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Reviews

Incarnate
(2016)

This could have been awesome
The plot: a bitter scientist who can enter other people's dreams becomes an exorcist to hunt down the demon that killed his family.

If you're a fan of Aaron Eckhart, how could you not find this concept exciting? The problem is that the film gives you all kinds of promises and fails to deliver on any of them. Every step of the way, you're left thinking to yourself, "This movie could have been awesome." With such an over-the-top, absurd premise, you could have really gone crazy. Instead, it's by-the-numbers.

The dream sequences in particular could have been memorable. Remember The Cell by Tarsem Singh? That wasn't a great movie, but the dream sequences were great. Imagine what someone like David Cronenberg could have done with this concept! Instead, what do we get? A generic nightclub. A generic carnival. A generic park. When music videos from the 1990s look more visionary -- and disturbing -- than your horror movie, that's a problem.

Perhaps one of the more perplexing aspects of the story is that our hero rejects spiritual mumbo jumbo when it comes to demons, but he uses psychic powers to fight them. I suspect this was done to explain why he must fight the demons personally. But given that he's already obsessed with vengeance, why can't that be enough? Why does he also need superpowers?

The story is OK, but it often feels like it could have been so much more. Despite throwing several interesting ideas at you, it never rises above the pedestrian elevator pitch: "Fallen meets Inception". However, it's not boring, which is truly the only unforgivable sin in a horror movie.

Voces
(2020)

Don't Listen
The plot: after a family moves in to an old house, the parents become concerned that their son is hearing voices.

Haunted house movies tend to be pretty cliched. You have to really like the formula to sit through most of them. It helps if you shake things up by watching the occasional non-English film. But, even so, you frequently end up feeling like you've already seen that movie a few times already.

"Don't Listen" doesn't stray from the template used by so many other haunted house movies. There's the standard bit of exposition about why the family can't leave the house. And, of course, someone finds a book that explains the movie's plot in detail.

However, quite a few of the scenes were well-acted, and the characters were all pretty likable. Each of the characters got to have their own spooky moment, where they sloooowly reach toward something they probably shouldn't be reaching toward. Then there's a sudden, loud noise, and the character sloooowly backs up, not realizing that there's something spooky behind them. If you can handle such cliched scenes, it's actually done pretty well.

Near the end of the movie, everything is explicitly and tidily resolved. There is absolutely no metaphor here, and there is literally no chance that you walk away from this movie scratching your head. It left me wondering if maybe this was meant for a younger, less jaded demographic than me.

Gi-eok-ui bam
(2017)

Comparisons to Oldboy are difficult to avoid
The plot: a young adult becomes concerned when his older brother seems to have been replaced by an imposter.

If you're a fan of psychological thrillers, you should see this. It's unpredictable to say the least, and I often find psychological thrillers a bit disappointing in their predictability. So, if you're the kind of person who loves a mystery, this will be a good watch. The initial grab is quite interesting, and you're constantly wondering how the filmmakers will resolve everything. The climax didn't come out of nowhere, but it did leave me feeling a bit less satisfied than a masterpiece like Oldboy, which is an inevitable comparison.

Beware spoilers. The less you know about this film, the more you'll like it.

Painkillers
(2015)

A low budget B movie that might feel familiar
The plot: after a botched mission, a group a marines wake up in a hospital without knowing how they got there.

Maybe it's because I've seen too many of these B movies, but I guessed about half of the plot twists in the first ten minutes. In low-budget B movies, there are only so many reasons that a group of commandos wake up in a hospital with no memory. On the positive side, there were some decent twists that I didn't see. If you're looking for a great plot, though, I'd say that you should skip this movie. It's fairly low budget, and it looks like it was mostly shot in a warehouse.

The acting was occasionally pretty bad. There's one scene early on where the squad is pinned down by enemy fire. One of the soldiers abruptly dies, and the others pretty much just shrug their shoulders and move on. I probably had a stronger reaction to his death than they did, and I really didn't care all that much. At other times, they overacted like hell. Colm Feore didn't have a huge role, but his scenes were pretty good.

It's a bit too long, and there some slow spots, but I didn't find it as boring as some other reviewers. I'm not entirely sure who I'd recommend this film to, but if you're into conspiracy-tinged thrillers, this might be up your alley. Someone said to watch it for ten minutes, then decide if you like it enough to continue. I agree with that.

11 Blocks
(2015)

The Warriors as a one man army
The plot: To rescue his sister, a tough guy has to fight his way through 11 blocks of a gang-controlled, dystopian city.

In a film like this, I have two major concerns: fight choreography and stunts. Sure, if the direction or acting is crap, it can be distracting, but for a no-budget action film, my standards are pretty low. This film has some pretty good action scenes. The biggest problem that the choreographers never really solved the problem of how to show one man fight against an entire gang. In most of the scenes, he fights them one-by-one, and the other people pretty much just stand around and wait for their turn to get their asses kicked. I generally prefer when the hero uses an ingenious strategy to even the odds, but this is more like side-scrolling arcade game. It's a failed opportunity to show us action fans something we haven't seen before.

The editing is probably going to bother many people. This isn't the kind of film where you really have much of a plot, so when you need to pad the runtime, it's either flashbacks or extended sex scenes. There's one scene at a strip club, but this film generally goes with flashbacks. Lots of flashbacks. In fact, several of them are repeated two or three times. However, after you get past the first 20 or 30 minutes, they become less common. Many of the flashbacks are from our protagonist's earlier life, when he was trained by his brutal father. Whenever he failed to perfectly execute a move, his father would beat him. While these scenes can be fun to watch for those who enjoy martial arts demonstrations, others will probably tire of them quickly.

If you're forgiving of low budget action films, then it can't hurt to give it a try. Maybe it's sign of how many bad action films I've seen over the years, but I've seen much worse.

Hangar 10
(2014)

An occasionally effective rehash of The Blair Witch Project
The plot: Three friends who go searching in the woods for ancient Roman coins end up finding that stories of UFO activity in the area are true.

I didn't dislike this film as much as most of the other reviewers. Mixed in with all the tedious scenes of walking, arguing over relationship drama, and more walking, there are a few effectively creepy moments. As everyone else has repeatedly said, the plot is simply a rehash of The Blair Witch Project, so much so that it verges on plagiarism. If you've seen that film, then you really don't need to see this one, as you've seen everything in this film already. If, like me, you didn't like Blair Witch, then you should probably avoid this film.

The special effects were alright for a low-budget film, and the atmosphere sometimes held up. The characters were alternately boring and annoying. The weird thing is that this seems to have been done on purpose. Although this may make the characters more realistic, it limits how involved viewers become in the film. Also, the lack of any real plot can make a film feel like it's dragging on without any point. Some films can pull this off, but they tend to be art-house dramas. In a traditional horror film, people are generally going to expect a bit more to happen than walking, walking, walking, followed by the film's entire plot, squeezed into 15 minutes.

Recommended only for hardcore fans of found footage horror films.

Død snø 2
(2014)

Bad idea to include unfunny Americans in a Norwegian zombie film
The plot: Nazi zombies return to carry out their 70-year old orders -- to destroy a Norwegian town. However, Martin, the hero of the prior film, also returns to protect it.

There are some pretty funny scenes in this film. If you have a sick enough sense of humor, you'll probably laugh when these Nazi zombies blow up babies. But there are also a whole lot of scenes that just don't work. I don't know whose idea it was to include a bunch of Americans in the sequel, but it was a bad, bad idea. They're painfully unfunny. There's also a gay character who's more stereotypical than funny. In fact, when Hoel (Martin) or Gamst (Col. Herzog) weren't on the screen, I was a bit bored. But their scenes were great.

The humor is pretty dark, and the gore is omnipresent. If you're not into that sort of thing, then you should avoid this film. On the other hand, if you like Evil Dead homages, then you'll probably enjoy this. There's a character who loses his arm, but instead of attaching a chainsaw, he has a zombie arm unwillingly grafted on. I've seen a lot of zombie films, but I've never seen that before. Too bad that there are so many unfunny characters mixed in.

Advantageous
(2015)

Feminist science fiction that focuses too much on metaphysical questions
The plot: In a dystopian future, an Asian woman approaching middle age is fired from her job at a creepy multinational corporation because they want a younger, more racially ambiguous spokesperson. How far will she go to regain her job?

The premise is definitely interesting, and there were parts of the film that I really liked. However, the story continually came back to tedious metaphysical themes that bored me. In the end, I realized that the film was about the metaphysical themes, and this left me feeling a bit unfulfilled. I suppose it was even more so about cultural criticism, especially a feminist critique of how society treats female aging and beauty. But it kept coming back again and again to these questions of "why am I here", "what is my purpose", and "is there something insubstantial, such as love, that science can't replicate in a lab"?

Kim plays a woman who must make a life-changing choice. Unemployment is skyrocketing, men are pressuring women to leave the workforce, and older workers are seen as hopelessly out-of-touch with the modern market. In fact, humans themselves are being rapidly replaced, and the only way to secure any kind of hope for your child's future is for them to attend the most prestigious schools. The alternative seems to be child prostitution. Most of this is established in the background; if you don't pay close attention, you'll miss it. Unexplained explosions rock the sterility and eerie quiet of the world, and news reports hint at terrorist uprisings because of a hopeless, jobless populace.

So, when you lose your job, that basically means that you've lost everything. What if your employer offers to give you your job back if you'll let them control who you are? So, our protagonist becomes desperate to avoid forcing her own daughter to make these same kinds of desperate choices. What can she do but accept? The question becomes what price she has paid. As the film mulls this over, I began to lose interest. Normally, it takes very little for me to become heavily involved in a character's plight, but, in this case, I struggled. Maybe it's because I don't have kids. For a parent, maybe this would be a more harrowing tale.

There are many admirable aspects to this film, chief among them a woman-centric tale that feels genuine. In some science fiction films, the female protagonist seems to have been written as a male who then gets a gender-flip to mix things up. Or she's a sexual object for the viewers to ogle. There's nothing wrong with a bit of exploitative science fiction, but it's nice to see something with higher aspirations every once in a while. This certainly has that, but it goes so far as to seem pretentious at times.

Maybe this was simply too far outside of my demographic. On the surface, it's got a lot of themes and ideas that appeal to me, but the focus seems to be diametrically opposed to how I would have done it. Less metaphysics, more world-building. If you're interested in feminist science fiction, however, this is rare example. You should at least give it a chance if you're interested in such things. Perhaps you'll be more intrigued by the themes than I was.

Plague
(2014)

A relationship psychological thriller ... with zombies
The plot: After being abandoned by their group, two struggling survivors of a zombie apocalypse find salvation in the form of a highly competent stranger who offers to help them.

Evie and John, a married couple, don't seem cut out to survive a post-apocalyptic world full of zombies. Both are academics, and they have little skill at foraging, surviving, or managing stress. Enter Charlie, a man who seems to be doing quite well for himself. He's got a rifle, car, supplies, and knows where to find more. He doesn't seem to want anything but a place to stay and companionship.

From this point, the film becomes a psychological thriller. John and Evie become increasingly dependent on Charlie, and the story becomes more concerned with their relationships than it does the zombies, who become more of a background element. It's not too different from your stereotypical psychological thriller, but the Australian setting and occasional zombie attack may make it interesting enough for viewers tired of Cape Fear ripoffs.

There are a few scenes that seem to drag on a bit. In one particular scene that kind of bothered me, Evie wanders through their dark and foreboding shelter, calling out quietly to John. Alright, a bit of suspense is good. But the scene just seemed to go on forever. I kept thinking to myself, "This is time that could have been spent on character development. Or plot. Or anything, really." Overall, the atmosphere was pretty good, but the intensity had a tendency to morph into melodrama at times.

The characters are a bit frustrating at times, but if you're willing to cut them some slack and see this as a character study rather than zombie-killing outing, it's a lot more interesting. The original Dawn of the Dead packed a lot of action, character development, and satire into its runtime, and that's my gold standard for a horror film. This doesn't quite measure up, but it's not even trying to be an action film. For fans of slow-burn dramas, this will be a more enjoyable experience, as long as they can overlook the low budget.

I guess it comes down to how tired you are of low budget zombie films and how much tolerance you have for slow-paced psychological thrillers. I'm fine with the latter, but low budget zombie films are becoming a bit tiresome. I'll still watch them, of course, but I've lost a great deal of enthusiasm for them in the past five years. I liked how stark and gritty this film was without becoming exploitative, but it wasn't exactly the most original thing ever.

Outpost 37
(2014)

Could have been worse, but I was expecting more Adrian Paul
The plot: A pair of embedded journalists document what goes on at one of the last remaining anti-alien outposts after a failed invasion of Earth.

In the 2020s, alien invade Earth. Nobody really knows why. After some setbacks, we finally drive them off. However, they leave behind a bunch of soldiers, and the replacement to the UN sets up outposts to clean up. Ten years later, our intrepid journalists document the final days of one of the final outposts.

The first thing that bothered me was that Outpost 37 looks like it is set in the 20th century. One soldier carries around an old-school photographs of his mom, like it's World War II or something. What happened to being in the 2030s? It's distracting. How much money would it have cost to give one one quick scene where he uses a holographic projection? It doesn't even have to be particularly convincing.

Alright, beside that, how's the film? Well, there's a lot of talking, interviews, and exposition. Don't watch if you were expecting non-stop action. Special effects are alright. I guess the aliens are a bit underwhelming, but I wasn't expecting too much. I was expecting Adrian Paul, though. I feel kind of cheated. No swords, no decapitations, and virtually no Adrian Paul. Shaky cam was mostly tolerable, but this is the wrong film if you hate that.

Characters seemed more-or-less interchangeable and generic at first, but they eventually grew a bit more distinct. They never really grew beyond archetypes, but I guess they don't need to in a military science fiction B movie. The plot was serviceable, but it struck me as basically a video game plot. The characters seemed quite a bit slower to recognize the game's rules than the audience. Thematically, it's just a shallow commentary on the Iraq War.

"Gee, this guy that I completely trusted has betrayed me, there's a suspicious incision in the back of his head, and we're fighting aliens. I guess it means nothing." Does this bother you? No? Then watch this film. You'll probably forgive all its flaws.

Bounty Killer
(2013)

A campy pastiche of Mad Max ripoffs
The plot: A post-apocalyptic bounty hunter goes on the defensive when a bounty is issued for his head and his ex-lover comes to collect.

I didn't realize that this was directed by the same person who did The Last Lovecraft. If I had, I probably would have skipped it. Still, it was better than that horrid film, even if only marginally. I'm a sucker for exploitation films, post-apocalyptic films, and especially exploitative post-apocalyptic films, so I figured this would probably appeal to me. The concept does, but the film... not so much. If you're like me, nothing that I say about this film will discourage you from watching it. However, it's not really worth your time if you're looking for something more than a campy pastiche of Mad Max ripoffs.

The first big problem is the humor. I guess if you liked The Last Lovecraft, you'll probably find this hilarious. It's immature, shallow, and not very witty at all. There a few entertaining moments, but they seem to arrive almost accidentally amid the assault of failed jokes. Like the warmed over Sarah Palin jokes from Iron Sky, this film does attempt to pander somewhat to left-leaning audiences, but there's absolutely no substance it. You could probably find wittier humor on Cracked.com. The splatter is somewhat amusing, and there are quite a few scenes of decapitation. If you are endlessly amused by gratuitous violence, there's always that saving grace. The hero's sidekick was just plain horrible, though. It reminded me of forced quirkiness of Six String Samurai.

The second major problem is that the camera is constantly trying to have sex with the female star. It's downright distracting, and if you're more interested in watching a film than you are in ogling a moderately attractive B actress, this is going to be a slog to get through for you. Acting, characterization, plot -- pretty much everything comes in a distant second, if that. This isn't a deal-breaker, and it's kind of what one would expect from an exploitation film, but normally there is at least some pretense toward telling a story. This film seems mostly to be an excuse to shoot fanservice from a comic book. It's not terribly surprising to find that the director and writer previously collaborated on making exactly that.

The third and possibly biggest problem is that everything in this film comes from another film. If you've sat through more than a few post-apocalyptic films, then it's likely you'll feel a constant sense of deja vu. Sure, I guess you could call it homage if you're feeling kind, but how badly do we need another low budget ripoff of The Road Warrior? I mean, sure, I'll keep watching them as fast as Phase 4 Films, Lionsgate, and other direct-to-video distributors can keep pumping them out, but maybe a bit of originality would be nice in a while. I can't help but think that Roger Corman could have done more with this high concept premise, and it essentially gets discarded in favor of Mad Max homages until the climax.

If all you want is to ogle a B actress in a post-apocalyptic film with some good if derivative action sequences, then this is a good choice. In fact, it's probably a great choice. If you're looking for anything else, skip it.

Marksmen
(2013)

Art is fine, but the story is terrible
The plot: In post-apocalyptic Texas, a rugged loner from a techno-atheist society discovers that the religious fundamentalists from a nearby city are planning an attack.

If all you want is post-apocalyptic cowboys, then you might enjoy this. For everyone else, I think it will be kind of underwhelming. It's a complete rehash of every post-apocalyptic film or video game that you've ever seen. The art is pretty nice, but the voice work, dialogue, and story are all terrible. Just about everything is stereotypical, overdone, or both. For example, the lead voice actor speaks in a ridiculously over-the-top Clint Eastwood-style growl. I guess if you're a teenager, you might find the themes pretty deep, but it's unlikely anyone else will. Given the rating, I think this was probably aimed at kids. So, I guess maybe check it out if you want a story about post-apocalyptic, atheist cowboys who never curse. Otherwise, skip it. Just watch Mad Max again instead.

Young Ones
(2014)

A post-apocalyptic Western
The plot: After a catastrophic drought, a man and his two teenaged children attempt to survive in a post-apocalyptic society.

I wanted to like this more than I did. Everything about it seems like it would appeal to me. The problem is that I got a bit bored during a few slower parts of the film as I waited for the predictable plot to catch up to where I knew it was going. That's not a deal-breaker, but the scenes were telegraphed rather overtly early on, and anyone who's familiar with this sort of story can probably predict most of the film after twenty minutes. That said, it successfully avoided several annoying clichés in post-apocalyptic films: cannibals, biker gangs, raping all the female characters, and characters who do more yelling than talking. I was glad to see a post-apocalyptic film that was more concerned with characters than gratuitous elements such as these. Don't get me wrong: I love gratuitous exploitation films, but it's nice to have something a bit more restrained every now and then.

I would hesitate to truly recommend this film to fans of post-apocalyptic science fiction. There's certainly much to enjoy if you're starved for good entries in that genre, but it's nowhere near as good as The Road, which was a near-masterpiece. Certainly, the mood and atmosphere of that film was missing, and if you're looking for a truly bleak and depressing story, you won't find it here. This is a more traditional Western story in which a family survives in a near-lawless frontier. If you're more a fan of Westerns than post-apocalyptic films, then I can see how you might enjoy this more than I did. Even so, I think that you'd be better served by watching old Sergio Leone films. You won't get robotic mules, but you'll get much better cinematography and pacing. I can't remember a time when I was ever bored in a Leone film.

Not Safe for Work
(2014)

A low budget thriller that is pretty much what you expect
The plot: On the day that he is fired, an idealistic paralegal witnesses a professional killer murder one of his former coworkers at a legal firm.

I guess the setup isn't too original, but that's fine with me. I'm always up for a thriller in which a witness is hunted down by a hit-man. The plot is vaguely topical, and it should appeal to those who rail against "big pharma". The setting is law firm engaged in legal action against a giant pharmaceutical company, and there is occasional commentary about corruption in the pharmaceutical industry.

There are a number of minor problems with the film, but I don't think any of them make it unwatchable. If you're more interested in entertainment value than originality, and you're forgiving of plot holes, I think you could do worse than this. The ending has received a bit of criticism here, but I thought it was perfectly fine. However, if you're the kind of person who wants every single plot element fully resolved, I can see how that would annoy you.

There isn't any gore, nudity, or excessively harsh language, and the violence is fairly restrained. There isn't really all that much atmosphere, but Mindhella and Feild do a decent job. For a direct-to-video thriller, I'd say it's about what you might be expecting: flawed but watchable, unoriginal but entertaining.

Evacuate Earth
(2012)

Cheesy and preachy propaganda for spacetravel enthusiasts
Can the human race create an arkship that will allow a selected number of refugees to escape a doomed Earth? Apparently so, according to this documentary. The thought experiment involves a roving neutral star on a collision course with our solar system. We've got 75 years before Earth is destroyed, and we must reorganize society, revolutionize our manufacturing capacity, and maintain social order in the face of certain doom for all but a few lucky people.

It's a rather mixed bag, but the concept is definitely intriguing. The worst problem is that this documentary is laughably bad. The dramatic sequences are probably the weakest element; they are horribly melodramatic and very poorly acted, but I suppose they have a certain "so bad it's good" charm. The science is actually better than I expected. I guess if you're a stickler, there will probably be several issues that you can't forgive. For example, as the neutron star approaches Earth, there really isn't much gravitational effect. They do discuss this, but it generally doesn't happen until pretty late in the scenario. Seems a bit unlikely to me. Then again, I slept through most of my physics lectures.

Anyway, as the Earth adapts to this threat, we face several critical questions. Each of them are answered rather quickly and simplistically, perhaps to make way for more dramatic sequences. The balance was all wrong. A few well-placed sequences to underscore the drama would have been much better than the constant use of stock footage, melodrama, and bad CGI. Also, I really don't know that I agree with their story-based approach; I would have preferred something a bit more analytical. They could have asked and explored really deep questions instead of repeatedly showing people unconvincingly panicking in the face of bad CGI. For example, society could go in several different directions, such as dystopian or utopian responses to the threat. It seems as though the creators of this documentary had a specific vision for humanity, and they weren't really interested in exploring any other ideas. I'm not saying that I necessarily disagree, but it's kind of intellectually lazy and preachy.

All in all, this is propaganda for spacetravel enthusiasts. If you're one of them, you'll probably love this, as it will reinforce all your beliefs and congratulate you for forward-thinking vision. If you're not an enthusiast, then you'll probably find it cheesy and preachy. The intriguing questions are answered unsatisfactorily, and any entertainment value is strictly unintentional.

Zero in the System
(2013)

Raw and low-budget character study of a vigilante
The plot: After he turns his life around, an ex-con turns vigilante to protect his neighborhood from drug dealers.

I walked into this film not really knowing anything about it, so I expected that it would probably be an urban-themed update of Death Wish. When I saw the Phase 4 Films logo, I lowered my expectations significantly, as Phase 4 has become infamous in some quarters for distributing backyard productions. The production values are actually a bit more raw and low-budget than their usual fare, but it sort of works for the gritty story. The film itself is more of a character study than an outright thriller. It's not exactly Taxi Driver, but it's got significantly more depth than I initially expected, especially once I saw the Phase 4 logo.

The camera work is a bit frenetic during the action scenes, and I think people who were expected bloody carnage may be a bit disappointed. There's more atmosphere -- a strong sense of approaching dread -- than there are scenes of vigilante justice. You can tell that Earl, the protagonist, is conflicted about his path, and the scenes of quiet, angry contemplation were fairly well done for a low budget film. Earl's girlfriend begins to tell him about her day, and he sits there in his car, stewing over a minor incident in which a teenager casually disrespects him. Eventually, Earl gets out of the car while his girlfriend is in mid-sentence, confronts the teenagers, and then tries to smooth things over with his girlfriend. It's obvious that he's going to have to make a decision about his lifestyle soon. Earl is an angry man, and you're never quite sure where his anger is going to lead him.

Earl is an interesting guy, and I was never bored. I'm not quite sure to whom I would recommend this film, however. What it lacks in exploitative violence, it makes up for in depth. I suppose, to some extent, you might compare it to John Sayles' work in low budget exploitation films, elevating them to higher levels. It's also got some elements of early Spike Lee or John Singleton urban dramas, and if you miss those, maybe you'll enjoy this.

ETXR
(2014)

Shallow New Age nonsense about a techno DJ
The plot: A DJ receives extraterrestrial messages through his bland and generic techno music.

I'm not the biggest fan of techno, but I do like it. I was a bit skeptical of the plot; any time you get a synopsis like this, it usually means you're in for 75 or 80 minutes (these are B movies after all) of bland and generic music and a throwaway plot wrapped around it. This was no exception, but it did seem to have airs toward at least aiming a bit higher than the usual horror comedy or hipster drama. There's some talk of extradimensional telepathy, collective consciousness, and transcending to a higher plane of consciousness, but, really, it's all just meaningless mumbo jumbo that doesn't affect the film's plot at all.

This is a fairly shallow, by-the-numbers thriller that unfolds exactly like you think it will. There's one or two sort of trippy scenes, but they're kid's play compared to experimental films or art-house mindscrews. I was hoping for more along those lines, and I was left disappointed. Instead, it played out like the stereotypical paranormal thriller, where the government, big business, and terrorists are obsessed with taking the revolutionary, pseudoscientific invention away from a brilliant but quirky scientist. This time, we also get a techno DJ and his apparently useless friend along for the ride, too.

The invention itself was somewhat interesting, but it turned out to be a huge MacGuffin, a plot device that exists only to drive conflict between the people who own it and the people who want it. Characters constantly talk about how important it is, how it can change everything, etc, but it never really does much of anything throughout the film. For a film that teases you with rather weighty metaphysical questions (such as "How would society change once you force it to a higher state of consciousness?"), there really isn't much to this film. It seems more interested in playing bland techno, showing two girls dancing with each other, and low-budget special effects.

If you're expecting something wildly original, intelligent, or mindblowing, I think you're just going to be as disappointed as I was. If you walk into it with low expectations, a fondness for mainstream dance music, and a desire to see bad actors make out with each other, maybe you'll enjoy this more than I did. I can see how this might become a cult film among fans of raves, but that's about it. Anyone else is probably going to be unimpressed.

Buck Wild
(2013)

Troma-inspired idiocy set in Texas
The plot: Four friends go on a hunting trip in Texas, only to run up against Chupacabra zombies.

Well, there isn't a lot to say about this film. It's pretty stupid, but I was still amused by some of the scenes. Much of the humor depends on your being an immature, easily amused film nerd. If that's you, then you might like it, too. Just be aware that it's not really action-packed or fast-moving. Despite the bizarre premise, it's not really the most original horror-comedy ever made. It clumsily adopts and mocks every cliché the writers could think of, though not on a terribly intellectual level. It's quite inhibited compared to Troma's sheer insanity and gleeful offensiveness, but there's definitely a bit of inspiration from that infamous studio.

Normally, my tolerance level for these films is quite low, but this one had just enough stupidly amusing scenes that I stuck it out. Also, I liked the end credits song. If you like this sort of nonsense, then I suggest you check out DeadHeads, another recent zombie comedy that was similar in some ways.

20 Ft Below: The Darkness Descending
(2014)

Cheesy Humanoid Underground Dweller
The plot: A naive reporter finds a bigger story than she was expecting when she visits a underground homeless camp in the abandoned subway tunnels of New York City.

This is a very low budget film. Unfortunately, it's not one of those inventive independent films that makes up for its lack of budget with bold, new ideas and a maverick spirit. Instead, it's pretty much what you'd expect from a direct-to-video Danny Trejo film: a cool villain, a weak story, and a bit of violence. For some people, that will surely be enough to carry the entire film, but if you're not a Trejo fanatic, you can probably skip this one.

The biggest problem is that the homeless people generally don't look very homeless. I'm not saying they have to smell like urine and mumble incoherently, but these people are way too pretty and healthy for me believe that they've actually suffered. One of them has what looks like a brand new guitar. I'm not even sure that I could afford that guitar. You don't have to go all method and make the actors live in a homeless community for a week, but more realism wouldn't have hurt.

Some of the characters were pretty cool. Of course, I liked Danny Trejo, and, of course, he played a badass villain. He was sort of interesting: part ubermensch, part cult leader, and part Occupy Wall Street protester. I'm not sure how well all those things mix, especially when he'd segue from discussing the plight of the homeless to some Nietzsche-inspired rant about how the weak deserve their plight. Still, for Trejo fanatics, it's enough to make the film watchable, and he delivers it with his trademark hostility and danger. As soon as he enters, it's easy to believe that he's the most dangerous man in any room.

The rest of the characters weren't so interesting. Most of them were underwritten and depended on cultural archetypes to give them weight: the crazy homeless guy, the burnt-out ex-cop, the pushy reporter, etc. As long as you don't mind a film full of stock characters that never really transcend their stereotypes, it's fairly survivable. A few of them are well-spoken and even fairly well acted (I liked the crazy homeless guy), but most of the dialogue ends up being clichés, especially after the midpoint. Prior to that point, it seemed like they might be verging on something interesting or insightful, but then they just wander into hack screen writing 101 and never leave.

The plot is fairly traditional, and it holds no real surprises. It's the same film that you've seen time and time again, only this time its set underground. If you just want to see Danny Trejo act like a badass, this is a fair choice. If you want more than that, I'd say skip it. I like films about underground societies, but this one really didn't work very well. For an artsy, quirky take on the subject, try Kontroll, an amazing Hungarian film. For a more fantasy-based take, try Nail Gaiman's Neverwhere. I'm not a huge fan of Gaiman, but even the worst of his work is better than this.

Germ
(2013)

An uninspired zombie film set in central New York
The plot: After a satellite falls in central New York, the hapless townspeople are transformed into ravenous zombies.

As far as zombie film plots go, this is hardly an original one. I doubt most people watch direct-to-video zombie films for original ideas, so we can probably overlook this issue. Less forgivable is the acting and directing. After the first ten minutes, I was ready to turn this off, but I decided to give it a chance. After all, this was made not too far away from where I live, and I was curious what a Syracuse-area zombie film would look like.

I'm happy to report that the film does get better after the first excruciatingly bad minutes, but it's still an uphill battle. We're introduced to quite a few characters, none of whom are especially interesting or memorable. The acting is about what you'd expect for a direct-to-video zombie film, but it should be more-or-less tolerable for genre veterans used to lowering their standards.

Once the zombies appear, the pace quickens a bit, but the action scenes are really no more interesting or memorable than the characters. Zombies siege a house, zombies siege a car, zombies siege a police station -- these are not quite inspired scenarios. If you're just looking for a bit of zombie action and low budget gore, this will hold you over until the next direct-to-video zombie film arrives, but there's little recommend about this particular entry in that crowded arena.

For a film that I originally thought was unsalvageable and boring, it eventually did turn into a slightly more interesting film. The problem is that it never really peaked any higher than mediocre. I doubt anyone outside of the central New York area will be as amused by the novelty of its setting, and this is really the only reason why I finished it. If you really want to see New Yorkers terrorized by monsters in low budget horror films, Larry Fessenden, Jim Mickle, and Larry Cohen are better choices.

+1
(2013)

Triangle starring the cast of American Pie
The plot: During an out-of-control party, a group of college students experience a timeline disturbance that causes duplicates of themselves to appear.

The basic concept of this film is interesting, even if it is a bit of a retread of many other recent films, including Triangle, Timecrimes, Primer, etc. Unlike those films, this one stars a group teens straight out of American Pie. If that sounds appealing to you, then you'll probably enjoy this film more than I did.

Like Deadgirl, this film seems to ambiguously address themes of narcissism and misogyny. The kids' party is so over-the-top sexist that it's difficult not to believe that the following events aren't some kind of commentary. However, again like Deadgirl, the amorality of it leaves one wondering whether the film is simply misogynist itself. I'm inclined to take a charitable view of both films, but it's difficult to say with certainty that they are intentionally taking a stance against misogyny.

If you're the sort that enjoys gratuitous nudity, ignores plot holes and other contrivances, and thinks that people read way too much into films, you'll probably enjoy this. It's not bad for what it is, and there are some good scenes. On the other hand, if you're looking for something like Primer, I'd suggest you skip this. It's a bit deeper than you might first think, but that's not saying much. I thought about rating this 6/10, but the ending was a bit weak.

Sweetwater
(2013)

70s revenge film transposed into a Western
The plot: A psychotic preacher goes too far when he begins indiscriminately murdering innocent people. A manic sheriff and gun-toting ex-prostitute team up to stop him and his followers.

I liked this film, but it's really quite shallow. If you can enjoy a minimalist, high-concept revenge thriller, this is actually pretty enjoyable. Just don't look for anything more than violent action scenes, despicable villains, and violent anti-heroes who would make Clint Eastwood proud.

As I expected, Ed Harris is the highlight of this film. His crazy sheriff is unpredictable, darkly humorous, and fun. The little bits of back story that we were fed make him intriguing, but it's a bit unfortunate that they never capitalized on any of it. I thought that maybe there'd be plot twists and complicated alliances, like a Sergio Leone film, but I guess this isn't that kind of film. No, it's basically a beat-em-up video game where the hero kills all the villain's henchmen and then does a boss fight.

There are quite a few postmodern touches to the film that may annoy old-school Western fans. For one thing, this a modern revenge thriller that's been transposed into a Western setting. As such, I don't think this was really meant to appeal to fans of classic Westerns. Instead, it's going for the Quentin Tarantino crowd, though it could have used more style and quotable dialog. For a poor man's QT film, this is not bad, but I'd recommend the real thing instead.

The Murder of Fred Hampton
(1971)

Historically important
This documentary can be split into two parts. The first half is a biography of Fred Hampton, a civil rights pioneer, community organizer, and Black Panther member. The second half is a stunning work of investigative journalism that provides clear evidence that Hampton was assassinated by the Chicago police.

Hampton was called a dangerous revolutionary, but his message was nothing more revolutionary than social justice and equality. While there is certainly a revolutionary aspect to that, it is not the angry and violent rhetoric with which the state wanted to tar him. So they simply assassinated him and concocted a story that portrayed him how they wanted him -- dangerously violent. The facts of the case just don't fit that narrative, however.

Hampton's story is not well known. That makes this film even more important. It is extremely dangerous to think that state-sanctioned political assassinations could not happen or do not happen in the United States. Hampton's death is tragic enough without us learning nothing from it. Fascism can rise anywhere, and it can be as petty as racist cops working for a corrupt city government or as insidious as a federal agency that engages in black ops against its own citizens.

Akumu no erebêtâ
(2009)

Quirky comedy-thriller
The plot: Four strangers trapped together in a stopped elevator share their stories and learn that some of them may ulterior motives for being there.

Elevator Trap isn't the kind of film that I usually watch, but I figured that I'd take a chance on it. It's a quirky Japanese comedy-thriller that unpredictably veers from comedy to thriller throughout the film. Sometimes I really enjoy that quirky refusal to adhere to stylistic convention, but here I thought that the film would be better off as a straight thriller or black comedy. The first half of the film is fairly lighthearted and silly, but it becomes darker as time goes on; eventually it pauses in order to deliver a public service message about suicide.

As with the stories of Agatha Christie, which the film references a couple times, the requisite plot twists may seem a bit predictable to savvy thriller fans who know to expect the unexpected, distrust the obvious red herrings, and automatically suspect the least likely characters. Still, for fans of Agatha Christie, this is a fun homage that plays with the clichés of the genre. I was not able to predict everything, of course, but I did a fair job of mapping out the plot twists once the characters were introduced. Unlike some films that depend on plot twists, I did not notice any obvious plot holes.

The sets are not as limited as the synopsis might lead you to believe, and the list of characters is larger than the few people stuck in the elevator. In fact, probably half of the film takes place outside of the elevator, though many of those scenes are flashbacks. The acting was pretty good. I found the quirkiness a bit forced and the plot a bit predictable, but I'm sure others will enjoy it. If you haven't gotten tired of films about people stuck in an elevator, this is worth a watch.

Android Insurrection
(2012)

Elite commandos vs robots
The plot: A team of elite commandos infiltrate an enemy base to extract a group of friendly androids.

I'm really not sure where to even start. Given the apparent budgetary restrictions, any criticism of this film seems almost mean-spirited, but there are so many problems that you'd have to be a member of the cast or crew to like it. Even their relatives probably wouldn't rate it well. I have a high tolerance for low budgets, bad acting, and crappy special effects. I can even enjoy the occasional Z-grade movie. I'm sure that everyone involved in this project is a nice person, and it looks like they probably had some fun making it... but it's just not a very good film.

The skeletal story involves a team of elite commandos who fight against killer AIs and try to extract friendlies from an enemy base. The commandos are your basic B-movie archetypes who speak in clichés and recycled lines from other science fiction films. The special effects are YouTube-level, though they do show a certain degree of imagination. The acting ranged from amateurish to astonishingly bad. Really, I could have handled the acting if only they had cut the scenes of the guy with the fake German accent. There was no real tension or atmosphere at all. I wouldn't be too surprised if this were actually an amateur film that somehow managed to get professionally distributed.

The only thing that would keep this off Syfy is the language, but it would be trivial to clean it up. My guess is that Syfy fans will probably be soon sharing in our collective pain. If you have a high tolerance for Z-grade science fiction (such as Star Trek fan films on YouTube), you'll might be able to sit through this. I did. The ending credits have a kind of cool song. That was probably the best part of this film. Also, some of the cast are attractive. I'm struggling to find anything else positive to add. If all you want is 90 minutes of mindless violence against robots, I guess you watch this, but there are much better choices.

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