A quintessential message delivered like a 3D printed knife to the gut. The blade dull, but sharp enough. I’m talking about Spree, the gonzo-style satire about a young man obsessed with becoming social media famous that’s incredibly realistic in its capture of delusional vlogger desperation.
Spree represents the reality of the “perfect” life showed in all its cold, grotesque pointlessness, making it feel like a new-age version of American Psycho. The two films could be watched back-to-back as a double feature because they share the same skeletal outline. Impactful, unsettling, and very, very cold. The film and its protagonist feel empty, and that’s the point.
By the way, if you’re an influencer or vlogger or something of the sort I’m sorry but I advise you to just not watch this film because everything about it is designed to insult your “profession,” fair warning.
Directed and co-written by Eugene Kotlyarenko, Spree holds nothing back in its message, practically beating us over the head with it. In short: we need to get off our phones.
Filmed like a strange type of found footage feature shown through various recordings taken from phones and cameras, Spree is a very obvious metaphor about how “plugged in” the world is. Everyone in the film is attached to a phone or some sort of camera and everyone has a feed they can’t spend more than 5 minutes away from. It may be a hyperbolized version of social media reality, at times becoming overkill, but it’s not wrong. Shown to the extreme, the film sums up everything I feel about most vloggers, influencers, and Instagramers. If I ever forget why I hate such circles, Spree will spend its entire 93 minutes reminding me.
Kurt Kunkle (Joe Keery) is a young man who speaks like he’s always live-streaming because he is always live-streaming. According to him, “if you don’t document yourself then you don’t exist.” A statement that might as well be the foundation of Kurt’s entire existence. In his quest for social media relevance, Kurt runs the wildly unpopular YouTube channel “Kurt’s World” where he posts videos about himself. It’s actually painful to watch. His channel doesn’t have a theme, it’s him talking about himself, a clear sign that he’s in desperate need of a companion, or therapy.
In his spare time, he works as a ride-hail driver for a rideshare app called Spree which becomes the setting for his final attempt at fame.
Sick of not getting followers, Kurt decides that the only way to get noticed is to live-stream himself murdering Spree riders. He calls it “The Lesson.” The truly frightening part is how nonchalant he is about it. Doesn’t enjoy or dislike it, he has no reaction whatsoever. Eventually, a famous comedian, Jessie Adams (Sasheer Zamata) gets mixed up in his obsession. Why? Because she has a large social media following. He will do anything to get a taste of that fame.
This film would be nothing without Keery. A steady mix of innocent and psychotic, his lack of awareness makes him almost childlike, unsettling in his detrimental intentions. He plays a convincing psychopath. Someone so detached from reality that he doesn’t comprehend the difference between something that’s staged and something that’s real. The people he kills are gone forever but he doesn’t fully grasp the concept. In the mind of Kurt, people only exist when they’re being recorded therefore his victims have become immortal through his actions.
Spree plays like an extension of social media. It’s colorful, entertaining, a bit shocking, and…empty. Parts of it are a bit hard to follow because several scenes are split in a type of screen share format that has people commenting on the bottom. Kurt verbally responds to some of these comments and some are used to highlight certain elements of a scene.
I thoroughly enjoyed this film but I don’t think I could ever watch it again because of how annoyed I was with all the characters. It’s only 93 minutes but it feels a hell of a lot longer. The message is a good one. The film is absolutely right, however, it’s nothing we haven’t heard before. All the way back to films like Videodrome we’ve been “warned” about the danger technology has on the psyche. So while the film is certainly original, its theme is not. (3 / 5)
Photos are property of RLJE Films
The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster (2023), a Film Review
The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster (2023) is an award-winning sci-fi horror film directed and written by Bomani J. Story.
The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster (2023) is a sci-fi horror film directed and written by Bomani J. Story. Inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this unrated and award-winning film stars Laya DeLeon Hayes, Denzel Whitaker, Chad L. Coleman, Reilly Brooke Stith, and Amani Summer. As of this review, interested viewers can enjoy this film from Shudder with additional availability through purchase or rent.
After a sequence of tragedies and loss, Vicaria (Laya DeLeon Hayes) seeks to cure death. Despite her genius earning her a private school education, few take this ambition seriously. Those who see it think of her only as an example of a girl separated from reality. But all that changes when she has a breakthrough. Unfortunately for her, the systemic issues that oppress her neighborhood can’t be solved as simply as curing death.
What I Like about The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster and Recognition Earned
This film received nominations from four separate film festivals. It won Best Narrative Feature by the Calgary Underground Film Festival and Best Horror / Sci Fi from Jim Thorpe Independent Film Festival. In addition, it received nominations for Best Narrative Feature from the Atlanta Film Festival and a nomination from the SXSW Film Festival.
The beautifully shot scenes earn respect, and the cast remains strong throughout. While Laya DeLeon Hayes executes the most demanding role, Reilly Brooke Stith (Aisha) and Amani Summer (Jada) elevate their material.
The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster dips its commentary into several hot topics. While I would have liked to see further exploration, it deals with scientific responsibilities, systemic issues facing Black Americans, and more. Needless to say, this film has ambition.
While particular elements vary in execution, this remains a unique approach to the dehumanization of these racist and systemic issues while telling an engaging story in the process. While I wouldn’t consider this an arthouse film, it dips into that category in many ways.
Tired Tropes, Trigger Warnings, and Considerations
For a better viewing experience, don’t take the film with the utmost realism in mind. An example of what I mean is how easily and unnoticed bodies are moved and hidden. As a metaphor or motif, it works better to serve the overall message.
As mentioned, many systemic issues come to light within the story, with varying levels of depth. Some examples include racial profiling, police violence, and microaggressions that stretch the “micro” aspect of the word. I also want to clarify that the film focuses on Vicaria’s personal story, using these experiences when applicable to the plot.
Drug addiction and gang violence play prominent roles in the plot. As mentioned above, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster addresses many of the systemic issues that make a thriving drug industry as opposed to dehumanizing those participating in it.
The titular Monster evokes levels of realistic body horror. While it’s not particularly extensive, the rot remains present and vivid. Partly related, the film creates a surprisingly gory story.
What I Dislike about The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster
Several plot points remain underdeveloped or underexplored. This choice might indicate sequel material, but I don’t think that’s the case here. For example, viewers hear about a “body snatcher,” but the narrative doesn’t build the mystery until the end. Perhaps this requires a slightly longer run time, but it also could be cut with some edits to the script.
Her Monster didn’t particularly evoke fear. The rot evokes disgust but not terror. The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster remains more focused on the story than the horror.
For those looking for horror rooted in real issues but not afraid to delve into the absurd, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster remains a strong choice. While it might not evoke the terror and haunting we horror fans hope for, the bittersweet film certainly provides many reasons to give this film a view.
(4 / 5)
Blood Flower (2022), a Film Review
Blood Flower (2022) is a Malaysian supernatural horror film directed by Dain Said. Originally titled Harum Malam.
Blood Flower (2022) is a Malaysian supernatural horror film directed by Dain Said. Originally titled Harum Malam, the film stars Idan Aedan, Bront Palarae, and Remy Ishak. As of this review, the film is available on Shudder and AMC+ with additional availability for rent or purchase.
After a family tragedy, Iqbal (Idan Aedan) has trouble finding focus as an apprentice healer. His family remains in shambles, and Iqbal struggles to find a purpose in the wake of this change. As his father (Bront Palarae as Norman) finds temporary work helping a family friend, a terrible horror becomes unleashed. Now, Iqbal must overcome his internal turmoil or lose even more.
What I Like in Blood Flower
The horror evoked here has some elements of fabulism with a heavy emphasis on the supernatural component. In general, I like the established world and how this supernatural element connects to the characters’ development.
Throughout Blood Flower, the acting remains consistent and engaging. The relationship between Norman and Iqbal, which provides the heart of the film, remains a particularly well-executed point. Even when the writing falls short, the acting wins me over more often than not.
The film builds up its horror, which elevates the execution and overall effect. I won’t claim that the horror truly haunts the viewer, but it remains unsettling and, even uncomfortable, throughout.
As for the design of the monster, it works. There are points that remain strong, forcing a rather uncomfortable visual or experience that provides an effective execution of Blood Flower’s vision. One especially effective choice is including stop motion in some of the scenes. This visual creates a somewhat jarring feel to the supernatural entity that still lingers in my mind.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Blood Flower includes sexual assaults that remain clunkily included in the plot. When dealing with such material, especially when it remains essential to the story, the execution makes or breaks the quality. Unfortunately, the execution feels rushed and more for the shock of the reveal.
Possession-assisted suicide remains an element within the film. While I think the distance between such harm and the context of the film doesn’t rise above confusion, it deserves a mention in this section.
There are general decisions made for the sake of the plot. While this can fall into the dislike section, it’s within a range so as to not completely distract or undermine the viewing experience.
If any of these are deal breakers, then Blood Flower might be a skip.
What I Dislike in Blood Flower
Where this movie falls short is building up some of its elements to their conclusion by the end of the film. The previously mentioned sexual assaults make for a strong example, but another remains the human villain. As they are the reason for the monster, I am surprised by the general lack of attention and presence the character receives.
Iqbal unlocking his power feels underwhelming and lacks any real visuals or style. We have magic and special effects, but his power consists of holding out his hand. The issue lies in the execution, not the actor, as Idan Aedan does everything he can with the given command.
Going into the previous points, a spiritual master helps Iqbal train to become a healer. This person isn’t the one who unlocks their power. I still wonder why so little development on this important point remains in the film.
Blood Flower, or Harum Malam, remains an interesting supernatural horror that drops its execution towards the end. It provides a unique viewing experience with equal parts ingenuity and creativity to provide an effective horror. But it remains a flawed work with some wasted potential. Still, it earns its runtime for those interested in Malaysian horror.
(2.5 / 5)
Night’s End (2022), a Film Review
Night’s End (2022) is a supernatural horror film directed by Jennifer Reeder and written by Brett Neveu, starring Geno Walker.
Night’s End (2022) is a supernatural horror film directed by Jennifer Reeder and written by Brett Neveu. The cast of this film includes Geno Walker, Kate Arrington, Felonious Munk, Lawrence Grimm, and Michael Shannon. As of this review, this film remains accessible to Shudder and AMC+ subscribers.
Recently divorced and looking to start anew, Ken Barber (Geno Walker) passes the time by making YouTube videos. It soon becomes apparent that one of his videos catches something strange. The further he investigates this mystery, the more aggressive this phenomenon becomes. Despite making him an online sensation, it forces him to acquire help from unlikely sources.
What I Like about Night’s End
Night’s End provides the innovation and execution of a film on a tight budget and clear message. It brings out all the best qualities of a B film that understands what it wants to do. The setting remains a perfect example of this ingenuity, containing itself within Ken Barber’s apartment and using Zoom calls to add additional cast members.
Unrelated to the horror, I like the chemistry between Kate Arrington (as ex-wife Kelsey Dees) and Geno Walker. It’s not often we find an ex-wife depicted as a good person character, and when that does happen, it’s usually because he will win her over by the end of the story. This film doesn’t fall into these tropes. A similar point applies to the new husband, Isaac Dees (Michael Shannon).
There’s a psychological component to the horror, which improves the supernatural elements. While it does linger on Ken Barber’s ongoing battle with mental illness, Night’s End doesn’t exactly use this as an excuse to undermine what the viewer sees.
While there are some execution issues I will discuss, Night’s End provides a tight script and quality performance from its cast. Geno Walker’s Ken Barber requires a believable and complex performance for success, and the actor rises to the challenge.
Tired Tropes and Triggers
The biggest disclaimer remains the character’s mental health struggles. While I believe the film refutes many of the dangerous mentally ill tropes, it still allows for some degree of gaslighting. I also think it hints at a few potential issues without exploring any with greater depth. I noted potential alcoholism, OCD, and agoraphobia. But none of these are given too much attention, for better or worse.
Some minor body horror moments might be difficult for squeamish horror fans. However, it hardly makes it a proper introduction to the niche.
If these are deal breakers, perhaps Night’s End won’t satisfy your viewing needs.
What I Dislike about Night’s End
Night’s End goes so far in strategically applying its budget but provides a few scenes with bad CGI. If it had more style, I’d give it a B movie pass. But it’s just not substantive enough for that pass. While some CGI and special effects remain better than others, the film leans on lower quality.
Toward the end of the film, the characters allow the villain to do some random and weird things with little pushback. Only one person consistently pushes back against the growingly strange requests and receives so little screen time. Some of these people are supposedly experts in supernatural affairs or amateur enthusiasts. Regardless, anyone should have issues with some of these requests toward the conclusion.
While the film remains scary at points, it doesn’t terrify its audience. While the final moments pay off the build-up, we don’t particularly linger on the ramifications.
Night’s End provides a charming but not horrifying supernatural thrill. Ken makes a unique protagonist, struggling to overcome his issues as others seek to exploit him and bring about chaos. It remains an uncommon viewing experience but lacks the weight of a haunting horror.
(3 / 5)