Few films can get away with creating entire sets, villains, plot beats, and characters out of cardboard. Then again, few films in recent years have conjured the playful, metaphysical spirit that infuses Bill Watterson’s Dave Made a Maze. This purely independent and fully realized vision was one of the greatest joys of this year’s Boston Underground Film Festival lineup.
When you pit dinosaur robots against a massive monster made out of gold, you’re better off not taking yourself too seriously. Thankfully, for the most part, the new Power Rangers movie from Saban and Lionsgate embraces its sillier side while still delivering a surprisingly grounded story, gold-eating space witch and all.
You know the old saying “curiosity killed the cat?” Well, Daniel Espinosa’s Life proves that curiosity can certainly kill the astronaut, too, as a crew aboard a space station discover the hard way that some questions shouldn’t be answered… or probed with an electric wand.
Trent Haaga has spent more than 15 years establishing himself in the realm of indie filmmaking. An esteemed graduate of Troma University, where he got his start as the writer on Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger 4, Haaga also penned Deadgirl and Cheap Thrills (and numerous other projects), and has made appearances in over 50 films to date. While Chop, a 2011 micro-budget horror comedy that has been grossly overlooked, may have been Haaga’s first-ever time in the director’s seat, it’s with his follow-up effort, 68 Kill, that he cements himself as a filmmaking force of nature who continues to build a strong foundation as a purveyor of cult cinema.
It was a busy year for me at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival, as I had the opportunity to watch 16 films (17, including the 10th anniversary screening of Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon). Here are my thoughts on the final three films that I had a chance to see while in Austin: Like Me, Game of Death, and The Honor Farm.
While stuntman-turned-director David Leitch may be best known for his work on John Wick (and he’s also been tapped to helm the upcoming Deadpool 2), throughout his career he’s specialized in delivering all kinds of incredible action sequences for nearly 20 years. So while it may be easy to connect (on paper) the recent hit actioner starring Keanu Reeves and Leitch’s latest, Atomic Blonde, featuring the always badass Charlize Theron destroying bad guys all over Germany in the late 1980s, the latter confidently and brazenly goes all out, raising the bar for action movies and proving once again that blondes really do get to have all the fun.
During the 2017 SXSW Film Festival, I had the opportunity to check out several movies on the fringe of the horror genre, including M.F.A., Assholes, and Two Pigeons, and you can read my thoughts on all three films right here:
Genre favorite Joe Lynch gives corporate culture a double middle finger with his most recent project, Mayhem, an action-fueled social satire that ambitiously provides viewers with a wish fulfillment scenario: what if you had a free pass to act out your wildest, most perverse urges, simply because you no longer had any control over your own impulses? In this scenario, Lynch goes for broke and then some, as Mayhem is truly his most ambitious effort to date, offering up a ridiculously fun Thunderdome-esque situation where chaos ensues and nothing is off limits.
Ben Wheatley has been one of my favorite indie filmmakers over the last few years, with his consistently stellar and thought-provoking work on projects like Kill List, A Field in England, High-Rise, his contribution to The ABCs of Death anthology, as well as Sightseers, his dark comedy that’s one of my very favorite movies from the last five years. So from the get-go, once I heard about Free Fire, and the talent that Wheatley would be working with on his explosive actioner, I was admittedly 110% on board, sight unseen.
And, thankfully, Wheatley’s satirical send-up of society’s obsession with guns lived up to my lofty expectations (and then some), as he takes the one of the things we love most about action movies—the shootout scene—and stretches it into a hilariously violent character piece that’s as relentlessly paced as it is relentlessly funny.
With Madre, writer/director Aaron Burns explores the dangers of dismissing maternal instincts with a cautionary tale that’s part psychological thriller, part body horror, and 100% unnerving to watch.
Set in Perth, Australia, during December of 1987, it’s evident from Hounds of Love’s very first moments—a stunning slow-motion sequence of teenagers playing volleyball while a pair of onlookers watch from a distance—that writer/director Ben Young isn’t interested in giving us yet another horrific kidnapping thriller that relies on shocking violence or tortuous gore.
Anyone who has spent countless hours stuck in a cubicle under fluorescent lighting, listening to their fellow employees prattle on about nonsense will find a lot to relate to in Greg McLean’s The Belko Experiment, which takes the notion of office politics to explosive and viciously entertaining levels where no one is safe.
Atomica, the new film from director Dagen Merrill, is a small-scale, character-based science fiction movie about two people stranded together in a single location and learning to live with one another while they both possibly conceal secrets. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it could also describe the Chris Pratt/Jennifer Lawrence vehicle, Passengers, from late 2016. I make this comparison not to suggest the former copied the latter—Atomica is no “mockbuster” imitation—but instead just to say that if I had to choose between Passengers and Atomica, I’d go with Atomica.
Nearly three years after releasing the original Slumber Party Massacre as a special edition Blu-ray, Scream Factory has finally put a double feature disc of its two sequels: 1987’s Slumber Party Massacre II and 1990’s Slumber Party Massacre III. It’s something of a good news/bad news situation.
I am absolutely in love with Tragedy Girls, as it completely defied my expectations at every single turn. A brilliant send-up of the slasher sub-genre that's relentlessly funny, heartfelt, and clever, Tragedy Girls is one of the most “fun” festival movies I’ve seen since Deathgasm, proving that no one can ever come between two best friends, especially when they've got murder on their minds and an online legacy to build.