Monday, July 25, 2016

Parker Lewis's Daughter Can't Lose

Besties. You think I'm not going to watch a movie called Besties?


Quick Plot: Sandy is an awkward 14 year old obsessed with her sexy older neighbor and former babysitter Ashley.  When her dad (Corin Nemec!) goes away for the weekend, Sandy lets Ashley throw one of those terrible Mike's Hard Lemonade catered high school parties that quickly ends with the cops showing up to lazily investigate a noise complaint.

After Ashley flirts her way out of a police report, her paroled ex-boyfriend Justin shows up and begins to put the statutory rape-y moves on a smitten Sandy. Before you can check what's on Lifetime, Sandy and Ashley are bashing the fella over the head with a frying death.

There are worse ways to go, but then again, there are a whole lot better means, too. This is what happens when you turn down your only real friend’s invitation to try out her new panini maker. 

The girls move into action, dumping Justin's body a few miles away but forgetting that his car is parked right in front of Sandy's house. Clearly, these young ladies have not been watching nearly enough Pretty Little Liars.

Besties is an odd little indie written and directed by frequent Gotham contributor Rebecca Perry Cutter. Less a Lifetime flick and more a lighter spin on thirteen, it's an incredibly uncomfortable, often awkward look at what it means to be a 14 year old girl (spoiler alert: it sucks). In that respect, it's actually kind of strong. As Sandy, Olivia Crocicchia is not the kid sister you want. She's quiet and shy, snippy to her actual friend and creepy to her obsession. As I've said before with #Horror and The Sisterhood of the Night, no woman is at her best in middle school.

Likewise, Madison Riley's Ashley isn't necessarily a heartless mean girl, but more an ambitious teenager who has learned how to leverage her looks to overcome a less than ideal home life. As a character study of two very different, but very real teenage girls, Besties offers some genuine insight.

On the other hand, as a murder coverup, it has some issues.

Besties isn't a particularly well-plotted film. The very idea that these girls MURDERED A MAN is ultimately treated with the same weight as that time Kelly and Brenda wore the same dress to the Spring Fling. The pacing is odd, the investigation is barely humored as actually happening, and the film leaves the story in a place that is supposed to be a moment of victory with hints of a cliffhanger, but that felt more like you drove to the top of a mountain and suddenly your car disappeared and you have no idea where you were planning on going anyway.

It's not the most beautifully written analogy, but I'm trying to channel my inner 14 year old.

High Points
It doesn't make for pleasant viewing, but Besties really does find that horribly uncomfortable tone that is the life of middle schoolers

Low Points
I mean, they kill a dude. But that's neither here nor there

Lessons Learned
Nobody misses gross people

Showers wash off DNA and stuff

Nothing celebrates turning 15 better than a murder confession and bouncy house

Everyone needs to learn how to take a compliment*

*Note: just because something is said by a jailbait hunting ex-con does not make it fantastic wisdom to bestow upon an insecure  teenage girl

Fun Fact
Crocicchia also had a small part in a Lifetime better-than-it-should-have-been thriller called, quite magically, I Killed My BFF. What pleases me most about this is imagining Ms. Crocicchia 50 years from now explaining to her grandchildren what the titles of all these films meant 

Legally Required Bratz Reference
Because any opportunity to discuss Bratz: The Movie is one that must be taken by this blog, I’d like to inform you that Madison Riley played “Trendy Girl.”

Resume non-Bratz: The Movie talk now. 


Much like the very different, but somewhat thematically similar #Horror, I wouldn't recommend Besties to most readers. Aside from the fact that it doesn't really have anything to do with the genre I usually cover, it's also a rather awkward film about incredibly awkward people doing very awkward things (awkwardly). That being said, I myself have a very odd affection for films that tackle female tweenhood, and Besties certainly goes there full force. Those who are curious can find it on Amazon Prime. Those who aren't should remember that seriously, it's REALLY HARD TO BE 14.

Monday, July 18, 2016

She's Got Boogey Laser Eyes

Ulli Lommel’s The Boogey Man was one of those ‘80s VHS rentals that I always remembered in fragments. In an age before IMDB, trying to recall what “that boogeyman movie with a lot of mirrors” was called was a challenge that kept me up nights (or more realistically, occasionally really bugged me). Thankfully, there glorious era we occupy now not only lets me find that the boogeyman movie in question is indeed titled “The Boogey Man,” it also lets me rewatch it via Amazon Prime. 

Quick Plot: As children, Lacy and Willy watched their mother get it on with her boyfriend with a few too many giggles. As punishment, Willy is tied to the bed, leaving Lacy to free him with a kitchen knife and Willy to respond by stabbing the adults to death in front of a mirror. 

Twenty years later, Lacy and Willy are living on a sprawling farm with Lacy's in-laws and her young son. Willy, now a strapping young man in overalls, hasn't said a word since that fateful night, while Lacy has repressed the memories but is now suffering from horrific night terrors. Her husband convinces her to see a therapist, who hypnotizes Lacy into some sort of possessed state. Back home, Willy thwarts off a seduction by nearly strangling a horny neighbor, then proceeds to paint over every mirror in shame.

To get to the root of the problem, Lacy revisits her childhood home, now occupied by a pair of teenage girls and their younger prank-pulling brother (because it is the '80s and there was no other kind of kid brother in the horror genre). Convinced she sees the ghost of her stepfather, Lacy smashes a mirror hanging in the new occupants' bedroom.

Amazing death scenes commence.

Written and directed by the infamous Ulli Lommel, The Boogey Man is quite the product of its time. In her hypnosis, Lacy's a dead wringer for Linda Blair by way of Margaret Hamilton's vocal chords, while the main location may as well be located in Amityville, NY. Naturally, these kinds of time stamps are fairly endearing.

Half slasher, half ghost story, The Boogey Man is an oddly paced little thriller that doesn’t quite seem to understand its own story. We learn next to nothing about Lacy and Willy’s upbringing, including how the authorities dealt with a juvenile double murder. Why their mother’s boyfriend somehow turned into an Oculus channeling ghost twenty years after his death is never explained, which would be acceptable if the film didn’t spend so much time playing around with the mystery. At some point, the script all but throws nubile teenagers at the camera in order to up the death toll. Shakespeare, this ain’t.

But hey, poor storytelling doesn’t always result in an unwatchable movie. The Boogey Man is a mess, but it’s a neat one, especially if you’re harboring any form of nostalgia for late ‘70s horror tropes. 

High Points
Aside from the rather shocking youth massacre, the most unique feeling aspect of The Boogeyman is its super '80s, super synthy score, which casts a very offbeat yet welcome tone over the action

Low Points
So about that logic?

Lessons Learned
Always check your shoe for sticky evil mirror fragments

Never put your head under a window that doesn’t have a stopper, particularly if said window is in a room with sticky evil mirror fragments

Leave the split end trimming to the professional hairdressers, particularly if, you know, said split ends are in a room with sticky evil mirror fragments

As Netflix Instant seems to now focus most of its horror offerings on modern content, Amazon Prime has become a better source for earlier, easily-forgotten flicks. The Boogey Man is no classic, but it’s certainly not dull. Give it a go when you’re looking for some second tear ‘70s horror fun. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Exorcism Was the Easy Part

Netflix Instant is always abuzz with interesting horror titles, but when one involves William Demon Knight Sadler and Carol "The Goddess" Kane, I'm a pretty easy target.

Quick Plot: Ava has just undergone a successful exorcism after being possessed by a wily demon for over a month. Unfortunately, recovery is a little more challenging than Regan MacNeil ever revealed.

Turns out, while possessed, Ava did some rather unpleasant things, including, but not limited to, sleeping with her friend's boyfriend, pissing off a pimp, indecent exposure, and criminal assault. Her fairly understanding lawyer has come up with a plea bargain that puts Ava in a sort of AA-like support group instead of prison.

It doesn't take long for Ava to learn that moving past a demonic possession is almost as hard as the process of hosting a demon. It's especially challenging when Ava tries to fill in some of the holes in her memory, tracking down the owner of a watch (and possibly, massive blood stains) she finds in her apartment. The investigation leads her down a dangerous path, and not just because it involves Carol Kane.

Written and directed by Jordan Galland, Ava's Possessions is more black comedy than horror, and it equips itself well. Lead actress Louisa Krause is quite engaging, and it helps that she's surrounded by genre vets like William Sadler, Spring's Lou Taylor Pucci, and Monsters' Whitney Able. Rarely is the humor full-out belly laugh, but it's built on small moments that set a very clear and specific tone. When Ava sadly discovers the fate of her pet fish or asks if anyone thought to call in sick to her job while a priest was working her over for a few weeks, it gave me a chuckle.

Over the course of 40 years, we've all seen our share of movies about possession. Ava's Possessions smartly builds on that, wasting no time with its audience in rehashing what we've come to expect from the genre. Instead, it takes the event we've seen done dozens of times and says, "what's next?", exploring it with a solidly playful tone. It falters a little in its ending, partially because that endearing levity gets a tad too bogged down. Nevertheless, it's a fun and breezy watch that brings something new to well-worn territory.

High Points
Garland does an excellent job of establishing such a clear and consistent tone from the start

Low Points
The aforementioned ending, which twists things a little too darkly for the lighter tone the film had set

Lessons Learned
Pregnancy is probably prettier than possession

Nothing celebrates being demon-free better than an ice cold glass of Orange Crush

Marijuana is a gateway drug ... to hell


Ava’s Possessions isn’t perfect, but it’s a fun little slice of genre mixing that makes for a lightly enjoyable 90 minute watch. Give it a go when you want something on the fluffier side. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Take Shelter, Urban Millennials

The internet (or rather, my very specifically movie-minded Facebook feed) has been abuzz about the newly streaming They Look Like People. As is known, whenever a genre movie gets good word of mouth and runs under 90 minutes, it's most likely going to end up here. 

Quick Plot: Christian is a late twentysomething working in the marketing world of New York City. Between morning workouts and motivational speaking tapes, he comes across as something of a harmless but annoying tool.

Out of nowhere, his old high school pal Wyatt shows up, seemingly aimless and possibly insane. Wyatt believes something very dangerous is coming to steal the humanity away from the world. He's been receiving phone messages with instructions on how "they" can get you, leading him to secretly fortify Christian's basement as a possible safe house.

Christian's big challenges are, at first glance, far simpler: he has a crush on his supervisor, is desperately trying to get a promotion, and is dealing with issues of low self-esteem possibly spawning from his own recent breakup. Maybe it would be easier if he just had to learn the best type of acid to throw on alien people.

They Look Like People is the debut of writer/director Perry Blackshear, and it's been gathering a healthy following of film fans finding it on Netflix Instant. I won't hide the fact that I certainly entered it with raised expectations. That fact did not particularly help things.

My feelings on this film are complicated. The title of this post is part of that problem, and They Look Like People shares many of the themes and beats of Jeff Nichols' powerful masterpiece Take Shelter. Both films center on a man who may have been given a secret window into the end of the world. In both cases, said character doesn't quite know if the signs/voices are real or a figment of his own fragile psyche. It's a strong setup in both cases, but for me personally, the biggest roadblock of the good They Look Like People is that, well, Take Shelter is simply great.

While watching the movie, I was not particularly pleased. The pacing is deliberately slow and quietly ambiguous, but the tone itself didn't quite connect with me. Where I should have been questioning characters' reliability, I found myself more just waiting for the movie to tell me what was real. Despite its 80 minute runtime, this is not a quick film.

That being said, They Look Like People has grown on me post-viewing. Without spoiling anything, I realized, perhaps too late, that this isn't necessarily an Invasion of the Body Snatchers shocker, but more a character study. Thinking about it in terms of what it explores about masculinity in the 21st century made it far more interesting in hindsight than just being a slow horror flick. 

High Points
While neither reach Michael Shannon heights (BECAUSE NO ONE EVER DOES), both MacLeod Andrews and Evan Dumouchel give very natural and real performances that go a long way in stabilizing the film

Low Points
Dull. I just found it dull. 

Lessons Learned
You need keys in New York (this is actually pretty true)

Real friendship means shaving you pal's upper back and letting him pour acid on your face

EMTs are perverts who smell like french fries

I'm certainly not as enamored with They Look Like People as a good chunk of the genre-loving Internet world, but that doesn't make it a wash. I can see why this would really connect with some viewers, and with its brief length and quality performances, it's certainly one that you should watch on your own to make a decision. I'm genuinely curious to hear how others felt about this one, so be sure to come back and share your thoughts once you have them. I promise not to throw acid in your face.