Downrange (2017) [Toronto International Film Festival 2017]

A group of students sharing a car to various destinations has a tire blow-out that leaves them stranded.  Soon they discover that this was not an accident and they are now in grave danger.

Written by Joey O’Bryan and Ryûhei Kitamura with the latter also directing, Downrange is a tense, one location thriller that grabs the viewer early on and doesn’t let go until the end credits roll.  For fans of Kitamura, this is a return to sources, to his earlier style of having a story set in one location and making it a tense experience for all involved.  This, here, is very successful and works like a charm in the desolate location on a road in the middle of nowhere.  This setting works really well here and the collection of characters and how they came to be together adds to the tension and mystery.  The film uses the fact that there are many unknowns to work in its favor.  The situation is tense enough on its own but the way the characters interact and are portrayed make it work even better.

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The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017)

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is the type of middling, mediocre nonsense that you’re likely going to find playing on basic cable in three years. It’s such an unremarkable, silly action comedy going through the motions and capitalizing on two men and what they’re famous for. Stars Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds never break out of their comfort zones, and you can almost sense director Patrick Hughes asked both men to just be who everyone knows them for, and really nothing else. “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is everything you think a movie starring Jackson and Reynolds will be like. Nothing ever really skirts the edges or thinks outside the box, and the violence seems just tacked on to what was probably a bland PG-13 action comedy in development.

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It’s Alive (1974) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2017]

A family expecting their second born is surprised to have a mutant child as it arrives in this world and kills all in its path when scared.  As a baby, being scared is something that happens quite a bit, creating a mounting body count for this tiny tot.

Written and directed by Larry Cohen, It’s Alive is a tale inspired by pollution and environmental effects on humans’ reproductive systems, eventually leading to a damaged progeny trying to survive when it’s scared and ready to kill for survival.  The film takes this and turns it into an easy to watch horror film about a newborn mutant monster that can easily be taken as just that, a monster film, but is much more once one delves into the environmental message.  Here Cohen creates a tale that is deeper than it seems and works with monster film tropes to pass along its message and entertain at the same time.

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The Night Watchmen (2017) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2017]

Coulrophobics look out, “The Night Watchmen” is easily your worst nightmare come true, but it’s also one of the best horror comedies I’ve seen in a while. Director Mitchell Altieri delivers one of hell of a great horror gore fest that imagines the world overrun by vampire zombie clowns. “The Night Watchmen” is set primarily in an office, and Altieri makes great use of it, picturing the night shift from hell. You could make a sub-genre out of horror movies set in an office work place, these days, but “The Night Watchmen” has a great time making use of the back drop, with the various halls and corners of the office, and the typically monotonous setting.

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Mayhem (2017) [Fantasia International Film Festival]

In a law office building with raising tensions and a myriad of issues, Derek Cho is wrongfully fired as a virus takes hold of the workers making them lose all inhibitions and moral barriers.  During the CDC imposed quarantine, Cho and a soon to be homeless homeowner climb up the floors to get justice.

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It Stains the Sand Red (2017)

Colin Minihan’s “It Stains the Sand Red” is a movie that only has about an hour’s worth of story for its premise. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a neat and interesting idea for a zombie movie, but one that runs out of steam by the time the second act is introduced. You can literally see the wheels falling off mid-way, and what should have been the end, feels a lot like a ton of filler that belongs to another movie altogether. As with all zombie movies from indie filmmakers, there are a ton of George Romero nods and winks, and they’re a mixed bag. Some of them are neat, like the opening of the film, which is an homage to the opening of “Night,” while some induce eye rolls a la the newspaper with the headline “The Dead Walk” dangling from a police vehicle.

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