Tag Archives: Ashley Bell

Unexpected Turns

The Swerve

by Hope Madden

Life takes unexpected turns, no matter how tirelessly you prepare.

Writer/director Dean Kapsalis explores a horrific side of this notion in his confident feature debut, The Swerve.

The film nestles into suburbia where Holly (a phenomenal Azura Skye) lays awake, waiting for the alarm. Her face is a mask of resignation and obligation. As the morning rituals rush themselves toward a day at work and school for Holly, her two teenage boys and her husband, Rob (Bryce Pinkham), it’s clear that Holly lives inside herself. In her home she observes and facilitates but is almost never regarded, reached out to. She’s barely even there.

The film takes us through one week in Holly’s life. Her sister (Ashley Bell) returns home, stirring resentment and jealousy. Her husband works late. There’s a prescription bottle. There’s a mouse. There’s a boy at school, another boy on the highway. Some of this is likely imagined. All of it is leading somewhere, and as inevitable as that destination is, it will still hit you right in the gut.

The Swerve busies itself with too many catalysts. The film could have benefitted from slightly less. But there is no escaping Skye’s performance. As a woman on the verge, her delicate state, the way she fights against her own tendency to submit to misery, is devastating.

Skye is not alone. Pinkham is excellent in a role that too often is a throwaway, one dimensional bastard. The likeable authenticity he brings to the performance makes the character and the situations so much more frustrating. Likewise, Bell and Zach Rand (The Woman) bring life and complexity to their roles as well as Holly’s dilemma.

In its most authentic moments, the tension the film generates is almost unbearable. As small mistreatments build, Skye’s posture and dead-eyed stare say everything you need to know about Holly’s whole life. Skye delivers half of her stunning performance without a single word.

Kapsalis’s understatement as a director capitalizes on Skye’s still, unnerving descent. Together they deliver a climax that will haunt you.


Deja Vu

Carnage Park

by Hope Madden

Writer/director Mickey Keating says his newest effort, Carnage Park, owes a debt to Sam Peckinpah and Peter Watkins – and their influence is certainly apparent, right down to the film’s title, cribbed from Watkins’s desert terror Punishment Park. Still, the film itself boils down to a poor man’s Wolf Creek as directed by Quentin Tarantino.

Actually, that sounds a lot better than it is.

It’s the California desert of 1978. Two armed men carrying a bullet wound, bag of cash and hostage flee a small town bank heist. They lose a trail of cops via a hidden, hilly dirt road.

Big mistake.

All the swagger, dusty boots and retro Seventies soundtrack in the world can’t shield Scorpion Joe (James Landry Hebert) and farm girl hostage Vivian (Ashley Bell) from the much larger danger they’ve just driven into.

Keating’s amassing quite a list and variety of indie horror films. His style is homage. Where Carnage Park aspires to the gritty look and desperate feel of the road pics of the indie American Seventies, last year’s Darling offered a stylish ode to both Kubrick and Polanski.

This approach need not feel derivative. Let’s be honest, Tarantino’s become among the most lauded and watched filmmakers of his generation by doing the exact same thing. The big difference is that QT’s take on all the cinema that has come before is filtered through his own lunatic genius, the final product becoming uniquely, fantastically his own.

There’s something more workmanlike, less inspired in what Keating does.

That’s not to say Carnage Park is an abject failure. A game cast keeps the film intriguing. Bell is deceptively savvy (aside from a few wildly idiotic mistakes, but let’s be honest, screenwriter Keating is to blame for those). Genre favorite Pat Healy chews some scenery, playing against type as the damaged Vietnam vet cliché, while Larry Fessenden (a regular and welcome contributor to Keating’s canon) shows up for a quick and gory moment or two.

But from the bleached out yellow of the scenery to nearly every set piece, Keating’s habit of lifting from other films takes on the feel of compulsion. Larceny, even: The Hills Have Eyes, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Reservoir Dogs – the list is bloody, hip and endless. And tired.

Keating has proven many strengths in his few years in filmmaking, but it is time for him to develop his own style.


White Trash Family Enlivens Dull Horror Flick


by Hope Madden

Three years ago, an indie flick took a few well-worn concepts – found footage, cults, backwoods spooks and Satan – and pieced together the surprisingly creepy The Last Exorcism. This weekend, its sequel, The Last Exorcism Part 2: This One’s Really the Last (they may have dropped that subtitle), shares what happened next to poor Nell Sweetzer and her demon lover.

Well, she (Ashley Bell, who was truly wonderful in the original) starts out by scaring the living shit out of a suburban couple – promising! From there, though, it’s a home for horny teenage girls and voodoo – which actually sounds a lot more interesting than it turns out to be.

The original benefited from performances far superior to the source material. Not only was Bell tender, vulnerable, brittle and oh-so-contorted-and-creepy, but her co-stars were magnificent. Patrick Fabian, in particular, as the charlatan exorcist finally coming clean, gave the film a heartbeat.

Unfortunately, those characters all died in the first movie, leaving Bell with little more than a new, uninteresting director; a new, uninspired set of writers; and a new, mostly bland cast to help her finish up Nell’s tale.

Unconvincingly playing a character ten years her junior, Bell struggles to create the believable center needed to anchor nutty horror shenanigans. She gives a solid performance – again fragile and yearning – but the contortions are gone.

What? Well then, why the hell even do this? What’s the point in making an exorcism film if we never get to see the possessed writhe around, snapping joints and freaking us all out?

That’s just one of the unexplained mysteries the film poses. Others include the age old: what possesses parents to taking their bottle-drinking tots to late night screenings of horror films? What is an audience member to do when the toddler screams in genuine terror throughout most of the film? How wrong is it to slap a mother in the face when she says, loudly, to her man, “I don’t know what the fuck’s wrong with him?” The baby. She’s talking about her terrified baby, (up way past his bedtime, no less).

Mother of the year, people. Womb of a future mass murderer.

The sad thing is that her negligence was more interesting than the film. So why fork over the cash to see this one in the theaters when you can be equally horrified by the behavior of some white trash family? Surely it’s cheaper to find one of those.

2 stars (out of 5)