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New Releases for Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Don’t Knock Twice

Genre: Horror

Directed by: Caradog W. James

Run time: 93 minutes

Rating: R

Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: Don’t Knock Twice is a prime example of a movie that many people might be tempted to give up on halfway-through, but trust us – it is well worth your time to stick with this one until the very end.

The reason we say this, and we don’t usually say this, is because Don’t Knock Twice is that very rare, very sneaky genre film that gets smarter and better the longer it goes. Some serious thought has been given to the plot, and the twists, when they come, are well-earned and satisfying.

Director Caradog Jones previously helmed The Machine, which was nowhere near as good a sentient A.I. thriller as Ex-Machina, and writers Nick Ostler and Mark Huckerby, who have mostly penned episodes for several animated children’s series, formerly teamed up for the above-average werewolf flick Howl in 2015.

To say Don’t Knock Twice is a huge step forward for all three men is an understatement.

Without spoiling anything – because, really, the thrill of discovering a genre film like this is not really knowing much about the plot going in – I can tell you this: Don’t Knock Twice riffs on urban legends in a way that both elevates the typical Bloody Mary in the mirror scenario and adds impressive layers of mythology that typically aren’t found in direct-to-DVD features.

The basic gist is that Chloe (Lucy Boynton) is a troubled young woman shouldering some serious guilt about her role in the suicide death of a reclusive woman who was branded as a witch by the community. She seeks refuge with her estranged mother (a fierce Katee Sackhoff, doing her best work since Battlestar Galactica), and that’s when all hell literally breaks loose.

Don’t Knock Twice is filled with fantastic imagery and vivid set pieces. There are several red herrings introduced, and despite some obvious indicators that those characters exist to make you question what is actually happening, they work well and keep you guessing.

A lot of urban legends operate through simple rules. If you say Candyman enough times, he will appear. If you stand in front of a mirror and whisper Bloody Mary…well, you get the idea.

Don’t Knock Twice establishes its own rules, and they are much more intricate, so much so that the payoff, when it comes, is honestly surprising in how much it makes sense.

Don’t Knock Twice isn’t perfect. The middle section could use some trimming, if only to accelerate the race to the thrilling third act. But this is a genre gem, for sure, and a worthy addition to your Must-See list.

The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Yes.

Nudity – No. Gore – Yes.

Drug use – No.

Bad Guys/Killers – That creepy lady who lives in the creepy house that kids dare each other to knock on the door and not run away.

Buy/Rent – Buy it.

Sleight (Universal, 89 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): It seems almost unfair to say that Sleight, the new film by co-writer/director J.D. Dillard, lives up to its name.

But the reality is that Sleight, a mostly-successful mash-up of magic and scientific discovery blended into a traditional superhero origin story, could have been an instant cult classic with more explanation, exposition and attention to detail.

If you’ve ever seen Fresh, the fantastic debut by Boaz Yakin from 1994, imagine that taunt, intricate urban thriller spliced with 2012’s exceptional found-footage super powers origin story, Chronicle.

Dillard benefits from two stand-out performances by young actor Jacob Lattimore as Bo, the street-savvy magician whose illusions seem too good to be true, and Dulé Hill (TV’s Psych), in a rare villain turn, as drug kingpin Angelo.

Lattimore and Hill create fully-formed characters, and their parallel arcs dovetail nicely during an impressive climax filled with unexpected surprises and above-average practical effects.

I just wanted more details about Bo and his abilities. To that end, Dillard fades out with a tease suggesting there’s more to Bo’s story to still be explored. Maybe it’s a promise, or maybe it’s just another up-close magic trick meant to leave you wondering.

Colossal (Universal, 109 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Spanish genre savant Nacho Vigalondo can do no wrong as a writer-director.

After exploding on the radar of U.S. fans in 2007 with Timecrimes, one of the best time-travel thrillers ever made, he has remained a fixture in the genre, lensing short films for The ABCs of Death and V/H/S Viral, as well as helming the experimental thriller Open Windows in 2014.

His latest feature, Colossal, is a nearly-unclassifiable Kaiju-com that deftly weaves together comedy, drama and giant monsters attacking Seoul, Korea. Even more WTF – it stars three vibrant A-list actors, Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis and Dan Stevens.

Hathaway owns the film as Gloria, a city-slick party girl who returns to her hometown following a bad breakup. Once there, she rekindles a friendship with Sudeikis’ Oscar, a childhood frenemy with romantic designs.

The catch, and it’s a doozy, is that Gloria and Oscar, in addition to being toxic, lost souls, share a childhood connection that somehow allows them to share consciousness with a giant creature and a giant robot that mysteriously appear to wreak havoc in Seoul through a series of escalating battles that level buildings and kill scores of innocent residents.

Vigalondo wrings genuine emotion from his irreverent premise, and in the hands of a less-skilled director, this could have ended up being an epic disaster. Spoiler alert: It’s not.

Colossal is like a big wet kiss to fans of subversive, wholly original cinema. Seriously, no other movie has ever attempted to bridge these worlds, and honestly, it should not work as well as it does.

This one comes highly, hugely recommended.

Slither: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, 96 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): If ever you needed a reminder as to just how brilliant James Gunn is as a writer-director, you don’t need to pony up to any of his massive Marvel hits with the Guardians of the Galaxy.

No, all you have to do is revisit Slither, his audacious 2006 feature-debut, a truly exciting alien invasion creature feature that delivers laughs, jump scares and some wickedly wonderful practical special effects.

Everything you’ve come to love about Gunn is on display – whip-smart dialogue that crackles with gleeful asides and one-off observations, original aliens that pop with unexpected personality and lots and lots of gloopy, glorious gore.

Personally, I still consider Gunn’s 2010 Super to be his true masterpiece, the best non-comic book property superhero film ever released.

But Slither is special, and it’s wholly deserving of this wonderful collector’s edition from Shout! Factory.

Now on Video-on-Demand:

WTF! (Midnight Releasing, 80 minutes, Unrated, VOD): The new craze in horror, at least low-budget, independent horror, seems laser-focused on reinventing and/or subverting the slasher genre.

Not since Scream in 1996 have so many movies tried to goose the genre with meta-concepts and plots that hinge on an intricate series of Rube Goldberg-like twists. Some – The Final Girls and Last Girl Standing, in particular – have been wildly inventive and thoroughly enjoyable. Others have not.

WTF!, the debut feature from director/co-writer Peter Herro, is sadly not as successful as fans will want it to be.

WTF! has a similar premise as Last Girl Standing – Rachel (Callie Ott) was the sole survivor of a camping vacation bloodbath where all her friends were slaughtered. Now, three years later, she’s going back into the woods to an isolated cabin to celebrate her impending college graduation.

The problem with WTF! – OK, the biggest problem, as there are several – is that not one single character, including the heroine Rachel, is likable, or appears to like any of the other characters. This is supposed to be a tight-knit group of friends, yet all they do is put each other down with degrading, mean-spirited jabs and catty asides.

Rachel’s boyfriend blatantly hits on other women in front of her, which she passes off as him being ‘flirty.’ The two other female characters – a stuck-up rich blonde and an arrogant, I’m-better-than-you redhead – laugh, argue, make out and then hate on each other.

In addition to Rachel’s meathead-jock boyfriend, there’s also a stoner, a gamer and the is-he-or-isn’t-he friend, as in gay or straight.

Here’s why this matters: WTF! has some solid practical effects throughout. It’s gorier than expected in brief flashes, but Herro’s script can’t settle on a consistent tone to really let the blood flow and generate enough tension to let the jump scares be effective.

Herro also paints himself into a corner by playing with time lapses through the introduction of an unnecessary subplot about a police interrogation that only serves to consistently undermine any momentum that he’s able to muster.

WTF! ultimately lives up to its title, but not in the way the filmmaker likely hoped.

Also Available:

Going in Style

The Ottoman Lieutenant

Cop and a Half: New Recruit

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