THE SERMON (2018) BY DEAN PUCKETT

Reviews

Director: Dean Puckett
Writer: Dean Puckett
Year: 2018
Starring: Molly Casey, Emilia Copeland, Grant Gillespie, Oliver Monaghan, Denise Stephenson

Synopsis:
In an isolated church community in the English countryside, a powerful hate preacher prepares to deliver a sermon to his flock, but his daughter has a secret that could destroy them all.

Review:
A melancholic tone pervades through the opening establishing shots of a craggy, desolate landscape before THE SERMON begins in quite a literal sense with a preacher (Oliver Monaghan) delivering a damning tale to his isolated community.

We hear an attack on immorality and on homosexuality as the preacher goes on with his damning stereotypical rhetoric before we bear witness to hypocritical and brutal judgement on those deemed abominations, courtesy of God’s children.

Powerful and intelligently composed, within the opening five minutes writer/director Dean Puckett has presented to us a tale about ignorance, hatred and perhaps equally as damaging, about conformity and the betrayal of ones own feelings and ideas. Or so it would seem but there is something darker lurking underneath.

If the script is to be commended, then so too is the cinematography, courtesy of Ian Forbes. THE SERMON through the utilisation of 35mm film manages to succeed in its aim of being reminiscent of seventies folklore horror, meanwhile the muted almost drab colour palette especially when combined with the bleakness of the surrounding countryside is a perfect representation of the limited and dare we say empty mindset of those living in the small rural town,

Although the resolution will not come as a surprise to many, at only eleven minutes long THE SERMON certainly does not overstay its welcome but rather serves as a highly entertaining and polished piece of work, the likes of which are a rarity these days [no Stewart Lee references please].

Tackling intolerance, ignorance and dare I say love in a small isolated religious community, THE SERMON is more than worth your time.

There are a few other elements that I have not touched upon in this review (the terrific music courtesy of Bizarre Rituals being one) which I will leave it for you to discover, to make your own interpretation and to draw your own conclusion.

This film was a collaboration between Grasp The Nettle Films and the Creative England/BFI Network and on the evidence of THE SERMON and Dean Puckett’s previous short of the same year (SATAN’S BITE: OR THE FOOLISHNESS OF THE WITCHFINDER THOMAS EASTCHURCH) this is a director with a very promising future.

If you wish to see THE SERMON for yourself, and I suggest that you do, then you can view it for free on Vimeo.

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BAGHEAD (2017) BY ALBERTO CORREDOR

Reviews

Year: 2017
Director: Alberto Corredor
Writer: Lorcan Reilly
Starring:  Oliver Walker, Natalie Oliver, Julian Seager, Pat Boothman

Synopsis:
BAGHEAD is a ghost story. Kevin is haunted by grief and has questions that only the recently deceased can answer. His search takes him to the most unremarkable of locations, a grotty storage room at the back of a rundown pub. However, what he finds there is anything but unremarkable. He is introduced to Baghead, a shape-shifting witch who can channel the dead in a most unusual manner and maybe provide Kevin with the answers he seeks.

Review:
Not to be confused with the 2008 American feature from the excellent Duplass brothers, the short film BAGHEAD comes from the mind of British writer Lorcan Reilly and Spanish director Alberto Corredor.

Opening with despair and punishment, you would be forgiven for initially believing BAGHEAD to be a slasher or revenge movie. With the post-title sequence doing little to dispel that second option, even calling to mind, if only loosely Stan Winston’s PUMPKINHEAD.

In only fifteen captivating minutes writer Lorcan Reilly manages to convey a full narrative complete with past and present but perhaps crucially without any one aspect feeling rushed or under thought. It is clear to see why the script for BAGHEAD went on to win production funds from ShortTV. Money that was very well spent.

Due to the length of the short film and the story contained within it I won’t discuss or detail the plot, but I do urge you to check out this darkly comic and twisted tale of loss, love and vengeance.

The majority of short films that I see are portfolio pieces as writers and directors develop their skills for wider audiences and bigger (feature) opportunities and if taken in that spirit then BAGHEAD is  an accomplished piece in every aspect.

Credit needs to go to both the cast for their strong performances and the crew for strong and well composed shots, editing and sound. However BAGHEAD is more than that and more than the sum of its (considerable) parts and in its own right stands up as a terrific story and watch. With potential to become a feature length I am looking forward to seeing what comes next from both Lorcan Reilly and Alberto Corredor…hopefully an extension of this impressive short.

The film is currently doing the rounds on the festival circuit, and in fact played at the most recent FrightFest in London,  and as of September 2018 it was confirmed for the following upcoming festivals:

Sitges Film Festival; Manhattan Short Film Festival; San Diego Film Festival; Freakshow Horror Film Festival; Mollins Film Festival; Sacramento Horror Fest.

I presume if you are going to one of these then you will already know the date…and now you will know of BAGHEAD so make sure you check it out.

View the trailer here.

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HOUSE OF SALEM (2016) BY JAMES CROW

Reviews

Year: 2016
Director: James Crow
Writer: James Crow
Starring: Andrew Lee Potts, Jessica Arterton, Jack Brett Anderson, Liam Kelly, Leslie Mills, Dean Maskell, Anna Nightingale, Nalân Burgess

Synopsis:
A group of kidnappers become a child’s unlikely protectors after discovering they have unwittingly been set up to take part in a satanic ritual. As they begin to uncover the truth of the house they find themselves trapped, they must battle demonic forces and uncover a legacy of over a hundred years of murder in the name of the Devil

Review:
Coming from experienced short film British writer/director James Crow, HOUSE OF SALEM represents his sophomore feature effort and continues with the rough theme of the occult which could be seen in his debut CURSE OF THE WITCHING TREE.

The film opens in familiar horror territory; a beautiful babysitter (Nalân Burgess) and a young child who clearly has either suffered some early trauma or has some mystery in his past. It is never just a normal kid perhaps with a tough paper round.

Early on we learn that the child, Josh, suffers from nightmares if he does not take his pill and rather unsurprisingly he deceives his babysitter into believing he has taken these bringers of peaceful sleep. Now this action also serves another purpose as we, the viewer, are thrown into uncertainty about whether what we are about to view is real or all in Josh’s head.

Whichever is the case it does not matter and we are not given the time to overthink for very quickly an armed gang, dressed in scary clown masks infiltrate the house and kidnap the boy leaving the babysitter unconscious on the floor. 

After being taken to an isolated rural estate house, Josh starts to hear voices, but not only ones that want to protect him but ones that do not have his best interests at heart. At this point the film slowly develops more supernatural overtones and what was only hinted at before begins to dominate the proceedings as the waking nightmare becomes more vivid. These moments are more than competently handled aiding the unsettling possibilities of both the house and those behind orchestrating the kidnapping. 

Objectively speaking however the opening act is a little slow for my tastes and suffers from inconsistency in terms of quality which reduces the impact and arguably the interest of what has the potential to be an engaging slow burning occult mystery.

Thankfully however by the second act the script begins to find its rhythm as more breadcrumbs are laid and engagement generated in regards to the real mystery behind the safehouse that the gang find themselves holed up in at the request of an unknown client.

Soon all around the property a mysterious symbol begins to appear with increased frequency as do the hallucinations of not only Josh but also those who took him. During this middle act HOUSE OF SALEM really hits its stride managing to create some genuine moments of tension and intrigue but unfortunately the film seems unable to capitalise on this resulting in a final act that was executed perhaps not as well as it could or should have been.

As with many low budget films the locations are limited and although not directly, HOUSE OF SALEM is comparable to that of a siege movie, Perhaps think in terms of the hospital in the terrific American film THE VOID, although much less expansive and a much lower budget. 

One aspect of this almost siege like environment is that it places by emphasis on the acting, simply by default more than anything. This is both a strength and weakness of HOUSE OF SALEM as the few moments of action are unfortunately weak while the acting, which takes precedence is a little inconsistent although Jessica Arterton, Leslie Mills and Dean Maskell put in commendable performances while Liam Kelly in his first credited role as the boy Josh makes a strong start to his acting career.

Despite its promise HOUSE OF SALEM is unfortunately neither claustrophobic or brave enough in its depiction, I am talking both in terms of script and visuals, resulting in an inconsistent movie in which moments of inane and weak dialogue are followed by genuine tension. The pieces for success are all there and James Crow clearly knows his stuff leading me to suspect that these lulls and moments of inconsistency are down more to the transition from short to feature length production.

HOUSE OF SALEM is one of those small independent films that hovers around in distribution limbo for a couple of years after being made, before finally being granted a long overdue release. Thankfully though it manages to avoid being dated or missing a trend and so this delay has not or should not affect its release.

Overall there is still enough to recommend about this sometimes effectively tense movie to make it worth your while picking it up  but if you are looking for an independent occult horror film might I recommend the Italian films CUSTODES BESTIAE by Lorenzo Bianchini or SHANDA’S RIVER by Marco Rosson ahead of this one.

HOUSE OF SALEM is receiving a home entertainment (DVD) and digital release courtesy of Left Films and Wild Eye Releasing coming October 1st 2018 if you are interested.

Beware of Satan’s bite!!!

blog

Out there exists many many aspiring and established film makers and one benefit of living in the digital age where the internet is accessible to the majority of the Western world is that these film makers have easy access to their audience and the means to reach a broad range of people at a relatively low cost.

However with this amazing promotional opportunity comes an almost insurmountable amount of competition. This competing noise ironically makes it more difficult to stand out from the crowd and not only gain awareness but to go that one step further and actually have people watch and interact with your creation.

Therefore I feel it is important for us as fans  that when we do see something that we enjoy that we support it, we advocate it and we discuss it. So I would like to point you in the direction of a short film which I happened across recently; ‘Satan’s Bite’, from writer & director Dean Puckett and Grasp the Nettle Films. A tale of witchcraft which I cannot recommend enough.

Shot in just one day and on one roll of Super8 (as part of the Straight8 annual competition) the short film went on to be selected to be screened at Cannes which certainly tells you of the quality behind it.

Along with a clear nod and (admittedly easy) comparison to the 1968 film’Witchfinder General’, Puckett also took influence from Carl Dreyers ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’ and Robert Wiene’s ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’. With the mention of these last two films you won’t be surprised to learn that it is a silent film. And one that is all the more effective for it thanks to strong performances and a haunting, almost hypnotic audio track that generates an eerie and foreboding mood.

‘Satan’s Bite: or The foolishness of the Witchfinder Thomas Eastchurch’ is a bizarre and uncompromising occult short film with an unsettling score and an effective, authentic look (no doubt thanks to the use of Super8 film). Successfully delivered in under three minutes this is how short films should be, but make a like a Witchfinder and judge for yourself below:

You can follow the writer/director Dean Puckett on Twitter and keep up to date with Grasp the Nettle films and their work on their website. Upcoming film ‘The Sermon’, made with support from Creative England and the BFI looks particularly interesting and a continuation of the great British rural and folk horror genre.