Tag Archives: Kyle Gallner

Mind Games

Mother, May I?

by Hope Madden

I’m a Kyle Gallner fan. I’ve always appreciated his work, but Dinner in America sealed the deal. Always on board for a new Gallner-led horror flick, I was cautiously optimistic about Mother, May I?

Gallner is Emmett. Having just inherited a gorgeous old farmhouse from his estranged mother, Emmett and his fiancé Anya (Holland Roden) face some demons and a lot of packing if they’re going to have the house ready for the realtor.

And even if the film seems familiar on its surface, there’s something so weird going on underneath. Writer/director Laurence Bannicelli’s thriller feels like a premise born of either a therapy session or a bad relationship – or, more likely, a bad relationship born of group counseling.

The film swims in the vulnerability those in therapy contend with as they have faith in their therapists, or those wielding the same tricks and terminology, while they try to overcome their issues and/or childhood trauma.

Emmett, you see, barely even remembers this house because his mother abandoned him. Or did she? Because Anya – who transforms from bohemian poet to pristine, controlling matron overnight – keeps suggesting he doesn’t know everything he thinks he knows.

But how could she know?

Bannicelli introduces a parlor trick/therapy game early in the film where Emmett and Anya role play each other. It’s Anya’s way of forcing Emmett not to close her out, although it immediately reads as needy, smothering and controlling.

But Emmett doesn’t even know what he’s in for.

Often in these possession/haunting films you can’t help but wonder why so much time lags, why so few questions are raised, why everyone is so willing to quietly accept the weird behavior. Bannicelli and sets us up to believe while Gallner and Roden keep our faith alive.

She creates to distinct and recognizable characters, and his reactions to each is unnerving and raw.

There’s a grand total of 5 people in the cast, which suggests a Covid production (or at least a production very savvy about its budget), but you don’t feel it. It’s a gorgeous film, the exteriors the kind of “middle of nowhere” that does not feel foreboding. It feels like an invitation to peace, which is in keeping with the tension just below the surface for these two characters who cannot truly face their own reality.

Not everything works as well, though. However welcome veteran character Chris Mulkey may be – and he’s just as solid as ever – the character itself is the cliché stranger who can explain it all. And though the climax is powerful, the resolution feels a bit like a cynical joke.

It’s not enough to ruin this clever, odd duck of a thriller, though.

Why So Serious?


by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Man, It Follows was a great movie. It was a film that saw coming-of-age as its own type of horror, a loss of innocence that you either pass on or let kill you.

It’s a conceit that will never feel as fresh as it did then, but writer/director Parker Finn has a go with Smile.

Sosie Bacon is Dr. Rose Cotter, a therapist working in an emergency trauma unit. A woman is brought in, lashed to a gurney and screaming. Rose evaluates her in a safe space where Laura (Caitlin Stasey) can be comfortable, free. Rose listens to her paranoid, anxious story of a smiling, malevolent presence and tells Laura, as calmly as she can, that as scary as these ideas may feel, they can’t harm her.

Rose is wrong. And so begins a very borrowed and yet often powerful meditation on the nature of trauma and the state of mental health stigma.

Bacon delivers a believably brittle performance as the character who knows she’s right, even if everyone believes she’s crazy. But there’s more to this genre trope, given that Finn’s entire theme is an exploration of mental health. As a therapist and also a woman suffering from trauma, Rose can see her current situation more clearly than most.

There’s honesty, depth and empathy at work here, a 360-degree look at mental health and the systems and norms that affect people. Smile is also a clear metaphor for trauma and its insidious ripple effect.

It’s also a showcase for a fine supporting cast, and a few good, if borrowed, jump scares and freaky images. Kyle Gallner is particularly solid, and both Robin Weigert and Rob Morgan deliver traumatizing performances in small roles.

Turning something as inherently harmless as a smile into a threatening gesture carries a primal creepiness that Finn exploits pretty effectively throughout the film. Even so, the nearly two-hour running time feels bloated as Rose’s search for the origins of her curse begins to drag.

Her detective work – plus one very familiar shot – make Smile an easily recognizable marriage of It Follows and The Ring. Credit Finn for not hiding his intentions, and crafting some thought-provoking frights in the process.

Delicious and Nutritious

Dinner in America

by Hope Madden

It’s not often you watch a film about a fire starting, drug dealing, lying man on the run from police and his romance with a woman with special needs and think, this is delightful.

But it is. Dinner in America is a delight.

Writer/director Adam Rehmeier delivers an unexpected comedy, sometimes dark, sometimes broad, but never aimless. Simon (Kyle Gallner, remarkable) is a punk rocker hiding from the cops. Patty (Emily Skeggs) is a 20-year-old punk rock fan who lives at home and isn’t allowed to run appliances when she’s alone.

Their stories collide, but by that time Rehmeier and his cast have crafted memorable, believable characters with their own fascinating worlds. Where they go together becomes a little unnerving at times, but Dinner in America surprises with warmth as often as it does with profanity-laced edginess.

Rehmeier’s film calls to mind other misfit romances — Buffalo 66, Eagle v Shark — but sidesteps cliché at every turn. More importantly, or at least delightfully, it embraces the punk rock ethos rather than seeing a coming-of-age opportunity to grow out of it.

Gallner’s magnetic. Whether stalking through suburbia or surrendering to love, he delivers buzzing vitality and surprising depth. Skeggs offers a brilliantly unselfconscious counterpoint. Her awkward, endearing performance is an absolute blessing.

A top-to-bottom impressive ensemble including Pat Healy, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Lea Thompson buoy the central performances. Rehmeier’s sharp yet somehow tender script doesn’t hurt, offering startling opportunities for castmates to shine.

By the time the film digs into its musical numbers, you’re already hooked. In a nice turn of events, the songs are absolutely worth the wait.

Rarely does a film feel as genuinely subversive and darling as Dinner in America, the punk rock rom-com you never knew you needed.

Squeaky Clean

The Cleansing Hour

by Hope Madden

Almost a decade ago, Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz locked a couple of fraudulent online “ghost hunters” inside an abandoned hospital in the entertaining flick Grave Encounters. It wasn’t the best “supernatural huckster faces honest demonic peril” film of that year—that award goes to Daniel Stamm’s impeccably cast The Last Exorcism.

So, fast forward about a decade and writer/director Damien LeVeck (that is a horror name, my friends) gives us a mash up of both of those movies.

The Cleansing Hour is actually a full-length version of his 2016 short of the same name. In the feature, boyhood friends Max (Ryan Guzman) and Drew (Kyle Gallner) use what they remember of their Catholic school days to fake weekly online exorcisms.

Star of the show Max is a hottie and a bit of a d-bag. Dressed like a priest, he’s in it for the fame and groupies, or as he likes to call them, disciples. Drew is the brains behind the operation. But they’ve hit a plateau. Their viewership isn’t growing as fast as they’d like. Maybe Max is looking at other opportunities. Maybe Drew should just marry longtime girlfriend Lane (Alix Angelis) and get an honest job.

Or maybe a real demon will show up for their next episode.

LeVeck and crew mine that oh-so-Catholic nightmare of shame and confession well. Performances are fine, Guzman’s pretty, but there’s so little new being said here that the film grows tedious long before its 95 minute run is up.

The Cleansing Hour plays too much like a film made by someone who’s seen a lot of horror movies but lacks an original voice. Storylines fall back, not on primal scares or universal areas of dread, but on ideas from other movies.

LeVeck’s film offers a few speeches concerning the evils of the Catholic church (nothing inspired or vital, mainly obvious and hollow), points to our unholy dependence on technology, and shows anxiety about how tech both connects us and brings out the worst in us. Also, an ugly voice comes out of a pretty face.

Familiar stuff, that.

Most problematic (but least surprising) is the twist ending that’s so tired by this point, the idea was just mocked in another horror movie that opened last week.

There’s nothing awful about The Cleansing Hour. It is perfectly serviceable low budget horror. You could watch it. Or you could find any one of the movies it steals from instead.