Movie Review: All I Need (2014)

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All I Need Director: Dylan K. Narang Writers: Dylan K. Narang, Dylan K. Narang Stars: Rachel Melvin, Caitlin Stasey, Jonathan Erickson Eisley. Foggy Bottom Pictures

Start with a closeup of a young woman in distress, tied up in a strange room wearing only her underwear, coming back to consciousness. Every corner of the room is a veritable slasher’s buffet, both beds, the closet, the shelves, everything, is covered in dead or unconscious women in their underwear. Heavy footsteps announce the arrival of the psycho-du-jour, who drags one of the other girls out of the room to her inevitable doom. The soon-to-be-final-girl must lie on the floor, hands and feet bound, mouth gagged, as she listens to the other girl being tortured and killed in the next room.Cut to the streets outside to follow the story of a vagrant drifter, new to Los Angeles, as his life finishes swirling down the drain. He receives an offer from a mysterious unseen man to begin doing odd jobs around town to make money. Bounce between both stories. A man growing desperate for cash, a woman desperate to save her own life. Tension is the strongest point of ALL I NEED. The story is wanting.

Cut to the streets outside to follow the story of a vagrant drifter, new to Los Angeles, as his life finishes swirling down the drain. He receives an offer from a mysterious unseen man to begin doing odd jobs around town to make money. Bounce between both stories. A man growing desperate for cash, a woman desperate to save her own life.

Tension is the strongest point of ALL I NEED. The story is wanting.
It’s not hard to see where everything is headed, so I hesitate to call this a spoiler alert, but y’know…there’s your warning. The moment the drifter takes his first job, I knew that ALL I NEED would be the story of how he became a psychotic killer. The movie doesn’t go out of the way to disguise this twist. The third act takes a strange turn when the killer actually gets his mask-and-pitchfork job offer from the deranged billionaire boss behind the mysterious unseen man. Said billionaire’s request is made during a rambling, semi-coherent speech, a pitch that isn’t nearly convincing enough to make a man kidnap, torture, and kill young women.

What director Dylan Narang does, he does well. This movie makes effective use of limited viewpoint, music, and sound to ramp up tension quickly from scene-to-scene. The performances from the major characters are all very solid. Unfortunately, they aren’t given much story to work with. The only reason I know the final girl’s name is Chloe is through the magic of IMDB. I know she can survive while wearing only underwear, and…that’s about it. She is otherwise a nameless victim, the trembling mouse in a nature film about a hungry python. We never learn who she is, who she was, how she came to be in the murder room. It’s hard to feel deep sympathy and fear for her beyond hoping she escapes from the killer. She feels less like a true scream queen and more like the main character in a threadbare survival horror game.

Instead, we learn more about Andrew, the drifter. Giving a slasher some backstory and motivation is a great idea. We might be able to humanize and empathize with him, or at least understand what’s feeding his fire, but the movie doesn’t dig too deeply into those details. The leap of faith we have to take to believe he becomes the monster in the locked room is too farfetched. His backstory isn’t established enough to show that he’s desperate enough to kill innocent people, nor focused enough to make us believe him capable of doing the heinous things he does.

Both killer and victim spend a bulk of the second act making supremely dunderheaded choices: Why didn’t he just keep pitchforking when he had her cornered? Why didn’t she kick the door when his fingers were poking through? I was too busy thinking Why? Why? Why? (and not in that fun, bas-movie way) instead of Look out behind you!

There are frustrating moments when Chloe needlessly delays her own escape due to deer-in-the-headlights syndrome, or walks by five things she could use as weapons to defend herself. If Chloe had a backstory, we might understand or forgive her some of these choices. At the end, the movie becomes less about a struggle for survival and more about a most inconvenient day for killer and victim.

Horror films should be getting smarter and more intricate. We don’t need to see jiggly damsels in distress anymore. We love seeing cunning, tough, determined women slay the dragons of their deepest fears. Chloe definitely has the toughness, but aside from seeing copious amounts of her blood onscreen, we never get to see what’s inside that makes her tick. It’s a shame. With a solid story, this could have been a modern horror classic. That said, everyone involved in this movie did the best with what they had, and they will most likely move on to some really great projects in the future. ALL I NEED left me needing more.

Movie Review: Unfriended (2015)

UnfriendedTrailerUnfriended. Director: Levan Gabriadze. Writer: Nelson Greaves. Stars: Heather Sossaman, Matthew Bohrer, Courtney Halverson. Universal Pictures.

Unfriended hits US theater screens on April 17th, 2015.

“Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware that the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock, and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions this innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There’s a bomb beneath you and it’s about to explode!” – Alfred Hitchcock

From the opening shot of Unfriended, the audience is dropped, quite literally, into the lap of the protagonist. Blaire is hanging out at home, starting up a late night Skype chat session with her friends- the typical BS session kids would have about school, friends, parties. She starts a chat with her boyfriend Matt before they are interrupted by their other friends and… an anonymous user. What starts as an annoyance, the belief that a bored loser somewhere has hacked into their chat, quickly turns dark as the friends begin to figure out that this mysterious person seems to know quite a lot about them.

Unfriended Image 1It’s no ordinary evening – it’s the anniversary of the day their friend Laura Barns shot herself after becoming an unwitting star in a viral video that humiliated her. Laura was the victim of relentless cyber-bullying, in the end creating another viral video of her suicide.

Unfriended digitizes conventional horror tropes. Video lag and screen glitches create the unsettling atmosphere once inhabited by fog and shadows. Chases take place across social media instead of through creepy old houses. Blaire “runs” from Skype to Facebook to Google, scrambling to find info on the sinister person who seems to know a lot of dark secrets about her friends.

The entire cast gives solid performances, and the story also modernizes another old horror cliché. In the 80s, the mere act of drinking, using drugs, or having sex was enough to get you targeted by the killer. In Unfriended, it’s about the consequences of those things: bullying, lying, cheating, the secrets that we hide from one another. In the social media age, narcissism is the thing that brings everyone down.

Unfriended Image 2The spirit of Laura Barns is haunting her former friends, digging at them to reveal the unspoken truth that they all know; demanding that they reveal the secrets that will shred the bonds of their friendship. The pinnacle of suspense comes not from a chase scene or a jump scare, but possibly the wickedest game of “Never Have I Ever” ever played. The Spirit that haunts them treats death as an afterthought, and is more concerned with making everyone understand the depth and scope of pain that led her to take her own life. In the screening I attended, the scares got big reactions, but the revelations between friends truly sent chills through the audience.

In the end, we’re back to that Hitchcock quote about suspense. We’ve been watching a computer screen the entire time, watching Blaire’s friends die one by one, and there’s the unsettling dread of knowing that there is no fourth wall here. We’re seeing what Blaire sees, and what’s coming for her is coming for us.

Check out the official Unfriended trailer: