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    “THE RAID 2″ (Sundance Movie Review)

    It’s unlikely there exists a 2014 movie with more spectacular bloodshed than THE RAID 2. Of course, that statement is a nightmare to those of a queasy nature, or with little constitution for ultraviolence. But anyone fearful THE RAID itself could not be topped, or that its sequel ballooning to a 147-minute runtime would do it a disservice, should begin to feel something in their shoulders. Not hype per se, but more like the thrilling anticipation that permeates the entire movie, as if gearing up to do something truly heart-pounding. As if the movie itself is an opponent. As if you’re waiting for its first punch. You’ll never see it coming, nor the second, or third, or the hammer, or the bat. THE RAID 2 forces its viewer to feel it all, leaving us bruised, exhausted and elated.

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    “LIFE AFTER BETH” (Sundance Movie Review)

    Somewhere, perhaps even at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, there is a film that’s like LIFE AFTER BETH, but with no zombies. That version is likely anyone’s idea of a “Sundance” movie; essentially, an indie about a devastating break-up. When you consider that alternative, it makes the unique, intimate LIFE AFTER BETH even better and its slot in the festival’s U.S. Dramatic Competition truly satisfying. With horror— at least to this writer and I imagine many readers—is the best way to tell this type of story. Instead of a drab stab at realism, we’re treated to the sometimes sweet, oftentimes icky, intensely funny and cutting chronicle of getting on.

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    “24 EXPOSURES” (Movie Review)

    After his impressive and darkly comic horror debut with a segment of V/H/S, many horror lovers wondered when mumblecore auteur and occasional genre actor Joe Swanberg would tackle feature-length horror filmmaking. With his bent toward atmospheric, character-driven storytelling and associations with genre filmmakers like Adam Wingard and Ti West, it was only a matter of time before Swanberg found a horror story of his own to tell—yet fans of his V/H/S piece may be surprised that Swanberg opted out of startling, high-concept scares for the slow-burning dread of 24 EXPOSURES.

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    “COOTIES” (Sundance Movie Review)

    COOTIES may very well have one of the great opening title sequences. An exhaustive, repulsive and painfully up close document of the process that makes a chicken a chicken nugget, its nature may also very well prime the viewer for something COOTIES doesn’t seem too interested in being outside of the introduction: subversive and gross. And while the film is at points a very funny one, the ever-present reluctance to deliver on true carnage or amplify the bits of satire peppered throughout also make it a lacking one.

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    Notes on “COLD IN JULY” and “THE GUEST” at Sundance

    While “genre-heavy” in lineup, the 2014 Sundance Film Festival is not particularly confined to horror. In fact, a couple of this year’s most highly anticipated films see two of our brightest “new” horror filmmakers transition from one slice of pulp to another, carrying previous themes and aesthetics over to energizing, high quality thrillers that will be of no less interest to their, and our, fans.  Directors Jim Mickle and Adam Wingard, and their respective partners-in-crime (an apt term, here) Nick Damici and Simon Barrett have crafted two synth-driven, colorful, Carpenter font-using pictures that inadvertently turned into a fantastic double feature in Park City.  

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    “THE BABADOOK” (Sundance Movie Review)

    THE BABADOOK is absolutely fraught from its arresting opening sequence, in which single mother Amelia recalls, in nightmare, the car accident that took her husband Oskar away. The only thing that eventually pulls her from the aggressive dreamscape is an unrelenting shout from her son Samuel, who in turn was pulled out of Amelia on that very tragic day. More than an introduction to the stylish, aurally assaulting and often tremendous feature debut from Jennifer Kent, THE BABADOOK’s beginning serves to reveal that Oskar’s demise is still very much at the forefront of Amelia’s mind, with Samuel’s distant cries for help not a close second. Her son’s very existence comes with baggage, and as soon as the audience is hip to such, we’re primed for Kent’s exploring of how to reconcile the natural sentiment of sometimes just not liking your kid.

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    “DEVIL’S DUE” (Movie Review)

    Has the found-footage genre become so commonplace that moviemakers no longer feel the need to justify why anyone keeps filming? DEVIL’S DUE joins this month’s PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES in presenting scenes from the point of view of cameras whose owners should have long since abandoned the idea of capturing the moment.

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    “RAZE” (Movie Review)

    How does one, as a storyteller, approach a film about women fighting to the death in a grisly secret tournament without risking accusations of misogyny? Without much grey area in the moral spectrum, one could approach the project exploitatively, harking back to the era of women-in-prison films or the ‘80s’ antiheroine actioners. Otherwise, one could attempt to focus on the characters, making an introspective study on morality and gender subversion while using extreme visuals to help prove the hypothesis.

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    “RITUAL” (Movie Review)

    A heavy sense of dread is cast over films in which terrible things befall characters that inhabit a sunny, 50s-esque world. It’s not an unfamiliar tactic, coating events in a false, nostalgic cheer that, by contrast, emphasizes the evil that men do (and have always done) even more. Or, maybe it just hurts to see violence toward someone introduced in such an adorable bathing suit. Whatever the case, writer/director Mickey Keating opens RITUAL on such an aesthetic—but not before a Gaspar Noé homage/onscreen warning of the violence to come—in which the film’s leads romantically meet on the beach. It’s an ideal moment, a single push in as the two flirt, that’s sandwiched between that explicit cautioning and their dialogue drowned out by foreboding noise. This being a horror film, we know that perfect moment cannot last, and here it is dissolving before us. Only the image remains, like a memory. Which, ultimately it is; Lovely (Lisa Marie Summerscales) and Tom’s (Dean Cates) courtship doesn’t even make it through the opening credits.

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    “PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES” (Movie Review)

    As a spin-off of sorts, and the latest entry in what’s currently the (possibly waning) horror franchise du jour, there are essentially three things that surprise in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES. Lamentably, none of them are its scare tactics. While undeniably more energetic in its approach—a godsend compared to the tedious fourth film—there still resides the spookhouse formula of a camcorder capturing a) an unforeseen jolt; b) something shadowy someone who wields it doesn’t see; or c) someone being aggressively tossed directly at it. And for what it’s worth, it works. The familiarity of the technique almost effortlessly creates a good time for a packed house.

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    “13/13/13” (DVD Review)

    Taking a break from MEGA THIS and GIANT THAT and focusing on a smaller story, The Asylum brought us 13/13/13, a film devoid of any creatures that instead tries its hand at suspense—and ultimately leaves one wishing for more shark tales.

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    “TOAD ROAD” (Movie Review)

    In TOAD ROAD, Hell is many things. One is a destination, of course. More than that however, it’s a goal. It’s also a time and a place in our lives where there’s nothing left (and nothing better) to do than self-destruct. Then, for what could be one of the most tragic characters in contemporary horror, it’s greater than just something fiery and frightening. It’s transcendental, a higher plane. And in TOAD ROAD, all of these possibilities converge, as do documentary and fiction, as do folklore and bored suburban youth, as do the misguided Sara, her poetic quest for otherworldliness, her shitty friends and all of the psychedelics they ingest.  It ends sunken and haunting, a unique and uniquely affecting modern tale of terror.

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