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Great horror films were not hard to find this year, but as is usually the case the best ones didn’t open wide in theaters nationwide. The studio efforts were once again the year’s lesser genre entries, and while I had some fun with the likes of Annabelle and As Above So Below the fourteen films below offer far more when it comes to chills, thrills and creative atmospheres. And a quick note on some of the other titles you won’t find below… both Afflicted and Willow Creek were on last year’s list, and several movies — Black Mountain Side, Cooties, Creep, Cub, The Editor, It Follows, Spring, What We Do In the Shadows and Zombeavers — would have made this year’s, but they’ve only played festivals and have yet to see an official U.S. release.



Welcome back to This Week In Discs! If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon. Grace: The Possession Grace (Alexia Fast) heads off to college unprepared for the pressures of her peers due to a childhood that saw her raised by a strictly religious grandmother (Lin Shaye) after losing her mother during her birth. A rowdy party ends with grandma pulling her from school and bringing her back to their small, religious town, but what no one knows is that a demon is inside Grace just itching to cause some bloody mayhem. The narrative here is mostly straightforward and will feel familiar to viewers who’ve seen any number of possession films, but what makes this one unique — and what makes it highly watchable and impressive — is that the entire movie is POV. (It’s not found footage though, thankfully.) We float into the back of Grace’s head early on and spend the rest of the film seeing through her eyes. It’s a cool idea, but more than that, it’s executed pretty damn flawlessly by director Jeff Chan. It’s like one of the V/H/S/2 shorts — that was the great one in the franchise — get the feature treatment as the POV impresses multiple times. The script and story could have used more polish, but the performances, effects and technical aspects are solid. All that plus Alexis Knapp and Lester (Clarke Peters) from The Wire! [DVD extras: None]


Beneath Short Film 2014

Why Watch? At first, this short film from director Frank Maldonado feels like an unauthorized music video, but it quickly coalesces around an enigmatic chase and several shots of self-destructive emotion. Beneath features a young man wallowing in angst and whatever’s handy at the bar, riding the subways of New York City until he spots a thuggish figure in a ripped-up black hoodie who inexplicably starts following him. Boasting that it was shot in a single night throughout Brookyln, Manhattan and Coney Island, the short film feels like it — but only because the story takes place over the span of one night leading into the sunrise. It’s gorgeous, shot with precision that makes great sense of motion (a shot of our hero walking away from us as a train heads speeding toward us is particularly strong) and showcases the loneliness of the young man regardless of whether he’s lost in thought under a shower head or surrounded by the metropolitan crowds. The editing also helps to blur the night together, flashing between moments as a collective instead of a linear series of events, placing us into his troubled headspace. It also works well because it leads in an unexpected direction. In spite of being mostly abstract — and swimming in neon-soaked visual nods to work like Only God Forgives – there’s a significant payoff for wordless curiosity.


IFC Midnight

What is the point of prefacing your horror film with text stating that it’s based on a true story? Obviously it’s meant to add additional degrees of terror — this really happened and it could happen to you too! — but while a film like The Amityville Horror benefited from the claim because its veracity was difficult to confirm back in the pre-internet days of 1979 the truth behind today’s movies can be ascertained with a few clicks of a mouse. What I’m saying is please stop opening your horror films with onscreen text pretending any of what we’re about to see is true. It’s dumb, and it more often than not shows a desperation on the part of filmmakers who lack confidence in the quality and power of their actual film. Of course, if you absolutely insist on doing it anyway it helps to follow it up with a strong enough movie that we forget all about your unnecessarily silly intro. Which brings us to Beneath.


Criterion releases THE GREAT BEAUTY

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon. The Great Beauty (Criterion) Paolo Sorrentino’s almost plotless portrait of the glamorous nightlife of contemporary Rome may seem on the surface to be an obvious choice for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. After all, it quite deliberately follows the footsteps of La Dolce Vita as an ode not only to Rome’s vast history, but its history of cinematic glitz. Yet there’s a great deal going on below The Great Beauty’s exquisitely realized surface. Rather than a simple 21st century upgrade of Fellini’s Rome, The Great Beauty is an existential travelogue, a decadent and detailed portrayal of a place uncertain about how to realize its future as a definitive global city in the culture so content to rest its champagne-soaked laurels on its extensive reputation. We see Rome through the eyes of Toni Servillo’s Jep Gambardella, whose failure to produce a second novel after a monumental first success sets the stage for his engrossing tour of Rome’s beguiling but hollow surfaces. While it made nary an appearance on op-ed trendpieces on the topic, Sorrentino’s film belongs directly alongside 2013’s many portrayals of excess for an era of economic uncertainty. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more beautifully shot and edited exegesis on the sweet life. – Landon Palmer [Blu-ray/DVD extras:  Interviews with the director, lead actor, and screenwriter; deleted scenes; trailer; an illustrated booklet featuring an essay by Philip Lapote]


review beneath

There’s a certain point in Larry Fessenden‘s new film, Beneath, that sees it move from being one of the year’s dumbest films to one of the most hilarious. I don’t believe either of those accomplishments is intentional. Boat goes in the water. Six friends go in the water. Big fish is in the water. Fessenden’s fish. Needless to say, the giant googly-eyed fish eats well.

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published: 01.25.2015
published: 01.25.2015
published: 01.25.2015

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