Tag: padraig reynolds

Open 24 Hours

Open 24 Hours (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

Padraig Reynolds’ “Open 24 Hours” thrives in brutality. When it goes all in with its violence, like showing a sledgehammer splitting open a person’s skull like a juicy watermelon—Thwack!—it is near impossible not to flinch. It acknowledges that violence can be ugly, dirty, messy, and may not be for everyone.

But the movie is not simply a spectacle for gore or barbarity. I think its goal is to modernize the classic slasher—notice its slow buildup and willingness to allow private conversations to unfold. Still, I think it could have been a more potent piece of work had it gone further. For instance, employing unusual or interesting camera angles, playing with harsh or atypical lighting, circumventing the expected beats that lead up to scares, adding an extended heart-pounding chase sequence or two, crafting a killer score. Although I enjoyed the picture, and I am giving it a mild recommendation, I feel it is not special enough to be remembered ten years from now.

Perhaps it has something to do with that lazy, cliché, throwaway ending. Horror movies, especially modern ones functioning on a limited budget, have such a difficult time presenting a satisfying closure. Offering a final shock—even though it fails to make any sense or is completely inappropriate—has become the norm. I expected more from Reynolds, who wrote and directed the underrated but confident horror-thriller “Rites of Spring.” Why not simply end the story in a way that feels right for the character, or characters, we’re following? Why must there be a need to question whether a sequel might follow?

It is also possible that another reason why the picture fails to stand out among its contemporaries is because our protagonist, Mary (Vanessa Grasse), is not a heroine who can belong in the classic slasher films that the writer-director clearly admires. The interesting thing is we are ready for her to be a Laurie Strode (“Halloween”), a Nancy Thompson (“A Nightmare on Elm Street”), a Sidney Prescott (“Scream”), or even a Ginny (“Friday the 13th Part 2”) because Mary has the backstory: she is a genuinely penitent ex-con, sent to prison for having set her former boyfriend on fire. And her ex just so happens to be the so-called Rain Ripper (Cole Vigue), whose modus operandi is kidnapping and murdering women when it rains. Mary was labeled by the media as The Watcher because for a time she knew about his… extracurricular activity but did nothing.

Grasse paints Mary as flawed but likable, still suffering from deep and unresolved trauma. Not to mention overwhelming guilt. There is one too many sequences where she experiences visual and auditory hallucinations even though these are executed rather well. When jolts come, you can tell that Reynolds is a fan of the horror genre. But it is most disappointing that when Mary is eventually hunted by the man she should have killed when she had the chance, we don’t quite feel that fight in her. Detecting that fire within our heroine is so important in slasher films. A case can be made that such fire can make or break a movie.

The body count is surprisingly high in this film—especially because it is filled with kind characters. There is Debbie (Emily Tennant), a true friend who decides to stick by her pal and actively root for her when Mary herself feels like she’s worthless. There is Bobby (Brendan Fletcher), a funny and caring gas station attendant who has been assigned to train recently hired Mary thirty minutes before her 10:00 P.M. to 6:00 A.M. shift. And then there is Tom (Daniel O’Meara), Mary’s parole officer. He is tough on Mary, but we never doubt his reasons. O’Meara portrays Tom as a man who is tired of seeing ex-cons get sent back to jail for being foolish. There is not one line of dialogue that suggests this possibility; it is all in the eyes and how he carries himself.

“Open 24 Hours” is a tough call from the angle of giving recommendation to the general audience. It may not possess an original story, but it does a handful of things right. However, it is an easy call for horror fans: It is likely you’ll find entertainment or value from it even though a. it is far from innovative from a storytelling point of view and b. it is not quite successful in shaping a modern slasher to be shortlisted as a standout for years to come. It has enough personality and flavor to sustain a hundred minutes—and sometimes that’s enough to scratch the itch.

Dark Light

Dark Light (2019)
★ / ★★★★

For a movie that offers plenty of strange noises in a farmhouse in the middle of the night and investigations in the dark using only a flashlight, Padraig Reynolds’ “Dark Light” commands no tension, suspense, or horror. It is strange and highly disappointing because the work is written and directed by the same filmmaker who helmed the little-seen gem “Rites of Spring,” a hybrid between crime thriller and horror, so confident in what it is and what it wishes to accomplish. This picture, however, is an obvious giant step backward, serving the audience a minefield of boredom and clichés on top of characters more uninteresting than tap water.

The plot is standard but not without potential to genuinely entertain. Annie (Jessica Madsen) and her daughter, Emily (Opal Littleton), recently move into Annie’s childhood home following a divorce (Ed Brody), a death in the family, and a mental breakdown. To Annie, the relocation from the city is a chance to start anew with her young child. But it seems that the mother’s once happy home is no longer. Doors open on their own. There is scratching and scraping noises in the walls. There are lights that turn on and off out in the cornfield. Emily begins to suffer memory problems. The mystery is laid thick and heavy, but not one of its elements manages to bleed into other territories—surprise, terror, a sense of impending doom—other than mild curiosity.

I became convinced that even the writer-director is aware of this. For a while, the story unfolds in flashbacks and flash forwards in order create a semblance of urgency. Instead, what we get is distraction and, eventually, annoyance because high-priority questions go unanswered for so long to the point where we no longer care. And when questions do get answers or solutions, notice it is almost always action-driven and noisy rather than thought-driven and silent. A more equal mixture might have been more appropriate given the story’s setting. Clearly, this is a sci-fi horror hybrid that wishes to impress ostentatiously when playing it simple is more effective.

Further, observe closely when Annie inspects areas she suspects an intruder to be hiding in. She is written to move like a soldier rather than as a mother who is afraid for her and her child’s safety. (She has no military background whatsoever.) The intent, I suppose, is to create a heroine who is worth rooting for. But it seems Reynolds did not get the memo that it makes for a far more interesting watch to create a protagonist who is tough on the inside rather than outside—and then allowing that inner strength to shine through. It certainly would have challenged Madsen more—who seems game at whatever the script wishes to throw at her.

“Dark Light” lacks a more elegant, light-handed screenplay. Because it fails to introduce enough wrinkles to an already familiar template, the result is boring, uninspired, and forgettable. Even the relationship between former spouses rings false. Feel the impersonality of their conversations surrounding their child. You get a sense that the actors have got their lines pat but not the emotions and the history of having lived and loved together once. This relationship is robotic and so is the movie. It’s a waste of time.

The Devil’s Dolls

The Devil’s Dolls (2016)
★ / ★★★★

Here is yet another horror film in which its story contains a detective, the lead protagonist played by Christopher Wiehl, but not much investigating happens. Instead, information are simply provided at certain times because the plot is required to move forward. What results is a highly confused work that fails to involve the viewer in any way; bottom-of-the-barrel filmmaking that deserves every bit of excoriation for adamantly wasting our energy and time. Stay far, far away from this movie.

The work is directed by Padraig Reynolds and it appears as though he does not understand the ins and outs of what makes an effective horror picture. Take notice of how scenes are executed, as an example. When one scene ends and the next one is about to start, look closely at how the performers stand around for a split-second and then begin to say their lines. It creates an awkward and disjointed feeling, as if we were watching a soap opera. The most effective horror movies are able to create an unrelenting atmosphere; fear creeps up our spines exactly because we believe fully into the reality of what we are seeing.

Although a horror movie, it can be argued that the material is tonally flat. While events do occur, such as people who come in physical contact with these dolls being forced to do horrible things, these happenings are not scary but simply violent. Although I was amused by its willingness to employ gore, there is more to the genre than bloodletting. Notice that when a person loses control of his or her body, there is violence about ten seconds later. This formula is executed like clockwork and so no suspense is created. Horror aficionados are certain to sit passively, severely unimpressed.

The film’s look is pedestrian to the point where it encourages one to think of how even a number of terrible works within the genre still tend to strive to look, feel, or sound a certain way. Although set, I think, somewhere in the south, possibly near New Orleans, hues of blues and similarly cold colors usually dominate. Regardless of whether a scene is taking place indoors or outdoors, the overall feeling is the same. It doesn’t matter whether a scene takes place in a house and the scene right after unfolds in a hospital—its sense of style is dead cold. The story might as well have taken place in the suburbs of Los Angeles and it wouldn’t have made a difference.

“Worry Dolls,” also known as “The Devil’s Dolls,” is lazy filmmaking. The writers, Danny Kolker and Christopher Wiehl, have failed to generate even a remote interest in the dolls. These dolls are supposed to be steeped in culture, history, and black magic. It is their responsibility to have done the required research so that the story they choose to tell are filled with details so macabre, it is impossible to look away or to think of heading to the restroom as the story unfolds. Horror movies that lack a sense of urgency are the worst.

Rites of Spring

Rites of Spring (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Ben (AJ Bowen) and Amy (Katherine Randolph) are $300,000 in debt. Teaming up with quick-tempered Paul (Sonny Marinelli), the trio plan to break into a wealthy couple’s home, kidnap their young daughter, and collect a ransom of two million dollars. Meanwhile, Rachel (Anessa Ramsey) and Alyssa (Hannah Bryan) are taken by an older gentleman (Marco St. John) at the parking lot of a bar. He believes that every first day of spring, a ritual must be performed for a creature’s sustenance which in turn will produce good harvest.

To chalk up the “Rites of Spring,” written and directed by Padraig Reynolds, as an accidental gem, a fusion of crime-thriller and slasher horror, is a claim that holds little weight given that plenty of attempts to combine conflicting moods and tones often go very, very wrong–especially when it comes to filmmakers making their feature-length directorial debut.

It would have been too easy to make the robbers be the bad guys who ought to meet their comeuppance somewhere down the line. But instead of traversing the more convenient route, the writing makes an attempt to make at least one or two of them likable. Though Ben takes part in planning the robbery as well as implementing it, his moral struggle and fear of getting caught are communicated between moments he cannot undo once crossed. Similarly, the kidnapped women could have been easily treated as cattle to be gutted and disposed of once the screaming stopped. One of them turns out to be a fighter, Ramsey quite nicely casted for her ability to exude hatred against her tormentor while balancing a special vulnerability in her to make us care for her well-being.

The chase scenes are standard, but they are handled with precision. Each one radiates an energy so upbeat that we are pulled into the moment. The characters running away from an assailant actually look like they’re fighting for their lives, so when the hunted trips we root for her to get up and continue running instead of shaking our heads in disapproval and frustration toward a shoddy script. Moreover, I enjoyed that the film does not rely on poorly-lit rooms to amp up the tension. The most heart-pounding chases occur in broad daylight or under bright lights which is a welcome and refreshing change.

I wished there had been more details about the rituals performed for the creature. The audience get glimpses like free-flowing blood from slashed wrists being collected using a bowl, the clean-up of the person being bestowed, and the act of putting animal heads over the “clean” sacrifice. The deeper it gets into the ritual by showing specific details, the easier it is to buy into a premise that may be considered quite bizarre.

Although the story lacks complexity to make it truly stand out and has an ending so abrupt that it might be missed if one blinks at the wrong time, “Rites of Spring” leaves me wanting more in the best way possible. It is always a great feeling when we can almost touch the filmmaker’s glowing enthusiasm and willingness to try something slightly different from behind the lens.