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  • Tribeca 2024: #AMFAD: ALL MY FRIENDS ARE DEAD – A Chat with Star Jade Pettyjohn and Director Marcus Dunstan

    Tribeca 2024: #AMFAD: ALL MY FRIENDS ARE DEAD – A Chat with Star Jade Pettyjohn and Director Marcus Dunstan
    Jade Pettyjohn as “Sarah” in the horror/thriller, #AMFAD: ALL MY FRIENDS ARE DEAD, a Cineverse release. Photo courtesy of Cineverse.

    #AMFAD: All My Friends Are Dead the latest by Marcus Dunstan (Saw, Feast, The Collector), premieres this Saturday at Tribeca and will be released In Select Theaters and On Demand on August 2. Dunstan not only wrote/directed the excellent Collector duology, but wrote the Feast trilogy and a bunch of the Saw films. Here with a script by John Baldecchi, Jessica Sarah Flaum and Josh Sims, Dunstan is tackling a film premise that is fast becoming a genre unto itself in indie horror, the social media slasher. 

    In a meta take on the current obsession with true crime and dark nostalgia. The film takes place two decades after Karmapalooza, a fictitious music festival that was tragically marked by the deaths of seven college students that spawned a podcast, a netflix true crime series and a feature film. In a morose cash grab the notorious fest is back to cash in on that notoriety and #AMFAD follows 7 friends who book an airbnb cabin in the woods on their way to the fest. 

    We, the audience, are then paired off with the final girl-esque Sarah (Jade Pettyjohn), the newcomer to the group of long time friends who harbor a terrible secret. Jade is probably best known as Summer in the School of Rock TV Series and will no doubt be someone to watch after this film. 

    I really dug #AMFAD (Review soon!) and got to chat with both Marcus and Jade about not only this film, and costar JoJo Siwa who has a surprising role to play here, but also got some great news about The Collector 3, spoiler alert, it might be FINALLY happening. Enjoy!

    First off congrats on the film, Marcus you’re a pretty prolific writer/director with some of my favorite franchises under your belt. Normally you write your own films, so what drew you to this script and its take on the toxicity of social media?

    Marcus Dunstan: Well, I had never been able to take the helm of a murder mystery, and I love that. We were ghost writers on the reboot of My Bloody Valentine, and I loved the architecture of it, because what I found is if it was a straight, “we know who the evil person is and we’re watching bodies pile up” okay? Those movies, you can cut ’em down to about 80 minutes and you get it. 

    But the murder mysteries had character development, it had suspicion, it had the closeup of, is that the same boot as the killer? It had the characters, and layers. And often I found them to be just more engaging and more realistic to watch. That’s what was really fun. So that was the inspiration to get into that. 

    And in terms of social media, it’s kinda like the mantra of this that I was keeping in my head is, well, this is modern voyeurism. Voyeurism used to be on the shoulders of the person standing far away. And with social media, we’ve invited the voyeur in.

    Jade, I love Sara’s journey in the film as an actor that has to be a great script to get, what kind of prep did you do for the role, physically or emotionally and where do you find the tools to play a character like that?

    Jade Pettyjohn: So my prep for this particular project was a little bit different than my normal sort of prep when it comes to a project. Sarah is a really interesting character. She’s very nuanced, and I think within the first two acts of the film, you really explore how she is this outsider in a group of friends and she’s trying to find her footing in this world. And she acts as sort of the fly on the wall, as all of these extreme things are happening and she’s just sort of trying to discover her place in that.

    I think that is a very sort of quiet rooted moment that Sarah gets to have. And then when everything hits the fan and the chaos ensues in the third act. How Sarah breaks and how what she turns into and evolves into under very heightened intense circumstances, was very physical.

    JoJo Siwa as “Colette Campbell” in the horror/thriller, #AMFAD: ALL MY FRIENDS ARE DEAD, a Cineverse release. Photo courtesy of Cineverse.

    So I have to ask both of you about JoJo Siwa. I am honestly a low key fan. How did she come to the project? I know Jade, you’ve worked  with her before and I honestly have to say, I didn’t know she was in the film when I first saw it and I was really surprised at how great she is here. 

    Marcus Dunstan: I want to give a shout out to Jessica Schwartz and I believe she started the ball rolling to even approach the team representing JoJo. From that, I would just have to fast forward to the result of all those efforts. I am not privy to how it happened, but I’ll tell you who showed up for us as an outgoing, soulful, caring, dedicated, wonderful collaborative entity that just said, push me. I’m here to win and let’s go. 

    Thank goodness, because we could have done what was just on the pages with that character, but because it was her, because of Jade, because of everyone really just giving beyond the norm, there’s so much more there.

    Jade Pettyjohn: I think what she did really was the haunting heart and through-line of the story, and she is so dedicated. I mean, there’s really something to say about someone who comes in and, and does this performance and she’s never done a project like this before or a role like this before. There was a lot that was required of her to be able to do something like that and she didn’t complain once. 

    Marcus – Any Sequel Plans for #AMFAD, I know that post credits scene definitely got me? 

    And speaking of sequels…

    I also have to ask any update on The Collector 3 I am a huge fan of that series?

    Marcus Dunstan: Bless your heart for asking. 

    When it comes to the universe of All My Friends are Dead, we’re gonna satiate the appetite, if the appetite’s there, and we’re ready to launch. 

    When it comes to The Collector there’s a Gordian knot of things to untie, and I wanna say, the last hurdle was just jumped. So what I’m hoping to do, if I’m so fortunate, Josh Stewart (the star of the Collector series), and I are intending to hang out and watch this movie together in New York this Saturday. I want nothing more than to just send out a thumbs up at some point and be like, guess what? Miracles can happen twice in one night, but we’ll see <laughs>.

    Sometimes the legalese of stuff moves a little bit slower than the optimism <laughs>

  • Criterion Review: ANATOMY OF A FALL (2024)

    Criterion Review: ANATOMY OF A FALL (2024)

    Justine Triet’s Cannes and Oscar success is a provocative interrogation of perspective and truth

    Stills courtesy of NEON and Criterion.

    After the sudden, mysterious death of her husband at their Swiss chalet, successful novelist Sandra Voyter (Sandra Hüller) is thrust into an unforgiving world of legal and public scrutiny. Both Sandra’s sympathetic legal counselor Vincent (Swann Arlaud) and a ravenous prosecutor (Antoine Reinartz) pick over every aspect of Sandra’s personal and professional life, aided by a crew of warring forensic and psychological experts. Whether out of support or malice, they meticulously implode any sense of privacy or dignity Sandra possesses to convict or exonerate Sandra of killing her husband. Throughout, German-born Sandra must defend herself in non-native languages of French and English; she walks a tenuous linguistic tightrope in conveying the heartbreaking emotional complexity of her degrading relationship with her husband Samuel (Samuel Theis) while trying not to sway the judicial system towards a guilty verdict. 

    Also caught in this moral maelstrom is Sandra’s blind son, Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner); the first to discover his father’s body, Daniel tries to synthesize all of the conflicting, charged opinions of the courtroom with his own memories of his parents. In doing so, he realizes his own perspective on these tragic events will decide his mother’s fate.

    While drawing inspiration from other Criterion classics like Anatomy of a Murder, Justine Triet’s Palme D’Or-winning film becomes far more than a gripping legal drama. As one pours over the minutiae of the Voyters’ lives, clashing perspectives threaten at every turn to upend what we think we know about the couple in front of us. Each new bit of evidence doesn’t just refute our preconceived notions, Triet makes us conscious of who is presenting that information, and why. Considered on their own, these anecdotal testimonies and snippets of audio/visual evidence tease out new aspects of this couple; yet by framing at times objective bits of information through the perspectives of defense and prosecutor, Triet and co-writer Arthur Harari forces their viewers to consider just why we choose to accept some pieces of evidence and their crucial context over others. Do we take the testimony of Samuel’s psychologist at face value? The dubious re-cres of the accident and the events leading up to it, increasingly performed under duress by Sandra? What are the real-life applications and parallels to Sandra’s works of fiction? Does 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.” still carry the weight of the lyrics’ misogyny and violence even in its instrumental version? 

    Over its runtime, Anatomy of a Fall is less of a film getting to the point of its central character’s alleged guilt and more about what facts we choose to cling to to form the basis of a singular “truth.” It’s a wonderful film about the compulsion to categorize and compartmentalize those around us. No character bears this more than Machado-Graner’s Daniel, tragically trapped as a spectator until the film’s last moments. The product of both parents’ quarreling worldviews, Triet filters and re-orients his memories through the testimonies he blindly bears witness to. Through Daniel, Triet begs, “how do we reckon our deeply held, emotionally charged views of those we love against horrifying conflicting information?”

    To Triet’s and especially Sandra Hüller’s credit, Sandra Voyter is miraculously played as someone whose nature as a legal cipher never quite diminishes the amount of empathy we build towards her. Through another lens, Anatomy of a Fall is a biting examination of the harsh standards successful women like Sandra must be subjected to. In her ailing marriage, Sandra expertly yet futilely tried to balance her wildly successful literary career against her husband’s perpetual failures; her love for her husband against his complicity in a familial tragedy; and what is expected of her as a partner versus her own valid needs as an individual. What’s more, in the wake of Samuel’s death, Sandra must walk that unforgiving line in languages other than her native tongue–knowing full well that certain ambiguities will be lost in the communication gap, and that prosecutorial forces are counting on that to happen. As a prosecution creates a malicious image out of her through piecemeal anecdotes and equivocations to fiction, Sandra and her valiant defense must also create and defend their own image of her that, while far from perfect, stands the best chance of sparing her life. It’s an unbelievably stressful series of legal and emotional hurdles that, as lawyer Vincent says early on in the film, renders the idea of proving her guilt almost beside the point. This moral gauntlet is daunting and draining for any defendant to bear regardless of intent or outcome.

    It’s the experience and resolution of this emotional trial from which Triet fashions an incredibly memorable and provocative film. Fresh from its own trials by fire on the French and International film competition circuit, where it won both the Palme D’Or and Best Original Screenplay Oscar, Criterion has assembled a thorough and insightful package for Anatomy of a Fall’s home video release.

    Video/Audio

    Criterion presents Anatomy of a Fall in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio in 1080p HD, sourced from the original 2K master files provided by Neon and production company Les Films Pelléas. The film is accompanied by a 5.1-Channel audio mix, with English subtitles available in both SDH as well as for solely non-English sections of the film. An English-language descriptive audio track is available for the feature, leaving space for English-language audio while dubbing non-English-language dialogue. Special Features are subtitled only for non-English-language sections.

    What marks the visual style of Anatomy of a Fall is how Triet, cinematographer Simon Beaufils, and editor Laurent Sénéchal mine the film’s frozen Swiss setting to create a film that perpetually remains at a sparse, cold remove. Criterion’s disc presentation dutifully represents the film’s muted color palette while preserving pops of color found in skin tones, set dressing, and other key elements, in addition to the earthy tones of the film’s central chalet. Shot digitally and compressed to HD, there’s a healthy amount of natural digital noise which becomes prominent on black/dark textures and spaces. However, this grain never becomes too distracting during the presentation; more complex textures like hair or Sandra’s sweater during Vincent’s visit never overly reduce to blocking or digital artifacting. For a film that was never intended to receive something as complex as a 4K UHD release, this is a stellar presentation of Anatomy of a Fall, faithful to the original master materials.

    Without a traditional score, the surround audio track intimately captures every faint domestic noise in the chalet as well as the thrumming percussion in the obnoxious blaring of Samuel’s steel drum “P.I.M.P.” cover at the film’s beginning. During key sequences, Triet and sound designer Fanny Martin create complex layers between diegetic noise and audio recordings, creating an ever-present split dichotomy between past, present, and warring perspectives. The inclusion of a descriptive audio track by AudioEyes is a welcome and entertaining one amid Criterion’s improving accessibility for its releases–especially for a film whose emphasis on perspective is paramount to its success.

    Special Features

    • Justine Triet: A lengthy interview with Anatomy of a Fall’s writer/director, charting the origins for the film, her initial collaborations with actress Sandra Hüller, various production challenges (especially in regards to location logistics), the choice to forego a traditional score for the film, and inspirations from philosopher Gilles Deleuze.
    • Deleted/Alternate Scenes: Accompanied by a humbling introduction and optional commentary by writer-director Triet, five deleted and alternate scenes are presented. There’s The Psychic, featuring a man referred to earlier in the film who attempts to detect Samuel’s presence at Sandra and Daniel’s request; The Reunion, an alternate version of Sandra and counselor Vincent’s outdoor discussion of her relationship with Samuel; The Argument, twelve riveting minutes of single takes of Sandra Hüller during the film’s climactic fight between her and Samuel; The Restaurant, an extended version of Sandra’s celebratory dinner at the film’s conclusion; and Vincent and Sandra, eight minutes of takes between Hüller and Arlaud in the aftermath of that dinner as both actors try to find the right rhythm for this tender moment between their characters. Coupled with Triet’s commentary, this is a remarkably naked look at the production of Anatomy of a Fall, recognizing how any film is the result of intense collaboration and evolving process between creatives.
    • Auditions: audition footage for Milo Machado Graner and Antoine Reinartz, providing a look at Triet’s intimate interview-style process for meeting with actors.
    • Rehearsals: Fly-on-the-wall footage shot by Justine Triet of the film’s rehearsal process, featuring Milo Machado Graner utilizing various teachers and technological methods to train himself to play a blind character, as well as early versions of scenes between him and actress Sandra Hüller.
    • Behind the Scenes with Snoop: the featurette we’ve all been waiting for, animal trainer Laura Martin provides a candid, demonstration-rich guide through training her French Border Collie Messi to a Palme D’Og-winning performance for French media outlet Madmoizelle.
    • Trailer for Anatomy of a Fall’s US theatrical release.
    • Essay by New Yorker critic Alexandra Schwartz, discussing Anatomy of a Fall’s themes of perspective, judgment, empathy, and auto-fiction in the context of Triet’s creative process, her previous films Victoria and Sybil, and her relationship with her partner and co-writer Arthur Harari.

    Anatomy of a Fall is now available on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

  • A Throwaway Gag in BAD BOYS 2 Led to the Best Part of the Excellent BAD BOYS: RIDE OR DIE

    A Throwaway Gag in BAD BOYS 2 Led to the Best Part of the Excellent BAD BOYS: RIDE OR DIE
    Watch Bad Boys: Ride or Die (2024) full movie online in HD qualities - Full  Screen Premium Film

    The fourth Bad Boys film may very well be the best in the franchise, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

    The series surprised fans with 2020’s Bad Boys For Life, returning to the explosive adventures of police detectives Mike (Will Smith) and Marcus (Martin Lawrence) which had been dormant since 2003, under new directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. It was a hit at the box office, barely dodging the pandemic era lockdowns which followed soon after.

    That tale introduced new allies in the “AMMO” special tactical team of young tech-savvy police detectives, as well as another compelling character: Armando (Jacob Scipio), the son that Mike didn’t know he had. Like Michael Bay’s prior films, it was packed with explosive action, thrilling chases, and tons of character-driven comedy mostly centered around the chemistry of the film’s leads. And unlike Bay’s films, it had a lot of heart as well.

    Bad Boys: Ride or Die feels unique in the franchise in that unlike its neatly episodic predecessors, it’s a direct sequel that picks up on threads from the last one. The plot concerns fallout of the death of Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano), and once again the AMMO squad is back in the mix. When new falsified evidence suggests that the Captain was actually dirty, Mike, Marcus and the crew set out to exonerate him and preserve his legacy. They know Howard wasn’t the traitor – which means someone else is. Armando also returns, now as an ally, and with him an important piece of the film’s heart.

    I really just flat out loved this. The humor’s on point. The action rules. It may be my favorite of the series, and I’m on the record as being all-in on Bad Boys 2. There are a lot of great returning characters, not only in terms of the supporting cast but some surprise cameos as well – although one unfortunate exception is that Theresa Randle does not return as Marcus’s wife Theresa, now played by Tasha Smith.

    Once again there’s some interestingly framed and designed cinematography on display, and one shootout in particular features an incredible series of first person shooter aesthetics and shifting of perspectives: in one particularly cool shot, Marcus is out of ammo so Mike throws him a gun – and the shot tracks on the firearm as it leaps forward and lands in Marcus’s grip. Even in a series that’s known for inventive and kinetic camera work, it’s an insanely complex sequence that really wowed me.

    It wouldn’t be a Bad Boys movie without Marcus having some kind of existential crisis, and this is a particularly fun one. After a near death experience and seeing a vision that it’s not yet his time to die, Marcus experiences a euphoric sense of invincibility – here the film even directly parodies Fearless and its most iconic image.

    Fearless (1993) – Warner Bros

    As much as I enjoy the original Michael Bay films (and he does again return in a fun cameo), Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah have more than proven themselves, and I think I may like their take on this franchise even better. It’s more of a fully formed idea – similar to the more cohesive reworking the Mission Impossible films took after three standalones.

    Viewers would do well to refamiliarize themselves with Marcus’s son-in-law Reggie, who’s been a very minor returning character thus far. You might remember him as the butt of one of the funniest gags in Bad Boys 2 – he’s the well-mannered kid who shows up for a date with Marcus’s daughter Megan and gets promptly terrorized for it – but remains respectful and humble throughout the berating. In Bad Boys for Life, he made a surprising return, marrying Megan and fathering their child.

    In Ride or Die, Reggie finally gets his due, not only by being its most endearing characters but by getting some of the film’s most fist-pumping, crowd-pleasing, spotlight-stealing scenes. If you didn’t love Reggie before, you surely will by the time the credits roll.

    Reggie began as a joke but he was a character with untapped potential. In a way, he represents the El Arbi/Fallah approach in microcosm: These filmmakers have a lot of genuine love for the movies that came before, even for what might seem like a very minor character, and they’ve built on that foundation to fashion something special and arguably even better.


    Bad Boy: Ride or Die opens Friday June 7.

    – A/V Out

  • CORMANIA!!! Two Cents Film Club Looks at Roger Corman’s THE INTRUDER

    CORMANIA!!! Two Cents Film Club Looks at Roger Corman’s THE INTRUDER

    The Intruder is first up in a month of honoring independent film legend Roger Corman

    Two Cents is a Cinapse original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team curates the series and contribute their “two cents” using a maximum of 200-400 words. Guest contributors and comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future picks. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion. Would you like to be a guest contributor or programmer for an upcoming Two Cents entry? Simply watch along with us and/or send your pitches or 200-400 word reviews to [email protected].

    James Cameron, Francis Coppola, Gale Anne Hurd, Sylvester Stallone, Jack Nicholson, James Horner, and Martin Scorsese all have something common: they all got their start working with Roger. And that’s FAR from a comprehensive list. Amazingly, it’s not an exaggeration to suggest that Roger Corman may be the single most influential filmmaker of the last century. As a director, he pioneered the art of crafting movies with low budgets and high returns. As a producer, he perfected it. His productions have lent a start to scores of actors and filmmakers, including many of the biggest names in Hollywood.

    This month on Two Cents we look back on the legacy of a legend and say THANK YOU, in our own way, to the late, great Roger Corman.

    First up is the film that I imagine he would’ve most wanted us to cover, were it up to him: his incendiary and thought-provoking drama The Intruder, set in a small town at the onset of racial integration. William Shatner stars as a racist bigot, a member of a larger coordinated operation, who descends on the town with one goal – to stir up as much trouble and racial turmoil as he possibly can.

    Ed Travis

    Alternately titled I Hate Your Guts (the vastly superior title, though The Intruder is apt enough), Roger Corman truly crafted a rage-filled thriller set amidst the racial tensions around school integration. While it does fall victim (as so many of these kinds of films do) to being mostly about white people on either side of the integration battle, it nonetheless feels like a combination of prescient in its depiction of demagoguery embodied by William Shatner’s titular character Adam Cramer (perhaps the most loathsome character Shatner ever portrayed), and a kind of democratic wish-fulfillment that in the end the spell of self-satisfied, self-interested hate will be broken and cooler heads will prevail.

    Cramer rolls into town with nothing but his white suit and devilish charisma and immediately begins to entrance all the white folks in town who are opposed to integration but who are accepting it as the law of the land. He also immediately begins wolfishly pursuing both a high school aged girl and a married woman. He’s absolutely skin-crawling, and the film is all the more compelling as a result. Whipping the city of Caxton up into a state of violent, grievance-based self-righteousness, mob rule begins to take charge and threaten the safety of the African American community there.

    The Intruder features shocking imagery of the KKK, crosses burning, churches bombed, and frequent use of the N-word, so viewers should be advised at the frank depictions of real world trauma present here. In my opinion the true value of all of this is in the telling of how easily desperate white people can be swayed and influenced by a slick tongued “social worker” and how dangerous one overly confident white man with a narcissistic complex can be to a community. [Spoilers ahoy] It makes for a satisfying conclusion to a movie when all the heroic members of the community who break free from Cramer’s spell manage to diffuse the crowd, save a local Black student from a lynching, and essentially run Cramer out of town. It sends us out from a film loaded with evil vitriol hoping and believing that we might have the power to collectively work towards racial justice and to kick the demagogues out of their positions of influence, but one can’t help but feel that this kind of outcome only happens in the movies.

    (@Ed_Travis on Xitter)

    Jay Tyler

    The most depressing thing about the Intruder (aka The Stranger, aka I Hate Your Guts, aka Shame) is that instead of feeling like “of its time” discourse examination, it feels unnervingly prescient and contemporary. William Shatner’s Adam Cramer, a truly horrific character based partially on the real life agitator John Kasper, spews a rhetoric that may be more explicit in its bigotry, but is not that far from the most vitriolic right-wing talking heads of our modern political discourse. His dramatic speech scene in particular will be chillingly familiar to folks in 2024, blaming everything from Communism to the Jews as the root cause of desegregation and demanding freedom. But freedom for what precisely? Freedom to live hateful lives?

    It is not hard to figure out why Corman struggled to find financing for this movie; it is incendiary by modern standards, and at the time it was released would have been seen as a direct attack on essentially half the country. But its boldness and uncompromising bleakness are hallmarks of the sort of filmmaker Corman proved himself to be. Yes, it digs itself into some salacious territory, gawking at unapologetic bigotry in all its true horror. But from the first moment he is on screen, it never feels like it doesn’t control the tone of the ship, which could veer wildly if not handled correctly.

    Of course it isn’t perfect. As Ed alluded to, it centers white peoples struggles with desegregation, with Charles Barnes’ Joey, the most prominent black character in the film, unfortunately serving as mostly an object of scorn and danger. The climax of the film relies on us not wanting to see him in peril, but the majority of his role up to that point is as a passive observer while the primary action is taken by others around him. Also, as if to drive home just how terrible Cramer is, there are a pair of romantic subplots centered around him that while linked into the main plot, also feel like they are taking up air that muddy his actual characterization slightly. And the actual final moments of the film feel painfully naive; the revelation of a single untruth unsettles the whole hold that Cramer has generated, and disperses the tension as if nothing happened.

    Of course, if our current political climate has taught us anything, simply addressing people with the truth very rarely will dissuade them from their most loathsome beliefs. Still, as a testament to Corman as a maverick filmmaker, it stands as an excellent early entry into our journey through his career: an unflinching political statement that is settled in some observed human behavior, and then plays it for the cheap seat.

    (@jaythecakethief on Xitter)

    Justin Harlan

    I was warned by others here that this was an extremely racially charged film, but I was still ill prepared for how jolting hearing the N-word thrown around time after time by the white folk in this fictitious small town created by Roger Corman and writer Charles Beaumont. Thankfully, it’s not a word I hear too often in my everyday life or the films I tend to watch the most. However, as much as formal segregation is in the past, it’s important to recognize that it also is our history. And, day after day we’re reminded that racism hasn’t remotely disappeared.

    William Shatner’s Adam Cramer is a truly vile bastard. From the moment we meet him, we know he’s reprehensible. He hits on a young woman whom he learns to be underage almost immediately, but still takes her as a lover. He makes another woman uncomfortable very early on with his advances, as well. Then, when we begin to hear his racist rhetoric and see that his sole purpose in town is rousing the white townsfolk to violence against the black population, it cements just how dastardly he is.

    Not an easy watch, but one as poignant now as ever, Cramer is the prototype for the white populist rhetoric we hear seeping into the American right from the far right and alt-right influence today. Cramer places blame on evil Jews and uses fear mongering in his rabble-rousing techniques. While the date, time, and scene has changed, this tale is extremely applicable to the very real threat that is posed by Trump’s branch of the American right here in the US and far-right populist candidates/leaders around the the world.

    In far too many ways, this film hit close to home and left me with a feeling I couldn’t shake. It’s exceptionally well made and Shatner plays his role to perfection. Great film, extremely difficult watch.

    (@thepaintedman on Xitter)

    Austin Vashaw

    I never would’ve thought of William Shatner as a favorite actor, but there’s no denying he’s in some great films including some of my schlocky favorites like The Devil’s Rain and Big Bad Mama.

    The Intruder occupies a more rarefied air, though, and holds the distinction of being perhaps Roger Corman’s greatest film. Unlike his usual drive-in fare – and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, we adore it – this is a film that’s got something to say. This is a firecracker of a film and the perfect movie to kick off our appreciation of Corman.

    Watching this in 2024, this put into context for me just how recent American racial integration and the expansion of civil rights really are. The outward attitudes on display – in which racism is considered natural and unquestioned – aren’t ancient history. Even now, this is the recent past; literally within a lifetime. In 1962, the year of the film’s release, its setting was only a few years in the past and the March on Washington was about a year in the future. Corman was definitely making a statement, and the making of the film, like the film itself, was fraught with opposition (it was, he recounted, his only commercial failure).

    If I could highlight one thing the film does pull off quite adroitly, it’s the idea that people aren’t just their surface. Initially Adam Cramer (Shatner) just seems like charming, dapper guy who’s new in town – and this being a movie, you’re perhaps a little predisposed to accept him as a protagonist. Early on, he’s contrasted with his obnoxious hotel neighbor Sam (Leo Gordon), who comes off as loud and boorish. But both men are more than their first impressions. When the truth is on the line, Sam puts himself on the right side of it – while Cramer is rotten to the core.

    @VforVashaw on Xitter

    CORMANIA!!!

    Our June block of films pays respect to legendary independent producer and director Roger Corman, who passed away in May. We’ve covered many of his films before, including here on Two Cents, but for Cormania, we’ve curated an eclectic lineup of films that we feel say something about him not only as a producer and director, but as a rebel and visionary as well.

    Got something to say? We’d love to have you join us!

    Upcoming picks:
    June 3 – THE INTRUDER
    June 10 – PIRANHA
    June 17 – FANTASTIC FOUR
    June 24 – LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960) 

  • The Most Heroic Moment in GODZILLA MINUS ONE Doesn’t Involve Godzilla

    The Most Heroic Moment in GODZILLA MINUS ONE Doesn’t Involve Godzilla

    The Special Something That Helps Make a Masterpiece

    Without a doubt there are numerous examples of awe-inspiring spectacle throughout Godzilla Minus One. The (Academy Award-winning!) visual effects successfully restore a grandeur and terror to the titular titan, winding the clock back on 70 years of iterations to bring Godzilla back to his original purpose as an avatar for the sins of World War II come to wreak even more havoc on an unprepared population.

    Buildings are leveled! Battleships are chewed up and spit out! Whole populations are laid to waste via Godzilla’s radiation breath!

    Equally spellbinding are the sequences of heroism and courage, especially an epic climax featuring a citizen-led multiprong effort to slay the monster and save Tokyo that is as rousing and triumphant as big ticket blockbuster cinema gets.

    All of this is more than enough to make Godzilla Minus One, now streaming on Netflix and available to buy and rent from other services, an above-average entry in this venerable franchise. You come for big impressive spectacle, and this over-delivers on big impressive spectacle.

    But in trying to articulate just why Godzilla Minus One is so affecting beyond what we might ever expect from an action-packed creature feature (never mind from a damn Godzilla movie, 70 years deep into making Godzilla movies) the scene that stands out the most, that serves as a mission statement for the whole of Minus One’s approach to reinventing/reinvigorating the Godzilla film series, does not actually involve the big green guy at all.

    Minus One wastes little time getting the creature into the feature. Less than five minutes in, we get our first look at this incarnation of Godzilla (pre-radiation, so he’s just a regular…huge…dinosaur…monster…thing). Simultaneously, writer/director Takashi Yamazaki lays out the plight of protagonist Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki). A kamikaze pilot who chose to live, he’s wracked by shame and guilt over what he views as a dereliction of duty in the last days of the war. Those feelings are only compounded when he freezes up during the attack by this small(er) Godzilla and causes the death of a number of his fellow soldiers.

    So Shikishima is already at a low ebb when he returns home and finds that ‘home’ is a bombed out, burned up ruin. His parents are dead, his house is destroyed, and, as if to add insult to injury, the first familiar face he sees is his neighbor Sumiko, (Sakura Ando) who promptly chews him out for having the audacity to still be alive. Having lost all three of her own children during the firebombing of Tokyo, Sumiko vents the grief and fury of a devastated nation at this young who embodies the failures and shortcomings that led to this fate.

    Sumiko reappears a few scenes later, again to berate Shikishima for his failings. This time, it’s because he’s brought home a refugee, Noriko, (Minami Hamabe) and the infant that Noriko rescued from a dying woman. As Shikishima leaves his home, Sumiko is framed in the deep background of the shot, crouched among the pilings of shattered homes and lives. Her wardrobe and positioning make her easy to almost miss among the scenery. Just another piece of debris.

    As the scene unfolds, Sumiko rises and moves closer so she can mock Shikishima’s efforts to ‘play hero’. “Count me out,” she sneers. “I’m done caring.”

    Only…

    Only, as Shikishima starts to walk away, Sumiko asks if Noriko is healthy enough to feed the baby. When Shikishima admits that Noriko is not the mother, Minus One hard cuts from Sumiko’s disbelieving face to her inside the house, tending to the child even as she chastises the young man and woman for the foolishness of taking responsibility for a life they have no idea how to care for.

    Her arm moving as if it is operating without conscious thought, she thrusts a bag of rice into Shikishima’s hand to make gruel for the infant. “There goes my prized white rice,” she limps out. “What a nuisance, I swear.”

    Sumiko continues to appear throughout the film as a more or less permanent nanny for the growing child while Shikishima and Noriko’s time is occupied with more pressing, Godzilla-shaped problems (Godzilla being, you know, the main one). From a strictly functional perspective, that is the role that Sumiko plays within the math of the story: the all-purpose answer anytime you might wonder who’s watching the kid while the adults are out dealing with the latest fit Godzilla is throwing. No worries, Sumiko’s back at home minding the toddler.

    But with this early scene, Sumiko becomes not just a useful plot device but the hinge point of Minus One’s entire thematic concept. A grieving mother in a shattered husk of a country, utterly and totally broken beyond the limits of what any human being should have to endure… and even still, she can’t help but help. She can’t not try, even though by all rights ‘trying’ should be long past looking like so much wasted time.

    Minus One dramatizes this same compulsion towards needing to do something again and again, with Godzilla serving as an ill-tempered metaphor for the seeming uselessness of giving a shit. In the face of a force that will not stop, that defies all conventional weapons and seeming limitations of resources and manpower, that keeps getting back up no matter how many times you knock it down, in the face of all of that, what chance do people have? Why even bother?

    In the midst of the relentless bombard of explosive destruction, Yamazaki never loses sight of this core theme. The world, Minus One argues, will not be saved by grand gestures and super-weapons and fated heroes come down from the heavens to set all things to right. The world is saved every day by the choice we make, every day, to be there for one another. To take the moment out of our own lives to help another. To try, even when trying seems like nothing more than a shortcut to a broken heart.

    We can’t all be the one who slays the monster. But we can all of us be a hero just by trusting that annoying little voice of our better natures, arguing for us to make the mistake of giving a shit when we know we shouldn’t.

    A grieving mother gives her last bag of rice to a stranger’s hungry child and the world is saved. The world is saved.

    Godzilla Minus One is available on Netflix, and to rent/buy on other VOD platforms.

  • HANDLING THE UNDEAD: Devastating Slow-Burn Dread

    HANDLING THE UNDEAD: Devastating Slow-Burn Dread

    I couldn’t sleep after Handling the Undead

    I’m not one of those horror fans who likes to proclaim that horror films don’t scare me. They do, whether we’re talking about the gut-level, visceral in-the-moment scares or the more existential, long half-life scares that creep up on you. I am more than capable of being affected by horror films. The difference comes when a horror movie is able to linger in my head with such presence, such force, that everything else seems to slow down around it. 

    That’s a different kind of fear, the patient kind that waits and stalks and haunts, and Handling the Undead had that for me. With a great ensemble, unsettling visual effects, and an atmosphere that’s somewhere between tone poem and Euro horror expressionism, it’s one of the most effective horror films of the year, and if you’re of a certain persuasion it’s the kind of thing that will shake you to your core.

    Based on the novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist, best known for Let the Right One In, Handling the Undead unspools its dreadfully beautiful saga from a very simple premise: What if dead loved ones just walked back into your life? Set in Oslo, the film follows three families who are all faced with this question when one of their own escapes the bonds of death through mysterious means. Anna (Renate Reinsve) and her father Mahler (Bjørn Sundquist) upend their entire lives when Anna’s young son Elias starts knocking from the inside of his grave. Tora (Bente Børsum) is simultaneously grateful and fascinated when her recently deceased partner (Olga Damani) walks back into the home they shared. Then there’s David (Anders Danielsen Lie), who must reckon with a strange, grief-filled limbo as he and his children (Inesa Dauksta and Kian Hansen) learn that their wife and mother (Bahar Pars) sits alone in a hospital after a car accident, hovering in a sudden and inexplicable state of renewed, subdued life.

    The mystery of how this happened, let alone why, is secondary to the point. The Norwegian government’s response to the phenomenon is present in the film, but it’s muted, far in the background, as Lindqvist (who also wrote the screenplay) and director Thea Hvistendahl (in a frankly stunning feature debut) focus instead of this trio of families and the ways in which they each respond to the wordless, blankly staring corpses who’ve returned to their lives. 

    What’s immediately striking about the narrative is how deftly it balances the mundane with the fantastical. The corpse makeup applied to each undead character, and the ways in which the actors embody their tenuous grasp on consciousness, is convincing and unnerving, but when their loved ones get hold of them, they just want to find a way back into life as it used to be. Handling the Undead is full of moments of horror, yes, but the horror comes not through shambling corpses, but through bathing a child who’s been saturated with grave dirt, trying to feed a dead woman a piece of toast, celebrating a birthday in the shadow of a grief that’s both new and somehow stunted before it’s even started. In depicting these things with a kind of patient poetry, the film shows us not what’s returned, but what’s still absent. 

    And that sense of absence, of profound loneliness, might be the film’s greatest trick when it comes to the pure dread of its story. Together with cinematographer Pål Ulvik Rokseth, Hvistendahl fills the frame with voids, from deserted highways at twilight to hypnotic tunnels to the simple vastness of a room that’s now occupied by only one living soul instead of two. It’s a simple but effective visual trick, and then the film takes it further, winding its narrative through the beauty and vastness of a Norwegian summer, with its still lakes and its bright green trees. It’s a decision that leaves the viewer to ponder not just what’s missing from the characters’ lives, but what they’re missing in their laser focus on the impossibility of the corpses standing before them. In that way, Handling the Undead becomes a film not just about grief, loss, and loneliness, but about the things we leave behind when those forces consume us, the things that might save us which we place just out of our reach.

    In service to this particularly potent clutch of themes, the cast is phenomenal, particularly Reinsve, who stands as the emotional fulcrum of the film despite only speaking a handful of times over the course of nearly two hours. There’s very little dialogue in Handling the Undead, and Reinsve in particular embodies someone who’s been emotionally stunted and restrained by what’s happened to her, only speaking when she has to, when it’s worth it. It’s a tremendous performance in a film full of them, and serves to underscore her place as one of the most powerful performers in cinema right now. 

    All of this exquisite craft, marshaled together by Hvistendahl in a directorial showcase that makes her a filmmaker to watch, creates an emotional maelstrom of slow-burning, impossible to look away from dread. It’s easy, despite the fantastical tropes at work in the story, to imagine ourselves at the core of Handling the Undead, to imagine our loved ones living out some kind of strange half-life in our eager, misguided shadows. In its patient, understated, and deeply careful way, it’s a film capable of conjuring true emotional gut punches in its viewers. That makes it a must-see for horror fans and fans of delicate character dramas alike. Just be prepared to lose a little sleep afterwards.

    Handling the Undead is in theaters May 31. 

  • Hunter and Prey: A Chat with Two of the Leads of IN A VIOLENT NATURE (Mild Spoilers)

    Hunter and Prey: A Chat with Two of the Leads of IN A VIOLENT NATURE (Mild Spoilers)

    In A Violent Nature hits theaters today and it’s a film I definitely think will go on to be a horror cult classic. Unlike most films in the sub-genre Chris Nash’s ambient Canadian Slasher spends the majority of the runtime following its antagonist Johnny (Ry Barrett), who stalks through the picturesque Canadian forest in grainy 16mm on his way to his next victim, looking for who took his mother’s locket. Part homage, part deconstruction, and part reinvention, Nature is something I can’t wait to get dissected by the larger and push the evolution of the slasher to its next stage. 

    Earlier this week I got to chat with two stars of the film, Ry Barrett who plays the film’s hulking slasher Johnny, who we’ve all seen in the film trailer and Andrea Pavlovic who here inherits the mantle of the film’s rather unconventional final girl:

    Cinapse: So First off, Congrats on the film. I really dug it. I’m a big horror fan, so I’m definitely its target demo. So I’ll start off with a question for both of you. The film is such a different take on the slasher genre. What was sort of the elevator pitch, if you will, that drew you both into the project?

    Andrea: I think exactly that, it’s different. I remember reading the script and it was so much, so much like Johnny walking in the woods and the perspective of being tethered to him. I think it was just exciting to read something different and something new. 

    I think reading a script, if it can make me feel something unique, then that’s when I know.

    Ry: Yeah, I’m going to piggyback on that too and say like, honestly the same thing. Just getting to spend that time you know, it’s a hangout film with a slasher killer, which we haven’t really seen. We’ve seen it in some other ways. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, that film kind of does it, but in a very, very different way, it’s like a documentary with this killer talking to the group, but this is something entirely different and it’s an actual killer that you never get to fully understand or know?

    So that was just really exciting for me.

    IN A VIOLENT NATURE

    Cinapse: Ry, Johnny has a very distinct stalk and that’s very important when it comes to these films, so what went into crafting that for the film?

    Ry: We talked a lot about it ahead of time, about just the movements and and the pace of Johnny. And then a lot of it was, you know, studying classic slasher films and, you know, I’m a huge fan too and I’ve watched a whole bunch of them when I was younger and I revisited ones that I had seen 100 times and then watched a whole bunch that I had somehow slipped through the cracks and I’d never seen. So just, you know, taking elements, never wanting to copy one thing in particular. Kind of taking and amalgamating them into a unique character and then taking outside elements too. 

    I watched a lot of animal attack videos to kind of, motivate John’s movements and how he changes so drastically and violently in moments. And yeah, I just kind of piece it all together and make sure that it fits with the design of the film because it is really structured and has to be a certain way.

    Cinapse: Was there an animal in particular, or maybe a killer in particular that resonated with your particular take?

    Ry: I watched a bear, mainly bear attack videos and like some wolves and large cats and stuff. Like there’s an analogy in the film, but you know, that’s not 100% supposed to be a direct connection, but that was kind of like a starting point. Then as far as the killers, you know, like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, specifically Nick Castle as The Shape and Kane Hodder just the way that there’s such distinct portrayals. I mean, there are a lot of others too in the Friday franchise and in a lot of other horror films.

    My Bloody Valentine and The Burning, but taking little elements from all that stuff and kind of trying to not copy it, but give the right nods and kind of make it its own thing.

    Cinapse: Andrea, we see Kris is put through the wringer emotionally and physically, what kind of preparation did you do for the role? 

    Andrea: I think the preparation itself was more just talking with Chris Nash, our director, and figuring out how to make her unique, how to make her different from the typical trope, and how to just bring as much of myself to it as I could. I wish I could tell you I practiced running and screaming, but I didn’t. 

    It was kind of just on the day.Really buying into the stakes and the moment, and then just running wild and loose with it and I think that was the most freeing experience I could have asked for as an actor.

    Cinapse: As the final girl and the slasher, you play a very cat and mouse game in those final moments of the film, what was that like from a performance perspective from your respective sides?

    Andrea: I don’t think we actually did. I think well at the start of it and I’ll let you speak to this Ry, he tried to keep his distance a little bit to create a tension between our characters. But we very quickly became friends.

    Ry: Yeah and the other thing too is like we only have so many actual scenes (together, but) they are connected the entire film and get closer and closer, but it is funny. Johnny is kind of always kept at a certain distance from Kris and he never really gets, like the closest he gets I think is the Ranger scene like actually.

    Andrea:  Yeah.

    Ry: But I mean everything was all kind of designed, Chris kind of you knew everything that was happening there and so we had our scenes, but we were always there’s always a distance.

    Andrea: Which was actually quite a blessing, I think to be able to work in that way and I think it really pays off because the whole time, you’re kind of waiting, like will they, won’t they? What’s happening?

    Cinapse: Well, that leads perfectly to my next question are you guys hoping for a rematch?

    Andrea:  That would be awesome. Who do you think would win? Say me!

    Cinapse: I’m sorry. Johnny might win this, but you never know.

    Ry: Kris is pretty fast. She can run and you know, innovative. 

    Dan:  She is spry, so thank you both again for your time and thanks again for the film!

  • Spinema Issue 72: LOST THEMES IV: NOIR – John Carpenter Family Band Goes Darker (and Heavier!)

    Spinema Issue 72: LOST THEMES IV: NOIR – John Carpenter Family Band Goes Darker (and Heavier!)

    Lend an ear to SPINEMA: a column exploring all movie music, music related to movies, and movies related to music. Be they film scores on vinyl, documentaries on legendary musicians, or albums of original songs by horror directors, all shall be reviewed here. Batten down your headphones, because shit’s about to sound cinematic.

    The Horror Master has returned with another original album of spooky bangers. This time, Carp And The Boys (Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies) are stretching their synth-and-guitar sound into slightly new territory: Film Noir. It’s an intriguing experiment; intentionally pushing the listener to remove the cinematic sounds of this band from the purely horrific, to another genre of dark tales told. That’s a challenge. The experiment may not exactly have been a success, but… does it matter?

    We’ll revisit that notion later.

    Here is where the record definitely succeeds: It fuckin’ rips. The group’s fascination with classic low-budget crime dramas proves a sturdy launching point for sonic evolution. There is plenty of material here that anyone following the trio’s nearly ten-year output will find perfectly familiar, though. This is still very much a group centered around Carpenter’s whole thing, only bigger and… nastier. As observed on LTIII, Daniel Davies’ guitar continues to shine through as the focal point and the driving force of their sound. This time around, certain tracks like LAST RITES offer a heavy dose of metal. Chugging guitars, and big drums (percussion unlike anything heard on the previous three albums) go furiously hard on multiple tracks. One could almost picture the likes of Lars Ulrich pounding out the driving tempos.

    Our guys could easily have rested on their musical laurels and fans would largely have been satisfied by record after record of minimalist synth melodies, sparse percussive elements, and peppered-in guitar textures. One could argue that is the practice with their ANTHOLOGY series (now in two volumes!). Re-recording Carpenter’s movie music makes for a nice little victory lap and produces a little revenue without having to tackle any writer’s block. LTIV, however, is proof they won’t be satisfied by neither literally playing the hits, nor writing new material that sounds just like the hits. This is an exciting new crop of songs pushed just enough into unfamiliar territory, and if the third one felt a little tired, NOIR is certainly wide awake.

    That being said, the new territory isn’t too far away. Listener’s may find it difficult to divorce the Carpenter signature sound from horror and sci-fi imagery of the 70s and 80s. If, for instance, a filmmaker were to make some new noir picture with this album’s music as the score, it would feel like a bold and even ironic statement. The big rock sounds don’t do much to call up the seedy, black-and-white P.I. tales, and even in the quieter moments, one may find it easier to picture the attempted evasion of a masked killer than shadowy femme fatales or men in fedoras cracking wise at gunpoint.

    … WHO CARES!?!?

    This album rocks, and the visualization “problem” has already been explored in a rad music video for MY NAME IS DEATH directed by Ambar Navarro. The sound of this record and the style of the movie genre complement each other quite graciously, even if the pairing is a bit uncanny. The band has now completed a 4th album of creative and memorable compositions, and one can only hope they continue with this momentum as long as possible. Get on it!

    THE PACKAGE

    Noir marks yet another stellar performance by the record label, Sacred Bones. Their stuff always looks great, and they spare no creativity on these John Carpenter releases. As is apparently tradition, they are offering LTIV up in multiple variants (of course, this would seem to be tradition at every label dabbling in vinyl these days), and there are a couple fun choices, including cassette and compact disc. I opted for the clear with red splatter version in a silver foil stamped jacket. This also includes a 24×36 fold out poster of the boys, and a rather impressive screen-printed bonus 7-inch record (33 1/3 speed). The ultra-spooky “Black Cathedral” can only be heard on these bonus discs. For the John Carpenter obsessive, Sacred Bones offers a super exclusive version for the record club. From the website:

    Sacred Bones Record Society version: Edition of 150 copies, pressed on Black and White Splatter on Clear vinyl w/ Screen Printed 7″ and a Silver Foil Stamped Jacket, in an exclusive wrap around sleeve, wax sealed, hand-numbered and an exclusive lipstick USB stick with the music video for “My Name Is Death” available by mail-order only.

    Pretty impressive shit. Not so impressive: the quality control. Yes, this is another frustrating Sacred Bones release. The music sounds wonderful. Clearly, the due diligence was done to ensure a properly engineered vinyl album, but the pressings continue to disappoint. Just like on LTIII, even after a solid clean, the same loud pops can be heard at the exact same time… every time. That’s a sure sign of a defect somewhere between the stamper and my copy. It’s a damn shame given the excellence on display in every other aspect of these products. I’ve been on this ride from the beginning, so I don’t plan on getting off anytime soon, but it would be so exciting if Sacred Bones could jump that last hurdle. Regardless, I remain overjoyed to collect a favorite director’s original work. Great artists making great art – is there anything better on this planet?

  • IN A VIOLENT NATURE is a Masterful Exercise in the Slasher Sub-genre 

    IN A VIOLENT NATURE is a Masterful Exercise in the Slasher Sub-genre 
    Ry Barrett as “Johnny” in Chris Nash’s IN A VIOLENT NATURE. Courtesy of Pierce Derks. An IFC Films & Shudder Release. 

    Chris Nash’s In a Violent Nature is a slow burn and thought provoking Canadian Slasher that ultimately looks to attempt to do the same thing the Halloween reboots attempted to do, dig into the very nature of evil through the guise of a bodycount film. The film, which opens Friday is the “New Beginning” if you will of this particular hulking boogeyman, Johnny, who after dying horribly at the hands of the townspeople of the logging town of White Pines, is currently lying dormant where he was laid to rest after his second murder spree nearly a decade ago. The only thing keeping him in the ground and his soul at rest was his mother’s gold locket, which is of course stolen by a group of rowdy twenty-somethings on their way to a cabin for a weekend. 

    Unlike most of these films however, we spend the majority of the runtime with Johnny, who stalks through the picturesque Canadian forest in grainy 16mm on his way to his next victim, looking for the locket. In a move to sidestep the Maniac remake controversy, rather than seeing from the killer’s POV, the camera hovers behind him peering over his shoulder, which feels almost like you’re playing a video game at times as the character travels from location to location triggering the events that unfold and activating his next victim. The practical kills here are grisly and downright insidious, which imbues our protagonist with a sinisterness that really outshines most, if not all masked killers who have bludgeoned 20 somethings going on 30 somethings over the decades. 

    Ry Barrett as “Johnny” in Chris Nash’s IN A VIOLENT NATURE. Courtesy of Pierce Derks. An IFC Films & Shudder Release. 

    Violent is a beautifully lensed atmospheric take on the “spam in a cabin” premise, paired with some rather impressive, yet brief performances. The film is shot in a full screen or 1:33 aspect ratio, which, while used to invoke the full screen VHS aesthetic, does so while showing what is capable of the format in the right hands. The beauty of nature in the frame is contrasted by the garish killer stalking through the trees and trails to his next victim, against a sparse forest soundscape. Less is definitely more here, since the lack of score really allows the viewer to concentrate on the stride and purpose of the killer’s stalk as his hunt for the locket propels him through the narrative, and from one kill to his next.

    My only quip with the near flawless execution is a few lines of dialog tacked on at the tail end of the film, post climax. After the film has painted a nearly perfect picture of how the nature of evil and violence is brutal, beyond reason and unstoppable, which is good enough for any fan that’s seen a slasher. This dialog attempts to add some kind of logic or reason to what we just witnessed, and to dig further into actual motivations feels like an ill-advised afterthought given some of the kills here, which definitely cross a line, from evil to plain sadistic.(and a hell of a lot of fun mind you!) To me those moments implied something much darker contextually in the killer going that extra step, when being dead simply isn’t enough. 

    Ry Barrett as “Johnny” in Chris Nash’s IN A VIOLENT NATURE. Courtesy of Pierce Derks. An IFC Films & Shudder Release. 

    So while I loved about 99.9% of In a Violent Nature, that last .01% could bother a few folks and felt completely unnecessary from a narrative standpoint to me. Evil as a concept is always best left somewhat mysterious, because it’s so unquantifiable and the minute you start to attempt to define that, quantify that, logic has to come into play, and some of these kills purposefully defy that – that’s not a bad thing here. In a Violent Nature is a masterful exercise in the slasher sub-genre that offers up something new in the body count genre, bringing the grind-house into the arthouse and elevating the sub-genre thanks to its meta deconstruction and understanding of these films. It’s a gorgeous throwback (pun intended) that will no doubt please both the A24 and the Blumhouse set. 

  • IN A VIOLENT NATURE Brutally Upends Slasher Expectations

    IN A VIOLENT NATURE Brutally Upends Slasher Expectations

    Chris Nash’s meditative massacre reflects upon the primal demands we place on horror films

    Stills courtesy of IFC Films & Shudder.

    Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a tribe of hapless twenty-somethings awaken an evil force while vacationing at a cabin in the woods, and are subsequently dispatched in increasingly gruesome ways by the silent, shambling killer. We immediately conjure up icons like Friday the 13th’s Jason, along with Halloween’s Michael, the mutants of The Hills Have Eyes, and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s Leatherface. Wild synths telegraph the terror of maddeningly creative kills, showcasing our killer’s fiendish ingenuity to turn surrounding objects into impromptu torture devices. It’s ghoulish fun–but its impact ends there, limited to the confines of our imagination.

    Chris Nash’s astonishing debut feature In a Violent Nature strips away more than the flesh of its lead killer’s victims. During its spare ninety minutes, Nash eschews the frantic editing, bombastic score, and clear-cut empathy of traditional slasher films; in doing so, he obliterates what comfortable distance there is between his audience and the once-gleeful violence they’ve come to see. Nash’s camera, lensed by Pierce Derks, remains at a relentlessly roving, Elephant-like remove; like the best of Bela Tarr, the viewer follows the resurrected Johnny (Ry Barrett) as he inventively and wordlessly barrels his way through the supporting cast. Even the kills elevate beyond the films Violent Nature draws from–finding sickening new uses for draw hooks and automated log choppers, to name a few. Without the tropes of slasher films dictating or affirming how to enjoy a film like this, the brutality of In a Violent Nature hews uncomfortably close to reality.

    Despite the film’s deconstructive desolation, Nash finds equal beauty in the bucolic forest Johnny calls home. Once the site of a company mining town whose workers led to Johnny’s demise (and, grimly, vice versa), Johnny’s woods are lovely, dark, and deep, thrumming with cicadas and lush greenery. The forest is also rampant with death—not just in the remains of the watchtower that serves as Johnny’s resting place, but also in the decaying animals caught in forgotten bear traps. Johnny, a revenant killer caught between life and death who only arises when provoked, has a decomposing form that feels as natural as it is supernatural. He is as much a part of the forest’s natural order as his fellow creatures.

    In contrast, the loosely antagonistic forces against Johnny—these campers, a courageous park ranger, and even a belligerent country yokel—feel as invasive and benignly menacing as the bear traps littering the forest. Sure, the evilest act these teens commit is to steal the locket which awakens Johnny and his bloodthirsty curse; however, it’s an act the film puts on par with the placement of these instruments of death, one whose actions similarly lead to ironically grisly fates. This meticulous, meditative reversal subverts the expectations of a horror movie, especially a slasher film. It not only orients our sympathies towards the slasher at its core but also provokes us to reconsider the circumstantial victimhood of those who fall prey to the central villain.

    The overall effect lands somewhere on a spectrum between the lingering beauty of Terrence Malick and the dispassionate terror of Michael Haneke, with the enchanting environmental beauty both at odds and wholly congruent with the gut-churning violence taking place within it. In one of the film’s most stunning sequences, the camera barely moves as it captures Johnny’s descent into a lake towards a swimming victim, who just as suddenly disappears–save for a brief, silenced scream–beneath the water. It’s a sequence that would normally be milked for all the Spielbergian tension it can muster, yet Nash’s deliberate lack of action beautifully contrasts the beauty of the lake’s stillness with the cruelty occurring beneath its depths, marking our complicity in bearing witness to every inseparable, excruciating moment. 

    This conscious weaponization of our expectations for slasher films extends across all of In a Violent Nature‘s brutal sequences–the lingering description of a drag hook in a ranger museum, the inching approach of a log splitter’s blade towards an immobilized victim, even the haunting hesitance with which a character stops at the edge of a cliff despite Johnny’s rampant pursuit, as if debating which fate might be worse (avoiding spoilers, I would’ve chosen the cliff). By drawing out each moment and delaying what horror fans feel must be coming, Nash draws attention to just how active that audience’s craving for bloodlust truly is, keeping us on the hook just as much as the victims and perpetrators we’re watching. The resulting violence is primally unsettling as much as it is satisfying–because of how much we’ve been made aware of our complicity or advocation of such horrors.

    But Nash has also noted his aversion to merely commenting on or taking a reductive approach to traditional slasher tropes, instead attempting to approach a familiar story in an untraditional way. In a Violent Nature particularly succeeds here not just in its formal approach, but also in its thematic concerns–paying close attention to the origins of its villain within a larger environmental history. Like the backstories of most slasher films, Nash camps Johnny’s original fate within campfire-story spookiness, recounting how he was murdered by loggers lashing out against the poverty inflicted upon them by Johnny’s magnate father. Given the detrimental history of the logging industry upon the environment, particularly in Nash’s native Ontario, I can’t help but focus on the delicious irony of Johnny falling victim to these forces of environmental evisceration, only to become a tool for the environment to lash out back against its tormentors. 

    Conversely, In a Violent Nature doesn’t end with a smash to credits and a hint of a sequel, but a further patient meditation on the violence at its core. With the film’s lone survivor delivered to safety in the arms of fellow slasher film vet Lauren Taylor, audiences are given a conclusion more akin to No Country for Old Men than Taylor’s Friday the 13th Part 2, as her nameless woman reflects upon the nature of seemingly mindless animals driven to kill. Her sentiments land towards a definitive inherent incomprehensibility to nature–but Taylor’s woman grants nature a fearful, deferential respect precisely because of her limited point of view. Likewise, In a Violent Nature’s radical shift in perspective grants Johnny less of humanity and more of a patient understanding that other slasher films would deny in favor of gratuitous shock and terror. Johnny’s reasoning for his malicious tendencies is rooted in reasons that seem absurdly simple–but it’s still a reason that would otherwise be eclipsed by the screams of the teenagers slaughtered before us, one also born of its own violent history that occurred long before the events of the film. 

    Rather than be content with an isolated smash-and-grab sense of horror, Nash’s wonderfully meditative horror film encourages viewers to recognize that such terrors rarely exist in a vacuum. Instead, there is an effective audience complicity to horror films that demands vital recognition, achieved only by a radical shift in expectation and worldview.

    In a Violent Nature hits theaters on May 31, 2024 courtesy of IFC Films and Shudder.