Thursday, 28 July 2016

JONAH LIVES

Directed by Luis Carvalho, Starring: Brinke Stevens, Jocelyn Padilla, Ryan Boudreau. Horror, US, 2012, 91mins, cert 18.
Released in the UK on DVD on 25th July by Left Films.

“Maybe, just maybe, we can raise one dead man from his grave”.

HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY meets OUIJA in this low-budget tale from the crypt by first-time writer/director/editor Luis Carvalho. A group of bored teens holed up in a basement dabble with a Ouija board and accidentally summon up the 69 year-old corpse of Jonah Matthias from his grave. Poisoned by his wife, who just happens to be partying with a group of middle-aged swingers in the upstairs house, Jonah is out for revenge...

Poor inconsistent writing and leaden direction hinders this film from ever rising above its meagre offerings. It’s hard to get a handle on such waveringly written characters. Morally superior and holier-than-thou Tony for example doesn’t believe in pre-marital sex and refuses to partake in the devils work of the Ouija high-jinks – yet it is later suggested he’s overindulged in drugs. Francis advises his little sister that the Bible is the only book she’ll ever need – yet it’s his suggestion to dabble in the occultist Ouija in the first place (and far from practicing abstinence himself, he’s about to become a father). Unlike the boozy old-timers upstairs who appear to be having a whale of a time – the teens below deck appear a joyless bunch without a hint of chemistry between them.

Once Jonah has staggered out of his grave and found his way to the basement, (seemingly ignoring his murderous wife upstairs) the teens seem remarkably reluctant to actually attempt to escape from the unconvincing clutches of the Dr. Freudstein-like zombie Jonah. And it’s here among the flimsy cardboard walls and implausibly large cellar spaces that director Carvalho overstretches the ‘idiot plot’ to such an extent it renders the narrative logic positively threadbare.

80’s scream queen Brinke Stevens makes a couple of brief appearances as Jonah’s widow, partying it up with the swingers and toasting to the fortune her (supposedly) dead husband posthumously bestowed upon her. Needless to say she steals the film even in those fleeting few moments.

Eventually the shambling Jonah (who resembles ‘Tiny’ from HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES)  indulges in some sub-par Fulci-lite gory antics such as chewing on a chunk of neck from a (seemingly) compliant victim before chopping off another’s arm, but by then it’s really too late to raise the interest level above resigned apathy, for JONAH LIVES has unfortunately long since died.

Extras: Behind the scenes (runs 52 seconds), brief coverage of a public screening, footage of Brinke Stevens on the set, and a couple of trailers.
**(out of 5*)
Paul Worts

This review was first published on the FRIGHTFEST website.

Friday, 8 July 2016

i-LIVED

Directed by Franck Khalfoun, Starring: Jeremiah Watkins. Horror, US, 2015, 92mins, Cert 15.
Available as download to own from 27th June, on-demand 4th July and on DVD 11th July by Second Sight. The i-Lived app is also available from iTunes and Google.

In 2012, director Franck Khalfoun turned Frodo Baggins into a MANIAC. Three years on he now turns a fictional phone app into a Faustian pact-maker for an unwitting online reviewer too witless to read the small print - and too clueless to have ever watched DRACULA A.D. 1972. 
   
Meet YouTube vlogger Josh: behind with the rent, recently dumped by (cheating) ex-girlfriend and a squanderer of his true potential (whatever that might be) according to his father. It’s a cut-throat online world and the lucrative hits are increasingly harder to come by. Then Josh comes across a life-changing app which claims to help the downloader achieve whatever life goals they might have. All you have to do is follow the apps’ instructions. What could possibly go wrong...?

Josh’s downwardly spiralling experiences with the app reflect my feelings about the film itself. At first the light-hearted instructions to perform for example random acts of kindness seem fun and I was engaging with the hokey premise. I thought Josh (Jeremiah Watkins) came across as an annoying younger composite of Owen Wilson and Tom Green and his moronic YouTube reviews instantly grated (sorry Josh, but I could totally see why your girlfriend dumped you dude). But I was willing to overlook this obvious flaw, hell, I even suspended disbelief as Josh naively tried to fulfil an instruction by offering sweets to random children in a playground.

But then director Khalfoun attempts to shift the tone into darker material, and I rapidly wished for an uninstall option on the film. Perhaps Netflix could ditch the later (unconvincing) nastiness and rework it into a vehicle for Adam Sandler to lend his non-existent charisma to?   
The revelatory moment where Josh finally works out the identity of his mysterious benefactor who has been granting his wishes of online success, sexual gratification and the seemingly miraculous recovery of terminally-ill mum is so laughably naff even M. Night Shyamalan would feel ashamed to use it.

Apparently there is an actual app available to download which supposedly enhances the viewing experience of watching i-Lived. Well, unless it completely re-writes the second half of the film and recasts the lead, i-Doubt it.

**(out of 5*)

Paul Worts