Author: Steven West

JAKOB’S WIFE **** USA 2021 Dir: Travis Stevens. 98 mins Writer-director Travis Stevens follows up his superb feature directing debut GIRL ON THE THIRD FLOOR (2019) with this witty, gruesome genre piece set in the knowingly named Kinski County. At the core is a bravura transformation from Barbara Crampton – no stranger to such extremes, having transitioned from the repressed, buttoned-down woman of science in Stuart Gordon’s FROM BEYOND (1986) into a dominatrix straddling Jeffrey Combs. Here, her once adventure-laden life has settled down into something altogether more stifling with preacher-husband Larry Fessenden. Old-flame businessman Robert Rusler’s reappearance in town…

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SÉANCE *** USA 2021 Dir: Simon Barrett. 92 mins Simon Barrett has been writing excellent horror movies for over a decade, from the underrated DEAD BIRDS (2004) to a series of fruitful collaborations with director Adam Wingard: A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE (2010), YOU’RE NEXT (2011), V/H/S (2012) THE GUEST (2015) and BLAIR WITCH (2016). He directed segments of V/H/S and its recent sequel V/H/S/94 (2021) but SÉANCE marks his feature directing debut, beautifully shot in Winnipeg by the estimable cinematographer Karim Hussein. The prologue offers an echo of scenes we’ve seen in multiple modern American horror films: students at…

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CAVEAT **** UK 2020 Dir: Damian Mc Carthy. 88 mins Irish filmmaker Damian Mc Carthy makes his feature debut with a shivery, stripped-down exercise in dread, fulfilling the promise of earlier short films like HE DIES AT THE END (2010). There’s a genuine frisson of fear from the start, as the mentally unstable Olga (Leila Sykes) descends into a basement while an ominously drumming, sinister toy bunny catches our eye. Bedraggled drifter Isaac (Jonathan French) accepts a £200-a-day “babysitting” job from his pal, the young woman’s uncle Barrett (Ben Caplan). There are hints of schizophrenia, despite Barrett’s claims that she’s…

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RITUALS **** Canada 1977 Dir: Peter Carter. 95 mins A long-underrated but finely crafted Canadian addition to the urban-paranoia sub-genre of post-DELIVERANCE chillers in which city folk are driven to savagery by the hostilities waiting for them in the great outdoors. Surgeon Hal Holbrook and his four buddies / work colleagues take a private plane to a serene location (nicknamed “the cauldron of the moon”) for a week-long fishing trip. They get drunk / stoned, argue about work issues and fool around by the campfire before becoming aware of an unknown, seemingly grudge-bearing presence. A nocturnal theft leaves them without…

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SESSION 9 ***** USA 2001 Dir: Brad Anderson. 100 mins Co-writer / director Brad Anderson, who later made the THE MACHINIST, wanted to make a grown-up horror film with serious intent at a time when the genre had run the smug, self-conscious post-SCREAM teen horrors into the ground and, in the U,S, was about to remake the J-horror cycle with short-lived commercial success. Barely a blip on the box office radar upon its release in August 2001, the digitally shot SESSION 9 now looks like one of the great American horror films of the 21st century. Written with actor, Stephen…

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