Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Pernicious Review

I can't remember exactly how I became familiar with James Cullen Bressack, but I do remember that the first of his work I was able to see was Hate Crime when it hit vod. I rented it, then bought it and everything else he'd done and has done since. I've said since then that his was a name that horror fans needed to be aware of. Pernicious is his latest, and most ambitious feature, and last Friday it made it's way to vod and I immediately checked it out. This feels like the first time Bressack has worked with any kind of a substantial budget, and not only does he not disappoint, he managed to exceed all of my expectations.

Pernicious follows three college aged American girls on a summer trip to Thailand. When they arrive, they discover an ancient golden statue of a small girl in the house they're staying in. Their trip takes a turn for the worse after they uncover the statue, unleashing an evil spirit housed within. As the body count rises, the mystery deepens as they attempt to figure out why the spirit is bound to the statue and the reasons behind it's bloody desire for revenge.

This is one of those films that at times reminds you of others, and you think you know what's going to happen next based off of those, but then it flips the script on you. It's at times part Hostel, at times part The Grudge, and there's even a hint of Pumpkinhead in there, yet it still manages to be it's own thing. It's hard to explain. As the plot played out, every single time I thought I knew what was going on, it threw a twist at me. It never went off the rails, but it kept me guessing. Whenever a movie can do that, I definitely consider it a win. The cast mostly performs well, with Ciara Hanna and Jackie Moore being the standouts, as Alex and Rachel respectively. The third of the girls, Julia, was played by Emily O'Brien and she had a few brief moments where reactions were a bit extreme to situations, but she was far from the worst I've ever seen.

Effects wise there was your standard practical/cg mixture. Thankfully most of the blood and gore was of the practical type, while the cg was left mostly to animating the statue. The practical stuff was great, the cg was probably serviceable at best. The budget for this movie went into so many things, practical effects, camera shots, location, etc., that I am more than forgiving if what little cgi is in it isn't quite cutting edge. It looks fine, trust me.

Coming from a guy who shot and edited an entire movie using an iPhone once, Pernicious is a great example of what James Cullen Bressack can do when he's given a real budget and let loose. Gore hounds will appreciate the head bashing and throat slitting, fans of supernatural fare will enjoy the creepy atmosphere and overall tone of impending dread. It's brutally violent at times, moves at a good pace, and tells a story that's entertaining and intriguing from start to finish. Highly recommended for fans of ghost/revenge movies, but Pernicious has a little something for everybody.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Infected Review

I never thought I'd see the day where I would say the words "I'm tired of zombies", but here we are. Actually, let me rephrase, I'm not tired of real zombies, I'm tired of these "infected" zombie movies. They're all the same. At this point in the game, I'd like to think we are way past being able to just throw some tattered clothes and fake blood on a mob of people and have them run screaming at other people, but sadly we aren't, and there's a new one of these movies getting released every other day. The filmmakers behind stuff like this aren't even trying anymore, and I, for one, am just tired of it. Enter Infected, yet another in the long line of cookie-cutter infected zombie fare, which does nothing to set itself apart from the pack.

Stop me if you've heard this one before. There's a group of kids in a club, drinking, dancing, and having a good time until one of them suddenly feels ill. One thing leads to another, and he ends up running around biting everyone. The people who are bitten do the same. The town becomes overrun, and ultimately the military shows up. The "zombies" end up being too much for them, and a small platoon is all that survives. The soldiers hole up in a school with a few other surviving 20-somethings and before long the two respective groups turn on each other.

You name it, and Infected has got it. There is absolutely nothing in this movie that's even remotely original. Cliched characters, the same plot as hundreds of others in the genre, awful cgi blood, bad acting, horrible sound, and so on. Hell, even the name of the movie is boring and generic. It's inexcusable in a world where people are literally making far better and more entertaining movies on their iPhones. The absolute worst thing about Infected though, is that it commits the cardinal sin of a movie of it's type by having a two hour run time. Yep, I sat through TWO HOURS of this garbage.

Infected is sort of like a two hour film class student's project for finals. I can't imagine anyone who wasn't in this, or is friends of someone in this, enjoying it. About the only way I'd say give this a watch is if you 're a person who absolutely, positively HAS to watch every single piece of zombie related media in the universe, and if you're that guy then I weep for you, friend. As for the rest of us, do yourselves a favor and look elsewhere for your flesh eating fix.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Private Number Review

I was initially drawn to Private Number because of Tom Sizemore and Judd Nelson. The premise sounded interesting, but it was their involvement that really caught my eye. As it turns out, there are plenty of reasons to give this indie thriller a watch, and while Sizemore and Nelson are in fact in the movie, they both only have bit parts (despite being displayed prominently on the cover art) and don't have a lot of screen time. Still, this mystery/supernatural/thriller doesn't need to rely on star power to make a name for itself.

Plot synopsis from the Summer House Pictures website:

A series of sinister phone calls haunt an ex-alcoholic writer as he struggles to finish a novel. Efforts to trace the calls result in dead ends, leaving the author with no choice but to solve the mystery himself. As he pieces together scant information he discovers the local police are hiding details about a horrific serial killer. In his obsessive search for answers, he loses his grip on reality, and spirals downward into a maelstrom of violence and terror.

Private Number kept me guessing. It takes inspiration from several different places, part The Shining, part Se7en, and while it isn't as good as those films by any means, it's impossible not to make the connections. There's definitely more of a supernatural vibe than I was expecting, which ended up being a good thing. Just when you think you have a handle on where the story is going, the film shifts in tone. In some instances this can be jarring, but writer/director LazRael Lison handles the transition well, raising questions but never so much so that you feel lost. Things continuously ramp up to what was ultimately a bit of a disappointing ending. It's not so much that it was a bad ending, just an abrupt one, and I was still ready for wherever else the story was going. 

The film mainly focuses on Michael and Kathy, played by Hal Ozsan and Nicholle Tom respectively. The two turn in solid performances, as Michael struggles with the horrific hallucinations and trying to stay sober, and Kathy has to deal with her husband slowly going crazy, as well as her own deteriorating health. There's a lot of delicate subject matter, on top of the hallucinations and murder, which keeps the movie grounded throughout. If the cast hadn't been up to the challenge, this could have been disastrous. 

Private Number is an easy recommendation for fans of thrillers with light horror elements, Stir of Echoes comes to mind. It may lack the polish of similar bigger budget affair, it does enough to entertain for it's 95 minute runtime. For those looking for a more traditional horror experience, there are definitely things to like here, but not enough to likely satisfy. 

The film is available on DVD tomorrow, June 2nd.