Tag Archives: Thriller

John Hyams’ Alone

It’s tough to find thrillers that are actually consistently suspenseful throughout, that go above and beyond in their job of, you know, thrilling the audience. John Hyams’ Alone is like an hour and a half panic attack put to film, a sleek, ruthless, transparently simple yet magnificently executed genre exercise in terror, isolation and pursuit that entertains so well it’s made it onto my top ten of the year (so far). The story couldn’t be more distilled into tunnel vision high concept fashion: a lone girl (Jules Willcox) packs up her modest belongings into a U-Haul trailer, says goodbye to Portland, the tragedy she lived through there and heads out onto the highways of Oregon, through the lush Autumn Pacific Northwest to bury her trauma, forget the past and start a new life elsewhere. After a scary traffic incident with a mysterious black Jeep, she finds herself stalked and eventually kidnapped by its driver, a creepy loner played by the imposing Mark Menchaca. She’s imprisoned in his remote cabin, fights her way to escape and so begins a breakneck, cutthroat cat and mouse game for survival across the rough but beautiful boreal rainforest, chased doggedly through the brush by this unhinged yet calculating and quite clever maniac. This film impressed me a lot because at no point did I I award any scene with the oft used utterance of “Yeah right” as something implausible or farfetched happened. Everything here, although heightened and extreme as any thriller of its type, feels like it actually could happen for real. Our heroine is brave, resourceful, logical in her strategies and commands our sympathy and support. Our villain is tactical, psychologically manipulative, terrifyingly predatory and straight evil right to the bone. Director John Hyams is the son of Peter Hyams, who made quite a few awesome films back in the day and it seems the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, at least here. His shot composition is gorgeous, full of austere, somehow peaceful overhead shots of the trees, opaquely suggesting the drama unfolding beneath their foliage while maintaining a beautiful yet eerie elemental atmosphere. The film is split up into chapters given titles like ‘The Road’, ‘The River’, ‘The Rain’, a welcome lyrical touch. There’s an absolutely wonderful sound design transition in which a rapidly beating heart morphs into the percussive rhythm of a helicopter propellor that is just so inspired and worth the price of admission alone. I think what I loved most about this fantastic film was the deeply affecting themes humming along harmonious in the background; there’s a reason it’s called ‘Alone’, and it’s not because she was driving those highways by herself when the killer picked her. This woman has been through hell before our story finds her, and in a way her horrific ordeal with this adversary serves as a form of redemption, a coming to terms with past trauma. Now, in a lesser film this would have perhaps been too obvious and heavy handed, but those themes are so expertly integrated and the film overall so well crafted, so brisk yet full of depth if you take the time to look, so thrilling and full of life, atmosphere and excitement, it comes out a winner all across the board. A must watch.

-Nate Hill

Antonio Campos’s The Devil All The Time

I can say without doubt or hesitation that The Devil All The Time is the ‘feel bad’ movie of the year, and I mean that in a good way. This isn’t a film that seeks to find the silver lining, heart of gold of light at the end of the tunnel as far as atrocious human behaviour, sickening acts of violence and degradation and overall depravity go, this is a film that displays such things without much in the way of message, theme, agenda or apology. It’s just a film about terrible people doing terrible things, plain as pasta. If you can reconcile that early on in and stomach your way through the rest, there’s a whole lot to appreciate here, namely a spectacularly star studded cast all giving superb work in a gorgeously produced piece of Southern Gothic, nihilistic, psychosexual, blood spattered, sleazed up, unpretentious hayseed pulp fiction that has no patience for the squeamish, the self righteous or those who just tuned in to see Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson and won’t know what hit them. The film is a sprawling backwater canvas that spans decades and sees a whole host of unsavoury denizens interweave devilish deeds, violent acts, religious mania and murder most foul, or in this film’s case, most celebratory. Holland is terrific as Arvin, a tough kid with a nasty past who was taught early on in life by his extremely troubled father (Bill Skarsgard, haunting) about what kind of evil is out there. He’s forced to reckon with quite a few gnarly characters including a married couple serial killer duo (Jason Clarke and Riley Keogh), the county’s most corrupt lawman (Sebastian Stan), a belligerent small town mobster (Douglas Hodge) and a piece of work preacher (Pattinson playing gleefully against type) with a penchant for sexual abuse of underage girls and not a remorseful bone in his body about such acts. Arvin anchors the whole sordid tapestry together but is by no means a hero, and as much as the violence he inflicts is justified when you consider the people he’s up against, he is still a very harsh and cruel force, made so by Skarsgard’s passing of the torch as a young boy. The narrative doesn’t always seem to flow naturally, there’s a few jerks on the pacing chain that I noticed but the film is so beautifully made in terms of production design and performance it just sweeps you up anyway. It’s based on a novel by a fellow called Donald Ray Pollock, and judging by the wistful narration provided here he approves of what the filmmakers have wrought with his work, but I also see on google that he grew up in the actual county this is set in, and god help him if any of this stuff happened in his life because I wouldn’t wish these events on anyone. This is a pessimistic film that doesn’t pretend to be some holy treatise on pain and suffering whereby showing awful things happen we attain some kind of catharsis, by distance, perspective or irony. No, this film just presents to us the absolute shittiest human behaviour it can think of, and let’s us sit with it as we will. Many will abhor it, I appreciated it for what it was, for the craftsmanship, acting, artistry and scriptwriting on display and I suppose if there’s one thing it had to say that I absorbed, it’s that violence begets violence, generationally speaking in this case, and sometimes that’s not such a terrible thing when put to good use. A tough pearl of wisdom, but then again this is the toughest sort of film to be moved by.

-Nate Hill

Brad Anderson’s Transsiberian

A lot can happen on a nearly eight thousand kilometre railway trip, and much of it does in Brad Anderson’s chilly, blunt, ruthless and exciting Transsiberian, a Hitchcockian whodunit with as many turns in the plot as there are bends in the railroad. Filmed on location in Russia and China, the Trans Siberian is indeed a real train that makes a long, snowy voyage from Beijing all the way to Moscow and here serves as evocative backdrop for six various characters involved in a dangerous game of deceit, escape, intimidation and foul play. Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer are the American couple, he’s a bit of a bumbling nebbish, she’s more quiet, shrewd, observant and possessive of a reckless past. Eduardo Noriega and Kate Mara are another couple, outwardly shady, edgy and suspiciously rough around the edges. One of these four is smuggling a large amount of heroin somewhere in the train, and it’s up to the viewer to discern why, how, where they got it and what the consequences will be. Meanwhile, two Russian narcotics officers trawl the train trying to smoke out the mule, played by a cold, psychopathic Thomas Kretschmann and a wily, charismatic and utterly scene stealing Ben Kingsley. This is such an entertaining, suspenseful, panicky, fascinating, character based piece of melodramatic escapism, made so by brilliant work from its cast, powerful scenes of violence, pursuit and distrust and locations that are at once beautiful, desolate, eerie and breathtaking. Mortimer is excellent as the kind of woman who fiercely guards her true nature and is resourceful to the bone in a tricky situation. Mara is low key very effective as the mysterious girl in over her head, Noriega just the right mixture of charming and dangerous, Kretschmann thoroughly chilling in his full on Slav tracksuit while Harrelson gets the film’s only comic relief as the lovable schmuck who doesn’t see danger until it’s in the same train compartment staring him down. Kingsley steals the show though, he’s a cackling fiend who exudes menace, dark humour and terrifying villainy, sometimes all in the same note. Director Anderson is responsible for some of my favourite horror/thriller films out there (Session 9, The Machinist, Vanishing On 7th Street) and this is one of his best. Cold, stark, with well written, believable characters, oppressive atmosphere, tangible danger and a feeling of karmic forces giving each player exactly what they need and deserve as the serpentine narrative unfolds. Great film.

-Nate Hill

David Koepp’s You Should Have Left

This one is called You Should Have Left, and buddy let me tell you if I saw this in a theatre I just might have. It’s a fairly terrible film, just muddy, cluttered, rushed, undercooked, unfocused and painfully mediocre. It’s directed by David Koepp, who did the awesome Secret Window based on a Stephen King yarn and with this one he’s clearly trying to evoke The Shining, it’s a breadcrumb trail of inspiration that leads down a bunch of dimly lit corridors of a spooky manor that looks like a hurricane whisked up an entire Ikea and shat it out on a hill in the Welsh countryside. Kevin Bacon plays a wealthy Hollywood type married to famous actress Amanda Seyfried (I’m not being funny, she plays a famous actress) who, um, is like two decades younger than him and it’s just creepy seeing that kind of casting decision at work. He’s got a murky, tragic past, their marriage isn’t all wine n’ roses, their daughter (Avery Tiuu Essex should be commended for outshining Bacon and Seyfried combined) picks up on the friction and things are very tense before supernatural stuff even pops up. When it does, it doesn’t make much sense narratively, borrows off more than a few better films and feels out of place. Bacon plays two characters, and the story was so willy-nilly I couldn’t tell if we were supposed to know right off the bat that it was him in both roles or not (it’s obvious). The twist has zero impact because everything before wasn’t explained to us anywhere near close to clearly enough, and the level of incomprehension is almost insulting to any viewer. Why Bacon and Seyfried would do this kind of lukewarm, flaccid excuse for a horror flick is beyond me. I will say it had some cool lighting, and a half decent atmospheric score, but beyond that? Secret Window this ain’t, You Should Leave before wasting seven bucks for this on iTunes like I did.

-Nate Hill

Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe

Don’t rob an old blind dude in Detroit, especially if the dude is Stephen Lang with an angry Rottweiler backing him up. Seriously don’t though, you don’t wanna know the consequences involving a turkey baster, a pair of scissors and a jam jar full of… I won’t spoil it but it’s fucking grim. Don’t Breathe is a pretty damn effective shocker from director Fede Alvarez, who did that Evil Dead remake that had the nerve to be way better than it should have been. In an especially derelict Detroit neighbourhood, three hapless street kids (Jane Levy, Dylan Minette and Daniel Zovatto) unwisely decide to burglarize the home of gulf war veterans Lang, who reportedly has a nice wad of cash stashed in his basement. Well.. he’s got more than that down there, let me tell you. Once he gets wind of their presence, his lithe warrior reflexes, keen hunter instincts and heightened sense of hearing make their experience between his walls a living nightmare, not to mention… other things he gets up to. Lang is the perfect actor for this because before he got super jacked for Avatar he was a pretty lanky guy, so you have this sinewy frame with sizeable muscle mass packed on, not the body type you want to be trapped in a narrow hallway with. Plus he’s just a terrific actor and plays this guy like a feral beast with touches of sorrow curdled into madness. Alvarez makes great use of his cameras here, doing long sweeping takes that utilize hallways, door frames and wide rooms, evoking David Fincher’s Panic Room just enough to garnish his own style. The acting aside from Lang is just ok; Levy does the wide eyed, tomboy Final Girl thing well, Minette is just not a naturally gifted actor and it shows, while Zovatto is saddled with horribly written lines from the Hollywood ‘this is what street punks act like’ typewriter bot and is just cartoonish. Still though, it’s a highly suspenseful effort that benefits greatly from Lang’s presence. As for the turkey baster, I’m not sure the film needed such a stark, sickening set piece (Fincher himself would squirm) but I won’t soon forget it, which I suppose is half the point. Tense stuff.

-Nate Hill

Stephen Hopkins’ Judgment Night

Who remembers Judgment Night? I do, and I’m only randomly bringing it up because I had a dream about it last night where I was a character in the movie, and if you’ve seen this thing you’ll know just how nerve wracking any dream about it would be. It’s one of those greasy 90’s ‘all in one urban night from hell’ thrillers that’s pulpy, over the top, formulaic yet absolutely captivating, in this case because of the villains. So basically there’s four dysfunctional yuppie bros headed from the burbs into darkest downtown Chicago for the basketball game. They’re played by Cuba Gooding Jr, Emilio Estevez, Jeremy Piven and Stephen Dorff, four varied and interesting personalities who clash even before conflict finds them. On their way home through an especially gross part of town they accidentally witness a gang of criminals full on execute a disloyal homie, and from there the thugs make like jackals and hunt our boys through the nightmarish urban jungle with plans on slaughtering them one by one. Now, the top dog thug is played by Denis Leary, who is a solid choice because even when he’s playing good guys you still get the sense you can’t really trust him. He’s a verbose, sociopathic animal here and he’s backed up by perennial badass Peter Greene as his second in command, the two of them making genuinely memorable villains. Director Stephen Hopkins (The Ghost & The Darkness, Predator 2, A Nightmare On Elm Street 3) has real talent in evoking thick, tangible atmosphere be it jungle, urban sprawl or dreamscape and he makes the slums of Chicago look like a fiery vision of hellish alienation and hidden danger around any cluttered, garbage strewn alley or rooftop. The script mostly follows the breathless, brutal pursuit motif but there’s also some clever bits of social satire thrown in, particularly in Leary’s scenery chewing dialogue and rants. The fun lies in watching him and Greene stalk, terrorize and try to kill the four bros though, and it’s all executed very well. Good times.

-Nate Hill

Not just another Zombie movie by Kent Hill

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Amanda Iswan has always dreamt about making movies. While she isn’t Robinson Crusoe when it comes to such an ambition, it is often fascinating to me how such a common dream defies all the boundaries the world sets before us, and how, even in a massive city like Jakarta, Indonesia, her light is burning bright, her journey to the big screen is upon us. Having traveled extensively in the country and enjoyed numerous local films, like Amanda told me, genre cinema, especially local genre cinema – you have to be a bit of a rebel to butt heads against the dramatic norms. American movies dominate the globe, so when you try mounting films that aren’t just people talking about life, love and the human condition, (even here in Australia) the finance is not there. You are forced to go rogue, go guerilla-style, and with ZETA, Miss Iswan has brought a dash of depth and difference to what isn’t your garden-variety flesh-eating extravaganza.

Film Regions International (FRI) is announcing the release of “ZETA” a new foreign language horror film that the company has licensed for video-on-demand both in the United States and United Kingdom. The cast includes Indonesian actors Cut Mini, Dimas Aditya and Jeff Smith. The film is subtitled in English for the U.S. and U.K. territories.

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ZETA” tells the story about Deon, a student in Jakarta, Indonesia who witnesses a strange incident at his school when a friend bites a nurse’s neck and becomes a raging cannibalistic flesh eater. Suddenly, he realizes the entire city has become ravaged by a zombie apocalypse caused by an amoeba Naegleria-Zeta parasite. Deon, along with his mother Isma, who is suffering early signs of Alzheimer’s, are forced to quarantine in their sky rise apartment and eventually team up with a rebel gang to get the best combat strategies against the zombie horde.

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The film is currently available for rental or purchase on Amazon Prime Video and subsequent VOD platforms will follow soon.

He’ll love you to DEATH! by Kent Hill

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When an extremely pesky poltergeist has himself a bad case of rejection, goes a little too Glenn Close and starts boiling bunnies, the sum total is Alex T. Hwang’s PARANORMAL ATTRACTION, a gleeful mixture of the psycho/sexual thriller, an intriguing social study, a ghost story and some enjoyable splashes of comedy that make this an enticing cocktail of the genre.

There are interesting twists and subversion which diverge from the numerous films with ‘paranormal’ in the title, but their unexpected nature builds to a climax which enhances the experience and makes the film linger longer in one’s memory, leaving behind it’s peers which remain content to concede to the formulaic approach.

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Paranormal Attraction tells the dark and sinister tale of a young woman, Sara Myer (Brooklyn Haley), who moves into an abandoned house with a tragic and mysterious past.  As Sarah begins to purge the house of the previous owner’s belongings, she begins to uncover its deadly secrets. Rookie police officer Evelyn Bennett (Nicole Cinaglia) helps her investigate the mysterious happenings and captures Sara’s heart. Will they learn the secrets of the house or will the house claim Sara’s soul? 

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Director’s Alex T. Hwang’s Statement:

“I have loved movies since I was a kid growing up in Korea. I remember my mom taking me to see American movies like Star Wars and Superman in theaters.  When my family moved to the United States, I found a group of friends who were as passionate about movies as I was. I made my first short film on Super 8 and 16mm camera when I was 16 with my brothers and friends, and it fueled my passion for film making even more.  Classic horror films like, Jaws, Psycho, The Exorcist and The Shinning, have driven me to make horror films.  

My wife, Katie, encouraged me to pursue my dreams and make the films that I love. I’ve always admired directors like Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter, Sergio Leone, Stanley Kubrick, and Steven Spielberg.  They are masters at what they do, and they can manipulate an audience’s emotions and take them to another place for a couple of hours. I hope I have achieved that with Paranormal Attraction. Paranormal Attraction is the third feature film I have directed and produced. I had the vision for Paranormal Attraction for a while and was so happy that I had a great script to work with. The cast was able to embrace their roles and give life to the words written on the page. I am grateful to everyone who played a part in helping to complete this film. I hope to entertain and scare all horror film fans but I believe that even if you don’t like horror films you will certainly enjoy Paranormal Attraction.”  

Paranormal Attraction is an official selection of the AOF (Action on Film) Film Festival and will be premiering at AOF Film Festival on Sept 5, 2020 @ 4PM in Las Vegas. 

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For a well crafted, creepy-good time at the movies, PARANORMAL ATTRACTION delivers the thrills, spills, laughter and chills in this fresh take on the fatal side of lust, from beyond the grave.

Now enjoy my chats with the director and cast…

ALEX T. HWANG

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BROOKLYN HALEY

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NICOLE CINAGLIA

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EDEN SHEA BECK

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Director’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Joel Schumacher Films

Joel Schumacher was so much more than “the guy who made colourful 90’s Batman flicks.” He himself has said he never meant to be pigeonholed as a superhero guy and if you look at his legendary, prolific career you will see an incredible variety of work including war films, romantic comedy/dramas, musicals, buddy cop flicks, courtroom dramas, suspense thrillers, splatter horror, biopics and more. He was one of the most versatile, dynamic personalities ever to grace the director’s chair and put out superb content in Hollywood. Here are my top ten favourites films of his!

10. The Client (1994)

This John Grisham hybrid of courtroom drama and suspense thriller sees Tommy Lee Jones as an intense DA using an underage murder witness as leverage in a huge mob trial, while the crime syndicate tries to snuff him. It’s slick, high powered stuff with terrific performances all round and plenty of wicked suspense.

9. Blood Creek aka Town Creek (2009)

Chances are you’ve never even heard of this one but it’s such a loopy hidden horror gem. Michael Fassbender plays an evil, whack job Nazi with occult fascination who zombifies himself using evil magic spells and awakens a century later when two small town brothers (Dominic Purcell and Henry Cavill) must do battle with him. There’s buckets of blood n’ gore, a nice grinding low budget aesthetic, bone armour, stunning black & white flashbacks, folk horror, Lovecraftian vibes and more. It’s tough to find but more than worth seeking out.

8. Phone Booth (2002)

One of the original claustrophobic chamber piece thrillers, a moral ad executive Colin Farrell finds himself trapped under sniper fire by an unhinged maniac (Kiefer Sutherland, mostly heard, briefly scene, supremely scary) and forced through a gauntlet of psychological terror as a hostage negotiator (Forest Whitaker) tried to deescalate the situation. It’s a slick, unnerving thriller that’s shot with momentum and spacial dynamics with a very strong central performance from Farrell.

7. Batman & Robin (1997)

Much maligned and infamously cheesy, this is actually a ton of fun and showcases Joel’s uncanny knack for baroque, neon, unbelievably eclectic production design. Sure it’s silly as all hell and the batsuit has nipples but the sheer level of artistry put into set, costumes and scenery is something otherworldly you behold. Give this another chance.

6. Veronica Guerin (2003)

This heartbreaking true story sees a superb Cate Blanchett portray Irish investigative journalist Guerin, who doggedly tried to expose and take down a dangerous interconnected drug empire during the 90’s. It’s dramatically rich, straightforward and has one of the most emotionally affecting endings I’ve seen to any film.

5. Falling Down (1993)

Michael Douglas has had enough and isn’t going to take it anymore as one lone businessman who takes on all the injustices and pet peeves he finds along his journey through one simmering hot Los Angeles day while a cop with a hunch (Robert Duvall) hunts him down. This is a brutal character study, scathing social satire, dry black comedy and unique oddball of a film that has since become a huge cult classic and is Douglas’s personal favourite in his career.

4. 8MM (1999)

A tough, ruthless film to sit through, Nic Cage plays a private investigator who journeys down a rabbit hole of sexual depravity and scum to ascertain the authenticity of a spooky alleged snuff film found in some old dead guy’s attic. This is a rough, fucked up film but it’s also a rich, jet black thriller with excellent supporting work from Joaquin Phoenix, Peter Stormare, Anthony Heald and James Gandolfini.

3. A Time To Kill (1996)

Powerful, star studded, thought provoking and humanitarian, this is another Grisham adaptation revolving around the trial of a black man (Samuel L. Jackson) in the south on trial for murdering his daughters rapists, defended by a white lawyer (Matthew McConaughey). It’s a difficult exploration of racial tensions that covers a broad spectrum of the community and ultimately feels like a battle for the region’s soul.

2. Batman Forever (1995)

This one is also highly undervalued, a colour shocked, garish homage to Batman of the 60’s with over the top villains, a surreal Gotham City straight from someone’s dreamscape and that epic, neon production design. This is a special film for me, it’s the first Batman movie I ever saw and one of those films I saw at such a young age that it’s images and impressions are imprinted onto my psyche in that otherworldly way you absorb art at a super young age, the age of absorption that cultivates the very best nostalgia years later.

1. The Phantom Of The Opera (2004)

This grand scale, rococo version of the broadway musical is a lush, passionate, sumptuous and beyond beautiful piece that I probably saw in theatres with my mom like eight times. It launched the careers of both Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum who are electrifying as The Phantom and Christine. One of the best film musicals ever produced and an all timer for me.

-Nate Hill

Exploring the Nic Cage B Grade Cinematic Universe with Nate: Inconceivable

Inconceivable eh. Anytime I see that title I just think of the little dude from The Princess Bride barking out that word. Anyways this was, for the most part, a rotten turkey of a film. I read in the trivia that Lindsay Lohan was attached to star at one point and had to drop out, but her presence would have elevated this thing nicely, because this Nicky Whelan girl they casted in her stead is a dud, no charisma whatsoever. And then there’s the script… this is supposed to be some kind of “Hand that Rocked The Cradle” shoutout where a supposedly battered wife (Whelan) escapes to a new life, befriends a wealthy couple (Nic Cage and Gina Gershon) and becomes their surrogate mother when they can’t properly have kids, until she becomes creepy and is suspected of sinister ulterior motives. But it plays like a bland, lackadaisical Hallmark-lite thriller where nothing much of anything happens and man I was bored to fucking tears. Cage is relaxed, unflappable and just ruffled enough to pass off as a distraught father when he needs to be. Whelan looks like a wax figure with vague mannerisms but I just didn’t buy that this random chick could befriend, infiltrate, gaslight and royally destroy this family, like it just didn’t seem plausible. A fossilized Faye Dunaway shows up as Cage’s suspicious mother, the only person to have doubts about this stranger in their midst but of course no one listens to her pleas of reason. The only person to give a terrific, fully formed performance is Gina Gershon who is always amazing. She makes the wife character sympathetic, believable and almost saves the story, plus it’s a reunion of sorts for her and Cage after Face/Off back in the day which was nice to see. As a thriller though this just strikes out hard, and it’s leading lady doesn’t have the talent or magnetism to carry a HomeSense commercial, let alone a feature film. Lazily plotted, weirdly paced, unpleasant and uninspired. Two Cages out of five, and one of those is solely thanks to Gershon.

-Nate Hill