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All reviews - Movies (157) - TV Shows (4) - Books (2)

Underrated, Darkly Funny Thriller

Posted : 3 years, 11 months ago on 4 January 2014 08:43 (A review of Scenic Route)

What originally runs the risk of being a pretentious best-friends-fighting-in-the-desert borefest turns out to be an interesting study of what happens when your best bud becomes someone you would rather not share the same universe with, let alone a beat-up pick-up truck. The two friends are not always sympathetic, but we understand their motivations and the film refuses to side with either of them.

Mitchell (Josh Duhamel, who did those two giant-robot movies by the filmmaker we all like to make fun of) and Carter (pudgy Dan Fogler, who until now primarily acted in critically-bashed comedies) are two friends driving through the desert. We don't know exactly where they're going, as their destination matter not to us; what we do know is that Carter's a starving artist (some might say 'loser') who lives in his car and struggles to sell a novel, and Mitch is a family man with a wife and a little boy, who begrudgingly makes the rounds through an excruciatingly boring job at the office.

I won't go into the details of how they end up stranded in the desert with nothing to eat except dry ice and jelly beans. We felt tension between the two old friends initially, now the unease explodes into full-blown hatred and disgust. This is can be a good set-up for both a thriller and a black comedy and is, mean humor runs throughout this film that makes us laugh in spite of ourselves.

In between their vicious bouts of verbal bile and outbursts, the men share their insecurities and fears. And as the boiling hot days give way to frigid nights, they become increasingly disillusioned about their chances of survival. The insights into male middle age are not always kosher or kind, but they are honest and cleverly written.

Josh Duhamel does a very good job as Mitchell; Dan Fogler sometimes falters being unsure of the balance between pathos and black comedy but still impresses, especially considering where he came from. The twist ending is a bit predictable, but still brilliantly executed. On a random side note, I wish they had gotten an obese woman to play Mitch's wife. He talks frankly about how he has a hard time getting it up looking at her post-pregnancy body, and then she turns out to be gorgeously thin? Come on.

"Scenic Route" might be a waste of time for some people, but for those who like conversationally driven thrillers with darkly comic undertones will be more than happy to soak in the film's subversive pleasures. The only film I can compare it to is "Buried" with Ryan Reynolds, if you like that kind of talky, tense film with an isolated setting, you will probably like this. As is, I found this a very underrated movie with a surprising cast. I hope you like it as much as I did.


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Inventive Zombie Film

Posted : 3 years, 11 months ago on 1 January 2014 10:52 (A review of Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue))

Surprise! I actually liked this better than George A. Romero's 1968 defining classic "Night of the Living Dead." Granted, "...Living Dead" came first, and they're both important horror films in their own right, but "Let Sleeping Corpses Lie" was more exciting and entertaining, and less about bad actors like Karl Hardman (no hate towards Duane Jones though) arguing in a fortified house with the groaning of the undead in the background.

So, "Let Sleeping Corpses Lie," (also known as "The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue," "Don't Open the Window," and by countless other titles) stars Ray Lovelock as George, a ill-tempered artsy-craftsy type who goes on a trip to meet some friends at his new house. He never gets there, though, as his motorcycle gets run over at a filling station by Edna (Cristina Galbó.)

George somewhat imposes himself on Edna and demands she drive him the rest of the way there, but Edna wants to visit her drug-addicted sister (Jeannine Mestre) and photographer brother-in-law (José Lifante.) Their quibbles are interrupted by a viral outbreak that turns it's victims into- you guessed it- flesh-eating zombies.

The cause of the virus is pesticides, and although the premise hints at environmental themes, you are never hit over the head with these messages. Similarly, the paranoid Inspector (Arthur Kennedy) accuses George of being a hippie Satanist and seems to be intent on disbelieving everything George says. So maybe the movie is making a comment on battle of Conservative Vs. Liberal values? Or just plain old prejudice, when it rears it's ugly head.

There are some parallels between this and "Night of the Living Dead," including a similar intestine-eating scene and pessimistic ending. The development of George from a griping nitwit to fighter against the undead may surprise you, but it's well-done for this kind of movie.

The best moment is the scene when they're trapped in the mortuary and the COFFINS START OPENING! I loved the zombies' eyes- finally something different with the genre. I think the movie might have been better with a little bit more dark humor, a 'la "Shaun of the Dead" (best. zombie. movie. ever.) The acting was good-ish, a little flat overall, but the movie as a whole was very a entertaining one that I would recommend to any zombie lover.



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Mixed Feelings, Mostly Good

Posted : 3 years, 11 months ago on 31 December 2013 03:41 (A review of East is East)

Incorporating a blend of humor and heartbreak with ethnic issues, "East is East" sometimes seems awkward and wrong-headed, but it's successes are more plentiful than it's failures. The talented cast is a big plus, led by Om Puri and Linda Bassett as the wildly divergent parents, and Jordan Routledge as the adorable youngest child, Sajid.

Manchester, 1971. George (Puri) is an old-fashioned Muslim and stern father of seven rebellious children, who are more white than Muslim and resent their father's interfering ways. Their mother, Ella (Bassett,) is an fairly assertive and modern British lady who tries to work out disagreements within the family. When Nazir (Ian Aspinall) panics during an arranged marriage ceremony and walks out on his bride, the clan is thrown into discord.

As George becomes increasingly domineering and abusive, Sajid clings to his childhood like his well-worn parka that he never takes off. Ella tries to maintain some control over the deteriorating situation, and George becomes determined to marry off two of his oldest sons to two ugly brides.

The odd mixture of strident comedy and domestic drama doesn't always work. Something like a amorous Great Dane or a vagina-shaped art project might seem mildly funny, but seems discordant among frank scenes of domestic violence. The acting is strong from the leads, and they help the movie quite a bit along the rough patches.

Jordan Routledge is cute and expressive as the youngest lad of the family. Linda Bassett is convincing playing the frustrated, beleaguered matriarch, and while I didn't agree with all her decisions, I sympathized with her for the most part. George is not a cartoon cutout villain, but I think his treatment of his family might have been treated a bit more seriously if he weren't a 'traditional Muslim man.'

Ella might defend her husband, but we modern girls know better- if a man gives us a black eye and menaces our children, he is O-U-T out! Religion is neither a defense or an excuse. I don't like how she gets back together with him at the end. I guess it happens, but it wasn't a satisfying ending. She should have shown that b**tard the door.

For the most part, "East is East" is a charming movie. I liked the character-based humor and the kids' antics. It would be annoying growing up in a big family like that. You wouldn't have any privacy! The kids were pretty much stacked on top of each other like a cheese sandwich. I had some problems with the film but overall I liked it.

I think the treatment of the unattractive women in the film could've been a little less cruel, but like the ending, it's a reality of life that might not be pretty to face, but exists all the same. The world has a long way to go when it comes to being unbiased and dispelling shallow values. Overall a good movie.


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Harrowing Masterpiece

Posted : 3 years, 11 months ago on 30 December 2013 04:51 (A review of The War Zone)

Actor Tim Roth's dictatorial debut is also an exquisitely acted masterwork about the dark secrets surrounding a middle-class British family, with Lara Belmont stealing the show as the abused daughter. Teenager Tom (Freddie Cunliffe) is horrified but initially fails to intervene when he realizes his older sister (Belmont) is carrying on an incestuous relationship with their father (Ray Winstone.)

Winstone, who is primarily known by the public for imposing-baddie-with-a-cockney-accent kind of roles, really sells it as a monster of a human being. You will hate this man so much you will want to vomit. Tilda Swinton plays Mum, who is pregnant at the start of the film, and later has a baby girl named Alice.

The weird thing is, Tom doesn't immediately see his older sister as a victim, even as he looks on as she is raped by her father. In fact, Jess (the sister) doesn't always see herself as a victim either. I don't think she thinks she deserves to be saved. She occasionally fancies herself a Daddy's girl, and may very nearly likes the attention and the meager pleasures of the ever more frequent assaults.

She teases Tom, coyly denies it. Tom seems to blame Jess for the impending disintegration of their family, rather than the piece of human excrement who sits at their table, eats their food, makes love to their mother like his interests aren't directed elsewhere. While 'Dad' is a monster, Tom isn't exactly sympathetic either, and Jess initially raises question of whether she likes Daddy's attentions, and, in fact, is complaint in the incest.

This is not a movie for the weak of heart. I was disgusted, but in a good way if you know what I mean. This movie is a hundred times scarier than "The Shining" and a hundred times more grotesque than "The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence,)" if only because it is firmly rooted in reality. The only thing I can think to compare it to is "Tyrannosaur," another great movie who was also directed by a UK actor (Paddy Considine.)

This movie is not about ghosts, devils, evil entities, or masked killers. It's about the evils people do, the atrocities that can take place in a more or less regular household. While the lack of sexual boundaries the family exhibits is off-putting, it doesn't seem to incorporate abuse at first. Oh, how wrong you are, filmgoer.

I recommend this amazing movie to people with very strong stomachs. The acting is great all around and the script is nearly flawless. I'm still floored that Lara Belmont did no professional acting prior to this movie. Her acting will blow you away. One of the most underrated performances ever. I hope Tim Roth can find time to make another movie in addition to his acting career. Purely, and simply... great.



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An Interesting Story of Fanaticism

Posted : 3 years, 11 months ago on 29 December 2013 04:30 (A review of Paradise: Faith)

What's impressive and surprising about "Paradise: Faith" is how it takes a sensational premise (a lonely woman with an erotic fixation with Jesus) and does not use it for cheap shock value or as a vicious attack on Catholicism. In fact, it's not really tawdry or sleazy at all- it, like it's desperate heroine, just is. I have not seen the first movie in the trilogy, the thematically linked "Paradise: Love," but after this movie I probably will.

Instead of building contempt and hatred for it's fanatically religious protagonist, it develops it so that we feel a mix of curiosity and pity for strange, pious Anna-Maria (excellently played by Maria Hofstätter,) but never disgust or rage. She needs her faith desperately, as a human being needs food or oxygen.

A single woman in her mid-50's, Anna-Maria works as a X-Ray Technician and spends her summers proselytizing the neighbors and no doubt making herself quite unpopular in her town in Austria. Anna-Maria is painfully sexually repressed and endures self-inflicted punishments for her unchaste thoughts. She fancies Jesus quite a bit and finds herself attracted to his gentle strength and kindness.

Everything abruptly changes when Anna Maria's Arabic, paraplegic husband Nabil (Nabil Saleh) returns after a long, unexplained absence. Saleh is quite good too, developing his character from merely an annoyance to a cruel misogynist who spits on Anna Maria and mocks her passionate devotion to God. Nabil wants Anna Maria to 'fulfill her duties as a wife' and make love to him, but Anna Maria's only love now is God.

What follows is a battle of wills- between the fanatical Anna Maria and the stubborn Nabil. No love and friendship comes out of this conflict- only violence and bitterness. Meanwhile Anna Maria copes with her impending crisis of faith and her complex feelings for her savior.

"Paradise: Faith" is similar to the films of Michael Haneke in style- cold, unbiased, virtually devoid of music and littered with long takes. It interested me quite a bit. I hate the dumbing-down of the Christian in Hollywood, as even the craziest is a human being with complex motivations and belief system.

The film doesn't give us a pat ending or anyone worth cheering for, and that's just fine- Anna Maria is greeted with mixed reactions from her herd of endangered souls. No one wins, no one 'proves her wrong,' and there are no revelations or messages except for this- crazy-devout religion can be a temporary aid for something deeper- unbearable loneliness, repression or isolation. Sometimes someone who seems proselytizing or arrogant is simply lonelier.

Maria Hofstätter is just perfect as Anna Maria, and you can completely believe that she is this person, who she plays with total sincerity. It is interesting to see her try to 'save' the souls of her fellow man, and the way they react to what could be interpreted as a attempt to connect or or just pure patronization. An essential art-house film for fans of the genre.


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Bleak but Touching

Posted : 3 years, 11 months ago on 27 December 2013 08:33 (A review of Broken)

Apparently "Broken" is 'inspired' by Harper Lee's much-loved classic "To Kill A Mockingbird," but I find "Broken" to be a better story with more well-developed characters (yes, you have found the one person in the world who isn't floored by "To Kill A Mockingbird"- don't stare, please, it makes me nervous.) It's certainly darker, as Lee's redemptive tone is replaced with unrepentant bleakness. The racial issues have been traded in, but the themes of injustice and the destruction of innocence remain.

Spirited tween 'Skunk' (a powerful and expressive performance by newcomer Eloise Laurence) is stuck in that tricky transition between childhood and adulthood where matters of sexuality and maturity interest her, but are not quite within her grasp. Skunk's father, Archie (This generation's Atticus Finch,) (Tim Roth) is an honorable man who loves his daughter with a fierce intensity but struggles to cope with her youthful antics.

When Skunk's mentally challenged friend Rick (Robert Emms) is accused of rape and beaten by her redneck neighbor Mr. Oswald (Rory Kinnear,) Skunk is baffled just as much as Rick is- Rick has never laid a hand on Oswald's tramp of a daughter, and treats the situation with confusion and astonishment. He is portrayed in a very fine performance by Emms (who I saw just days before as a gay superhero in "Kick-Ass 2",) who resists the urge to overact and makes the character of Rick his own.

Tim Roth is one of my favorite actors, and he does a good job here, but the entire cast is equally worth mentioning. Eloise Laurence is adorable and charming, but also shows real acting chops as compassionate Skunk. Cillian Murphy (known for films like "Batman Begins" and "28 Days Later) plays Archie's housekeeper's love interest, who soon becomes the target of Oswald's seething rage. He is flawed yet sympathetic, as are most of the characters.

I did think the myriad disasters piling up for Skunk and Rick's families became a little bit melodramatic and hard to take. After a while it was like... really? Is there anything awful that's NOT going to happen to these people? There also could have been more build-up in the beginning scenes, instead of revealing everything immediately.

I really liked the character of Skunk. I think the way she treats Rick says everything about her character. She acts totally like he's a normal person and talks to him accordingly, and never thinks it's weird that he's a grown man and they're friends. And her romance with local boy Dillon (George Sargeant) is appropriately chaste and really cute. She's a sweet, strong, and hearty girl, with a keen mind and a big heart. I liked the character of Rick too. He's a nice fellow, a little simple, and his fate saddens me.

"Broken" is a powerful film and I'm not ashamed to say I liked it better than "To Kill A Mockingbird." So, it's a classic. Sue me. I hope Eloise Laurence has a big career ahead of her, but she's not the only rising star in this movie. Not many people can play the 'mentally handicapped' role without resorting to theatrics, and Rick is a profoundly sad and likable character. I recommend this film to drama lovers and people to like a sad, touching story.


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Outdated but Influential

Posted : 3 years, 11 months ago on 21 December 2013 02:50 (A review of Night of the Living Dead)

Although George A. Romero's influential cult classic must have been terrifying for it's time, the years have rendered it rather mild and outdated. Still, "Night of the Living Dead," which was filmed on a shoestring budget of $114,000, serves as an interesting study of peoples' reactions to a crises and the necessity of action during a devastating event. Furthermore, it interestingly casts a black man in the leading male role, which was quite daring for it's time.

Fragile Barbra (Judith Dea) makes a visit to her father's grave with her perpetually complaining brother Johnny (Russell Streiner) when a strange man attacks them. Managing to escape alive (Johnny was not so lucky,) Barbra becomes holed up in a farmhouse, and soon renders herself obsolete due to suffering a complete mental breakdown.It is there that she meets Ben (Duane Jones,) a fellow survivor of what turns out to be a zombie attack.

The movie works best with just Barbra and Ben, who represent two opposite approaches to a crisis. Ben is a kind person but still a survivalist, and has no time for Barbra's weakly grieving. Barbra is consumed by guilt for leaving her brother, and turns to Jell-O almost immediately, while Ben thinks on his feet and begins to barricade the windows and doors from the approaching 'ghouls.'

However, when a group of fellow survivors come, this film becomes a bit boring. The most asinine of the survivors, played by Karl Hardman, overacts almost constantly, and listening to the group argue becomes tiresome. Meanwhile, a lot of the violence seems fake (when one character punches another, it sounds like a balloon popping.) The character dynamics are much more interesting when it's just the two heroes.

You may find yourself laughing at certain scenes, which lack the intensity of "The Walking Dead" but also the tongue-in-cheek self-awareness of films like "Dead Alive" and "Shaun of the Dead." Yes, in many ways it's the film that started it all (though "White Zombie" starring Bela Legosi, unwatched by me, came first,) but it pales in comparison to many modern zombie stories. However, I liked how the zombies were not totally stupid and could use tools.

The acting overall wasn't great (best from Duane Jones and Judith O'Dea, the leads) and the the special effects are dated (although it's interesting to see how people improvised using practical effects before the era of CGI.) The movie was fun but not particularly disturbing or scary, except for the scene involcing the mother and her daughter (no spoilers.) I wonder how they got away with that.

I may have been shocked by the death of my favorite character at the end, but my psychiatrist had already spoiled it for me (damn you man!) For those who have not been informed of the ending, it will be unexpected and sad. This is an important film for all horror fans and zombie lovers to see, but it isn't technically great in comparison to later horror flicks. I didn't love it, but I'm glad I saw it.


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Superior Family Film

Posted : 3 years, 11 months ago on 20 December 2013 10:08 (A review of Into The West)

Although it may be a little intense for young tykes due to its alcoholism, poverty, and prejudice themes, "Into the West" is an overall charming and appealing family film with a compelling storyline. It's plot is hugely unbelievable (two Irish lads rescue their magnificent white horse from an abusive owner and ride across Ireland evading the authorities at every turn,) but something about this story touched a warm fuzzy place in my heart.

Gabriel Byrne plays the alcoholic father of two young boys, Ossie and Tito (Ciarán Fitzgerald and Rúaidhrí Conroy,) who live with their perpetually drunk dad in a squalid Irish tenement building. The boy's grandfather (David Kelly) is the proud owner of Tir Na Nog, a beautiful white horse. When Tito and Ossie decide to smuggle Tir Na Nog into the apartment (not an easy feat considering the tiny size of the place is barely livable for a family of three,) the police confiscate the horse and give him to a shady and rich hobbyist.

The duo track down the horse-owner and steal back the steed, riding him across the hills and fields of Ireland and getting into all sorts of trouble along the way. Meanwhile, their father John gets back in touch with his gypsy heritage and reconnects with Kathleen (Ellen Barkin,) an old friend in an attempt to track his sons.

John is a interestingly compelling and three-dimensional character- sometimes volatile, sometimes violent, he loves his sons but constantly manages to disappoint them. He pressures the illiterate oldest (Tito) to learn to read because as it so happens, he cannot. Tito does not appreciate the fact that his father is trying to do what is best for him, and he and his brother believe John does not love them. Gabriel Byrne plays John as occasionally heroic, sometimes pathetic, but never as a blunt, angry stereotype.

There are fantasy elements considering the almost supernatural majesty of the horse, but they never take over the human element of the story, which is closer to British Social Realism than director Mike Newell's later J.K. Rowling adaptation "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." While "Goblet of Fire" is my favorite Harry Potter adaptation, "Into the West" is a little more low-key, more about growing up and learning to let go that sorcery and magic.

There are relevant social commentary (reflected by the prejudice towards the 'travelers,' the pressure of impoverished conditions, and the less-than-kosher treatment of the horse by the rich horse breeder,) and the acting is pretty strong overall, especially by Gabriel Byrne and the oldest son Rúaidhrí Conroy, although the performance by Ciarán Fitzgerald (Ossie) can be a little tiresome.

Overall, "Into the West" is a good kid's movie with a lot of heart. Consider this a a superior alternative for teens and tweens to the the "Twilight" films and "Alvin and the Chipmunks- The Squeakquel" (God help me.) It is a rarity- strong and underrated family film that remains interesting after you turn ten. Good clean fun.


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So, So Bad. Avoid!

Posted : 3 years, 11 months ago on 20 December 2013 06:24 (A review of V/H/S)

Nothing to see here, ladies and gents. "V/H/S" is a appallingly bad and nauseatingly shot fright flick, marred by misogynist overtones and 0% (and I do mean %0) character development. The film is geared toward predominately male teenagers with short attention spans, sporting sickeningly schizoid cinematography and and gratuitous boobie shots (most of which are in sexually violent or exploitative context.)

In the core storyline, A group of miscreants break into a house after being hired to steal one videotape. We have no sympathy for these people- between their abusive treatment of women and their grating stupidity, we're actually rooting against them. When they break in, they find a stack of V/H/S home movies... and a corpse. Unfazed by the body of an old man resting in an armchair, they begin to view the videotapes. Each one is a supposedly real horror short.

The first short in the anthology is by far the worst. A trio of horny and misogynistic friends set out to video tape one of the men's sexual experience. The situation soon becomes rapey, as one girl is passed out drunk and another is an apparently addled femme fatale who is not what she seems. The acting in this short is pretty poor and the dialogue is worse.

Is it really necessary to drop the F bomb in every sentence? I mean, I love my expletives as much anybody else, but throwing it around willy-nilly makes you sound like a 13-year-old trying to be 'edgy.' The boys are disgusting pieces of work, but watching their well-deserved demise, satisfying as it might be, is not enough to save this terrible short.

The majority of these shorts are wretchedly bad to pretty mediocre, with the exception of one. Here's a wonder- Ti West, who made one of the worst shorts in the similarly themed horror anthology "The ABC's of Death", also directs the segment that saves this movie from being a total disaster. "Second Honeymoon," starring Joe Swanberg and Sopie Takal, is a surprising and competently acted short that kept me guessing throughout.

The short with the aliens had potential, but just left too many unanswered questions for my liking. The others were utter crap. The shaky cam gave me a headache and a stomachache. The dialogue was a string of childish obscenities. There was no depth to the characters. I have not seen a movie in a long time with a cast of characters I liked less. This movie is so, so bad. Avoid it like the plague.


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Better Than "The Conjuring"

Posted : 3 years, 12 months ago on 19 December 2013 08:28 (A review of Mama)

"Mama" is a eerily different and creepy ghost story with great performances from the child actors. Young Victoria and Lily (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse First) have spent 5 years in a cabin in the woods after their father (Nikolaj Coster-Waldaudies,) alone except for a ghostly presence they call Mama. When they are rescued by and put into the custody their dad's twin brother (also Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his metalhead musician wife Annabelle (Jessica Chastain,) who doesn't want the responsibility of kids.

The special thing thing about this movie is the lack of typical 'bad guys' (Mama is disturbed and overprotective, but also a tragic figure) and the CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT many horror films lack. You end up both feeling for these little girls (who return to civilization filthy, emaciated and feral) and being a little creeped out by them due to the clever writing and the girl's great performances.

The CGI can be a little shoddy and there are plot holes present, but that didn't deter me from enjoying the creepy, emotional, and compelling story. There where some very touching moments and I found myself still becoming uneasy on my second viewing, which hardly ever happens. I found the development of Annabelle's character and her transformation from rocker with no real responsibilities to devoted surrogate mom fighting a jealous supernatural force interesting.

I will now voice my minority opinion and say this movie was better than the recent supernatural thriller "The Conjuring." While "The Conjuring" was perhaps a movie with better visual effects and more audience appeal, it never really got me interested in the characters. They were simply victims, struggling against a tide of bizarre supernatural events that were beyond their earthly grasp.

On the other hand, I felt like the characters in "Mama" were well written and developed, and well I thought the young girls were the highlight of the film, the rest of the cast was quite good too. The child actors display range and prowess beyond their young years, and I hope to see more of them in the time to come.

And then there's 'Mama', who's overall a rather confusing character, but also eerie and ambiguous. You feel for her, and you fear her wrath, in equal measure. I recommend this movie to horror buffs, but also to people who like just a good emotional riveting story. It's not a horror classic, but it's worth watching as 'light horror' for genre fans and scaredy cats alike.


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