Tag Archives: Seth Troyer

A Wicker Man Vacation

Death of Me

by Seth Troyer

From director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II-IV, Repo: The Genetic Opera) comes a vacation horror romp that will bring you some thrills and chills. Nothing more, nothing less.

The highlight here is certainly the gorgeous island setting, which is a welcome departure from haunted houses and summer camps with bad reputations.

The panic begins when a vacationing couple (Maggie Q, Luke Hemsworth) on a remote island realizes they remember nothing from the previous night. The rather chilling race to get answers showcases some intense visuals and surreal editing techniques that help add excitement to the predictable—if surprisingly brutal—twists.

If you are a full on horror fanatic, you will probably have at least a decent time here. The film breaks no new ground but it hits its marks rather decently. The whole, “everybody knows whats going on except you” set up owes a lot to classics such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Wicker Man

It’s also not hard to imagine that the success of Midsommar was a factor in greenlighting this film. It similarly attempts to incorporate a modern theme or two, including a very light commentary on consent and free will, which if fleshed out a bit more could have added some potency and depth.

Also sorry to be that guy, but in 2020, do we really need another film where island natives are portrayed as little more than villains who delight in the torture of the “civilized” Americans? It’s a hypothetical question, the answer is: no, probably not.

What Death of Me lacks in originality it sometimes makes up for with intense visual flourishes and dream sequences, but by the third or fourth “was it a dream or did it really happen?” moment, the horrific scenes begin to lose their sense of danger and traumatic permanence. Because of this, the film starts to flounder a bit in the middle section, just before we reach the rather satisfying, bloody climax.

It’s way off course from being a masterpiece, but for fans of the genre stuck inside during these COVID-19 days, you could do worse than this film that teleports you to a beautiful island for a few bloody thrills.

American Narcissist

#Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump

by Seth Troyer

Comparing America and much of the world’s shift toward fascist totalitarian ideals to the rise of dictators in the 1930s may at first seem over the top. Indeed, much of Dan Partland’s new documentary #Unfit may seem heavy handed – until you remember where we are as a nation.

We elected a textbook narcissist whose strategy for gaining followers centers around a self-obsessed “me first” ethos. He vows to bring back the “the good old days” and encourages an inherently nationalistic philosophy. Enter Donald Trump.

Really, it’s hardly shocking when this film reveals that a guy like Trump had affection for the rousing public speaking stylings of Adolf Hitler. Trump has not changed since his billionaire playboy days, his goal is still clear: “win” by any means necessary. Sadly enough, if that’s your only real goal, taking pointers from charismatic fascists continues to be a useful strategy.

Naturally, #Unfit is not saying Trump is Hitler, but that his fits of totalitarian megalomania have the potential to be similarly dangerous.

Until it really sinks in, it may also seem like a cheap shot for this film to compare Trump and his followers’ behavior to that of apes in the wild.

Trump’s mission to be the biggest and the best by any means necessary is as old as animal life on this planet. A leader who pounds his chest the loudest, who rallies followers around self-serving goals and shared hatred for outsiders, unfortunately remains a rather attractive choice in the eyes of many American voters.

Scenes of white nationalist pride and news footage of men screaming “go cook my burrito” to Mexican folks at Trump rallies are juxtaposed with scenes depicting animal “us vs them” mentality. The irony here is of course that the conservatives, who make up the bulk of Trump’s following, who often seem to have the most reservations around ideas of evolution and the link between humanity with the animal kingdom, seem to be themselves clearly emulating primal group dynamics.

Partland’s film is not always eloquent, and at times it stumbles into obvious biases toward the Democratic party. Flashes of former President Obama are shown as folks talk of “better times.” This documentary really shines when it keeps its eye on the bottom line, that Trump is not simply a threat to left wing politics but to American democracy as a whole.

The Boy With the Thorn in His Side


by Seth Troyer

Benjamin is one of the most uniquely brilliant indie films I’ve come across in some time. It’s a film that could have easily been yet another Woody Allen clone, yet another romp where a director shares his thoughts on love, nervous breakdowns, and how cool and complex he is just before the film cuts to credits. Benjamin is something much more.

While the core of the film seems born from director Simon Amstell’s autobiography, what really makes it stand out is the duet Amstell has with his star. Colin Morgan’s lightning fast delivery and realistic portrayal of Benjamin, a young gay man who endlessly gets in his own way, makes the film more than just a mouth piece for a director, but a unique character study.

Benjamin is a filmmaker who recently failed to live up to the promise of his debut movie. In the aftermath, he falls in love with a beautiful French musician named Noah, but their relationship is constantly threatened by Benjamin’s increasingly erratic mental state.

In less capable hands such a plot would make for a rather unoriginal film, but here, the events that unfold feel realistically random and unpredictable. Plot points begin, end abruptly, and then pick back up all over again in surprising ways that create a true to life experience. Even the minor characters are fleshed out yet mysterious, creating unique human beings rather than lazy stereotypes.

The film’s fast paced, dark humor is never contrived or pretentious. Amstell’s incredible ear for dialogue coupled with Morgan’s gift for delivery feels like a comedic team at the top of its game.

Though far more lovable, Morgan’s portrayal of an erratic, untrustworthy protagonist calls to mind David Thewlis’s darkly genius incarnation of Johnny in Mike Leigh’s Naked. Indeed, Benjamin seems to have much in common with Leigh’s everyday dramas in the attempt to flesh out believable characters rather than convey easy moral judgements.

It is an aching portrayal of a person who seems either on the brink of transformation or immolation. Benjamin is a cry for the mind to just shut up for once, and let the heart take the wheel for a change.

Cornish Comfort Food

Fisherman’s Friends

by Seth Troyer

If you’re looking for a low stakes, feel good film to watch with your family, you could do a lot worse than Fisherman’s Friends.

The film is loosely based on the true story of a men’s a capella group consisting of tough-as-nails men of the sea who were eventually signed to Island Records and became a surprising success.

Witnessing the transformation of a group of old men who like to sing traditional music while drunk at a pub on a Friday night into performers with sold out shows is undeniably interesting. The a cappella performances in the film mix the voices of original members and the actors portraying them, and the results are surprising. Even if it’s not your thing, Fisherman’s Friends will remind you that a cappella music can send shivers down anyone’s spine.

Names have been changed and the story is clearly expanded and fictionalized to better suit the arc of a feel good movie. One of the real events left out is the 2013 stage collapse that resulted in the deaths of member Trevor Grills and promotor Paul McMullen. The film is respectfully dedicated to these men and seems to be an attempt to celebrate the good times before the tragedy rather than letting it define the band.

I can’t help thinking that a more honest and candid portrayal may have made for a more engaging film, but the choice to avoid the tricky task of translating such a painful event into cinematic drama is understandable.

In the end, director Chris Foggin succeeds in doing what he sets out to do. The film is a charming story of friendship and ambition—nothing more, nothing less. It follows all the familiar narrative beats, with a sweet but predictable love story thrown in, and plenty of montages that will make more cynical viewers roll their eyes. But honestly, this simply isn’t the film for a cynical viewer.

If you want Ingmar Bergman, go watch The Seventh Seal (it, of course, rules). But if you want to watch something with your extended family and maybe smile a bit, what you have here is some Cornish cinematic comfort food that will do the trick just fine. 



by Seth Troyer

Written by Geoff Thompson, a survivor of sexual abuse, Retaliation is a loosely autobiographical descent into the pain and violence that can come in the aftermath of trauma. Orlando Bloom steps up to this challenging material with surprising ease.

Any Lord of the Rings jokes you may want to make will be silenced within the first few minutes as you see Bloom fully embody the character of Malky. He has been tormented all his life by the memory of being molested as a child by a local priest.

Malky is a powder keg ready to blow, attempting to channel this energy into his construction job, demolishing dilapidated churches with vengeful satisfaction. Where the film truly amps up is when he realizes his abuser has returned to preaching in Malky’s hometown.

What follows almost feels like Ingmar Bergman making a John Wick film (in a good way, for the most part). Bloom and the film itself may not perfectly execute every complex maneuver they attempt, but they often reach heights that are undeniably moving.

Brothers Ludwig and Paul Shammasian are a competent directing duo, though they make some choices that threaten to turn the film into an exploitive, bass pulsing thriller that doesn’t suit the material. In addition, several characters—Malky’s girlfriend Emma (Jane Montgomery) among them—often feel less like characters and more like plot tools despite the actors’ best efforts. 

In the end, what does shine through is the writer’s personal story, offering a brooding character study rather than a simple revenge thriller.

Thompson has stated on his website that, like Malky, he struggled with a thirst for violence and revenge. His demons are clearly being exorcised here.

The film’s intense conclusion, where Malky and his old priest finally cross paths, has been understandably divisive for audiences. Regardless, the questions this showdown raises are well worth discussing.

While you will probably never find a Retaliation DVD for sale at a Christian book store, the film’s sentiment seems far from atheistic. It unflinchingly condemns the corruption that can come from organized religion, but also appears to have a strange sort of reverence for the idea of God and biblical teachings. It’s a brutal concoction that makes for a fascinating and unique experience.

Rise and Fall of the Latitude Society

In Bright Axiom

by Seth Troyer

A startup takes on a mysterious name: The Latitude Society. They have decided to use their money to give people an “experience” by making art installations sprinkled with cultish undertones. Eventually, when they begin asking for money to fund these happenings, the public says,“that was fun, but, no thank you.” In the aftermath, Latitude decides to use money that they apparently had all along to film a documentary about themselves.

Rather than making a truthful 20-minute documentary, Latitude created a documentary that attempts to fuse the stories and rumors they perpetuate with their apparently true experiences. It’s essentially a game where the audience’s goal is to discern fact from fiction, and this detective work is enjoyable for the first thirty minutes. However, once you get the hang of separating their truths from their very obvious lies, it all becomes increasingly uninteresting.

For the remainder of the runtime I waited for a twist, for it to maybe turn humorous like This Is Spinal Tap, or perhaps horrific like The Blair Witch Project. I won’t give too much away, but unfortunately, it continues to play the same games from start to finish.

We are given reenactments and interviews with folks involved, speaking of “you just had to be there” moments that may or may not have occurred. Even if they did happen, the stories are soon lost in the shuffle, getting mixed in with so much fiction that they become rather meaningless.

It’s sweet of these hippies to want to give us something memorable, but just because they continually tell us we’re having “an experience” doesn’t mean it’s an enjoyable one.

The real value here comes from seeing it all as a test: how long does it take to spot trickery, to smell time, money and energy being wasted? How long does it take you to leave the room?

If this was filmmaker Spencer McCall’s intent, then he has indeed made something in the spirit of actual anti-establishment, psychonauts like Robert Anton Wilson (whose quote at the beginning of this film adds a half star to this review). Sadly, this does not seem to be the case. Maybe McCall could have spent more time actually reading Wilson’s books and less time on these enlightenment role playing games.

Marathon Man


by Seth Troyer

I am basically still on the verge of tears as I write this. Bill Gallagher’s emotional documentary Runner opens with sports coverage of a marathon and slowly zooms in on one man in particular. “Now this particular runner,” says a dorky sportscaster, “has an unbelievable story.”

He doesn’t know the half of it. This is the story of Guor Marial, a Sudanese refugee who went on a journey to become an Olympian. 

As a young boy, Marial runs from hardship to hardship, eventually getting separated from his family, and ultimately finding himself in America. It’s wild to hear Marial’s initial confusion at the absurdity of it all, that something he did to survive in Sudan is something westerners do as a sport. Marial hits the high school track field and metamorphosizes. From there we watch the harsh juxtaposition of this high school dream athlete winning medals while simultaneously struggling with the fact that his family members in Sudan are dying. 

My reservations about macho corporate sports went out the window as I watched this boy running in the name of his faraway home. It’s also a wonderful thing to see journalists, coaches and politicians (mostly white, privileged Americans) one by one lay down their false crowns in awe before this kid who has gone through actual hell and is using his power to reach for nothing less than the Olympic games. 

This is the rare documentary that truly does justice to its incredible hero. It is cinematic to the point where your first reaction might be to think you are watching staged reenactments, but no, this is all real. They have footage of seemingly every moment of Marial’s journey, as well as animation and news footage depicting the hell of war and starvation in Sudan. 

Arguably the film’s most emotional moment occurs when Mrial returns to South Sudan to be reunited with his parents, who he has not seen in years. The moment when his mother, who lost so many of her children, collapses to the ground at the sight of her long lost son is one of the most powerful moments I have ever seen captured by a camera.

This is still only the beginning of the story of the first Olympian from South Sudan: a beautifully human story that is about nothing less than what makes us go, what makes us try, and what makes us run.