Come True


Julia Sarah Stone is feeling blue.

(2020) Sci-Fi Horror (IFC Midnight) Julia Sarah Stone, Landon Liboiron, Carlee Ryski, Christopher Heatherington, Tedra Rogers, Brandon DeWyn, John Tasker, Austin Baker, Shane Ghostkeeper, Christopher Thomas, Caroline Buzanko, Orin McCusker, Tyler Dreger, Karen Johnson-Diamond, Tiffany Helm, Maria Renae, Millie Jayne, Alex Cherovsky, Michelle Rios, Pamela Parker. Directed by Anthony Scott Burns

Dreams serve a therapeutic purpose, allowing the demons of our subconscious to stretch their metaphysical legs, as it were. Nightmares, though, are mostly just unpleasant and while they serve their own purpose, I think it’s safe to say that most of us would rather do without them. Nightmares are a pain in the ass; for some, however, they take over, become obsessions and perhaps imperil our sanity – and perhaps our lives.

18-year-old Canadian high school graduate Sarah Dunne (Stone) is one such. Every night she finds a different place to sleep – a friend’s house, the playground at her local park and so on. She is subject to sleep paralysis and vivid, terrifying dreams that have begun to take over her life. She has had a falling out with her mom and generally avoids her, stopping by her home only to shower and grab a change of clothes.

When she is given a flyer advertising a sleep study, she’s intrigued. A safe place to sleep where she will be monitored, where she’ll be paid and best of all, perhaps a cure for her affliction can be found. It’s a win-win-win situation. But right away, she senses that there is something not quite aboveboard in the study. The man running it, Dr. Meyer (Heatherington) seems to be way creepier than she would like, and the questions his assistant Anita (Ryski) asks following her night’s sleep are invasive and troubling. Worse yet, there is creepy nerd Jeremy (Liboiron) who may or may not be stalking her nd who may or may not be willing to tell her the dirty little secret behind this particular sleep study.

But things take a lurching turn for the worse when it begins to feel like Sarah’s waking life and dream life are beginning to merge, with frightening consequences.

Burns, in his second feature film, has some really promising ideas here, which sadly don’t quite add up to a completely satisfying film. The moody dream sequences are seriously underlit, which while atmospheric also makes it hard to figure out what’s going on at times which gets frustrating when repeated several times throughout the film. He also has a good sense of style; the movie becomes more dream-like the longer it goes on until he climax which is, sadly, a bit unsatisfying.

Stone has a kind of fresh-faced appeal and while her character is made to assert her over-18 status a bit too much – probably to make her romance with an older man a little less cringe-inducing – she still comes off as a strong, charismatic lead. Some of the imagery here is truly frightening and isn’t something you will want to watch just before bedtime. There is also a bit more technobabble than I generally like – that’s more of a personal preference – and Sarah’s angst which seems to stem from a rift with her mom which is never explained can get tiresome to people who don’t really care what the latest social media app has to offer.

That’s not to say there isn’t anything worthwhile here. Burns has an original voice and some decent instincts, but I get the sense that he isn’t quite adept at making that voice audible just yet. I’m hoping that he’ll continue to develop his talents because there’s definitely a sense that he’s got something special inside him that one day is going to flower and blow us all away. While this isn’t the film that’s going to do that, it certainly has enough positives that you might want to check it out or at least keep an eye out for his future endeavors.

REASONS TO SEE: Fascinating concept. Dream-like presentation.
REASONS TO AVOID: Execution is lacking. Too much technobabble and teen angst.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, terrifying imagery and some scenes of sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Burns’ second feature film after Our House (2018).
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/15/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dreamscape
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Test Pattern

The Midnight Matinee


The filmmakers of Midnight Matinee are appealing to a potential audience one viewer at a time.

(2017) Horror Anthology (IP Productions) Maggie Tehan, Justin Doesch, Juan-Pablo Veizaga, Shaun Woodland, Ian Flanders, Melissa Merry, Aggie Binkley, Maggie Binkley, Becky Edwards, Jimmy Edwards, Sophie Edwards, Jennifer McCormick, Santiago Veizaga. Directed by Justin Doesch

 

I’m a bit of a sucker for horror anthologies. I always go into them hoping I’ll get that rare and magical experience – when all the stories within the anthology are terrific. It hasn’t happened yet but I still keep hoping.

Justin Doesch, the man behind the camera for this anthology, is a name you should remember. He’s definitely got a ton of potential and a boatload of vision. He’s delivered five pretty solid stories in an amazing 42 minutes – an average of about eight minutes per segment. I have nothing against short, taut storytelling but my main complaint here is that some of the segments could have used some fleshing out; there was an unfinished feeling to some of them as if key scenes hadn’t made it into the final product.

The opening segment, “Open Sea,” is one of those. It is a bit of a cross between The Blair Witch Project and Open Water. Brian (Doesch) is taking his girlfriend Lauren (Tehan) out on his boat on the ocean for some scuba diving but with a specific purpose; he means to propose to her. Unfortunately, man proposes and sometimes, the ocean disposes. The Blair Witch aspect is that Brian intends to document the big day but he ends up documenting something else. It actually is a pretty decent segment but it felt rushed in terms of pacing and the payoff, one of the better effects shots of the film, could have used a bit more build-up.

“Let Go” is the weakest of the five. It’s modern dating with a twist. Let’s just say that if you think you’ve got problem with the dating scene, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Unfortunately, I found my attention wandering during this one although it does have a pretty decent twist. “Premonition” also utilizes found footage but in a totally unique and different way. A little girl who is prescient tries to warn someone against a life or death situation…but being psychic doesn’t mean you get to save people. Timing, as they say, is everything.

The next sequence was my favorite and happened to be the only non-horror segment of the bunch. “Frances” concerns Nikolai (Flanders), a kind of a low-level criminal screw-up who’s got one job – to pass along a package to Frances (Merry), a blind courier for a criminal boss. Simple enough – but Nikolai is the kind of guy who could mess up boiling an egg. You’re expecting some horrific twist so when the twist comes it comes out of left field. Who said that a horror anthology has to be all horror?

Finally, “Night Night” brings the film to a close about an exhausted father (J-P Veizaga) who is pestered by a son (S. Veizaga) who simply won’t go to bed – he’s certain that there is something terrible after him. This was the scariest sequence of the five and ends the movie on a nice note, or not-so-nice depending how you look at it. For my money, it is one of the better directed segments of the five.

There isn’t a ton of bloodshed and the special effects are minimal. It’s clear that Doesch had a minuscule budget and at times it shows on screen; for example, the “Premonition” set looks like a set rather than a lived-in home. That kind of thing can take the viewer out of the film. Still, if you can get past the low-budget production values, there is some entertainment to be had here, particularly the final two sequences although seeing Tehan in a bikini is certainly worth a look.

Doesch has an excellent eye and despite all the limitations that a micro-budget puts on a filmmaker he shows here that he has the talent and the imagination to really turn some heads. As it is, I think he has enormous promise and even if this almost has a work in progress feel to it, at least the investment of your time isn’t galling. 42 minutes for an early look at a director who has every sign of going places isn’t too much to ask.

REASONS TO GO: Doesch has a fine eye for camera angles and scene composition.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the shorts could have used some fleshing out. Some of the low budget shows in places. Other than the final segment, I didn’t find any of the shorts excessively scary.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as disturbing images and situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Doesch was the 2017 recipient of the Amazon Filmmaker of the Year award.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/10/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: VHS
FINAL RATING: 4.5/10
NEXT: A Double Life

The Maze Runner


There's no David Bowie at the center of this labyrinth.

There’s no David Bowie at the center of this labyrinth.

(2014) Science Fiction (20th Century Fox) Dylan O’Brien, Kara Scodelario, Aml Ameen, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper, Patricia Clarkson, Dexter Darden, Chris Sheffield, Joe Adler, Alexander Flores, Jacob Latimore, Randall D. Cunningham, Don McManus, Michael Bow, Jerry Clark, Gary Hood, Nick Killebrew. Directed by Wes Ball

We generally have a good sense of where we are and who we are. When we wake up in the morning, we know we are in familiar territory, where we’re supposed to be. But what if you woke up one morning and didn’t have a clue where you were – or even your own name?

But that’s what happens to each and every boy in the strange place they call the Glade. A grassy knoll with a small forest surrounded by huge walls, every month without fail an elevator brings up a new arrival and supplies. What doesn’t come up the elevator they grow. It’s a fairly pastoral life. When the boys – and they’re all boys – wake up, they have no memory of who they are, where they are or where they came from. They’re just there. After a day or two, they remember their first name, but that’s all.

This month’s new arrival is Thomas (O’Brien). He is given the lay of the land by Alby (Ameen), the charismatic leader of the boys. Thomas is a curious sort. What’s beyond the walls? The maze. Why don’t you just leave? We can’t. Why not? There are monsters. They’re called Grievers. Nobody who spends the night in the maze survives. Is there a way out? We’re looking for it. We send runners into the maze every day to map it out. We haven’t found the exit yet but we will. How long have you been looking? Three years.

Thomas is befriended by Chuck (Cooper), a younger heavyset boy, and Newt (Brodie-Sangster), a quiet British chap. There’s also Gally (Poulter), a by-the-book sort who detests change and lives in justified fear of what’s out there, and Minho (Lee), the leader of the runners who comes to a grudging respect for Thomas who seems to be a born leader. But who put them there and why?

This is based on the classic James Dashner young adult sci-fi epic, the first of several books in a series. It’s one of those books that, like the TV series Lost always winds up generating a lot of questions and for every question it answers raises two or more new ones in its place.

Definitely meant to appeal to young adolescent boys in the same way Twilight and The Hunger Games appeals to young adolescent girls, in Thomas we have a taciturn, curious and brave young man. Teen Wolf star O’Brien plays him with a kind of blank expression most of the time, pulling out grief and rage when the occasion calls for it. I don’t know if it’s a sign of limited range or that range wasn’t called for here; it left me a little bit cold for the character.

Most of the support is all right, particularly Poulter playing a very different character than his geeky kid in We’re the Millers. Patricia Clarkson stops by for a cup of coffee near the end and Brodie-Sangster is effective as Newt. Scodelario who is the only female with any appreciable screen time seems to have been cast mainly for her resemblance to Kristen Stewart and Lee is actually pretty good as a kind of junior John Cho.

Cooper comes off with the most promise as a more likable version of Chunk from The Goonies. Chuck has a certain hero-worship for Thomas but is capable of standing on his own two feet. Chuck is loyal to a fault and may not have the physical presence of Thomas but has his back unconditionally. Miller captured all of that and in many ways was much more interesting than O’Brien. I’d much rather have spent more time with Chuck than with the more conventional hero Thomas.

The Grievers are nightmarish, a kind of biotech weapon that is part machine and part creature, spiders with silver legs and many, many teeth. They also have stingers that inject a venom into their victims that drives them violently made, wreaking further havoc. The easily impressionable who are prone to nightmares should think twice about seeing this one.

I left characterizing this as a kind of Lord of the Flies with hints of Lost and Divergent thrown in for good measure and that’s as much hint about the rest of the story as I’m willing to give. There is plenty of CGI, most of it okay but none of it really awe-inspiring.

The ending is pretty much there to set up a sequel (which has already been greenlit based on this film’s successful first weekend). There really isn’t any feeling of a conclusion and so I left the theater curiously unsatisfied. I would need another movie to allow me feel like I’d actually seen a complete movie beginning to end.

REASONS TO GO: Genuinely scary monsters. Some good supporting performances. Definitely for those who wanted to see Lord of the Flies done by the Lost creative team.
REASONS TO STAY: O’Brien is a bit wooden. Unsatisfying ending.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is some violence and some foul language. The Grievers are pretty nightmare-inducing as well.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the fifth movie in which Judd and Freeman have appeared together in.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/9/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Divergent
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Definitely Maybe!