Rent-A-Pal (2020)

David is a 40 year old single man who has dedicated his life to take care of his mother, who is suffering from dementia. Since we’re in the 90’s, there’s no internet dating services or other easy ways of getting to know someone, so in a desperate attempt to find someone he can share his life with, he signs up on Video Rendezvous, a video dating service (yes, this was a real thing back then). After failed attempts and little response, he one day comes over a VHS tape with the curious title Rent-A-Pal. Deciding to try it out, he brings it back home with him and meets his new friend Andy, who is sitting in a chair and pretending to have a real conversation with whoever is playing the VHS. Finding it awkward at first and struggling to make proper replies to Andy’s lines, he soon becomes accustomed to the conversations, and to David it feels like an actual friendship. Except, it’s just a simple VHS tape…or is it?

 

Rent-A-Pal is a well crafted psychological thriller, which gets pretty dark and depressing at times. Set in the 90’s, it does a very good job on recreating the era and makes it feel genuine. The portrayal of David and his dementia-suffering mother is both realistic and sad, without being dramatically overdone. It’s like seeing small glimpses of what an everyday life can be when taking care of someone with a condition like that. It is also interesting how the movie initially portrays David as a pretty nice guy, not the clichéd “loser” type or some new Norman Bates. He is genuinely caring and kind, and in one of his video dating performances he actually gives a really good and sympathetic speech about himself and his life, and how he takes care of his mother. However, the video dating service’s cameraman asks him to cut it down and have a re-take, so the end result ends up making him look like a total write-off instead. You can’t help but feeling sorry for the guy…

 

When the Rent-A-Pal tape starts playing, you don’t really know what to expect, but it feels somewhat creepy and uncanny. There’s nothing explicitly wrong with it, it’s just a normal-looking guy sitting in a chair, pretending to be the viewer’s “friend”, asking questions and delivering simple statements and jokes. And David becomes more and more obsessed with watching the video. Andy, despite being pre-recorded, gives him exactly what he needs: someone who seems to care, someone he can talk to, someone who listens. So, it’s not real…but for David it starts feeling real, and he starts rewinding the tape to certain parts that fits with what he wants to tell Andy, and what he wants him to say. Well…we can all see a few red flags here already, right?

 

Despite David’s increased obsession with the VHS tape, there are a few instances where something feels a bit off…and Andy’s lines become a bit strange. Andy’s effect on David becomes more and more apparent, and it’s not a good one…so when David finally has a chance of going on a date with a girl who even appears to be perfect for him, Andy’s influence actually makes it harder for him to get what he initially wanted: a girlfriend. Whatever black hole of loneliness that originally filled David’s heart, it has now been filled with Andy’s toxic influence. And it makes it even harder for David to live the life he wished for. While this being a 90’s centered movie, I guess you could easily draw some parallels to all kinds of negative internet influences. People who find themselves in a bad place (whether it be because of loneliness, depression, feeling of exclusion, or other things), might find a connection with someone or something online which gives them a feeling of belonging, but eventually just ends up destroying their every chance of living the life they hoped for as they sink further and further into a harmful rabbithole. And maybe that was the intention of Andy (and all “Andy’s) all along…

 

Driven by strong performances, Rent-A-Pal is a strange and dark journey, where you always keep wondering what’s going to happen next and where it’s all going to lead.

 

Rent-A-Pal

 

Directors: Jon Stevenson
Country & year: USA, 2020
Actors: Wil Wheaton, Brian Landis Folkins, Amy Rutledge, Kathleen Brady, Adrian Egolf, Josh Staab, Luke Sorge, Olivia Hendrickm, Karin Carr, Sara Woodyard, Brandon Fryman
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt12274228/

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grotesk (2015)

We’re told that a radioactive slime from the moon has found its way to Earth from a space shuttle that plunges into the sea near the coast of Denmark, and infects humans and turn them into murderous mutants. One of them, with a head that looks like a rotten potato, brutally kills a random couple who are having a picnic by the beach. And after this quick opening, we have basically seen the whole movie in a nutshell which oozes of zero budget and amateur hour all the way. We then get introduced to some guy who is on his way to a campsite near the radioactive area where he has rented a trailer for the summer. We can assume that this is the film’s protagonist, but he’s more like another random dude who likes to sniff at women’s panties while jerking off. And … uhm, well…

 

… what more should one really say when there’s basically no plot to summarize. “Denmark’s answer to Plan 9 From Outer Space” it says on the DVD cover. It’s more like Bad Taste meets Violent Shit in a septic tank.

 

The film looks like pure shit, like as if the camera lens was rubbed with a layer of piss and puke before every shot, just to make the visuals as ugly as possible. I can assume that the green filter, or whatever it is, is supposed to illustrate the toxic radioactivity, but it doesn’t take long before it hurts your eyes. Don’t watch this on a big screen, just trust me on that one. We also get some goofy out-of-sync dubbing, Zombie ’90-style, and amateur actors from the bottom of the barrel who probably haven’t been in front of a camera before or since Grotesk. The effects are cheap and cheesy, the micro-budget standard one would expect. Then we have one of the movie props, which is supposed to be some kind of tracking device from the military, which is made out of a cardboard box. Yeah, really. It’s so retarded to the point that you get the impression that the film was either made bad intentionally, or by some twelve-year olds with their dads, moms and creepy uncles in the roles, but I’m not so sure.

 

And what else..? Not much, and I think you know by now exactly if this is your thing or not. But with the short running time of approx. 1 hour, it’s a cheesy fun-bad movie that doesn’t require too much of your time (or your brain cells). You can find the DVD from Another World Entertainment after a quick search on eBay.

 

Grotesk

 

Director: Peter J. Bonneman
Country & year: Denmark, 2015
Actors: Heine Sørensen, Jørgen Gjerstrup, Mai Sydendahl, Jack Jensen, Justin Metzger, Mai Edelgaard, Rune Jacobsen, Kim Kofod, Rune Dybdahl, Frederik Tolstrup, Jens Kofoed, Natasha Joubert
IMDb: //www.imdb.com/title/tt4418130/

 

Tom Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Go On (2016)

Miles Grissom (Clark Freeman) is a man who struggles with an intense fear of dying, ever since he at the age of three watched his father die in a car accident. His anxiety is so severe that he won’t drive a car, will barely leave his apartment, and suffers from night terrors. In a desperate attempt to get rid of his fears, he places an advert in a newspaper, offering 30.000 dollars to whoever can show him evidence that we go on after our deaths. When his mother finds out about his advert, she scoffs and mocks him, telling him he will never get anything except a lot of kook calls. And, well…he does have to go through a bunch of videos from people who are either clearly insane, or clearly fraudsters. After a lot of work (with a bit of help from mommy) he narrows down the responses to three candidates: a scientist, a medium, and a wordly entrepreneur. Will any of them bring him definite proof of life after death? And if that happens…will he really get the peace he’s longing for?

 

We Go On does have a pretty interesting concept, and offers up an original little ghost story. How many people haven’t wanted proof of life after death, or proof of ghosts? Despite tons of existing “footage”, consisting of a plethora of photos and videos of so-called “ghosts”, there’s no actual proof of anything as of yet. I mean, just look up some of the “scary videos” on YouTube…it’s so easy to fake all kinds of things on a photo these days, and with modern technology it’s no problem to show off so-called “proof” of ghosts or bigfoots or whatever the heck you want on videos as well. People have, for centuries, gotten a kick out of faking supernatural goings-on, whether it be for pure personal enjoyment or financial gain. And if someone really did have actual proof…among all the faked photos and videos out there…how would anyone actually be able to notice the difference? No one would, most likely. But despite all the fakery, death has always been one of our greatest mysteries and people have always wondered what happens after we die. While there are those who are content with thinking that we’ll just wither and die like other living creatures, not worrying much about any so-called “afterlife”…there’s also many who simply can’t come to terms with something like that, refusing to think that death can be the end. In fact, the fear of death can be quite severe for some, and it’s called “Thanatophobia”. Our protagonist in We Go On suffers clearly from this, and it’s pretty much destroying his life by making him so afraid of death that he can’t fully live (ironic, right?).

 

As we follow Miles in his search for proof of life after death, it’s both a bit exciting and amusing to witness all the examples of crazy people and scam attempts he’s becoming a victim to. If a guy offers 30.000 dollars for so-called proof of ghosts, why not just put up some theatrics and hope he’ll swallow hook, line and sinker, right? Well, thank goodness his quick-witted mother demanded to come along on his journey, otherwise he’d lose that money pretty quickly to one of the fraudsters.

 

I think it’s best not to explain too much about what happens throughout, as it’s better to view it without knowing too much. What I can say is that there are some scenes that are genuinely creepy. It also gives some twists and turns along the ride, which is what keeps your interest up. Albeit a little slow, it does work as an effective little chiller.

 

We Go On

 

Directors: Jesse Holland, Andy Mitton
Country & year: USA, 2016
Actors: Annette O’Toole, Clark Freeman, John Glover, Giovanna Zacarías, Laura Heisler, Jay Dunn, Dwight Augustin, David Bickford, David Bickford, Norio Chalico, Tony Devon, Cassidy Freeman, Edwin Garcia II, Tom Harrington, Clem Jeffreys
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt3904278/

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manhattan Baby (1982)

We are in Giza, Egypt, where the archaeologist George finds a stone tablet with mysterious writings which he believes is the answer to an ancient riddle that is linked to the tomb nearby. He enters the tomb with a guide who falls right into one of the traps with spikes, while George is attacked by dark forces that shoot two cheesy neon-laser beams in his eyes, which makes him temporarily blind. At the same time his wife and daughter are tourists in the local area, where Susie meets a mysterious blind lady who offers her to buy an antique amulet before she cryptically says “tombs are for the dead” and disappears into thin air like a ghost.

 

Then we cut back home in Manhattan, New York, in an apartment complex where we are introduced to Susie’s annoying little brother, Tommy (most known as Bob from (The House By the Cemetery). The amulet is around Susie’s neck, which soon turns out to be a cursed object (who could ever imagine), and lots of weird things start to happen. The apartment transforms into some kind of warp zone that teleports people to the desert area we saw in the beginning, and things such as scorpions, poisonous snakes and desert sand appears in the apartment while Susie loses her mind and gets possessed by the dark forces of the amulet.

 

And we also get a completely random scene were some random dude falls through an elevator floor. Just because.

 

As mentioned, the blonde kid from The House by the Cemetery shows up, with far more screentime and dialogues. Uh-oh. And if you thought his dubbing was bad in the aforementioned film, they managed to fuck it up even worse here, believe it or not. I laughed and chuckled every time he opened his mouth, but since the film itself is an incoherent goofball which is hard to take seriously anyway, it didn’t ruin or distract my attention from anything, really. So, yeah, Manhattan Baby is clearly one of Lucio Fulci’s weaker films when it comes to tone, pacing and…well, the absent of any logic when it’s actually needed. It isn’t totally hopeless, though, and just to repeat myself as I always do when I’m talking about a Fulci film, it has some great qualities among the cheesyness. The horror elements sticks out with some gory scenes, as always, with the highlight being a scene with some attacking stuffed birds (with the wires clearly visible). There’s a great soundtrack, competent camerawork, and a dose of atmosphere.  I especially liked the Egyptian scenes which are beautifully shot. And of course there’s no Fulci film without a countless use of obsessive eyes-close-ups.

 

Manhattan Baby

 

Director: Lucio Fulci
Country & year: Italy, 1982
Actors: Christopher Connelly, Laura Lenzi, Brigitta Boccoli, Giovanni Frezza, Cinzia de Ponti, Cosimo Cinieri, Andrea Bosic, Carlo De Mejo, Enzo Marino Bellanich, Mario Moretti, Lucio Fulci, Tonino Pulci
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt0084298/

 

Tom Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prosjekt Z (2021)

We’re in the 1980s somewhere in the Norwegian forests, where the young couple Rebecca and Thomas are on a car trip. They run over a dog, and assume that the owner lives in the old victorian-styled hotel not so far away. Rebecca takes on the task to enter the hotel, which seems to be abandoned at first glance. But a horde of zombies suddenly show up, with the transsexual zombie-hotel owner itself Mor Monsen (Mother Monsen). This is not really happening, by the way, we are at the beginning of a clunky student film called “De Døde Våkner” (The Dead Awakens) and we get a series of behind-the-scenes footage that documents the film shooting, that goes from chaotic to the brink of disaster, and a showcase of how the film industry may not be as glamorous as one might think.

 

We meet the insecure director Julie Lundgreen with a big ego who has her script carved in stone, and is constantly in a protecting mode of “her vision” while the film’s main character, Rebecca, played by Iben Akarlie, is a feminist who tries to persuade the director to skip the scene where she has a threesome with two zombies. Nearly everyone are obviously amateurs, and gets really starstruck when they hear that the veteran Dennis Storhøi, which is one of the biggest movie stars from Norway, will play the role of the transsexual zombie. It does not take long before he starts fighting with the film crew and makes the director cry, and realizes that this is way too amateurish for a serious movie star like him, while he strongly misses the good ole’ days. So what else can go wrong here? Of course, a meteor strikes right next to the filming location, that could have been something straight from Alien, and someone is stupid enough to stick his hand in it. Not a good idea..

 

So what exactly is this? Drama? Comedy? Horror? All of the three, I would say, plus some turbulent relationship drama and how crazy you have to be to make a film with a low budget, little resources and zero experience. Meta-film, as it is called, although it is more in the mockumentary territory with a clear inspiration from The Blair Witch Project. The Japanese One Cut of the Dead also comes to mind even though this is a completely different beast. This is far from a traditional horror film, and in fact the first of its kind that has been made in Norway which puts it in a unique light. The monster scenes are placed in the back seat where the focus is mostly on the chaotic film-making, which may be a disappointment for some. What makes the film work so well is the dysfunctional relationship between the characters, and surprisingly good acting with dialogues and a dynamic that seem both organic and natural, while the line between fiction and reality gets somewhat unclear.

 

Prosjekt Z

 

There are many fun moments here, especially the scenes where the stressed director goes into full Stanley Kubrick mode and wears out the actors with an x-​​number of takes till they act badly just on purpose to taunt her. And Dennis Storhøi as the more eccentric version of himself made me laugh several times. Unlike the role he plays, he seems to really have a blast in Project Z and is one of the main reasons I will re-watch this movie several times. The only thing that does not work as well, is the ending, which seemed a bit anti-climatic.

 

Technically, the film looks really good. It’s limited with shaky-cam, which is a plus, and the aesthetic with the victorian-like surroundings gets a lot of room to shine, thanks to steady cinematography by Oskar Dahlsbakken, the brother of the director, Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken. The older audiences will also appreciate the fact that “The Dead Awakens” segments are filmed in the old-school way at 35mm, while the documentary is shot digitally in various formats. Considering that director Dahlsbakken can make two films a year, completely independently and outside the studio system, one could expect some direct-to-DVD cheapness, but it’s surprisingly competent. And the guy seems to have a good sense of humor and the ability to mix genres without it getting muddy. So yeah, it will be interesting to see what he does next. And as we speak he is already in post-production with his next horror film titled “Possession” which seems to go in a far more serious direction. I’m already excited.

 

Prosjekt Z

 

Director: Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken
Country & year: Norway, 2021
Actors: Eili Harboe, Vebjørn Enger, Iben Akerlie, Dennis Storhøi, Ole Christoffer Ertvaag, Alfred Ekker Strande, Regina Tucker, Jonis Josef, Arthur Berning, Alexandra Gjerpen, Laila Goody, Benjamin Helstad
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt11444644/

 

Tom Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dark and the Wicked (2020)

On an isolated farm in a rural town, an old man is lying in his deathbed. As he is slowly dying, his children (Louise and Michael) visit their homestead to mourn, despite their mother’s warning that they should not have come…a warning that she never really explain and thus it’s bound to go unheeded, of course. When the night comes, their mother starts behaving strangely, and after cutting off her fingers in the kitchen she hangs herself in the barn. Despite the shocking reveal for Louise and Michael the next day when they find her, they still decide to stay in the house in order to look after their dying father. However, when the home nurse confides in them that she overheard their mother whispering to what seemed to be some other presence in the room, they start to understand more about what really happened to their mother. After finding her diary, they read that their mother believed a supernatural entity was after their father’s soul, and soon they also experience the sinister ways of the wicked presence that tries to take over the family.

 

The Dark and The Wicked is a supernatural horror movie directed by Bryan Bertino, who previously directed The Strangers (2008) and The Monster (2016). Right from the get-go you realize that this is going to be a film that focuses on atmosphere, and there’s a trepidation of what to come. And yes, what comes is really dark and wicked indeed.

 

The Dark and The Wicked really does delve into nightmarish territory, and it’s a fun fact that Bertino actually shot the film in his own hometown in Texas, at his parents’ own farm. In order to enhance the feeling of isolation and creeping dread, the remote rural surroundings are perfect for this purpose. The family dynamic is strained, riddled with guilt and suppressed feelings, and it reminded me a bit of the same feeling of growing anticipation that I experienced during The Relic. It’s an emotionally driven story of a family that find themselves trapped in the net of something that slowly gets closer and closer to its goal. The siblings have been estranged from their parents for quite a while, rarely visiting them and thus feeling shame and guilt now that their father is lying in his deathbed. This also explains why they’re not heeding their mother’s warnings, and since they’ve had so little contact over the years they just believe she went insane. But, after one terrifying event after the other, the siblings eventually realize that their mother wasn’t just crazy, there really is a malevolent force coming, and it’s hungry for a soul.

 

The movie is doing an excellent job on being outright creepy, and there are more than a few scenes that are grotesque and stomach-churning, heightened with solid performances. In the end, though, there are a few questions unanswered, and the story feels a bit lacking at times where there’s more focus on the actual experiences the siblings have in their old family home, rather than any explanations for why it is happening or how it came to be like this. Also, the ending feels a bit…abrupt? However, with such a creepy and unsettling atmosphere with some very effective scenes, it’s bound to please those who want something…well, dark and wicked to watch.

 

The Dark and the Wicked

 

Directors: Bryan Bertino
Country & year: USA, 2020
Actors: Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott Jr., Julie Oliver-Touchstone, Lynn Andrews, Tom Nowicki, Michael Zagst, Xander Berkeley, Charles Jonathan Trott, Ella Ballentine, Mel Cowan, Mindy Raymond, Chris Doubek
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt10229558/

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Host (2020)

Six friends want to have some fun during the lockdown, and decide to hire a medium in order to hold a seance via Zoom. At first it’s all fun and giggles, where several of the participants struggle to keep a straight face. However, they soon realize they’ve unleashed something that might take their lives.

 

Host is a horror movie made during the pandemic, and decides to use this as an advantage in order to make a short but effective chiller. The usage of computer screen-based storytelling has been done before (like in Unfriended from 2014 and the mystery thriller Searching from 2018), and just like the aforementioned movies it works pretty well in order to portray a modern and realistic take on how the majority of people of today tend to communicate, especially now when social distancing has put restrictions on how and when we can interact with each other. Screen-based interactions with other people is just the way many people now communicate, and we see this put well into effect during Host. The concept behind this movie is even more relatable today, when physical meetings are difficult or even out of the question, which means that services where you can interact with each other online is used by pretty much anyone these days (including lawyers, who are not able to turn off their cat filter…)

 

With a runtime of only 57 minutes, it uses every minute effectively in order to build up the tension and keep the viewer in suspense. It also uses the real names of the actors, and I suppose this helped with keeping the performances more natural and authentic. In fact, I think that keeping it down to barely an hour is an excellent choice, instead of stretching it out unnecessarily just to fit into a more typical feature length. It really does all it can with its limitations, and the result is one of the most effective horror movies released in recent times. While having a somewhat minimalist approach, it manages to pull certain scenes off in a way that is actually pretty scary at times. The characters are reacting to what is happening to them in a believable way, and it becomes relatable, and therein lies the movie’s biggest strength I guess: how the timing, considered the pandemic and forced isolation, gives the entire premise an added feeling of something that hits close to home.

 

The DVD also included a “behind the scenes” short where they meet up (just like in the movie) to have a seance through Zoom. Nothing really scary happened here, of course, but it was fun to watch nonetheless.

 

Host

 

Directors: Rob Savage
Country & year: UK, 2020
Actors:Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward, Alan Emrys, Patrick Ward, Edward Linard, Jinny Lofthouse, Seylan Baxter, Jack Brydon, James Swanton
IMDb: //www.imdb.com/title/tt12749596/

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tetsuo (1989)

How to even start with this movie…Uhm, well…

 

It starts with a random, disturbed guy called “The Metal Fetishist” (played by the director himself) who’s wandering in some decayed urban area, barefoot. He enters a shack hoarded full of metal junk where he stabs himself in the foot, and injects himself with an iron pipe and goes through some kind of a metamorphosis. A glimpse of an everyday life of an extreme metal fetishist where it just went a little too far, I guess. He then screams and runs like a lunatic and gets hit by a car driven by a typical Japanese salaryman who then gets infected by a biomechanical virus. As the title screen rolls, he gives us the “Tetsuo Dance” before he wakes up in his apartment and gets ready for work. As he shaves, he notices a small metal point on his cheek, which pops out and starts shooting blood over his face as he touches it. Sounds weird, you say? You’ve seen nothing yet. I won’t spoil much more than this, other than our salaryman slowly transforms into a grotesque hybrid monster of flesh and metal with the desire to destroy the whole planet. And yeah, his penis also transforms into a big metal drill that no one would want to mess around with.

 

Tetsuo, aka The Iron man, is an explosive result of an inner frustration that the young director Shinya Tsukamoto had built up after an unstable relationship to his dad, growing up in heavily industrial surroundings, and the extreme pressure of the Japanese working culture. The environment is what makes a human, as they say, and Tetsuo is a prime example of that, and could be seen as a pretty alternative artistic view of the breaking point of the human mind, if you will – even though the film is open for countless interpretations. This is Tsukamoto’s fifth film, at the age of 29, after making some shorts and other projects he would never be satisfied with, and at the top of this his father kicked him out of the house right before the filming. Fortunately, due to the success and the cult-following of Tetsuo, he quickly became a prominent filmmaker in Japan with titles such as Bullet Ballet, A Snake in June, Nightmare Detective and also made two sequels to Tetsuo, called Tetsuo: Body Hammer and Tetsuo: Bullet Man, the last one with a soundtrack by Trent Reznor . He’s also known for his acting roles in Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer, Takashi Shimizu’s Marebito, and Martin Scorcese’s Silence. His dad should be proud by now.

 

Tetsuo is shot on 16 mm, in black and white, with a budget of his day job at that time. Mostly filmed in one of his co-workers cramped apartment over 18 months with hard and difficult conditions (which is not hard to imagine at all), where the cast and crew also lived during the production. The conditions came to a point where the actor who plays the salaryman got the urges to escape the set several times because of shooting days that never seemed to end, while crew-members just came and left. The whole production was such a nightmare, according to Tsukamoto, that he considered to burn all the negatives. And we should just be glad he didn’t, because Tetsuo is a truly insane, hyperactive, nightmarish cyber-punk/art-house/body-horror masterpiece that easily could be describes as Eraserhead on crack cocaine. Very aggressive, graphic, experimental and completely bizarre and truly one of a kind. It’s one of those “what the hell did I just watch-films“, and it’s clearly not for anyone, especially for those who’s epileptic. The technical aspects is from another planet (Planet Japan that is) with some really impressive stop-motion effects, camera work and costume designs. It has a great and sharp sound design and a really heavy, industrial soundtrack by Chu Ishikawa that fits the intense imagery perfectly.

 

So, what else is there to really say about this movie, other than: just watch it! Watch it on a big screen in a dark room with loud sound.

 

Tetsuo

 

Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Country & year: Japan, 1989
Actors:Tomorô Taguchi, Kei Fujiwara, Nobu Kanaoka, Shinya Tsukamoto, Naomasa Musaka, Renji Ishibashi
IMDb: //www.imdb.com/title/tt0096251/

 

Tom Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daniel Isn’t Real (2019)

Luke is a young man who is struggling with childhood traumas, and when visiting his mentally sick mother he decides to resurrect his childhood imaginary friend, whom he once “trapped” inside a doll house when he was a boy. His imaginary friend’s name is Daniel, a self-confident and manipulative guy who appears to be the opposite of shy, timid Luke. At first, Luke is convinced that bringing Daniel back is a good choice as he appears to help him, but soon it starts to become obvious that Daniel’s intentions are no good.

 

Daniel Isn’t Real is a fun psychological horror film directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer, about a young man and his imaginary childhood friend “Daniel”. It is based on a book by Brian DeLeeuw, which is called In This Way I Was Saved. Imaginary friends are not a rare subject in movies, but while they’re usually a pretext for humorous scenes and charming situations in other movie genres, their purpose in horror movies are almost always sinister. In horror movies, imaginary friends are bad news. Very bad news.

 

Luke (played by Miles Robbins) does a solid job on portraying a confused and traumatized individual, struggling with overcoming his troubles. Daniel (played by Patrick Schwarzenegger – yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s son) also skillfully portrays the typical alpha-type male which could come off as the hidden and extroverted side of Luke. It is interesting to watch their relationship unfold from Luke’s childhood where he meets Daniel outside after viewing something that ends up traumatizing him. This is a significant part of the story as it’s the reason why Daniel becomes a part of Luke’s life (although not necessarily in the way you might expect). Although shy and lonely Luke now finally has his own playmate, things quickly turn dark when Daniel suggests something that almost ends up killing Luke’s mother. As a punishment for this, Luke’s mother tells him to “banish” Daniel inside an old doll house. Years later, when Luke is still struggling, his psychologist suggests that he reconnects with his childhood friend, and thus he lets Daniel out of the doll house. What follows is a series of slightly strange events where Daniel appears to help Luke, making him more confident and even helping him during a school exam. In fact, both Luke and the viewer might almost get dulled into a sense that Daniel isn’t all that bad, but of course, good things aren’t meant to last and Daniel’s true intentions resurface more and more.

 

Daniel Isn’t Real manages to keep up the suspense and feeling of mystery, as we keep wondering if Daniel is some kind of supernatural entity or if he’s just the result of Luke’s disturbed mind. As the movie unfolds, so does the imaginative use of special effects which results in a highly visual ride of monsters manipulating their faces like it was a mold of clay, an exploration inside a gothic doll house, and other trippy and surreal events. With a mix of both practical and cgi effects, it sure is a visual and a little disorienting treat, but this is also the part of the movie where it strays from its more realistic and mysterious tone and right down the rabbit hole. Which, depending on your own taste, may make you either dislike it or love it more. Personally I belong to the latter bunch.

 

Overall, Daniel Isn’t Real is a nice and visually strong psychological indie horror that keeps you guessing.

 

Daniel Isn't Real

 

Directors: Adam Egypt Mortimer
Country & year: USA, 2019
Actors:Miles Robbins, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sasha Lane, Mary Stuart Masterson, Hannah Marks, Chukwudi Iwuji, Peter McRobbie, Andrew Bridges, Griffin Robert Faulkner, Nathan Chandler Reid, Daniel Marconi, Chase Sui Wonders, Rosanne Ma
IMDb: //www.imdb.com/title/tt8745960/

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andra Sidan (2020)

Shirin moves to a new house together with her boyfriend Fredrik and his young son, Lucas. Their new home is a vertically divided semi-detached house, where the other side is uninhabited and in a slight state of disrepair. As Fredrik’s job requires a bit of travelling, Shirin must stay at their new home with her stepson, who misses his mother (who died of cancer). When the boy makes a new friend who he claims is living next doors in the uninhabited part of the building, Shirin starts to realize that this isn’t all child’s play.

 

Horror Ghouls have had their first theatrical screening this year, and it’s a movie from our neighbour country (Sweden), called Andra Sidan (which translates to “The Other Side”). It’s a ghost/haunted house horror flick, by the director duo Tord Danielsson and Oskar Mellander. It’s also their debut feature film.

 

Ghosts and haunted houses are among the most popular themes in horror, which also makes it one of the hardest genres to make anything that feels fresh and new to a viewer who has browsed through tons of movies like this. There’s bound to be some usage of cliché’s, and similar plot points and concepts. This doesn’t mean that new horror movies with said themes need to constantly reinvent the wheel, however, and sometimes you simply use what works despite that it’s been used before. What I’m trying to say, is that Andra Sidan is pretty much a bag filled with more of the same old tricks we’ve seen a lot of times before, but fortunately it belongs to the bunch that pulls it off pretty well. It’s quite obvious that the directors have been getting a lot of inspiration from other supernatural movies, and there’s imprints of James Wan all over the place.

 

There are some nice highlights here (including an attic that is creepy as hell). The house actually does look darn ominous, with its “other side” giving off bad vibes right from the start simply by how it looks. There’s good sound work, and nothing bad to point out about the acting, either, as the actors depict their roles and conflicting emotions in a believable and realistic way. Also, it was fun to see a small and partly obscured The Exorcist reference in the latter part of the movie. Regarding the claim that it’s “inspired by real events”, there is very little information to find about what the source of inspiration actually stems from, which could have been interesting to know. While “inspired by” very rarely means that a movie portrays something close to an actual event (as opposed to when movies say they’re “based on”), it would be nice to know what the source of said inspiration is.

 

The movie does leave a few questions unanswered, however, which leaves a certain hope for a possible prequel-sequel. Getting and in-depth version of what actually happened on that other side of the house, could be an interesting concept for a prequel story. In fact, we really hope they do make a prequel because there’s a strong foundation to make something really good here.

 

Overall, Andra Sidan is a dish we’ve tasted a lot of times before, but it’s still a strong addition to the haunted house/supernatural horror genre. Brooding, creepy atmosphere and well-aimed scares makes this a competent and satisfactory entry which I hope won’t be the last we see from the directors.

 

Andra Sidan

 

Directors: Tord Danielsson, Oskar Mellander
Country & year: Sweden, 2020
Actors: Jakob Fahlstedt, Janna Granström, Dilan Gwyn, Karin Holmberg, Troy James, Niklas Jarneheim, Henrik Norlén, Sovi Rydén, Linus Wahlgren
IMDb: //www.imdb.com/title/tt11320192/

 

Vanja Ghoul