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New Releases for Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Fake Blood

Genre: Horror/Found Footage

Directed by: Rob Grant

Run time: 80 minutes

Rating: Unrated

Format: Video-on-Demand

The Lowdown: Independent, low-budget filmmakers Rob Grant and Mike Kovac play themselves making a documentary about film violence following the receipt of a creepy homemade video that seems to be from a “fan” of their 2012 movie, Mon Ami, offering advice on picking out the right tools to use to dismember a body.

What follows, however, is a harrowing and unsettling journey unlike any other low-budget ‘found footage’ film you’ve likely ever seen. Fake Blood may just be a movie, but it speaks volumes about our attitude toward violence, whether realistic or over-the-top, in the films we love to watch.

Fake Blood succeeds on all fronts.

It’s funny, and insightful, especially early on as Grant and Kovac initially set out to talk to their personal friends who have relevant hobbies, or who work in industries where violence is a daily occurrence. First, they tag along with a buddy to a shooting range where they fire different weapons picked specifically because they appear in many mainstream action films. Next, they go see another friend who is active in mixed martial arts, where Grant allows himself to get beat up in order to see how a real fight might go.

But then they dig deeper, calling on yet another friend in the film industry who previously worked with a “consultant” on a serial killer thriller who was on set to instruct the director as to how exactly a grisly crime scene might appear.

That’s how they meet ‘John Doe,’ who reluctantly agrees to meet with Grant and Kovac off-camera to talk about his knowledge of the criminal underworld. Of course, Grant and Kovac attempt to secretly film the meeting, and of course they are found out, but the entire sequence shot inside a shadowy subterranean parking garage sends icy shivers through your stomach.

From that point on, Fake Blood hits the gas, and doesn’t look back.

I’m happy to report that even though you might think what’s to come, Grant and Kovac are too savvy to play to audience expectations. Fake Blood distinguishes itself by not doing exactly what you would expect. The plot twists feel organic, and real, and kudos to the pair for not trying to juice the script with any unnecessary flourishes.

Here’s the thing that Fake Blood makes terrifyingly clear: Despite living in a society that’s immersed in violence on TV, video games and big-budget Hollywood productions, the average person on the street has no litmus test for how he or she might react if confronted with the real deal. And, even more chilling, we have no way of knowing if our neighbor, our co-worker or even the local barista is secretly going out at night to stalk and kill innocent people. The reality is, though, that it’s highly likely we do know someone who has committed a terrible act of violence.

As someone who has met one-on-one with individuals accused of horrible atrocities, and as someone whose day job requires me to interact often with individuals who wouldn’t think twice about taking a life, I am fully aware every time I go to meet with associates of different legal clients that I might be walking into a volatile situation.

How we respond in those situations, the choices we make, and the possible ramifications that such situations mean to those we love, represent the intangible truths that fuel Fake Blood’s impressive run.

This might be a low-budget mocumentary, but Fake Blood is smart, viciously entertaining and scary as hell.

Fake Blood is now available from Level Film to rent or purchase-to-own on most streaming, digital Video-on-Demand platforms.

The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – No.

Nudity – No. Gore – Yes.

Drug use – No.

Bad Guys/Killers – Never trust a guy who claims to be an expert on murder.

Buy/Rent – Buy it.

Black Hollow Cage (Level Film, 105 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Black Hollow Cage, the newest genre import from Spain and writer-director Sadrac González-Perellón, is a head-screw of a time-travel thriller that’s long on visual imagery.

Where Black Hollow Cage falters is in its exposition of exactly what is happening between Alice (Lowena McDonell) and her father Adam (Julian Nicholson) in their technologically-advanced mountain hideaway. Adam is an inventor, and he has designed a robotic arm for Alice. He’s also somehow created a device that, when affixed to the family dog, allows Alice to hear the voice of her mother, Beatrice, whom she believes has been reincarnated. She calls the dog ‘Mom.’

One day, while walking in the woods with the dog, Alice encounters a large black obelisk that seems to interact with her telepathically. As Alice waves her hand along the sleek onyx side of the obelisk, it opens, briefly, to allow her to reach inside and retrieve a note written by her own hand. As Black Hollow Cage progresses, the obelisk is revealed to be a portal, in addition to delivering scribbled warnings from the seeming future.

One of the warnings heralds the arrival of Erika and Paul, a young mother and her mute son, who knock on Adam’s door after Erika has been savagely beaten. Alice begins to believe that she must kill Erika and Paul to prevent a future tragedy.

Black Hollow Cage is swollen with interesting ideas and radical concepts, but it never puts any of them to good use.

The film is cold and clinical, keeping viewers at arm’s-length, and forcing us to try to interpret what González-Perellón is trying to say. It’s a frustrating exercise, made more interminable by the lack of answers provided.

The Neighbor (Vertical, 105 minutes, R, Video-on-Demand): Aaron Harvey’s second feature-length film, The Neighbor, is a muted dissection of aging filtered through a host of film tropes that ultimately leads nowhere.

Genre icon William Fichtner stars as Mike, a middle-aged father and self-employed technical writer, who lives with his wife Lisa in a tree-lined, picturesque neighborhood.

It’s evident early on that Mike is somewhat trapped in his daily routine, but the script doesn’t provide any hints or allegations about Mike’s happiness or the status of his marriage.

One day, a newlywed couple, Jenna (Jessica McNamee) and Scott (Michael Rosenbaum), move into the empty house next door, and Mike becomes instantly interested in their lives. He and Jenna strike up a friendship around gardening, and Scott – a cardboard cutout of stereotypes – keeps trying to sell him a Corvette.

The Neighbor lurches along with little to make note of. Mike and Lisa’s son comes home to visit, and seems oddly detached from his father. Mike and Jenna visit a nursery to buy plants, which leads to an awkward interaction centered around medical marijuana, and an even more awkward kiss between the two.

Mike keeps hearing arguments over the fence that separates his property from Jenna and Scott, and finally one day, he investigates, interrupting a likely physical altercation. Immediately upon finding out about this, Lisa kicks him out and demands a trial separation.

Here’s the thing – if Harvey intended to hold a microscope to mundane neighborhood politics and neighborly interactions, then he’s succeeded. However, the mere act of remaining truthful to something doesn’t make it interesting, and The Neighbor is woefully lacking any major plot developments of note.

Even Fichtner, normally a reliable and sturdy presence, seems adrift. He imbues Mike with little personality, and walks through his scenes as if he’s in a daze.

This one is for longtime Fichtner fans only, but it shouldn’t be near the top of your must-see list.

The Tag-Along 2 (Cinedigm, 108 minutes, Unrated, VOD): Taiwanese director Cheng Wei-Hao returns with the follow-up to his 2015 horror hit, and it’s nothing short of a grand spectacle.

The Tag-Along 2 continues Wei-Hao’s exploration of death and the after-life, mixing in a hearty dose of cultural beliefs and traditions, to create an absorbing thrill ride that focuses on the same little girl in red that attaches herself to lost souls.

The movie focuses heavily on family dynamics, particularly the bonds between mother and child, while weaving in an unexpected platform on abortion. Don’t fear, though – Wei-Hao is more interested in creating intense sequences that playing the morality police. In one extended segment, he has a main character digitally transform into a giant were-panther in order to do battle with a horde of mini-demons.

Is it ridiculous? Oh, yes, no doubt. But it’s also consistently entertaining, and it leaves the door open for a concluding chapter by teasing a metropolitan assault by the little demon spirits that live high up in the mountains.

Inoperable (ITN Distribution/Zorya Films/Millman Productions, 85 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Inoperable is like an endless nesting doll.

With each new reveal, Inoperable pulls viewers deeper into its central mystery, yet the immersive effect eventually becomes suffocating and confounding instead of thrilling and hypnotic.

The film opens with a young woman waking up in a seemingly abandoned hospital as a massive hurricane bears down. But the storm has awakened something evil within the hospital’s walls, and those malevolent forces play with time and reality to keep the woman and others trapped inside forever.

It’s all very disappointing given the presence of Danielle Harris, a true scream queen who should have thought twice before boarding this mess of a time-travel-medical-horror movie.

Kill Order (RLJE Films, 77 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): First-time feature director James Mark has created the equivalent of a highlight sizzle reel to showcase the martial arts prowess of his younger brother, Chris.

Kill Order stars Chris Mark as David, a high school student who suddenly finds himself surrounded in class one day by armed soldiers. The confrontation unleashes a powerful force inside David – a kill order – which prompts a series of brutal hand-to-hand battles.

David’s two allies, his high school crush May (Jessica Clement) and his surrogate father, Dr. Chan, try to help David avoid capture by the nefarious organization that experimented on him in his younger years, and imbued him with the abilities that are just now manifesting.

The action sequences pulse with authenticity. You feel each punch and kick, even as you marvel at Mark’s gravity-defying twists, each punctuated by a devastating blow. It’s like watching a live-action anime cartoon, which James Mark, in an interview with BVB, said was a vital influence.

The only ding to Kill Order is its too-brief runtime, which barely leaves room for any exposition or explanation. Just as things get cooking, you realize the show is over, and you will have to wait for the teased sequel to get answers to almost every burning question.

It's a risky move by a young filmmaker, but here’s hoping his confidence is deserved, and audiences will respond positively, so he gets the chance to further explore this interesting world he’s created yet barely scratched the surface of.

Still/Born (Vertical, 87 minutes, R, Video-on-Demand): BVB loves Still/Born.

Check out our review in Creative Loafing right here.

Victor Crowley (Dark Sky Films, 83 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): BVB has been a fan of Adam Green’s Hatchet franchise since 2006 when the first film debuted.

Check out our review of the fourth installment, appropriately titled Victor Crowley, in Creative Loafing right here.

Living Among Us (Red Compass Media, 87 minutes, Unrated, VOD): There have been far better found-footage films focused on vampires – 2013’s Afflicted is the gold standard – but Living Among Us at least offers something interesting in its premise.

Essentially, the world has just learned that vampires are real following a rash of cases involving people experiencing an unslakable thirst for human blood because of a pathogen in their system. And the 24/7-cable news industry can’t stop reporting on new discoveries, such as a network of human donors who willingly give their blood in order for vampires to survive.

Into this fray, a young television news crew accepts an invitation to spend several days with a vampire family to document their lives and rituals to show the public there’s no need for concern.

Will things go horribly wrong? Duh.

But Living Among Us has two aces up its sleeve – the late, great John Heard (C.H.U.D., Home Alone) in his final screen role, and William Sadler (Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight).

Heard plays the patriarch of the vampire clan, and it’s a fitting coda to an illustrious Hollywood career. Heard got an early career boost from genre cult classics like Cat People and the iconic C.H.U.D. (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers), so it’s nice to see him command the screen one last time.

Sadler plays the vampire leader, a slickly persuasive figure who is equally comfortable being a talking head on a cable news show or lording over a sacrificial ritual where he and his daughters tear into a buxom, bound nude brunette.

Living Among Us spends too much time having two of its main characters complain about the third main character constantly filming every second of their experience inside the vampire brood’s home, which is a common pitfall of many found footage endeavors. It telegraphs most of its late-stage reveals early on, either by having the camera operator repeatedly talk about the need for bringing a camera with night vision (you know they will end up in the dark at some point) or Heard’s repeated admonition that the locked off-limits to human guests.

Still, this is an enjoyable excursion, a fleeting entertainment that serves its purpose as a late-night distraction, and that’s honestly enough sometimes when considering the merits of found footage. There have been far worse films made in this style.

Suburbicon (Paramount, 105 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): George Clooney needs to be a little more judicious about the projects he chooses to write and direct. He’s in jeopardy of tipping the scales away from the high-caliber of entertainment that for years was his hallmark.

In the case of Suburbicon, Clooney and longtime partner Grant Heslov have adapted an early script treatment by Ethan and Joel Coen that dives deep into the pitch-black pool of satire without a safety net.

Suburbicon is yet another star-vehicle for Clooney-favorite leading man Matt Damon, but it’s also a rare misstep for both men. Theatrical marketing tried to present the film as a dark comedy while playing up the comedic violence. In reality, you have to sit through a whole lot of vague exposition to get a good sense of what the movie is about, and – truth be told – I wasn’t willing to do that.

The film kicks off with a home invasion that goes south, leaving a woman (Julianne Moore) dead. Not to fear, she has a twin sister, also played by Moore. The action is set in the idyllic Suburbicon, which is promoted as an all-inclusive escape from the dog-eat-dog metropolitan lifestyle. However, from its opening frames, it’s clear that

Suburbicon, as a locale, and Suburbicon, as a movie, have no idea how to properly frame the racial and economic tensions boiling beneath the sunny façade of picture-perfect life in the ‘burbs.

Clooney over-focuses early on, training his narrow lens on the first black family to move to Suburbicon, but there’s no context for viewers to properly understand why this might be an issue, other than the movie is set in a fictional approximation of the 1950s.

Similarly, Clooney and his script don’t provide any kind of foundation for viewers to find secure footing in trying to piece together the home invasion murder. That plot point is further complicated a few scenes later when Damon and Moore are at the police station viewing a line-up of possible suspects, and the two guys who killed Moore’s twin are clearly standing in the line-up, yet Damon tells detectives he doesn’t recognize anyone.

I’m sure a good explanation is given later on, but I didn’t have the patience to wait for it to arrive.

Extraordinary Mission (Cinedigm, 117 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): The latest Crimson Forest Films action thriller, Extraordinary Mission, is a thrilling game of cat-and-mouse told from the perspective of a police officer who has gone deep, deep, deep undercover as a drug operative for a notorious and lethal crime syndicate.

The action is pulse-pounding, and the hand-to-hand is brutally effective. If you’ve been turned off by other Chinese action imports, BVB is happy to report that Extraordinary Mission is focused, linear and wonderfully entertaining.

A Bad Moms Christmas (Universal, 105 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): It was about this time last year that BVB thoroughly trashed Bad Moms for being a sloppy, lazy exercise in low-hanging-fruit comedy, but of course since it was one of the few R-rated, female-centric comedies to crack box office gold, a sequel was immediately ordered.

The good news is that A Bad Moms Christmas is better, albeit barely, but enough so that it registers as that rare bad first movie that somehow sparks a better-than-expected follow-up. It helps significantly that this go-round, the original Bad Moms are confronted over a stressful holiday period by their own bad mothers in the form of Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines and the always radiant Susan Sarandon.

Also Available:

Bosom Buddies: The Complete Series

The Gruesome Twosome

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno

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