Three horror films debut this week.  The best of the lot is MONSTER from Indonesia on Netflix

FILM REVIEWS:

I SAW THE TV GLOW (USA 2024) **
Directed by Jane Schoenbrun

 

I SAW THE TV GLOW is a 2024 American psychological horror-drama film written and directed by Jane Schoenbrun.  It stars Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine, with Ian Foreman, Helena Howard, Fred Durst and Danielle Deadwyler in supporting roles. Teenager Owen is just trying to make it through life in the suburbs when his classmate (two troubled friends) introduces him to a mysterious late-night TV show — a vision of a supernatural world beneath their own. In the pale glow of the television, Owen’s view of reality begins to crack.

Emma Stone and Dave McCary serve as producers under their Fruit Tree banner.

I SAW THE TV GLOW tackles fear like being trapped in a body or dimension in which one tries the hardest to escape but is totally unable to, while still able to experience all the emotions and pain.  Or entering another dimension through the television or the internet.

The story often burrs the line between reality and the imaginary which makes everything all the more scary.  The protagonist is somewhat stuck in the young adult series ‘The Pink Opaque’,   The trouble with the scenarios is that no explanation is given for the opening up of the other universe, nor is there any attempt to do so.  One finds it hard to feel sympathetic for Owen though the script offered many reasons like his sick mother and sick father or the audience to do so.

The frequent use of saturated colours reminds one of the films of Belgium director Bertrand Mandico who made THE WILD BOYS and the recent SHE IS CONANN.  His films are often adult fantasies that contain an atmosphere and feel similar to I SAW THE TV GLOW.  However, the overuse of colours in this film, as in the Mandico films, gives a plastic artificial look that instead of aiding credibility to the story makes it more fantasy-horror.  One admires director Jane Schoenbrun for this for her specific style though it does not fully work.

Despite the film’s many rave reviews, this reviewer found the plot detached and the story all over the place where anything can happen.  Though one might expect some intrigue, the exercise gets quite boring after a while, especially when one can hardly care for any character given that anything can happen at any time or in any universe.

Schoenbrun appears to enjoy tackling films of a similar premise,  The directorial debut in 2018 was the documentary A Self-Induced Hallucination.  The film centres on the narrative of the fictional horror character and internet phenomenon Slender Man, as told through a found footage compilation of existing YouTube videos.  Similarly in I SAW THE TV GLOW, a poster called Mr. Melancholy haunts the characters.  Though it was formerly available to view on Vimeo, the film has since been removed. Schoenbrun has stated that profit from A Self-Induced Hallucination was not a goal.

Based on a micro-budget, the film has impressive production values.  One wishes that director Schoenbrun would have developed a more solid and credible story than this fantasy anything can happen with no explanation plot.

The film opens in theatres across Canada on May 17th.

Trailer: 

 

MONSTER (Indonesia 2024) ***
Directed by Rako Prijanto

 

In the 2020 low-budget horror film THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR, written and directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell, Bobby and his best friend Kevin are kidnapped and taken to a strange house in the middle of nowhere.   Bobby manages to escape. But as he starts to make a break for it, he hears Kevin's screams for help and realizes he can't leave his friend behind.

The new Indonesian horror film opening on Netflix this week is a remake of THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR which is not a horror classic though not bad, thus allowing MONSTER to be an improvement.  The point is obviously taken to heart as director Prijanto employs various camera angles including log tracking and overhead shots to show the kidnapping.

It was supposed to be a normal day for Alana and Rabin. A day when they came home from school, rode their bikes, and then spent time by the river, reading their favourite comics, which they had just rented from the library. However, that day became the most terrifying day of Alana and Rabin's lives, when a strange man kidnapped them both.   It all begins when the car stops allowing Alana and Rabin to cross the street on their bikes.   They enter ‘Artopus’ to play video games,  The man drugged and gagged them in the trunk of his car and took them, far away, to another area, at the top of a mountain. Rabin is dropped off first and kept in a room in a villa. Alana, who was left in the trunk, managed to escape. Alana immediately ran away, but Alana remembered the whereabouts of her best friend who was still in the Villa. Alana decided to go back and use all means to escape the threat of the ‘Monster'.  With no other choice, they have to fight by any means necessary.

MONSTER as a horror film contains several differences.  The first thing is that the two protagonists are children.  There is boo reason offered for the purpose of the kidnapping.  Another difference is the film's sparseness.  There is not much plot and a lot of screen time involves Alana moving about the house.  There is little to no dialogue.  Harley anyone speaks as there is no reason for them to speak as there is no one around.  The kidnapped boy and girl scream and shout out each other’s names - as far as the dialogue goes.  Director Prijanto does not skimp with the horror.  Alana’s escape from the boot of the car, all gagged, blindfolded and tied up has her removed her tape bindings by having the tape ripped apart by a huge rust nail, with blood emerging from the scrapped skin as well.    Worse, she later witnesses the monster cutting up the corpse with a chainsaw.

Alana and Rabin are two children who have to do anything it takes to escape and survive the monster and his girlfriend.  The film plays like a horror version of HOME ALONE with kids vs. adults and A QUIET PLACE where the children have to be very quiet.   To director Prijanto’s credit, the film contains quite a few scares that are guaranteed to make audiences jump from their seats.

The soundtrack containing jarring and whirling sounds accompanied by haunting music aids in the creation of an eerie and frightening atmosphere.

MONSTER opens for streaming this week on Netflix.

Trailer: 

POWER (USA 2024) ***

Directed by Yance Ford

  

Everyone desires per.  Power implies possession of the ability to wield force, authority, or influence. the power to mold public opinion.  This involves the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behaviour of others, the ability to control people and events, and the possession of control.  The new documentary looks at power from the policing standpoint.

The doc POWER Explores the scope and scale of the American police over hundreds of years. Tracing the money, political power, and bipartisan support that has created modern policing.

Director Lance Ford is a transgender black filmmaker.   In 2018, Ford with Joslyn Barnes was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for producing and directing STRONG ISLAND. As such, he was the first openly transgender man to be nominated for an Academy Award, and the first openly transgender director to be nominated for an Academy Award.

The doc asks the question who is more powerful?  The people or the police?  The police are out of control. They possess power -   Director Ian Olds Ford and co-writer put into their doc a structure of the police with lots of archive footage, even from as early as the 1800s and 1900s all black and white.  The doc at best serves as a history lesson and an examination of the police as a force or power that has gotten out of control.

POWER had its world premiere at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival on January 18, 2024, and was released in a limited release in the U.S. on May 10, 2024, before streaming on Netflix on May 17, 2024.

Trailer: unavailable

THE STRANGERS: CHAPTER 1 (USA 2024) ***
Direct by Renny Harlin

The new slasher horror film THE STRANGERS CHAPTER ONE is based on the horror series of the same name created by Bernard Bertino.  Bryan Michael Bertino is best known as the writer/director of THE STRANGERS (2008), as well as writing its sequel, THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT (2018), with Ben Ketai.

A bit of history about the film should be noted to see where this film fits in.  The Strangers film series consists of American psychological horror films.  Based on an original story by Bryan Bertino, the plot centres around three masked psycho-sociopathic home invaders that prey on innocent owners.  The films are marketed as "based on a true story”, informing the audience that violent killings are common and occurring frequent in the United States.

The series continues with the release of a standalone prequel trilogy of films starting with THE STRANGERS: CHAPTER 1, set to be released on May 17, 2024, directed by Finnish director Renny Harlin, best known for his hits CLIFFHANGER with Sylvester Stallone, DIE HARD 2 and horror film NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4.   Two more sequels, Chapter 2 and Chapter 3, are expected to follow, with Harlin directing.

THE STRANGERS: CHAPTER 1 provides nothing really fresh in the horror genre, and can better described as a homage to the 60s and 70s slasher horror films.  The film contains typical cheap shocks and jump scares such as door slamming and things that go thump in the dark.   Director Harlin ups the ante on the gore and violence.  The film begins with a victim running in the woods away from his predator, at night of course.  The titles then describe that there are 14.2 million killings in the United States.  Comically, yes, the film has a welcome dose of humour, that 7 would have already occurred since the film began.  It goes on to say that this story is one of the most violent ones in history.  The victim is then hacked to death with the axe.

Maya (Madelaine Petsch) drives across the country with her longtime boyfriend, Ryan (Froy Gutierrez), as the pair begin a new life together in the Pacific Northwest. Along the way, their car breaks down in Venus, Oregon and they are forced to spend the night in an isolated Airbnb home. Through the night, they are terrorized by three murderous masked strangers.   This is pretty much the story of the 90-minute film, pretty much a non-story as stories do not really lay a part in slasher-type horror flicks.

One cannot say that the film falls into cliched territory as it pokes fun at the typical horror scenario.  One of the film’s best scenes shows Ryan trying to start up a truck to escape from the killers. Lots of scares here in this well-executed segment.

Director Harlin is a Finnish director who has some worthy films to date including the major flop CUT THROAT ISLAND that resulted in the film company going bankrupt.  He was formerly married to Geena Davis.  To his credit, his films are seldom boring and he knows how to push the correct buttons for an action flick, this film included.

THE STRANGERS: CHAPTER 1 is a very violent slasher horror film on house invasion with little plot or story, paying tribute to the horror films of the past and succeeding in this respect.

THE STRANGERS: CHAPTER 1 opens in theatres across Canada on May 17th.

Trailer: 

TISH (UK 2023) ****

Directed by Paul Sng

 

Newcastle upon Tyne is currently quite a modern city close to some nice beaches, myself having visited the North England town a few years ago as I met with a resident who was in Athens when I was there.  (I recognized his Geordie accent when we were at the hotel counter, a point that made us good friends.)  The subject of this eye-opening documentary, Tish Murtha lived and worked in the city.

Patricia Anne "Tish" Murtha (14 March 1956 – 13 March 2013) was a British social documentary photographer best known for documenting marginalized communities, social realism and working-class life in Newcastle upon Tyne and the North East of England.  In 1976, aged 20, she left home to study at the School of Documentary Photography at The University of Wales, Newport, set up by Magnum Photos member David Hurn.  After graduating in 1978, she returned to Newcastle and set out to document “marginalized communities from the inside”. Unlike other photographers who came to document social poverty in the region at the time, Murtha did not just document it, she actually lived it as the third of ten children of Irish descent, brought up in a council house in Elswick in Newcastle. She captured the lives of her friends, family and the community around her while she was on a job scheme for the unemployed.

Paul Sng’s powerful film celebrates the work of Murtha and her commitment to fighting for communities like the one she grew up in.  This was the Thatcher era de-industrialization of local communities.  Her striking black and white photos convey a tenderness and intimacy that set her apart from her peers and her work would become a powerful record of a world decimated by a new and ruthless form of capitalism.

The film brings back memories of the excellent film about two boys living similar lives to the youth of this community.  Clio Barnard’s THE SELFISH GIANT, a contemporary fable about 13-year-old Arbor and his best friend Swifty, both excluded from school and outsiders in their own neighbourhood, making deals with a local scrap dealer, where they embark on a dangerous job collecting copper from wires and cables left behind by the electrical companies.

The film follows Tish’s daughter Ella as she revisits key moments from her mother’s life and work. She is accompanied by people who remained close to Tish throughout her life, and who are committed to ensuring her remarkable legacy is recognized.

The doc’s most riveting segment involves the interview with Tish’s brother  He talks about her while the actress voicing Tish, talks about the lost generation of youth under Thatcher’s rule as Tish’s photographs are shown depicting the deplorable conditions of the Newcastle area.  Her words that were heard in Parliament were being and effective, as her photographs speak and reveal the horrors of the times.  Youth would graduate from school but there were no jobs and no hope for them.  Another moving segment involves the formation of juvenile bands run by sadistic ex-WWII army personnel who would mistreat the kids, while the project would get funds from the government with help from the taxpayer,

“The photography world and those who operate it make you sick at times.”  These are the words of Tish when dealing with authorities oblivious to the poor.

TISH is an excellent blended doc that ties together the photographer's work with the conditions of her childhood horrors, which earned the BFE nomination for the Best Edited British Documentary or Non-Fiction Programme.

Trailer: 

YOU CAN’T RUN FOREVER (USA 2022) ***
Directed by Michelle Schumacher

 

One has to hand it to director Michelle  Schumacher to absolutely grab the audience’s attention at the start of her film about a sociopath killer.  The killer (J.K. Simmons) rides to fill his bike at a gas station where he witnesses a small barking dog.  The owner asks his dog to shut up, mistreating it, while an onlooker asks the owner to shut his dog up.  The killer pulls out a pistol and does away with the dog owner.  Is the killer doing a good deed or is he purely psycho?  Whatever the reason, the audience is fixed.

If one wonders the reason J.K. Simmons plays this silly role as a killer, it is because Simmons is the husband of the director so he is obviously lending her his support.

J.K. Simons gets top billing for his role as the sociopath killer in the film.  Simmons won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in WHIPLASH and is good in almost every role he is in.  As the villain killer in this film, it seems a waste of his talent.  But he does a good job at being a total psycho who is established at the start of the film after he shoots the owner of a dog that keeps barking and the man who complains about the noise.  “Why are you doing this?” asked the onlooker just before he too was shot.  “Does it matter?” comes the answer.  Simmons plays a professor at some school teaching the laws of survival, which will be put into practice in the film.  His real name is Wade and he goes on a killing spree for no rhyme or reason.  The problem of the film is the credibility of the story.  But this is, after all, a slasher horror movie so: “Does it matter?”

The main thread of the story involves a teenage girl, Miranda (Isabelle Anaya) suffering from anxiety due to a tragic event from her past (the death of her father), finds herself hunted through the woods by a sociopath on a murderous rampage after he shoots her stepfather.

The film’s main flaw is the silly plot involving the psycho killer who dispenses his victims without reason or remorse.  Simmons does his bet forces role but it still lacks credibility.

A few loopholes in the plot involve the killer.  If he does away with victims with such ease, how come there has been no report of any killings before the gas station shooting?  The story gets a bit confusing too as cell phones keep changing hands and tracking of the cells is done by both the cops and others.

There are, to the scriptwriter credit (script is co-written by the director and Carolyn Carpenter and both being female, gives the film a strong female slant. The males are either done away with (the stepfather), the psycho killer, or inept police officers who by the book in their investigations.  Another female, Miranda’s half-sister, Jenny (Fernanda Urrejola) takes control to help Miranda in the woods after realizing the officers are not capable of doing enough.

The spine-tingling thriller, YOU CAN’T RUN FOREVER despite its flaws should keep audiences at the edge of their seats.  The film will be released in Theatres, On Digital and On Demand NEXT WEEK on Friday, May 17 (Lionsgate) in the US and Canada.  (Lionsgate has two horror slasher films out this week - THE STRANGERS CHAPTER ONE and this one.)

Trailer: 

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