Monday, December 12, 2016

Blood Brothers (2015) - A Review

"Based on a true story."  Countless horror films have taken to flaunting the moniker as badge of honor, after all, what could be more horrifying than real life? The idea that such violent acts could take place in our world is often hard to swallow. No film capitalized on the idea more than The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Even The Exorcist, Scream and The Hills Have Eyes (well most of Craven's work, actually) found it's roots in reality, although they did not claim to do so. This is a trend that will always be prevalent in the genre, and we find it in Jose Prendes' film Blood Brothers as well. 

Based on the infamous Leopold and Loeb case from the 1920's, the film follows a pair of wealthy, upper crust brothers who "concoct a deadly game to test their superior intelligence against the dimwitted masses.  This game will eventually lead to murder, but problems arise when they quickly discover that Detective Homer Gaul, a cop with a very special gift, is hot on their trail. (Uncork'd Entertainment)"

As the film opens, we are introduced to Thomas and Charles who are, quite frankly, a pair of privileged assholes who enjoy toying with those who they deem to be below them.  For the most part, Thomas pulls the strings while his shy and submissive brother Charles comes along for the ride. Charles' is a hopeless mama's boy, while Thomas craves power in the form of violence, degradation and, ultimately, murder.  We accompany them in their day-to-day lives, from taunting meth addicts, to fantasizing about murdering waitresses, to movies and late night drives hunting for prostitutes.  Y'know, typical stuff.  In many scenes the viewer is made to feel like a companion, and it adds a bit of voyeuristic feel to the film.  I really enjoyed this aspect; it felt intimate. 

The stylistic choices that Prendes' makes in the film are very beautiful, utilizing lighting and music to paint the scenes in a dream-like quality, not unlike what you would see in "Tales from the Crypt", or more recently Excision.  Not only does it make the film a pleasure to watch, but it helps blur the line between reality and delusion that Thomas and Charles' are constantly straddling.  We don't know if they are insane or if they're completely aware of their actions, and it adds to the chaotic feel of the film.  As a result, what would otherwise be a dull and rather uninteresting film becomes something else entirely.  It becomes more of an art piece, utilizing lighting and set dressing to showcase a more than competent cast and their performances.  We see these stylistic choices evolve throughout the film as well, as we see the brothers viewpoints on humanity and various social classes begin to change. 

To focus on the case, Graham Denman and Joe Kondelik absolutely deliver the goods as the leads of the film.  They not only bring what's needed out of their own characters but they compliment each other as well.  Prendes' script calls for a wide range from these actors and while it's hard to discuss the finer points of their performance without ruining large aspects of the script, I will say that as a result, the film takes on a completely different tone as it begins to comment on issues dealing with the human psyche, personal identity and the effect of traumatic events on one's personality.  Fans of the horror genre will also be excited to see two genre favorites in supporting roles: Barbara Crampton as their mother, and Ken Foree as Detective Gaul. 

Blood Brothers is a smart, well written and well acted film that, in my opinion, does a respectable job of bringing merit to the horror genre.  Prendes' managed to craft a film with a strong sense of direction that is well paced and engaging where it needs to be.  I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and ended up watching it a second time before submitting this review.  I felt that I missed certain aspects on the first viewing that I wanted to keep in mind while writing. It's not perfect, but it's fun and it has an original feel with an intense and satisfying ending. 

Keep it spooky,
Ryan Wilkins

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Abbey Grace (2016) - A Review

"She was born a bad seed..."

Abbey Grace, from director Stephen Durham (Blood Lines), is a film that in no way struggles with what it wants to be.  The supernatural film finds its home in a narrative style similar to Mama or The Others, but fails to deliver in substance, scares or originality. Durham's second directorial effort stars a small ensemble cast that tells the story of Stacey, a woman who has left her career in the psychiatric field to care for her brother, Ben, after their mother passes from an undisclosed cause.  Ben suffers from a severe case of agoraphobia and OCD, and Stacey is writing a book on what we are led to assume are her brother's conditions, however the topic is only grazed upon once or twice and not touched on again.  

By and large, the film has a 2 person cast: Debbie Sheridan (Stacey) and Jacob Hobbs (Ben), who unfortunately, do little to contribute to the film.  While Jacob Hobbs was not necessarily a bad actor, I feel that most of the issues with his performance probably come from poor direction, his portrayal of someone suffering from severe OCD and Agoraphobia seemed poorly researched and more stereotypical than accurate.  For someone to suffer from these disorders as severely as Ben apparently does, Hobbs made several decisions that surprised me making the ending of the film was wholly unrealistic.  As I mentioned though, I feel that these are issues that are more to blame with the direction or the writing.  Very little emphasis was placed on the strides of progress that Ben was supposedly making, and in that regard, I feel that Hobbs talent was largely wasted in this project.  Sheridan's performance was rather uninspired, giving the film the feel of a high school project, in which she was the director's mom who got a little too excited about starring in the film.  

The sound design was sloppy, often taking me out of the film, and was frustrating at times. It was very difficult to understand the dialogue for the final 20 minutes of the film, and I was often left wondering how a dog's rope toy was making squeaky noises. When additional characters are finally introduced into the film in the second act, I was hoping that it would inject fresh air into the film, however it merely reinforced the ideas that were already forming in my mind: that every supernatural, haunted house trope was tacked to a wall and Durham used a spool of twine to tie them all together. As a result, any attempt to tie a deeper mythology into the film just ended up falling on it's face as there wasn't enough time to fully explore the backstory that Durham was attempting to get across.  

While I feel as if I'm tearing this film apart (and I honestly never want to do that), it's hard to find things to praise. The film was most likely slapped together and rushed into distribution, and I feel that it shows a little too well. From the subpar performances, to the poor production quality (even the marketing materials spells the main character's name incorrectly several times), I cannot recommend this film to friends, family or even strangers. But hey, at least Roach, the dog actor, delivered a solid performance!

Ryan Wilkins