Archive for September 7, 2015

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Hey, how about that poster?

And now that you’ve seen the best thing about director Joel Soisson’s 2014 indie horror Cam2Cam, we can probably just move on.

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Okay, tell you what, I may be feeling lazy, but I’m not quite feeling that lazy. After all, I watched this thing on Netflix the other night (it’s also available on DVD — though not on Blu-ray — from IFC), and I started to write a review of it, so I may as well finish the job. And while it may not be a job that I’m actually getting paid for, warning well-intentioned horror fans away from this pile of shit will hopefully count as my good deed for the day and I can rack up a few cheap points on the ol’ karmic wheel.

So, to make a long story short, here’s why you don’t need to bother with this one :  I figured a flick set in Bangkok about an American back-packer named Allie Westbrook (Tammin Sursok) looking to explore the city’s more salacious side by using the internet to get in with a kinky group of ex-pats would at least provide a few quick and sleazy thrills, but the simple fact of the matter is that Cam2Cam is waaaaaaayyy more tame than its subject matter — not to mention its poster — would suggest.

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The deal here is that Allie meets a semi-charismatic stranger named Michael (Ben Wiggins), a seemingly “vanilla” individual who introduces her to his more — uhhhmmm — “adventurous” friend, Lucy (Jade Tailor), who in turn introduces her to the unofficial leader of their kinky little posse, Marit (Sarah Bonrepaux), and then it turns out that this whole little online fetish club has a lot more than sex on its collective mind and that their video-recorded wares are being marketed to the biggest sickos you can possibly imagine.

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Obviously, none of this is terribly original. Nor is it terribly good. The key elements are all here for a memorably cheap-n’-seedy time, to be sure, but Soisson gives it all the Lifetime-movie-of-the-week treatment —and it really doesn’t help that only Bonrepaux seems to be approaching her task with any sort of relish. Everyone else just seems embarrassed to be here and planning ahead for how they’re going to save up enough money to hire a good lawyer who can scrub this thing off their IMDB CVs.

And you know what? I can’t say I blame them. Soisson could — and should — have gone the Vice Squad route here and played up the prurient elements in his film to the hilt, but instead he seems to be more concerned with making a  Bangkok-sex-and-murder- flick that won’t offend delicate Midwestern sensibilities. Any filmmaker tackling material this potentially combustible should probably ask him or herself plenty of questions going in, but “how will it play in Peoria?” isn’t one of them. Leave that shit for the Hallmark Channel.

But hey — do go ahead and look at that poster one more time before you’re done here. Then remind yourself that you’ve seen all you need to of Cam2Cam and hey, you didn’t even need to waste any of your time actually watching  it.

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If there’s one thing we’re all about around these parts, it’s shining a light on low-budget independent horror that deserves a wider audience, and as far as low budgets go, well — they don’t get much lower than the $150,000 that director/co-writer (along with Bernard Dolan) Tom DeNucci shelled out for his 2015 mini-masterpiece Almost Mercy. The flick certainly looks like it cost a good deal more than that, though, so credit to our favorite new genre wunderkind for knowing how to make a little go a long way.

You know what’s doubly impressive, though? The fact that it’s a fairly safe wager that a good chunk of that $150,000 went to fan-favorite actors Bill Moseley and Kane Hodder (who play a pair of adult “authority figures” — Moseley being a preacher and Hodder a coach), both of whom probably showed up for no more than a day or two each to get their scenes “in the can.” So the actual working budget DeNucci had to play with after paying those stars is probably somewhere closer to $75,000-$100,000.

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Still, like I said, he does wonders with it. Our two principal characters here are a pair of burgeoning young sociopaths named Emily (played by Danielle Guldin) and Jackson (Jesse Dufault), who have both endured horrific abuse of the physical and psychological variety over the course of their short lives and have every reason to be the ticking time-bombs they so obviously are. You’re going to be scared shitless by what these kids are capable of, yet completely sympathetic to their plight, as well, thanks to a very smart script and two absolutely “spot-on” performances. The eye of the needle that DeNucci has to thread here is very tiny indeed, given that material this challenging could easily go off the rails, but damn if he and his cast don’t pull it off.

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One word of warning — the shocking subject matter that forms the beating heart of this story is pretty much front-and-center from word “go,” so if you’re uncomfortable with horror that is all too immediate, you might want to give Almost Mercy a pass. Yes, there is plenty of over-the-top blood, gore, and assorted viscera to be had here, but by and large the most stomach-churning stuff on display comes in the form of situations that we know to be way too real, and way too tragic. You’ve been warned.

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That’s probably about as specific as I should get here, given that I don’t want to dull the impact of the body-blows that DeNucci delivers, so at this point I’ll zero in — briefly — on my only real beef with the flick, which is that it really does lay it on pretty thick at times. I’m not sure what other way there would be to play it, mind you, but there probably are methods by which to communicate the excruciating evil our protagonists have been subjected to without, I dunno, “piling on.” In a weird way it reminds me of the main gripe that I had with Precious, which is that pretty much every single goddamn bad thing in the world happens to that film’s central character with no real let-up whatsoever. I get that there are way too many people for whom that sort of life is a sad reality, and at least DeNucci lets his characters get some payback, but when you lay it on a little too thick it can start to feel less like a story and more like a laundry-list of atrocities being dumped on some hapless individuals. I’m not saying that Almost Mercy veers completely into that territory, but it does come awfully close on a few occasions.

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Still, even that minor quibble doesn’t detract from the sock-loaded-with-ball-bearings beating this movie dishes out time and again. Almost Mercy is a brutally honest and even more brutally powerful slice of celluloid horror, and I would urge you to either catch it n Netflix, or pick it up on DVD from Screen Media, ASAP. If you’re in the mood for something as altogether unforgettable as it is altogether unpleasant, you really can’t do much better than this.

 

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I had at least modest hopes for director Conor McMahon’s 2014 effort From The Dark given that I was reasonably impressed a few months back with fellow recent-vintage Irish indie horror  The Canal, but when you think about it, that makes about as much sense as figuring We Are Your Friends might be good just because, I dunno, Straight Outta Compton was. After all, they both come from the same country, and they’re both about music, right?

Which is not to say that McMahon’s modestly-budgeted little supernatural wannabe spine-tingler doesn’t have its moments (hell, for all I know, maybe We Are Your Friends does, too) — it’s just that they’re very few and far between, and come way too late to save the day.

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The good news is that if you’re a fan of simple set-ups, they don’t come much simpler than this : young(-ish) lovebirds Mark (Stephen Cromwell) and Sarah (Niamh Algar) are on trip through the Irish countryside when they’re set upon by a creature from local legend who only hunts (and attacks) at night. They’re not very good at fighting back — witness the numerous times they could jab or stab at their pursuer with a number of sharp implements lying around but fail to do so, or the number of occasions when they could shine a light on the thing and send it scurrying but somehow have that “easy out” slip their mind (hell, for that matter they could just pull up stakes and go home at pretty much any time, as well) — but somehow they manage to stay alive long enough to make it to a semi-big confrontation at the end. Which actually isn’t a bad semi-big confrontation. Unfortunately, too much of what leads up to it is not just bad but downright dreary, so you probably won’t care all that much by then.

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I give McMahon credit for not wasting a lot of time here — you barely get to know these characters before the trouble starts in, and frankly you barely get to know any more about them afterwards — but for a movie that completely hinges on throwing you in at the deep end and not letting up, he sure does take his foot off the gas a lot. And that’s when you realize that there’s just not much interesting happening here.

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The actors by and large do okay with the slim material they’re given, so props to them for that, and the creature itself is reasonably well-realized, but the premise here is just too flimsy and nonsensical, and the pacing too awkward, for this to be considered anything like even a low-key “success.” You get the distinct feeling that everyone involved is giving their all, but “all” is a fairly relative term, and the problem with From The Dark is that it ain’t “all” that much.

Still,  I suppose that there are worse ways to spend about 90 minutes of your life, so if it sounds like this one might be up your alley, it’s streaming on Netflix right now (which is how I caught it) as well as being available on Blu-ray and DVD from Dark Sky Films. I wouldn’t say it’s worth a rental, much less a purchase, but on a slow holiday weekend when you’ve got nothing else going on, pressing the red “play” arrow on your computer isn’t the dumbest thing you could possibly do. The sad fact of the matter is, though, that you’ll be sorely (if understandably) tempted to hit “stop” at about the halfway point, and if you do that, you’ll miss out on the only parts of the film that are really worth seeing.

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Stop me at any time if you think you’ve heard this one before : a group of four amateur paranormal investigators have decided to spend the night at an abandoned insane asylum to see if all the rumors they’ve heard about the joynt being haunted are true. They’re filing the whole thing for their half-assed internet TV show. They set up shop, things go bump in the night, and whaddaya know — turns out they should have stayed away after all.

So what makes 2015’s Archivo 253 any different from the slew of found-footage horror flicks that exploit this very same (and very tired) premise? Nothing, other than the fact that it was made in Mexico and you’ve actually gotta read the insipid dialogue rather than just hear it.

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At this point, you could be forgiven for thinking that I must be selling director Abe Rosenberg’s (funny, that name doesn’t sound particularly Mexican to me, but whatever) low-budget opus a little short, but rest assured, I’m not. This is the re-hash to end all re-hashes and apart from its country of origin, the only thing to differentiate this snooze-fest from its peers is the fact that at least 75% of the film is shot in green-hued “night vision.” Seriously, Abe, five minutes would have been plenty, but over an hour? That’s just overkill, dude.

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I can forgive the fact that all four of our principal characters (Anna Cetti as Isabella, Michel Chauvet as Diego, Mario Escalante as Mateo, and Juan Luis Tovar as Charly) are more or less personality-free-zones, and in a pinch I can even forgive the fact that this set-up has been done to death, but what I absolutely can’t forgive is that nothing interesting happens in this movie. It doesn’t take as long to get going as some of these “let’s visit an old looney bin and see what happens” flicks sometimes do, but it doesn’t matter, because nothing of any note gets going at any point. “We’re picking up some readings on our ghost activity meters” really isn’t enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up these days — in fact, it never was. But hey, at least this time they’re saying it in Spanish.

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Still, loyal readers of this site have no doubt ignored my advice in the past and will do so again, so if you’re one of them, you can check Archivo 253 out on Netflix right now. It’s not available on Blu-ray or DVD yet, but have to imagine that some fool-hardy independent outfit with nothing better to sink their money into will probably release it at some point, given that distribution rights certainly won’t — or at least shouldn’t — cost very much. If I were in their shoes, though, I’d just douse a few grand with gasoline and light it on fire in my back yard. You’ll be out the money either way, sure, but why wait countless months to lose it when taking a match to it is so much quicker and more convenient?

There’s no doubt that this film will richly deserve a place on any “worst of the year” list that I might put together come December/January, but you know what? Odds are pretty good that I’ll have completely forgotten about it by then.