The Top 15 Movies I Reviewed in 2017!

List by Derrick Carter

Throughout the course of 2017, I posted 206 movie reviews on this blog. Though about a quarter of those were rewatches (covering the SAW and CHILD’S PLAY franchises before their latest installments, and also paying tribute to the passing of genre legend George A. Romero), I managed to catch plenty of fresh new films, forgotten flicks, and classics that I simply hadn’t gotten around to watching. As with last year, 2017’s “Best of” list will cover movies that I watched for the first time in my life. This means that old and new films are on the table, regardless of what year they came out. If a film was new to me and I loved it, then I’m including it with my favorite films that I watched in 2017!

Before I get into my 15 favorite films that I reviewed this year, there are some honorable mentions. I had previously seen THE EXORCIST, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, THE THING, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and ALIENS before this year. Otherwise, they would be on this list. As far as first-time watches, I truly enjoyed the groundbreaking drama MOONLIGHT and adored the 80s throwback STRANGER THINGS. Concerning new horror films, THE EYES OF MY MOTHER seriously disturbed me, THE VOID was a phenomenal Lovecraftian nightmare, and THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS was one hell of a zombie film! WONDER WOMAN also wound up as my second-favorite superhero film of 2017. As for indie thrillers, WIND RIVER was a gripping ride and GOOD TIME was a neon-lit throwback to Martin Scorsese’s early work.

Now, without further ado, onto my top 15 favorite films that I reviewed during 2017…

15. MY FRIEND DAHMER: Most serial killer films focus on chilling murders of their subjects, but MY FRIEND DAHMER is not like most serial killer films. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, MY FRIEND DAHMER is a chilling drama that chronicles the pre-murderous life of Jeffrey Dahmer and examines him as a high school weirdo. By somewhat “humanizing” this psycho, the film doesn’t attempt to elicit sympathy towards its titular cannibal killer and instead shines a light on the fact that people we went to high school might very well turn into monsters seen in news headlines. Though there isn’t a single (human) murder to be found, MY FRIEND DAHMER joins the ranks among the best films about real-life serial killers (MONSTER, ZODIAC, HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, and THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS).

14. FOUR LIONS: The idea of tackling Islamic terrorism through a darkly comic lens might sound completely misguided on paper, but FOUR LIONS is the best comedy that I sat through all year! The film follows four idiotic would-be terrorists as they attempt to execute a devastating attack, but constantly fumble over their own stupidity and reveal themselves to be bumbling morons. In my opinion, painting Islamic terrorists in this ridiculous light strips some of the power away from them in a similar way to what Charlie Chaplin did to Hitler in THE GREAT DICTATOR or what Rogen/Franco did to Kim Jong-Un with THE INTERVIEW. If you’re down for dark comedy and don’t mind totally offensive punchlines, you should give FOUR LIONS a watch in the near future!

13. HARD BOILED: Last year, LADY SNOWBLOOD wound up being one of my favorite movie-going experiences as I saw it in a packed cinema pub screening. This year, that cinema pub moviegoing experience belongs to HARD BOILED. This shoot ’em up actioner is over-the-top to the point of being ridiculous. Ridiculously awesome! Each gun fight plays out like a carefully choreographed dance and the film features one of the most jaw-dropping single take sequences that I’ve ever laid my eyes upon. Though it relies on a few cop movie clichés, it utilizes these in a loving way that makes the familiar material seem fresh. If you’re into action films and you haven’t seen HARD BOILED, then you need to remedy that immediately!

12. T2 TRAINSPOTTING: In all honesty, I didn’t know what exactly to expect from a sequel to TRAINSPOTTING. I love that film and I know that novelist Irvine Welsh wrote a follow-up novel, but I didn’t know how that might translate into a cinematic sequel. Over two decades after its predecessor’s release, T2 TRAINSPOTTING serves as an amazing companion piece to the original. Using the same cast and experimental visual style (albeit through a much more polished lens), TRAINSPOTTING 2 delivers stellar performances and naturally follows the lives of the four ne’er do wells from the previous film. If you loved the first film, then you’ll probably love this one too. For a full experience, it’s best to watch both of them back-to-back in the space of a single night!

11. NORTH BY NORTHWEST: This may be blasphemy for a cinephile, but I actually haven’t seen many Alfred Hitchcock films. I love PSYCHO, THE BIRDS, and DIAL M FOR MURDER, but the rest of his filmography is basically a mystery to my movie-craving eyes. My first viewing of NORTH BY NORTHWEST took place in the best possible environment (a packed movie theater) and I was blown away by how thrilling this film is. This is basically a James Bond film before Bond ever hit the screen. Cary Grant serves as a charismatic leading man who’s on the run for a murder he didn’t commit. Over the space of his death-defying adventure, we gets lots of suspense, action, and unexpected plot twists. I was on the edge of my seat for this entire film and walked away extremely satisfied. If the rest of Hitchcock’s filmography is anywhere near this great, then I’m in for a real treat as I continue to watch his work.

10. I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE: Blending a Coen brothers style of humor with indie thriller sensibilities, I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE might just be the most underseen and underrated film of 2017! This movie won an audience award at Sundance and then went directly to Netflix, where some people talked about for a couple of weeks and then it just kind of seemed to vanish out of the public eye. This is a vigilante thriller that’s believable in how inept real-life wannabe vigilantes might be and frequently dishes out shocking spurts of graphic violence. This might be the best Coen brothers film that the Coen brothers never made and I can’t wait to see what first-time director/writer Macon Blair cooks up next!

9. BABY DRIVER: What can I say? Edgar Wright consistently makes great films. BABY DRIVER is a passion project that Wright had in the works for years. In a similar fashion to how George Miller carefully planned out every scene, shot, and effect in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, Wright constantly lets the viewer know that they’re in the hands of a visionary storyteller. This stylish crime tale about a getaway driver who (ironically enough) wants to get away from his criminal lifestyle is loaded with colorful characters, hilarious humor, and adrenaline-pumping action that’s synced up to one of the best damn soundtracks you’ll hear all year. I gushed over this movie back in June and I am still gushing about it now. If you want a joy ride of pure fun, BABY DRIVER will satisfy your cinematic craving!

8. THE DISASTER ARTIST: Never in a million years did I think that anything to do with Tommy Wiseau’s so-bad-it’s-good THE ROOM would ever wind up on any “Best of” list. Yet, here we are. James Franco lovingly adapts the nonfiction book about the creation of THE ROOM to the big screen in a way that’s not only hilarious, but also genuinely touching. THE DISASTER ARTIST doesn’t take the easy route of being a goofy comedy about a loser who fails so spectacularly that he kind of succeeds. Instead, this film takes a more complicated drama-comedy approach and shows us the more serious side of oddball Tommy Wiseau…and his strange friendship with would-be aspiring actor Greg Sestero. THE DISASTER ARTIST is a moving must-see for ROOM fans and cinephiles who just love great movies in general.

7. BLADE RUNNER 2049: I’m saying it right now, BLADE RUNNER 2049 is one of the best sequels to ever hit the silver screen. Over three decades after its predecessor’s debut, BLADE RUNNER 2049 recaptures the bleak sci-fi/noir spark that made the original into the cult classic that it is today. 2049’s cast all deliver amazing performances across the board, with supporting actors making the biggest impressions in their small minutes of screen time and Ryan Gosling serving as a fascinating new antihero. Besides delivering a complex mystery that unpredictably shifts directions as it goes along, 2049 also has one of the most beautiful romantic subplots in years and it features a literal “one-dimensional” character. For those who were bummed out by this film’s disappointing box office returns, remember that the first BLADE RUNNER was a box office flop and is now considered to be one of the greatest science-fiction films of all time. A similar classic status will undoubtedly follow BLADE RUNNER 2049 in future years!

6. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES: Seven years ago, if you had told me that a PLANET OF THE APES prequel trilogy would be one of the best cinematic trilogies ever, I would have laughed in your face. It turns out that’s exactly the case though. 2014’s DAWN drastically improved upon the minor flaws of 2011’s RISE, but 2017’s WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is stellar storytelling from beginning to end. Themes of revenge, survival, and forgiveness are examined throughout the film’s ever-changing plot. Performance wise, WAR fully shapes out intelligent ape Caesar (played wonderfully by Andy Serkis) as animal protagonist who’s more compelling than most human protagonists in films and also introduces Woody Harrelson as a monstrous villain who we want to see die in the most painful way possible. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES was the best possible way to conclude the APES prequel trilogy and is one of the best summer blockbusters I’ve ever sat through!

5. IRREVERSIBLE: I originally heard about Gaspar Noe’s rape-revenge drama from a podcast in 2008, but hadn’t bothered to give it a look until earlier this year. Though not strictly a horror film by any means, IRREVERSIBLE is a terrifying cinematic experience as events are told backwards. Unlike other linear rape-revenge stories, we see the revenge come first and travel backwards through the moments that eventually lead up to the violent act of justice. As the film plays out in reverse (ironic considering its title), we put pieces of this depressing puzzle together for ourselves and this already tragic event becomes even more tragic with each new revelation. This isn’t a film for the faint-hearted and it’s about as bleak as they come, but IRREVERSIBLE is an uncompromising masterpiece that deserves to be seen by anybody who loves the serious artistic side of cinema!

4. LOGAN: There will never be a better Wolverine than Hugh Jackman. I’m saying that right now. Over a decade has been spent watching Jackman in the role of this weaponized mutant, so LOGAN serves as a suitable final chapter for Jackman’s reluctant do-gooder. The future X-MEN films have a tough act to follow, because LOGAN is a special kind of superhero story. Relationships between the small cast of characters drives the emotional core of this film forward, whilst the R rating finally delivers something that X-MEN fans have wanted to see since 2000: a bad-ass Wolverine slicing and dicing his way through bad guys. This film also has shades of Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD crossed with a comic book story that’s about as unconventional as they come. Now that Disney is in talks to own the X-MEN franchise, we likely won’t see another film like LOGAN coming from this mutant-based series. LOGAN is a one-of-a-kind superhero film and one of the best comic book movies ever made!

3. EYES WIDE SHUT: Stanley Kubrick’s final film is an underrated masterpiece about the way in which people delude themselves into believing that they’re happy…and also there’s a creepy sex cult involved too. The entire film has a dream-like atmosphere as we watch the main character (Tom Cruise) venture through a single night odyssey that explores the sexual possibilities of cheating on his wife. Kubrick masterfully shows the dire consequences that might result from following our instinctual desires, whilst also putting us into the place of Cruise’s character. This is especially true of the ending which offers two distinct possibilities: one of them is easy and comforting…and the other one is ambiguous and dangerous. Whatever you might think of it or how you might interpret it, EYES WIDE SHUT is sure to keep you talking about it long after it’s over.

2. YOUR NAME: Eat your heart out Studio Ghibli! YOUR NAME just might be one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever sat through. This film has gorgeous animation from beginning to end, while also delivering an entrancing tale of emotions and body-swapping. It’s initial set-up sounds like the anime equivalent of FREAKY FRIDAY, but drastically becomes something far more charming and moving as its complex plot moves along. This might be one of the strangest love stories ever put to the screen, but its emotional resonance is undeniable! The characters are all built up to the point where the viewer feels for their struggles and deeply cares about them. This makes the film’s final third into a very suspenseful and gripping ride. Also, the climax is utterly perfect. YOUR NAME is a masterpiece and deserves every bit of praise it has received so far (and will continue to receive)!

1. MOTHER!: Much like my favorite film of 2016 (HIGH-RISE), I know that there will be people who loathe and downright detest MOTHER! Some will hate it for its sheer artsy nightmare-logic style and others will despise its controversial message, but I adored every single frame of this fucked-up little ditty. The film follows a woman and her husband in an isolated countryside house. After a strange couple pop in and just decide to stay, their lives are shifted in horrifying ways. I can’t get too into details, because it would spoil some of the film’s nasty surprises and metaphorical madness. I will say that MOTHER! is my favorite horror film of the 2010s so far and one of the ballsiest films to ever receive a nationwide theatrical release. People either really love this film or totally hate it. There isn’t much middle ground to be found and you will likely walk away with a very strong opinion about it. One of the film’s trailers promised that “you’ll never forget where you were the first time you saw MOTHER!” and that statement is completely accurate. I’ve been thinking about this unforgettable horror film since its release and I can’t wait to dive into it again and again in future years to come!

Well, 2017 was a wild year for me…both on this site and in my personal life. I’m currently in the process of moving, so reviews will resume sometime in January! I plan to keep this little movie blog rolling, with plenty of reviews (both old and new) being pumped out on a mostly regular basis! A huge “thank you” to anyone who’s read this blog at all during the past year or any new readers who are discovering it for the first time. There was plenty to love in the world of film during 2017 and here’s to a just as great (if not better) 2018!

I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Directed by: Macon Blair

Written by: Macon Blair

Starring: Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood, David Yow, Jane Levy, Devon Graye, Christine Woods, Robert Longstreet & Gary Anthony Williams

Macon Blair is a name that might sound familiar to fans of indie cinema. He was the main star of 2014’s BLUE RUIN and played a neo-Nazi in last year’s GREEN ROOM. In 2017, Blair has taken a break from being on the screen and instead has released his directorial debut I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE. This darkly comedic crime-thriller successfully mixes laughter, well-crafted suspense, and a down-to-earth emotional core. It’s one of the best independent films I’ve seen in quite some time and I’d go as far as saying this is easily Netflix’s best original film to date.

Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) can’t get a break in life. She works as a medical assistant in a nursing home, constantly finds herself beset by rude jerks around her, and can’t even drink in peace without someone revealing major spoilers for the book series she’s currently reading. One particularly bad day becomes even worse when Ruth finds her home has been broken into and stuff (priceless silverware, her laptop, medication) has been stolen. Sick of taking shit from other people, Ruth decides enough is enough. Assisted by her newfound oddball friend Tony (Elijah Wood), the vigilante pair go about tracking down the scumbag thieves…only to find themselves in way over their heads.

I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE is strongly directed from its first shot to its last. It’s hard to believe that Macon Blair is a first-time filmmaker because he’s made one hell of a debut. He likely picked up skills from Jeremy Saulnier’s sets and I’d argue that he raises his comedy-thriller above any of Saulnier’s good-but-not-great thrillers. I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE resembles an early Coen brothers movie, yet has more than enough originality and quirkiness to not feel like a rip-off/homage. This is its own creative beast, making for a thoroughly entertaining and intense viewing experience.

At the forefront of the cast are Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood. The former does a stellar job of bringing life to this anxiety-prone protagonist who’s finally taking a stand against assholes. Lynskey’s Ruth will likely connect with any viewer who’s ever had a really shitty day and found themselves fed up with the world. Though Ruth takes her quest to rid the world of assholes further than any rational person would, she remains a cathartically relatable and slightly naïve heroine. Meanwhile, Elijah Wood is hilarious and just plain weird as Tony. He steals a handful of scenes and gets laughs from the sense that this anger-prone character can/will fly off the handle at any second.

The supporting cast also bring strong performances. The villains are appropriately trashy-looking and intimidating, while Jane Levy is a definite highlight of the bunch. Her character gets a few laughs, but also unleashes a fierce side during a show-stopping sequence. Gary Anthony Williams steals a few memorable moments as a stressed-out cop who’s even more stressed-out by Ruth’s presence…as he’s trying to devote his attention to much bigger cases. Though they’re only in the film for a couple of scenes, Christine Woods and Robert Longstreet are well-cast as a snobby rich couple.

As the plot moves along, I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE gets progressively darker. While the first two acts feel like a quirky darky-comedy had a baby with a gritty crime-thriller, the final third gets very violent and shocking. There are a few bits that elicited vocal reactions out of me and things neatly tie themselves together in an immensely satisfying conclusion. On top of all that, the cinematography looks stellar and the music perfectly accompanies the action (both the score and the soundtrack’s song choices).

I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE is filled with grim laughs, crazy dialogue (a villain rambles about devouring cats), shocking spurts of violence (mainly during the final third), and a never-ending sense of entertainment. The characters are relatable and fun to watch. There are moments that are sure to make viewers burst into laughter during one minute and then put their hand over their mouth in shock during the next. I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE is easily one of the best films I’ve sat through in 2017 so far! If you enjoy dark comedy, crime thrillers, or crazy combinations of those two genres (e.g. FARGO), then you’re guaranteed to have a great time with I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE!

Grade: A+

GREEN ROOM (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Brutal Graphic Violence, Gory Images, Language and some Drug Content

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Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier

Written by: Jeremy Saulnier

Starring: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart, Macon Blair & Mark Webber

Despite having only three features under his belt, director/writer Jeremy Saulnier has slowly, but surely been making a name for himself in the independent film scene. Saulnier started his short filmography with cheesy horror-comedy MURDER PARTY and followed that up with acclaimed thriller BLUE RUIN. He’s now back with the heavily hyped GREEN ROOM. This simple, to-the-point survival-horror flick is vicious, intense, and shocking. It also heavily relies on dumb horror movie victim logic, which slightly detracts from the smarter, more effective pieces of this otherwise entertaining thriller.

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Punk band “The Ain’t Rights” (played by Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, and Callum Turner) live off-the-grid and do the best they can to make ends meet. After their latest gig falls through, the four friends/bandmates take a quick job at an isolated club in the middle of the woods. It’s obvious that the venue is a skinhead joint (complete with swastika graffiti and white power stickers), but the band needs the money so they complete their set anyway. On the way out, they accidentally stumble into something they weren’t supposed to see: a woman with a knife sticking out of her head. Soon enough, “The Ain’t Rights” and the deceased’s friend (Imogen Poots) find themselves fighting for their lives against enraged, heavily armed neo-Nazis.

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GREEN ROOM is a tense ride that frequently had me on the edge of my seat. Jeremy Saulnier’s screenplay is smart enough to thwart expectations in certain areas and avoids lots of exposition as a result. Smaller details are set up early on and it’s up to the viewer to connect the dots revolving around certain aspects of the skinhead secret society. There are a couple of moments that deliberately seem to be heading into overly familiar clichéd territory and then totally shoot those notions down with shocking violence that received audible gasps from myself and the rest of the audience. The screenplay is far from flawless though as the bandmates aren’t well-developed or entirely believable. As a result, a character will meet a horrible end and their absence doesn’t feel like a big loss. However, the shocking effect of how they met their demise manages to linger in the air.

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It’s frustrating to see a script, with some very clever writing, resort to idiotic character decisions in order to further things along. Besides these characters not being relatable or necessarily likable, they are not too bright either. Common sense doesn’t fully kick in during certain intense scenes and characters are constantly making really dumb (borderline unbelievable) choices as a result. These distracting bits didn’t dissuade me from enjoying the film as a whole though, because there are a lot of remaining factors to like.

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The cinematography is slick and well-shot. There’s none of the shaky-cam that we see all too often in modern action and horror flicks. I absolutely love the detailed club setting. Tension builds naturally through simply watching the carefully constructed on-screen (occasionally, off-screen) chaos. Speaking of which, this movie’s set pieces are friggin’ insane. The trapped “Ain’t Rights” aren’t exactly left with a lot of bullets or options. As a result, we get to see box-cutters, rusty bits of metal, a microphone, and other nasty objects creatively employed as improvised weapons. Bones are broken. Flesh is cut. Blood is spilled. This is one friggin’ violent movie, but it never goes unbelievably over-the-top in its gory mayhem.

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As I mentioned before, the protagonists aren’t exactly fleshed-out. You could shuffle Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, and Callum Turner around and it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference in the proceedings. The skinheads are far more interesting to watch and that probably shouldn’t be the case. These colorful neo-Nazi baddies distinctly stand out in their roles, be it the hulking doorman armed with a massive gun or the dog trainer who has flesh-eating pooches. You can easily tell these antagonists apart. Saulnier film regular Macon Blair (villain in MURDER PARTY, protagonist in BLUE RUIN) is great as Gabe, a staff member who attempts to keep a level-head in spite of the copious amount of death surrounding him.

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GREEN ROOM’s show-stopping performance comes from Patrick Stewart (of all people) as sociopathic, strategic skinhead leader Darcy. Darcy is remarkably calm and calculating in how he wages a mini-war upon the ill-equipped punk band. Stewart’s neo-Nazi leader has a deliberately dialed down way of speaking that somehow makes him even more frightening to watch. If you passed this guy on the street, you wouldn’t look twice because he does not seem like a psychopath. That’s exactly why this “reasonable” club owner makes for such a great villain though.

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Though it relies too heavily on dumb character decisions and the protagonists aren’t exactly interesting people, GREEN ROOM is a lot of bloody fun. The beautiful visuals, intense atmosphere, and gory set pieces make the film worth watching, if you’re into this sort of thing. Patrick Stewart impressively knocks it out of the park as the neo-Nazi main villain and that’s a role I bet you never expected to see him play. The writing also shines through as very smart in places, mostly when “The Ain’t Rights” aren’t being morons. Though I feel this film would have been better with less stupid horror movie victim logic, GREEN ROOM is an entertaining blast of mayhem, violence, and shocks.

Grade: B

HELLBENDERS (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 25 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Bloody Violence, some Disturbing Images, Pervasive Language, Sexual Content and Drug Use

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Directed by: J.T. Petty

Written by: J.T. Petty

Starring: Clifton Collins Jr., Clancy Brown, Andre Royo, Robyn Rikoon, Macon Blair, Stephen Gevedon, Dan Fogler & Larry Fessenden

There’s a really cool idea in HELLBENDERS that could make for a potentially brilliant horror-comedy. This is not that film. I can say that much for this low-budget flick that has a good cast, but doesn’t give them a whole lot to work with in the story department. Coming off his creepy creature feature THE BURROWERS, J.T. Petty adapts his own graphic novel into a sacrilegious but tame horror-comedy that doesn’t earn more than a couple of solid chuckles. The main gag of having priests swear, use drugs and do all sorts of extreme sex acts in the name of serving the Lord sounds like a blast on paper, but gets old after a while thanks to the lack of a discernible plot. HELLBENDERS ultimately squanders a great premise and wastes the time of some talented actors.

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The Augustine Interfaith Order of Hellbound Saints is a specialized group of priests who have dedicated their lives to serving God in a rather unconventional way. Instead of living by the Commandments and striving to give acts of kindness and love in their everyday life, these ministers are frequently committing the seven deadly sins in order to make themselves damnation worthy. You see, this renegade group of blasphemous priests specializes in possession cases. If all else fails, they use their sinful nature as a nuclear option to kill themselves and drag the demon back to Hell with them.

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HELLBENDERS most definitely has a promising concept, but lacks a solid plot line to back that up. There’s some overly familiar nonsense about the possible end of the world and a mystic medallion, but nothing befitting characters who are this colorful. Though this was a low-budget film, production values appear overly cheap. It’s as if director/writer J.T. Petty wanted to do this horror-comedy on a grand scale but lacked the actual grand scale or technical prowess. We are told and not shown that the city is going to Hell at one point, but the most we actually see are spots of cheesy CGI fire (was fire too expensive, really?) and obvious red filters layered over the camera lens (much to the same annoying effect as this year’s HELLIONS). The demonic possession scenes should have contributed a significant amount of fun to the film, but play out in anticlimactic ways with Syfy-looking hordes of flies jumping from person to person. Though the plot wastes a good idea, sloppy editing certainly doesn’t help push things in a positive direction either.

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The screenplay is about as by-the-numbers as you can get with overly familiar apocalyptic stakes at hand and threats of the band of blasphemous priests. The special effects look as if they were added in a Flash Animation program. Most of the jokes fall flat, but HELLBENDERS is kept from being a total failure thanks to performers trying harder than they necessarily needed to. Clifton Collins Jr. and Clancy Brown take center stage as the two main damned priests, Lawrence and Angus. Angus is easily the most well-developed character in the film, but still winds up as an aged veteran hero stereotype. Collins is okay as Lawrence (though his character isn’t particularly well written to begin with), while Robyn Rikoon is bland as Lawrence’s underdeveloped love interest. Macon Blair and Dan Fogler earn a few genuine chuckles, but are also woefully underused and underwritten.

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HELLBENDERS kicks off with a great idea and does absolutely nothing with it. The only laughs and good qualities of the film come from the cast. None of whom were given memorable characters to play. The production values feel overly cheap and the special effects look unintentionally shoddy. The possession scenes themselves can be counted on one hand and are underwhelming. In spite of a cool concept and real promise on the surface, HELLBENDERS is a disappointment at its core. That’s a sin in and of itself.

Grade: D+

BLUE RUIN (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Violence, and Language

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Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier

Written by: Jeremy Saulnier

Starring: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack & Eve Plumb

Director/writer Jeremy Saulnier burst onto the independent filmmaking scene with his low-budget horror comedy MURDER PARTY (a film that I found to be decent, but definitely with its fair share of problems). A good chunk of time has passed since them, but Saulnier has finally returned with his sophomore effort: BLUE RUIN. This less-is-more revenge thriller shows that Saulnier has acquired lots of improvement in storytelling and an eye for the camera over the years. Though I wouldn’t call this movie groundbreaking or amazing, it’s a suspenseful good time for fans of revenge stories.

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Dwight Evans is a vagrant living out of his car and scavenging what he can from deserted houses and dirty trash cans. One morning, Dwight is informed that the man responsible for killing his parents has been released from prison. Desperate for a long-deserved vengeance, Dwight arms himself with a knife and travels to off the murderer. Unfortunately, he’s not exactly in expert in the art of killing someone and the young man’s family comes knocking for revenge. A quiet war breaks out as Dwight tries to protect his remaining relatives.

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Macon Blair was one of the better parts of MURDER PARTY and he’s given his time to shine here as Dwight. Blair brings the unconventional protagonist to life that leaves you questioning whether or not you should be rooting for him. Dwight is a cold-blooded killer, but can admit to his sins and wants to do right in keeping his family safe. The film gets graphically violent at points, but isn’t a bloodbath from beginning to end though. Instead, there are good stretches that simply build up to the next vicious confrontation between Dwight and another foe. These lapses between the actual revenge make the violence that much more powerful. This isn’t a glamourized or glossy action flick, but rather a gritty story that crawls through the ugly and dirty reality that revenge never leaves anyone clean. It’s a downward spiral of meaningless escalating violence in which two separate families are ripped apart in different ways.

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I’m making this movie sound brilliant, but what’s wrong with it you might ask? Sometimes the slow burning pace can trudge to being downright glacial. There are points in this movie where I wished the film would either pick up certain plot developments faster or have a shorter running time. It’s pretty much the same big problem I had with MURDER PARTY, though this movie is superior on every level. The ending also winds up petering out before what should have been an emotionally devastating finale hits. I liked the conclusion, but thought there could have been a lot more milked from it.

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BLUE RUIN is a simple, solid revenge thriller that definitely isn’t for everyone. This is a well-shot film about human ugliness and how violence begets violence. The message is as old as time (look at any of Shakespeare’s tragedies if you want examples), but still resonates with power. Both Jeremy Saulnier and Macon Blair (working together for the second time) have drastically improved in their abilities. Though it’s too long for its own good, BLUE RUIN should satisfy those craving an old-fashioned revenge tale where nobody walks away in a redeemable light.

Grade: B

MURDER PARTY (2007)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 19 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

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Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier

Written by: Jeremy Saulnier

Starring: Chris Sharp, Macon Blair, Stacy Rock, Skei Saulnier, Paul Goldblatt, William Lacey & Alex Barnett

MURDER PARTY was made on a shoe-string budget and doesn’t make any qualms about that. Despite being an amateur filmmaker/screenwriter, Jeremy Saulnier displays a remarkably professional sensibility in his feature debut. It’s not without its problems (two big ones), but MURDER PARTY is probably most enjoyable as a party movie (slightly ironic given the title and plot). It’s not necessarily a film to stick on by your lonesome, which is probably why I didn’t care for it as much as other people have. That’s not to say that I didn’t like MURDER PARTY. I liked it just fine, but it’s only an okay flick. This is nothing too special about it, but it’s alright.

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Chris is a loser planning on spending Halloween night alone on his couch watching B-flicks with a bowl of candy corn. His plans change once he comes across envelope on the street that holds an invitation to a “Murder Party.” Chris puts together a makeshift costume of cardboard boxes and arrives at the promising Halloween party only to find that the Murder Party is completely literal. Chris has walked into an abandoned warehouse where a gang of psycho-hipsters plan on killing him for their performance art. That scenario sets itself up for a lot of good comedy and possible gore. The film definitely relies far more on laughs than blood. There are a couple of messy moments, but the dialogue of these pompous assholes make up the majority of the film. That’s both its blessing and its curse.

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MURDER PARTY has a good opening and a strong conclusion. The biggest problem in the story is the tedious middle section. Evil characters are colorful douchebags with their own unique costumes, while Chris is more like an anonymous nobody who isn’t given a personality to begin with. In fact, he really doesn’t say much through the film. This is partially from being gagged for a good portion of it, but mainly from being a boring protagonist. The hipsters are mostly defined by their costumes (all of which are creative to some degree) and personality traits. Their attitudes automatically told me what kind of jerks these people were. If you hate pretentious douchebags, then you’ll be rooting for these incompetent psychos to die a horrible death. The film does deliver in some creative kills, but I actually found a few demises to be underwhelming (though the first one is hilarious).

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Little bits of quirky humor actually got me laughing way more than the deliberate attempts at comedy. Essentially, MURDER PARTY is running off the one joke premise of murderous hipsters. While the movie does get a decent amount of steam off that, the middle feels really dull. A game of extreme truth or dare becomes an agonizingly boring sequence that’s entirely free of a single chuckle and it lasts for almost 10 minutes. Small touches in a chase scene involving a conveyor belt or the villains fumbling with their weapons in silly ways did make me laugh pretty hard. The final 25 minutes offer a lot of pay-off, but the unnecessarily slow-paced middle section seems too long and left a bad taste in my mouth already. It greatly benefits MURDER PARTY that the film goes out on a really high note, but its not enough to overlook that bad stretch in the middle of the flick.

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In the end, I’d rank MURDER PARTY alongside another low-budget Halloween indie by the title of SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER. It’s an apt comparison because both films are cheap, silly, stupid, get a fair amount of laughs, and also run a little too long while following uninteresting protagonists. In fact, SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER and MURDER PARTY would be ideal films to stick in the background of a Halloween party. There might be a couple of people watching the whole thing, but they’re more like films that someone might occasionally glance at and chuckle before going back to their conversation with friends. It’s entertaining enough and definitely has its moments, but the middle stretch and lack of a compelling lead make for just an okay flick overall.

Grade: C+

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