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Reviews for January 13th, 2023

Documentary Round-Up

      My Father Muhammad Ali: The Untold Story is a mildly engaging, but meandering and mostly shallow documentary about Muhammad Ali, Jr., and his struggles to overcome his rocky relationship with his iconic father. He was also bullied by kids during his childhood, battled drug addiction and estrangement from his father all of which affected him emotionally and psychologically throughout his life. A truly great documentary, like a fiction film, tells a narrative in a compelling way that provokes the audience intellectually or emotionally or, ideally, both ways. It should also present its information through exposition clearly and thoroughly. Co-directors Chad A. Verdi and Tom DeNucci don't accomplish that feat as they skim over key parts from Muhammad Ali Jr.'s life, i.e. the moment he became estranged with his father, what it was like to be around his father, and how he and Richard Blum, his mentor, became friends. Interviews with others including Dr. Monica O'Neal, a psychologist, are more distracting and redundant than revealing or insightful.

      It's more important and interesting to listen to Muhammad Ali, Jr. own accounts of his life, his thoughts and his feelings to allow the audience to get to know him better. Unfortunately, that's one of My Father Muhammad Ali: The Untold Story systemic issues. Muhammad Ali, Jr. remains at a cold distance from the audience, and the film merely offers a Reader's Digest view of his life that barely scratches the surface. Perhaps they didn't ask enough good questions or perhaps Muhammad Ali, Jr. isn't comfortable being very candid and introspective in front of the camera. Maybe he doesn't want to be in the limelight. He has every right to feel that way. After all, living up to the bar that his father set is no easy task. However, his father is human just like everyone else, but the filmmakers don't even succeed in humanizing him either. Anyone (including Muhammad Ali, Jr.) can find more enlightenment from this Pablo Neruda poem than from this documentary: "They can cut all of the flowers, but they can't stop the spring from coming." At a brief running time of 1 hour and 26 minutes, My Father Muhammad Ali: The Untold Story opens in select theaters and on VOD via VMI Worldwide.

Beautiful Beings

Directed by Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson

      Addi (Birger Dagur Bjarkason), a teenage boy, lives with his clairvoyant mother, Guðrún (Anita Briem). He befriends a bullied boy, Balli (Askell Einar Palmason), and lets him join his hoodlum gang which also includes Viktor (Benóný Benediktsson) and Snorri (Rafn Frímannsson).

      The screenplay by writer/director Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson sheds light on bullying as it shows how Balli suffers from the physical abuse from a local gang. Addi and his gang aren't a positive influence for him at all; they're delinquents who introduce him to drugs, alcohol, violence and sex. Like Addi, Balli comes from a broken home and doesn't have any good role models to look up to, even his mother. He's a product of his environment which enables toxic behavior. Bravo to writer/director Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson for not judging the gangsters or for turning them into one-dimensional villains. They're human beings albeit very flawed ones. On the inside, they're vulnerable and sensitive, though. It's equally moving and fascinating to observe how the friendship between Addi and Balli evolves into something deeper. They're more than just friends; they're like siblings. Without schmaltz, sugar-coating or melodrama, Beautiful Beings captures the struggles of growing up in a toxic environment in a way that feels honest and unflinching. Some scenes aren't easy to watch while leaving little to the imagination, but that's the point: they should be difficult to watch if you have as much compassion and empathy as the filmmaker has for the characters. Even the film does go to dark territory, including a subplot involving sexual abuse, it's not completely dark; there's some glimmer of hope for Addi and Balli within that darkness through their burgeoning friendship.

      A major part of what makes Beautiful Beings so engrossing is its raw, natural performances by the cast of young actors, especially Birger Dagur Bjarkason, Askell Einar Palmason and Rafn Frímannsson. Thanks to their convincingly moving performances, you'll forget that you're watching a narrative film with people acting---you'll be absorbed by Addi and Balli's lives to the extent that you'll think you're watching a documentary. That said, not all of the film feels that way. Writer/director Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson occasionally breaks convention with some dreamlike and poetic sequences from Addi's perspective, but not too often. Poetry, after all, is a form of protest for or against. So, what is Beautiful Beings a protest for or against? Sans preachiness, it's a protest for love, empathy and compassion, and against hate. If you're arachnophobic, keep in mind that there's a scene with a spider that will terrify you. The film also doesn't shy away from showing violence and gore, but without pushing the envelope; this isn't A Serbian Film or Bully. What's far more important though, is the film's emotional grit which remains palpable from start to finish. At a running time of 2 hours and 3 minutes, Beautiful Beings is a gritty, heartfelt and tender coming-of-age story, and an unflinching glimpse of the dark side of humanity.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Altered Innocence.
Opens at Quad Cinema.

Chess Story

Directed by Philipp Stölzl

      In 1938 Austria, Dr. Josef Bartok (Oliver Masucci), a notary, is just about to escape Nazi Germany with his wife, Anna (Birgit Minichmayr) when the Gestapo arrest him. They hold him prisoner because he refuses to provide them with access to the private bank accounts of Gestapo leaders. While imprisoned, he finds a book about chess which helps him to become a chess expert.

      Based on the novel by Stefan Zweig, the screenplay by Eldar Grigorian begins as a suspense thriller before becoming a psychological thriller. A seemingly insignificant detail like a waiter who accidentally spills wine on the table when Dr. Josef Bartok dines with Anna on a ship that turns out to be important later on. The story unfolds in a non-linear fashion as it begins on the ship before flashing back to how Bartok got arrested and incarcerated. Then it flashes forward to the ship where Bartok impresses everyone with his chess skills before, again, flashing back to his imprisonment. How did he escape? How did he reunite with his wife? As the plot progresses, it becomes increasingly bizarre and even a little bit confusing because you'll have a lot of unanswered questions, but, by the end, it will all make sense in hindsight after a twist arrives which won't be spoiled here. Screenwriter Eldar Grigorian does an effective job of allowing the audience to get inside the mind of Bartok. No matter what the consequences, he refuses to give the Gestapo the codes that they need to access the bank accounts. Those codes serve as the film's MacGuffin. What's far more interesting, though, is Bartok deals with his feelings of loneliness, frustration and despair while alone in the prison--it's a room that's in a hotel, so it's not a typical prison with bars. What Bartok realizes, along with the audience, is that even though the Gestapo has imprisoned his body, they didn't imprison his mind and soul. He keeps his mind active by reading the chess book while he loses sense of time---days turn to weeks, weeks turn to months, and soon he, as well as the audience, doesn't know how much time has passed. What Chess Story excels at the most is when it comes to exposition. The audience knows as much information as Bartok knows until the "big reveal" later in the second act---fortunately, that twist doesn't arrive too early nor does it result in bad laughs. This isn't an M. Night Shyamalan film, after all. On the contrary, the twist makes the film all the more heartbreaking, profound and complex.

      Oliver Masucci is very well cast in the lead role. He's reminiscent of Mads Mikkelsen with just as much charisma and panache. He anchors the film during the emotionally engrossing scenes while opening the window into Bartok's heart, mind and soul. It's also worth mentioning the editing between the storyline on the ship and the flashback to the story of Bartok's imprisonment. Fortunately, the editing doesn't become choppy nor does it result in clunkiness. Despite the film's title, it's not really about chess per se, so if you're eager to see a lot of chess games, you'll be disappointed. Chess is a tool that Bartok uses in a way that becomes clear and even poetic after the big twist. You might be tempted to re-watch the film knowing the twist, but even then it would still be just as captivating because, ultimately, it's an emotional and psychological character study. At a running time of 1 hour and 53 minutes, Chess Story is spellbinding. It's a gripping, provocative and genuinely poignant journey.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Film Movement.
Opens at Quad Cinema.

Come Find Me

Directed by Daniel Poliner

      Christina (Victoria Cartagena), works at a law firm in California and hopes to make partner. She's overworked and even more stressed after learning that she's expecting a baby. The father happens to be a colleague at the law firm. Meanwhile, she tries to avoid estranged mother, Gloria (Sol Miranda), who's being forgetful about paying her bills and managing her finances. Two years later, Gloria, a principal at a New York public school, is about to retire. She's also planning to attend the wedding of Christina and her boyfriend, who's Jewish. Tovah Feldshuh plays the groom's mother, Helena.

      What begins as an intriguing story about a daughter who's going through a tough time at work and with her family life turns into a convoluted and uneven story once it skips 2 years in Christina and Gloria's life. Why does the screenplay by writer/director Daniel Poliner do that? It's unconventional and bold, sure, but also somewhat dehumanizing to these characters, especially because the film doesn't explore the relationship between Christina and her boyfriend enough nor between her and her mother, either. The premise sounds like it could be a touching and insightful look at mothers and daughters, but instead it tries too hard to break convention by adding supernatural elements, i.e. the same day being repeated over and over for Gloria or both Gloria and Christina suddenly glowing with light inside of their body. There are some sweet and tender moments, but they're far and few between. A lot goes on innately within the characters on an emotional level. Unfortunately, doesn't dig deep enough to explore that; it's too concerned in making the plot increasingly convoluted and complicated rather than complex and engrossing. By the time the end credits roll, Christina and Gloria still remain at a cold distance from the audience.

      What helps to keep the film afloat are the moving performances by Victoria Cartagena as Christina and Sol Miranda who adds plenty of gravitas, warmth and charisma to her role as Gloria. The modicum of poignancy comes from the performances, not from the screenplay. It's also interesting to observe the use of poetic images like the inner light inside of Christina and Gloria. Writer/director Daniel Poliner should be commended for trusting the audience's intelligence to decipher the significance and meaning of that poetry on their own without spoon-feeding them. Poetry, after all, is a form of protest for or against something. What is this movie a protest for or against? Poliner leaves that open to interpretation without preachiness. At a running time of 1 hour and 47 minutes Come Find Me is provocative, bold and poetic, but concurrently undercooked, convoluted and unfocused.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Deskpop Entertainment
Opens at Village East By Angelika and on VOD.

The Devil Conspiracy

Directed by Nathan Frankowski

      Dr. Laurent (Brian Caspe) and Liz (Eveline Hall) Laura Milton (Alice Orr-Ewing) are part of a group of Satanists who try to steal the Shroud of Turin to obtain the DNA of Jesus which would be turned into a clone as an offering to the Devil. They kidnap a graduate religions student, Laura (Alice Orr-Ewing), and impregnate her to resurrect Satan (Joe Anderson) through her baby. It's up to the archangel Michael, who now possesses the body of Father Marconi (Joe Doyle), to stop the birth before it's too late.

      The screenplay by Ed Alan blends sci-fi, horror and action with results that are dull and uneven while lacking scares and thrills. It's brave enough to take its premise to increasingly outrageous and preposterous territory, but unlike M3GAN, it lacks the tongue-in-cheek humor needed to make it fun and campy. In other words, its serious tone becomes monotonous and tedious quickly as the plot just goes from Point A to Point B. The way that the screenplay incorporates exposition isn't very effective and derails the film's narrative momentum more often than not. It's no help that the dialogue ranges from stilted to cringe-inducing like nails-on-a-chalkboard. Even the bland Hollywood film The Da Vinci Code has more thrills and intrigue than The Devil Conspiracy. Too many scenes fall flat while they try hard, yet fail to creep out the audience. If the audience isn't invested in the story or in the characters in any way, shape or form, it's hard for any of the beats to land. This is one of those films where you can feel the wheels of the screenplay turning from start to finish, including the final shot which seems both tacked-on, unsurprising and conventional. That said, at least the third act isn't omitted like in the The Devil Inside which, I kid you not, asks you to go to a website to watch the rest of the film.

      The CGI and practical effects are among the only strengths of The Devil Conspiracy. They're quite impressive for a lower-than-Hollywood-budget film. Beyond that, though, there's nothing to write home about. The scenes with Satan in hell are poorly shot and lit, making it hard to see what's going on. Then there's the acting which ranges from wooden to hammy which makes it even harder to get immersed in the story or to care about what happens to anyone. At a running time of 1 hour and 51 minutes, The Devil Conspiracy is a lackluster, cringe-inducing and tedious mess that's low on thrills, scares and intrigue. Perhaps it would work better as a video game than a movie.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Opens nationwide.

House Party

Directed by Calmatic

      Kevin (Jacob Latimore) and his best friend, Damon (Tosin Cole), desperately need to make money, so they decide to host a party at a mansion where they work as house cleaners. The mansion belongs to LeBron James who happens to be away at a meditation retreat. Their party doesn't quite go as smoothly as they planned it would.

      Another year, another unnecessary remake. The 1990 version of House Party is no masterpiece, but it's highly entertaining, funny and witty. That can't be said about the 2023 version. The witless screenplay by co-writers Jamal Olori and Stephen Glover takes a while to get to the meat of the story: the house party. Even after that point, though, there are too few laughs to be found. Jokes and visual gags either get repeated or simply last too long like a koala that gets stoned. The characters range from dumb, caricatures or just plain annoying, i.e. LeBron's neighbor, Peter (Andrew Santino), who's a huge LeBron fan. Very little happens that's surprising, funny, bold, refreshing or anything that can engage you even on a superficial level. That said, it does have a scene towards the end with some wild action comedy that earns its R-rating, but that scene comes out of nowhere as though the film were desperate to make you laugh or to invigorate the anemic, tedious narrative. Unfortunately, it stays anemic and unfunny. Even the outtakes during the end credits don't generate enough laughs either.

      None of the actors or actresses get a chance to shine partially because of weak screenplay, but mostly because they lack comedic timing. Jacob Latimore and Tosin Cole who portray Kevin and Damon don't have much chemistry as friends, and their comedic rapport falls flat. Moreover, there's nothing exceptional about the cinematography or editing or anything else in terms of production values that adds anything to compensate for the lack of laughs and energy. You can watch this on the small screen and it won't diminish your viewing experience. At a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, House Party is a painfully unfunny, witless and toothless bore. If you're looking for a comedy to make you laugh until it hurts, this ain't it. Even M3GAN is funnier.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

Kitchen Brigade

Directed by Louis-Julien Petit

      After getting fired from working as a sous chef at a high-end restaurant, Cathy Marie (Audrey Lamy) reluctantly accepts a job as a chef at the cafeteria of a hostel for African migrant boys, plus room and board. The hostel's manager, Lorenzo (Francois Cluxet), encourages her to let the boys assist her in the kitchen. Meanwhile, she befriends her colleague Sabine (Chantal Neuwirth) and provides inspiration for the boys including GusGus (Yannick Kalombo) who has a passion for the culinary arts.

      Sometimes a formulaic, conventional drama can work as long as it's grounded humanity that's derived from somewhere. That's the case with Kitchen Brigade, for the most part, but not because of the screenplay. The screenplay by writer/director Louis-Julien Petit and co-writers Liza Benguigui and Sophie Bensadoun travels a well-worn path in terms of plot. There are no surprises nor does it take any risks. You can take a bathroom break at any point and come back while probably predicting correctly what you missed while away. That said, Kitchen Brigade follows its formula satisfyingly enough to make it a pleasant, harmless, yet forgettable diversion . You learn a little about Cathy Marie's childhood without flashbacks. In a brief, expositional scene, she has a heart-to-heart with Sabine about what it was like for her to grow up and how she developed a passion as well as skills in the culinary arts. That scene feels like a tacked-on and contrived way of humanizing Cathy, though, and it doesn't go deep enough to explore what makes Cathy truly tick as a human being.

      When Cathy first arrives at the hostel, she seems rude and condescending, especially when it comes to how she reacts to the cheap ingredients in the kitchen and how she treats Sabine with such coldness. It says a lot about her that she isn't the one to suggest having the migrant children help her in the kitchen; Lorenzo suggests it to her, and, technically, she has no choice. Is she truly as kind and compassionate as the film wants the audience to make us think by the end? Her bond with the migrants aren't explored with much complexity or depth. It's hard to know what she's thinking and feeling because the screenplay fails to provide enough of a window into her heart, mind and soul. The other characters like the warm and friendly Sabine and Lorenzo remain underexplored as well. Also, not once does Lorenzo and Cathy discuss what budget the hostel has for the food and supplies needed for Cathy's cooking. In yet another clunky scene with poor exposition, she's suddenly on a farm picking vegetables with the migrant boys. The ending, although somewhat uplifting, feels a bit hackneyed, sugar-coated and rushed.

      Where does Kitchen's Brigade's humanity come from them? The performances. Audrey Lamy gives a fine performance that rises above the mediocre screenplay as does Chantal Neuwirth who exudes plenty of warmth. It's also great to see Francois Cluxet who's in a far superior crowd-pleaser, The Intouchables, that's more moving, funny and witty. Kitchen Brigade just seems to be going through the motions with too much blandness, and doesn't bring the characters to life enough. The food looks fine, but nothing that'll make your mouth water like in The Menu, Chef, Mostly Martha or the classic, soul & heart-nourishing Babette's Feast. At a running time of 1 hour and 37 minutes, Kitchen Brigade is mildly engaging, charming and harmless, but slightly undercooked, clunky and contrived.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Opens in select theaters and on VOD.

The Offering

Directed by Oliver Park

      Art (Nick Blood) arrives in New York with his pregnant wife, Claire (Emily Wiseman), to reconcile with his father, Saul (Allan Corduner), a Hasidic funeral home director. He accidentally unleashes a demon that possesses a corpse in the morgue.

      The Offering has enough tension within the dysfunctional relationship between Art and his estranged father, Saul, even without the horror and supernatural elements. Screenwriter Hank Hoffman wastes no time by hooking the audience right away with an intense, scary scene where a Hasidic man loses a fight with a demon and dies before the demon possesses his body. That possessed corpse is the catalyst for the nightmare that awaits Art, Claire, Saul and Saul's assistant, Heimish (Paul Kaye). Interestingly, Hoffman keeps the audience slightly ahead of the characters in terms of what they know about the demon that the corpse possesses. No one knows what's going on until all hell breaks loose, but you'll know before Art and Saul realize the horrifying truth that puts their lives at risk. That kind of suspense is fine because it's Hitchcockian.

      Director Oliver Park and screenwriter Hank Hoffman, like Hitchcock, grasp that suspense derives from the anticipation of a particular event. You know that something creepy and terrifying will happen once Art and Claire arrive at Saul's home, but you don't necessarily know how it will happen most of the time. When the lights go out briefly in the morgue, it's obvious that something sinister will occur imminently which makes the experience more gripping and scary. There are some scenes later in the second act that get trippy in a way that's terrifying on a palpable level, especially with the way that the demon messes with Art's mind. What makes The Offering even more scary than your average B-movie horror film is that it remains grounded in realism and treats its characters like human beings, i.e the strained relationship between Art and Saul, and between Art and Claire. Hoffman knows when to trust the audience's emotions, imagination and intelligence without insulting them. The screenplay also has just the right amount of exposition without confusing the audience or over-explaining. That's a true feat that's hard to pull off-- even the overrated Hereditary failed to accomplish that.

      The performances are solid from the major roles to the supporting ones. That helps tremendously to keep the audience engaged with the story. The visual effects look believable and impressive for a low budget movie. Fortunately, they're not overused. There's some blood and gore, but nothing excessive or over-the-top. Director Oliver Park does a great job with the set design, lighting, editing and camera work to create an eerie and foreboding atmosphere. At a running time of 1 hour and 33 minutes, The Offering is the rare supernatural horror film with both style and substance. It's scary, smart and suspenseful.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by DECAL Releasing.
Opens in select theaters.

On Sacred Ground

Directed by Josh and Rebecca Harrell Tickell

      Daniel McKinney (William Mapother), a journalist and Afghan War veteran, accepts a job for the Houston Daily to travel to Standing Rock, an Indian Reservation, to write a pro-oil company article about the protests against the oil company's plans to build the Dakota Access Pipeline. He goes head-to-head with an oil company executive, Elliot (David Arquette), while checking in with his pregnant wife, Julie (Amy Smart), and his editor, Ricky (Francis Fisher), back in Houston.

      Too much happens in screenplay by co-writers/directors Josh and Rebecca Harrell Tickell along co-writer William Mapother, based on the true story of the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016. Daniel deals with PTSD from his experiences serving in the Afghan War, he has a wife who's expecting a baby and who, understandably, wants to spend more time with her beloved husband. Then there are even more subplots: Daniel's assignment to cover the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, the escalating tensions between him and Elliot, and the plight of the Native Americans protesting the construction of the pipeline. Each of those subplots is enough to propel the narrative of several separate films. Together in one film, though, it results in an overwrought narrative with poorly developed characters without enough of a chance to humanize anyone besides Daniel. What about his wife? What about the Native Americans? Their scenes fail to bring any of their characters to life. What could've been either a provocative psychological thriller in the vein of Alan J. Pakula's All the President's Men or the captivating Erin Brokovich instead turns into a shallow, pedestrian drama with heavy-handed, clunky scenes, on-the-nose dialogue, and not nearly enough humanism, a truly special effect that allows for Alan J. Pakula's iconic thrillers to transcend.

      Despite a pretty good cast, none of them are given strong enough material to rise above it. William Mapother tries his best to bring some poignancy to his role, so it's unfortunate that he has to deal with a stilted screenplay. He's a fine actor, but, at times, here he's a little bit hammy without enough nuance. Less is more. To be fair, though, the screenplay itself lacks nuances and subtlety, and the filmmakers don't quite grasp the concept of "less is more" either. Moreover, some of the editing feels choppy. At a running time of 1 hour and 54 minutes, On Sacred Ground suffers from an unfocused, meandering plot that's overstuffed and bites off more than it could chew. It's the kind of film that might tempts a critic to soft the blow of their review with the unctious words "It was well meaning, but...", but beyond unctuousness, what's the point of those empty words since, fundamentally, all films are "well-meaning."?

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Shout! Factory.
Opens in select theaters.


Directed by Jean-François Richet

      On New Year's Eve, Brodie Torrance (Gerard Butler), a pilot, flies a plane that runs into a severe thunderstorm and ends up getting struck by lightning. An arrested felon, Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter), happens to be among the passengers. Brodie lands the plane safely on an island in the Philippines, but little does he know that rebels await him and his passengers on the war-torn island which makes any rescue mission very dangerous.

      Plane deserves some credit for being lean and efficient action thriller with a straightforward, easy-to-follow plot. If you're tired of all of the complex, brainy and emotionally demanding awards films, along comes a simple, dumb and emotionally undemanding B-movie. The screenplay by co-writers Charles Cumming and J.P. Davis throws logic and plausibility from the moment that the plane makes a crash landing during the first 20 minutes. Unfortunately, fun gets thrown out of the window as well. Plane suffers from the same ailment as The Old Way: it's tedious, shallow and takes itself too seriously. The dialogue is stilted, and the characters are one-dimensional caricatures who are just there to move the plot forward.  Brodie has a family back home, the film does a poor job of introducing them and exploring their relationship to ground the film in realism. Island in the Sky is a better example of a disaster film that focused mainly on the survivors without delving into their lives back at home. In that film, someone ask John Dooley (John Wayne),  the pilot, at the end if he has any kids, and he just answers, "Yes. I have seven." before it fades to black. There are no flash forwards to him with his children just like there are none here, but it works better Island in the Sky. If the plot were more bonkers and took more risks, the lack of realism and plausibility would've been forgivable. The lack of exposition feels lazy more often than not. Moreover, there are some bad laughs every now and then, i.e. during an action scene with Louis. Imagine a dumb, witless and leaner version of Triangle of Sadness and you'll get something like Plane. Even Con Air is a lot more entertaining as a guilty pleasure.

      Plane has very little going for it when it comes to its production values which are decent, but nothing exceptional. The same can be said about the action scenes which aren't very exciting or thrilling. There's no picturesque scenery to compensate for the lack of visual style. Moreover, the editing feels choppy, especially in the clunky transitions between the survivors and the employees of the airline in New York City who desperately try to find a way to rescue them safely. At a running time of 1 hour and 47 minutes, Plane is just the kind of asinine, paint-by-numbers disaster film that Airplane! has no shame in spoofing. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Lionsgate.
Opens nationwide.


Directed by Kyle Edward Ball

      Kevin (Lucas Paul) and his younger sister, Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault), wake up in the middle of the night to find their father has gone missing and all the windows and doors in their house have vanished.

      Skinamarink is a hard film to describe because it's the kind of film that transcends its plot. What's the plot? What's going on and why? What's outside of the house? Who are these people? The screenplay by writer/director Kyle Edward Ball subverts your expectations of horror by keeping the plot elliptical with no exposition and no easy answers. Something supernatural is definitely occuring in the home of Kevin and Kaylee's family, but precisely what isn't revealed, even during the last minute, that's the most palpably chilling part of the film. There's very little dialogue, and the passage of time isn't very clear. One minute it seems like nothing's happening, and the next something creepy occurs like blood splattering on a wall. Whose blood is it? How did it happen? If you're a fan of spoon-fed information, this isn't the film for you. Kyle Edward Ball trusts the audience's imagination and provides you with plenty of opportunities to let that imagination run wild. True horror, after all, is inside one's mind. He also trusts the audience's patience, perhaps too much at times which will lead to frustration and confusion.  

      Aesthetically, Skinamarink has the cheap, grainy look of low budget 80's movie---like Trash Humpers. That gives the film a voyeuristic aspect because it makes you feel like you're observing the events like a voyeur. It's not a "found footage" film like Paranormal Activity, but it's just as immersive. Fortunately, filmmaker Kyle Edward Ball doesn't resort to shaky cam like in The Blair Witch Project to generation tension. Even though you won't feel nauseous per se, you'll probably feel a sense of unease from the dreamlike images, the lighting and even the sound design, i.e. a TV that shows old cartoons.  At a running time of 1 hour and 39 minutes, Skinamarink is a bold experimental film that fully embraces confusion, frustration, surrealism, mystery and psychological horror. It deserves to become a cult classic. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by IFC Midnight and Shudder.
Opens in select theaters.