Thursday, October 31, 2013

"Day Soldiers" by Brandon Hale

If there was one thing I could definitively choose that has ruined horror for all time it would have to say it is Twilight. Not PG-13 boo scare found footage flicks or the endless stream of crappy remakes. Twilight, plain and simple. Why? It took two classic horror icons, vampires and werewolves, and turned them into pussified whiny emo bitches. Vampires sparkling in daylight? Werewolves who imprint themselves on unborn children? Who came up with that crap?! Sure tween girls ate it up, but I’m sure none of them are even remotely familiar with the origins of vampires or werewolves, let alone know that they were meant to be scary and inherently violent in nature.

Which brings me to a little book I downloaded for my Kindle - “Day Soldiers” by Brandon Hale. As I stated in my review of “Necromancer (Unspeakable Things: Book One)”, I was looking for some cheap eBooks to have on hand, and stumbled across a number of free and/or extremely cheap genre options. One of which was “Day Soldiers”. The synopsis sounded kind of cool and since it was 100% free I wasn’t about to be overly picky.

The story takes place in a world where humanity is at war with the combined forces of vampires and werewolves. Young Lily Baxter decides to stop living in fear of the creatures that live in the woods outside her small town, and with her friend Leo takes them out with extreme prejudice. Unfortunately this act rains destruction down upon the town and results in her and Leo being the only survivors. Afterwards they are inducted into the Day Soldiers, the human army holding the supernatural forces at bay. Trained to be an assassin, Lily vows to personally kill the werewolf that changed her life forever.

No, there is no hokey love triangle story at play here. Yes, the vampires suck blood, are allergic to sunlight and holy relics. Yes the werewolves work in packs and turn into gigantic fur covered bipeds that will rip you apart for giving them a side glance. This is what vampires and werewolves were meant to be – fucking scary. I suspect this series is a reaction to Twilight and its unholy sins against the genre. While reading this it felt like Brandon Hale was spitting on that series and having a good time doing it as he set things right. I’m talking thick, satisfying lung butter.

While Hale isn’t the best author around he certainly makes “Day Soldiers” a very involving read. He keeps things simple and never goes overboard with descriptions, characters or environments. Even some of the action bits are very minimalist. What he does that made me enjoy this novel so much was his creative take on the lore of vampires and werewolves.

For example – crosses, a common weapon used against vampires, aren’t effective due to their religious significance. They act as a focal point for the user’s willpower. The more you believe that it will work against a vampire the more it will harm them. It’s even explained that any object can be used in this way, like a rock or a book. The fact that Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, and countless other vampire books/movies, have always touted crosses and their effects they tend to work better than other items due how it’s infiltrated pop culture.

The same goes for the vampires. When a new vampire is made they believe, due to what they’ve heard in every vampire related piece of media pre-transformation, that they cannot enter a person’s house without being invited first. It’s referred to as a “psychosis” belonging to young vampires, and over time they will realize that these rules are actually bullshit and will be able to overcome their fear. It’s all extremely fun and interesting.

The main characters, a group of young Day Soldier recruits, are drawn in very broad strokes and aren’t given much nuance or real depth. I’m not complaining because the book is written in a very pulpy style that just gets to the point and keeps the plot moving along at a very brisk pace. That’s not to say that they characters aren’t likable. Quite the contrary. I liked every single one of them, villains included, mainly because everyone’s actions speak louder than words in this world.

The story does get a mite predictable and some of the plot threads are prematurely brought to a conclusion. Hale has written three books in this series and I was expecting a good amount of carryover into the other installments, but that appears to not be the case. Regardless, I am looking forward to the continuing adventures of Lily and her squad to see where they end up going from here.

Hale does have a tendency to repeat the same dialogue over and over and over again. I don’t have enough fingers to count the amount of times someone said “fair enough”. Plus, his characters don’t speak like real people; a common occurance I’m finding in a lot of these eBooks I’ve read recently. Another issue is the amount of stupid cheese going on in the finale and the blasé reactions people have to some of the goofy revelations. I hope this improves in the sequels.

“Day Soldiers” is a nice romp into a tired genre brought to the brink thanks to one Stephanie Meyer. Thankfully this should wipe the tears of shame away from horror fans cheeks with little effort. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to welcome these two staples of horror back into the fold of pure awesomeness.

4 out of 5

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Dracula: Episode 1 - "The Blood is the Life"

It’s pretty apparent nowadays that televisions studios are desperate to have a recognizable brand to get their shows the attention they need to rake in the cash. So what better place to mine titles from than the movies? There have been plenty of shows based on flicks over the years. Most were unsuccessful. Remember A League of Their Own, Working Girl, Napoleon Dynamite, Baby Boom, 9 to 5 or Planet of the Apes? Probably not since they were cancelled pretty quickly after premiering.  There have been successful ones too, like M*A*S*H, Friday Night Lights, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and more recently Parenthood, Hannibal and Bates Motel.

How often do the networks go so far as to adapt novels to the small screen? I’m sure it happens often, but their choices are usually obscure for the most part (“TekWar”?!). However, when one has the audacity to take a seminal and classic novel such as Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” you have to believe that it will be scrutinized as closely as possible by fans of the book as well as scholars and the like. Oh NBC, are you in for a thrashing…
The ancient and powerful vampire Dracula (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is released from his prison in a tomb, and poses as an American aristocrat to wreak havoc upon Victorian London.

If you’re going to take a classic literary character like Dracula and turn him into a boring mope like the one depicted in this dreadful series you had better prepare yourself for all sorts of flak. “The Blood is the Life” is one of the worst pilots I have ever seen for a big budget television show, and I have a feeling that whoever greenlit this disaster will soon be looking for a new job. It’s badly written, horribly directed, slowly paced and not entertaining at all.
The script by series creator Cole Haddon is a meandering mess that doesn’t portray the most often adapted literary character in history as a sexy, bloodthirsty creature of the night. Instead he’s an emo businessman who wants to bring wireless electricity to London. Yes, you read that right – wireless electricity. Why? Why not. This Dracula is proficient in kung-fu. Why? Why not. He is also a fan of opera, and at times I felt as if I were sitting in a theatre watching “Die Fledermaus” and hoping that a singer would hit a note so shrill that my eardrums would explode. Haddon seemed to have penned a script that had nothing to do with vampires, and at the last second decided to insert Dracula into it, kind of like the last few Hellraiser flicks. He doesn’t understand what makes vampires appealing to the masses and definitely didn’t write a pilot episode that lays the groundwork for a multi-season television series. I can’t see this going past the first few episodes, let alone 7 seasons. It’s dumb, pointless and boring. Is it any surprise that this is Haddon’s first gig?

The direction by Steve Shill, who helmed episodes of Dexter, V, The Tudors and The Sopranos, is pedantic and unremarkable. Everything has a monotone look to it, the actors look uninterested and there is no energy to any event. Not even a strange out of fucking nowhere Matrix-styled fight scene on a rooftop. I can’t blame him since he’s working off Haddon’s shitty script, so he gets a pass from me for now. Although I will say that the look of the pilot, which sets the tone and visual style of the series from here on out, is downright ugly and generic. Not a good sign.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers is completely miscast as the title character. He looks too young and dopey to play a bloodthirsty killing machine. He also sounds whiny when speaking in an American accent. The rest of the cast is not memorable in the slightest. Only Thomas Kretschmann as Van Helsing shows any sign of life, and even then he’s not all that great. No one seems to care about turning in a decent performance and they all have an air about them as if they expect the show to be cancelled prematurely. I did enjoy the Renfield/Dracula relationship. The actor that plays Renfield, Nonso Anozie (Conan the Barbarian, Game of  Thrones, Atonement), is solid here and outshines everyone else in the cast.

The story vaguely follows the plot of the book. Sure all the characters are there in some capacity or another. The Harkers and Murrays and all that shit are here, but in some unrecognizable version cooked up by the screenwriter extraordinaire (*sarcasm). If you're a fan of the book, or any of the movies based on it, you are going to want to rip your hair out.
In the end I wish I never gave this show a shot at all. I was bored out of my skull, my jaw dropped at the stupidity on display and I was floored by how un-vampiric Dracula turned out to be. This is a foppish take on the character and I hate it. It's not romantic, it's not scary and it's barely watchable.

Avoid this garbage. Avoid it like the plague and just watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula instead. Shit, even Dracula 2000 would be a huge step up from this crapfest.

0.5 out of 5

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Bait

There are so many shark movies out there that it’s somewhat staggering. I’ve reviewed a few here on Geektastic Film Reviews myself (Super Shark, Sharknado, Ghost Shark), but the constant flow of cheap killer fish faux epics make it hard to stay up to date. But I am trying, and that’s what led me to Bait (Bait 3D in theaters).

When a tsunami hits the shores of Australia, a group of criminals and customers are trapped in a below ground supermarket. The floods brought with it a couple of great white sharks that now swim through the aisles looking for their next meal.
The set up is a little asinine, but it’s pulled off in a fun and somewhat frightening way. I’ve actually had nightmares about this type of scenario as a youngster, so the plot device of “sharks loose in a supermarket” hit close to home for this dude. So right there this film gets an immediate pass from me.

The script by Russell Mulcahy (director of Highlander, Resident Evil: Extinction and The Shadow) and John Kim is decent for this genre. They actually manage to build the characters up to a point where you give a shit if they live or die. They also milk the suspense out of every single scenario they create once the sharks are loose in the store. A few of the action bits are also surprisingly well handled regardless of how far fetched some of them may be. My only gripe is the overly cliché and hokey opening scene involving a lifeguard and a shark which is made even worse by some ham fisted directing.
Director Kimble Rendall, who was a second unit director on some mega budget epics like The Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions, I, Robot, Ghost Rider and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, shows a steady hand and a lot of talent (I wouldn’t be surprised if visual auteur Russell Mulcahy lent an assist once in a while) when dealing with this somewhat cheesy material. The stupidly goofy opening scene aside, he manages to keep things serious and fast paced once the sharks hit the shoppers and the blood never really stops. Sure there are missteps along the way, but they are minimal and nothing overly horrendous as to ruin the feel of the film.

The acting is pretty solid. I was especially thrilled to see Sharni Vinson so soon after her big breakout role in You’re Next. Her character is the complete opposite here, and the fact that she’s in a bikini for the entire film made me smile. Seeing Julian McMahon (Fantastic Four, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Nip/Tuck) playing someone other than a crazy surgeon or Doctor Doom was a welcome change-up. He actually plays a halfway decent dude here and shows that he has what it takes to be a leading man again. The rest of the cast, Xavier Samuel, Richard Brancatisano, Alice Parkinson and scores more are all up to the task and do what they do well.
The effects are the weakest aspect of the flick. Some of the animatronic sharks look cool and suitably nasty, but at times the CG versions look overly fake and silly. Sure they do their job for the most part, but at times they look like the video gamey ones from Deep Blue Sea. Especially during the dumb opening sequence.

But how does Bait stack up against all the other shark movies out there? Well, I’d most directly compare it to the aforementioned Deep Blue Sea. The sharks here aren’t super smart, or smart in general, but they are some of the most savage I’ve seen for a quite a while. They do almost everything they can to get a bite of something, and the gore is abundant. It’s nice to see an “R” rated flick in this sub-genre again since the majority of them are made for the SyFy Channel. It doesn’t pull any punches and I was very thankful for that. While it is nowhere as amazing as Jaws, or even Jaws 2 for the matter, this is head and shoulders above 90% of the crap floating around out there in the sea of bullshit shark flicks. While it certainly doesn’t break any new ground, it certainly is watchable in all the best ways.
When Bait ended I had a smile on my face. The action was great, the characters were likable, the violence was spectacularly in your face and it was fun and mildly scary. I just wish I had a chance to see it in 3D. I’m sure I would have gasped a few times. Guaranteed.

I highly recommend this flick if you want to see a shark attack flick done right.

3.5 out of 5

Friday, October 25, 2013

Scenic Route

I love a good drama now and then. Sure the dramas that populate cinemas nowadays are huge, broad and epic in scope with large casts and equally large budgets. I like my dramas simple and to the point. The lower the number of characters and less complicated the better. Scenic Route fits that bill perfectly for the most part. It may not be a horror movie of the slasher variety, but it sure is a psychological one.

Two longtime friends, the uptight Mitchell (Josh Duhamel) and the unemployed Carter (Dan Fogler), take a cross country road trip to re-connect. When their truck breaks down in the middle of the desert they begin to come apart at the seams and verbally attack each other with increasing ferocity.
Events in Scenic Route follow the stage play formula pretty closely. For the most part it’s just two actors in one location talking to/screaming at one another for ninety minutes. When it is doing just that this flick is aces. The script by Kyle Killen is well written and the two characters, while highly cliché, are well drawn and somewhat likable at the start. One more than the other obviously since that’s always how these types of stories pan out. I have a feeling that Killen comes from a theatre background and I like his writing here.

Directors Kevin and Michael Goetz are new to the scene having only one short film to their credit. They know their way around the genre very well and have a handle on making the film feel as desolate and dread filled as the desert the characters are stranded in. They also know how to get their actors to deliver some unexpected knockout performances.
Josh Duhamel (the Transformers films), aka Fergie’s husband, is clearly trying to shrug off his action star/pretty boy image and show off his range as a dramatic actor. Surprisingly he pulls it off. He gives a grounded and fierce turn as uppity businessman Mitchell, who is the complete opposite of his co-star. Dan Fogler (Fanboys, Balls of Fury, Take Me Home Tonight), also trying to move away from his usual typecasting as the comic relief guy as seen in Europa Report. As the listless deadbeat dreamer Carter he shows off a range I’ve never seen before. Even through all the stupid and selfish things he does to re-connect with his pal he still remains somewhat likable. If he continues along this route he could eventually become this generation’s Tom Hanks; transitioning from being a comedic actor to a dramatic one with much aplomb.

The script smartly has them begin to pick apart each other’s life decisions bit by bit, be it one person marrying the wrong woman to another giving up on his writing gift. From there things begin to get violent as their hope of rescue begins to dwindle and events turn bloody. I won’t give too much away, but things escalate to a place I didn’t expect and I was thankful that the filmmakers did so in order to save me from the trappings of so many similar stories.
And then things get dumb. Real dumb. Like epically dumb.

The characters begin to do things that are so damned stupid that it looks like they don’t even want to be rescued even though that’s all they talk about. And things get progressively worse and worse until I totally checked out. It’s as if Killen ran out of juice at the halfway point and just decided to base the rest of the movie on a series of notes he had written on flash cards that he randomly drew out of a hat. The directors don’t seem to know how to properly make these scenes work within the context of the film, so I’d have to say that it felt as if I was watching two different 45 minute movies. It’s such a disaster that when the movie ended I had totally sworn off the superior first half due to the god awful second.
I get what the intentions of the movie were. I really do. It was just pulled off in the worst way imaginable. Inexperience rears its ugly head at every turn and not even the performances can salvage how bad this flick gets in the last act. I’d have to say that this was one of the biggest missed opportunities I’ve seen recently next to Curse of Chucky. Profoundly disappointing. 

I fear that the current trend of second tier Hollywood stars producing a low budget horror film as a starring vehicle for themselves is a bad idea. Jessica Biel tried this with The Tall Man, and now Josh Duhamel has done the same with Scenic Route. Both received a limited theatrical release and essentially went straight to VOD with little fanfare and/or critical applause to back it up. Both of these films had a strong first half and fell apart afterward. It’s sad really because this had some potential.

Maybe Josh Duhamel shouldn’t have backed out of Transformers: Age of Extinction after all…
 

2 out of 5

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Frankenstein's Army

If you follow this blog regularly you’ll know that I’ve covered a great deal of found footage films lately (Europa Report, GraveEncounters, Grave Encounters 2, V/H/S/2, [REC]³: Genesis) and have stated my opinions thoroughly as to what the difference is between a good one and a bad one.

If there was one I was actually looking forward to it was Frankenstein’s Army. It looked twisted and had a cool WWII twist that I thought was unique. Therefore once it was available on home video I made a serious effort to find a copy of it out there to watch.
During the last days of World War II, a squad of Russian soldiers and one documentarian are tasked with capturing images of their march into Germany on film. Instead they discover a secret lab where bizarre and ghoulish experiments have been performed on fallen soldiers to combine them with machines in a last ditch effort to win the war.

Maybe it was my high expectations that ultimately tainted my view of this flick, but I found Frankenstein’s Army to be one of the worst found footage movies I’ve ever seen. I’ll explain with some bullet points:
  • The film is obviously shot on HD video and a few filters were used in post-production to make it look like old timey film. They failed. The movie is crisp, clean and always in focus. There were even a few times where the color correction was so prominent that the barrels of guns had an ethereal glow from the heavy manipulation. And what’s worse is that even at the time that the movie takes place, handheld cameras such as the one being used here would not have filmed in color since it was insanely expensive and black and white was still in rampant use for propaganda in the early 1940s, Russian or otherwise. Plus it looks like the camera was on a steadycam the whole time. Weak sauce.
  • The movie feels like a video game. Actually it’s probably the closest thing we’ll ever get to a Return to Castle Wolfenstein flick. During the action scenes the oddball creations always seem to  go after the cameraman first, lunging and swinging their bladed hands at him, and it feels like watching a first person shooter play out. The only difference is that the main character doesn’t have a gun. The whole movie is like this and after the third time it happens it begins to get old fast.
  • The script is absolutely putrid. Writers Chris W. Mitchell, Richard Raaphorst and Miguel Tejada-Flores, with a little inspiration from Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, offer next to zero character development for any of the main players, just throw attack after attack at them in a lame effort to distract the audience from this fact and when the explanations do begin to show up they are extremely disappointing and horribly cheesy (the brain swapping scene is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen).
  • Director Richard Raaphorst has no idea how to direct actors, choreograph action in a way that makes sense or even capture it on film in a way that isn’t brain meltingly awful. Everything is in extreme close-up during the action scenes so you cannot see anything that is going on and the depth of field is all wrong because when the abominations of science are swinging at the cameraman they look like they are close enough to dice him into mincemeat, but they never seem to make contact with him at all. It’s confusing and took me out of the film entirely. Plus he paces the film so quickly that you never have the time to remember the character’s names, let alone adjust to all the weird crap going on.
  • The characters all speak English. Almost perfect English. If Raaphorst wanted to create the illusion of a genuine war documentary he should have had them all speak Russian and/or German. Illusion broken.
  • The acting is awful. Not even the usually reliable genre favorite Karel Roden (Hellboy, Blade II, Orphan, Running Scared) as Viktor, the mad scientist, seems to be able to do anything with his character outside of just making him a rambling insane person.
  • There is a score over the film that should not be there at all. If there’s one thing 99% of the found footage flicks out there always get right it’s that there should never, ever be music used anywhere except over the end credits. It’s incredibly distracting. 
There are a few positives. The designs for the man/machine hybrids are universally awesome looking and mildly disturbing (loved the one on stilts) and the gore is abundant and will satiate even the most jaded horror movie junkie.

Outside of those two aspects Frankenstein’s Army is an epic fail in nearly every aspect. It’s not the fun romp into the absurd that I thought it would be. It’s not even entertaining on a so bad it’s good level. It’s just plain bad. My advice is to skip it and just watch V/H/S/2 instead.

1 out of 5

Monday, October 21, 2013

Cockneys vs. Zombies

Other than found footage flicks, if there is a horror sub-genre that is being exploited to the point of infuriation it’s ones of the zombie variety. Seriously, do a search through Netflix’s streaming options. You’ll find that every fourth horror movie is about the undead. It’s insane. I love me a good zombie yarn, but the market is so oversaturated with them right now that they have completely lost their spark. Sure, once in a while one comes along and reinvigorates my enthusiasm. Shaun of the Dead, Dead Snow, 28 Days/Weeks Later, Planet Terror and some of the Resident Evil movies keep my spirits high for the genre, and now I can add the horror comedy Cockneys vs. Zombies to the list of winners.

A group of thieves from London’s East End, who have just robbed a bank in order to obtain enough money to save a local retirement home, must survive a zombie apocalypse that erupts from within their own town.
I will get this out of the way first – yes, Cockneys vs. Zombies is definitely inspired by Shaun of the Dead. The goofball sense of humor is there, the gore is there and it does feel like it belongs within that film’s universe at times. That’s not saying that this is a rip-off. It’s not. It is its own animal and should not draw any major comparisons aside from the fact that it has zombies invading Great Britain.

Writers James Moran (Tower Block) & Lucas Roche smartly keep the script’s tongue planted firmly in cheek and don’t keep the characters ignorant of the existence of zombie lore and the many films that document it. It’s a rare thing to find a flick where the characters take one look at these shuffling undead types and say, “Fuck. Zombies.”, so believe me when I say it was quite a refreshing change-up from the typical plotline where the characters run around screaming “What are these things?!” constantly. The comedy comes from an organic place most of the time, the characters are fun and entertainingly flawed and the story moves by at a zippy pace for the most part. There are some issues with the way certain characters fit into the mix and such, but it’s not that big of a deal.
This is director Matthias Hoene’s first feature, and I have to admit it is mighty impressive. He has a handle on keeping the comedy, horror and drama in balance as well as making sure his actors are putting all of their efforts into the characters. He also knows when to go for the gross out or to go for a laugh when it comes to the violence. There were times where I grimaced and other times when I cackled like a drunk at some of the stuff that flashed before my eyes. He thankfully keeps the events feeling very comic booky, which goes a long way to amp up the entertainment factor in my eyes. This guy is going places and could be the next Edgar Wright if he plays his cards right.

The actors are all very well cast in their respective parts and are all gifted comedic actors for the most part. While the two leads, Rasmus Hardiker and Harry Treadaway as brothers Terry and Andy respectively, are both incredibly fun to watch play off of each other as they bicker and act clueless, it’s the older cast members that are the most memorable. Alan Ford (Snatch) and ex-Bond girl Honor Blackman (Goldfinger) are a blast to watch as members of a retirement home assaulted by the undead. All the elderly characters are fun and were given some great one-liners and even an action scene or two. I know I’ll never forget the scene with the gent trying to slowly run away from an advancing horde because he uses a walker. It was also nice seeing Michelle Ryan (The Bionic Woman) once again, and hearing her natural accent was a plus too. She makes for a great action heroine and I’m surprised I don’t find her in films more often. Ashley Thomas looks to be having a blast as the unstable Mental Mickey and he made for a great unpredictable element to the core cast.
I wasn’t fond of the character of Davey, played by Jack Doolan. He just seemed to be there to take up space and be in the way, which is the point of the Mental Mickey character. Therefore his part ended up being redundant and was included just to have some ongoing jokes about his character being a bumbling moron. The bank hostage characters were also a little annoying, but not nearly as much as Davey. Some of the humor was also a little “too British” in that it refers to pop culture and events that only fellow Brits would comprehend. This is always the case for movies from across the pond, as I’m sure American made movies feel overseas at times as well. None of these elements are deal breakers, just mild annoyances.

This is one of the few surprises I’ve stumbled across lately, and I’m glad I did. I read a very negative review of Cockneys vs. Zombies a while back that pretty much turned me off altogether. Thankfully I’m willing to give anything a go at one point or another. This was one fun and goofy entry into the overcrowded zombie sub-genre that I’m sure I will want to watch again a few times. It’s a keeper.

3.5 out of 5

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Jug Face

A Tennessee backwoods community is in danger of being eradicated by the creature they routinely sacrifice their own members to when a pregnant teen decides to chance fate and escape once she is chosen to be its next victim.

Jug Face is the first feature from writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle, who made a fantastic short horror film called Organ Grinder a couple of years back. Based on the strength of that short, which was about a woman who (seriously) fucks the evil out of demon possessed men, I decided to give this flick a shot to see if he had what it took to make an entire movie (at 80 minutes it’s barely feature length).

Unfortunately this is one boring and pointless film.
A more broad description of the plot is that the pit dwelling creature, which we never see, sends visions of its chosen sacrifice to the town’s potter, Dawai (Sean Bridgers), who in turn creates a jug with that person’s face on it to give proof that they have been marked for death. That person, be it an elderly person or an infant, has their throat slashed and is left to bleed to death over the pit to feed the beast. In return for the sacrifices the creature heals the community members whenever they fall ill. In the past it cured the entire cult of a pox that had befallen them. The teenaged Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter), who has just discovered she is pregnant, hides her jug when she is chosen in order to protect her unborn child. This incurs the wrath of the creature who begins to kill random community members until it receives its sacrifice.

It’s a unique story, that’s for sure. I have a feeling that Kinkle has a fondness for unusual takes on the standard horror clichés and Jug Face is proof of that (just watch Organ Grinder to see this proven further). The problem is that the story is told in such a low key and meandering way that it’s a chore to get through in one sitting. And to compound matters even further there is so much filler, so many side characters and way too many dumb developments introduced that as I watched it I realized that this was a short film that had been stretched to 80 minutes.
For example - The goofily executed and worthless ghost boy that Ada continually sees does nothing to advance the story. He is mostly there to pad out the story a bit and give Ada someone to get exposition from or tell exposition to so the audience can get a clue as to what’s going on. The Grandfather character is worthless too for the same reasons.

The performances from the leads are decent. Lauren Ashley Carter does a great job of selling her plight to the audience and making us believe that there really is some evil, yet slightly benevolent, monster living in that mud pit at the center of town. I can see her going places if she can snag some higher profile roles. Sean Bridgers is okay as the town drunk/idiot whose pottery hobby has taken a dark turn. Most of the time he just stares off into space, but I suspect that was an acting choice and not his inability to perform. The rest of the cast are pretty bad all around. I haven’t seen Sean Young (Blade Runner, Dune, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective) in over a decade, but I wish she had stayed away if her turn here as Ada’s kooky mother is any indication of how much she’s honed her craft over the years.
Kinkle doesn’t shy away from the gore. There is plenty of the red stuff splashed about over the course of the film (I could have done without the tub scene though). The cinematography is at times lush and beautiful. Other times it’s as murky and ugly as the inside of that pit. Kinkle definitely has the technical aspect of filmmaking down, but really needs to focus more on his storytelling and making sure his actors aren’t phoning it in like most of them are here.

I guess you can say that Jug Face is a coming of age movie of sorts. We get to see a young, ignorant and rebellious young girl grow up and begin to act like a responsible adult. The problem is that the film is so uninteresting and boring that I could really give a shit. I really disliked this flick intensely. There is some good stuff here and there, such as the ballsy way events do end up panning out, but for the most part Jug Face was a waste of my time.

I do look forward to Chad Crawford Kinkle’s next project though. He is talented, but he just needs go all in to make the classic genre film I know he has deep within.

1 out of 5

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Battery

Being a low budget filmmaker myself (micro budget actually) I can definitely appreciate the low key approach to the long overused zombie apocalypse plot present in The Battery. It’s a very simple story told very well despite some iffy acting and dumb plot developments.

Two minor league baseball players, Ben (Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim), with clashing personalities attempt to make their way out of rural New England after a zombie plague sweeps the US.
Writer/director/star Jeremy Gardner really knows how to not only set up a dread filled atmosphere for the entire runtime, but takes the time to really set up his characters and their personalities before the shit goes down. They bicker, act like children at times, share stories about themselves and come to think of each other as brothers along the way. One of them treats the situation they are in with a free-spirited upbeat outlook (Ben) and the other is a gloomy Gus who would rather listen to music than deal with reality (Mickey) and together they form “The Battery” of the title; there’s a positive and a negative. The fact that each of them shares the name of a popular rodent also goes to show who the dominant person is in the relationship.

There is also a “coming of age” aspect to the story in that Mickey refuses to accept the situation he is in, shies away from reality and is adamant about not wanting to kill any zombie they come across, always leaving the task up to Ben. Over the course of the film we see Mickey begin to man up and grow a pair thanks to a trick pulled by Ben that I feel is totally against his character and made me dislike him immensely. Then again, Mickey does something equally stupid to put themselves in danger that made me feel the same way toward him. Way to go, bro.
The world that The Battery takes place in is also well thought out and frightening in that we all know from previous zombie films what these creatures are capable of, but we rarely see an undead ghoul in person. The tension created by this is surprisingly effective since their appearance is never telegraphed and always is a surprise. It was most likely a budget issue that restricted the amount of make-up effects and/or extras available at any given time, but whatever the case may have been, it works.

Gardner’s writing is pretty good for the most part, but his direction is a little suspect. Sure he knows when to show something overly gory and when not to. He also knows when a simple lingering shot can build the proper amount of suspense. He has the technical knowhow to make the most of his sparse locations and the like. It’s not this particular area of his direction I find lacking.
Long story short, Gardner needs to work on is getting decent performances out of not only himself, but his fellow actors. While the performances aren’t Showgirls bad, they definitely leave something to be desired. Gardner himself seems quite aloof, even for the character, and has a terminal case of the smileys for the entire runtime (and has a fondness for really crappy indie rock too). Adam Cronheim looks like he’s trying too hard to be serious and morose, sometimes looking like he’s constipated. His big scene in the end makes him look extremely goofy and almost made me giggle. The minor supporting players that pop up along the way are no better, coming off as fellow theater people that have forgotten they aren’t on stage anymore. In fact, the entire film comes off as a stage play since there are only a handful of locations used throughout the piece. If only Gardner could have wringed better performances out of his troupe I might have become more invested in the film as a whole.

The big finale is kind of awesome. I won’t reveal the specifics, but believe me it is a tense situation. My problem is that due to the above mentioned issues I have with the acting and some of the writing it could have been so much better. There are also a lot of visual errors that ruin the effect as well. Hint: The sun makes shadows.
The Battery is a successful indie film that has a desolate, depressing feel to it with a little hope sprinkled in so it isn’t a complete downer. Like I said at the start, I appreciate that low budget movies like this are made that attempt to focus on character and plot instead of graphic dismemberments and wanton violence. It’s just unfortunate that the director cast himself in the movie as well as some actors that need to hone their craft a bit more, as well as work on his character development.

This flick had so much potential but only managed to tap about 60% of it. The Battery is not a bad movie, it’s just not all that great.

3 out of 5