The Stairs


There are things in the woods.

(2021) Sci-Fi Horror (Cinedigm) Adam Korson, Tyra Colar, Thomas Wethington, Josh Crotty, Brent Bailey, Stacey Oristano, John Schneider, Kathleen Quinlan, Trin Miller, Russell Hodgkinson, Karleena Gore, David S. Hogan, Mark Klein, Sandy Klein, Elena Flory-Barnes, Gordon Frye, Robin Cheung, Derek R. McKean, Jeff Mendenhall, Katherine Grant-Suttie. Directed by Peter “Drago” Tiemann

 

There is a reason why so many horror movies are set in the woods. For one thing, they are remote; the protagonist(s) are forced to rely on themselves to escape whatever horror they are facing. For another thing, they are beautiful. It makes for good cinematography and the juxtaposition of beautiful scenery and blood-curdling terror is a good one. Also, you don’t need to pay a large cast and crew in the woods. It keeps costs down. But most importantly, forests are just dang creepy.

Jesse Martin (Wethington), a young 11-year-old boy, is headed out on a hunting trip with his grandpa (Schneider). Grandma (Quinlan) has packed them both a sack lunch, notably without bacon for the cholesterol-challenged grandpa and their daughter Kate (Miller) drops off Jesse with an admonition to pick up some tomatoes for canning on the way home. But that isn’t going to happen. While out in the woods, Jesse is distracted by a strange sound and wanders off to find an astonishing structure in the woods – a grand staircase. Grandpa, discovering his grandson is missing, goes after him only to witness his grandson being dragged off into a doorway on the back of the structure. Being a good grandpa who is packing a hunting rifle, he grimly goes off to rescue the boy.

Twenty years later, a group of young people are going on a hike in the same area; Nick (Korson), Josh (Bailey), Rebeccah (Oristano), pragmatic Jordon (Colar) and “Dirty” Doug (Crotty) who comes by his nickname honestly. As happens in most horror movies, a local clerk (M. Klein) warns the kids to be careful because it’s a blood moon tonight and people disappear during a blood moon. As also happens in most horror movies, the kids ignore the warning.

At first, the hike is pretty much a standard nature hike as practiced by a group of young city kids. But things start to get weird. Rebeccah in particular sees some strange things, although none stranger than the one vision they all witness – an agitated man with a horrific head wound (Hogan) waving a gun around while his deformed wife (Gore) cradles their baby – a giant maggot. But instead of hightailing it out of the woods, they go further in. That’s where the Stairs are waiting for them.

Okay, the plot description has a little bit of snarkiness in it (can’t help myself – I’m just in a mood) but this is a surprisingly well-acted, taut horror picture with some impressive practical effects. Sure, the plot is a little hoary and there are a few holes in it here and there, but you kind of expect that out of a horror movie these days. In many ways, this is the kind of movie that could easily have been made back in the Eighties – except if it had been made then, there would have been an excuse for one or both of the actresses to take off their tops. Back then, female nudity in horror movies was pretty much as necessary as fake blood. We live in more enlightened times now.

And while the story isn’t anything to write home about, there is much here to praise; the cinematography is ably done, the characters are developed more than you would find in an average modern horror movie and there are a couple of really nicely set up scares as well as a fairly high gross-out factor. All in all, if there was one word that ably describes the film, it’s nifty.

REASONS TO SEE: Surprisingly strong acting performances.
REASONS TO AVOID: Pedestrian plot.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence, profanity and gore. There is also a depiction of deer hunting that might upset those who love animals.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Was voted Best Feature Film at the 2021 UK Haunted House Fearfest.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Hoopla, Microsoft, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/3/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wrong Turn
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople


An odder couple you will not find.

An odder couple you will not find.

(2016) Comedy (The Orchard) Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Oscar Kightley, Stan Walker, Mike Minogue, Cohen Holloway, Rhys Darby, Troy Kingi, Taika Waititi, Hamish Parkinson, Stu Giles, Lloyd Scott, Selina Woulfe, Mabelle Dennison, Timothy Herbert, Sonia Spyve. Directed by Taika Waititi

Florida Film Festival 2016

Kids aren’t always easy fits. They aren’t always little darlings. Some have had a tough go of things and they don’t always behave like angels. They act out. They lash out. That doesn’t necessarily make them bad kids though.

Ricky Baker (Dennison) is a kid just like that. After his mom gave him away, he has been shuttled from foster home to foster home. Each time he ends up back in the hands of child services and Paula (House), his exasperated case officer. Ricky has one more shot – out in the sticks with Bella (Wiata), a kind-hearted woman living on the edge of the bush with her husband, curmudgeon Hec (Neill) who clearly wants nothing to do with Ricky – and for whom the feeling is mutual.

Circumstances arise that force Ricky and Hec to go fleeing into the bush with the incorrect assumption that Hec has somehow abused Ricky (mainly due to the surprisingly naive Ricky himself) and that due to circumstances, Ricky will be remanded to juvenile jail until he turns 18 as he has used up all of his foster care opportunities. The two become the object of a massive manhunt, becoming a major news story in New Zealand and the two become folk heroes.

With the relentless Paula chasing them and bounty hunters on their tail, it will take all of Hec’s bush knowledge to keep the city-bred hip-hop loving Ricky safe. And all of New Zealand seems hell bent on capturing the two and sending them both to their respective jails.

From the co-director of the wonderful What We Do in the Shadows, this is one of those movies that either the humor will appeal to you or it won’t. For me and Da Queen, it definitely did. There’s a scene early on of Bella killing a wild boar which won’t sound funny on paper, but had me in stitches. Comedy gold, I tell you.

Sam Neill, who has been around for quite awhile, puts in what just might be his best performance ever here. It’s not that Hec is just grouchy; he has to deal with all sorts of emotions, including some tender ones, during the course of the film. I’ve always liked Neill, going back to his turn as an adult Damian in The Omen III to his work in Jurassic Park and one of my favorites, The Hunt for Red October. This is the movie that fans of this actor should make a point of seeing.

Also, mention must be made of Julian Dennison as Ricky Baker. This is a young actor who has amazing comedy chops. He is blessed with a script that doesn’t descend into chintz or shtick, nor does it unduly play off of Dennison’s size (he’s overweight as you can see from the picture). Yet they don’t make him a laughingstock, as the movies often do with portly kids. That’s a good thing to see, but as well, Dennison nails his role and makes Ricky Baker a memorable character. That’s not an easy thing to do in a film like this.

The scenery is beautiful – New Zealand came by its reputation as one of the most beautiful places on Earth honestly. The soundtrack is also chock full of some terrific Kiwi pop songs that will keep your toes tapping throughout. There literally is nothing not to like about this movie.

Okay, maybe one thing. Some of the humor might be a little more over the top than some American audiences are used to. There’s a character played by @Midnight favorite Rhys Darby named Psycho Sam who lives up to his name. His presence derails the movie a little bit even though Darby does a fine job. It just feels like the character came in from another movie.

Otherwise, this movie rocks from beginning to end. It’s funny, sweet and like Ricky himself has a heart of gold under all the bluster. Definitely one of the finer movies to be screened at the Florida Film Festival this year. It’s out and about the country right now, doing a walkabout of its on in American theaters. Catch it at one while you still can.

REASONS TO GO: Much funnier than I was led to believe it was. The soundtrack is abso-bloody-lutely terrific. Majestical scenery.
REASONS TO STAY: May be a little too out there for some.
FAMILY VALUES: A bit of foul language and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the birthday scene, ten takes were filmed of the cast singing “Happy Birthday” to Ricky until someone realized that they didn’t have the rights to use the song. Therefore, the actors made up a new song on the spot, the one which appears in the film (and also partially in the trailer).
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/1/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 80/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Buddymoon
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT: The American Experience begins!