Mayhem, the new film from director Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, Everly) is a splatter farce masquerading as social commentary, starring Steven Yeun (Walking Dead fans rejoice) as Derek Cho. Derek is a corporate drone obsessed with climbing the company ladder, until his office building is infected with a virus that mitigates human inhibition and (as a fully unhinged prologue reveals) causes people to either kill one another or screw one another — which appear to be Lynch’s only two ideas of what unrestrained humans would end up doing.
Surely enough, as Derek fights his way to the top floor of his office building, looking to exact revenge after being unfairly fired early on, killing and screwing are the two pillars of the titular mayhem. Cho’s company is a legal consulting firm, advising companies that get people sick, companies that evict people, and private citizens who commit heinous acts — whoever can pay, really. Lynch’s representation of corporate toxicity is comically exaggerated, which is the only way Mayhem can work. For us to empathize with Derek, his bosses have to be unconscionable monsters, and they are. His corporate overlords are a lineup of Gordon Gecko types, only with fewer scruples — and that’s before the virus hits.
In building a corporation evil enough for us to truly disdain, Lynch veers so far into hyperbole that he blunts the film’s intended screed against corporate America. Mayhem is marred by a kind of simplistic adolescence, completely devoid of nuance, and totally obsessed with how fun and hilarious it would be to murder one’s boss with a nail gun.
Which is not to say the film isn’t entertaining. If you took the video game shoot-em-up structure of The Raid, dashed in the scene from Wanted when James McAvoy’s character quits his job, and added a heavy dollop of the scene from Kingsman when Colin Firth kills an entire church, then you’d be left with Mayhem. The film moves fast, creatively compiles a substantial body count, and provides enough visceral thrill to be engaging. Lynch has an eye for action, blocking sequences comprehensibly even when they unfold within an entire office floor erupting in, well, mayhem.
However, nearly all of the director’s style is reserved for murder and overwrought, angsty monologues. The film has the look of either a corporate sexual harassment training video or a low budget comedy sketch, which gives the office a sense of mundane veracity, but the lack of any texture or thoughtful lighting in Mayhem also creates a DIY sensibility, and might accurately reflect the intentions of a filmmaker more concerned with creative death scenes than communicative aesthetics. The entire endeavor is basked in dull fluorescence until action moves to the penthouse, which is a darker, more opulent and menacing environment (naturally).
Mayhem shoots for catharsis and a gory reclamation of power for the little guy, but the intentionally hilarious violence and unintentionally jejune humor (“you open doors like my grandmother fucks!” one character says) create a kind of distance that prevents understanding the film as anything other than expensive playtime for Lynch. Derek’s alliance with Melanie (Samara Lynch, doing an astonishingly accurate Margot Robbie) is the film’s most compelling dynamic — she is only in the building to protest her family’s eviction, and in the film’s opening he denies her pleas.
As they shoot, stab, and fight their way to the building’s top, they (predictably) have sex, which is again in line with Lynch’s idea of uninhibited human behavior: we’ll fight and fuck, and the only way of discerning between us is the order we choose. Still, their testy alliance is the sole source of real humor and humanity to balance out the film’s cold appearance and unceasing violence. By the end of Mayhem, Melanie teaches Derek the value of empathy, but that’s the only lesson here. The film dabbles in simplistic anti-corporate messaging, but at the end, Lynch can’t avoid his fixation with cheap thrills.
Check out The Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, taking place in Brooklyn, NY October 12-15, 2017
‘Wolfman’s Got Nards’ is a Must See for Fans of ‘The Monster Squad’
Brooklyn Horror Film Festival
Wolfman’s Got Nards, a documentary exploring the initial failure and subsequent cult success of the 80’s movie The Monster Squad begins with a question: Is The Monster Squad a cult film? As someone points out later in the documentary, if you ask five people what defines a cult movie, you’ll most likely walk away with five different answers. In my opinion, The Monster Squad is indeed a cult film – a movie which was initially trashed by critics, ignored by cinemagoers and a box office flop before garnering a huge following thanks to the release on home video. But while The Monster Squad may now have a legion of dedicated fans across the globe, even after all these years it still remains obscure and unpopular with mainstream audiences. In fact, the most surprising takeaway while watching Wolfman’s Got Nards, is just how many people featured in the documentary had never seen The Monster Squad before. If you’re one of those people, you should still find yourself entertained since the documentary features a treasure trove of information and in some ways, is as interesting if not more, than the actual subject itself.
For the unfamiliar, there are just a few basic facts you need to know about The Monster Squad before going in. First, the classic horror comedy about a quintet of classic movie monsters who invade a small town looking for a lost amulet, only to be caught off guard when a bunch of kids calling themselves The Monster Squad decide to fight back — was written by famous screenwriter Shane Black, who pitched the script shortly before he found massive success writing The Lethal Weapon one year later. Second, it was directed by Fred Dekker who also directed another horror comedy with a huge cult following – Night of the Creeps. Lastly, it is hands down one of the best films to come out of Hollywood in the 80s and a film that went on to inspire many of the biggest filmmakers working today. Unfortunately for the film, it released in the wake of The Lost Boys and was so poorly marketed, it bombed at box office. Luckily for everyone involved in making the film, The Monster Squad has gained a humongous cult following over the past three decades. Thirty years later, director Andre Gower, star of the original movie, ventures out to explore the making of the 1987 film and why it means so much to millions of fans around the world.
Named after one of The Monster Squad‘s most memorable lines, Wolfman’s Got Nards is a love letter to Fred Dekker’s film, chronicling the making of the movie, its box office flop, its home video success and most importantly, the film’s fanbase and legacy which continues to grow, to this day. Using The Monster Squad’s anniversary tour as a framework, Wolfman’s Got Nards features everything you’d come to expect from this sort of documentary including great behind-the-scenes anecdotes, lost footage and interviews with Shane Black, Fred Dekker, and cast members Ryan Lambert, Ashley Bank, Adam Carl, Lisa Fuller, Stephen Macht, and Duncan Regher (who played the still terrifying Count Dracula and battled the ragtag group of kids). While each of the cast members shares some wonderful memories, perhaps the best talking heads are the obsessed fans and the famous filmmakers (also fans) who wouldn’t be where they are today had they not seen The Monster Squad at a young age. From cinephiles to film critics to film bloggers to film professors, each reminisces about their first time watching the film and the impact it has had on their lives. Gower also interviews the legendary effects artists who brought the monsters in The Monster Squad to life, including Tom Woodruff, Jr., Steve Wang, Matt Rose, John Rosengrant, and Shane Mahan who share their original ideas, makeup, concept art and costumes that never made it in the final cut (either due to creative differences of copyright laws).
As with any documentary about the making of a movie, nostalgia is the driving force behind one’s enjoyment of watching how it all came together and the impact the film had (or didn’t have) on the world. Those viewers who grew up watching (and loving) The Monster Squad will no doubt find themselves entertained from start to finish. For everyone else, your enjoyment will depend on just how much interest you have in filmmaking and the long, hard work and challenge that goes into making a movie. For the former, this documentary will be pure fan service, allowing you to identify with the fans featured in this documentary who share your enthusiasm. For the former, the documentary still works as an engaging examination of movie fandom.
It’s actually quite astonishing just how much editor Henry Darrow McComas and Andre Gower cram into just 91 minutes. From the making-of featurettes and countless interviews to the various different viewpoints criticizing the film for homophobia, sexism and even fat-shaming, Wolfman’s Got Nards covers a lot of ground in a short span of time. The real heart of the movie, however, is the scenes involving the fans who ever since the famous anniversary screening at the Alamo in 2006, have demanded more and more screenings around the world. What was once a movie that could only be seen on regular rotation on HBO now sells out theatrical worldwide, including the famous Prince Charles Cinema in the UK.
Wolfman’s Got Nards is a thank you to all the fans for their unwavering support
Wolfman’s Got Nards also has a fair share of touching moments both with fans and with those involved in making the film – most notably a heartbreaking section that unfolds as a tribute to the late Brent Chalem, co-star of the film who died at a young age. Gower devotes an entire chapter of the documentary to Chalem, giving us a better idea of who he was, and how his surviving family and friends wish he was still alive to appreciate the immense popularity the film now has. It’s moments like these that not only perfectly capture what makes The Monster Squad so special but demonstrate just how much The Monster Squad means to so many people.
Despite being directed by The Monster Squad’s central child actor, Wolfman’s Got Nards is far from an indulgent exercise in narcissism or worse, a simple behind the scenes feature that would be best bundled with a DVD release of the film it chronicles. Instead, the documentary serves as an insightful and entertaining look at a devout following in which the fans come from all walks of life, from all around the world, with the only true common denominator being their enthusiasm and love of movies. It’s a true labor of love and documentary about what it means for a film to find its audience decades later and how cult films inspire audiences in ways that mainstream films can’t. It’s also one of the best movie documentaries in quite some time, and a testament to why The Monster Squad means so much for anyone who felt like an outcast growing up. More importantly, Wolfman’s Got Nards is a thank you to all the fans (myself included) for their support through the years. If anything, it will make a great double feature the next time you watch The Monster Squad.
- Ricky D
BHFF 2017: ‘Fashionista’ Is An Unsettling Mosaic
Ironically, the only thing Fashionista makes explicit is a debt of influence owed to the work of famously form-bending director Nicholas Roeg, who is honored with a pre-credits title card. The rest of Simon Rumley’s film, about a woman who descends into madness after discovering her husband’s infidelity, is a consciously incoherent string of images composing an unsettling portrait of a woman coming apart at the seams.
About that woman: April (Amanda Fuller) co-owns a vintage clothing store in Austin with her husband, Eric (Ethan Embry), and the two live in an adjacent apartment positively buried in excess inventory. April’s bedroom, bathroom, and office are draped in second-hand clothes, and she appears early in the film to have a fixation with treating her body similarly. When she jealously watches her husband flirt with other women, she nervously massages the fabric of her dress; later in the film, she handles a string of traumas by smelling the clothes (more like huffing, really), or compulsively changing her outfit.
From the start, Fashionista asks the question of who exactly April is dressing for — and what perceived deficiencies she treats with clothing. Jarred by her husband’s wandering eyes, she attempts to seduce him in lingerie; when he resists, she tearfully (and hypothetically) asks a hip, homeless busker if he’d fuck her. When she leave Eric and begins dating Randall (Eric Balfour), a mysterious and controlling business man, she adopts the cosmopolitan look that he desires. Throughout the film, April appears to view herself solely through the eyes of others, which helps explain her psyche fracturing alongside her closest relationship.
April is molded by the people she befriends, desires, loves, and hates, but Fashionista remains focused squarely on the acute affects relationships have on her. When the men in her life sneak around, we don’t know where they go unless April follows; when she remains home, we watch her worry alone. In scenes like these, Rumley’s camera fixates closely on April’s face and body, usually while she gazes into the mirror or languishes in bed. In some of these instances, a sense of surreality encroaches, as shots of her sleeping fitfully are sped up to achieve a hectic, almost transcendent effect — the first hints that April may not be a wholly reliable narrator.
Laser focus on April and the images she perceives and projects allows Rumley to ground this psychological thriller with a harrowing illustration of body dysmorphia and depression — especially late in the film, when we learn that April’s vision of herself might differ drastically from reality. Even after she finds herself witness to a bone-chilling murder later on, the most persistent source of anxiety in Fashionista comes from April’s fraught view of herself, and her willingness to acquiesce to Randall’s most toxic demands so that she may earn his acceptance.
When April shares a room with her husband or her creepy boyfriend, Rumley employs painterly mid-shots that allow us to see her reactions, framing her as an extension of the men in her life. We sense the suffocation of her marriage as April and Eric share a bed with mountains of clothes; her boyfriend’s psychopathy becomes apparent in conversations held in his coldly modern apartment (Patrick Bateman would love the place).
However, the experience of watching Fashionista can only truly be conveyed through the film’s use of montage. The narrative is non-linear, although not in the easily digestible fashion of say Tarantino or Soderbergh; it’s more that in Fashionista — the future bleeds into the present. Extended, coherent scenes exist in the film, but they are connected by jarring snapshots provided entirely without context. Those images, which abruptly intrude on the film’s trackable sequences, are revealed later as part of a larger pivotal moment, and once we understand Rumley’s pattern, they keep us actively attempting to predict April’s fate.
To further complicate things, there is a confounding simultaneous storyline: the film periodically checks in with a mystery woman being released from a mental hospital. You don’t so much watch Fashionista as you are propelled by it, as though the film itself is dragging you along. Events do eventually come to clarify the importance of the mental hospital arc, but the twist doesn’t totally allow us to trust that everything we see in Fashionista is real. Third act gymnastics make it nearly impossible to discuss the film without spoiling Rumley’s big reveal, yet the sensation of watching Fashionista is more potent than the specifics of its twist ending. Rumley’s use of non-linearity imprints images in the viewer’s brain that remain long after the finale: April in grotesque clown makeup; her boyfriend’s staging of a horrifying murder “game;” April cathartically burning a mountain of clothes.
The true accomplishment of Fashionista is the way that it sears these disquieting images into our memory, precisely because it never fully coheres. Rumley’s confounding vision asks for our engagement, and makes us complicit in following April’s thread until the end — even when we don’t want to see what’s next.
BHFF 2017: The Dark Seduction of ‘Veronica’
In the introduction before it’s United States debut at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, Veronica was likened to a Mexican hybrid of De Palma and Polanski — high praise, and more or less accurate. The film follows a psychologist (Arcelia Ramirez) and her mysterious subject, Veronica (Olga Segura), who sequester in the psychologist’s mountain cabin and conduct sessions designed to coax a forgotten trauma from Veronica’s subconscious.
Their combative conversations are increasingly marked by sexual tension, and the suffocating isolation of the cabin itself adds a level of uneasy potential to each session. Anything could happen between the women, and seemingly no one would find out — or be able to intervene. Directors Carlos Algara and Alejandro Martinez Beltran develop the relationship between Veronica and her psychologist slowly and fitfully, retaining a baseline of mistrust between the two. Before long, that mistrust transforms into a forbidden attraction, as Veronica works to seduce her psychologist, who (as far as the audience can tell) has been living alone in her tastefully decorated cabin long enough to fall prey to simple gestures of intimacy.
Veronica is strikingly beautiful; her allure is compounded by her emotional inaccessibility, and a sense of danger that lingers as Veronica withholds from the audience exactly what behavior led to this extreme level of therapy. The film hints at the disappearance of her previous psychologist, and her practiced manipulation — coupled with genuinely disturbing snapshots of her childhood — implies a direct threat to her therapist. Still, as overtures to her psychologist amplify, from implicit (an offer to light a cigarette) to explicit (“have you ever had sex with a woman?”), Veronica successfully penetrates the psyches of both her doctor and the audience.
Olga Segura manages a balance of self-assuredness and complete impulsiveness that startles and enthralls her doctor, and the effect works to draw us closer to her, even as Veronica hints at the peril of being manipulated. Algara and Beltran compound that unsettling feeling by dutifully including overt hallmarks of the genre, from flashbacks of Veronica’s flashbacks, to a mysterious locked shed that hovers in the background of the film’s action.
The isolation at the heart of Veronica references Polanski, but the way the directors move their camera around the house, as well as the film’s shadowy cinematography, owe to De Palma. When Veronica loudly masturbates each night, the camera drifts through the halls, settling on her door, hinting at darkness and damage beneath her raw sexuality. Information trickles slowly, beckoning the audience to guess at what is truly happening between Veronica and her therapist, and attentive viewers might well predict the film’s third act twist before it arrives.
The revelations in the denouement don’t play as strongly as the uneasy first half of Veronica, mostly because the characters clumsily explain exactly what is happening — a result of having only two characters in the first place, with most of the film’s development taking place inside their heads. Still, by the time Veronica arrives at its expository finale, it succeeds in working its way into our heads, making us, like the psychologist, a victim of Veronica’s seduction.
Check out The Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, taking place in Brooklyn, NY October 12-15, 2017
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