family, no friends, just yourself with no one to lean on. How could you possible overcome the grief that’s stricken you? The sad truth to this is there are people like that out there, it’s a terrible thought truth be told and you can’t help but wonder what keeps people like that going each and every day, what inner strength they must have. For Anna, it was a mysterious caller that winds up becoming her savior in a desperate time of seclusion without ever saying so much as a word. Though the caller never speaks, he lets her know of his presences by breathing into the speaker so that she knows he’s there.

I know some of you are probably thinking this sounds perversely sick, and maybe a little weird. Well be that as it may, actually seeing it on film is entirely a different story, and it turns out to be touching, and at times cute in that, dare I say it, chivalrous manner. Admittedly when I first heard of this film, I did not think too much about it, especially after learning it was a short. Because in all honesty, attempting to tell a story such as this in a short is extremely hard, not entirely impossible, but difficult at best due to its complexity. But Flavio makes it possible with amity and grace, through his directing style the film delivers a respectful pay it forward message that will no doubt earn the respect of many.

As for the acting: the acting is quite remarkable, despite the limit of actors in this, the film felt full with a sense of contentedness. Actress Viola Harris, whom has been working in the business for nearly 60 years, delvers a marvelous performance which is both touching and heartbreaking. The talented Siobhan Fallon who, in my opinion, is incredibly underappreciated in the business is much more deserving for her outstanding work throughout the years, gives a fantastic performance in her supportive role. Also Richard Scott, Beau Hauser and Melvin Shrebnick give fine performances in their minor roles. And even though we barely hear him other than heavy breathing, Jerry Jaffe does great as the secret friend.

Final Say: The Secret Friend was probably one of the best shorts I’ve seen in recent years. It was an incredible multilayered film of emotion; you can’t help but feel touched for the main character while at the sometime experiencing a few genuine moments of humor. Director Flavio Alves hit’s the hammer on the nail with The Secret Friend. Highly Recommended!

Review: Second Star (2011)

Reviewed By: Kelsey Zukowski
Starring: Stephanie Sylvester, Troy Zitzelberger, Brittany Collins, Heather Dorff
Directed By: Derek Quint

Grade: B

Second Star is a short film about a homeless woman on New Year’s Eve. We follow her throughout the night as the lines between reality, fantasy, and past are blurred. It was inspired by J.M. Barrie’s book, “Peter Pan” as well as old and modern ghost legends.

Director, Derek Quint, follows a guerilla film style for a very realistic opening. For someone living in Chicago, it’s something you witness nearly every day, but are rarely a part of the way it is shown to us here. Once the party begins I liked how drastically the tone and atmosphere changed. The noticeable difference takes us in to a surreal cycle of events. We can’t be completely sure what’s real and what’s not, much like our protagonist who is scared and lost in the world she finds herself in.

The exploration of fiction and reality is among my favorite themes that can be explored through film. It’s the perfect medium to do so since film itself could be considered the blurring of fiction and reality. It’s not real, but is encompassed around reality; part of the reason film exists as a intelligent art form. Second Star takes advantage of this exploration and experiments with this character’s psyche.

The director even says he isn’t completely sure what happens, how it ends, or what is reality and what is fiction. This really emphasis the importance of the experience of Second Star; it really doesn’t matter what happens because the film is about something much larger. It’s up to you to decide what that is.