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One of the first mentions of Bill and Frank in HBO’s The Last of Us is in episode one, when Ellie discovers that Joel and Tess communicate with men over the radio via 60’s-80’s pop songs. Rewind to the end of the episode, when Depeche Mode’s 80’s hit “Never Let Me Down Again” plays. Bill and Frank are in some sort of trouble. In the third episode of this series, “Long, Long Time,” we find out what that trouble was.

*WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS HEAVY SPOILERS*

The Dead Can’t Get Infected

Let me preface by saying that however you think this episode is going to be, you’re most likely very, very wrong.

“Long, Long Time,” begins shortly after Joel and Ellie are forced to leave Tess and escape the Boston capitol building. They are in the forest, prepping for another long journey ahead of them. As they walk, we learn more backstory on the origin of the Cordyceps pandemic. “Who was the first to bite? Was it monkeys? I bet it was monkeys,” Ellie says. But Joel explains no, it wasn’t monkeys. Rather, the disease spread through basic food products, like flour or sugar. Then the cordyceps mutated as flour, sugar, biscuit and pancake batter hit the store shelves that Thursday before the outbreak, infecting everyone who purchased those products. “That makes more sense,” Ellie somberly admits.

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Joel explains the origin of the burnt up dead bodies of non-infected people

Eventually, they find a picked-over abandoned grocery store, where Joel hides his assault rifle and green toolbox underneath the floorboards. While Joel is looking around the store for supplies, Ellie heads to a room in the back and finds a hidden basement. Unbeknownst to Joel, she crawls inside and comes face to face with an infected. Luckily, Ellie has the advantage; the infected is crushed by a pile of rocks and has no chance of escaping. Ellie walks over to it, cuts her knife across its face, then stabs it to death. Her first kill.

Once the two are done with the store, they continue on their journey to Bill and Frank’s, whom we finally get to meet.

Meet Bill

It’s September 30, 2003, four days after the outbreak. Bill (Nick Offerman), a burly survivalist, is hiding in his bunker, watching the cameras planted outside his house. FEDRA is taking survivors to a Quarantine Zone (QZ). Once Bill confirms he is alone, he makes the town his own.

Four years of isolation pass and we witness all the work Bill has put in to protect his home from infected and raiders alike. He is a hardened man who is afraid of nothing. He has safe-proofed his home with trip wires, high voltage electric fences and trap holes. When an uninfected man on his way to Boston suddenly falls into one of the holes, Bill’s entire world changes. The man is named Frank (Murray Bartlett), and he and Bill quickly become infatuated with one another. Before we know it, another three years have passed and Frank is still living with Bill. Their contrasting personalities compliment each other as they protect the neighborhood together. And Frank’s desire to meet knew people overcomes Bill’s tenacity for seclusion. Thus, the origin of their partnership with Joel and Tess.

PlayStation vs. HBO

“Long, Long Ride” is brutal in the most unexpected ways. In the playstation game, we meet Bill after he saves Joel and Ellie from a swarm of infected after Joel gets caught in one of Bill’s traps. He takes them back to a hideout, where Joel picks up ammo, can update his weapons at a workbench, and receives a shotgun and nail bomb recipe. Meanwhile, Bill and Ellie, being the stubborn characters that they are, are at odds with each other throughout their entire journey together.

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It is in this saga with Bill that we come across a Bloater, the most aggressive infected character in the first Last of Us game. Finally, the trio make it to Bill’s home, where they find Frank’s lifeless body hanging from a ceiling. He became infected and chose to end his life before turning into an unrecognizable monster.

Bill and Frank bond over Linda Ronstadt.

None of this happens in “Long, Long Time.” While the game hints at Bill being gay through Frank’s suicide note and a male porn magazine that Ellie stole from Bill’s hideout, there is not any other mention of it. He refers to Frank as his “partner” and nothing else. While it is clear that Frank and Bill were in a relationship, it was not a very loving one judging by the hatefulness toward Bill in Frank’s suicide note.

However, in the HBO show, Bill and Frank’s relationship is healthy and loving, including their fights. “Long, Long Time” presents a refreshing depiction of healthy masculinity and sexuality that stays authentic to the characters and their stories.

Another difference from the game is that the only interaction between Bill and Joel in episode three is when they meet for the first time, almost ten years after the outbreak, at a small dinner party at Bill and Frank’s house. While it would have been fun to see more interaction between Bill and Joel in the show, their lack of shared screen-time doesn’t downplay the importance they have in each other’s lives. This is pertinent to a decision Joel makes about whether to keep traveling with Ellie, and it happens in the end of the episode, when Bill and Frank are both dead.

“I hope he never lets me down again.”

Bill is a character who means business and doesn’t care much for the people with whom he shares this world. Nick Offerman took this characterization and ran with it, transforming into the most believable performance of Bill any Last of Us fan could ask for. He is a delightful live-action version of this bitter, coldhearted character.

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And yet, there is so much to Bill we don’t know about that HBO was determined to show us. Yes, Bill is an angry reclusive survivalist who was “happy when the world ended.” He is not afraid to shoot down trespassers, infected or not, and exhibits a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag in his bunker that is filled floor to ceiling with an array of guns and other weaponry. But after he meets Frank, it turns out that Bill is also sensitive, sweet and filled with unwavering protective love.

Offerman and Bartlett’s chemistry with one another is beautiful. Bartlett brings Frank to life as more than just a man who hated Bill. He has a rich, cultured personality, is full of love and hope. Perhaps the most heartwarming part of the episode is when Frank surprises Bill with a garden of strawberries in their backyard. After a decade of rations and frozen meals, one can only imagine the bliss of eating freshly picked fruit for the first time since the world’s end. With the sun’s rays beaming through the trees and small bugs floating around them, Offerman and Bartlett performed this scene with such sincerity and love that it felt like we, the audience, were right there with them.

“Long, Long Time” ends with Joel and Ellie finally making it to Bill and Frank’s home. Here, all the flowers are dead, an unfinished dinner is caked with mold and a note to Joel is left on the kitchen table. Bill left all his belongings to Joel, including his beloved truck.

The Verdict

“Long, Long Time” is devastating. Offerman and Bartlett’s performances, coupled with the heartbreaking score and thoughtful film editing, create an unexpected love story in a gruesome, ruthless world. All the while, the world-building continues, the story progresses and Joel and Ellie’s bond slowly grows stronger. While there are moments of dialogue identical to the game, this episode is ultimately original. In other words: it is tv filmmaking at its finest. It asks audiences to trust the writers with any creative liberties they’ll take with the show. I would say this request for trust is justified. 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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It is in this part in the game where Joel and Ellie meet Sam and Henry. Will we meet them in the next episode? We won’t find out until next week. So until then, make sure you check out the other shows and games we’re consuming at HauntedMTL.

CourtCourt is a writer, horror enthusiast, and may or may not be your favorite human-eating houseplant.

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A House on the Bayou, A Film Review

A House on the Bayou is a 2021 fabulistic horror film written and directed by Alex McAulay, starring Angela Sarafyan and Paul Schneider.

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A House on the Bayou is a 2021 fabulistic horror film written and directed by Alex McAulay. This unrated film includes the talent of Angela Sarafyan, Paul Schneider, and Jacob Lofland. Currently, the film is available to DirecTV, MGM Plus, fuboTV, and Paramount Plus.

Despite her husband’s infidelity, Jessica Chambers (Angela Sarafyan) wants to make things work on her terms. John Chambers (Paul Schneider) seems keen on building back that trust. However, during their family getaway meant to mend the relationship, they are a long way from okay. Unfortunately for them, their bayou seems to bring unwanted locals who grow more malicious and push them further. Yet, the graver the situation, the more suspicious the circumstances.

Jacob Lofland as Isaac
Jacob Lofland as Isaac

What I Like

As a sucker for modern fables, I enjoy the concept of a mysterious bayou as a setting. Bayou themselves seem mystical, barring the mosquitos. While I feel like there could be more, considering the natural environment, it creates some of that mystical allure.

Jacob Lofland’s Isaac makes for an interesting antagonist, adding layers of mystery that give the actor a lot to work with. Adding to the performances are Angela Sarafyan and Paul Schneider themselves, who play off each other and have interesting arcs.

Paul Schneider’s John, specifically, plays a manipulative and passive-aggressive husband admirably–if such a word is appropriate. The most interesting scenes are how he effortlessly poisons their daughter against the mother. It can be so subtle I thought it was unintentional, but it is certainly intentional.

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Girl with a shotgun with the title "A House on the Bayou" atop the image
Lia McHugh as Anna Chambers

Tired Tropes or Trigger Warnings

I indicated that John is manipulative. While it makes for an interesting character, those with similarly toxic relationships under their belt should keep this in mind.

While Lia McHugh plays her role to perfection as the daughter, Anna Chambers, she really has little to work with. The character is little more than a moody teen.

Jessica Chamber looking worried
Angela Sarafyan as Jessica Chamber

What I Dislike

A House on the Bayou doesn’t attempt to impress you with any special effects or mysticism, which is fine in theory. However, the film could have used more mysticism to add to the point. I imagine this may stem from a low budget, but there are ways to add mystery and atmosphere on even a micro-budget film.

A few poorly designed scenes lacked depth or context, missing those key elements to make sense.

The fable itself could have used more build-up. A House on the Bayou opts for explaining everything at the end, which never feels satisfying. The story becomes shallower because of this decision, where dropping hints and withholding information remains a more effective strategy. The tired line of “show, don’t tell” comes to mind.

The chemistry, or lack thereof, between Lia McHugh and Jacob Lofland’s characters makes their subplot vastly underwhelming. I don’t blame this on the performance but on the writing and perhaps Anna Chambers’ already underwritten character.

As a horror film, A House on the Bayou is lacking. While it has its moments, you will likely struggle to flinch at the scenes. I suppose it strives to unsettle you with the concept, but this lacks that effective execution that makes something like Midsommar so revered.

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Zeth M. Martinez

Final Thoughts

A House on the Bayou has an interesting concept but lacks the resources to commit to anything exceptional. There are other potential fabulistic horrors to choose from. However, with a 1-hour and 28-minute runtime, the film knew the story it told and directed it without needlessly dragging on. In fact, it might have needed to add a little more for those earlier-mentioned scenes. The selling point would likely be Paul Schneider’s performance, though most performances are strong enough. It is an overall functioning film with little more to add than that.
2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

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The Invitation, A Film Review

The Invitation is a 2022 horror thriller directed by Jessica M. Thompson and written by Blair Butler, starring Nathalie Emmanual.

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The Invitation is a 2022 horror thriller directed by Jessica M. Thompson and written by Blair Butler. This PG-13-rated film includes the talents of Nathalie Emmanuel, Thomas Doherty, and Stephanie Cornelissen. As of the time of this review, it is available for free to Netflix subscribers.

Growing up in the system, Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) tries to find relatives through the program findyourself. She finds success through a distant cousin who is more than eager to meet her. With the promise of more family desperate to meet her, this cousin (Hugh Skinner) convinces her to visit this family in England to attend a wedding. When a Lord named De Ville (Thomas Doherty) becomes smitten by her, life begins to look up. But she learns her host, this estranged family, and even De Ville have ulterior motives.

Woman in red dress, two women holding her next to them and a third lingering in the shadows behind them
Stephanie Cornelissen as Viktoria, Nathalie Emmanual as Evie, Alana Boden as Lucy with Thomas Doherty’s De Ville behind them

What I Like

Nathalie Emmanuel and Thomas Doherty have good chemistry. It may not be exceptional, but De Ville charms with a confidence that Thomas Doherty hardly needs. With the fact that he’s a lord, it’s easy to see why the passion develops.

Another key performance is Stephanie Corneliussen’s Viktoria, who plays a towering and intimidating figure. Her natural friction with Evie makes her an interesting creative foil to the lead. I might even say this friction remains the selling point for me.

One final praise in chemistry is the friendship between Evie and Courtney Taylor’s Grace. If Viktoria plays the foil, Grace plays the voice of reason. The actresses work well off each other and make me wish Taylor’s role was a bit bigger.

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However, one of the best performances comes from Sean Pertwee’s Renfield, who is so needlessly aggressive that it almost borders comical. To me, it’s more impressive that this performance still lingers and feels genuinely threatening. The nature of the role can easily fall into that camp, but Sean Pertwee’s calm exterior makes him seem like a man ready to bash a skull into a wall.

There are some surprisingly good scares. While they aren’t exactly haunting, it sets up the expendable view the elite families have for the working class around them. The horror remains the strongest in the beginning.

Thomas Doherty smiles with smug confidence
Thomas Doherty as De Ville

Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings

An animal does die in The Invitation, for those of thus who don’t mind the deaths of people but do mind the death of birds. It’s sudden and feels almost unnecessary. I personally don’t have a trigger for it, but I recognize it as a common dealbreaker. From a story perspective, I wanted more context or purpose.

A specific name, no spoilers, reads like a first draft from the script. It shouldn’t take too long to figure out why. I find this goes into a larger problem of predictability. There aren’t many surprises you don’t see coming a mile away.

Woman in a red dress with a small smile
Nathalie Emmanual as Evie

What I Dislike

Let’s start with that name. I wasn’t expecting to be surprised, the trailer reveals enough, but it’s a bit on the nose. The reference is understandable, but The Invitation remains a reimagining. I don’t see why there couldn’t be an additional update. Or maybe use the default name and own the reference?

As mentioned, the film has its moments but don’t expect true horror, that tasty dose of terror. The Invitation plays it safe, which feels like a waste of talent. I don’t know what was behind the scenes, but I almost wish I didn’t enjoy the casting so much with how basic the execution remains.

Zeth M. Martinez

Final Thoughts

While I haven’t lingered on a plethora of negatives, it’s where it lacks creativity that brings the viewing down. The Invitation has many enjoyable elements, but together it falls flat. If the premise sounds interesting to you or the cast lures you in, The Invitation will satisfy your viewing pleasure. But I feel like there could have been a greater movie buried within, which always makes it less satisfying. 2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

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2023’s ‘Summoning Sylvia’ is a Faboolous New Film

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I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I was asked if I wanted to cover the new “LGBTQ horror” film, SUMMONING SYLVIA from director/writer duo, Wesley Taylor and Alex Wyse.

New LGBTQ horror can feel either very outrageous and full-on camp like Death Drop Gorgeous, Ticked Off Tr*****s With Knives, or You’re Killing Me.

Or they can be very cerebral and dramatic like Raw, Lyle, and Bit.

So, which route would SUMMONING SYLVIA take?

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four silly guys
I think we all know

Summoning Sylvia’s Plot:

It’s the bachelor weekend for Larry (Travis Coles) and his three best friends (Frankie Grande, Troy Iwata, and Noah J. Ricketts) have booked an entire weekend to spend together in a historic house. They’re set on getting glam, party games, drinking appletinis, eating fancy snacks, and the pièce de rĂ©sistance — a sĂ©ance to summon Sylvia (Veanne Cox), the murdering mother and resident ghost.

However, what they didn’t plan on was Larry’s new brother-in-law (Nicholas Logan) to crash the party and open up new doors to dark pasts…

spooky ghosts in Summoning Sylvia

Thoughts:

I was expecting to enjoy this movie enough. Nothing too much, nothing too little.

With a lot of LGBTQ horror comedies, they typically have the same jokes and punchlines. And as much as I love big dick jokes and bottoming jokes as much as anyone, but it gets to be…a lot. It gets stale. It gets boring.

And worse, inauthentic to the characters and plot.

one of the characters screaming

However, I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, this caters to a very specific type of gay subculture, but it was authentic in its celebration. When Larry wipes off his eye makeup, knowing that his very straight and close-minded new brother-in-law is coming, it’s heartbreaking. It’s watching him wash a piece of his happiness away in a very quiet and sad moment. We understand his character completely in this small and subtle gesture.

The cinematographer (Matthew Roveto) did a fantastic job at focusing in on Larry throughout the film, reminding us that Larry is the focal point, regardless of the story. This was HIS story, even with other shenanigans happening.

And I’m really shocked to find out that Travis Coles hasn’t done that much in front of the camera yet, spending most of his experience as a crew member. His range and rawness are there throughout the film. As Larry, he was playful, nurturing, and self-conscious. For a silly-billy movie about ghosts and gays, he effortless portrayed a lot of depth.

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And in fact, the whole cast has real magnetism and cohesiveness that I often find lacking in many horror movies. It’s the common trope of “friends find a haunted house”, with an emphasis on “haunted house” but very little thought on the “friends” part.

The warmth that the characters had, even the catty diva Nico (Frankie Grande), was convincing and magnetic. The cast gelled well together and were believable as friends who sass each other and maybe (like many queer circles) have little crushes. The relationships in Summoning Sylvia were genuine and charming.

a party game scene where Nico is wearing a sticky note on his forehead that he can't read that says 'Mariah Carey's gay intern'

Also, the editing (Sara Corrigan) with the ghosts in the past and the characters in the present was incredible and stylized. The editing was so effective and precise, it delighted me every time I saw it.

The costuming and sets were so much fun and showed the juxtaposition between the ghosts and the guys. From dark and drab to light and…well…gay. Each character had his own design and brand, which was easy to pick up. All of them were dressed beautifully and Sylvia was foreboding and gothic. Pure perfection.

The only thing that I had a bit of a hard time with was…

Brainroll Juice : The Ending of Summoning Sylvia

The ending was a bit messy. Everything was kind of happening all at once, like a sloppy Joe sandwich coming out at all ends.

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And we haven’t really talked about Harrison.

Oh, Harrison.

Harrison with a knife

So, I know. I get it. People are awful. They get weirded out by things they don’t understand even to this day. And there’s a suspicion that some of what Harrison says and does in this movie are because he’s under the possession of Sylvia.

And regardless of that or not, I was really hoping that there would be another twist. Because Nicholas Logan’s acting isn’t bad. It’s good as a stereotypical cis-het white male as the villain. And the ending is the same as many other endings with the same, er, beats (I’m trying hard not to give this away). And while I applaud Larry for standing up to him, I wish there had just been a different twist.

It’s a safe ending. It’s a trope ending.

And that’s not necessarily bad, but I just wanted it to veer into new and fresh territory. I wanted more from the ending.

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Now, this was a short movie, and perhaps there was a longer ending, who knows. I would have loved a little more time to clean up the sloppy Joe mess and tie things up more gracefully, but obviously that wasn’t in the cards.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t ruin the movie, it just doesn’t hit as strong as the rest of it.

Bottomline:

Are you looking for a fun gaycation with a spooky house and an awkward new addition to the family? Look no further. SUMMONING SYLVIA is funny, charming, and will lift your spirits. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Release Information:

The Horror Collective is excited to announce the North American theatrical and TVOD release of their LGBTQ horror comedy Summoning Sylvia. Written and directed by Wesley Taylor (Smash, The Spongebob Musical) and Alex Wyse (Marvel’s Iron Fist, soon to join Broadway’s Good Night, Oscar), the hair-raising romp tells the story of a gay bachelor party that takes a spooky turn when sinister spirits are suddenly summoned. 

The Horror Collective will release Summoning Sylvia in theaters nationwide March 31, 2023 and on Cable VOD and Digital HD April 7, 2023.

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