A Violent Separation


Carrying her across a different threshold.

(2019) Crime Drama (Screen Media) Brenton Thwaites, Ben Robson, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Claire Holt, Ted Levine, Gerald McRaney, Francesca Eastwood, Michael Malarkey, Peter Michael Goetz, Isabella Gaspersz, Lynne Ashe, Carleigh Johnston, Cotton Yancey, Silas Cooper, Jason Edwards, Kim Collins, Morley Nelson, Bowen Hoover. Directed by Kevin and Michael Goetz

 

The backwoods hide its share of secrets. Sometimes, when the wind is blowing just right you can swear you hear the trees whispering about dark deeds done in the dead of night, of murder, mayhem and cheating hearts.

Ray Young (Robson) is one of those country boys whom trouble just seems to follow. He’s a man who likes to drink and has a hair-trigger temper, not a great combination. He’s done some jail time for petty crime and makes up “the usual suspect” in the small Missouri town he lives in. His younger brother Norman (Thwaites) couldn’t be more different; a straight-arrow deputy sheriff who is painfully naive, romantically awkward and a bit exasperated by his hot mess of a brother.

Ray is on-again off-again dating Abby (Holt) who is a single mom whose baby daddy is Cinch (Malarkey), a construction worker built in Ray’s mold – this girl sure can pick them. Her younger sister Frances (Debnam-Carey) is quiet, upstanding and of course the object of Norman’s affection, although much of what she jokes about goes sailing over his head. Abby and Frances live at their childhood home where they take care of seriously ill patriarch Tom (McRaney) who trundles an oxygen tank wherever he goes but is not above roaring his disapproval over one thing or another at the sisters, particularly when Frances has the temerity to take away his smokes.

After the four young people go out for a night of drinking an dancing at a roadhouse charmingly known as The Whispering Pig, Ray predictably makes out with a barmaid (Eastwood) and gets into a fight that Norman has to come to his aid for. Furious, a drunk Abby gets into her car and peels out of the parking lot, leaving the other three behind.

The next day a badly hungover Abby takes her dad’s pistol and lambastes an equally hungover Ray, nagging him to teach her how to shoot which he is reluctant to do. The two drive into the woods where a terrible accident occurs. Ray panics and calls his brother to help him cover up his involvement. In a moment of weakness, Norman agrees to.

The town sheriff (Levine) is a pretty smart cookie and he begins piecing together the crime from the few clues that have remained. Norman, as a cop, knows how to stage a crime scene and manipulate an investigation. While the Sheriff (and a few other people) are certain that Ray had a hand in what happened to Abby, nobody suspects Norman. As time goes by and the trail goes cold the romance between Norman and Frances begins to heat up. However, the guilt both brothers are feeling begins to bubble to the surface and threatens to expose what they’ve both done.

The brothers Goetz seem to be waffling between Southern Gothic and neo-noir when it comes to tone and ends up being neither. For some odd reason, they decided to set the film in Missouri but filmed in Louisiana an it looks like Louisiana – why not just set it where you filmed it? Nobody cares overly much. Secondly, most of the main cast (with the exception of Levine and McRaney) are British or Australian. Not that the cast members (mostly of basic cable and TV pedigree) from across the various ponds can’t handle these very American art forms, but it just seems a curious thing hauling them all the way to the backwoods of Louisiana.

Actually, the cast is pretty decent although it is the veterans McRaney and Levine who steal the show. Robson and Thwaites capture a brotherly dynamic that feels authentic; having directors who are themselves brothers probably has a lot to do with it. The movie is reasonably suspenseful as the brothers come closer to cracking, although the “twist” ending feels forced and much of the movie loses its punch because of the melodrama that tinges the entire production.

There are moments of cinematic beauty which are provided by cinematographer Sean O’Dea; however, Evan Goldman’s score is intrusive and a little bit annoying. Overall this isn’t all that bad but there aren’t enough good things about it that really make it stand out among all the other movies that are out there at the moment. Fans of the various shows the young actors are in might get a kick out of seeing them in very different roles than they’re used to but otherwise, this one’s pretty much a toss-up.

REASONS TO SEE: The cinematography has some lovely heartland images.
REASONS TO AVOID: Really doesn’t add anything to the genre.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a fair amount of profanity, some violence and a couple of disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Peter Michael Goetz, who plays Riley Jenkins, is the father of the directors.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/20/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 11% positive reviews: Metacritic: 28/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Murder by Numbers
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Aniara

Dig Two Graves


Samantha Isler and the tunnel of terror.

(2014) Thriller (Area23a) Ted Levine, Samantha Isler, Danny Goldring, Troy Ruptash, Rachael Drummond, Dean Evans, Bradley Grant Smith, Gabriel Cain, Ryan Kitley, Audrey Francis, Mark Lancaster, Mikush Lieshdedaj, Bert Matias, Gregorio Parker, Ben Schneider, Ann Sonneville, Sauda Namir, Tom Hertenstein, Kara Zediker. Directed by Hunter Adams

 

Guilt when coupled with grief can make a very potent emotional stew. It can drive us to do things we would never ordinarily consider doing, to completely rewrite our moral codes. It takes a very strong will to grapple with these emotions at once and come out on top.

Jake Mather (Isler) however has the disadvantage of being a pre-teen. She and her brother Sean (Schneider) were standing on a cliff above a quarry which is now a lake. He urged her to jump. She didn’t want to. He offered to hold her hand. She said yes but at the last minute let go. Over the side he went and into the water, never to resurface. In fact, his body was never recovered.

She is soon approached by a trio of gypsy moonshiners who have the devil’s own offer for her; she can get her brother back if only she can get someone to take his place. They even have a specific person in mind – Willie Proctor (Cain) who has a huge crush on her. As it turns out their grandfathers have a connection to the gypsies going back to 1947, thirty years earlier. That connection has dark connotations for the two children who weren’t even born when the events took place.

Jake’s grandfather (Levine), the town sheriff, has been holding the guilt of those events in and as he investigates the mysterious gypsies and their designs on Jake, memories come flooding back, unpleasant ones. Keeping Jake alive will be hard enough; keeping her soul pure will be something else entirely.

Although this was filmed in Southern Illinois, there is more of a West Virginia vibe to it from my point of view. The movie seems to take its cues from Southern Gothic authors like Flannery O’Connor and Shirley Jackson. There is palpable menace but nothing so overt or concrete that we can identify exactly what it is. That makes the movie doubly scary. Adams chooses to take things slowly rather than racing towards the finish line; it’s a calculated risk but it serves the overall tone well.

Ted Levine is a fine character actor who is best known as the serial killer in Silence of the Lambs and the beleaguered San Francisco police captain in Monk. He goes subtle here, playing the haunted Sheriff Waterhouse mostly through the eyes and the cheroots he smokes. The sheriff loves his granddaughter fiercely and feels the pain of her grief keenly but he never talks down to her. I never thought I’d say this, but Ted Levine is the kind of grandfather I’d want to have. Most of the rest of the cast is decent although special mention must be given for Samantha Isler, who a couple years after this was filmed made Captain Fantastic. Her performance has depth far beyond that of most young actors.

The one place the movie goes wrong is the final act. It just seems to lose steam and never really regains it. There are some good moments that involve the Sheriff and his predecessor and we finally find out what the connection between the gypsies, Willie Proctor and Jake Mather is but I think a little bit too much is given away during the flashback sequences and as a result it comes as something of an anticlimax. I would have liked a bit more dramatic tension in the ending but at this point the film’s slower pace and languid tone work against it.

The rural setting is inherently creepy and dare I say haunted; thankfully, the horror elements are kept subtle and not too far-fetched. Adams has a very sure hand and the pacing is wonderfully slow. I’m absolutely flabbergasted this sat on the shelf so long but to be honest, this isn’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea. In these days of short attention spans and easily distracted youth, slow rolling thrillers simply aren’t going to get the audiences that quick cutting big budget CGI-laden franchise films are going to. And that’s okay; but there is an audience for movies like this and hopefully Dig Two Graves will find it.

REASONS TO GO: The film has a wonderful Southern Gothic feel to it.
REASONS TO STAY: It runs out of steam in the final act.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence, a few disturbing images, some nudity and gore.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although the movie is just now getting a limited release, it actually debuted at the 2014 New Orleans Film Festival.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: iTunes
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/24/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 79% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Jessabelle
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Spectral

Septien


Brothers in farms.

Brothers in farms.

(2011) Southern Gothic (Sundance Selects) Michael Tully, Rachel Korine, Brian Kotzur, Robert Longstreet, John Maringouin, Onur Tukel, Jim Willingham, Mark Darby Robinson, Jeffrey T. Williams. Directed by Michael Tully

Sometimes, when sitting down to write a review such as this one,  the hardest thing is to write the very first sentence. The reviewer knows what they want to say, has a general idea of how they want the review to go – but they just can’t get that first sentence out. The empty screen mocks us in a way that would leave Don Rickles crying.

Cornelius Rawlings (Tully) was an extraordinary athlete in high school but that didn’t prevent him from disappearing without a trace after graduation. 18 years later, he turns up at his family farm without any explanation as to where he’s been or what he’s done. He turns up in coiffure evidently inspired by Ted Kaczynski, with a beard that would do a mullah proud.

Surprisingly, he fits right in with hi oddball brothers. Amos (Tukel) scrawls graphic drawings in the barn that are vaguely pornographic, definitely Satanic and absolutely disturbing. Ezra (Longstreet) compulsively cleans the farmhouse and often wears a dress. Both brothers are nonplussed to have their brother disturb their routine, particularly as he’s unforthcoming with an explanation. Paid by the government not to farm, they live a comfortable life. Cornelius adds a little extra income by hustling the locals in various sports-related competitions which he blows them all away in.

Also entering into the mix is a pretty girl, Savannah (Korine) who is a plumber’s aide. This throws the brother’s carefully ordered lifestyle into further disarray. However the appearance of a mysterious man in a leather suit (Maringouin) who believes that the brothers and their farmhouse are possessed may either set things back in order – or blast them apart permanently.

This is the kind of movie that you need to see in a certain frame of mind and I just wasn’t there. The movie is full of quirkiness and a kind of performance art mindset – in fact I consider this more performance art than movie – and requires a certain amount of patience as well as the right kind of sense of humor to tolerate.

The mostly unknown cast acquits itself reasonably well but the characters here are more types than real people. The director has stated that he wanted to mesh a number of different genres together which included Southern Gothic, 1980s late night TV movie, sports movie  and dark comedy among them. I do admire the creativity and the ambition but I don’t think he quite pulls it off.

Septien lacks cohesion but that may well be deliberate; I get the sense that the director wants his audience to be a little bit off-balance when watching this and I have issues enough with balance as it is so I might not necessarily be the ideal viewer of this film.  Those who like their movies to be a bit on the daring and unconventional sides may well find this more to their liking.

WHY RENT THIS: Creative concept and plot.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Might use up all your quirky quotient in a single film. Somewhat unfocused.

FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of swearing, a little bit of male tush on display and some graphic artwork.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and was picked up by the Sundance Selects arm of IFC Films.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is an outtake reel.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Shotgun Stories

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Cinema of the Heart begins!

The Bleeding House


 

The Bleeding House

This isn’t the Fuller Brush man.

(2011) Horror (Tribeca) Alexandra Chando, Patrick Breen, Betsy Aidem, Charlie Hewson, Nina Lisandrello, Richard Bekin, Henderson Wade, Court Young, Victoria Dalpe. Directed by Phillip Gelatt

 

Your sins will generally find you out, and karma can come in an ice cream suit. Yeah, you’ve heard it before. Most of us do what we have to do to survive and occasionally we dodge what we perceive to be a bullet; but sometimes that lands us into a far worse situation.

The Smiths live on the outside of town, isolated and generally left to themselves. They are not really welcome in town; there was a fire which killed a family in town that the Smiths were pretty much credited with setting. However the father, Matt (Bekin) who is a crack lawyer, got his wife Marilyn (Aidem) off for the crime – she was the one accused. Ever since, the Smiths have been social pariahs.

Daughter Gloria (Chando) doesn’t really care. She’s a bit on the off side, prone to pinning insects to her wall and also to fits of rage. Quentin (Hewson) is the normal one in the family – the young son who yearns to leave this house and live somewhere where nobody knows who his family is or what they are accused of doing. His girlfriend Lynne (Lisandrello) urges him to leave and he finally, now that he’s turned 18, has the gumption to do just that.

Into this unnerving and volatile mix comes Nick (Breen), a sweet-talking stranger of excessive politeness wearing a white suit that Tom Wolfe might have owned. His car has broken down and a mechanic won’t be available until the morning. Would it be possible for him to spend the night as temperatures are expected to go down below freezing that evening? Matt is reluctant but Marilyn sees this as an opportunity to have an act of charity change the opinion of the townspeople regarding the Smiths. As Matt has just recently lost the position of running a high-profile case that would have turned around the family’s ailing fortunes, every bit of positive spin on the family is needed.

Of course, horror film veterans will know that Nick isn’t who he claims to be and that what happened the night of the fire is far different than what anybody in town has realized. The sins of the family are about to come to roost and who will be left standing at the end is anybody’s guess.

There is an air of Southern gothic here (although I think the film is set in the Northeast) mostly provided by Breen, who oozes silky, snaky charm. The theme of Biblical retribution adds to that feel, although the rest of the cast wisely stays away from acting in that style, a juxtaposition that adds to the movie’s allure.

Horror fans may find the movie a bit slow-moving, particularly in terms of the murders but fear not – when they do come, they are gruesome if not inventive. Gelatt prefers to let you know what’s coming and allows his characters to be aware that they are about to die. It adds to the psychological torture of the victims and of course that is transferred to the audience who squirm in their seats either hoping that the victims will get away or for certain sorts to hope that the murderer finishes the deeds.

There really isn’t much that is going to surprise veteran horror fans, which goes in the negative column; the secret that the Smiths are hiding isn’t really hard to figure out although there are some nice touches, such as Marilyn cutting the meat for the family (including the stranger Nick) because the knives are locked away where a certain member of the family can’t get at them (no points if you figure out which one).

While the story isn’t particularly new or told in a fashion that is fresh, it’s still a pretty fair tale and given how Breen carries the movie with slick Southern charm, you’ll be hooked in unless, of course, horror isn’t to your taste. If it is, this is one of those movies that kind of fell by the wayside that didn’t get the press coverage or fanboy love that it might have deserved. If you’re looking for something you didn’t see in the theaters to rent one dark night, this one might just be the movie you’re looking for.

WHY RENT THIS: Well-made and tautly paced. Breen is deliciously malevolent. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Plot points are telegraphed more than a little bit. Payoff twist is nice but not really surprising.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of graphic violence, a few bad words and some disturbing images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Chando was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for Best Younger Actress for her work in “As the World Turns.”

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Septien

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers