A House on the Bayou (2021)

Now here’s a movie that skips the main course and gets right to the Just Desserts.

As is so often the case these days, A House in the Bayou focuses on a family unit in turmoil, caused by a patriarch who can’t keep it in his pants.

John Chambers (Paul Schneider, from Parks & Recreation) is the unfaithful husband and father. His real estate agent wife, Jessica (Angela Sarafyan), is super pissed but doesn’t want to break-up the family.

Daughter Anna (Lia McHugh) is fearful of a divorce and having to attend separate Christmas dinners. I just assumed the last part.

Jessica packs her contentious clan off to bayou country in the hopes of getting past all the unpleasantness with a surprise vacation to a palatial plantation.

What a great idea!

Upon arrival, Anna meets Isaac (Jacob Lofland), a creepy boy who hangs out at the general store run by Grandpappy (Doug Van Liew), a creepy old geezer. Next thing you know, Isaac and Grandpappy are invited to dinner and hell can proceed to break loose.

Isaac is aptly named, because he has a similar vibe of righteousness as the leader of Stephen King’s Corn kids, not to mention access to a great deal of personal information for a hick from the sticks.

The clever teen also performs “magic tricks” like lighting candles without a match and bringing the family cat back to life.

Grandpappy tells the Chambers’ that Isaac “appeared out of the swamp one day” and the local rubes have been following his lead ever since.

This isn’t good news for a family starting over and learning to trust each other. “The Devil is watching you,” Grandpappy warns John.

Whether or not there are supernatural forces at work in A House on the Bayou, is a back-and-forth situation, but eventually lands squarely in the affirmative camp, with a clear-cut case of pagan idolatry unfolding in modern day Louisiana.

Feel free to use you spare time to figure out Isaac’s origin story. I’m sure it’s a whopper.

Writer-director Alex McAulay shuffles his clue cards with sufficient dexterity to keep a reasonably bright viewer guessing. The ending comes from deep left field, but even so, you probably won’t ask for your money back.

Editor’s Note: Cheating husband John is considering leaving his stunningly gorgeous wife in favor of a less attractive candidate. Doesn’t ring true, sorry.

The Hunting (2017)

Editor’s Note: If you’re in need of some fresh garbage, Tubi Channel is a greasy treasure trove of Don’t Go in the Woods epics like this one.

Hunting buddies go in search of their missing mentor in the cleverly titled thriller, The Hunting.

The movie is set in the year 1961. This is probably so director Blaine Gonzales and writer Trevor Doukakis wouldn’t have to worry about cell phones or realistic-looking weaponry.

Seven collegiate lads with plastic rifles rent boats for a camping trip to the mysterious Island of Hobbes, where their friend and teacher Dylan Kane (Bill Collins, a poor man’s Lance Henricksen) has gone to track down the Beast of Hobbes, a legendary bogeyman known to haunt the region.

Leadership responsibilities fall to Ryan (Corey De Silva), Kane’s favorite among the group, which also includes Leonard (Zeph Foster) a laconic tracker, and Al (Jarrett Patrick Burkett) a sniveling British crybaby who carries his gun by the barrel. We ain’t exactly talking about The Wild Bunch here.

Also showing up on the remote island that no one ever goes to is Kane’s plucky daughter Francine (Lisa Collins), who has a simmering crush on Ryan.

None of it adds up to squat, and the group is quickly decimated by a leaping figure in a gorilla suit with an elk-skull helmet. By this time, the viewer will have concluded that they are indeed watching crap, and should disengage with the narrative long enough to huff a couple bong hits, a choice of action that is highly recommended.

There is a reasonable body count here, and the fiend in the fur coat adds a gruesome cherry to the sundae by scalping the victims, perhaps a dig at our own genocidal history.

Even so, The Hunting is a credit-card cheap production, the acting is abysmal, and you will gain no experience points for watching.

The Resort (2021)

Is The Resort worth watching? Only as a last resort.

The glacial pacing is a major challenge. Nothing remotely frightening happens for like 45 minutes, and we’re left to tag along with one of the dullest character quartets ever assembled.

Seriously, these guys should have to study improv comedy or something. Entire scenes go by and we’re hard-pressed to remember anything that was done or said until the mayhem commences.

Lex (Bianca Haase) is hoping to write a book about a Hawaiian resort that closed after two years, “under mysterious circumstances.”

Her beard-o boyfriend Chris (Brock O’Hurn, who appears to have emerged from the same genetic material as the Hemsworth Brothers), springs for a ticket to Maui so they can explore the ruins of a vast luxury hotel complex in search of literary subject matter.

Along for the ride are two expendable friends, Sam (Michael Vlamis), an alcoholic asshole (gotta be one in every group), and Bree (Michelle Randolph), a flirty blonde (ditto).

After several days of travel and gum-flapping exposition, the group finally makes a helicopter landing at the titular destination, which turns out to be haunted by a ferocious specter known as “The Half-Faced Girl.”

The vengeful ghost exacts a 75% death rate in an efficient wave of mutilation, and Lex awakens in a hospital to a nosy detective who wants the whole story.

The (ten-minute?) sequence of the The Half-Faced Girl terrorizing these nimrods at the eerie, deserted resort is almost worth the downtime spent getting there. Heads are crushed, faces are peeled, and the dead rise with Raimi-esque abandon.

Writer-director Taylor Chien makes the rookie mistake of wasting too much of our valuable time on disposable characters. The Resort is not a flick we tune into for a Student Lounge discussion on what happens after we kick the bucket.

Fast-forward through the talking and traveling scenes, and start at their arrival on the island. It’ll save time and be way less annoying.

Terrified (2017)

It’s scary watching a good neighborhood go bad.

Set in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, Terrified zooms in on one unlucky block of real estate, where strange things are happening.

How strange, you ask?

Just ask the kid next door. He was recently run over by a bus and buried, but has returned after clawing his way out of the grave. The boy’s mother (Julieta Vallina) is beside herself, as you might expect.

Her detective boyfriend Funes (Maximiliano Ghione) calls in retired cop Jano (Norberto Gonzalo), a forensic expert with a knack for bizarre cases.

Before the investigation can begin, renowned paranormal researcher Dr. Mora Albreck (Elvira Onetto) materializes with questions of her own. Despite the assembled brain power, the best theory that Albreck can proffer is that they are sitting on a nest of beings from another dimension.

Further observations from the good doctor reveal that the creatures occupy the same space we do and can inhabit our bodies. Also, they drink blood and seem to enjoy tormenting their subjects to death.

Using comically archaic spiritual weights and measures, Albreck assembles concrete evidence that establishes the existence of vampiric entities that can crawl out from under the bed or emerge from the closet at will.

“What should we do now?” a colleague asks her.

“I have no idea,” she answers truthfully.

Terrified is a potent and terrifyingly graphic film about the dissemination of fear in an urban setting, with roots in paranormal activity. In this regard, it’s quite unlike the Paranormal Activity series of films created Oren Peli.

Instead of endless sequences spent observing snoring citizens, we get pants-wetting shock value from a parade of singular spooks that will leave trauma marks on the cerebral cortex.

Argentine writer-director Demían Rugna wields a deep arsenal of disorienting camera moves that offer no comfort or safe space to hide. We bounce from mouse-eye views looking up, to sinister surveillance peering in the windows, to awful things taking shape on the periphery of the senses.

Utilizing every centimeter of the frame, Rugna proves, just as H.P. Lovecraft did before him, that there’s plenty of room for malign beings to coexist with us—and drive us insane.

This is not a comforting thought. Terrified delivers the scary when it counts.

Choose Or Die (2022)

Video games are bad, ‘mkay?

Choose Or Die takes place in a slightly dystopian future that looks like the present, where our protagonist, Kayla (Iola Evans), ekes out a living cleaning clean offices every night, plus whatever she can scrounge by refurbishing obsolete technology.

During a visit with her friendly fence Isaac (Asa Butterfield), she discovers an old text-based video game from the 1980s called Curs>r that more than lives up to its name.

Isaac informs Kayla that there’s an unclaimed $100,000 prize that supposedly awaits the player worthy enough to win.

The bummer is that it’s a sentient game made with sorcerous runes that can take over reality, forcing the player to make impossible choices, usually having to decide which friend or family member gets maimed in grisly fashion.

Therein lies the tension in all its one-dimensional glory. Dig it, or don’t.

Choose Or Die gets a needed boost from actress Iola Evans, who invests Kayla with brains and bravery. Even with loved ones in constant peril, she keeps her focus while trying to hack the sinister system.

Writer-director Toby Meakins does an adequate job of creating a cold and confusing reality in which financially trapped citizens like Kayla engage in risky occult business in hopes of a prize that will rescue them from wretched poverty.

You know, like in The Hunger Games.

Though Kayla is a talented programmer, she can’t get her foot in the door anywhere, leaving her stuck with mindless labor as the only way to keep the drug-dealing landlord (Ryan Gage) from stringing out her junkie mom.

You should be entertained by the painful predicaments pondered in Choose Or Die, and you will definitely root for the plucky heroine. But it’s all pretty one-dimensional. Hopefully that’s enough.

Ghost Team (2016)

I don’t generally award points for amiability, but somehow Ghost Team managed the feat.

A bunch of goofy ghost chasers get a shot at a real spook surveillance mission, where they must confront dark forces and come together as a team.

As you’ve already guessed, it’s a crew of unhappy misfits looking for something meaningful in their failed lives. Team leader Louis (Jon Heder) is a nonentity who owns a copy shop in a strip mall.

Louis’s depressed BFF, Stan (David Krumholtz), lives on the couch, unable to get past the delusion that his fiancee was abducted by aliens—on their wedding day.

“Why else wouldn’t she be there?” he asks Louis between sobs.

Every team needs a tech wizard, so we also meet Louis’s nephew Zak (Paul W. Downs), a sarcastic prick with access to killer gear, thanks to his job at a Big Box electronics store.

Security guard Ross (Justin Long) is a reasonably brave moron with a military fetish, and Victoria (Amy Sedaris) is a sketchy cable-access clairvoyant looking to get paid.

Finally, there’s Ellie (Melonie Diaz), the pretty Latina who works at the nail salon next door to Louis’s print shop. She signs on to do hair and makeup since everything is being filmed.

The various members of Ghost Team suffer from comically low self-esteem related to their crummy careers, except Stan, who doesn’t have one.

“You remember when you were a kid, and you dreamed one day you’d own your own print and copy shop?” Louis asks Ellie. “Me neither.”

Underdogs. Nerds. Nobodies. The odds are certainly stacked against them. Spirits are lifted with the arrival of matching yellow Ghost Team t-shirts. Sadly, they couldn’t afford the sweet jackets.

Through a timely tip from a copy shop customer, Ghost Team stakes out a remote, boarded up farmhouse and bust out Zak’s “borrowed” ghost-busting gadgets.

Instead of paranormal pratfalls, they stumble upon a meth lab staffed by junkies, who look and act like traditional zombies, leading to a splashy paintball shootout.

Jon Heder provides earnest strength as Louis, the fledgling leader who shows genuine concern for his newfound comrades.

Written and directed by Oliver Irving, Ghost Team is a consistently amusing haunted house caper with heart, one that works best as a team-building exercise. No, it’s not very intense, but if you’re not careful you will be won over by a winning cast of losers.

The Deeper You Dig (2019)

“Tell my mother what happened to me!”

“It was an accident!”

The admittedly tragic circumstance at the heart of The Deeper You Dig is indeed, an accident. What comes after is not. You would do well to pay attention.

Somewhere amidst the wintery rural recesses of upstate New York, Ivy Allen (Toby Poser) makes a living as a phony fortune teller, and apparently does well enough to support her 14-year-old daughter Echo (Zelda Adams), a sullen goth whose musical tastes include early 20th-century hit parade.

Just down the street, Kurt Miller (John Adams) is the new guy in town, fixing up a decrepit house in the hopes of a quick flip. This is all the setup we get before having to deal with a deadly event that traps all three characters into a single tense, tormented timeline.

Co-written and directed by Adams and Poser, and featuring their daughter, Zelda, The Deeper You Dig is a tight-as-a-drum domestic horror/occult revenge drama without an ounce of flab on it.

Kurt and Ivy’s parallel stories (him trying to escape a grim fate; her finding a missing daughter and rediscovering her gift), collide when Echo’s ghost comes a-haunting, effectively bedeviling Kurt by permanently fixing his radio to the Oldies Channel.

Meanwhile, Ivy interprets the signs left for her and finally makes direct contact with her daughter’s shade by mystical means.

The reunion scene in the forest, where Echo hovers above Ivy in the trees, is genuinely weird and otherworldly.

Major props to Toby Poser and John Adams (they even composed the screechy electronic score!) for concentrating not on their measly budget, but on inventing a dark and detailed world. Evildoers are not only punished here, they are recycled, reused, and renewed.

Fewer carbon footprints is a good thing.

Saint Maud (2019)

Maud (Morfydd Clark) says her prayers at night, and impatiently asks God for a task worthy of her devotion to him.

Careful what you wish for, Maud.

English writer-director Rose Glass unveils a disturbing, disintegrating portrait of a pious hospice nurse so anxious for meaning in her dismal life, that she creates her own.

Judging by the fiery final frame of Saint Maud, things don’t go as planned.

In a gloomy English town, Maud gets up each day to tend the terminally ill Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a free-thinking extrovert whose bohemian behavior is a bucket of ice water on the nurse’s tightly held beliefs.

Her patient’s libidinous relationship with the seductive Carol (Lily Frazer) becomes unbearable to Maud’s ascetic sensibility, so she takes it upon herself to send the woman away—for Amanda’s own good.

This encourages Maud to step up her attempts to save Amanda’s damaged soul.

We patiently come to learn things about Maud, who comes from a long line of unreliable narrators. For one thing, that’s not her real name, and the devotional lifestyle is apparently a recent conversion, coming on the heels of a traumatic event.

There are ample clues to demonstrate her flimsy grasp on reality, as when Amanda ridicules her faith at a social gathering, and Maud slaps her face.

This rather unorthodox method doesn’t go over well, and it’s all downhill from there.

Without her mission to save Amanda, Maud hits the skids in a big way, seeking comfort at a pub where she gets wasted and sleeps with Joe Rando. She quickly realizes that secular pleasures don’t do anything for her higher self.

Just when all seems lost, Maud has a miraculous mystical episode in her dreary apartment that levitates her off the ground! And thus spiritually fortified, she returns to visit the dying Amanda one last time.

Recent fare like The Dark and the Wicked, Amulet, Antlers, and now Saint Maud, all seem to take place in the same pressurized godless vacuum, which can be challenging to absorb, especially if you’re allergic to hopelessness.

It can wear on you and leave a mark. But you won’t soon forget it, either. The talented Rose Glass has conjured powerful images here that are already filed away in your screaming subconscious.

Actress Morfydd Clark is a lightning bolt revelation in the title role, thoroughly committing herself to a difficult character. Maud is a well-intentioned soul, who, depending upon your interpretation of the final scene, stumbles over her pride and falls into darkness. Like Lucifer.

In this damned place, there are no other options.

Antlers (2021)

“It all makes sense, you see. I mean, our ancestral spirits never died. They were here long before we were, and they’ll be here long after we’re gone. But now, they’re angry.”

Dark times call for dark movies. Antlers is a coal mine at midnight.

The opening observation comes from Warren Stokes (Graham Greene), the former sheriff of Cispus Falls, a blighted Oregon town where mutilated citizens are appearing with alarming frequency.

The current sheriff, Paul Meadows (Jesse Plemons), is seeking counsel. He’s out of his depth and confused, hypothesizing a cougar or bear attack is responsible for the mayhem.

Meanwhile, Paul’s schoolmarm sister Julia (Keri Russell) is trying to figure out why her sullen student Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas) is drawing pictures of demons and monsters.

In Antlers, all the dots connect to the decline of the planet’s structural integrity. Our systematic “pillaging of Mother Earth” has opened the door to indigenous spirits, most notably the Wendigo, a voracious cannibal that inhabits evil men.

Just below the narrative surface of this riveting supernatural thriller lurks mounting evidence of an infected society that has no access to spiritual vaccine.

Cispus Falls is a moribund mining town, an urban landscape littered with old machinery and empty storefronts, where the only thriving business is meth production.

Deep-rooted trauma is the norm. Julia, a recovering alcoholic with her own childhood of parental abuse, eyes liquor bottles at the store with palpable longing, searching for strength and comfort from any source.

In the background, the news drones on about the opioid epidemic, failing industries, and environmental collapse.

Kerri Russell owns her role as a damaged, unhappy woman who realizes her altruistic motives for helping Lucas are likely futile, but it’s marginally better than giving in to the despair that runs deep in these parts.

She recognizes the telltale signs of abuse in Lucas’s haunted face, a reflection of a home life that is literally hellish. He is a child doomed to maintaining the monstrous status quo at his house, while his younger brother Aidan (Sawyer Jones) is held captive by something that used to be their meth-cooking father (Scott Haze).

The thing Lucas calls “New Dad” is growing increasingly hungry and his grocery list requires fresh meat.

“Is God really dead?” Aidan asks Lucas. “Daddy said God is dead.”

Director Scott Cooper, working alongside executive producer/malevolent maestro Guillermo del Toro, has constructed a thoroughly ravaged world with precious little light—one that is bone-chillingly familiar.

Hey, isn’t that our civilization crumbling?

There are moments of brain-freezing terror in Antlers, including horned creature craft with genuine nightmare potential, a del Toro calling card.

Yet it’s the overall tone that proves the most unsettling factor, because it presents a terminally ill worldview, a pandemic of the soul that never ends.

There may be small victories to be had, individuals worth saving, but the inescapable conclusion is that humanity is fighting a losing battle with havoc we’ve wrought on ourselves.

In nearly every scene, Julia and Paul (the good guys) are stymied by inadequacy and failure. The coroner is apologetic because he can’t explain how the victims were killed. A doctor is unable to predict if a patient will recover. The harried school principal (Amy Madigan) tells Julia she isn’t allowed to intervene on a student’s behalf.

Even Paul admits he was reluctant to take the sheriff’s job, which mainly consists of evicting local homeowners.

“Everyone thinks these problems are just going to go away, and we know that they don’t,” Julia tells him. She could be referring to any number of societal symptoms depicted in Antlers.

The wound runs too deep, there’s no saving this patient. The downward spiral is well under way and no one’s getting off.

Hope you like it bleak.

Night Teeth (2021)

I wish they hadn’t called it Night Teeth. It’s not a very good title for such an entertaining and inventive film.

Broke student Benny Perez (Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.) just wants to earn a little extra cash driving for a car service. He borrows a sweet ride from his older brother Jay (Raul Castillo) and picks up mysterious beauties Zoe (Lucy Fry) and Blaire (Debby Ryan) for a night of club hopping around Los Angeles.

The ladies are able to read Benny like a book and quickly determine he’s a newbie at the chauffeur game, a source of much amusement. And as the night goes on, Benny becomes alternatingly aroused and alarmed by his odd passengers, particularly after one stop when they return with a satchel full of bloody cash.

Meanwhile, his brother Jay has to get his boys together because there are vampires in Boyle Heights, and that runs counter to a long-standing treaty.

There’s a full slate of subplots in Night Teeth, including sparks between young Benny and the somehow-still-kind-hearted Blaire. When they’re together the movie freely pivots into a star-crossed romance and the night seems full of new possibilities.

Mostly the story sticks close to the mob-style coup being staged by ambitious vampire Victor (Alfie Allen), who wants to go back to the old ways of old days, when humans were fair game, regardless of their address.

Night Teeth is also one of those vampire movies (like Near Dark) that doesn’t use the “V” word, which is why I found the title clumsy, like it was picked out of a hat.

Even so, there is all-you-can-eat action, laughs, guts, and unlikely romance to be feasted on in Night Teeth. Just as in Vampires Vs The Bronx, bloodsuckers are depicted as affluent white gangsters trying to gain wealth and power by displacing a hardworking minority, in this case, Latin Americans.

“Who still uses crossbows?” Benny wonders out loud while trying to stay alive during a gnarly fight between undead rebels and vampire hunters. Find out this and other exquisite tidbits in Night Teeth, winningly directed by Adam Randall, and sharply written by Brent Dillon.

These vampires definitely don’t suck.