Friday, May 12, 2017

On DVD/Blu-ray: THE VOID (2017); MINDGAMERS (2017); and THE BYE BYE MAN (2017)

(Canada/US - 2017)

For children of the '80s who still hold dear the films of their formative years in that eventful decade of horror, it's always nice to see something new created by people who get it--filmmakers who get you and speak your language. The writing and directing team of Jeremy Gillespie & Steven Kostanski--part of the Canadian filmmaking collective Astron-6 (MANBORG, THE EDITOR)--are two such guys. THE VOID is basically one big '80s horror lovefest that storms out of the gate but ultimately falls victim to its own void: no matter how many beloved '80s horror treasures you reference, invoke, or outright steal from, there still needs to be a foundation of something at its core beyond mere shout-outs and callbacks. Partially crowd-funded on Indiegogo by fans who would've otherwise spent the money buying steelbook editions of movies they already own, THE VOID is the cinematic equivalent of perusing your DVD/Blu-ray collection for something to watch. It puts an ensemble cast into a classic John Carpenter scenario, trapped in a hospital with shape-shifting creatures taking over dead bodies while robed, hooded cult figures stand guard outside, preventing them from leaving. Deputy Carter (Aaron Poole, who might convince less attentive viewers that he's Aaron Paul) tries to contain the situation, which is exacerbated by a trigger happy father and son (Daniel Fathers, Mik Byskov) after a local meth head (Even Stern), a pregnant teenager (Grace Munro) and her loving grandfather (James Millington), a trainee nurse who can't even (Ellen Wong, best known as Knives Chau in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD), a state trooper (Art Hindle) who gets devoured by a Lovecraftian creature as soon as he arrives on the scene, and a head nurse (Kathleen Munroe) who happens to be Carter's estranged wife, their marriage falling apart after the death of their infant child.

Most of these characters may as well be named "Dead Meat," thanks to Dr. Powell (Kenneth Welsh), the doc on duty who happens to be the head of a cult that's set up shop in the basement of the hospital. Powell has made a pact with a force in "The Void," a netherworld whose entry portal exists behind an illuminated triangle in the basement. Powell is able to "transform" people into other beings and defeat death, which became his obsession after the death of his teenage daughter, with his ultimate goal to bring the power of The Void into our world. Gillespie and Kostanski are obviously having a lot of fun here and for a while, you too can have a good time playing Name That Reference. The big selling point of THE VOID is the filmmakers' insistence on using practical creature and gore effects, which look great but are too often left in murky darkness. Seeing old-school splatter of that sort was enough to establish THE VOID's bona fides with many, but with a set-up that combines Carpenter's THE THING and PRINCE OF DARKNESS, the extent of homage crosses the line by the climax, when Gillespie and Kostanski are ripping off no less than three films at the same time--PRINCE OF DARKNESS, Clive Barker's HELLRAISER, and Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND--plus some gratuitous H.P. Lovecraft for good measure. It's one thing to wear your love of these films on your sleeve, but it's another entirely to just straight-up copy shots and imagery without bringing anything new to the table. What's here is reverent and respectful of iconic '80s horror, but at the same time, it's not that far removed from the same mentality that drives a Friedberg/Seltzer spoof movie--namely, just making the reference is supposed to be good enough. Seeing a transformed Dr. Powell acting like a combination of Frank and Pinhead from HELLRAISER as he blathers endlessly at the Void portal--stopping just short of proclaiming that he "has such sights to show you"--just makes me want to watch HELLRAISER again (if nothing else, THE VOID proves to be a better HELLRAISER sequel than most HELLRAISER sequels). Gillespie's and Kostanski's hearts are in the right place, and it was a joy seeing these kinds of vintage practical effects in a new movie in 2017, further demonstrating that no matter the advancements or the cost-effectiveness, CGI will never be able to top practical in these circumstances. But by the time the credits roll, THE VOID is a film whose title ultimately becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. (Unrated, 90 mins)

(Austria - 2017)

Shot in 2014 as DXM, the sci-fi hodgepodge MINDGAMERS is about as good as you'd expect a movie produced by an energy drink to turn out. Bankrolled by Red Bull's Terra Mater Factual Films media division, MINDGAMERS really wants to be a circa-1999 Wachowski Brothers groundbreaker but ends up feeling like a decade-too-late MATRIX ripoff. Directed and co-written by Andrew Goth (the ill-fated GALLOWWALKERS, a film shelved for several years while star Wesley Snipes was incarcerated), MINDGAMERS opens in 2027 and deals with quantum technology being the next evolution of human connectivity. Renegade priest Kreutz (a visibly befuddled Sam Neill, probably getting a lifetime supply of Red Bull whether he wanted it or not), a deranged quantum physicist who only joined the church so it would fund his pseudo-theological experiments, argues with a monsignor that "the border between physics and faith is dead!" before making his point by bashing the monsignor's head in. Cut to years later at the exclusive DxM Academy ("DxM" an abbreviation for Deus Ex Machina--no, really, it is), where a group of hip and edgy young geniuses led by Jaxon (Tom Payne, now on THE WALKING DEAD) are recruited to perfect the ability to transmit thought and ability via "brain connectivity." Their case study is quadriplegic combat veteran Voltaire (Ryan Doyle) and things start progressing when new team member Stella (Melia Kreiling) taps into DxM super computer "En.o.ch." Once their minds are all linked, the DxM Xtreme Fyzzicystz (OK, that one I made up) start demonstrating as a group the levels of Voltaire's strength and agility prior to his paralysis. There's also an aged Kreutz, slowed down by a stroke, trying to hijack their discoveries for his own purposes, whatever they may be, and then everyone convenes for some kind of interpretive dance flash mob in a torrential downpour.

I'll be honest with you: I haven't the slightest idea what's going on in MINDGAMERS. But I'm not alone, because I don't think the filmmakers do either. Hard sci-fi so flaccid that it might've been better off being financed by Cialis, MINDGAMERS starts out like an extreme gamer remake of PRINCE OF DARKNESS before changing course and finally answering the never-asked question "What would WHAT THE BLEEP DO WE KNOW!? look like if just got fuckin' rekt with more parkour and random Jesus Christ poses, brah?" MINDGAMERS screened at the 2015 Grimmfest in the UK, but then sat on a shelf for almost two years before Universal gave it a one-night, live-streamed theatrical release through Fathom Events in March 2017, where it was hyped that 1000 audience members nationwide could wear connectivity headbands and gather data from their thoughts as the movie unfolded. There wasn't much to report, as many of the screenings were cancelled due to no tickets being sold. There's some impressive-looking Romanian ruins used for exterior shots and the ornate sets show the movie isn't cheap, but it's a mercilessly talky, hopelessly muddled buzzkill that's pretentiously pleased with itself and completely full of shit. (R, 99 mins)

(US - 2017)

STX Entertainment's half-assed attempt at creating a new horror franchise with a would-be horror icon ready-made for convention cosplayers, THE BYE BYE MAN plays like a low-end Dimension Films production that went missing in 2000 and has just now been discovered in a vault. Mixing elements of CANDYMAN, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and FINAL DESTINATION, THE BYE BYE MAN has a trio of college students--Elliot (Douglas Smith), his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas), and his perpetual third wheel buddy John (Lucien Laviscount, which could either be the name of an actor or a rakish cad about to face Barry Lyndon in a duel)--moving into a spacious and creepy old house where strange things start happening. A nightstand drawer has a warning "Don't think it don't say it" scrawled "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"-style, along with "The Bye Bye Man" carved into the wood. After they hold a seance with the requisite psychic friend Kim (Jenna Kanell), they're all haunted by hallucinations and jump-scare visions of the titular hooded, demonic figure (Guillermo del Toro favorite Doug Jones). The Bye Bye Man was awakened by Elliot's discovery of his existence, which was long buried by local newspaper reporter Larry Redmon (SAW's Leigh Whannell), who went berserk back in 1969 and went on a shooting rampage, killing several of his neighbors before guzzling a can of drain cleaner. THE BYE BYE MAN lumbers along, utilizing every cliche in the book as the characters are stalked one by one before the film wheezes to its conclusion which, of course, leaves the door open for a sequel.

Filled with amateurish performances, scenes that play like rehearsal footage, arbitrary Bye Bye Man rules ("When you hear the hound and the coins, you know he's near!"), multiple characters serving no purpose other than being motor-mouthed exposition dumps, and outright stupid plot contrivances--with one getting killed when she's standing in the middle of a darkened road for no reason whatsoever other than the movie needed her to be there at that time--THE BYE BYE MAN was directed by Stacy Title and written by her husband Jonathan Penner, both of whom have made real movies in the past. She directed and he wrote and co-starred in the acclaimed 1995 indie THE LAST SUPPER and 1999's little-seen Hamlet-inspired L.A. mystery LET THE DEVIL WEAR BLACK before their filmmaking careers petered out. They both resurfaced in 2006 with the unlikely SNOOP DOGG'S HOOD OF HORROR, and this is Title's first film since. There isn't much to say about the Cleveland, OH-shot THE BYE BYE MAN, other than it gets even more depressing when Carrie-Anne Moss turns up in a frivolous supporting role as a hard-nosed cop and downright tragic with the arrival of Faye Dunaway (yes, that Faye Dunaway), the Oscar-winning screen legend squandered in a five-minute cameo as Redmon's reclusive widow, on hand to provide more exposition before quickly disappearing from the movie. Heed this warning about THE BYE BYE MAN: don't think it, don't say it, and better yet, don't even see it. (PG-13, 96 mins, also available in a 100-minute unrated version if anyone cares)

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