Category Archives: Shudder Premiere

Follow You, Follow Me


by George Wolf

It’s taken awhile, but it seems more filmmakers have gotten a grip on how to handle this social media thing. Just last year, B.J. Novak’s Vengeance and Quinn Shephard’s Not Okay found smart and savvy new angles to explore, and now director/co-writer Kurtis David Harder does the same with Influencer.

Harder’s approach leans more Neo-noir thriller, as the cold and calculating CW (Cassandra Naud – outstanding) spins a dangerous web for an unsuspecting social butterfly.

Madison (Emily Tennant) is a media maven who is making sure her followers see nothing but an amazing trip to Thailand. But the real real is lonely and boring, thanks to a boyfriend who bailed on her and no friends in sight. So, Madison is only too happy to chat up fellow traveler CW, and to accept her offer for a tour of the most IG-ready spots around.

But there will be no friend requests, and Madison will be the only one posing. CW has no online presence at all, and in fact seems very insistent on avoiding photographs. Weird, right?

Maybe. Or maybe creepy. Suspicious, even.

Harder and cinematographer David Schuurman create an absolutely gorgeous pot for boiling this mystery. From atop deserted island beaches to below crystal clear waters and inside lavish vacation homes, Harder’s nimble camera and visual aesthetics reinforce the notion that pretty pictures don’t always tell the whole story.

And once Madison’s friend Jessica (Sara Canning) slides into these DMs, events take even more deliciously twisty turns, with CW scrambling to juggle her many different versions of just what Madison is doing and just why she is suddenly such a big part of it.

Naud sells it completely, evolving CW into a compelling combination of chameleon and parasite. She’s an absolutely in-the-moment creature, and Naud crafts the perfect vessel for Harder and co-writer Tesh Guttikonda to upend conventions while they pull at our cultural strands of misinformation, envy and objectification.

You won’t find the satirical humor that both Novak and Shephard wielded so effectively, but Harder’s approach is no less effective. With sharp dialogue, skillful plotting and simmering dread, Influencer is plenty worthy of that “Like” button.

None More Black


by Hope Madden

A baby left in a cemetery grows up to search for answers. Why was she abandoned in such a place, wrapped in a blanket covered in satanic markings and wearing an inverted cross? She discovers her parents were in a Norwegian Black Metal band.

So, to be honest, that explains it. Common practice, probably, and yet Hunter (Alicia von Rittberg) wants to know more.

Wait, will there be Norwegian Black Metal in Alex Herron’s Leave? Nice!

Herron, bringing writer Thomas Moldestad’s mystery to the screen, pits what you think you know about good against evil as he uproots a New Englander for Norway’s shores and answers.

Von Rittberg’s American accent is spotty, but the performance isn’t weakened by it. Her vulnerable but determined performance ably captures Hunter’s existential dilemma. She’s polite, slightly needy, capable but a little desperate. And the smiling faces she finds may or may not really be her friends.

These faces belong to rock stars (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) and schizophrenics (Morten Holst), spoiled cousins (Herman Tømmeraas) and clingy aunts (Ragnhild Gudbrandsen).  

Herron’s atmosphere makes the safe look seedy and the dangerous appear benign, but there is more depth to the tale than that. Yes, every character is a little slower on the uptake than they should be. And yet, somehow ­– thanks mostly to the film’s understatement – you don’t disbelieve any of the characters. Stig R. Amdam delivers a particularly nuanced turn as the family patriarch.

There are interesting themes here concerning patriarchy and “Christianity”, but Herron doesn’t belabor the point. His film is rarely showy, and even at its most obvious this light touch keeps it engaging.

Still, I think I was promised Norwegian Black Metal.

Sick Thinking


by Hope Madden

There’s a lot to recommend in Lorcan Finnegan’s new film, Nocebo. It depicts the horror of corporate and personal greed, which is not only currently popular but horrifyingly timeless.

It boasts four admirable performances. Eva Green is Christine. Christine designs clothing for children, and right as she’s launching a new line, she gets some kind of terrible news. Simultaneously, she runs afoul of something seriously foul and finds herself, some months later, debilitated by a mysterious illness.

Her husband Felix (Mark Strong, always welcome) and daughter Bobs (Billie Gadsdon, terrific) are surprised to come home and find Diana (Chai Fonacier) has been hired as live-in help. Honestly, Christine is surprised, too, but she just can’t trust her memory anymore.

It’s a solid setup. Fonacier and Finnegan, whose Without Name (2016) offered excellent and underseen “into the woods” horror, keep you guessing as to Diana’s motives. Fonacier grounds her character, finding a balance between a number of rote horror options, which invites constant curiosity.

Still, without giving away any major plot points, it’s the character of Diana that makes the film so problematic. Writer Garret Shanley, who collaborated with Finnegan on both Without Name and the 2019 sci-fi horror Vivarium, leans into stereotypes and dated tropes to tell his tale.

That’s unfortunate because it’s a big problem for the film.

Finnegan does what he can by investing in both Christine and Diana’s points of view, which also keeps viewers off balance in terms of the likely outcome of the story. Strong injects the proceedings with a genuinely sympathetic perspective in a role that rarely benefits from such a thing. And Gadsdon is more than just adorable, although adorable she is.

But Nocebo doesn’t pack the punch it intends to, the point-of-view sleight of hand limiting the impact. It’s not the body horror promised by the catalyst, either. Instead, it’s a muddled if well-performed tale that leans heavily on an idea that needs to die.

Meet the Parent


by Hope Madden

There are not nearly enough horror films based in Jewish folklore. Have you ever seen a dybbuk movie? You should. So far, I’ve seen three – Marcin Wrona’s beautiful 2016 haunting, Demon; Keith Thomas’s 2021 horror, The Vigil; and writer/director Gabriel Bier Gislason’s latest, Attachment.

The thing about dybbuk stories is that I’ve never seen one go well for anyone. Fun!

On the surface – and even just below – Attachment is an astute observation on being new to the family, particularly in a situation where the relationship itself is probably not that welcome. All families are weird, but they are weird in such individual ways. Gislason picks that scab effectively, as does his cast.

Josephine Park is Maja, a Danish actress best known – really, only known – for playing Santa’s Elf in a long-defunct TV series. She literally runs into Leah (Ellie Kendrick) at a bookstore. Leah is in from London doing some research, the two fall quickly in love, and after Leah is injured during a seizure, Maja offers to return with her to London and her mother’s care.

There is something quietly astute about the way Gislason sets up the dynamic: the willfully oblivious love interest, the domineering parent (Sofie Gråbøl) unwilling to be gracious, and the insecure new love unsure how to make herself fit into the family. All of it feels authentic, even if the stakes and weirdness are clearly ratcheted up a few notches.

Attachment delivers slow-burn horror that repays close attention but never falls to gimmickry. Yes, the situation is absurd, but everyone behaves in a way that is rooted in real-world expectations and experiences.

When the film changes its point of view, you realize where its compassion really lies. Attachment is a nightmare about parenting, about releasing your everything – your beautiful, tender baby – into a vast and brutal world. At the center of the entire nightmare is love, of course, because there is no real horror unless love is at stake. It’s that knowledge that makes the film hurt.

Hug your mom.

Rad Chad’s Metaverse

Scare Package II: Rad Chad’s Revenge

by Hope Madden

Three years ago, Aaron B. Koontz delighted die-hard horror fans with the squishy, oozy, gory mash note to the video store, Scare Package. It was an anthology of horror shorts, and those only tend to work if they have a compelling frame. In this case, each short represented a film on the shelf at Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium.

For the sequel, Scare Package II: Rad Chad’s Revenge, survivors from Part I regroup for Rad Chad’s funeral. But they find themselves trapped by a sinister mastermind with deadly games they must play if they hope to make it out alive.

Why do they watch the short films? That’s less clear this go-round, but the shorts they do watch are all pretty solid.

Both Alexandra Barreto’s Welcome to the Nineties and Anthony Cousins’s The Night He Came Back Again! Part VI: The Night She Came Back – like Koontz’s framing story – rely on your knowledge of horror tropes to generate laughs. Barreto’s film has some of the sharpest insights via dialog as it celebrates the changing of the “final girl” guard once the grunge-and-garage era took hold.

Rachele Wiggins’s We’re So Dead is a fun Aussie adventure, part Stand by Me part Re-Animator, with a wry delivery. Like all the other shorts in the program, We’re So Dead offers metacommentary without surrendering its standalone charm.

For Special Edition, director Jed Shepherd sets a handful of friends in a lighthouse for the night with a one-of-a-kind video. But what is the film, exactly? As one woman obsessively rewinds, fast forwards and pauses, her friends are the ones making the big discoveries.

Nods to Aliens, Black Christmas, Halloween, Friday the 13th Part 5, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3, Hellraiser, Saw and more flavor the product and mark its makers as bona fide fans. You may have to be a fan of Scare Package to appreciate Koontz’s framing story because it picks up not long after the first left off, without explanation. Being in on the joke, as always, makes the gag more satisfying. But that’s the basic premise of every story told in this collection.

Cabin of Curiosities

A Wounded Fawn

by Hope Madden

In 2019, Travis Stevens directed his first feature, Girl on the Third Floor, a haunted house film in which the house is the protagonist. It not only looked amazing, but the unusual POV shots did more than break up the monotony of a film set almost exclusively inside one building. Those peculiar shots gave the impression of the house’s own point of view – a fresh and beguiling choice.

Stevens’s 2021 film Jakob’s Wife waded more successfully into feminist territory, benefitted from brilliant, veteran performances, and turned out to be one of the best horror shows of the year. In many ways, the filmmaker’s latest, A Wounded Fawn, picks up where those left off – which does not mean you’ll see where it’s heading.

Josh Ruben is Bruce. Marshall Taylor Thurman is the giant Red Owl Bruce sees, a manifestation of that part of Bruce that compels him to murder women. The next in line seems to be Meredith (Sarah Lind). After finally getting past the trauma of a long-term abusive relationship, Meredith is taking a leap with a nice new guy, heading for an intimate weekend at his cabin.

This sort of sounds like Donnie Darko meets about 100 movies you’ve seen, but it is not. Not at all. Bruce bids on high-end art at auctions, Meredith curates a museum, and Stevens’s film is awash in the most gorgeous, surreal imagery – odes to Leonora Carrington, among others. And, like the POV shots from Girl on the Third Floor, these visual choices do more than give the movie its peculiar and effective look.

At the center of Bruce’s personal journey is a sculpture he stole from his last victim, a piece depicting the Furies attacking Orestes, who was driven mad by their torture for his crimes against his mother. It’s a great visual, an excellent metaphor for a serial killer comeuppance movie. It’s also an excellent reminder that art has a millennia-long history of depicting women’s vengeance upon toxic men – in case anyone is tired of this “woke” trend.

Lind more than convinces in the character’s tricky spot of being open to new romance and guarding against red flags. We’ve seen Ruben play the nice guy who’s not really as nice as he thinks, but his sinister streak and sincere narcissism here are startling.

The film does an about-face at nearly its halfway mark, not only changing from Bruce’s perspective to Meredith’s, but evolving from straightforward narrative to something hallucinatory and fascinating.

The final image – unblinking, lengthy, horrible and fantastic – cements A Wounded Fawn as an audacious success.

Thicker than Water

Blood Relatives

by Hope Madden

Noah Segan – a welcome surprise in a Dude-esque role in Rian Johnson’s mystery romp Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery – embodies quite a different character for another new release, Blood Relatives.

Segan writes, directs and stars as well, upending the traditional coming-of-age perspective as a vampire learning of a teenage daughter and figuring out how to become a parent. It’s a darkly comedic road trip toward mundanity.

Segan’s screenplay is loose but knowing. It never feels overly scripted but offers enough backstory to ground the tale. And though moments feel familiar – maybe a bit of Near Dark and Stakeland with far more humor and far less dystopia – there is something pleasantly new afoot in this film.

Francis (Segan) is a loner in a muscle car, making his way hither and yon across dusty old by-ways and trying not to draw attention to himself. It’s a lonesome road, but what are you going to do? Jane (Victoria Moroles, Plan B) is a 15-year-old: sarcastic, hostile – you know, normal. Only she’s not normal and now that her mom’s gone, she intends to find out who she is.

That’s the simple success of Segan’s story. It’s about two people figuring out who they are, as we all must. Without feeling preachy or pretentious, Blood Relatives offers some real insight into what parenting ought to be. Even when the only thing you really have in common is the desire to suck the life out of people.

Moroles excels in the role of an angsty teen who recognizes the symbolism of turning into a monster as you hit adolescence. She’s slyly funny but moments of tenderness humanize her Jane. Likewise, Segan finds an arc that suits a man-turned-killer trying to turn back into a man.

Supporting turns, while small, all add a nice spark to the proceedings. Josh Rubin, in particular, is a creepy delight in a Renfield-esque role.

The film’s greatest weakness is its final act, which is enjoyable but unsatisfying. Still, the entertaining Blood Relatives delivers a savvy family comedy.

Northern Lights


by Hope Madden

Nyla Innuksuk’s sci-fi horror Slash/Back opens with a likable, snow-suited scientist gathering permafrost samples in a breathtaking Northern Canadian snowscape.

Researchers on the Arctic Circle don’t have a great track record for surviving horror movies. Don’t you love the way blood pops on snow? The tentacled menace that cuts the scientist’s research short is soon to terrorize a remote fishing village called Pangnitung, or as Maika (Tasiana Shirley) and her buddies call it, Pang.

Innuksuk has a lot of fun reconsidering John Carpenter’s The Thing – the tale of an invasive species and the terrifying havoc it can wreak ­– from the perspective of four indigenous teens. And in case the point is lost on you, Maika has a badass jacket to wear when killing invasive species that may help to clarify things.

None of the performances suggest a superstar in the making, although Nalajoss Ellsworth impresses as instigator, malcontent and comic relief Uki. Still, the buddies – who include Chelsea Prusky as Lee Lee and Alexis Wolfe as Jesse – share a rapport that feels honest and relatable. Innuksuk mines this to enrich the fantasy elements with realism.

The filmmaker’s greatest collaborator is cinematographer Guy Godfree (MaudieLet Him Go). The two contrast the ramshackle buildings of Pang with the glorious natural landscape around it. The effect not only conveys what could be lost to these bloodthirsty outsiders, but what was lost the last time.

Creature design is sometimes inspired, sometimes a little weak, but Innuksuk embraces these limitations. Production value is high, even when the images and performances on the screen seem a bit amateurish. Somehow the two fit together in this world at the edge of the world, where that adolescent urge to pretend to be someone you’re not feels like a real betrayal and those seal hunting trips you took with your dad finally pay off.

Digging in the Dirt


by Hope Madden

I have about six different cousins named Cathy Madden, but Lynne Davison’s Mandrake is not about any of them. I hope.

Davison’s tale follows probation officer Cathy Madden (Dierdre Mullins), whose recently assigned client, Mary Laidlaw (Derbhle Crotty), has the county in a tizzy. Old “Bloody” Mary is thought to be a witch, you see, and no one’s too keen on her being let out after what she did to her husband in those woods. Twenty years wasn’t long enough.

It’s tough to do something surprising within the witch genre. These films generally fall into two categories: she’s evil and in league with Satan, or she’s misunderstood and being wronged by hateful townfolk. Davison blurs that line. Her handling of Matt Harvey’s script treads a provocative path of moral ambiguity that requires constant guesswork and generates real dread.

Connor Rotherham’s cinematography draws out the best in Vanessa O’Connor’s production design to give Bloody Mary’s environment a primal, organic and dizzying feel. Everything is draped in moss and knotted with roots. You can almost smell the rotting leaves. It’s gorgeous and dense, simultaneously lovely and terrifying.

Crotty, all wild hair and knowing eyes, blends effortlessly into this primordial world. Mullins perfectly complements that performance with her own complex take on Madden. Straightforward with no time for nonsense, the parole officer still weakens, and Mullins finds depth here. The two performers play on their opposing look and vibe not to illustrate differences but to unveil sympathies.

Mandrake never falls back on one-dimensionality. Characters are messy. They do the wrong thing, then the right thing, behave monstrously and also with kindness. The film is also mercifully light on religion, instead pitting the scientific world against something older. Whether that world and its options are more sinister is in the eye of the beholder.

Slum Lord

Satan’s Slaves: Communion

by Hope Madden

In what may be Joko Anwar’s most assured and consistently spooky effort, Satan’s Slaves: Communion evokes effective, building horror.

Building, like a towering apartment building. It’s not an image you expect to find in horror, but it has been used to fantastic effect a number of times. Obviously, Rosemary’s Baby and The Sentinel delivered urban terror via creepy architecture. More recently, Rec and the action classic The Raid took advantage of layer upon layer of floors and doors for bloody mayhem.

Anwar blends the supernatural of the earlier films and the pandemonium of the latter with the looming presence of the structure itself, a bit like what you’ll find in Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents and Ciaran Foy’s 2012 horror, Citadel.

The mish-mash works wonders to conjure a dark, dreary, dangerous trap with supernatural evil waiting down every hall. And don’t even look in the laundry chute.

A sequel to his 2017 Satan’s Slaves (itself a riff on Norman J. Warren’s ’76 cult horror Satan’s Slave), Communion picks up in 1985, just a few years since Rini (Anwar favorite Tara Basro) and her brothers Toni (Endy Arfian) and Bondi (Nasar Annuz) lost their mother and little brother to something very sinister. Their dad moved them to this building in Jakarta, and as long as they can survive the big storm that’s coming, Rini will finally leave the nest and pursue her education.

Sure. Just don’t take the elevator.

The first Indonesian film to be shot in IMAX, Satan’s Slaves: Communion looks as grimy and shadowy as any Anwar film – as it should. He uses shadows and distance, cramped spaces and lighting to set a stage that unnerves. Both sound design and practical FX complete that picture. Yes, the ideas and even some images are pulled from other films, but the final concoction is utterly Anwar.