Cooties (2015) – Raw Review

Cooties is a pretty run-of-the-mill zom-com. As an action horror it’s decent, yet unremarkable. As a horror movie it’s violent and gory, yet unremarkable. As a comedy it provides a lot of laughs, a few chuckles, and yet is unremarkable.

 

The premise is simple – tainted chicken nugget turns kid into a zombie of sorts, from there is spreads to other kids, and so forth. The film never really classifies it’s feral children as zombies. They start more as crazed infected until hair and body parts start dropping off. They are fast moving, intelligent, able to hunt, and dangerous. Always finding ways around the teacher’s tricks and traps. If you’re looking for more traditional zombie fair you might be disappointed, but for what the movie is trying to do, non-traditional works just fine.

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The main downside to the film is the canned storyline and underdeveloped characters. Elijah Wood and Amy Pill provide some good chemistry against the over-the-top shenanigans of Rainn Wilson, creating a funny if not completely ridiculous love triangle. Wilson plays the douche bag gym teacher to perfection, landing just about every one liner he’s given. Unfortunately even a great Rainn Wilson can’t hold up the film on his own. A always hilarious Jack McBrayer is woefully underutilized and Jorge Garcia’s role is almost non-existent, except to trip-out and be available when necessary.

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Adam Sandler has proven time and again that you don’t need a story or interesting characters to draw millions of people to the theatre. All you need is witty banter and a bunch of people not getting along. Cooties banks on this concept but makes the wise decision to dress the film in campy horror. A splash of gore, a few dismembered bodies, and just a touch of the apocalypse. It’s the horror that makes the movie better than it should be. Not a lot better, but fun and watchable.

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There are some genuinely awesome moments in this movie. The best involving a distracted mother, an SUV, a baby in a car seat, and an infected boy being picked up from school. First time directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion do a good job with this movie. It’s well directed and well filmed. The comedic beats are handled well enough to get the laughs, but the story beats feel like old hat a lot of the time. Had the movie been more comedic, or conversely more horrific, then it might have been a homerun. As it stands Cooties is an enjoyable film that most people will find palatable for a popcorn horror showing.  

 

Sicario (2015) – Raw Review

Sicario is as dark and terrifying as any film you will see this year, proving that sometimes the best horror movies aren’t horror at all.

This review isn’t going to attempt to question or deconstruct the political and social tones associated with the U.S./Mexico relationship. This is a movie review, not an op-ed on U.S. drug policy, economic relations, or immigration. That caveat in place, Sacario is a movie unlike any other we’ve received from the big-budget Hollywood machine in quite awhile. Listed as actor Taylor Sheridan’s (Sons of Anarchy) first writing credit, Sicario is not a horror movie, but only because it’s based in a world that exists. A world is right next door.  

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Emily Blunt plays an idealistic FBI agent who’s brought in to work a special task force dealing with the Mexican drug cartels. It doesn’t take long for her to realize that just as the Cartels don’t play by the rules of law, American assets don’t always play by the rules either. Along with Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro, the cast is a powerhouse. If Oscar buzz isn’t already intensifying it won’t be long till it does.

From the first minute of the film to the last we are exposed to a world where humans dwell, yet humanity has been forgotten. The sheer brutality and graphic nature of the story might be considered hyperbolic if the subject matter wasn’t taken directly from real life. All it takes is a perusal of sites such as Blog del Narco and Wikileaks to see what both the Mexican Cartels and U.S. government are capable of, and while the brutality and inhumanity portrayed in Sicario may be a concentrated dose of the worst aspects of the drug war, the film is grounded in enough realism to be entirely plausible.

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Director Denis Villeneuve, whose previous films include Prisoners and Enemy, does a masterful job using long cinematic shots in conjunction with sharp direct close-ups to throw us deep into the dangers faced by his cast. The American Southwest is presented as a stage upon which a war is raging on both sides of the border. Combined with Johann Johannsson’s amazing score, Sicario establishes a suffocating intensity to every scene. In an article on Noisey by Joseph Yanick, composer Johannsson is quoted as saying:

I wanted to create music that had an underlying tension and a sense of coming from below the earth, like a throbbing pulse that resonates from underground or the pounding heartbeat of a wild beast that is charging at you. I also wanted to evoke the sadness and melancholy of the border, the border fences and the tragedy of the drug war.

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In many ways Sicario is reminiscent of films like It Follows, Gravity, and Mad Max: Fury Road. The score doesn’t just add background music, it’s an additional member of the cast, giving a powerful and pivotal performance that makes a great film even better.

Sicario is the dark, visceral horror crime-drama we’ve waited and hoped for all year. Take an opportunity and see this film. It shows what the perfect arrangement of writer, director and composer can accomplish in Hollywood.

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Insectula (2015) – Raw Review

Insectula! is the first film from writer/director Mike Peterson. Intended to be a parody/satire of 1950s/60s monster movies, it’s campiness and extremely low-budget spectacle is sure draw a large cult following.

 

Monster movies from the 50s/60s are very popular. At a time when the Cold War was in full swing and atomic energy new and mystical, filmmakers let their imagination run wild on screen. By today’s standards most of these films come across as silly, campy, hoaky, and over the top. What were cutting edge effects back in the day are now reserved for micro-budget and homemade movies. Dramatic scores were also a staple of the genre, often overshadowing the movie itself in scope and quality.

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Insectula! tries very hard to pay homage to these movie of yesterday while at the same time exaggerating their inherent silliness. The movie is a mash between Roger Corman, Ed Wood and John Waters. Leaning heavily on it’s dramatic musical score and hamed up acting from the first scene to the last.

 

The premise revolves around a giant alien that crashes to Earth in search of food. It quickly draws the attentions of an EPA Agent, whose girlfriends keep getting eaten by the monster, and a mad scientist who sees the monster as an opportunity to destroy the world.

 

The concept is fantastic. The drawback is that the film takes almost an hour to actually get to the monster stomping around and destroying anything. The first two thirds of the movie are dedicated to establishing and satirizing backstory for the main characters, but the narrative often wanders off into the weeds losing itself along the way. There are laughs to be had and the general wackiness of the endeavor is enough to make you giggle at times but the film breaks the cardinal rule of storytelling – every scene, whether serious or silly, needs to move the story forward. The first two thirds of the film could probably be shaved down considerably to expedite the narrative without losing the satirical feel.

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Insectula! tries too hard to make what is already an awkward and campy genre even more exaggerated. The acting is intentionally overdramatized to simulate the Corman era style and the score (while pretty darn good) is at the forefront for just about the entire movie. There are only a few scenes in which the music backs-off. A style choice for sure but I think it takes away from the film rather than adding to it.

 

The charm of the atomic era monster movies is that time has shaped the popular perception of the genre. Back in the day, monster movies may not have been seen as high level art but the filmmakers for the most part (Ed Wood excepted) tried to make serious and scary movies. Today the context under which the films were made is different making them come across to modern viewers as campy and fun rather than dramatic and scary. Had Insectula! dialed it down a notch and tried to make a semi-serious movie as opposed to a forced satire, the micro-budget special effects, cheese-ball acting and subject matter most likely would have created an end product much like what Insectula! was going for.

 

As a fan of early monster movies I completely understand what Insectula! is trying to do and I think it’s on the right track, just executed a little off the mark. I give writer/director Mike Peterson a lot of credit for getting this film produced and into the mainstream. Insectula! is clearly a labor of love and Peterson has a lot of talent and ingenuity. Trying to make a film with this kind of scope on a micro-budget is beyond difficult and while the movie itself may have missed the mark in a number of areas I’m sure it will gain a cult following as word of mouth spreads.

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Blue Ruin (2013) – Raw Review

Good but slow. Thats how everyone described Blue Ruin to me. Good but slow. Bullshit. The movie isn’t slow. Deliberate. Methodical. Unforgiving. That’s Blue Ruin.

 

Trimmed to the bone, Blue Ruin is a revenge story as raw as they come. A modern parable about holding hatred close, yet handled with a narrow focus and a razor sharp edge. The film follows a man named Dwight Evans (played by Macon Blair), a vagrant who quietly exists in New England, scavenging out an existance day-to-day. Quiet, unassuming yet morally imperfect, Dwight is an enigma to us, until he learns of the imminent release of the man who wronged him so many years before. This revelation sets Dwight on a collision course with his past, a very violent collision course.

 

I had the opportunity to watch Blue Ruin blind. Netflix has had it on streaming for awhile now and as usual the summary card doesn’t really provide an accurate idea of what the films about. Usually this is a problem because it warns off movies that might otherwise be decent, save the shitty descriptor. In the case of Blue Ruin, and hindsight is always twenty-twenty, it worked out in my favor. Had I known the story before seeing the film I definitely would have enjoyed the film, but seeing it completely blind made the entire experience that much more powerful.

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I know I usually gush about the movies I watch, and let’s face it, who has time to write reviews of all the crap movies. In the case of Blue Ruin not only am I going to gush but I’ll go as far as saying this is my new favorite movie of the year. The fact that the film was funded via kickstarter is impressive itself, but on a budget of $420k writer/director Jeremy Saulnier is able to produce more emotion and vicera than many of the tentpole movies working with hundreds of millions.

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Blue Ruin is a powerful film. Saulnier’s screenplay primarily relies on action and location. It’s tightly filmed with very little flash cutting. We see the word through Dwight’s perspective as he moves from place to place, making mistakes, barely surviving, recomposing and ultimately accepting the finality of the situation he’s place himself into. Placing myself in Dwight’s shoes wasn’t difficult. I found myself questioning if I’d take the same course of action were I in his place. A feeling of empathy that drew me into the movie, yet made my stomach turn at the choices he chooses and in turn is forced to make.

 

A sharp edgy film that capitalizes on efficient use of tension, violence and dialogue. Blue Ruin isn’t slow, it just knows exactly what it’s doing from fade in to fade out. Highly recommended.

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Cub (2015) – Raw Review

Watching foreign horror movies is always a treat. The quality of the films may not match those of the more mainstream American movies at times, but more often than not non-American horror take risks that Hollywood execs tend to shy away from.

 

Welp (known as Cub in English speaking countries) is fun and fast paced slasher-in-the-woods from Belgium and the directorial debut of Jonas Govaerts. The story follows Sam, a twelve year old who joins his cub scout group for a camping trip into the woods. Little do they know the location chosen for their adventure is a hunting ground. A hunting ground for what you ask? To tell would ruin the surprise.

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The movie is tightly written and well filmed. The setting is genuinely gorgeous and used wisely through the story. Welp is a slasher film but has very heavy elements of survival horror similar to those in Wrong Turn, Eden Lake, and The Hills Have Eyes.

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What I give the movie a lot of credit for is not shying away from dealing with some significantly sensitive violence but managing to do so without going over the top. Govaerts handles two specific scenes (one involving a dog, the other a number of kids and pick-up truck) very well and although there may be some aversion from certain audiences to appreciating the content, it works without being gross-out or shock-and-awe.

 

The last item of praise I have for this film is the soundtrack. Written by Steven Moore, the sounds and background score are excellent. Without knowing his exact influences I’ll just say that I heard John Carpenter through the entire movie. Strong, direct synthesizers with deep beats, stripped down to the bone. Nothing flashy. Just tonally perfect music for a horror film of this kind.

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My primary criticism of the film is the third act. The reveal works and Govaerts does a nice job of bringing the film full circle, yet it felt there was something missing in the set-up. Paying close attention will give you enough info to buy off on the finale but just barely. Moreover, the final battle (of sorts) is a bit longer than necessary and the audience must accept a few standard horror tropes just because.

 

Overall Welp is a strong addition to the horror family. Well paced, well acted and bloody enough the slake the thirst of most horror fans. Jonas Govaerts has done a fine job on his first outing and it will be interesting to see what he comes out with next.

 

The Dead and The Dead 2: India – A Raw Review Double Feature

Sometimes going back to basics is the best recipe for a good horror movie. Everything today is either about going bigger, badder and more over the top, or subverting expectations. We get zombie wildlife, zombie gangsters, zombie sex, and so forth. But what happened to traditional zombie survival stories reminiscent of Romero’s early days?

 

Fortunate for hardcore zombie fans there are a handful of filmmakers producing the classic flesh eating zombie movies we came to love from the 70s and 80s. Two such filmmakers who’ve been hard at work the past few years are the Ford Brothers.

The Dead (2010) and The Dead 2: India (2013) are classic Romero style survival films set during the initial days of zombie outbreaks. The Dead takes place in West Africa, following an American mercenary, played by Rob Freeman, whose plane crashes on the African coast during the first days of the undead rising. As a result he must run the gauntlet across the African landscape to get somewhere he hopes can provide him transport back home.

 

The Dead 2: India has more or less the same premise only this time we follow an American contractor, the excellent Joseph Millson, who must battle his way several hundred miles to Mumbai to rescue his girlfriend as the undead outbreak spreads.

 

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the survival horror elements and conscience of budgetary constraints. Both films are centered on a small number of characters as they search for resources, vehicles and other necessities to survive. The special effects consist of latex and fake blood. CGI is kept to an extreme minimum, used only when necessary to show a few sweeping shots or mass carnage in both films.

 

The bread and butter of these movies comes from the step-by-step storytelling and well handle
d tension from scene to scene. The Ford Brothers understand what made Romero’s movies scary and thrilling, making sure the zombie threat is ever present. These are slow moving zombies, the type that amble in the background adding the scenery in just about every shot. It’s not until they begin to get close, closing in on warm human flesh that danger begins to set in. As survival horror movies go both of these films strip away just about everything they can and boil everything down to the survival. Marooning the main character alone in a foreign country with little to no resources is a simple enough concept that works wonders for these types of movies.

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Of the two films I enjoyed The Dead 2: India quite a bit more than it’s predecessor. The budget for the second film appeared a bit larger allowing for some excellent cinematography, an increase in the number of zombies, and a larger scale finally. The screenplay for India was also a tad more compelling. Millson’s performance is fantastic, much better than Freemans. However, to be fair, Millson is given a little more motivation to spur him on and emphasize his desire to save lives. One in particular involves a car crash in which he finds a woman and her young daughter trapped inside a vehicle as the dead are closing in. Add to it a great escape scene with a paraglider and a gauntlet run through the slums of Mumbai and part 2 of this franchise is the clear frontrunner in terms of enjoyability, excitement and terror.

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That’s not to say you should avoid the first film. I recommend both movies to anyone who is a fan of Romero style zombie films, but part 2 is much better than the first… even if the IMDB ratings don’t reflect that opinion.

 

The Ford Brothers are certainly honing their skills and word is of a possible third outing for The Dead franchise on the horizon, so fingers crossed they continue to get better and better.

 

You can pick up both movies on Blu-Ray or see them through Amazon Instant Video.

Everlasting (2015) – Raw Review

Life is hard, even harder when you’re in love.

Everlasting is a love story. A love story wrapped in a veil of mystery, intrigue and suspense. A dark and compelling journey into the stygian recesses that dwell deep in the adolescent heart. Powerful and emotionally engaging, Writer/Director Anthony Stabley does a fine job painting a contemporary picture of a teenage girl’s struggle between love and that all consuming desire to runaway and grow up too quickly.

 

The story follows Matt (Adam David) as he investigates the disappearance and murder of his girlfriend Jessie (Valentina de Angelis) who disappears shortly after moving to Los Angeles to be a model. Filmed documentary style, we dive deep into their relationship, motivations, feelings and desires. While the narrative itself has a few holes, the chemistry between the two leads is powerful throughout, creating an emotional depth that carries the film from beginning to end.

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Everlasting also boasts an impressive cast of supporting actors, each of whom manage to fill relatively small roles with a wealth of experience – Elisabeth Rohm (Law and Order, American Hustle) does a fantastic job as Jessie’s mother; Bai Ling (The Crow, Dumplings) as the sexy exotic Cristiane, Michael Massee (Seven, Carnivale) as the mysterious Leor, and Robert LaSardo (Death Race, The Human Centipede III) in a small but extremely strong role as Rocky.

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Stabley’s career in production design shines in the film, showcasing beautifully selected filming locations and a constant feeling of realism. His talent as an artist is clear, knowing how to use the camera to maximum effect in every scene. Everlasting is a satisfying film and one recommended for anyone who enjoys powerful love stories with dark undercurrents.

 

Clinger (2015) – Raw Review

Clinger is the sharpest comedy to hit the Horror Genre in years.

Mashing comedy and horror is an extremely difficult feat to accomplish in cinema. More often than not funny horror film turn out to be mediocre fare that fall short in both humor and horror, leaving audience dubious about future films. If you ever needed reassurance that good comedy-horror still exists in the world then Clinger is your proof. A seemingly low budget horror story that is one of the funniest films of 2015.

When Robert Klingher, dies in a horrible (and hilarious) accident, his ghost, fueled by uncontrollable love, plots to keep his relationship with Fern Peterson. Things go sideways quickly leading to a lot of blood, guts and monster mayhem. A coming of age movie about a young high school senior and her obsessively smitten first love, Clinger can be described as John Hughes meets Beetlejuice, only better.

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Director Michael Stevens has captured the perfect blend of razor sharp humor and bloody mayhem. Having penned the screenplay along with co-writers with Gabi Chennis and Bubba Fish, Stevens is relentless in hitting the perfect comedic timing in every scene, establishing a rhythm early on and never letting go. Much of the humor crosses the line into outright spoof, but the performances by Jennifer Laporte (Fern), Vincent Martella (Robert), Juila Aks (Fern’s sister Kelesy), and Shonna Major (Fern’s best friend Moe) are so strong it works, and works well.

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Clinger is a must see movie for anyone who enjoys the comedy-horror genre. Solid writing, excellent acting, and above board direction take this film far beyond where you’d expect and it’s easy to see how bad this film might have been if placed in different hands.

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Honeymoon (2014) – Raw Review

One should never know too precisely whom one has married.

~Friedrich Nietzsche

 

What Honeymoon confirms is that strong chemistry between actors continues to make bad movies tolerable, decent movies better and good movies great. Much like Spring and Everlasting, Honeymoon relies on the relationship between its stars, and just like Spring and Everlasting the movie is much better because of this choice.

 

 

Honeymoon is the directorial debut of Leigh Janiak, and is a powerful story of how the best day of your life can quickly come crashing down. Half of the entire cast consists of Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) and Harry Treadaway (Penny Dreadful, Cockney’s vs. Zombies), a young married couple who decide to spend their Honeymoon in a rustic cabin. As you can expect strange things begin to occur and Leslie’s character Bea begins to act strangely the further into their holiday it goes.

 

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The entire movie centers on the couple, their love for one another and the subtle idiosyncrasies that make up their relationship. Between Janiak’s well authored screenplay (co-written by Phil Graziadei) and the excellent dynamic between Leslie and Treadaway you can’t help but be deeply involved in the characters right from the beginning. I bought the complexities of the relationship immediately and never wavered through the body horror, the genre twists and ultimately one of the toughest endings to a movie I’ve seen in awhile.

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Honeymoon is an enjoyable film for any fan of the genre but be warned, this is not a fast moving film. Honeymoon is a deliberate movie with a very specific goal – give you two characters that love one another and see them torn apart.

Crawl or Die (2014) – Raw Review

Let me say right up front that I do not enjoy tight spaces. Never have and never will. Watching Crawl or Die reminded me why I have such an aversion to being confined in super small spaces. In many ways it’s a lot like Buried, little to no room to maneuver, no way to easy get out, constant fear that something will cause the space to get smaller crushing me to death. Well you get the idea…

 

If Crawl or Die is trying to make the audience uncomfortable it does a pretty good job. A single location film shot on what I can only assume is a micro-budget, the movie follows an elite security team who are trying to rescue the last fertile female from Earth II. Things go wrong during the extraction and the team end up underground in a series of tunnels. To make matter worse whatever derailed their carefully laid plans is following them, and is very very hungry.

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This is an interesting movie. On one hand it’s a survival film that does a great job ratcheting up the tension as the movie moves forward. On the other hand there is almost no storyline. Limited exposition isn’t a bad thing. I’ve argued before that a lot of movies suffer from an overload of backstory, making them less enjoyable because they rob the viewer of any chance to use their imaginations. Crawl or Die goes in the opposite direction. There is one small scene that provides context for why the group is there and what the mission is, and that’s it. Unfortunately, the dialogue is a bit pedestrian and doesn’t do much through the rest of the film to add anything. Literally no subtext at all. Hardly any character development, which I can give a pass on because it’s not the type of movie where development is key to success.

 

The main teammember Tank, played by Nicole Alonso, is the focal point of pretty much the entire film. She does a decent job of carrying the movie, showcasing how physically challenging crawl or die is while trying to save The Package, played by Torey Byrne.

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I have to hand it to writer/director Oklahoma Ward, he’s created a decent movie with almost no premise or budget. the limited special effects are well handled and gruesome enough to make you not want to be in the tunnel, a hungry alien right on your ass.
For what it is the movie is enjoyable and fun. It’s starts off like gangbusters throwing you right into the action. Things then simmer down a bit and once settled in it becomes a tense slow crawl to the finish line.

Reviews where the corpse is still kicking.