Killbird


Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

(2019) Thriller (Frozen Fish) Elysia Rotaru, Stephen Lobo, Aaron Douglas, Tahmoh Penikett, Reese Alexander, Jesse Inocalla, Momona Komagata, Joe Zanetti, Hans Potter, Sarah Lindsay. Directed by Joe Zanetti

The problem with paranoia isn’t so much that you could be wrong; it’s the nagging suspicion that you might be right. When caught up between opposing forces, one apparently crazy and the other perfectly rational, it never pays to automatically believe one point of view or the other.

Taylor Crane (Rotaru) is a photographer who specializes in pictures of birds. She’s out in the remote woods of Oregon when her car stalls. Literally in the middle of nowhere, she decides to see if she can hike her way out and to her surprise finds an isolated cabin. The resident, Riad Bishara (Lobo) isn’t particularly friendly but grumpily promises to give her a ride to town when he goes to pick up his mail in a couple of hours.

There are some troubling clues, however. His property has a state-of-the-art security system, for one thing. Maybe you can write that off to a person who is zealous about his privacy but then she discovers a hidden room with computers and a board with newspaper clippings as well as a journal that indicate that Riad may be planning something dark and dangerous. To cap things off, she discovers he’s keeping a man (Douglas) prisoner in his attic, a man who has patently lost his mind (or has he). Riad discovers her snooping, however, and subdues her, tying her up and questioning her as to what government agency she works for. As for her, she has to wonder what is on the flash drive that he is zealously protecting.

As they say, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t out to get you. Maybe it’s that mailman (Penikett) who shows up with a package – when Riad always goes to town to pick up his mail. In any case, the movie becomes a game of cat and mouse. Is Riad a terrorist planning to topple the government or at least kill thousands of people? Is he a watchdog threatening to expose nefarious doings of the government? Is Taylor who she appears to be – a bird watcher in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or is she what he thinks she is, a highly-trained government-employed assassin?

Zanetti does a good job of keeping his viewers guessing. He establishes the dramatic tension between the two fairly early on (that aspect could have been tightened up a bit) and then lets the two actors go to work and they both are effective. Rotaru, who’s had recurring roles in Arrow and Reapers on TV, especially delivers the goods in a physically demanding role. Lobo is at times soft-spoken or in your face angry also gives a memorable performance. The two actors basically carry the movie and the tension between them is what makes (in this case) or breaks the film. The tension between them seems pretty genuine.

The “is she or isn’t she” aspect goes on a bit too long; Zanetti is like the basketball player who gives one or two fakes too many and ends up getting called for travelling. He should have faith in his audience that we don’t need to be whirled around the same dance floor longer than is necessary; trimming a few scenes which emphasize the confusion as to who Taylor and Riad are would have done the film some good. There are also a few red herrings that seem to be borrowed from other similar kinds of films.

Otherwise, this is a taut and enjoyable thriller from a fresh face in the business. The movie made its debut at L.A.’s Dances With Films festival today and will probably be making more festival appearances before making its way to a streaming service. Keep an eye out for it particularly if thrillers are your jam.

REASONS TO SEE: Establishes dramatic tension nicely and keeps the viewer guessing.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the film’s aspect are a bit thriller-rote.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Zanetti’s first feature-length film as a director.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/23/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: P2
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Lady Detective Shadow

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Caught


You never know what you might have caught.

(2017) Horror (Cinedigm) Mickey Sumner, Ruben Crow, Cian Barry, April Pearson, Aaron Davis, Dave Mounfield. Directed by Jamie Patterson

 

There are doubtlessly readers old enough to remember the Grindhouse films of the 70s and 80s; movies that played in decrepit theaters and rarely saw the light of day in the local multiplex. They were mainly genre films and generally were the cinematic version of fast food; a bit greasy, not at all pretty to see and the consumer was better off not knowing too much about the product.

Caught is a British ode to the movies of that era and that classification. Set in 1972 in the wilds of the moors of Sussex, the film follows married journalists Julie (Sumner) – the writer – and Andrew (Crow) – the photographer. They’d noticed some sort of military activity going on in the normally peaceful neighboring moor and are trying to convince their London editor to run the story. The two work from home, Julie having sent off their son Toby (Davis) off to school while their infant daughter sleeps.

Then a strange couple approach. Introducing themselves as Mr. (Barry) and Mrs. (Pearson) Blair, the two wear neatly tidy matching suits (his and hers) and are impeccably coiffed. Because of the strangeness of their dress, Andrew at first mistakes them for religious proselytizers but they soon tell him they’re “from the moors” and have a few questions to ask. Andrew, thinking he and Julie can get some information out of them as well, invites them in. That turns out to be a very bad idea.

Most of the talking is done by Mr. Blair in stilted, almost robotic speech. He seems to have trouble with certain words and phrases, as if English is not his first language. As the questions grow more and more bizarre and Mr. Blair seems to have an unhealthy focus on when Toby would be home from school, the journalists at last realize something is amiss. By that time, it’s far too late.

Patterson certainly references grindhouse films of the era from the weird and unsettling atmosphere to the score that sounds like it was bought from a generic film score supplier. The former is welcome; the latter is not. Often the music is incongruously energetic when the overall tone of the scene is low-key, proving to be a jarring combination as if the composer hadn’t bothered to watch the film or the editor didn’t quite match up the score to the proper scene.

Fortunately there are some very satisfying performances from Barry, Pearson, Sumner and Crow. While none of them run away with the movie, the first two particularly portray quiet menace that suddenly morphs into screaming violence without warning while Sumner and Crow manage to give a realistic portrayal of terrified parents who realize that the people they’ve invited into their home are not normal at all.

Who the Blairs really are is never fully explained. Are they demonic in origin, or garden variety invading aliens? Are they merely psychotic? One of Andrew’s photographs has the answer but we are never allowed to see it; instead, we see the reaction of Andrew and Julie to it. Generally I applaud filmmakers brave enough to let the audience’s imagination fill in the blanks but some may find the lack of information infuriating.

The trailer for this film is much better than the film itself; Patterson and writers Dave Allsop and Alex Francis never really go anywhere with the concept. Patterson does a great job of building up the tension but then it seems to plateau. One of the biggest issues I had was that it never felt like Andrew and Julie ever had a shot at getting away so there’s a lot less dramatic tension than there might have been. When the ending comes, it seems pretty much inevitable.

That’s a shame because there are a lot of worthwhile elements here, but sadly not enough for me to recommend this with any enthusiasm. Fans of grindhouse movies of the 70s though might get a kick out of this one.

REASONS TO GO: This is a seriously weird movie with a very bizarre tone. The four lead actors deliver strong performances.
REASONS TO STAY: The violence was unconvincing. The retro-style score was often annoying..
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sumner is the daughter of producer Trudie Styler and rock musician Sting of The Police.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/2/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Strangers
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
A Suitable Girl