Category Archives: Shudder Premiere

Graveyard Shift

Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever

by Hope Madden

Thirty years ago, Danish writer/director Ole Bornedal made a taut thriller about the night watchman in a medical facility who stumbles into a lurid crime spree. Three years later, he made Nightwatch again, this time in English. And now, fully three decades hence, he hits those of us who remember either of the earlier films with a sequel: Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever.

Back in the day, Martin (Nikolaj Coser-Waldau) took a job as overnight security to help pay for law school. Today, his daughter Emma (Fanny Leander Bornedal) does the same. Yes, she needs the money—since her mom’s suicide, her dad Martin is mainly drunk or pilled up and hasn’t worked in ages. But Emma has added reason. She just learned that her dad was involved in the famous serial killer case that ended in the building morgue.

Emma now blames the trauma for her mother’s suicide and her dad’s inability to cope, but her digging around has opened up a whole mess of new problems. Or old ones.

The filmmaker moves ably from the existential crises that fueled his original film to the ripple effects of trauma. He treads enough of the same beats to create an eerie echo of the past, but veers in mainly sensible new directions.

We do get to spend time with the majority of the original cast, though most of them appear for a scene, maybe two. Coser-Waldau anchors the sequel. Far from the wide-eyed youth who was so malleable thirty years ago, Martin is now barely functioning but earnestly interested in doing right by his daughter.

The filmmaker’s own daughter cuts a compelling contrast as Martin’s daughter. Determined and a little raw, Emma makes some rash decisions, but they never feel like dumb choices in service of a thriller’s scares. They feel like passion and impatience.

The mystery itself begins strong with an increasingly interesting perpetrator (Casper Kjær Jensen, tender and terrifying), but eventually devolves into something too pulpy and familiar. Still, Ole Bornedal has not lost his touch with the claustrophobic terror of being trapped inside a medical facility.

If you loved the original (or ‘97s solid remake with Ewan McGregor), Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever delivers bittersweet closure. But it’s an entertaining if not fantastic watch for thriller fans new to the franchise as well.

Arachnophobia

Infested

by Hope Madden

Remember Quarantine (or Rec, for that matter)? Remember that moment when you realize you’re locked inside an apartment building, trapped with the ravenous undead?

OK, so that but spiders.

Nice, right?!

Sébastien Vanicek’s Infested (co-written with Florent Bernard) doesn’t steal from other movies as much as it mines the primal fears that have plagued the most effective horror movies from the beginning.

Kaleb (Théo Christine) is a well-meaning dumbass. He lives in a dump of a high rise, but he loves the place, loves the neighbors, and cherishes the memory of his mother. That’s why, unlike his sister Manon (Lisa Nyarko), Kaleb doesn’t want to leave. In fact, he’s made a cozy home in his room for any number of exotic little beasties—the latest of which he just picked up from the super-secret back room of a dodgy shop.

“Careful, it’s probably poisonous,” the shopkeeper calls as Kaleb carries his rubber-banded plastic container and the very poisonous, extremely nasty spider inside.

Jumping ahead, Kaleb does not heed the warning.

Apartment horror can be so creepy when it’s done well: dark hallways, grimy elevators, creepy parking garages, too many floors until safety, and loads of places for spiders to nest. Vanicek makes excellent use of these spaces, and he shows solid instincts for creature FX—when to go practical, when to show little, when to show lots (and lots and lots). But his film succeeds on the lived-in world of these neighbors and friends.

Christine (Gran Turismo) delivers messy, loving authenticity as the guy who cares deeply and screws up everything. Finnegan Oldfield (Final Cut) is even better, and he brings with him a realism and natural charisma that cements the rag tag band of survivors as human beings to root for.

That realism doesn’t extend fully to the arachnid horror. Their reproductive mechanisms, their feeding habits, growth spurts—well, they’re not supposed to be from deep space or a nuclear accident, so the extremes seen in the building definitely strain credibility.

But damn! That doesn’t make it any less creepy! You may find yourself shaking out your sleeves and pulling the drawstring tight around your hoodie. I did. But at least the cockroaches are under control.

Two Minute Warning

Baghead

by Hope Madden

Back in 2013’s Texas Chainsaw, a young woman receives word that she’s inherited a building from a mysterious relative. She ignores the notes explaining her duties until it’s too late and she’s already stumbled into what lives in her basement.

Laberto Corredor’s Baghead—an expansion of his 2017 short of the same name—treads similar real estate. Iris (Freya Allan) gets word that her estranged dad (Peter Mullan) has passed and she’s inherited his dilapidated Berlin pub. Currently penniless, jobless and homeless in England, Iris signs the deed and takes over the old place.

She doesn’t watch the video explaining the current basement tenant until it’s too late. But it’s not Leatherface down in Iris’s cellar. It’s Baghead, a centuries old witch condemned to freakshow status. For a fee, she’ll swallow a relic of a deceased loved one and turn into said loved one for two minutes.

But—as was the case with last year’s similarly themed Talk to Me—the conversation comes with more baggage than you might expect.

There are some exceptional shots in this film and solid performances. The small ensemble boasts memorable support work from Mullan, Ned Dennehy and Svenja Jung, as well as strong lead performances.

Ruby Barker elevates the thankless best friend role, while Jeremy Irvine smartly inhabits the character of a grieving husband.

Iris makes a lot of inexcusably dumb choices, but because Allan crafts her as angry and short sighted, this feels less like a misstep than it could have.

The plot—co-written by Christina Pamies, Bryce McGuire and the short film’s writer, Lorcan Reilly—becomes needlessly complicated. Worse, Corredor undermines the excellent production value of his locations with gimmicky and weak VFX.

Irvine and Allan nearly save the film, though. The result is a modestly entertaining mixed bag.

Singing in the Rain

You’ll Never Find Me

by Hope Madden

A somber experiment in atmospheric horror, Josiah Allen and Indianna Bell’s feature You’ll Never Find Me waits out a storm with a couple of curious characters.

Patrick (Brendan Rock) sits quietly if unhappily in the kitchen of his trailer. It’s late—after 2 in the morning—and he seems a tad morose. When a persistent knock on his door punctures the noise of the storm, he ignores it as long as he can.

Eventually, he admits a stranger (Jordan Cowan), barefoot, drenched and shivering. She was caught in the storm and just needs a ride to town.

At this time of night?

What’s really going on here?

The film feels lost in a dream—the lighting, the silences, the pair’s lonesome and broken expressions. The co-directors linger on the actors’ faces, allowing the paranoia to shift so you’re never fully sure of either character.

Everybody in You’ll Never Find Me moves slowly. Everything moves slowly. You don’t know who to trust because neither of these two seems to trust the other, and you can’t judge either of them for it. Surely, they’re not both up to something nefarious.

Maxx Corkindale’s sometimes roving camera reveals something creepy in the trailer’s tidy, tightly enclosed ordinariness. The sound design is hushed and foreboding, blending with Darren Lim’s score to work the nerves. The result allows the film to suggest something supernatural, although all other signs point to very human crimes.

A slow boil like this requires committed, compelling performances and both Cowan and Rock deliver. Eventually the gender politics on display unnerve, and what’s what the film is more than truly scary. It’s unnerving.

The third act doesn’t entirely deliver on the promise made earlier in the film, but Bell and Allen have crafted an unsettling and spooky feast for the senses.

Yellow

Dario Argento Panico

by Hope Madden

In 2019, documentarian Simone Scafidi turned his attention to Italian horror filmmaker Lucio Fulci for the film Fulci for Fake. It seems only fitting, then, that he shine a spotlight on Italy’s most revered horror maestro – and a bit of an artistic adversary of Fulci’s – Dario Argento.

Panico follows Argento into seclusion in a hotel where he hopes to finish his latest screenplay. From there, Scafidi interviews the director as well as his oldest daughter, Fiore, essentially ruining the whole point of Argento’s stay at the hotel, which makes the setup seem odd from the start.

Argento knows what’s up, though, posing thoughtfully with beautiful architecture and charming Scafidi with the odd reminiscence. These moments pepper a chronological throughline of archival footage and movie segments as well as contemporary interviews with family and other filmmakers.

Few genre fans would argue Argento’s influence or importance in cinema. Gushing tributes from Guillermo del Toro, Nicolas Winding Refn and Gaspar Noé (who cast Argento in the lead for his 2021 drama Vortex) offer delightful glimpses into just what an influence he has been.

Not every opinion is positive – one friend of Argento’s even articulates the plain truth that the maestro’s Nineties output lacked all art.

What Panico lacks are follow-up questions. A number of provocative comments from interviewees seemed like opportunities to hear from Argento on the matter, and yet at no point does Scafidi dig in. This is most confounding during a fairly lengthy interview with Argento’s younger daughter, Asia.

The star of six of her father’s films, beginning with Trauma when she was 16, Asia Argento has been the center of a great deal of speculation and debate concerning her father as a filmmaker and as a parent. And though she spins each unusual parenting or directorial choice as if it’s natural, positive, or wise, most of the time it clearly is not. In fact, an entire (and far more interesting) look at who Dario Argento is and what we should make of his movies could be carved out of just her interview, had Scafidi double checked any of it with her dad.

Nope. Instead, Dario sits across a table from Fiore. She asks him how he managed to be such an amazing dad, always doting on his two daughters. He says that’s just how a person goes about being a father.

I’m not bothered by a superficial doc that just points out why a filmmaker managed to leave such a remarkable legacy in a single genre. But if you’re going to tease us with actual information, choosing not to address any of that information makes for a very frustrating viewing experience.

Would You Be Mine? Could You Be Mine?

Destroy All Neighbors

by Hope Madden

A film for anyone who squeezes creative passions into the hours outside other responsibilities, refuses the label “hobby” and still never manages to complete anything, Destroy All Neighbors lives that nightmare.

William (Jonah Ray) has been working and reworking the final song on his prog-rock album for ages. Years. He’s so close, but then the loudest, most aggressively weird neighbor moves in next door. Vlad (Alex Winter, who also produces) may have charmed William’s longsuffering girlfriend (Kiran Deol), but he’s pushing William to the brink of insanity. Who can get anything done with all that noise?!

William is that nonconfrontational nice guy who’s always being taken advantage of. But Vlad has pushed him too far. Which is why it will be so difficult to convince anyone that Vlad accidentally killed and dismembered his own self. But he did! Really!

Destroy All Neighbors delivers silly, sloppy horror comedy with the highly relevant message: maybe this is all your own fault. Ray (MST3K) drives the lunacy with an earnest performance. You kind of already know this guy. Hell, he could be you.

And that’s the real charm of Destroy All Neighbors. Director Josh Forbes, working from a script by Mike Benner, Jared Logan and Charles A. Pieper, isn’t wagging a finger of judgment. The finger is gently pointed inward.

The writing team comes from animation and comedy rather than horror, which may be why the film is so gleefully gory, no meanness in it. Whenever William does find his inner badass, the film makes sure he immediately regrets it.

A cameo from Kumail Nanjiani and the supporting goofiness from Lennon and Ryan Kattner as rock and roll has been Caleb Bang Jansen (say the whole name!) keep the tone silly.

Destroy All Neighbors is not a great movie. It’s definitely not a great horror movie. But it’s a light, weird, gentle reminder that you may be all that’s holding you back. (And also, loud neighbors kind of suck.)

Away from Home for the Holidays

The Sacrifice Game

by Hope Madden

The Holdovers by way of Blackcoat’s Daughter, Jenn Wexler’s latest mines the Manson-esque horror of the American Seventies for a new holiday favorite.

The Sacrifice Game opens on December 22, 1971. A homey suburban couple has just wished its last Christmas party guests a good night when the band of four who’ve been watching from the  yard come a knocking.

And that’s the thing about the Seventies. People still answered the door to strangers.

Not every scene in Wexler’s era-appropriate gem sings quite like the opener, but genre fans will be hooked, and rightly so.

Nearby, in the Blackvale School for Girls, news of the murder spree has kids happier than ever to go home for holiday break. Except poor Samantha (Madison Baines) and weird Clara (Georgia Acken). Which means their teacher, Rose (Wexler favorite Chloë Levine) has to stay behind, too.

Just as they sit down for Christmas Eve dinner, a knock at the door.

Naturally, Rose answers.

Part of the reason The Sacrifice Game works as well as it does is the casting of the cultish murderers, each with a fully formed character and each somehow reminiscent of the kind of Satanic hippie villains that once gloriously populated trash horror.

Olivia Scott Welch convinces as former Blackvale girl turned bad while Derek Johns delivers a sympathetic turn as the misguided veteran. Laurent Pitre’s self-pity is spot on, but Mena Massoud’s narcissistic charm outshines them all.

There’s enough grisly material for the true horror moniker, but nothing feels gratuitous. Each scene serves a purpose, and all dialog allows characters to unveil something of themselves. The youngers in the cast are not quite as strong as the rest of the ensemble, but their relative weakness is not crippling.

The film looks fantastic, and though the storyline itself is clearly familiar, Wexler’s script, co-written with Sean Redlitz, feels consistently clever.

It’s a rare year to be gifted with multiple enjoyable holiday horrors, but 2023 already boasts Thanksgiving and It’s a Wonderful Knife. The Sacrifice Game more than merits a seat at the same table.

Night of the Penned In

Night of the Hunted

by Hope Madden

Sometimes simplicity in horror is very effective. Take a very routine moment, something so familiar to viewers they realize they wouldn’t even think twice about it, and turn it into something sinister.

It’s late. You stop for gas. A sociopath with a high-powered rifle and good aim is hiding behind a God Is Nowhere billboard.

Franck Khalfoun’s Night of the Hunted is the latest horror to make what it can of a tiny cast, limited set of locations, and modern anxieties. Camille Rowe is Alice. She and John (Jeremy Scippio) are on their way back from a conference – their relationship is complicated – but Alice is in a hurry. And not in a great mood.

It’s 2 am. They stop for gas. The sniper makes excellent use of the well-lit, heavily windowed setting. There’s also a walkie talkie.

Any film that focuses so heavily on an exchange between two people only works when the writing and performances are strong. Rowe delivers when the script lets her. Alice is savvy and angry, recognizes her weaknesses but makes frustrating choices. Those choices are, of course, part of the character’s arc. They may also be due to the fact that all five writers and the director are men.

Night of the Hunted pulls in a lot of buzzy ideas and mixes and matches in a way that’s sometimes clever – the sniper toys with Alice, but why would Alice (or the audience) believe he means anything he says? It’s also sometimes frustrating for a number of reasons, chief among them that the monologue never ties to anything concrete in the story. No insight is gleaned – which is fine as no insight is needed, but the film behaves as if the speechifying has relevance.

There’s tension and some smart moments, although Night of the Hunted is still just another horror movie made by men in which the female lead has no purpose or value until she finds her maternal instinct.

Still Preoccupied

V/H/S/85

by Hope Madden

If found footage, horror anthologies and 80s nostalgia are your thing, V/H/S/85 is speaking your language. The sixth episode in the series straps on those heavy camcorders and uploads that security cam footage to remind us of all the horrors of the Reagan era.

Highlights include David Bruckner’s wraparound story, “Total Copy.” An alum of the 2012 original V/H/S and successful filmmaker behind The Ritual and the recent Hellraiser,  Bruckner has a tricky assignment. The wraparound has to serve as an anchor for the balance of the short films while standing on its own. Bruckner’s tale delivers a VHS tape of security footage that’s been copied over with commercials, exercise videos, and other horrors. But the main story it tells, of an entity in lockdown being studied by researchers, is chilling, sometimes funny, and eventually pretty bloody.

Not to be outdone, Mike P. Nelson contributes two short films with one clever twist. The first, “No Wake” follows a group of campers who head out onto a lake despite posted signage forbidding it. And though things go predicably wrong for them, the actual execution (both by the director and of the characters) delivers genuine surprises, as does the twist in Nelson’s second outing, “Ambrosia” about a fundamentally bent family tradition.

“TKNOGD” (technogod), from Natasha Kermani (Lucky), is the most daring of the set, although it nearly outstays its welcome before hitting its stride. A performance artist laments the blossoming obsession with tech. The plausibility of the audience reaction is almost as much fun as the gory finale of her show.

Gigi Saul Guerrero (Satanic Hispanics, Bingo Hell) contributes a news piece gone wrong during Mexico City’s 1985 earthquake. What’s most effective is her use of the set to increase claustrophobia to high levels before bursting that tension with the bloody finale.

Scott Derrikson’s (Sinister, The Black Phone) “Dreamkill” is the most effective and imaginative of the set, plus there’s a Goth kid! Now that’s a reason to love the 80s! A police detective keeps receiving VHS tapes in the mail of murders that have not yet been committed. From the grim crime scenes to the plot twists to the almost funhouse architecture of the final acts of carnage, “Dreamkill” never lets go.

This is the strongest set of shorts in a V/H/S installment in a while. It’s fun, gory, creepy and bite sized – ideal for the season.

Mama Mia

Nightmare

by Hope Madden

What happens if a woman reconsiders Rosemary’s Baby?

This is not to say that writer/director Kjersti Helen Rasmussen’s Nightmare is the masterpiece of Polanski’s 1968 Oscar winner. It is not. But this Norwegian horror delivers an intriguing pregnancy nightmare, one that benefits from a somewhat merciless female perspective.

Eili Harboe (Thelma) is Mona. She and boyfriend Robby (Herman Tømmeraas, Leave) just bought an apartment. It needs a lot of work, but it’s all theirs and now they can be grown-ups. Mona isn’t sure she and Robby have the same definition of grown up, though, and here’s where things begin to break down.

Mona begins having nightmares that escalate into sleepwalking, sleep paralysis and hallucinations. Could it be stress over abandoning a burgeoning career to focus on renovations and – if Robby has a say in things ­– starting a family? Or maybe it’s the creepy neighbors and their screeching infant?

Whatever the case, Robby’s sexy, shirtless doppelganger comes to Mona every night. The relentlessness of it all has Mona questioning reality.

So do we. Rasmussen rarely clarifies what is really happening and what is nightmare. She mines the dreamy fact that what we see in our sleep is often an image of our waking troubles, particularly those we hide from ourselves. Mona wants to please, as so many women do, and the men around her take casual advantage of this. One scene in a doctor’s office pinpoints the moment Mona finally is moved to begin to act on her own.

Microagressions blend into bigger dangers as Mona’s life blurs with her nightmares. Rasmussen fills the reality with details and beautifully executed moments that fully outline Mona’s struggle. The darker fantasy world of the nightmares is given far less attention, and the medical world that bridges the two feels slapped together.

But Harboe’s understated turn, particularly in a handful of breathtaking scenes, helps Rasmussen blisteringly articulate an everyday horror women face.