Film Review: Black Fly (dir by Jason Bourque)


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“It’s just another fond memory of country living.”

— Noel Henson (Matthew McCaull) in Black Fly.

Black Fly, an intense psychological thriller from Canada, tells the story of two brothers.

On an isolated island, Noel Henson (Matthew McCaull) lives on the farm that was once owned by his parents.  He has a mullet, he loves his dog, and he ends each workday with a cold beer.  And maybe it’s because I’ve got plenty of country in my background as well but, as soon as I saw him, I immediately recognized Noel’s type.  He’s outwardly friendly but definitely prefers to have space of his own, the type who likes to live by his own rules and will probably never forgive you if you break one of them.  You would definitely want to help build your house but you might not necessarily invite him to come inside of it afterward.

Noel’s younger brother is Jake (Dakota Daulby).  Maybe because I’ve always had a weakness for sensitive and artistic loners, I felt that I immediately knew Jake’s type as well.  He’s the guy who has been let down one too many times by everyone around him.  He’s got a sketchbook full of drawings of monsters and fantasy girlfriends.  When it comes to someone like Jake, you’re torn between feeling sorry for him and fearing what will happen if he ever truly loses control of his anger.  When we first meet Jake, he is escaping from his abusive uncle.  When he shows up at the island, Noel is there to greet him.  It’s been years since the two brothers were together but it quickly becomes obvious that Jake idolizes Noel.

At first, everything appears to be perfect between Jake and Noel but slowly, cracks start to appear.  Jake and Noel’s childhood was hardly ideal.  Their abusive father was shot while hunting.  Their mother committed suicide.  Noel is overly possessive of his girlfriend, Paula (Christie Burke), and she appears to have some secrets of her own.  A violent motorcycle gang has recently shown up on the island and is trying to intimidate Noel into leaving his home.

And, of course, one of the brothers is a murderer.

Now, I’m not going to tell you which brother is a murderer.  One of the best things about Black Fly is that, up until we witness the film’s first murder, we are kept guessing as to which brother will turn out to be the murderous one.  At first, it’s easy to imagine either one of the two brothers turning out to be a murderer.  Both McCaull and Daulby give totally believable and authentic performances.  At first, they’re both likable but, as the film progresses, we get small clues of trouble underneath the surface.  And those small clues become bigger and bigger until the violence finally explodes on-screen.

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Black Fly was written and directed by filmmaker Jason Bourque.  That name should be familiar to our regular readers because he previously wrote the script for End of the World, a film that I enjoyed so much that, two years after it originally aired, I’m still taking advantage of any excuse to link to my review of it.  Bourque’s direction of Black Fly is atmospheric and suspenseful, making great use of some truly desolate locations.  Whether it’s the trailer park that Jake flees at the start of the film or the dilapidated farm that Noel calls home, the locations in Black Fly are just as important as the characters, with the decay of the island neatly mirroring the decay of Noel and Jake’s relationship.  As the film reaches its violent conclusion, Bourque’s direction keeps the audiences off-balance and throws us straight into the tension-filled world of the characters.

Based on a true story, Black Fly is a potent and visceral look at guilt, violence, and family secrets.  It will be having its U.S. premiere at the Arizona Underground Film Festival on September 25th, followed by two showings at the San Diego Film Festival on October 1st and October 3rd.

Found-Footage Alien Invasion Two-Fer : “Hangar 10”


One more “found-footage” alien invasion yawner.

Trash Film Guru

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Silly me. I thought that, when it came to “found-footage” UFO-themed horror flicks,  Oren Peli’s Area 51 just had to be the bottom of the barrel. The nadir. The armpit. The asshole.  Then I came across a low-budget 2014 effort from the UK called Hangar 10 and realized how staggeringly wrong I was.

The marketing behind director Daniel Simpson’s half-assed opus is certainly interesting — it was quietly dumped out onto various VOD “home-viewing platforms” (it’s since been released on DVD, but being that I watched it on Netflix I can’t really comment on any technical specs or extras-that-probably-aren’t-included-anyway) with little by way of explanation, I’m assuming in order to lure in unsuspecting folks who were stupid enough to believe it might be “real.” The credits are curiously incomplete, as well, and as a result it took some little amount of legwork on the part of horror buffs to even…

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Insomnia File No. 7: Fair Game (dir by Andrew Sipes)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

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On Tuesday night, if you were suffering from insomnia at midnight, you could have turned over to HBO Signature (commonly listed as HBOSIG) and watched Fair Game, a remarkably mindless action film from 1995.

Originally, my plan was to start this review of Fair Game by telling you, in quite a bit of detail, just how sick I am of the Russian Mafia.  Seriously, Russian mobsters have become the default villain for lazy crime films everywhere.  And, quite frankly, I’m getting bored with them.  I’m bored with how the head Russian mobster is always described as being “former KGB” and is always found sitting in the back room of restaurant, wearing an overcoat and smoking filterless cigarettes.  I am bored with how his main henchman is always some big guy with a crew cut and that guy always has a thin sidekick who wears his hair in a pony tail and has a bad mustache.  I’m sick of the overexaggerated accents of American and British accents trying to sound Russian and the way they’re always listening to EDM while driving.  It’s all so predictable and tedious.

But then I considered that Fair Game was made 20 years ago.  Even if the villains are Russian mobsters and even if they are some of the least interesting Russian mobsters in cinema history, it’s totally possible that, when Fair Game, was made, there was still some sort of novelty about the Russian Mafia.

However, even if we give Fair Game a pass on using the cliché of the Russian mob, the villains still weren’t particularly interesting.  Kazak (Steven Berkoff) is … well, the film isn’t really that clear on what Kazak’s big plan is but he has a lot of henchmen and they certainly do end up killing a lot of people.  Kazak runs his operations off of a yacht that belongs to a Cuban criminal named Emilio (Miguel Sandoval).  Emilio is in the process of getting divorced and attorney Kate McQuean (model Cindy Crawford, who made her film debut here and has never played a leading role since) is determined to repossess his boat.  So, Kazak decides that the perfect solution would be to murder Kate…

Which makes absolutely no sense.  Kazak doesn’t want anyone to discover his operation so he decides to blow up a good portion of Miami, all in pursuit of one person.  Wouldn’t it make more sense for Kazak to just blow up the boat and buy a new one?

Anyway, as the film opens, Kate is out jogging when suddenly someone driving by in a car opens fire on her.  She ends up getting grazed in the arm, not that it seems to bother her.  She wears a bandage for a few scenes but it soon vanishes.  Kate is all business so, even after getting shot, she still goes into the office and starts to make plans to repossess that yacht.  Personally, if anyone ever shot at me, I would probably be so freaked out that I would never leave the house again.

Now, you may be thinking that Kate was shot because of Kazak but actually, it turns out that the shooting was just a random thing that happened.  Apparently, the shooter was trying to shoot someone else and Kate just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  So, we never find out who actually shot Kate and that really bothered me, as that seems to be kind of a huge plot point to bring up and then refuse to resolve.

Anyway, Kate meets a detective named Max Kirkpatrick (William Baldwin) and, soon, they’re on the run from Kazak’s assassins.  The majority of the film is made up of Max and Kate running from one location to another.  One thing that really bothered me was that literally everyone that Max and Kate talked to ended up getting killed just a few minutes later.  At one point, Kate flirts with a computer service expert to get him to help them out.  The scene is played for laughs but then, five minutes later, that same innocent technician guy is being brutally tortured by a bunch of Russians and, though we don’t see it happen, it’s safe to assume that he was eventually murdered by them.  And no point do Max or Kate appear to feel any guilt or concern about the number of innocent people who are killed just for associating with them.

Anyway, Fair Game is a completely mindless film that has a rather nasty streak of sadism to it.  (I imagine, when this film was released, it probably set a record for close-ups of people getting shot and stabbed in the crotch.)  William Baldwin and Cindy Crawford both have perfect bodies and give totally wooden performances, which leads to them having a dimly-lit sex scene that is both physically hot and emotionally cold at the same time.

(I have no idea what entropy at absolute zero means but it sounds like a pretty good description of the chemistry between Cindy Crawford and William Baldwin in Fair Game.)

One good note: Salma Hayek has a small role as Max’s ex-girlfriend.  Whenever she shows up in the movie, she starts screaming at everyone.  I don’t blame her.

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Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes

 

The Daily Grindhouse: The Undertaker and His Pals (dir by T.L.P. Swicegood)


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Say what you will about the overall quality of the 1966 horror-comedy, The Undertaker And His Pals, it has an absolutely brilliant opening shot.  One man on a motorcycle drives around in a circle in a parking lot.  He’s wearing a leather jacket and his features are hidden underneath a white helmet.  Soon, another man wearing a leather jacket and white helmet rides up on another motorcycle.  And again, they circle the parking lot.  And then, they’re joined by a third identically dressed man on yet another motorcycle and the three of them circle the parking lot before then driving off into the city.  The night is dark, the city streets are otherwise deserted, and the entire scene is tinted an otherworldly yellow.  It’s a truly creepy scene and, for those first few moments of the film, those three faceless riders are truly frightening.  If you ever watch The Undertaker and His Pals, be sure to appreciate that opening scene because nothing else in the film matches it.

It turns out that our three motorcycle riders are up to no good.  Two of them own a restaurant and, because they’re too cheap to actually order fresh meat, they kill people and serve them up as the special of the day.  The third one is the local undertaker.  Business has apparently been struggling so he’s started killing people so that he can get paid to provide them a funeral.  Apparently, half of each corpse is turned into lunch meat while the other half is put in a cheap, wooden casket at Shady Rest Funeral Parlor.

Now, here’s what makes The Undertaker and His Pal such a strange movie.  The murders are graphic and gory (and I imagine they were quite extreme for 1966) but the rest of the movie is an over-the-top comedy, full of bad puns and slapstick.  At the start of the film, while the latest victim is being stabbed to death, the camera continually cuts to a photograph of her sailor boyfriend, looking more and more upset with each cut.  Later, the undertaker accidentally steps on a skateboard and we watch as he uncontrollably careens into the middle of the street while everyone else in the film points and laughs.  When the undertaker finally falls off the skateboard, we even hear a waa waa on the soundtrack.  After the undertaker has his accident, the owner of the diner accidentally insults a customer and literally gets a custard pie thrown in his face.  (And again, we hear that waa waa.)

And then there’s the names!  The film’s first victim is named Sally Lamb.  The next day, the special at the diner is literally “Leg of Lamb.”  When an administrative assistant named Ann Poultry complains about the poor quality of her leg of lamb and threatens to call the health department, the next day’s special is “Breast of Chicken.”

Ann worked for and was dating a detective named Harry Glass (James Westmoreland, appearing here under the name Rad Fulton).  After her death, Harry is … well, Harry really doesn’t seem to care.  Harry is the film’s nominal hero but he really doesn’t do anything.  In fact, he is remarkably stupid.  Though he claims that he’s trying to solve his girlfriend’s murder, he seems to spend most of his time unknowingly eating her down at the diner.

The Undertaker and His Pals is weird and yet strangely watchable.  Of course, it helps that the film is only 66 minutes long and that the acting so cartoonish (and, I think, intentionally so) that it’s impossible to take the movie seriously.  (If the film was, in any way, believable, it would be almost unbearably grim and misogynistic.)  Fortunately, the film ends with clips of the entire cast coming back to life and laughing, letting us know that no one was intentionally harmed or traumatized and apparently, everyone had a great time making The Undertaker and His Pals.

I imagine the film was made to capitalize on the success of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s similarly over the top Blood Feast.  Ultimately, The Undertaker and His Pals works best as a weird time capsule of what was shocking in 1966.

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