New Releases for Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Directed by: Danny Perez
Run time: 94 minutes
The Lowdown: There’s two things to know going into first-time feature writer-director Danny Perez’s debut, Antibirth.
First, be prepared for one hell of a career-defining performance from lead actress Natasha Lyonne, who literally and figuratively gives her all as Lou, a burned-out party girl approaching middle age who can barely put down the bong long enough to guzzle straight from a bottle of whiskey.
Lyonne is revelatory in this role. You absolutely believe she is stoned-out, coked-out and blitzkrieg drunk throughout the entire film. While that might not sound like much of a viewing experience, consider this: What if at the end of Leaving Las Vegas, Nicolas Cage’s character suddenly gave birth to a new lifeform. How would that change the dynamic of that Oscar-winning film?
Antibirth is the answer, whether it intended to be or not.
The second thing to know going into Antibirth is that the final 15 minutes makes the entire movie worthwhile. I already know some people will sit down to watch this and start complaining about the one hour mark that not nearly enough crazy has happened. Just you wait.
Perez is either a twisted genius or just plain twisted, but he does eventually get to spilling the beans on what the hell is unfolding on-screen, and it is definitely worth the tiem commitment.
Lyonne gets considerable help from two genre veterans, Chloë Sevigny and Meg Tilly, who provide both a measure of balance and a Greek chorus to the increasingly bizarre twists and turns that the movie makes.
Initially, I expected Antibirth to be some feminist manifesto about society’s implied expectation that all women should reproduce. It’s not. It’s not a message movie at all, in that sense.
What it is, ultimately, is the childbirth equivalent of The Fly or Frankenstein cloaked in an actor’s showcase about independent women who refuse to grow up and/or conform to society’s rules.
Strap in, turn out the lights and enjoy.
The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Who doesn't love a party girl?
Nudity – Yes. Gore – Considerable.
Drug use – Oh boy, yes.
Bad Guys/Killers – Government-sanctioned experiments.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Stake Land II (Dark Sky Films, 95 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): The follow-up to 2010’s Stake Land, arguably one of the best vampire movies ever made, continues the story set forth by original writer/actor Nick Damici and features the return of his young co-star from the first film, Connor Paolo, who has grown into a young man.
Stake Land II is a proper sequel and a great film on its own merits. It doesn’t redo the original, but instead chooses to show what the past six years have brought for Damici’s “Mister,” the requisite vampire killer, and Paolo’s Martin, who narrates both films.
It’s decidedly darker, which in and of itself is a feat as the first film was extremely bleak, but Damici’s script keeps the action from becoming lost in a slew of ‘all hope is lost’ paranoia.
What it does better than most genre films, and most sequels, is it invests you in the story of these two survivors and fully immerses you in the world that Damici has created. Fans of the first film (and BVB is definitely among those ranks) care what happens to these two people, but that doesn’t mean that Damici is going to make the viewing easy or light-hearted.
Stake Land II feels lived in and real. It’s an epic film told on a limited budget that doesn’t show the constraints of less funds. And it wisely sets up for a third and concluding chapter. Here’s hoping that we do get a Stake Land III.
The 9th Life of Louis Drax (Lionsgate, 90 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): For years, I have championed the films of Alexandre Aja, the French genre director who has given fans three remarkable gifts – High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes and Maniac, as well as the over-the-top wonderful popcorn remake of Piranha 3D.
But Aja’s last two films, 2013’s Horns and now The 9th Life of Louis Drax, just feel uninspired. I’m not sure if Aja is best suited for straight horror and gore, but that is the medium where his filmmaking sensibilities seem most effective.
The 9th Life of Louis Drax plays more like a fairytale or a parable than an actual thriller, and its lightness and lack of any truly scary elements only serves to expose how little the movie has to say.
Dead West (RLJ Entertainment, 115 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Writer-director Jeff Ferrell’s second feature, Dead West, owes a great deal to one of the greatest horror films ever released, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.
But make no mistake, Ferrell isn’t ripping off that classic. He’s simply using it as a roadmap to craft his own exploration of a dark and brutal mind, the serial heartbreaker at the core of Dead West, who is known in the credits only as The Ladykiller.
As played by actor Brian Sutherland, The Ladykiller is a complex antihero, of sorts. He’s remarkably brutal, and makes short work of a number of lovelies throughout the movie, but he also exists by a code and, at times, actually does serve as both the villain and hero of Ferrell’s tale.
It’s a bold move, made even more impressive given Ferrell’s artistic decision to never show any of The Ladykiller’s actual kills on-screen. This may well be the first (and only) serial killer thriller where barely any blood at all is ever seen.
Still, the film works, and in certain stretches it works really well. The story feels original despite the obvious influence of Henry, and I suspect viewers may find themselves conflicted as to how they want to see the movie end.
BVB highly recommends Dead West for those genre fans looking for something truly different.
Now on Video-on-Demand:
Havenhurst (Brainstorm Media and Twisted Pictures, 80 minutes, Unrated, VOD): Andrew C. Erin’s haunted house thriller benefits from two genre scream queens – Julie Benz and Danielle Harris – who help elevate the story to maximum effect.
Deadly Virtues: Love. Honour. Obey. (Artsploitation Films, 87 minutes, Unrated, VOD): Deadly Virtues: Love. Honour. Obey. begins like a lot of scary movies with an exterior shot of a modest home in a nice neighborhood.
Inside, a married couple, Tom and Alison, are doing what most married couples do. They’re shagging like feral cats until they’re caught mid-coitus by a deviant man with devilish intentions.
The man, Aaron, has let himself in to Tom and Alison’s home without an invitation, and now he plans to take Alison as his weekend bride.
Within minutes, Deadly Virtues explodes in a whirling rush of violence and Shibari. Tom is bloodied and hog-tied in the tub, and Alison is encased in an alluring wrap of ropes, her lithe limbs cinched tight, as she dangles from the kitchen ceiling with just one foot on the floor.
And, from there, things just get weird.
Director Ate de Jong of the Netherlands may be best known to U.S. genre fans for a pair of cult classics from 1991 – Drop Dead Fred, which starred Phoebe Cates and Rik Mayall, and Highway to Hell, which featured Chad Lowe, and was the screenwriting debut of Brian Helgeland.
Neither of those films bears any resemblance to Deadly Virtues, which is currently available from Artsploitation Films on most streaming Video-on-Demand platforms.
Working off a script by first-time feature writer Mark Rogers, de Jong fully embraces his dark side, allowing his camera to track Aaron as he psychologically and physically tortures Tom, making him watch as Aaron plays with a nude Alison in the bath or as he forces Alison to seductively change into a skintight catsuit as he photographs her.
In one of the film’s more brazen moments, Tom’s ball-gagged objections to Aaron demanding that Alison let both men watch her urinate unleashes Aaron’s fury in a vengeful bout of humiliating golden showers.
With so many fetishes covered in such a short time, Deadly Virtues could have grown tiresome or played more like a campy rundown of the Bunny Ranch’s banned list of sexual oddities.
But there’s more to Deadly Virtues than just the titillation.
For one, Aaron himself is a confounding character. He’s a full-on bad, bad guy, but he seems to operate by a very strict code. He never really lays a hand on Alison in anger. Instead, he punishes her by punishing Tom, namely cutting off Tom’s fingers and cauterizing the wounds, or carving a very specific word in Tom’s flesh.
Aaron wants to believe he is in love, and he wants Alison to be his bride, but only for two days. He cooks for her. He opens wine. He asks her to dress up for him. And he doesn’t take advantage of her, even when she’s strapped to the bed.
All this despite Alison’s repeated attempts to escape or find a weapon or make a frantic call to local authorities.
And Aaron uses the down time, when both Tom and Alison are tied up and indisposed, to rummage through Tom’s collection of homemade sex tapes where he finds several videos of interest. One shows Tom erupting at Alison in a fit of rage after a roleplay session goes wrong. Another shows Tom berating Alison in front of their newborn, who is conspicuously absent from the household. And then there’s the video of Tom with Alison’s best friend Sarah. He also finds explicit text messages between Tom and Sarah on Tom’s phone.
Aaron doesn’t attempt to use this information to turn Alison against her husband. Instead, he uses it to torment Tom as a philandering hothead.
Some viewers may be turned off by this sudden and unexpected shift from torture porn to family drama, but wait – there’s more.
The third act of Deadly Virtues is where de Jong pulls the rug out. Suffice to say, there’s a twist, and it’s a good one – maybe not as unexpected as some would like, but still surprising enough in its ferocity to pull you back into the story, fully engaged.
If there’s a lesson lurking beneath the carefully crafted rope bondage, it’s this: While it’s wise to beware the monster just outside your front door, there are worse monsters to be found, sometimes inside your own house.
And therein lies the rub at the heart of Deadly Virtues.
Much like the far tamer, and considerably more ridiculous, Fifty Shades of Grey, de Jong’s fetishized approach to the Dominant/submissive roleplay that mounts between Aaron and Alison creates a quandary not based in reality. Like Christian Grey, the boring and selfish Dom in Fifty Shades, Aaron does not represent the archetype of what true lifestyle aficionados enjoy about the D/s community.
For one, Aaron is a sociopath. He uses his job as a key maker to target and victimize women who enter his shop seeking help. For another, all of his pseudo-pop-psychology babble about gender roles in matrimony, which he spouts ad nauseum to Alison and Tom, are undermined by his violent eruptions and his needy narcissism.
To make Aaron the defacto hero by default is offensive and a bitter denouement to Alison’s arc of self-discovery through shock and self-preservation.
Should such real-life issues erode the sheer enjoyment value of watching a well-crafted, if flawed, home invasion thriller? Probably not.
Genre film fans who enjoy a healthy dollop of taboo play slathered throughout their bloody carnage will likely get a big kick out of de Jong’s film. It’s subversive enough to push boundaries, but smart enough not to resort to Skinemax-style softcore parody.
And, unlike a lot of “adult” thrillers, it does a better than expected job of showcasing the erotic appeal and genuine art form of fetish favorites like the intricate and artistic Japanese Shibari without devolving into camp.
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