There’s Something in the Shadows (2021)

Directed by John Williams [Other horror films: The Mothertown (2014), The Slayers (2015), Crispy’s Curse (2017)]

I’m not unsympathetic toward the plight of found footage movies. Personally, I feel it’s an issue of oversaturation that makes it hard to really stand out. But there are certain pet peeves I have when it comes to this style of movie-making, and There’s Something in the Shadows pretty much check marks everyone.

First of all, I quote:

“On the 16th of September 2020, amatuer Paranormal investigation team ‘Theres Something in the shadows’ set off to the Scottish highlands to record the third episode of the popular YouTube series. / After a couple of unusual live social media feeds from the group leader Jon Farmer, concerns were raised. This would be the last time any of the group members would be seen alive. / In early December, several cameras were found by a Group of hikers. Despite not being able to contact any of the group, the footage was considered to be a hoax. The group have not been heard of since that last live broadcast.”

Putting aside some confusing grammar choices (‘the group have’, really?), I probably don’t have to point out that this isn’t true. I don’t know why those who make found footage films insist on these inserts. We know it’s fake. Just start the damn movie. I certainly understand how saying things like ‘the police don’t know what to make of the video’ and ‘this was uploaded to the deep web’ might make people feel there’s additional nuance, but it never did much for me, and personally, it comes across as silly.

Related, late in the movie, the police are contacted, and presumably sent out to look for these lost individuals. Certainly the GPS location they were given was wrong, but it strikes me as odd that the search was apparently given up so quickly, and it took a group of hikers two months later to find the footage (but no blood, I guess, which I also find odd).

I also shouldn’t need to point this out, but I will: nothing supernatural has ever been demonstrated scientifically before. No ghosts, no extraterrestrial beings on earth, no Bigfoot, no sasquatch, no God, no demons, no miracles, nothing. I’ve never seen a show along the lines of Ghost Hunters, but I can imagine it’s the closet thing there is to what Hell would theoretically feel like.

There are many things said in this film that are problematic, and I’ll point out a few, because I’m just in that type of mood.

A character suggests that, after hearing an odd whooping, a Bigfoot may be near (he also suggests perhaps it’s the spirits replying to an earlier action). When asked, “Bigfoot?”, he replies, “Yeah, what else could it be?”

I present to you a logical fallacy. Until such evidence is presented that the whooping is indeed caused by Bigfoot, you cannot presume that the whooping is caused by Bigfoot. Once you have that evidence, then you are welcome to your truth claim.

It’s also said later that if skeptics saw a video of aliens landing and chasing the crew around, they wouldn’t believe it, instead insisting it’s something like CGI or puppets. Certainly I would hope so – no one should believe anything by simply seeing a video – and yet, this seems to be presented by this individual negatively. He also says that until skeptics “see it with their own eyes”, they’ll go on not believing.

As a skeptic, that’s not true. If I saw something with my own eyes that I couldn’t explain, I wouldn’t immediately think “Hey, that’s a supernatural event.” I would think “Hey, that’s unexplained, I wonder what that was.” It should also be said that personal experience wouldn’t be enough, as it could be a hallucination or a trip or something along those lines. What I would need is scientific evidence, and then I would be able to accept that evidence, should it be credible.

I’m taking way too long on this. My point is that shows like what There’s Something in the Shadow are mimicking are beyond ridiculous. Is it possible one of those shows could find evidence of ghosts? Sure, if they’re conducted scientifically, it’s possible. Of course, if they could be demonstrated, they wouldn’t be supernatural, but that’s just semantics, I suppose.

When it comes to this actual movie, things don’t really pick up until the final ten minutes. Sure, we hear what could be footsteps outside of someone’s tent. We hear what could be whooping. We hear what could be screaming. Someone goes missing, but as they’ve done so before during previous episode filming (as stated by the characters), that’s nothing immediately relevant either. But things do pick up toward the end.

It’s because of that fact that I didn’t absolutely despise the film. Look at a movie like Wolfwood – it’s another British found footage film, but in that case, it was way too bogged down when it came to a convoluted story. In this movie’s case, while the story isn’t good, at least it keeps things simple. It’s boring a lot of the time, and I don’t buy the chemistry between the actors (unlike The Land of Blue Lakes), but at least it doesn’t try to be more than it is.

To be honest, I don’t even like harping on this film. It has a beautiful setting at times, being filmed in the United Kingdom (and though the credits don’t say, I imagine this was indeed filmed in Scotland, where the movie takes place), but I can’t stand the characters, their complete lack of scientific mindset (the main character stated that he’d been possessed almost 50 times, and was a self-professed cryptozoologist – yeah, like I can get behind this guy), and even the ending, though it was marginally more entertaining, didn’t really do much at all for me.

Maybe people who enjoy found footage as a whole will get more out of There’s Something in the Shadows than I did. I think there are fantastic found footage films (Hell House LLC, Ghostwatch, hell, even The Blair Witch Project), but this one just didn’t cut it at all for me.

2.5/10

The Demon’s Waltz (2021)

Directed by Ryan Callaway [Other horror films: Cursed: Sheol (2011), My Origin (2012), The Watchers (2013), The Diabolical (2014), The Girl in the Cornfield (2016), The Watchers: The Beginning of Sorrows (2016), Where Demons Dwell: The Girl in the Cornfield 2 (2017), The Yearly Harvest (2017), Messenger of Wrath (2017), Let’s Not Meet (2018), One Winter Night (2019), The Ghost in the Darkness (2019), Let’s Not Meet in the Woods (2020)]

I have somewhat mixed feelings over this one. Fundamentally, I think The Demon’s Waltz is a decent movie, but elements, be it some spiritual themes or the length of the film, make it somewhat difficult to get a good handle on my feelings.

Regardless of my feelings, though, the movie is certainly impressive. The cast primarily consists of younger performances, the budget is limited, and there’s not much in the way of special effects – with all of these factors, they still manage to create a somewhat compelling mystery behind a missing TikToker (I’ve never used TikTok in my life, nor watched a video, so if this isn’t the proper term, please accept the apologies of an old fogey) that spans almost two hours.

As it is, though the movie is an hour and 56 minutes, it’s hard to say that it should have been cut anywhere. Personally, it never felt like the movie was dragging at any point, and while I had some personal qualms about some of the religious themes here and elements of the ending, the fact that they managed to keep my interest for the full two hours with what they had is somewhat impressive.

When it comes to the religious themes, my main point of contention is that I find many religious individuals hypocritical. In this film, there is a character who wants to be healed of an ailment – they first go to a church for some faith healing, but when that doesn’t work, they turn to a more unsavory worship. Or so some characters say, because from where I stand, this isn’t really logical.

Here’s the thing – putting aside the fact that faith healing is trash, why would anyone blame this individual for seeking out alternative methods of healing? Logically, if God (Jesus, in this case) had just healed this person, then they never would have potentially caused trouble down the line seeking help from another deity. As far as I can tell, if there’s anyone to blame for the problems that plague a pair of sisters past a certain point, it’s God’s – if He has just healed this individual, what followed wouldn’t have happened.

It doesn’t seem the case that anyone blames God, though. It seems like they blame this individual for the logical search for another way to be healed. I know that logic and theism are sometimes in complete opposition, but it seems so obvious to me. Now, to be fair, a point is made that the faith healing church is a “bad church”, but I find the belief system as a whole negative, and that doesn’t seem to come up at all, which I was troubled by.

It’s at this juncture that I wanted to mention that the director, Ryan Callaway, also made a movie called One Dark Winter. Now, I’ve not seen it, but I have been tempted – it apparently deals with an Orthadox Jewish mother and her daughters dealing with malevolent forces. The film is also on the longer side – according to IMDb it’s two hours and ten minutes – and the fact it also deals with characters of strong religious beliefs intrigues me. Based on this film, it may well be worth trying out.

Back to The Demon’s Waltz, though, I want to make clear that while I have some issues with some of the characters’ positive attitudes toward Christianity, I don’t hold that against the movie. Obviously if some of these characters are Christian, they wouldn’t see things the same way I do, as I’ve been an atheist for most of my life. It’s just something that stuck out to me, and I wanted to point it out.

The performances here are all pretty solid. Really, the three most important are Kailee McGuire (The Ghost in the Darkness), Briana Aceti (The Girl in the Cornfield), and Sophia Zalipsky (Let’s Not Meet in the Woods). Aceti amusingly reminds me of a younger A.J. Cook, and though it wasn’t the easiest imagining her as a private investigator, it’s cool. Zalipsky’s character was bratty at times, but given she was playing a teenager, I get it. McGuire was perhaps my personal favorite performance, especially with the final scene, being somewhat emotional. Lastly, while she didn’t get a ton of character, Breanna Engle (Let’s Not Meet and One Winter Night) was solid.

Overall, I found the mystery decent. I appreciated throwing in the idea of the worship of older Gods, a dance going viral which is meant to summon them, and all that. It’s nothing exactly amazing, but I did think that it worked decently well, so kudos there.

I don’t think The Demon’s Waltz is going to amaze many people, but I do think it might surprise some. For the length of the film, it’s rather competent, and despite the lower-budget nature of the film, I was fully engaged. In truth, I’m actually somewhat interested in checking out more from the director – as you can see above, he has a decently-sized filmography, and if they’re around this same quality, I can imagine some are quite good.

As far as this one goes, I don’t think it’s a movie that I’d really watch again anytime soon, but I do think it’s decent. Perhaps still below average, but like Venom Coast, it’s close, which is an accomplishment in itself.

6.5/10

Venom Coast (2021)

Directed by Michael Fredianelli [Other horror films: Xenobites (2008), The Minstrel Killer (2009), Apocrypha (2011), Coin (2012), The Devil in White (2014), The Enemy of My Enemy (2015), Strange Rituals (2017), The Woods of Purgatory (2018), A Killer Rising (2020)]

I will admit to being surprised by this one. Truthfully, I didn’t have high expectations going into the movie, and while Venom Coast didn’t turn out to be amazing, it definitely exceeded my personal expectations, and to an extent, sort of impressed me.

On the surface, it’s a pretty simple movie, which follows six friends being killed on an old ship by a demented family while on their way to Cabo (which I had to look up – it’s likely Cabo San Lucas, a popular city in Mexico for tourists). Mostly, these six friends are just horribly self-centered and wealthy, their only concern getting crunk. Because of that, a lot of the first half of the film can be quite a bit challenging.

I think that’s the biggest problem with the film. Of the six friends (names being Chaz, Perry, Elle, Eve, Emma, and Grace), only Grace is particularly sympathetic. Hell, Emma’s character isn’t even wealthy, but she has to be one of the most annoying characters I’ve seen in a movie in the last month. Because there were so few likable characters, there’s not much suspense, as we’re looking forward to them being hunted down rather eagerly.

The killers in question are one of the reasons I didn’t really think I’d care for this. Any movie that has a family killing together has it’s work cut out, and in many cases, such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Tokyo Home Stay Massacre, it entirely takes me out of the experience. Luckily, in Venom Coast’s case, while there are some stereotypical elements (such as a bulky, disfigured guy whom the mother consistently dotes on), I can sort of buy that they’re a functional unit.

The movie does take a turn about 45 minutes in. It’s not a negative or positive turn, really – at first, I had my doubts – but it was different, in that it introduced a five-member Coast Guard unit who noticed the ship and boarded it, weapons drawn, as the area is rife with piracy. Some of these individuals don’t last long, but others survive to the final scenes, some of which were oddly poignant.

Of the notable cast, I did want to mention the four young women, being Allie Coupe (Emma), Areyla Faeron (Elle), Kelly Ann Dunn (Eve), and Kylie Brady (Grace). Obviously, Coupe’s character annoyed the hell out of me, but she gave a good performance, and both Brady and Ann Dunn have some strong moments. Carolyn Ford Compton had some charm to her, as did Anthony Jan Potter. Serena Starks, while not popping up until later into the film, had some strong scenes toward the end.

Certainly Venom Coast is a lower-budget film, but as far as the kills went, I thought everything was pretty serviceable. Someone had their head bashed in with a hammer, another was killed with a golf club. A lot of stabbing went on, along with a neck that got twisted like zat, as my Beauxbatons homegirl said in Chapter 23 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Oh, and another person killed themselves by slamming their head into a sharp, metal corner. None of the kills were overly gruesome or anything, but I definitely didn’t think any were bad.

There are times when the budget shows, and I think it’s most evident toward the end, which features a decent amount of gunfire, little of which actually looks good. I don’t hold it too much against the movie, but it needs to be said that at times, it’s not hard to tell this is a lower-budget film, which I know can turn some people off.

Another element I wanted to mention was the theme of economic disparity. Those six friends were all in a tech company that they started, a self-declared hook-up app for “influential people”, or, as one of the killers rightly described it, “an app for rich people.” These killers are poor, killing to bring some balance into the world. The reason is pretty shit, but seeing rich post-grads with rich parents trotting around carelessly around someone else’s ship doesn’t endear me at all to them, and I sort of dug the addition of that theme, which is clear from the very first scene of the movie.

Overall, there aren’t really that many good horror films that take place largely on a ship, especially since I’m not a fan of Death Ship, Triangle, or Ghost Ship, so Venom Coast, while not a great movie, did sort of fulfill my needs. I tend to think it’s just a little below average, but as far as recommendations go, I’d certainly throw this one out there. Perhaps some would be just as pleased and surprised as I was.

6.5/10

Broadcast Signal Intrusion (2021)

Directed by Jacob Gentry [Other horror films: The Signal (2007), My Super Psycho Sweet 16 (2009), My Super Psycho Sweet 16: Part 2 (2010), My Super Psycho Sweet 16: Part 3 (2012)]

I had higher hopes for this film after I read the brief synopsis. It sounded like a potentially solid film, and I was more eager to see this one than I have been for many of the movies I’ve seen in the past week. As it is, I don’t think Broadcast Signal Intrusion is a terrible movie, and it will work for some people, but I was ultimately unsatisfied come the finale.

Certainly the movie had a very unique vibe. It felt like a new-age version of Videodrome, almost, with a sort of isolation prevalent throughout the film, and elements of obsession, and paranoia too, playing a part. It’s not even a disengaging story – I enjoyed aspects of what the movie was going for. But I don’t think the finale really did all of these elements justice.

Honestly, it’s not an easy film to discuss. I found the conclusion a bit of a mess, and I was definitely hoping for more, especially given the fact they knew what they were doing as far as production went, as the movie looks quite nice and has solid cinematography. Even so, for a movie that almost lasts an hour and 45 minutes, I was expecting a decent amount more.

Harry Shum Jr. pretty much carried the film. I don’t mean that in a negative sense – he’s the focal character, and appears far more than anyone else. I personally don’t understand elements of his character, but as the film said, grief touches people differently; either way, Shum Jr.’s performance was strong. I also liked both Kelley Mack and Steve Pringle, though neither one really had quite the impact or importance I was personally expecting.

And perhaps a lot of this is on me. I was eager to watch the movie, but I didn’t really know what to expect from it. It’s not that Broadcast Signal Intrusion is incoherent or anything, but it can feel oppressive at times, and while I wouldn’t describe it as ‘confusing’, it can be hectic and heavy. There seems to be a lot of moving pieces, and it’s hard to see where different characters are coming from (such as Kelly Mack’s character, who is a mystery throughout, or Madrid St. Angelo’s character, who I didn’t get at all).

The largest drawback is the ending, which isn’t only inconclusive, but it think it gives us more questions than anything in the film managed to answer. In a way, I sort of get it – we’re warned constantly to not go down a rabbit hole of a potential conspiracy, lest we lose our sense of reality, so maybe not everything has the answers that we might be looking for – but even so, I can’t say that the final few minutes weren’t deeply unsatisfactory.

It’s also worth mentioning that the horror here is a bit muted. I mean, it’s definitely a horror film, I don’t want to give off the impression that it’s not, but aside from a few creepy dream sequences, a rather jolting ending, and a scene of an individual slitting his throat, there’s not a lot of traditional horror here, which is where the oppressive atmosphere (again, think Videodrome) plays a large part.

Another thing has to be said about the nature of the story. It takes place in 1999, and I think it does a good job showing technology as it was back then, from old chat conversations online to clunky video cameras and the like. Also, delving into a mystery of unsolved broadcast signal intrusions (think the Max Headroom hijacking from 1987) is a fascinating idea, and the mystery itself wasn’t bad, save for the ending.

In the end, I think that Broadcast Signal Intrusion had a decent amount going for it, but it’s not an easy movie to really explain and an even more difficult movie to really recommend. It’s probably worth seeing just to feel the vibe of the film, which is increasingly uneasy as it seems that the central character keeps making a mistake in digging deeper into the mystery, but I don’t know if that really makes it an enjoyable experience.

By no means a bad film, ultimately, I do feel that this movie falls a bit below average. It wasn’t without promise, and it did do some things right, but I don’t really think it’s much more than that, as much as I might wish otherwise.

6/10

What Happens in the Mountains – Should Stay in the Mountains Part II (2021)

Directed by Stacey Alexander [Other horror films: What Happens in the Mountains – Should Stay in the Mountains (2018)]

I was somewhat surprised to see a sequel of the low-budget 2018 movie come out. I always figured it for one of those one-hit wonders, so when I was informed a new movie came out, I was eager to check it out, especially since it was a tad longer, running about an hour in length.

Overall, I’d say it’s a generally better film. I can’t swear that it’s more fun than the 2018 movie, but I can say it’s probably just as fun, so if you enjoyed What Happens in the Mountains – Should Stay in the Mountains, checking this one out might not be too shabby an idea.

Honestly, the film took a turn that I wasn’t quite expecting toward the final twenty minutes or so. Perhaps I should have been, as portions of the film had suggested it up to that point, but I was surprised nonetheless, which I appreciated. What I also appreciated was more of a story here – the first movie, while fun, wasn’t big on plot, so the fact this film had one was quite nice.

The story is moderately interesting at times. You have increased Bigfeet sightings around this mountain in Georgia, an aggressive police detective (played by Steve Pence) who believes Buck (Stacey Alexander) is responsible, a reporter (Sandy Walton) asking questions about John Tripwire’s character from the previous film, and throughout all of this, life seems more difficult for Buck, who even sees a therapist (Dave Weinthal), which goes about as well as you’d expect.

It’s not a movie with a complicated plot or anything, but it can sometimes feel busy, which I sort of liked, especially after the free-form feeling of the first movie. Naturally, there were some amusing lines, and it’s not easy to choose the funniest.

Of course, there’s the word association (a scene which probably went on too long) one that got me laughing: “Mountain.” “BIGFOOT!”. Or Buck’s character explaining that “Bigfoot raped me,” and when asked where it happens, he replies “It sure didn’t happen in Motel 6, I’ll tell you that.” And how can I not mention “Let’s talk about what’s bothering you, besides my wife drives a Porsche” and another Buck classic question, “Have you ever been tied to a tree in Chattooga County and raped by an inbred that just escaped from prison?”

On the whole, I would say that the movie probably has more humor in it than I’d prefer during certain scenes, but that doesn’t hurt quite as much as there’s also a decent amount more going on in the story, which can partially cover it. Some scenes, such as the conversation with the therapist, could have been cut a bit, but honestly, I don’t have complaints about much of the movie.

Naturally, I think Stacey Alexander’s wild performance is quite amusing. There’s a bit more to his character here too, and while I would have preferred if some of it had been delved into, I appreciate that they wanted to do a bit more with this. Others, such as Wade Ridley and Dave Weinthal, had some strong moments, though it’s important to note that neither is terribly important to the story. Steve Pence was solid also, and I enjoyed his staredown with Alexander’s Buck.

Being a lower-budget film, the kills are about what you’d expect. There was a decapitation, which was technically weak, but oddly fun. Really, that’s probably the most stand-out kill, as the others, while decent (especially the final kill of a man on a boat) didn’t have a lot to them. And I also mentioned this in my review of the first film, but I enjoyed the scenery here – filmed in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas, there’s a decent amount of natural beauty to be found in the film.

What Happens in the Mountains – Should Stay in the Mountains Part II isn’t an amazing film, and if you come into this one without really knowing what you’re coming into, you may well find it’s not your type of film. The humor doesn’t always land, and it’s certainly not for everyone. Personally, while I think both films had their strong points (for instance, while the Bigfoot howl I love is in the film, it made far more appearances in the first movie), I think this movie is a bit better, though not amazingly so.

6.5/10

Wrong Turn (2021)

Directed by Mike P. Nelson [Other horror films: Summer School (2006), The Domestics (2018)]

Well, I had heard that this remake was quite different from the original, and boy, was it ever.

I thought there was a decent amount to like about Wrong Turn. Certainly there were problems – the film’s around an hour and 50 minutes, and it definitely feels like it at times. Many characters during the first third of the film make utterly idiotic decisions, something that also happens late into the movie with Cory Scott Allen’s character. Also, there’s a sequence during the finale that I disliked

Otherwise, though, I found the movie a pretty good experience.

There’s a bit to this one, given the length. The movie really feels like it has three separate parts, four, if you want to count the finale. It almost feels daunting at times, too, given the uncomfortable atmosphere during some of the scenes. The movie isn’t violent often, but when it veers that way, it can only increase the uneasiness one might feel while watching this.

I’m not entirely sure why they decided to create this film as a remake to Wrong Turn – elements are similar, I guess, though they randomly decide that Virginia is a more reasonable setting that West Virginia. It’s quite different though, and I suspect many who enjoy the Wrong Turn films might find the various alterations here somewhat difficult to swallow.

If I have one large problem with the movie, it’d be that I doubt how realistic some of the film is. There’s a small, secluded, separatist community in the film, one with rather a merciless and unbending moral code which applies even to outsiders, and while I can buy that perhaps this community can live side-by-side with the modern world, with little interaction, I have a harder time believing that, in the modern day, they would be able to get away with what they’re up to for long. It just takes a helicopter flying over their home, and it’s national news. In fact, I’d love a sequel in which the FBI swarm the community, and we get a Waco massacre situation.

Regardless of whether or not the community is realistic in the modern day, I was deeply interested in the foundation of this community, and the reason they separated themselves from the rest of society. I won’t spoil anything, but I personally thought it was a pretty cool idea, though it did lead to a somewhat predictable choice that Adain Bradley’s character makes.

And speaking of the cast, it’s pretty strong. The movie first focuses on six friends (Vardaan Arora, Charlotte Vega, Dylan McTee, Adrian Favela, Emma Dumont, and Adain Bradley), but really, out of these six, only Vega and Bradley are really important. I did sort of like Dumont’s (The Body Tree) character, but most of these individuals have obvious flaws, such as the aggression displayed by Dylan McTee’s (The Wind). Boy, did I feel bad for Adrian Favela’s character, though.

I can’t say Adain Bradley moved me much in any way, but I did find Charlotte Vega’s (The Lodgers) role quite strong. She did great, and had plenty of good moments throughout. Playing her father was Matthew Modine (47 Meters Down), who was great during all his scenes, and Tim DeZarn (The Cabin in the Woods and Grave Matters) had some layers to him. Bill Sage (American Psycho, Fender Bender, The Dinner Party, We Are What We Are, and Ascent to Hell) doesn’t play the nicest guy, but it was a pretty good performance.

Only a few other performances really made an impression. One of them was Cory Scott Allen, who unfortunately died December 13, 2021. I don’t think his character is used to great effect, but I liked the performance. Also, there’s Amy Warner, and again, I really think they could have done more with her character.

I mentioned briefly that there were a few violent scenes, and though they don’t pop up often, when they do, you notice. I think the most disturbing might revolve around burning people’s eyes out with a hot poker, but there was also someone who met the wrong end of a tree, and another who may have gotten their head bashed in. Other examples, such as people being stabbed or shot by arrows, aren’t usually graphic, but some scenes here are somewhat harrowing.

On the finale, while I mostly found it suitable, and in fact, I did love the final scene (which played as the credits began rolling, which I found a solid choice), there was a sequence which was purely a character’s imagination. It personally felt somewhat jarring, and I would have cut that. Otherwise, I dug the ending, especially with the slow rendition of “This Land Is Your Land”, performed by Ruby Modine (daughter of Matthew Modine, and also from Happy Death Day). It was a beautiful rendition, and I dug it’s inclusion.

Wrong Turn can be a challenging movie at times. I really wish it had been cut a little in places, as it’s not exactly approachable (nor do I find it quite as captivating as films like Apostle or The Wicker Man), but I did find it a good movie. Some scenes were creepy (such as the friends being stalked in the woods, along with the designs of the animal head costumes), the gore gruesome, and the ending actually decent. It won’t be for everyone, and it’s definitely different from the 2003 movie, but I think that this Wrong Turn works.

8/10

The Land of Blue Lakes (2021)

Directed by Arturs Latkovskis [Other horror films: N/A]

There’s little doubt in my mind that, while the story contained within this found footage movie tends to be a bit generic, The Land of Blue Lakes does have an odd beauty to it, what with the striking setting of Latvia.

To lay my cards on the table, I don’t know much about Latvia aside from their relation to the USSR. What I found interesting is that this film is in Russian, as opposed to Latvian – Russian is spoken by only about 38% of the country, whereas Latvian is spoken by around 60%. I imagine this relates to Russian immigration and the fact Russian and Latvia are geographic neighbors (along with the setting of Latgale). Either way, it stuck out to me.

What also sticks out is how beautiful the movie looks. The film follows a group of five friends who go kayaking through various lakes and camp on different islands, all of which shows off the natural beauty of the environment. Certainly it’s more interesting than people investigating drab buildings.

The question then becomes is the film worth seeing?

Well, I have my personal problems with some elements of the film, such as the opening. To quote the film: “One year ago, five friends went on a trip and never returned. This edited video was found on one of the forums in [the] Deep Web.”

Now, aside from the fact the movie is playing itself off as true (which is something I’ve rarely ever been a fan of, given we all know it’s just a movie), there’s something else in that opening that bothered me, mainly the fact there’s a video at all.

What this implies is that after the events of the film, every media source was collected, and someone (or a group of people) went through all the phones (because the movie isn’t made in just a single POV – almost all of the friends, at one point or another, start recording something) and made a single, coherent video, potentially implicating themselves, and put it online.

Sorry, but I don’t buy it. It doesn’t make sense. It could have, perhaps, if the finale had been a little more clear-cut, but as the finale stands right now, I don’t buy it. I don’t see why the antagonists (if it was indeed the antagonists) would search through everyone’s cameras and phones, edit the multiple videos chronologically, and throw it on the internet. I just don’t see the purpose, and it doesn’t make any sense to me.

Hopefully that doesn’t sound like too much a gripe over nothing, because in my mind, that’s a big issue, especially once we, as an audience, start learning a little more about what’s going on and who might be causing problems for the five friends.

Otherwise, the movie is decent. I mean, aside from the beautiful setting, I wouldn’t call it great, but for a found footage movie, much of the film checks all the right boxes. There’s an interesting set-up (one of the characters is interesting in the pre-Christian pagan religions of the local area), there’s some creepy and unsettling sights (a baby doll nailed to a tree, an eerie triangle structure, and occasional figures standing around, watching the group), and a ramped-up finale.

I do have to say this: I’m not a huge fan of the finale, as it throws in a twist I was predicting, but was really hoping wouldn’t happen. It’s not a bad twist, but it’s also not a big surprise, and it’s not really expanded on to the extent that some might hope for. It’s not a terrible finale, but I think it could have been better if they went another direction with it.

There’s not really a stand-out performance here, but I wanted to mention the cast anyways, as I enjoyed them all to varying degrees. Vladislavs Filipovs, Alina Sedova, Arturs Latkovskis, Edgars Jurgelans, and Veronika Rumjanceva all do a good job, acting naturally and they really feel like a group of good friends. It was a fun vibe at the beginning, with them all making jabs about others’ drinking, screwing around in shopping carts, what have you, and it just felt real.

If you’re a found footage fan, I’d certainly say that The Land of Blue Lakes is worth seeing. I’m not saying the movie is overall special, but it does have a different flavor than many other found footage films I’ve seen, and while I have a few issues here and there, it’s mostly a pretty decent movie, very close to an average rating in my eyes.

As it is, I did think it was marginally below average. It’s still a movie that might be worth giving a shot, especially if you want a little look into Latvia, and on the whole, I would say I had a good time with it.

6.5/10

Candyman (2021)

Directed by Nia DaCosta [Other horror films: N/A]

I can’t exactly say that I’m disappointed in Candyman, as I’ve consistently heard somewhat mixed reactions to this one, but I was personally hoping that it’d have done a bit more for me than it ultimately did.

Part of this is because I rather love the 1992 Candyman – I think it’s a fantastically strong movie with a lot going for it. This sequel, though certainly more enjoyable than something like Candyman: Day of the Dead, just didn’t have near the magic a story like this should have.

Now, I do think there were some strong elements. I love the more modern perspectives – there’s crucial plot points revolving around the violence committed against the black community by police officers, along with there being a rather fun gay couple in the film. It’s the type of movie that, because of some of the elements, certain segments might be turned away from.

Even without being a bigot or a racist, though, I don’t think it’s an unfair criticism to call the film a little bit of a mess. I don’t think it’s disastrous, and I did rather love how they tied this story into the 1992 classic, but I also found the finale a bit disappointing. I mean, I got it, and aspects worked (such as the continuation of the myth that is the Candyman, along with a brief Tony Todd appearance), but I just didn’t really care for Colman Domingo’s character.

Otherwise, it was a decent cast. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II was a pretty strong lead, though I can’t say I exactly love how his storyline goes. Teyonah Parris had some solid moments later on, and while never a crucial cast member, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett was pretty fun. Vanessa Williams also pops up, which is nice – the movie already had strong connections to the 1992 film, what with pictures of and references to Virginia Madsen’s Helen, but throwing in a returning character was a nice touch.

However, I don’t love the body horror. I never really did like body horror, of course, and I just personally didn’t see why they added it here. Especially when a character was able to pull one of their fingernails off, it felt like I was watching Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, and the less I’m reminded of that movie, the better, as far as I’m concerned.

I certainly thought the movie had a lot of potential going in. I loved the opening scene, and I love how it’s expanded on later to show it in a far more tragic light. I love them not pulling any punches when it comes to the abuses of the police department, and I naturally loved that minor massacre during the finale of the film.

Actually, while I think the overall movie is below average, most of the kills throughout are solid. There was a stylish scene of a woman being murdered, the audience seeing the violence through a window at a distance. There was a pretty solid double murder at an art gallery. Even better than the final massacre was a scene in a prep school, in which some young girls get #Candymanned, which I appreciated, and I felt was somewhat ballsy.

Also, I absolutely adored the use of shadow puppets during some flashback sequences. It had a very unique appearance, and I was never for a second disengaged when those scenes popped up, even during the credits. And on a side-note, I loved the variation of the original Candyman music used during the credits – certainly this version of the music is more subtle, but I noticed it almost immediately, and I loved hearing it again.

Even so, I found the experience ultimately lukewarm. Elements worked, and certainly other elements were appreciated, but on the whole, I can’t say that I thought Candyman was good. It’s certainly serviceable, and it’s quite possible that I’ll enjoy it the more I see it, but for the time being, I think it just missed it’s mark.

6.5/10

Jakob’s Wife (2021)

Directed by Travis Stevens [Other horror films: Girl on the Third Floor (2019)]

This isn’t the easiest review I’ve had to write in recent times. Jakob’s Wife is a pretty well-made film, and I definitely see what they were going for, but it wouldn’t be truthful if I said I enjoyed it. On the surface, this may well sound rather tepid as far as criticisms go, but now is a good time to get into the psychology of Jiggy, so hold onto your hats.

I don’t like giving movies negative reviews. Even movies I personally hate, such as The Greasy Strangler and 1408; I know they may have their fans, and I don’t like possibly pissing people off. It’s especially bad for lower-budget movies – when a movie doesn’t have all the resources a higher-budget movie does, and I give it a low rating, I sometimes feel, as ridiculous as this may sound, a bad person.

It’s not just low-budget films, though, that I find hard to sometimes review with 100% honesty – when I get requests to watch films from those who made a movie, or just film recommendations from other fans, a large part of me wants to make them happy and perhaps bend my feelings a bit in a more positive light, which plays a mild part here, because someone requested I watch Jakob’s Wife, with the idea I’d enjoy it, and I just hate to say it wasn’t accurate.

Honestly, it’s not always easy giving my opinions on movies, especially movies that I know so many people love that I personally just don’t. Jakob’s Wife is a minor example – while many reviews have been positive, it has a more lukewarm overall reception. There are other films, like Halloween Kills, that I sometimes feel I may have put kiddie gloves on before reviewing, for these same concerns.

All I can say, before I get into my review proper of Jakob’s Wife, is that I do my best to be perfectly honest about my feelings. It’s worth noting that I am just a single guy from northeast Indiana, and I certainly don’t think my views on films supersede anyone else’s. I didn’t care for Jakob’s Wife, and that’s the simple truth.

Well, perhaps not that simple. I certainly thought the finale was pretty solid, almost emotional in a way, though I also think the final freeze frame was sort of disappointing. Not the song that popped up, being “Church” by Kitten (a song that will soon find it’s way onto my iTunes), but just the idea that as close as Jakob and his wife had become over the events of the movie, it might all have been for naught.

Before the finale, though, I was struggling, and most annoyingly, I can’t exactly explain why. Certainly the movie is primarily a horror film with occasional smatters of comedy thrown in, but not much of the comedy is overly goofy, so I don’t know if I can really blame the comedic undertones of some scenes on my overall feelings of the movie.

Perhaps it’s the somewhat aimless sense I got from it. Certainly there’s a plot – a somewhat mousy woman (played beautifully by horror icon Barbara Crampton) gets turned into a vampire, and has to figure out her life from that point forward. There’s a story, but it’s not always engaging, and while a couple of elements stood out, I can’t say I was really into the movie until the final thirty minutes or so.

Certainly the cast isn’t to be blamed for this. Barbara Crampton (From Beyond, Re-Animator, and Castle Freak) did quite well, and Larry Fessenden (Habit, I Sell the Dead, and We Are Still Here), while not a particularly enjoyable character, had a great performance. Though a smaller role, I liked Jay DeVon Johnson, and while she doesn’t get time to shine until the end, Bonnie Aarons (The Nun) had some strong elements.

When it comes to the positives, I’m pretty much stuck with two things. For one, I loved the gore – when people got bitten by a vampire, it wasn’t a small bite, these people literally got their necks ripped open, splatters of blood following. It was beautiful.

Secondly, the design of the lead vampire (played by Bonnie Aarons) was highly reminiscent of Nosferatu’s Count Orlok, with a bald head, freakishly long fingers, and to add to the effect, long fingernails. It was a great traditional look, and I loved it (at least from afar – up close, it felt sort of silly).

Otherwise, though, I found that much of the movie dragged, and when I said it was a struggle to get through this, I mean that. I kept pausing due to disinterest, and rather unlike me, it took three days to fully sit through Jakob’s Wife. I just wasn’t engaged at all save for the finale, and I can’t really put a finger onto why that was.

I imagine part of it is just the nature of the story. I don’t mind vampire movies, as there are some great ones out there – look at Fright Night, Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, and John Carpenter’s Vampires, not to mention personal favorites like The Night Flier and Heartstopper (the 1989 movie) – but in Jakob’s Wife’s case, I just didn’t care for much of the story.

Ultimately, while I know this film has gotten a decent amount of praise among the horror community, I honestly just didn’t like it. I don’t think it was a particularly poor movie, and it was certainly filmed beautifully, but I can’t really see myself giving this another chance anytime in the next 15 years, which is a bit of a shame, especially given my mild hopes when starting the film up.

5.5/10

Howard’s Mill (2021)

Directed by Shannon Houchins [Other horror films: N/A]

So I will admit that I found Howard’s Mill a rather solid film for the type of movie it is.

Done in the vein of Hell House LLC, We Are the Missing, and The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Howard’s Mill plays itself up as a real documentary about multiple individuals who go missing over the course of a hundred years, starting off with just a single case, and turning quickly into a sprawling and rather mesmerizing film.

It has the same problems you might expect from films like The Poughkeepsie Tapes – occasionally some of the interviews don’t feel quite authentic, and we’re not really presented with a clear, concise answer come the finale (which is a similarity shared with We Are the Missing), but even with some small flaws, personally, I found myself really pulled into the mystery.

And it certainly goes all over the place. It’s pieced together realistically enough, slowly introducing new pieces, previously unknown history, different angles, all that jazz. Once some skeletal remains start showing up toward the latter half of the film, we even get an interview with a physicist talking about the possibility of time travel, and perhaps a hint of extraterrestrial activity even later on. And the best part of it is, all of it works, and I bought every moment.

Part of the reason is that this isn’t explicitly supernatural, like We Are the Missing is. Sure, there’s some quotes about the lands that Howard Mill’s placed on as ‘taking people’, and there are certainly odd circumstances of lost time and memories for a few individuals, but more than anything, this is just a mystery that isn’t fully solved, and I really enjoyed how cemented in reality it was, especially the somewhat moving conclusion, as Dwight Nixon (played by Reegus Flenory) contemplates the fate of his missing wife, the disappearance of which he was initially blamed for, and what set up this whole documentary (in-universe, of course).

There’s not a full cast listing on IMDb, and the credits of the film just list the characters in the movie as if this were a real documentary, which makes sense, of course, but means I don’t have access to everyone in the cast.

Of those I can identify properly, I wanted to give a lot of props to the aforementioned Reegus Flenory, as he struck me as pretty believable. Josefina M Boneo isn’t always the best documentary host, but she had some strong moments. Others I can name include Jeremy Childs (The Dead Center), who shines toward the finale, Jessejames Locorriere, Ashley Shelton, Steve Wedan, and Danny Vinson.

Naturally, there are some smaller performances I wanted to point out – one is a character who appears briefly named Allison Steinquest, who reminds me oddly of Judy Greer. Another is a principal of the local high school, a character with a few great scenes named David Buchanan. A farmer near the questionable land named Ken Allen popped up throughout, and I dug his low-key style. Lastly, and I thought these two were perfect for the movie, we have an older couple named the Moody’s, who give us a little more insight into the strange goings-on.

Now, unlike Hell House LLC or The Poughkeepsie Tapes, there’s nothing overly shocking or scary in the movie. It’s more like building up to a better understanding of how so many people have gone missing, and what the time discrepancies that pop up actually mean. There are some more suspenseful moments – an older woman talking about mysterious figures she called ‘the Watchers’ or the discovery of a child skeleton in a hidden room, but Howard’s Mill is generally more subdued.

I think it works – Hell House LLC is a great movie, and I’d say it’s better than this, but this movie does amazing with the style and presentation of the topic, and I truly do applaud it.

Howard’s Mill surprised me. Only in rare cases do I get a lot out of faux-documentaries. The Poughkeepsie Tapes is okay, but not great, and some of the best ones, including Hell House LLC and Ghostwatch, are certainly the exception as opposed to the rule. I really enjoyed Howard’s Mill, and it may not be a movie for everyone, but I found it captivating and well-pieced together.

If you’re into these types of films, I’d highly recommend you give it a watch.

8/10