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New Releases for Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Serena Waits

Genre: Horror

Directed by: Hunter Johnson

Run time: 80 minutes

Rating: Unrated

Format: Video-on-Demand

The Lowdown: Serena Waits, a new title from Terror Films, is surprisingly effective in the way that it takes a well-worn horror trope – the avenging spirit of a murdered soul – and creates a narrative that keeps viewers invested until all hell eventually breaks loose in the bloody third act.

You’ve seen countless variations of Serena Waits before.

From I Spit on Your Grave to Ghost, horror movies have long relied on a singular act of violence to spark an almost Biblical reckoning where the evil antagonists finally receive their deserved comeuppance. Most films in this particular subgenre focus on women fighting back after being viciously wronged, but Serena Waits spends just as much time focusing on the abusers, which in this case are three college baseball players.

It helps that Charles Chudabala plays the weakest of the male antagonists. If you haven’t had the privilege of watching a low-budget indie starring Chudabala before, just you wait. He has this quality about himself, he brings something to every role that makes his character stand out so you notice him.

The last half-hour or so of Serena Waits is worth the 50 minutes you spend getting there as writer-director Hunter Johnson piles on the abuse but also provides some much-appreciated explanation for what’s happening.

Again, I’m not trying to overhype here, but for fans who appreciate when a director wades into familiar waters and manages to deliver something entertaining, that should be praised.

The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Yes.

Nudity – No. Gore – Yes.

Drug use – Yes.

Bad Guys/Killers – Fraternity douchebags.

Buy/Rent – Rent it.

Beckman (Universal, 90 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Let’s just call Beckman what it is – a blatant rip-off of John Wick with an actor (David A.R. White) who isn’t Keanu Reeves displaying a familiar fighting style as he carves a path through scores of bad guys en route to a final showdown.

The fact that Beckman tries to distinguish itself by injecting a silly faith-based subplot – the title character is a longtime assassin who finds God after a particularly nasty spate of slaughter – isn’t enough.

Instead of a dog, Beckman uses a young woman as the catalyst for dragging Beckman out of retirement to pick up his guns once again.

I have no problem with lower-budget independent films trying to emulate more successful studio movies, but damn, the line between inspiration and intellectual property theft is as blurred as its ever been with Beckman.

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Now on Video-on-Demand:

No Escape (Vertical Entertainment, 88 minutes, R, Video-on-Demand): Will Wernick, who previously directed 2017’s Escape Room, which should not be confused with 2019’s superior Escape Room, which does not seem to be related to 2017’s other movie called Escape Room, has returned with another movie about escape rooms called No Escape, which was originally titled, Follow Me.

Confused? Yeah, me too.

Making things worse is the fact that No Escape isn’t awful, that it’s kind of enjoyable and at times surprisingly tense, even if you know exactly what is going to happen long before it does.

The gimmick here is that a social media daredevil basically gets more than he and his crew bargained for after traveling to Moscow to experience an immersive, custom-designed escape room challenge.

Beast Within (Stone Cutter, 80 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): I’m about to call it quits with werewolf movies.

Why? Why would I walk away from a genre that I have loved for 40 years?

Because clearly none of the directors currently making werewolf movies give a shit about the genre themselves, which can be the only explanation why fans keep being subjected to mediocre, borderline offensive flicks like Beast Within.

The characters are unlikeable. The lycanthrope effects are abysmal. And the story is shite.

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