The Vault

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“It’s always somebody else’s vault…”

In an effort to pay off gambling debts their brother Michael (Haze) has run up, sisters Leah (Eastwood) and Vee (Manning) plan and execute a bank robbery. While smart in intent – they set up a diversion, and have a cunning escape route prepared – it’s not long before the operation goes wrong. The bank’s safe does not hold anywhere near the expected haul: fortunately, the assistant manager (Franco) helpfully informs them of an undisclosed vault in the basement holding six million dollars in cash. Sending some of their gang down to the vault, The sisters can only watch on CCTV aghast, as the men are picked off by mysterious figures. For, it turns out, the bank was the site of a robbery in 1982, leading to a hostage situation that ended in multiple deaths. The ghosts of those involved are still in the basement, and opening the vault has apparently released them to take revenge.

I don’t think I’ve seen a film which combined a heist flick with a ghost story before, and it works fairly well. I say “fairly”, since it feels uneven. The bank robbery side is meticulously assembled, to the point that it could have been better if that been the movie’s sole focus. Eastwood, who made a strong impression in M.F.A., is equally as good here, playing Leah as a cunning strategist who has put a lot of thought into her meticulous plan, only for it to be derailed by factors outside her control. Vee, on the other hand, is a loose cannon, driven by her emotions, and reacting to events rather than managing them. You understand perfectly why the two sisters have led separate lives prior to reuniting to help Michael, though the specific details of the estrangement are never revealed.

It was almost an annoyance when the supernatural elements began to kick in, for those were not handled as effectively. Perhaps it’s a case of over-familiarity, with the horror genre being one with which I am particularly well-acquainted; the barely-glimpsed dark figures just didn’t do it for me. Some elements reminded me of the dumber excesses of the genre too. For instance, the willingness of the robbers to stumble around an extremely dimly-lit basement, without going, “Hang on… This makes no sense”. Or given the spectacular and murderous nature of the original robbery, it stretches belief that these local robbers had apparently never even heard of it. That’s a bit like someone from Hollywood not having heard of Charlie Manson.

While never derailing entirely the solid foundation of character and story-line set up in the first half, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed by the relative weakness of the second portion. Matters are likely not helped by an unsubtle coda which appears to have strayed in from a far worse film. This adds little if anything to the movie, and isn’t the sort of final impression you’d want to leave on an audience. The performances definitely deserved better.

Dir: Dan Bush
Star: Francesca Eastwood, Taryn Manning, Scott Haze, James Franco

Suspension

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“The night HE came home…”

Bullied by her peers at high school, Emily (MacNevin) takes refuge in drawing. Although, rather than high art, her preferred method of expression is horror comics: working on these in class is what gets her the titular punishment, imposed by a disapproving teacher. Emily’s strip depicts the havoc wreaked by a serial killer – who might (or might not) be inspired by her absent father. However, the line between imagination and reality becomes blurred, and on the night of a student party to which Emily has not been invited, someone starts stalking and murdering those who have tormented her. Looks like Daddy is out, and protecting his little girl – or, is he?

Oh, what the hell: when the sleeve (right) can’t even be bothered to avoid a major spoiler, why should I? Turns out Emily’s mind has snapped entirely, and she’s actually responsible for all the deaths. Otherwise, as my tag-line suggests, there’s more than a little of Halloween here, not least in the look of the killer, whose bland, white mask is more than an echo of the one famously worn by Michael Myers. Indeed, this feels as much of a homage to the slasher films of that era as anything; that’s likely the charitable way to view it, at least, since the supporting characters, situations and even specific kills contain little in the way of originality.

The most interesting thing is likely the effort put into fully developing Emily’s graphic art, beginning with the highly-stylized opening credit sequence. From here, it moves into a female masked killer – I’m guessing, intended to represent Emily’s idealized version of herself – who captures, tortures and dispatches other killers, recording it all on film. It’s a shame this angle isn’t sustained for, to be honest, it’s a good deal more imaginative and possesses a lot more potential, than the rehashed tribute to 80’s horror into which this quickly devolves.

It’s both too much, and not enough – the comic story occupies excessive screen-time in the first half, which could have gone to better development of the “real life” characters or setting. On the other hand, it could also have danced for longer along the line between Emily’s fantasies and reality. Instead, it occupies a mediocre middle, with only one plot element which surprised me – and it was almost a sidelight, not anything to do with Emily’s desire for ultra-violent revenge on her peers. MacNevin isn’t bad in the role; she has a nice, “everygirl” quality about her that generates empathy, along with the devotion she shows to her apparently mute kid brother.

The gore is plentiful enough, and Lando (veteran of many a shaky SyFy Original Movie) has a decent enough eye. The problem is mostly the script, hampered by its apparent unwillingness to commit to being one thing or the other. The result is not a slasher, nor a psychological exploration of homicidal imagination, and instead is a half-baked combo, which satisfies as neither. 

Dir: Jeffery Scott Lando
Star: Ellen MacNevin, Taylor Russell, Courtney Paige, Steve Richmond

Valley of Ditches

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“Dull as ditches-water”

After a brief prelude, we first see the heroine Emilia (Todisco) tied in the back of a car belong to her abductor, Sean (Fenton), who is nearby digging what appears disturbingly like a grave. He is seriously unhinged and driven by his loony religious faith to punish those whom he perceives as deserving the wrath of God. Which in this case would be Emilia and her boyfriend, Michael (Sless). Emilia’s first escape attempt does not end well, and she finds herself in the hole in the ground, handcuffed to the corpse of her boyfriend. Now what?

The answer, unfortunately, is “not nearly enough.” I think it’s the lack of any real development of the characters up front which is the main problem. There’s something to be said for cutting straight to the meat of the matter. Except here, we don’t have any reason to care about Emilia, before we’re thrown in alongside her, and immediately expected to root for her escaping this predicament. There’s no particular motivation given for any this, beyond Sean’s burbling about Old Testament stories, including the one which gives the film its name. He’s the same, cookie-cutter slice of fundamentalist fruitcake we’ve seen a million times before: I’m not in the slightest religious, and even I found this more annoying than convincing.

There are various flashbacks to Emilia’s earlier life with an abusive father (Novell), and I read that abuse is supposed to be one of the film’s main themes. It says a lot that I had to read this, because the film certainly does not do enough to put its point across, whatever this may have been intended to be. There’s an awful lot of sitting around in the desert, and the heroine takes about ten times as long to reach the necessary decisions as I would, given the same circumstances. [I’d start with the principle: “Look, he’s already dead…” and quickly figure things out from there]

I will admit, there’s something to be said for the sparse approach here. There are really only three characters, and the location is mostly the desert, both aspects which cut back on the potential costs. It’s a setting which could be leveraged into a taut, effective thriller, pitting Emilia against Sean in a lethal struggle. Yet instead, there’s precious little tension generated after the first few minutes, particularly after Sean appears to have wandered off entirely, for some ill-defined reason. There’s a final face-off, in which vengeance is sought; I’m not sure it makes much sense, based on what has happened to that point.

This is probably all a little too “indie” for its own good, not least in the soundtrack, which seems to have strayed in from a hip, locally-owned coffee bar. The points it’s trying to make might have been better served by another genre, rather than dressing it up in the guise of a thriller, that doesn’t appear particularly interested in providing any thrills.

Dir: Christopher James Lang
Star: Amanda Todisco, Russell Bradley Fenton, Jeremy Sless, Andrew Novell

Wynonna Earp: season one

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“Wynonna the Demon Slayer”

After a long absence, Wynonna Earp (Scrofano) returns to her home town of Purgatory, near the Rockies. There, we discover the truth about the death of her father and disappearance of her sister, events which precipitated Wynonna’s departure. Turns out the great-great-granddaughter of the legendary Wyatt Earp has a supernatural duty to fulfill, using her ancestor’s equally legendary 16-inch barrel “Peacemaker” revolver. Wyatt kept demons known as “revenants” in check, and the mission has been passed down the family line since, with Wynonna the current incumbent. Fortunately, mystical borders keep the revenants within the “Ghost River Triangle,” and she has the help of Deputy Marshal Xavier Dolls (Anderson), an agent in the “Black Badge” division of the US Marshals Service; Doc Holliday (Rozon), the now-immortal former friend of Wyatt; and Wynonna’s kid sister, Waverly (Provost-Chalkley).

Yeah, as the tag-line above suggest, there’s more than an echo of Buffy here, from Wynonna being the unwilling “chosen one”, through Purgatory being a hot-bed of supernatural activity (or “Hell Mouth”?), and the associated “Scooby Gang” who help out the heroine. Doc is a parallel for Angel, being a somewhat ambivalent immortal who has an on-again, off-again relationship with Wynonna. Dolls is Giles, the sensible adult of the group. And Waverly is a lumpy combination of Giles (research skills), Dawn (bratty little sister) and Willow (gratuitous lesbian tendencies). I’m not sure how many of these similarities come from Beau Smith’s comic which is the source here. It first appeared in 1996, when Buffy was still a failed movie, and not yet the successful TV series it would become. But the showrunner admits, when pitching Wynonna, she would describe it as “Buffy meets Justified.

So, if you’re looking for originality, you are far better off elsewhere, certainly. That said, the horror-Western is some way from being an over-familiar genre, and the obvious influences certainly do not mean it is without merit or appeal. There has been a real shortage of action heroine shows on American television – which leaves me happy to see, even one as derivative as this. I particularly liked Scofrano, who brings a cynical world-weariness to her mid-twenties character.The show also does a good job of disseminating information, striking a nice balance between revealing its secrets, and keeping the audience guessing. The middle episodes do degenerate a bit into ‘Occult Monster of the Week’ territory, yet the writers redeem themselves with a strong final arc that sets the stage nicely, and not too obviously, for the second season.

Wynonna [a spelling which looks plain weird, with at least one N too many] takes to her destiny with gleeful abandon, dispatching revenants with enthusiasm. It’s refreshing to see a heroine who doesn’t agonize endlessly about dispatching the enemy – even if in this case, it’s probably because they are already dead. Overall, I think the show will likely go as far as Scrofano can take it. If it takes advantage of the chance to improve, and does so to the same extent Buffy did (the cast there didn’t grow into their characters until perhaps the third series), it’ll certainly be worth another look.

Creator: Emily Andras
Star: Melanie Scrofano, Shamier Anderson, Tim Rozon, Dominique Provost-Chalkley

The Creature Below

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“Two tentacles up! Well, one  tentacle, at least.”

The mad scientist has been a staple of horror/SF for almost 200 years, since Victor Frankenstein first cranked up his machine. The worlds of literature and cinema have frequently returned to it since. A survey showed mad scientists or their creations to be the threat in 30% of horror films over a fifty-year period, and examples from one or other, include Dr. Moreau, Dr. Jekyll, Herbert West, and Rotwang in Metropolis. But they have been almost exclusively male: after Frankenstein, it was 75 years before any comparable female character existed, the title character in George Griffith’s Olga Romanoff, from 1893. They have been rare ever since, with only the occasional entry such as Lady Frankenstein to break male domination.

This is another rare example, and what makes this movie particularly unusual, is the Lovecraftian overtones. While not based specifically on any of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, it is certainly set in the Cthulhu Mythos where his stories took place. Indeed, at one point, heroine Dr. Olive Crown (Dawson) hangs up her credentials from “Miskatonic University”, the fictional establishment often referenced by Lovecraft. Yet Lovecraft wrote almost exclusively about men, to the point where female characters are notable by their absence. Here though, it’s likely necessary, due to the maternal aspect of the storyline.

Dr. Crown is part of a deep-sea expedition, testing out a new underwater suit. A dive goes badly wrong, with Olive barely surviving, and being blamed for the accident, though she remembers very little of what happened. When checking the suit, she discovers an egg-like sac. Having already been fired, she smuggles it off the boat, and back to the basement of the house she shares with her boyfriend (Thrace). It hatches, and the creature begins a growing relationship with Olive, that’s part-psychic, part-mental and almost all creepy. Especially after she discovers that human blood is about the only thing it will consume. Fortunately, there are no shortage of potential snacks to hand, including her former boss and her adulterous sister (Longden).

If you were to describe this as a cross between The Thing and Hellraiser, you’d not be far off. There’s the creepy, tenticular monster of the former, as well as a soundtrack which is so close to John Carpenter’s electronic minimalism as to invite a lawsuit. Meanwhile, you have the lurking horror behind suburban walls from the Clive Barker adaptation, with a seemingly nice young woman luring victims in, to feed her monster pal.  Onto this combination, the film piles common Lovecraftian themes of growing insanity, against a backdrop of the “Old Gods” – once the object of cult devotion, these entities have not been destroyed, and are merely sleeping, waiting for their time to come again.

There are certainly a couple of mis-steps on the way, not least some horrendous CGI which is not needed at all – a painfully artificial shot of a ship sailing could easily have been skipped, and takes the viewer out of the mood entirely. The ending, similarly, goes at least one step (if not several) further than it needs to: this is one of those times when leaving things to the audience to fill in the blanks would have been a better bet. But the monster, in its various stages of growth, is impressively realized, especially given the obvious limitations of resources here. If falling short of the movies which it most closely imitates, those are some large, black boots to fill, and there’s enough here of merit to provide a creepily decent pay-off for the viewer.

Dir: Stewart Sparke
Star: Anna Dawson, Daniel Thrace, Michaela Longden, Johnny Vivash

Here Alone

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“Forest of the Dead”

A viral plague has decimated mankind, turning its victims in mindless, flesh-craving ghouls. One of the few to have survived is Ann (Walters), who has taken up residence in the woods, where she has camped out. Ann uses the survival skills she received from her now-absent husband, Jason (West), only occasionally having to emerge and risk the threat of the infected, in order to gather supplies. Her secluded, yet relatively safe existence is disturbed, when she finds an injured man, Chris (Thompson) and his teenage daughter, Liv (Piersanti) on a road. They are supposed to be on their way north, to where the epidemic is reported to be in check. Yet Chris, in particular, seems curiously unwilling to be on his way.

If there’s nothing particularly new or inventive about this version of the zombie apocalypse, it’s not without its small-scale merits. Ann is far from some kind of survivalist Mary Sue: she’s barely getting by, perhaps having paid less attention to her wilderness lessons than she should have. Probably wisely, for a small budget film, the infected – the term “zombies” is never used – are kept largely out of sight, heard more than they are seen. While their shrieks are unnerving enough, the tension comes more from internal forces: the opaque nature of Chris’s motives, for example, or Ann’s dwindling supply of bullets. The former are particularly troubling: the dynamic between Chris and Liv just seems “off” in a variety of ways, and I was not surprised when this played a part in the film’s climax. However, things do not unfold in the way I expected, so credit for that.

The film does cheat a bit with regard to previous events. At the beginning of the film, Ann is already alone, and information about what happened to Jason and their child, is only doled out in teaspoon-sized flashbacks over the course of subsequent events. It matters, because these flashbacks reveal quite a lot about her character, and the way she interacts with other people: information we otherwise don’t have. By not getting it until later, we end up retro-fitting it into what we’ve already seen, and I’m not certain the additional complexity of structure imposed, serves any real purpose.

In the earlier stages, it reminded me of The Wall, with its tale of a woman thrown back entirely onto her own resources. While that solo adventure would have been difficult to sustain, it is the most interesting and original part of proceedings. I was rather disappointed when Chris + Liv showed up, because the entire dynamic changes at that point, and the film becomes something with which I’m somewhat too familiar. While there are twists down the stretch, this rejects the chance to truly separate itself from the large pack of zombie apocalypse movies in terms of plot. Fortunately, a solid performance from Walters helps the film sustain viewer interest through the weaker second half.

Dir: Rod Blackhurst
Star: Lucy Walters, Adam David Thompson, Gina Piersanti, Shane West

Ataúd Blanco: El Juego Diabólico

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“Who takes the child by the hand takes the mother by the heart.”

This crisp little Argentinian film clocks in at 70 minutes – not even enough to be considered a feature by the Screen Actors Guild. You’ll understand, therefore, there isn’t much fat on its bones. Virginia (Cardinali) has left her husband, taking daughter, Rebecca (Duranda), with her. But a moment’s inattention at a gas-station proves fatal, as Rebecca is abducted, and Virginia’s car driven off the road during the subsequent pursuit. Brought back (from the dead?) by a mysterious stranger (Ferro), she is told Rebecca has been chosen by a religious cult as a sacrifice. It’s up to Virginia to stop them, and she can let no-one get in her way. Which becomes an issue, for we quickly find out, she is not the only mother looking to recover a child from the cult – and, it appears, only one can succeed.

It’s a blowdart of a movie, picking nastily away at the scab of “How far would a mother go to save her own child?” – and keeping at it. “No, really. How far?” It does require a certain suspension of disbelief, not least in Virginia’s inexplicable failure even to attempt contacting the authorities regarding her missing child, surely the first thing most people would do. If you are able to get past that – and it is likely the plot’s biggest weakness – then you’ve got a steady descent into hell. The unspoken question which informs everything is whether the stranger actually has her best interests at heart, or is simply pulling her strings. Weird sacrificial cults in rural places tend to do that, as anyone who has seen The Wicker Man knows. And if to you, that means only the Nicolas Cage version: my sympathies on your loss.

However, there are elements of another Cage movie here: Drive Angry, in which he played a criminal who came out of the grave, to track down the cult who are preparing to sacrifice his grand-daughter. This is nowhere near as lurid: save for perhaps one sequence involving a chainsaw, this is more about psychological torment than the physical. For example, Virginia’s quest involves tracking down and burning the white coffin referred to in the title (the subtitle translates as “A diabolical game”). Yet as the film goes on, it becomes clear that any success in this is going to come at a hellish cost to her own humanity – and, arguably, that of her daughter as well.

The quote at the top is a German proverb (or maybe Danish, depending which Internet site you believe), and it’s an appropriate summary, though doesn’t capture the thoroughly mean-spirited nature of this, especially in the final reel. That’s no criticism in the genre of horror, which should go the extra mile to push the viewer’s buttons, yet especially in more mainstream works, tends to bail out at the last minute. It’s something of which this isn’t guilty; when it ends, it’s going further into the same bleak darkness, where the movie has been heading all along.

Dir: Daniel de la Vega
Star: Julieta Cardinali, Rafael Ferro, Eleonora Wexler, Fiorela Duranda
a.k.a. White Coffin

Last Girl Standing

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“In the beginning was the end.”

The horror genre has a tangential connection to the action heroine one, most directly through the concept of the “final girl” – when the last person left alive is a woman who confronts and defeats the threat. From Halloween to Alien, this has been a staple of the genre, but whether it qualifies a film for inclusion here, depends largely on what has gone before. For example, 10 minutes of frantic action at the end can’t counterbalance the first 80, if the focus there was not on a female lead.

Here, we instead jump right to the “final girl” section, with Camryn (A. Villalobos) pursued by a masked psycho known as “The Hunter” (Vines), who has already killed everyone else. She survives, and he is apparently the victim of one of his own traps. Fast forward five years, and understandably, Camryn is still damaged by the events. Shunning the media circus which followed, she now works in a dry-cleaners, all but avoiding human contact and unable to find closure. New colleague, Nick (B. Villalobos) tries to bring Camryn out of her shell, with the help of Danielle (Ploeger), who understands what trauma feels like. But a series of unsettling incidents leave Camryn increasingly convinced she is being stalked again. Is the Hunter really dead, and if not, can she save her friends from him this time?

The key factor here is largely whether what Camryn – and only Camryn – sees can be trusted, or if her sanity has finally cracked. Unlike some, the film does firmly and definitively answer that, and the final 15 minutes have a nicely cyclical nature, with Camryn’s new friends doing a great deal of running and screaming. While I can’t say much more there without spoilerage, until then, the script does a decent job of keeping the two alternate possibilities plausible, helped by the supporting characters. Most amusing there is likely Maelyn, who is firmly convinced Camryn is a loonie – and, to be honest, given a fondness for acts such as smashing bottles on people’s heads, you can see Maelyn’s point.

This does make the growing relationship between Brian and Camryn fairly  implausible, since the latter’s instability seems like a huge red flag – especially without, say, raging hotness which could cause us men to overlook it [Been there, done that, deeply regretted it!] However, it’s an interesting touch to have a husband and wife playing the two leads, perhaps giving things here a needed dash of authenticity. But this is most fun at the blood-soaked end, when Camryn is in full-on “final girl” mode, and the film gets to wallow in some gorey – and non-CGI, I’m pleased to report – mayhem. An earlier commitment to this direction might have been preferred, rather than the over-familiar “is she or isn’t she?” uncertainty. The lead performance was good enough to keep me interested though, and the structure offers some fresh takes, in a genre not exactly noted for them.

Dir: Benjamin R. Moody
Star: Akasha Villalobos, Brian Villalobos, Danielle Evon Ploeger, Jason Vines

Undead Pool

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“Buffy the Zombie Slayer goes for a dip.”

I strongly prefer the alternative name (as given in the credits below, though in some territories this was also known as Inglorious Zombie Hunters) – it’s one of the finest exploitation titles of all time, both describing exactly what the film is about, while simultaneously reeling in the potential viewer. Certainly beats something which sounds more like an Asylum “mockbuster” version of a certain, snarky Marvel superhero. If the product itself doesn’t quite live up to it’s own name, this mostly a case of, really, how could it?

New transfer student Aki (Handa) has the misfortune to arrive at the school on inoculation day, and ditches class to the stress of her new situation, so doesn’t get her jab. This turns out to be extremely fortunate, as the supposed “vaccine” turns out to be the plot of an evil scientist, and those injected with it – both students and teachers, the latter receiving a particularly strong version – turn into flesh-eating zombies. Despite Aki’s strong aversion to water, she finds some allies in the shape of Sayaka (Hidaka) and her colleagues on the girls’ swimming squad, because it turns out the chlorine in the pool negates the effects of the compound. It’s up to them to defend themselves from the hordes, and also resolve the murky nature of Aki’s previous history, which turns out to be not entirely disconnected from current events. Oh, yeah: there might be some lesbian canoodling as well. Just so you know.

The zombie aspects in particular are well-executed: energetically messy, with plenty of blood and a sense of self-deprecation that helps to counter-balance negates the obviously low-budget approach, most apparent in the rubbery nature of the severed limbs, flying through the air. It’s as if the film is saying, “Yeah, we know we’re cheap, come along for the ride anyway.” It helps that the zombies retain some of their pre-infection character, rather than being just mindless flesh-eaters. For example, there is the maths professor who continues to mumble about a problem involving apples, while wielding an inexplicably razor-sharp yard-stick around. Mind you, this is a school which leaves chainsaws lying around, and than there’s also Aki’s spiked swim-fins [which looks and acts like the iron fan beloved of martial arts flicks]

There is, as you’d expect, copious fan service – though the title does at least explain the swimsuits, which are likely less gratuitous here than in, say, D.O.A. This is probably the least interesting aspect, and I was reminded of Fred Olen Ray’s comment that nudity is the cheapest special effect. The finale, where Aki reveals one particularly startling special talent, likely doesn’t stand up to scrutiny either: quite how she acquired the skill is never adequately explained. While there was still enough here to keep me entertained, this mild recommendation should come with a caveat that I’m significantly more tolerant of low-budget goofiness than most people.

Dir: Kōji Kawano
Star: Sasa Handa, Yuria Hidaka, Hiromitsu Kiba, Mizuka Arai, More
a.k.a. Attack Girls’ Swim Team vs. the Undead

Goddess of Love

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“My super crazy ex-girlfriend.”

Right from the start, it’s established that Venus (Kendra) is not the most mentally stable of creatures, alternating between emotional fits in the bathtub, drug abuse and her day job as a stripper. That’s pretty much the trifecta of Stay Away for any man. But she ends up dating one of her strip-club customers, Brian (Naismith), a photographer who likes Venus because… she reminds him of his late wife. Which as opening lines go, I’d imagine would rank highly as Stay Away for any woman. While initially working far better than you’d expect, that only makes the eventual crash and burn of their relationship, all the more brutal.

It begins when she sees the name “Christine” (Sandy) pop up on his phone, setting off a downward spiral of insecurity and paranoia. Brian admits it’s an old flame, whom he still uses as a model, but Venus suspects there’s a lot more going on than photography. This doesn’t endear her to Brian, who stops replying to her text messages, and tries to end their relationship. Which works about as well as you’d expect – especially if you ever saw Fatal Attraction. Venus decides that the best way to Brian’s heart apparently lies through… Well, Christine’s rib-cage – though getting there requires some ramping up of their rivalry. And it turns out Christine has a vicious streak of her own, when pushed far enough. But how much of what’s unfolding has any basis in objective reality – as opposed to being merely shrapnel from Venus’s disintegrating psychological state?

It’s a tale as old as time, true as it can be: don’t stick your dick in crazy. But it’s still a topic worth revisiting, albeit likely for entertainment value, more than any educational purposes. The movie benefits by a good performance from Kendra, who also co-wrote the screenplay with director Knautz. That likely helps defuse some criticisms of exploitation – while the stripper angle does appear to exist, largely for titillation, Kendra the writer can hardly be exploiting Kendra the actress. On the other hand, it’s not exactly what anyone would call a sympathetic portrayal of mental illness. The only person who shows even some concern for Venus’s plight is colleague Chanel (Scott), and that doesn’t make it to the end of the movie intact.

Still, it’s not unpleasant as potboilerish entertainment, particularly when Christine and Venus start going at it. I also appreciated the gradual slide into a state where you can never quite be sure of the accuracy of what you’re seeing. Everything is experienced from Venus’s point of view (which is where it differs from Fatal Attraction), and the unreliability of that perspective becomes increasingly called into question as the film proceeds. Technically, it’s reasonably sound, though a few rough edges did stick out, to remind me of its low-budget nature. But it’s perhaps best taken as a modern-day version of a morality play: don’t cheat on your significant other, do drugs, or date strippers. Rules we can all strive to live by.

Dir: Jon Knautz
Star: Alexis Kendra, Woody Naismith, Elizabeth Sandy, Monda Scott