Day Shift (2022)

“This is like the third movie we’ve seen where vampires are also realtors,” Kaja observes.

“It’s an easy metaphor,” I admit.

Day Shift is set in sunny Los Angeles, as hard-working vampire hunter Bud Jablonski (Jamie Foxx) tries to earn a living snuffing out the undead and selling their teeth to oily pawnshop owner Troy (Peter Stormare).

There is a vampire hunter union, and Bud could make more money if he was a member. Alas, he’s been kicked out for not following the rules.

And wouldn’t you know it? He’s got a week to put together $10,000 for his daughter’s school tuition and braces, and his soon-to-be ex-wife wants to sell their house.

This situation provides the comic fulcrum and prompts Bud’s return to the union, where he is assigned a by-the-book partner named Seth, played by Dave Franco as a Rick Moranis-style retro nerd.

The villain in Day Shift is Audrey San Fernando (Karla Souza), an ambitious land baron who’s trying to buy up the valley she’s named after. She’s got a score to settle with Bud, who recently beheaded Audrey’s daughter during a house call.

Heck, let’s throw in Snoop Dogg dressed in full-on cowboy gear as Big John Elliott, a legendary slayer with a Clint Eastwood vibe.

Day Shift, directed by J.J. Perry and written by Tyler Tice and Shane Hatten, provides zippy spectacle with state-of-the-art vampire slaying methods (garlic grenades, silver beheading wire, wooden bullets), and the action is tightly choreographed and brutally executed.

The scene in which Bud teams up with the Nazarian Brothers, a pair of Eastern European tough boys, to clean out a nest of vampires is a real adrenaline popper. Martial arts, flying body parts, and tech toys make for successful stimulation.

Unfortunately, when the rumbles subside, we’re not left with much to occupy our attention.

It’s a minor complaint, but Bud’s family is about as one-dimensional as it gets. The sassy daughter (Zion Broadnax) and endlessly complaining wife (Meagan Goode) are standard plug and play characters.

There are loose ends left dangling all over the place, including a sunscreen that allows vampires to run around in the daylight for a short time. A significant discovery in Nosferatu society, but here it barely rates a mention.

And what’s up with Jamie Foxx’s name? When was the last time you met an African-American dude named Bud Jablonski?

If you’re inclined to forgive a few half-assed details, Day Shift delivers decent bang for the buck, but you’re not missing anything special.

Umma (2022)

I swore I’d never be like my mother!”

It’s easy enough to say, and you can substitute “father” if you want. Mostly they’re just words, and they don’t help.

The central point of terror in Umma (Korean word for “Mama”) is the idea of inherited sin, and how kids are rotten fruit from a poison tree.

As conceived by Iris K. Shim, Umma is a ghost story about being haunted by your own family. Unlike the trend toward pitch-black horizons these days, Shim’s feature maintains its grace despite grim subject matter, and even offers a glimmer of hope.

Amanda (Sandra Oh), an agoraphobic beekeeper, raises her daughter Chris (Fivel Stewart) on a lovely, spacious farm, where electricity (phones, TVs, you name it) is forbidden.

Like all the other threads in the movie, it traces back to Amanda’s tortured childhood and the abuse she suffered at the hand of a mean, unstable mother (MeeWha Alana Lee).

Their idyllic existence gets upended by the arrival of a suitcase containing her mother’s remains, which coincides with the manifestation of her angry ghost, who proceeds to torment Amanda from the grave.

As if life weren’t stressful enough, she also discovers that Chris wants to leave the analog farm and go to college! The pressure to maintain her equilibrium overpowers Amanda, and that’s how the ghost gets in.

Filmmaker Shim isn’t afraid to tackle touchy subjects, and Amanda’s plight is pretty much universal, trying to shelter her own daughter from the worst family traits—even as she gains insight by subletting her soul to a mother’s rage.

In Umma, it isn’t curses or cannibalism that’s passed on, but fear and resentment. You know, real shit.

Pro Tip: Acceptance is your best option when confronted with an angry ghost.

Hellbender (2021)

If you recall the lavish amount of praise I heaped upon The Deeper You Dig, then you might have a clue of how stoked I was for Hellbender, the follow-up effort from the shockingly talented filmmaking Adams Family.

In a possible star-making turn, Zelda Adams absolutely smashes glass as Izzy, a mysterious teen who leads an isolated existence with her mother (Toby Poser) in the woods.

Izzy is not unhappy. Life with Mom rocks, in a modest way. The two create raw punk music together in a drums-bass duo called Hellbender. Mom is wise in the ways of the forest and teaches her daughter all about the forces of nature.

However, contact with the outside world is verboten. Mom tells Izzy she’s too sick to be around other people. Can this be true, or is there a more compelling reason for homeschooling such a bright pupil?

Written and directed by Adams, Poser, and John Adams, Hellbender is a bold, original movie told with fearless artistic flair. After a lightning strike moment, Izzy must adjust to severe growing pains when she accidentally meets a distant neighbor (Lulu Adams) who awakens all kinds of new, dangerous feelings.

It’s such a confident blend of folk horror and coming-of-age drama/trauma, that when Izzy begins to change, we truly see the world through her eyes, and it’s an unsettling trip. Her caterpillar stage has ended, and something more powerful is emerging, heralded by Izzy’s switch from a vegetarian diet to fresh, bloody meat.

It’s also quite a change for Mom, who recognizes that a new administration will soon be taking charge, and that it’s just the start of a new season.

Highly recommended. The collective vision, brains, and arboreal soul displayed by the Adams Clan in Hellbender is never less than spellbinding, and watching their unique ascension in the horror film landscape leaves me giddy with anticipation of future treasures.

I only hope they can maintain some measure of artistic control as the budgets get bigger and they ponder leaving the creepy bucolic comforts of their upstate New York headquarters. The energy this team brings to each project is somewhat feral, and perhaps shouldn’t be tamed by Big Business.

In any case, I’ll be there in the dark with eyes wide open.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (2021)

It’s definitely an immersive experience and most definitely a horror film.

Writer-director Jane Schoenbrun has found a fresh fear angle in We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, forging sinister and frightening links in a story told largely online.

Casey (Anna Cobb) is the personification of teen restlessness. With establishing shots revealing a dreary anonymous urban nowhere, little wonder that she seeks stimulation and community on the web.

And so the web snares another fly as bored blogger Casey creates laptop videos of herself charting her progress through a horror-themed Online Role Playing Game called The World’s Fair.

To enter the game, a player must bleed. Not sure what kind of port you use for upload.

It’s a plot that cooks over a slow fire, but WAGttWF hums with a steadily climbing anxiety level. Our concern for Casey’s welfare deepens as we realize she’s not the only one playing, and the tone of her video posts get darker.

Casey mentions her father’s rifle. She knows where it is.

All kinds of red flags and warning bells go off, but Casey proves capable of mastering her game emotions, even if her opponent (Michael J. Rogers) does not.

Rogers portrays one of those super creepy concern troll that lurks under every virtual bridge. Switching to his perspective, Schoenbrum daringly gives us a nervous glimpse into his painfully shameful world—and that’s more than enough.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is a minefield of a movie about a very real war between the sexes. You read about it every day: A lonely wretch goes bananas and kills people because they are psychologically incapable of real-life interaction.

These are the ones I’m warning you about. They are a cause for concern.

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 your 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 measuring devices, 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 by 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.