On Wednesday, September 29, 2021, horror streaming service Shudder will introduce a new serial murder movie to its library, Seance. The movie was written and directed by Simon Barrett, an experienced horror writer whose previous credits include You’re Next (2011) and Blair Witch (2016). Seance, however, is his feature directorial debut. The cast includes a few somewhat recognizable faces including Suki Waterhouse (The Divergent Series: Insurgent) and Madisen Beaty (Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood). If you’re wondering what a filmmaker can do with the serial murder genre that hasn’t already been done, you’ll be disappointed to hear that Seance does absolutely nothing to answer that question. The movie briefly gestures to some intriguing and unique horror themes, but in the end, it turns out something like Scream Queens (2015-2016) stripped of any and all creativity. Seance could have been a cringey disaster – but thankfully, the cast gives solid, natural performances that hold the movie together.
“Hellbender” shows off one family’s filmmaking talents but falls flat under the weight of its poorly developed plot and dialogue. [Fantasia International Film Festival]
From Rosemary’s Baby to False Positive, Psycho to Mommie Dearest, motherhood and the horror genre are a match made in heaven. The labyrinth of psycho-socio-political issues surrounding motherhood, pregnancy, and the mother-child relationship has truly found its home in horror cinema. One of the horror flicks showing at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, Hellbender, is not only about motherhood, but also stars a real-life mother-daughter duo. In fact, Hellbender was written, directed, shot, edited, scored, and produced by the four members of the Adams/Poser family: John Adams, Toby Poser and their two daughters, Lulu and Zelda Adams. All four family members also make an appearance in this occult horror film, with Zelda and Toby taking the lead roles. The family filmmaking feat is incredibly impressive, and Hellbender’s high production value showcases the family’s talents and creativity. Unfortunately, however, one little filmmaking misstep can bring a movie crashing down. In this case, that one misstep is the dialogue. While Hellbender is otherwise horrifically beautiful, the script and plot development leave much to be desired.
“Follow The Light (Hikariwooikakete)” paints a beautiful picture of adolescence with romance, family drama… and a crop circle [Fantasia International Film Festival]
For most people, the teen years come with a myriad of confusing emotions, drastic life changes, and embarrassing incidents. For Akira and Maki, the young protagonists of Yoichi Narita’s Follow The Light, those formative years also bring a number of upsetting changes to their small farming community, including a UFO and crop circle. These bizarre occurrences not only set them on intersecting paths, but symbolically carry the weight of their strange and explosive teenage emotions. Follow the Light, an official selection at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, is a wistful romance that ponders the many conflicts and emotions of adolescence.
Relive your angsty teen years with “Shoplifters of the World,” a cinematic tribute to The Smiths from director Stephen Kijak.
When you’re a teenager, every little upset feels like the end of the world. Failing a test, losing the big game, watching your crush take someone else to prom, or even finding out that your favorite band broke up can send you to bed in tears. In fact, in 1987, one teen was so moved by the music of The Smiths that, after the band broke up, he plotted to break into a local radio station and force the DJ to play nothing but Smiths tracks at gunpoint. In real life, the young man turned himself in before going through with his plan. But in Shoplifters of the World, a cinematic tribute to The Smiths, writer/ director Stephen Kijak imagines a different outcome to the story. Although The Smiths may be long broken up, you can relive the mood and culture they inspired with a DVD or Blu-ray copy of Shoplifters of the World from RLJE Films.
Originally posted on Elements of Madness.
Storytelling is essential. It’s one of the easiest ways to communicate our values, express our beliefs, and process our experiences. Even our 280-character tweets are a form of storytelling, and many of us couldn’t make it a single day without a little micro-storytelling on social media. While it’s natural for us to jump into a detailed account of our own experiences, it’s not as natural to stop and listen to a different perspective. Movies and TV shows can give us the opportunity to explore other perspectives by replaying the same event from different points of view, the results of which can be comedic, horrific, or totally mind-blowing. In the case of The Get Together, we get to experience a Friday night party from the perspective of four very different twenty-somethings: an outcast who wasn’t really invited, a nervous guy trying to plan the perfect proposal, a career-driven student who returns to her hometown for the first time in months, and a wannabe musician who’s wondering if his dreams might be too big.
Wheels starts with its greatest strength: music. A lively rock-n-roll tune plays over a black screen as a few opening credits fly by, and we hear the protagonist, Max (Arnstar), introduce himself while doing what he loves most: DJing. But when the music comes to a halt, we see that Max isn’t DJing at a club or fancy event, but at a children’s birthday party. The film’s memorable introduction is just a small sample of the masterful cinematic storytelling that writer/director Paul Starkman offers in his feature debut, a well-crafted coming-of-age-film that brings together the Emmy-nominated director’s love of hip hop and his fondness for his hometown, Brooklyn. Wheels premiered at the 2018 Woodstock Film Festival, where it took home the Audience award and the Best Narrative Feature award. After a successful festival run, the film was released to general audiences in September 2020.
John Berardo’s horror flick, “Initiation,” will make you too paranoid to leave your phone on silent.
If you’re thinking that a horror movie called Initiation must be about pledge week, you’d be correct. In his first feature as solo director, John Berardo focuses on the horrors of frat culture, social media, and monetary corruption within universities. He co-wrote Initiation with Brian Frager and Lindsay LaVanchy, who also stars as Initiation’s heroine. The writing team borrows stylistic conventions from years of teen thrillers to create a horror flick that is decidedly about the social media generation. Berardo's love for and knowledge of the horror genre is evident throughout Initiation, which neatly pays tribute to horror classics of the past in both style and form. While it's an entertaining flick with standout technical elements, Initiation struggles to strike the right tone as it juggles important themes without fully unpacking them.
Tapping into the rich history of water-creature horror flicks, Braden R. Duemmler’s feature debut, “What Lies Below” is quite a mixed bag
As a descendant of the aquatic-creature-horror genre (sub genre? Sub-sub genre?), Braden R. Duemmeler’s feature directorial debut, What Lies Below, naturally inherited some Universal Classic Monsters nostalgia. Besides Creature from the Black Lagoon’s “Gill Man,” (1954) the common ancestor of so many cinematic water-terrors, What Lies Below also takes cues from a handful of other film classics. There’s dashes of Spielburg in the eerie lights that glow from the bottom of the lake, bits of Friday the 13th (1980) in the film’s isolated lake house setting, and echoes of dozens of teen summer camp films in the bright colors of the opening scenes. What Lies Below pulls together an eclectic mix of movie influences, but the question is whether or not all this inspiration actually works together. Although it is an entertaining thriller overall, What Lies Below takes on a bit more than it can handle. The film never quite comes into its own, jumping shakily back and forth between different themes and schemes.
Originally published on Elements of Madness
From Rebel Without a Cause (1955) to The Breakfast Club (1985) to Lady Bird (2017), each generation has its special coming-of-age films that it can claim as its own. These are the movies grounded in a cultural milieu that take us back to a certain time and place with a nostalgic soundtrack, dated fashion trends, and short-lived catchphrases. As new generations emerge with their own lingo, music, technology, and psychological baggage, filmmakers always seem to find fresh new soil for exploring timeless themes about growing up. Writer and director Emily Cohn has certainly created an exciting new take on those themes with her feature debut, CRSHD, which premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. In CRSHD, Cohn dives headfirst into the world of social media to reexamine the troubles and triumphs of the young adult years.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."