Death Kiss (Robert Kovacs, Eva Hamilton, Daniel Baldwin, dir. Rene Perez) From writer/director/cinematographer/editor/composer Rene Perez, Death Kiss is one of the oddest projects I've covered in this column. The movie seems to exist for no other reason than to showcase star Robert "Bronzi" Kovacs' resemblance to the late Charles Bronson, which is indeed uncanny. The title deliberately references Bronson classic Death Wish, and Kovacs plays a character who dresses like Bronson's Death Wish character Paul Kersey and dishes out vigilante justice. But rather than remaking Death Wish or constructing another similar revenge story, Perez has created an almost entirely plotless movie, mostly just a series of disconnected vignettes showing Kovacs' mysterious "K" gunning down various criminals. K gets no back story and no motivation, and when the movie begins he's already stalking the streets of an unnamed city, looking for bad guys to kill. He doesn't have much of a moral code, either; at one point he saves a woman from being raped and then forces her to kill one of her attackers so that she's complicit in the crime and won't go to the police. He does "penance" by sending money to a single mother and her crippled daughter, and the thin explanation for that is the closest he gets to character development. Daniel Baldwin shows up in a few interludes as a ranting right-wing radio host whose connection to K reveals the whole movie as a rabid fascist fantasy. But it's too poorly acted, poorly shot, poorly paced and poorly dubbed for the political message to make much of a difference. Available on Amazon and elsewhere.
E-Demon (Julia Kelly, John Anthony Wylliams, Christopher Daftsios, dir. Jeremy Wechter) Although producer Timur Bekmambetov has gotten a lot attention for his line of "screen life" movies (including Searching and the Unfriended series), he doesn't have a monopoly on the concept of movies that take place entirely on a computer screen. As the mediocre found-footage horror movie E-Demon proves, though, he's clearly figured out that aesthetic better than most. Writer-director Jeremy Wechter makes minimal use of the myriad possibilities of the internet in his story of online possession, mainly just cycling through a series of video-chat windows and headset-mounted webcams that are very similar to the style of other, non-online-based found-footage movies. The movie's main characters (engagingly played by the cast of unknowns) are four former college friends catching up via online chat from their homes in various cities, enjoying banter and pranks until one of them accidentally unleashes a demon that's been trapped in a mirror in his family's attic. The demon quickly begins possessing people through internet-enabled cameras, which is kind of a cool and creepy idea that gets lost under typical horror-movie demon hunting in the third act. Wechter sparingly augments the video-chat windows with text chats and online research, but E-Demon mostly squanders its technological potential, instead settling into familiar B-horror rhythms. Available on Amazon and elsewhere.
The Landing (Don Hannah, Warren Farina, Jeff McVey, dir. David Dodson and Mark Dodson) Anyone coming into The Landing completely cold might be convinced for quite a while that the movie was a genuine historical documentary about the failures of the 1973 Apollo 18 mission to the moon, which in reality never occurred. Only when filmmakers David and Mark Dodson start getting into the use of neurotoxins by potential double agents working for the Chinese government does it become obvious that the movie is a work of fiction (and even then, some gullible viewers might still take the story as fact). With their mix of talking-head interviews (labeled as taking place in 1998), pseudo-re-enactments and faked archival footage (most of which is quite realistic), the Dodsons mimic the structure and style of a midrange investigative documentary so effectively that The Landing can sometimes be tedious to watch. Rather than building to twists or revelations in the story of how the Apollo 18 astronauts ended up landing in the Chinese wilderness rather than the Pacific Ocean, the movie merely throws out a bunch of competing theories and leaves them for the audience to ponder. That's probably how a real documentary would work, especially one depicting conflicting accounts that can never be proved or disproved, but as a fictional story that aims to thrill and surprise, The Landing is more admirable than engrossing. Available on Amazon.
On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.
Although it's been billed as a horror anthology, 13 Chambers doesn't feature much that could be categorized as horror, and its 13 segments are closer to formalist experiments than anything scary or creepy. Most feature no dialogue and no plot, just various images and movements meant to convey a feeling or mood, and most of those fail, evoking just frustration and bafflement. Watching the 13 "chambers" in this movie felt like watching a particularly annoying avant-garde shorts program at a pretentious film festival, and by the last few segments I had almost completely tuned out.
That made it especially tough to focus on, say, the segment that is essentially just vague shadows behind a blindingly white screen for several minutes, but even the segments with more going on are just as much of a slog, with very few exceptions. By far the best segment (and not coincidentally pretty much the only one with anything resembling a plot or characters) is Lindy Boustedt's Liminal, about a man returning to the empty shell of his former elementary school and meeting the grown-up version of his childhood imaginary friend. It turns out that the friend may not have been so imaginary, and what follows is a smart and moving exploration of alternate universes and the regrets of aging.
I couldn't find anything smart or moving or even mildly engaging in any of the other segments, all of which take place within the same decaying building and are created by female filmmakers. The site-specific nature of the project (which was actually shot in a building slated for demolition) may have pushed some of the filmmakers toward making abstract pieces that could be shot quickly without a lot of advance planning, but that's no excuse for the barrage of inexplicable images (and, as one Letterboxd reviewer notes, the surprisingly substantial amount of interpretive dance).
The fact that 13 Chambers isn't actually a horror anthology isn't a problem, although the world could use more female-driven horror anthologies. The problem is that it's not much of anything, created to fill an arbitrary mandate in a limited period of time, like a fancy version of something like the 48 Hour Film Project. Challenges like this may be good learning experiences for filmmakers, but that doesn't mean that audiences should be subjected to watching them.