Sunday, February 28, 2021

DON'T TELL A SOUL (2020) (Lionsgate Blu-ray Review)

Label: Lionsgate
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 96 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.39:1)
Audio: English Dolby Atmos with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Alex McAulay
Cast: Rainn Wilson, Fionn Whitehead, Jack Dylan Grazer, Mena Suvari

In the unsettling thriller Don't Tell A Soul (2020) teen brothers Matt (Fionn Whitehead, Dunkirk) and Joey (Jack Dylan Grazer, It) steal money to help care for their cancer-stricken mother (Mena Suvari, Stuck). The theft involves the younger brother Joey entering a house that is tented for fumigation wearing an military surplus gas mask to steal a large sum of money an old woman who lives there keeps in a cookie tin. The theft is a success until the teens are spotted by a security guard named Hamby (Rainn Wilson, The Boy), who gives chase to the teens through the woods, during which he falls down a long-forgotten water well, shattering his ankle during the fall and unable to escape. 

Matt and Joey are relieved to have escaped the guard but the younger brother's conscience won't let him forget about the man who is now stuck in the well. Against his older and much meaner brother's wishes Joey continues to visit the man in the well out in the woods, bringing him food, clothing, blankets and a two-way radio to keep in touch with him when he is at home. 

Over the next few days, Joey and Hamby forges an uneasy friendship, but when Matt learns that his little brother is visiting Hamby and considering setting him free he becomes very aggressive and threatening against his younger
sibling. The film establishes that the boys father died a few years earlier, and that he was not exactly in the running for father-of-the-year, and as the mother is now struggling  with her sickness the older brother has become the defacto father-figure in the house. That's not great either, the older sibling is a thick headed, frustrated, and abusive presence, while the younger one is clearly desperate for a father-figure connection, which is where Hamby comes in. The pair make a connection during Joey's daily visits and nighttime two-way radio conversations, but despite Hamby's pleas for the kid to call for help he refuses to do so, largely out of fear of being caught and/or being pummeled by his brute of a brother. 

The core of the film is the strained dynamic between the brothers, Matt is a hateful bully who physically abuses his brother, seemingly taking after his father in the worse sort of way. At a certain point the stakes are raised when Matt decides he has to remove the security guard from the equation, and things quickly escalate between the brothers, resulting in a finale that begins to get super dark, but it feels a bit too restrained for what what the film seems to be setting up. 

Watching this I was reminded of another small town downer of a film, 2017's Super Dark Times, which had a similar tone and dynamic. The actors portraying the brothers are terrific, each selling the adversarial brother dynamic to the hilt, especially Jack Dylan Grazer (Shazam!), who you can feel screaming from the inside for a normal home life and a father figure. Rainn Wilson is also quite good, but there's a revelation about him in the final stretch of the film that made me wished he had played a part of this with a bit more menace, but the guy is just so off-kilter (which I love about him) that what should be a bit more hardened comes off as quirkier than it should be, but I still liked the performance. Suvari is in a bit of thankless role, her character is weakened and ineffective as a parent. There's just not much for her to do, but in the end she does fight through the fog pf painkillers to come to the aid her children. 

I love a good, depressing small town family dysfunction film, I come from a rural small town not unlike what we see in the film, it was not always great, the depression was real, and writer/director Alex McAulay taps right into that dark vein and runs with it with quite a bit of tonal accuracy. Set during the winter it captures that depressing vibe I know so well, with the addition of towering smokestacks in the background pouring pollution into the air.  Where I think the film falls a bit short is the optimism of the finale,  when it pulls itself back from the brink, when I think it would have been truer to dive into the abyss. There's a moment right at the end when I thought it was gonna go super super dark on several fronts, but it doesn't commit to the abyss and wants to see light at the end of the tunnel, but yo can feel it pulling back, it feels slightly forced in my opinion. 

Audio/Video: Don't Tell A Soul (2020) arrives on Blu-ray from Lionsgate in 1080p HD framed in 2.39:1. The digitally shot film looks solid. The cold tone of the cinematography that captures the depressing, cold winter setting is nicely replicated here, with good solid black levels throughout. Audio comes by way of a Dolby Atmos presentation that offers a mostly dialogue driven experience, but it kicks in with pleasing low-end and atmospherics during the more tense moments, and spreading the score around a bit. 

The only extras is a 20-min making of featurette with the principle cast and crew, disusing the genesis of the film, the production and the score, with some cool behind-the-scenes footage detailing the production design and fun on-set. The single-disc release arrives in a standard keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork which us replicated on the slipcover. Inside there's a code for a digital HD copy of the film.  

Special Features:

- Flesh & Blood: Creating Don’t Tell A Soul (20 min) 

Don't Tell A Soul (2020) is an unsettling dysfunctional family thriller that is well-acted and as gripping as it is dark. I do think it's a bit too optimistic in the way things pan out but I still recommend it for fans of depressing dysfunctional family thrillers. 

(Spoilery) Screenshots from the Lionsgate Blu-ray: 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

WRONG TURN (2021) (Lionsgate Blu-ray Review)

Label: Lionsgate
Region Code: A
Duration: 110 Minutes 
Video: 1080p High Definition (2.39:1)
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Mike P. Nelson
Cast: Matthew Modine, Emma Dumont, Charlotte Vega, Daisy Head, Bill Sage

Relaunching a successful franchise is never gonna please everyone, either it's going to be too slavish to the original, or too removed, and there's usually no middle-ground. I personally don't hate Rob Zombie's Halloween with the same vitriol I often hear from other horror fans, but I sort of hate the The Omen remake because it's so dang slavish to the source. Back in the 80's is when they were doing remakes the right way, some have even gone onto become classics in their own right, you need look no further than John Carpenter's The Thing and The Blob, my two favorites. I even know younger folk who are not even aware those films are actually remakes, and it blows their mind when I tell them differently. None of this is a hot take, but I just wanted to point out that remakes are difficult endeavors, so temper those expectations and open up your frickin' minds. 

This brings us to Wrong Turn (2021), a remake of Wrong Turn (2003), and just as an aside, it blows my mind that the first film came out seventeen years ago! The original was about a group of twenty-somethings who run afoul of some murderous, mutant, inbred, hillbilly, cannibals in the forests of West Virginia, as did the five sequels that followed! The original film sort of ushered us back into an age of grimy hillbilly horror, harkening back to the gritty 70's and films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. They were delightfully gory and I enjoyed all six of them to varying degrees, though to be honest after part two, my favorite of the lot, they do sort of all run together in my head.

I definitely expected more of the same with this relaunch, and why wouldn't I? The six film were successful and have a substantial following, it's a tried and true formula. In a lot of ways it is more of the same, but then again, it isn't. Sure, we have a group of six twenty-somethings headed to the Virginian Appalachian Trail for a weekend getaway. We have Jen (Charlotte Vega, [REC] 3: Genesis), her boyfriend Darius (Adain Bradley, TV soap The Bold and the Beautiful), couple Milla (Emma Dumont, TV's The Gifted) and Adam (Dylan McTee, TV's Sweet/Vicious), and gay-couple Gary (Vardaan Arora) and Luis (Adrian Favela, Booksmart). It's a typical assortment of characters, and they're all fresh meat, but for what sort of grinder? 

While hiking they leave the trail and the group become hopelessly lost, when a fallen tree rolls down a hill unexpectedly smashing Gary against a tree, totally destroying his skull. It's a well executed action-horror sequence and I give the first kill high marks. Panicked and grieving for their fallen friend the other five set-up camp for the night, but in the morning they find that their cell phones have disappeared and Milla has gone missing. 

The group get a bit more panicked and when they encounter a booby trap that drags Adam down a hole into the ground. When they come across two people wearing rustic looking ghillie suits with animal skulls-masks carrying a hog-tied Adam an quick judgement is made in the heat of the moment a revived Adam bashes one of the strangers in the head with a tree branch... not just bashed, the guys head is bloodily-pulped! In the aftermath the group are taken prisoner by the strangers whom we discover are a a group of local cultists known as The Foundation. 

The Foundation are no hillbilly mutants cannibals though, straying from the formula of the previous sextuplet of films in the series we now have a pre-Civil War cult who have been living in these mountains since before the start of Civil War. They are a strict religious, multi-cultural bunch who live closed-off from the rest of the world, living off the land very much the way the early American settlers did. They hold court in subterranean chamber, lead by elder Venable (Bill Sage, We Are What We Are), to try Adam for the murder of their family member. Quickly found guilty his punishment is to die the same way he murdered the Foundation man, with his skull beaten in with a large tree branch!

As the rest of the film plays out we have the outsiders dealing with the aftermath, given the choice of joining the ranks of The Foundation and adhering to their way of life, or suffer a fate that is truly worse than death! We also have Jen's father Scott (Mathew Modine, Netflix's Stranger Things), entering the picture as he searches for his missing daughter and her friends. His inquiries initially lead nowhere but a sympathetic hotel clerk tells him about The Foundation, who are said to live in the mountains, but the local townsfolk don't like to speak of them. A group of local yokels forcefully try to dissuade him from continuing his search but the dedicated father won't relent. 

This is a remake that clearly wants to  shake thing up a bit and they certainly do, but not that much. The flick still delivers the kids who go into the woods and meet their bloody ends, with plenty of gore and horror to ensue, but the baddies this time around are not you're average hillbilly cannibal. I liked the folklore of The Foundation quite a bit, they're rednecks but their not racists or cannibals, but their code of conduct is a bit nuts the more you learn about it. The way things play out I was down with it, but the film's biggest drawback is that it is nearly two hours long, and there's no nudity. Not sure why they felt they need to drag things out, but they do. Some of the padding comes by way of an extraneous prologue involving the father that doesn't need to be there. Armchair directing this I think I could have easily excised 30-minutes of stuff here that doesn't further the plot to keep it a tight ninety-minutes. 

That's not to say I didn't have a good time with it though, I am a simple man and an even simpler backwoods slasher fan, it don't take much to please me, and Wrong Turn '21 is fun, it's just a bit long in the tooth. The cast is pretty good too, I would give special recognition to Bill Sage as the cult-leader, who is an imposing presence, and to Charlotte Vega whose character has a decent arc for a slasher flick. Additionally Daisy Head as cultist Edith is also a force to be reckoned with, and Mathew Modine as the father searching for his daughter, is good, though I feel he has a ton of scenes that could have been left on the cutting room floor and not have been missed. 

Audio/Video: Wrong Turn (2021) arrives Blu-ray from Lionsgate in 1080p HD framed in 2.39:`1 widescreen. The digital shot film looks real good, the colors are vivid, the blacks are deep and the image is sharp with good clarity. The darker scenes showcase some nice detail in the darkness  and down in the sepia-toned subterranean tunnels, and the gore looks very good in the close-ups, as does the green canopy of the forests. Check out the over eighty screenshots from the Blu-ray at the bottom of the review. 

Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with optional English subtitles. It's a solid mix that makes good use of the surrounds to create an atmospheric space. The single-disc release arrives in a cheapie eco-case with a single-sided sleeve of artwork. The artwork is replicated on the slipcover as well. Inside there's a code for an digital HD copy of the film. 

Extras include a audio commentary by the director, 7-minutes of non-consequential extended and deleted scenes, a half-hour making of doc with the principle cast and crew with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, and a promotional trailer for the film. 

Special Features:

- Deleted & Extended Scenes (7 min) 
- Monsters Among Us: Making Wrong Turn (27 min) 
- Wrong Turn Promotional Trailer (4 min) 
- Feature-Length Audio Commentary with Director Mike P. Nelson

Director Mike P. Nelson (The Domestics) did solid work re-imagining the series without rewriting the playbook, as did screenwriter Alan McElroy, who also wrote the original  Wrong Turn (2003). They gave us the teens in the woods slasher we love, changed it up a bit, with some solid gore and a new group of baddies that I thought were pretty cool. Watching this for the second time today I was reminded a bit of an underseen backwoods slasher that doesn't get enough mentions, that was The Shrine (2010), and you should check it out. Wrong Turn '21 is not rewriting the backwoods slasher manual by any means but it's a solid, gory entry with plenty of action, I give this a thumbs up! 

Screenshot from the Lionsgate Blu-ray: