The Long Night
4 star(s), 91 minutes, streaming
“The Long Night” is a perfect example of why horror fans need to be open to exploring a new release they know nothing about, even when the movie has a generic title and somewhat intriguing but too-vague key art.
I had no idea what to expect when I hit play, but by the time “The Long Night” concluded, I was brimming with excitement and tingling with awe at what I had just experienced.
Seriously, “The Long Night” is as good as “Mandy,” if not decidedly better, in my humble opinion. There should be waves of buzz surrounding director Rich Ragsdale’s latest, which is a huge step up from his last feature, 2017’s underrated “Ghost House.”
It’s fucking amazing, honestly. And kudos to Scout Taylor-Compton for delivering a performance for the ages with the kind of range and depth that you rarely see in a movie like this.
Taylor-Compton plays Grace, a young woman from the deep South who was given up at birth and now is trying to find her family. After hiring a private investigator, Grace and her boyfriend Jack (Nolan Gerard Funk), a real asshole, travel to a remote estate to meet the PI to discuss what he’s found. His only words of advice in a haunting and vague voicemail are for Grace to beware of snakes, which means she promptly has two run-ins with snakes as soon as they arrive.
“The Long Night” is broken up by title cards: The Invitation, The Seduction, The Encounter and so on.
Each new segment ratchets up the dread and unease to maddening degrees until you feel it permeating your living room. When Grace discovers a gutted cat, sacrificed on the front doorstep, Jack pulls the plug and says they’re leaving, only to discover that the house is surrounded by mystical beings in flowing robes and animal skulls covering their faces.
“The Long Night” keeps twisting and transforming. There’s a whole section featuring genre icon Jeff Fahey that ushers in a fantastic home invasion siege, which is followed by elaborate dream sequences that morph into psychotropic hallucinations that give birth to madness.
By the point that you bear witness to some abhorrent alien sex-coupling with a tree god in the woods, you realize that to love “The Long Night” is to wholly surrender to its fantastical whims and stop fighting to understand exactly what’s happening.
By the time Taylor-Compton gets lost in a fever dream, overwhelmed by erotic imagery and giving birth to lord knows what, your brain processes that this moment is the gateway for planets to align and truths to be revealed and an ancient possibly galactic evil to rise, you think “The Long Night” must surely almost be over, but it’s not! Nope! Not by a long shot. There’s still a concluding chapter to come, and it’s brutal and epic and transcendent.
In short, go find this movie. Now.
Live or Let Die
4 star(s), 96 minutes, streaming, Blu-Ray and DVD
Sometimes, the wisest decision a film critic can make is not to give up on a movie.
Take “Live or Let Die,” which by all appearances is yet another viral zombie thriller inspired by our current Covid-19 pandemic. With a terrible dub track. Starring a guy who looks like a thinner, less fit Jon Bernthal. Whose first line of spoken dialogue is stolen straight from “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”
Sometimes, though, funny things can happen when you resist the impulse to hit eject on your DVD player. Like the movie you’re watching goes from groan-worthy to not bad to so bad it’s better than good.
Or you stick it out long enough to get to an extended sequence inside an abandoned bar where two survivors, John (Manuel Urbaneck, director and co-writer) and Nick (Jan Bohlenschmidt, co-writer), get properly sauced for several minutes, and then you suddenly realize that “Live or Let Die” might just be the best worst-dubbed Eastern European zombie apocalypse movie you’ve seen, at least this week.
And then it keeps getting better, more engaging. You find yourself wholly invested and loving the fantastic alt-country soundtrack (which itself is an anomaly for a movie filmed in Germany) and you realize that you legitimately care about what happens to John and Nick, these two burly dudes who happened to find each other in a world gone mad and who now are trudging across a zombie hellscape to a mythical safe zone that Nick discovered when he found a scientist’s journal.
And then you realize that “Live or Let Die” is basically a spiritual bookend of sorts to one of your favorite zombie movies ever, 2012’s hugely underrated “The Battery,” which also focused on two male friends trying to survive a zombie apocalypse and also was fueled by a fantastic alt-country soundtrack.
So, you keep watching, and maybe you even notice your eyes leaking emotion juice as “Live or Let Die” becomes more and more grim on its collision course with the inevitable.
Best of all, at least for movie critics, is taking the time once the credits have rolled to do some research, which opens up a whole other rabbit hole related to the creative talent behind “Live or Let Die,” and you discover that director/star Urbaneck has been slowly working his entire career to bring “Live or Let Die” to fruition, starting from a short film in 2014.
I Blame Society
4 star(s), 84 minutes, Shudder, streaming and DVD
Filmmaker Gillian Wallace Horvat has 54 directing credits under her name on IMDb, all but one of which appear to be documentary shorts or experimental short films dating back to 2007.
Thankfully, the one feature-length endeavor is her 2020 debut, “I Blame Society,” which is a hysterically meta, first-person found-footage hybrid about a struggling documentary filmmaker named Gillian (Wallace Horvat) whose obsession with her best friend Chase (Chase Williamson, co-writer) and his evil girlfriend leads her to pursue making a movie about learning how to pull off the perfect murder, which she documents by filming her progression from simple stalking to breaking and entering to accidental murder to full-fledged serial killing.
I haven’t enjoyed a movie this much, or been so pleasantly and thoroughly surprised, in a long, long time. Highly recommended.
They Live in the Grey
3 star(s), 124 minutes, Shudder
Having never seen another film by The Vang Brothers, aka Abel and Burlee Vang, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the latest Shudder exclusive, “They Live in the Grey,” a supernatural thriller about a social worker with the ability to see ghosts who lives with self-loathing following the death of her own child, which ended her marriage to a police detective.
Suffice to say, this is a solid flick packed with unnerving sequences, above-average special effects and a surprisingly poignant story of love and loss at its core.
3 star(s), 81 minutes, streaming
Life is a funny thing. It gives us the opportunity to decide who we want to be, allowing us to reinvent ourselves so our exterior vessel mirrors our inner belief, but the reality is that no matter how far we stray, the truth is never gone for good. Such is the dilemma for Thorn (Matthew Gray Gubler), high priest of a coven of witches, and his chosen priestess Willow (Angela Sarafyan), after Thorn’s classmate tracks him down to send an invitation to their upcoming high school reunion.
The revelation that Thorn had a life before the coven, that he wasn’t always the self-assured, tattooed, new-age-y Wiccan who wears flowing white garments with a crown of flowers adorning his head, is met with shock and fierce indignation.
It’s these moments early on that really help distinguish “King Knight” and remind you just how good writer-director Richard Bates, Jr. truly is. For the uninitiated, Bates previously helmed such should-be cult classics “Excision” and “Tone-Deaf.”
Sarafyan, in particular, shines as Willow, whether she’s berating Thorn for having played sports and participating in student government or trying to console him after pressuring him to tell all about his high school days.
“I’m sorry you were forced to wear Nautica shirts,” she says. “That’s unspeakable.”
Fistful of Vengeance
3 star(s), 94 minutes, Netflix
Netflix’s latest explosive action flick, “Fistful of Vengeance,” is a feature-length continuation of the streaming platform’s own 2019 series, “Wu Assassins,” which is kind of an important thing to know that neither Netflix nor the trailers choose to acknowledge.
In fact, for the first 20 minutes or so, I found myself in a unique position, a place I don’t know that I’ve ever been before. I found myself Googling the film, which led me down a rabbit hole to discovering the connection to “Wu Assassins,” while also using Shazam to capture various songs from the soundtrack, while also, you know, trying to watch the damn movie.
The thing about sequels, or prequels, is whether the new material can stand on its own even if you’ve never seen the original and know nothing about what has come before.
The good news is that the longer “Fistful of Vengeance” played on, the less I cared that I had questions, lots of ‘em. I found myself intermittently obsessed with trying to discern if “Fistful of Vengeance” was utilizing a bad English dialogue dub track, or curious about the unique fighting style used by the current Wu Assassin, Kai Jin (Iko Uwais), who returns from the series.
More than anything, I marveled at how “Fistful of Vengeance” could have been a long lost Michael Bay-directed relic from the 1990s, or even a Thai-infused take on James Bond-style action movies given the fight sequences followed by gun battles followed by car chases leading to a boat chase.
However you want to try and define it, “Fistful of Vengeance” is a fun diversion that doesn’t feel like a waste of time.
2 star(s), 87 minutes, streaming
Oh look, it’s the seventh (?!?) direct-to-VOD movie in the past five years starring Robert Bronzi, aka that guy who is an eerie doppelganger for Charles Bronson.
If you’ve ever seen another Bronzi flick, you know what to expect. Whether hunting a genetically-mutated man-monster (“Cry Havoc”), becoming a hardened vigilante following the death of a loved one (“Death Kiss”) or being falsely incarcerated and having to fight to survive (“Escape from Death Block 13”), Bronzi’s facial reactions and vocal inflections never change.
He’s like a stoic, muttering wax figure of Bronson somehow brought to life, only without any of the magic that made Bronson cool.
“Exorcist Vengeance,” as if you don’t know by the title, presents Bronzi as Father Jozsef, a rogue priest, who gets called into duty when the Catholic Church believes a demon has inhabited the body of a caretaker.
The film opens with Bronzi holding a dying woman on a suburban sidewalk and asking the crowd, ‘Which way did he go,’ before making a hard edit to show him chasing a mugger down the street full-sprint until they face off in an alley. Bronzi gains the upper hand and pulls out a pistol, which causes the mugger to exclaim, “Jesus Christ!” which prompts Bronzi to mutter, “No, but he sent me,” before shooting the bad guy in the leg while shouting, “Do you repent!?!” over and over.
Just FYI, folks, “Exorcist Vengeance” doesn’t get much better from there.
Watching “Exorcist Vengeance,” or any Bronzi film, really, I can’t help but wonder what it must be like to act opposite Bronzi. This is a man who seems solely to exist because of his unnerving resemblance to Bronson. I’m 100-percent convinced, though I’ve never researched, that Bronzi isn’t even his real given name.
He just gives nothing to his colleagues on screen. No emotion. No movement. Nothing. It’s as if all the other actors around him are responding to a piece of furniture without expecting a reply.
“Exorcist Vengeance” lacks the ability to offset the on-screen liability that is Bronzi. Instead of going all-in with gore, it doesn’t. Instead of going all-in with ridiculous, fantastical subplots reminiscent of Fulci or Argento, it doesn’t. Instead of asking everyone else to bring their absolute A-game as actors so that viewers forget about him and his character, they don’t.
Rose: A Love Story
2 star(s), 86 minutes, streaming
There really aren’t words to describe Jennifer Sheridan’s slow-burn horror-thriller, “Rose: A Love Story,” but here are a few: Confounding. Frustrating. Interminable. Somewhat rewarding.
Sheridan, working from a script by lead actor Matt Stokoe, who plays Sam, husband to Rose, who lives in isolation and wears a face mask, doesn’t feel any sense of urgency to explain anything to her audience.
In fact, for the 38 minutes, very little of actual interest happens. While it seems as if Sam and Rose are hiding from some unknown and unexplained major even that has crippled society as we know it, there’s very little dialogue or exposition to help viewers make sense of what they’re watching.
Sam goes about each day doing what seems like survival-prep shit. Rose spends her time pecking at a typewriter. When they talk, it’s in vague terms about things like the rules they have agreed upon, such as eating.
Finally, at the 54-minute-mark, something happens. A young woman gets caught in a trap that Sam has set out in the woods surrounding their cabin. Sam brings her to their home. For the first time, it becomes clear that there is something terribly off about Rose, which Sheridan continues to tease and tease.
I won’t spoil the big reveal, but I can report that in the final 32 minutes, answers are provided, and while it is surprising to finally learn exactly what is happening and why, I can’t say that it feels satisfying.
Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn
2 star(s), 106 minutes, streaming
“Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn,” a new release from Romania and writer-director Radu Jude, opens with an extended sequence of hardcore sex and full-frontal nudity that goes on long enough for you to wonder if somehow you accidentally hit play on Pornhub instead of the digital screener sent by a publicist.
It’s a bold move for a film about a schoolteacher whose homemade sex tape is leaked onto the Internet, causing a firestorm among local parents. The teacher, Emi (Katia Pascariu), is set to meet with those angry parents. And so she walks, and walks, and walks some more, across her city toward that fateful destination.
The irony here is that what follows this audacious start is more in line with tepid, decaffeinated softcore shenanigans. Jude’s direction, his style, so to speak, leaves a lot to be desired early on. From awkward pans to seemingly frozen frames that linger longer than a beat or more with no context about the various local culture on display, it isn’t always clear exactly what Jude is trying to say, if anything at all.
With each chance encounter, Emi seems to be stumbling across various smaller-scale culture and political wars meant to highlight social issues that should feel universal to any viewer, but the whole production just feels tedious and uncomfortable.
I won’t lie, I made it about 25 minutes, right up to the point that I think Emi finally made it to the location of the meeting, before giving up or giving in and turning off the film.
Seobok: Project Clone
1.5 star(s), 114 minutes, streaming, Blu-Ray and DVD
A good rule of thumb for both action and science-fiction movies is that you have to feed viewers with a steady stream of tasty morsels to keep them engaged and invested from the first frame to the last.
That means, depending on the genre, you strategically position explosive and/or thrilling sequences between periods of narrative exposition.
More often than not, in my experience, genre films hailing from South Korea have no issue packing the screen with so much visual meat that viewers can easily skip through the quiet moments.
In that regard, “Seobok: Project Clone” is an anomaly. It’s a movie about a former spy who gets tasked with helping transport the first ever human clone, Seo Bok, who has gained considerable powers by virtue of the fact that he has access to 100-percent of his mental capacity. Like he can move objects and people with his mind.
One would think that this should all add up to a white-knuckle thrill-ride on par with some of the wackiest action extravaganzas produced by American studios and directors.
Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.
1 star(s), 89 minutes, streaming
“Student Body,” the first feature from writer-director Lee Ann Kurr, is a wannabe teen slasher that pilfers its Big Bad straight from “Happy Death Day,” without bothering to also steal the humor, youthful insight and biting satire that made us fall in love with a girl named Tree.
Actually, that’s a bit of a misstatement. “Student Body” does open with some very smart, very biting social commentary about the current state of students navigating a world populated with superficial teens whose callous attitudes coupled with devastating apathy and undeserved privilege make them more vicious than most serial killers.
And then, inexplicably, it all falls apart.
Sadly, this one is to be avoided.
Not to be Overlooked:
2.5 star(s), 156 minutes, streaming, 4KUD, Blu-Ray, DVD
When “Eternals” came out last November, I was decidedly mixed in how I felt. On the one hand, seeing Jack Kirby’s influence and style translated and infused through the Marvel Cinematic Universe was breathtaking at points, but with so many new characters, at least an even dozen, if not more, the effort it takes to try and cram the entirety of human civilization into two-and-a-half-hours left you feeling drained and spent.
Having now rewatched “Eternals,” I think I realize where the miscalculation occurred. This is the perfect type of story that Disney and Marvel should have used to finish the bridge between the big-screen and Marvel’s impressive slate of Disney+ streaming series. Given six or eight episodes to delve deep into each new hero and villain, as well as showing how these individuals evolved or didn’t throughout different periods of history, would have allowed the MCU to build to a satisfying crescendo, the final battle, which could have then been made into a feature film.
Also Available as of February 15, 2022:
“Paranoiac,” “King Richard,” “Shapeless,” “Alter Ego,” “Cosmic Dawn,” “Bite Me,” “Red Ghost: Nazi Hunter,” “A Banquet,” “Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It”
This article was originally published by LEO Weekly’s sister paper, Creative Loafing Tampa.