Directed by: Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce
Run time: 95 minutes
The Lowdown: The Pierce Brothers, Brett and Drew, who have returned to horror after an eight-year absence, are getting a lot of love right now, and rightfully so.
Their sophomore feature, The Wretched, which got a nice boost from a prominent feature in a recent edition of Fangoria, is the type of horror movie that we don’t get enough of these days.
It’s direct, it doesn’t waste any time with unnecessary exposition and it employs a bevy of pick-your-jaw-up-off-the-floor practical special effects that make The Wretched look like a $100-million-budget summer tentpole release.
Ben (John-Paul Howard) is your typical teenager. He’s been shipped off to spend the summer with his father, Liam (Jamison Jones), after he got caught breaking into a neighbor’s house to steal prescription medication. He’s got matinee good looks and a sizable chip on his shoulder now that his dad is dating again.
More than that, Ben has a huge problem with his father’s next-door neighbors, a quiet married couple with a young son and a newborn. The problem is that the mom may have been possessed by an ancient witch that crawled out of the carcass of a deer and now, in corporeal form, has decided to start entrancing and eating as many local kids as she can.
The Wretched speeds along nicely, but it slows at just the right times to allow the monstrosities that the Pierce Brothers have concocted to receive ample screen, and scream, time.
This is the perfect film for a summer lacking any theatrical releases because hopefully The Wretched will receive the attention it deserves.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – Yes.
Gore – Considerable.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Mom always said not to speak to witches.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Valley of the Gods (Well Go USA, 126 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): Valley of the Gods has a fantastic trailer that doesn’t do a great job telling viewers that the actual movie moves at a far slower pace.
It’s gorgeous to look at, it’s great to see familiar faces like Josh Hartnett and John Malkovich, but when you’re making a quasi-anthology based on Native American mythology, maybe you might want to actually explain what the hell is happening a lot earlier on.
I made it about 40 minutes. That’s not to say you should avoid, but if if Valley of the Gods gets considerably better in its second hour, by all means let us know.
The Phantom of the Opera: Collector’s Edition
Not to be Overlooked:
Swallow (Shout! Factory, 94 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): A lot of times, as a film critic, I receive too many movies to properly view and critique in time for their home media debut.
Usually, once the water is beyond the bridge, as they say, I rarely have time to go back and watch a new title, but every now and then, fate intervenes, and with Swallow, the first feature from writer-director Carlo Mirabella-Davis, I couldn’t be happier.
Swallow is arguably one of the best non-horror horror movies I’ve seen in the past 10 years because it succeeds in turning aristocracy into its own warped version of sly torture porn.
Hunter (Haley Bennett) remembers her life before meeting Richie Conrad (Austin Stowell) when her only means of providing for herself came from a retail job selling toiletries.
Now, firmly ensconced in the uber-wealthy Conrad clan, and fresh from discovering that she is pregnant with Richie’s child, Hunter begins to see her new life for the prison that it is.
Women serve a purpose in the Conrad reality, and that role is to host lavish parties and to tell funny stories on cue. But as Hunter slowly acknowledges, if a story winds on too long, or an important business phone call comes mid-meal at dinner, she’s as easily dismissed as a homeless panhandler at the corner intersection.
After receiving a self-help guide to navigating a first pregnancy from her mother-in-law, Hunter seizes on a specific piece of advice – to do something unexpected – and for whatever reason, her display of independence and reckless regard for consequence manifests itself in the form of swallowing objects that humans should not consume.
It starts small, with a marble, but by the time Hunter is whisked to an emergency room after experiencing severe stomach pain, where doctors discover a trove of tiny artifacts, including a AA battery, the Conrad clan steps in to strip Hunter of any autonomy.
The family hires the equivalent of a bodyguard to serve as Hunter’s “handler,” and he follows her everywhere, even to the bathroom, to make sure that Hunter doesn’t attempt to digest any further foreign items.
Richie berates her and humiliates her by sharing her story with his work colleagues.
And his father, Michael (David Rasche), threatens her with divorce if she fails to play along and simply sit idle as a vessel for the months before she births a family heir.
Swallow is chilling in its effectiveness.
It takes ownership of various horror tropes and twists them to fit within the daily existence that a life of privilege provides, and it offers up Hunter as both the victim and the embodiment of everything that such privilege seeks to scrub clean until only a blank slate, devoid of personality or the ability to protest, remains.
Swallow demands your attention, and BVB can’t recommend it strongly enough.
Now on Video-on-Demand:
Monstrous (Uncork’d Entertainment, 86 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): The greatest trick that almost all Bigfoot movies play on fans is the tantalizing allure of seeing a vicious Sasquatch on screen.
Very few deliver.
With the exception of Exists, which thrilled viewers with numerous money shots that actually exceeded expectations, most Bigfoot-centric thrillers tend to focus instead on the people, whether campers, researchers or loved ones trying to reconcile with the death of a relative, possibly due to a Bigfoot encounter, and rarely on the big furry beast of legend.
Monstrous falls squarely in this camp.
Three years after a young woman went missing while driving mountainous terrain near Whitehall, New York, the woman’s best friend and her grieving fiancé decide to try and discover once and for all what happened to her.
It turns out there might be more to fear in the heavily wooded acreage of the country’s self-proclaimed Bigfoot capital than just an urban legend.
Sadly, what there is to fear is not nearly terrifying enough or interesting enough to satiate our collective thirst for Sasquatchian carnage.
Dead Fred (Trinity Creative Partnership, 90 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Sadly, we weren’t able to make time to watch this dark crime comedy about a group of septuagenarians who decide to help a friend hide a body, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for it on your favorite streaming platform.
Before the Fire (Dark Sky Films, 90 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): How soon is too soon when it comes to watching a movie about a global pandemic while you’re actively living at the height of a real-life global pandemic?
I’ll be the first to admit that Before the Fire, which deals with a contagious virus, is uncomfortable and difficult to watch at times; however, director Charlie Buhler makes an interesting creative choice, limiting information about the on-screen pandemic to background snippets of newscasts and print headlines that pass quickly while his actors are front and center.
I suspect before long there will be a glut of pandemic-inspired horror and science-fiction films.
I’m just not sure that most of the world is ready to immerse themselves in an environment that feels so frighteningly real when all they have to do is turn on their own television or venture out, masked and gloved, to the corner store.