Nightstream Reviews: Dinner in America, Bloody Hell & more!
Though some of the best genre film festivals may have been axed for the year due to the global situation, Boston Underground, Brooklyn Horror, North Bend, Overlook and Popcorn Frights partnered up to bring us Nightstream, a new virtual festival full of exciting titles in everything from the horror to thriller to comedy worlds and ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to check out some of the films in its catalogue. Check out our reviews for the films below!
Dinner in America
The punk film genre is one that’s been mostly dead or waiting for the right film to come along and give it a jolt of fresh energy to bring it back to life and after a variety of misguided attempts over the past 20-plus years since James Merendino’s incredible SLC Punk!, Adam Rehmeier is ready to answer the call with Dinner in America and delivers a kinetic, energetic and outright joyous ride. The film follows a punk rock singer seeking an escape and a young woman obsessed with his band who unexpectedly cross paths and begin a journey together across America’s vast deteriorating suburbs. While the plot itself may play out somewhat routine for the coming-of-age genre, there’s a really nice unpredictability that comes from Kyle Gallner’s Simon and Emily Skeggs’ Patty that allows the viewer to still find themselves questioning just what’s coming next in the story of their lives. The two wholly own their characters and bring such an incredible power to depicting the wildly different yet intimately similar personas that is breathtaking to watch, with Gallner truly looking and acting the part of an on-again-off-again addict punk musician with a few wires loose in his head and Skeggs delivers on every cringeworthy and gut-busting moment of her awkward burgeoning punk. With a mostly consistent pace, appropriately quick editing, solid humor and stellar lead performances, Dinner in America is inarguably the best punk film since the Matthew Lillard-starring cult classic.
Let’s be honest here, you’re probably a bit weird if you DON’T talk to yourself in some capacity, but what if this extended to seeing a dual version of yourself and having a conversation with them while trying to escape a murderous family. That’s what Alister Grierson and Robert Benjamin explore in their wild, bloody and outright hilarious thriller Bloody Hell, which centers on Rex Coen, a man recently released from prison after his attempt at thwarting a bank robbery goes wrong and as he flees his country in search of a new life, he finds himself trapped in a much more shocking situation he has limited time to escape. Alright, Hollywood, time to listen up because Ben O’Toole is officially done sitting on the sidelines and needs to be cast in more leading roles going forward after this film because he is given the chance to show he can carry a 95-minute movie almost entirely on his back and he absolutely kills it. Whether he’s simultaneously panicking over his situation and calculating how to escape it or laughing at his own jokes or debating whether to throw a table at invasive paparazzi, O’Toole brilliantly taps into the manic and smart-ass nature of Rex and displays so much charisma that the film was already such a thrill hanging on his figuring out a leave from his new imprisonment before we start to learn the reasons behind it. Mixed with a delightfully offbeat tone in its Helsinki setting and solid direction from Grierson, Bloody Hell may not inherently break new ground in its genre but it goes a long way to try with its central gimmick further elevated by a stellar performance from O’Toole.
Video game adaptations are notorious for being the most hit-or-miss genre in the film world, delivering highs such as Detective Pikachu and Sonic the Hedgehog to the lows of the Resident Evil franchise and Uwe Boll filmography, and now Red Candle Games’ Detention is getting its screen due and it falls fairly square in the middle of the best and worst of the bunch. Set in 1962 during Taiwan’s White Terror period, two students are trapped at their hillside high school at night, while trying to escape and find their missing teacher, they encounter ghosts and the dark truth of their fate. The side-scrolling video game was a fairly fresh breath of air in the horror gaming genre, delivering a heartbreaking and moving story through its disjointed narrative but this structure unfortunately isn’t carried over to the film adaptation, which instead settles for a pretty routine and mostly predictable series of events. There was a real air of mystery as to the nature of why the characters of the game are suffering from their disturbing situation, but the film’s opening minutes tries far too hard to establish certain elements of the characters and story that it loses the fun of putting the pieces of the puzzle together and makes it easy for audiences to figure out what’s to come. This all being said, the film does get a number of things right translating the game to screen, including some of its more terrifying imagery and monsters, moody setting and tragic true ending, all adding up to a relatively enjoyable adaptation still miles above most other entries in the genre.
In a time in which so much of Hollywood is looking to take their stories back to the analog days of the ’80s and ’90s, the film and TV worlds are becoming a bit too over-saturated with similar nostalgia-heavy projects relying on old genre tropes and while Quinn Armstrong’s meta-heavy Survival Skills may be a tad too ambitious for its own good, it is one hell of a blend of old and new school filmmaking. Structured as a lost police training VHS tape from the ’80s, the film follows the “fictional” character of Jim, the ideal police academy graduate who becomes self-aware and disillusioned with his training after encountering a troubling domestic abuse case and takes matters into his own hands. The story is nothing really new for the police genre, a rookie police officer descending into a mental hell early into the job, but the way the film handles it through its decidedly meta narrative, chock full of menacing fourth wall breaks from Stacy Keach even as he tries to keep on his human resource-demanded smile. It’s an energetic, offbeat and thoroughly compelling ride whose only shortcomings arise in some of its more far-fetched self-aware sensibilities.
Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street shook audiences to their core as they realized they couldn’t trust their own dreams to keep them safe from evil and while plenty of films in the years since have toyed with the concept of dreams and hallucinations crossing into the real world, none have done so to great terrifying or intriguing effect as Anthony Scott Burns’ Come True. The film centers on a teenage runaway as she takes part in a sleep study that becomes a nightmarish descent into the depths of her mind and a frightening examination of the power of dreams. Given his prior work on other ethereal films such as Netflix’s In The Tall Grass and Our House, Burns continues to display a strong grip on the feast of dark imagery behind the camera, with the dreamscapes on display proving to be some of the most beautiful every put to film that, despite obviously being fake locations, feel incredibly practical and mesmerizing to be a part of. The story itself is where the flaws are generally on display, with some of its more ambiguous elements, especially its ending, feeling a little too convoluted and others feeling odd or borderline gross, namely the relationship that forms between the 30-something mad scientist behind the experiment and the supposedly 18-year-old runaway whose reasons for leaving are never expounded upon enough.
32 Malasaña Street
A film touting itself as the Spanish answer to The Conjuring comes with a high bar to reach and a few expectations for its story and scares and much like many genre films in the wake of James Wan’s masterful horror pic, the film goes through a number of motions to set up jump scares and an emotional family drama but can’t quite find the right balance of either to set themselves apart amongst the bunch. The Olmedo family gets more than they bargained for when they move into a suspiciously low-priced apartment in Madrid, circa 1976, and quickly find themselves in a living nightmare. Reportedly based on a true story, the film takes a relatively grounded approach to its series of events, from turning to the police as a child goes missing to losing jobs as caring for family members can only go so far in the eyes of an employer before they must cut the chord. There’s some odd bits of relationship issues amongst the family, namely the rebellious eldest daughter claiming the patriarch is not her father before quickly turning it around halfway through the film, and despite spending plenty of time introducing who these characters are and their personalities, none are really that interesting or entirely likable to get audiences to completely care about them. The scares themselves prove to also be very hit or miss, with Albert Pintó doing an effective enough job of keeping the atmosphere moody and lighting dim to try and effectively set up scares but also utilizes the same formula time and again of turn the camera away, bring it back for something there, rinse and repeat, and it loses its luster really quick and frequently doesn’t even work the first time.
Over 45 years later and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre still proves to be one of the most chillingly effective rural South horror films in the genre’s history and though many have tried to reach the same success to varying degrees over the years, most have fallen well short of the mark and Devereux Milburn’s Honeydew proves to be another lackluster effort. Strange cravings and hallucinations befall a young couple after seeking shelter in the home of an aging farmer and her peculiar son. The lead characters of the film are actually a breath of fresh air for the genre as a whole, being twentysomethings on a cross-country trip for something that will be meaningful for their lives rather than simply for the partying and debauchery, and once they’re introduced to Barbara Kingsley’s Karen, the tension is certainly ratcheted up to levels of hallucinatory oddity and absurdity, but the problem is that it doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere and instead wants to revel in its bizarre nature. If executed with more overall originality and far less predictability, this goal could’ve been great, but instead it comes across as a gross and generic offspring of Texas Chainsaw and Midsommar that never quite reaches its ambitious goals.
Since its inception, the horror genre has been a home to both those looking to deliver chilling tales to its audiences as well as those looking to tell symbolic stories of the human experience from a diverse crowd of creative talent and with her writing/starring effort Lucky, Brea Grant has certainly tapped into a real terror women face every day and the result is a mostly effective treat. Grant stars as a self-help author who struggles to be believed as she finds herself stalked by a threatening figure who returns to her house night after night and when she can’t get help from those around her, she is forced to take matters into her own hands. From the opening moments to the final credits, Grant’s central character is an endlessly likable heroine, from her subtle sense of humor to crafty ability to fight against her mysterious attacker, and the 38-year-old 12 Hour Shift writer/director also does a fantastic job in the role of allowing audiences to empathize with her and her situation. The film is also rather elevated thanks to its skillful use of the tropes of the home invasion and semi-time looping genres, delivering a number of stylishly shot and thrillingly-paced sequences, but the film’s biggest highlight also brings out its biggest flaw: the nature of the attacker. The identity and thematic symbolism of the attacker is one certainly well-rooted in the real world and in theory is a brilliant concept, but there are moments in the film preceding the revelation that almost make the reveal itself feel somewhat redundant for this theme, something that’s been on display so frequently and more effectively subtly that the ending feels more like a heavy-handed dose of message-delivering than an eye-opening relation.
Hotels are generally supposed to be a nice reprieve for people from the troubles of their home and work lives, giving them a chance to put all responsibilities in the hands of others while they treat themselves to leisure for a short time, but what happens when this turns on you and uses all of your darkest secrets against you? That’s the concept behind Kourosh Ahari’s The Night, a faster-paced and contemporary psychological horror akin to Stephen King’s The Shining, and it’s one that is brought to life in mostly chilling fashion. An Iranian couple living in the US become trapped inside a hotel when insidious events force them to face the secrets that have come between them, in a night that never ends. The story for the film feels very familiar, almost blending Stanley Kubrick’s iconic adaptation of King’s novel and The Vicious Brothers’ Grave Encounters, and though the secrets themselves are actually shocking for the characters, they’re unfortunately a little too predictable for genre enthusiasts and more attentive viewers. Despite this, however, the performances from Shahab Hosseini and Kathreen Khavari are truly powerful and the atmosphere and pacing is very well-executed, with an ending sure to leave audiences’ jaw dropped.
Die Hard clones are pretty unsurprising for the action genre 30 years later, but what makes so many of them forgivable, most notably the Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx-starring White House Down, is that they at least have a sense of humor with their protagonist(s), but unfortunately Ryuhei Kitamura’s The Doorman is missing this key ingredient. A former Marine turned doorman battles mercenaries intent on destroying her apartment building to retrieve precious artwork hidden in the walls. The story borrows from a number of generic action thrillers over the years alongside Die Hard, even fellow clone Skyscraper, the characters are not only uninterestingly written but also blandly performed and the action, the one thing a film like this needs to get right, is limply executed. One of the worst things this film has going for it is the semi-incestuous bond between Ruby Rose’s Ali and her nephew Max, with the teenager, whose performer can’t act to save his literal life, creepily walking in on Ali as she changes into more battle-friendly clothes and gives her really gross and weird looks throughout that may have been an attempt at humor, but is really just another reason to want to turn it off early.
A shifty aspiring filmmaker heads to a remote lake house to stay with a pregnant woman and her boyfriend in the search of a creative awakening for her work. You may think you know what comes next in the ensuing game of manipulation, desire and jealousy, but the events that transpire in Lawrence Michael Levine’s Black Bear make it one of the most original, bizarre and mind-bending darkly comedic thrillers in years. With a second half shift in film style and genre, the story takes an intriguing turn that sheds plenty of genre conventions and expectations, even if leaving a few too many questions unanswered, and the whole film is supported by the stellar performances from its central trio, namely Aubrey Plaza in a career-best performance.
Bleed With Me
Keeping things ambiguous is a real staple of the indie psychological horror genre and when executed well can breed some fascinating conversations or leave audiences even more terrified than they were at the start and while Amelia Moses certainly strives for this feeling in Bleed With Me, the result falls rather short. Awkward and insecure, Rowan (Lee Marshall) feels like a third wheel while sharing a cabin with her best friend, Emily (Lauren Beatty), and Emily’s antagonistic boyfriend, Brendan (Aris Tyros). Before long, though, Rowan and Brendan start to get along, which causes Emily’s mood to change. Unable to suppress her anxiety, Rowan begins hallucinating awful things—or are they real? With just three characters at the center of the story, plenty of character development and intriguing personalities and back stories should be on display and evident throughout the film’s lean 80-minute runtime, but it leaves so much to hints and imagination that proves wildly uninteresting and frustrating. The atmosphere of the film is well-executed in its moody and dark nature and offers some creepy imagery, but the lack of any real explanation or better suggestions as to what’s going on is more tiresome than original.
Sometimes stripping down a familiar genre to bare bones can pave the way for exciting or fresh new stories and after the already-thrilling Alone earlier this year, Hunted sets itself up as another pulpy and truly enjoyable survival thriller. Directed by acclaimed French filmmaker and comic artist Vincent Paronnaud, Hunted is a new take on survival horror that blends primal violence with grindhouse pleasure in a predator-prey riff on Little Red Riding Hood. The film follows Eve (Lucie Debay), a woman who encounters a seemingly charming man at a bar, only to uncover his true sociopathic nature, sparking a dire, life-or-death chase through the wilderness. The character of Eve plays out in similar fashion to a number of recent female-fronted survival thrillers and is initially hard to connect to, but as the film develops and we see her fight for survival, it’s not so much that we connect to or care for her as much as it becomes really easy and fun to root against her antagonist. Brilliantly played by the scenery-chewing Arieh Worthalter, the nameless predator is a villain that no one will want to side with and yet will want to keep watching as he proves just as formidable, intelligent and more charming than heroine Eve, making for one of the most deliciously evil bad guys in the genre in a long while.
In a time in which many Californians are fighting for their rights as individual workers, the arrival of sci-fi comedy gem Lapsis feels like a really timely story exploring the connection between such staffers and corporate monopolies and the dangers that stem from this relationship and though it doesn’t always reach its ambitious themes, it’s a plenty enjoyable tale. Seeking a new hustle after his luggage scam job gets shut down, Ray (Dean Imperial) begins a new gig, obtained by questionable means, running cables for the quantum trading market. At first, this new work offers an opportunity to make big bucks and pay for his sick brother’s treatment. Just as the cash starts flowing in, though, the tech-challenged grifter discovers the dire truths about his new vocation, and must decide where he ultimately stands. While the story offers some intriguing mysteries and compelling themes, some of which it can’t quite capitalize on, one of the film’s roaring successes is the lead performance from Dean Imperial, who brilliantly portrays his flawed-yet-lovable protagonist and carries the film even in some of its weaker moments.