Film Reviews by NP

Welcome to NP's film reviews page. NP has written 709 reviews and rated 809 films.

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Angel of Darkness

Lock up your daughters!

(Edit) 23/03/2020

An occasionally wooden Stephen Rea plays studious Dr. Hill, whose daughter Lara (Eleanor Tomlinson) glares at people from beneath thickly made-up eyelids: she listens to Joy Division and attempts, in quiet moments, to self-harm (Lara’s mum committed suicide in post natal depression). During one such time, she witnesses a car crash, in which another young girl is ejected and left. That her name is Carmilla should get alarm bells ringing. Carmilla (Julia Petruchia) is bewitching and, as you might imagine, somewhat sinister.

‘Angel of Darkness’, or ‘Styria’ as it is sometimes known, could be said to be a retelling of the Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu vampire story that pre-dates even ’Dracula’, but that’s not to say interesting new things aren’t done with the theme of vampire seduction.

Directors Mauricio Chernovetzky and Mark Devendorf really lay on the atmosphere here, from the beautifully decaying Hungarian castle in which Hill is hurriedly conducting his experiments in the short amount of time available to him, to the wonderfully gothic surrounding gardens and woodlands. This is a modestly budgeted film – in fact I understand it was completed thanks to a Crowdfunding campaign – but it looks superb throughout, with the effective scares taking second place to rich ambience.

The two girls tread that line between mischievous and dangerous, but so skillfully are they played, they never come across as bratty which would be the case in less talented hands.

Sluggish in places it may be, but this is a very enjoyable excursion into gothic horror and provides a very worthwhile and enjoyable new take on the Carmilla story. My score is 8 out of 10.

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The Breeder

Spoilers follow ...

(Edit) 23/03/2020

Sophie and Amy (Judy LeGal and Theresa Joy) are two young aid workers back-packing across the beautiful Caucasus Mountains. The characters are well written and played, and above all likeable. Flighty Amy, who could be grating, doesn’t take herself seriously. Even lines like “I’m used to eyes undressing me 24/7” are delivered more with humour than with the kind of casual arrogance sometimes found with extroverts in this type of film. The two girls, seem to be having such a good time in each others’ company that you really don’t wish them harm. And, knowing the kind of film this is from the title and publicity, you just know that is exactly what they are going to get.

The awkwardness about being a stranger in a foreign land is well conveyed here. However friendly – or not – the locals may be, there is the underlying feeling that the two girls don’t fit in here. As a result, the character of UN Major Palmer (a terrific Peter James Haworth) has a reassuring familiarity about him … you’d think. Equally, local Lasha (Giorgi Kipshidze , also excellent) seems to be helpful company when things start to get scary.

Amy disappears. She is kidnapped by a madman known as The Breeder, who is kidnapping girls and brainwashing them, making a blank canvas of them, so he can ‘recreate’ them in his image. The scenes in which this takes place are characteristically perverse – but it is what you don’t see that makes Amy’s ordeal so horrifying.

Then it all gets a bit weird. People who we think are friends turn out not be – or do they? Characters who were given reason to fear are revealed to virtuous after all – or are they? In a frenzied finale in which people appear to die, only to pop up and save the day before they are seemingly dispatched once more, events threaten to get ludicrous.

Luckily, the action is just about kept in check – although it bulges at the seams of reality – by director and writer Till Hastreiter, and what results is often a deliberately disorientating film (echoing the ordeal of The Breeder’s victims) that I had a good time watching. And, despite the suffering and horror on display – or maybe because of it – that’s a good thing, isn’t it? My score is 7 out of 10.

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Timber Falls

Woodland inbred spoilers follow ...

(Edit) 23/03/2020

This film is what might happen if 'Eden Lake (2008)' collided with 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)'. It is also very convincingly played and the cinematography, directed by Tony Giglio, is nicely claustrophobic.

Yes, it follows a lot of clichés you might have seen in similar films, but it presents them alongside a real feeling of jeopardy, and the audience is rewarded with a particularly demented central plan from the protagonists, and a nasty way of going about it. The gore is enough to make you squirm, but isn't excessive, allowing the sense of danger to make its mark unencumbered by relentless shock effects.

You may have gathered that I really enjoyed this. Other opinions are out there, of course. But for me, the heroic twosome are easy to relate to, despite their matinee toned good looks, and many of their spirited endeavours to escape are thwarted, encouraging us to remain solely on their side.

The idea that the inbred family is both crushed by tragedies, gruesomely displayed in pickling jars, and have used religion to justify their extremes is an interesting one. Religion has been used many times to assert the atrocities committed by the weak-minded, it could be said to be an easy kicking target. It's important to disassociate abhorrent abuse of religion with religion itself, and the dispatch of the character of Deacon by stabbing him with a crucifix is a good deal less blasphemous than the antics of the possessed Regan in 'The Exorcist (1973)'; but it is still an easy 'stab' at irony - both as a symbol of the religion practiced by the family used against them, and the first weapon our heroes have to hand.

Josh Randall is great as Mike, stabbed, branded and battered but still capable of impressive hero skills - as is Brianna Brown as Sheryl, whose journey is a potentially harrowing one. Nick Searcy and Beth Broderick are excellent as Clyde and Ida, completely rational and reasonable about their crazed plan - at least initially.

This hits the ground running, and the intensity only gathers pace from there. My score is 8 out of 10.

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The Family

Enjoyable sinister slow burner ...

(Edit) 23/03/2020

This is another fine release from High Fliers Films, a company I only discovered recently with the release of ‘The Cleansing (2019)’. I am delighted to find there are many films under their banner, and a lot of them are horror stories.

This is another modestly budgeted chiller, based on the real life Bender family of the 1870s, the first known serial killer family. Director and co-writer John Alexander orchestrates events in a restrained manner, never in a hurry to tell their story. If you are prepared for a mainly unspectacular, intelligent slow-burner, this will not disappoint. That isn’t to say there aren’t moments that won’t make you jump – the fate of one of the local doctor’s patients, and the doctor’s own eventual fate, for example, are handled deftly. Shocking moments in an overall ambience of distinctly calmed oddness.

There’s an unspecific but unsettling nature about the directorial choices here too – lingering just too long on a smile, highlighting the rugged features of a character contrasted against a wide blue sky, introducing the grocery store as a lone silhouette, the omnipresent but barely perceptible buzzing of flies – that further communicates the sense of dislocation and unease as further disappearances occur in Fairweather.

Just don’t eat the pork.

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The Portal

Good ideas, chaotic Direction.

(Edit) 23/03/2020

I get the impression 'The Portal' would like to be a bit like 'The Ring (1999)' - and I can't knock that aspiration. The Japanese original and American remake are master-classes of weird horror. 'The Portal', alas, isn't directed with anything like the skill or comparative restraint. Also, where I am a big fan of low-budget horror, the lack of finance seems to inhibit the ambitions of those behind the camera almost as much as the comparative lack of sophistication.

There's an interesting Lovecraftian central idea in the titular Portal, and some terrific gore involving exploding heads. But Serge Rodnunsky's writing is frequently undermined by his directorial choices. He appears to desperately want to keep things from getting boring by constantly introducing new characters in various shades of jeopardy, but succeeds only in confusing and disorientating the audience. As a result, the film comes across as badly edited, disjointed and frequently incomprehensible.

There are good ideas here, and that's the frustration. Set-pieces which could have been visually arresting are destroyed by constant fast cuts and close-ups. I imagine this comes to down to inexperience, and the desire to make every second matter.

As for the actors - Michael Madsen (Azirra) growls and poses his way through his dialogue, Stacy Keach (Hafler) does what he can with his lines, and Jenna Zablocki (April) is convincingly terrified in a variety of ways.

Once you are aware of the limitations on offer, you can enjoy 'The Portal' for what it is. My score is 5 out of 10.

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Breadcrumbs

Spoilers follow ...

(Edit) 10/03/2020

‘BreadCrumbs’ seems to be the baby of actor/producer/writer Mike Nichols. He plays big bad Eddie, who is in charge of a trip to an isolated building where he is shooting a porn film. He’s a boorish bully, and the ‘porn’ angle seems just a reason for some mild sex and nudity.

Conversely, Dom (Douglas Nyback) is quite funny, therefore it’s a shame – although not a huge surprise – that he is one of the first victims of Patti and Henry (Dan Shaked and Amy Crowdis). These two Hansel and Gretel wannabes have no back-story, and there is no explanation as to how they live out here in the remote woodlands and look so healthy and clean, or why they live the way they do, and why they enjoy killing people.

Veteran porn starlet Angie Hart (Marianne Hagan) mentions at one point she may like to have children, and this indicates somehow she has a kind of maternal instinct with the two ‘kidults’. I use this description because despite all the defensive cries of ‘she’s just a kid’, or ‘they’re just children’, the two are clearly approaching their twenties. Equally, the brother and sister sometimes refer to Hart as their mother, but nothing more is made of this. Hart is a good character and well-played, but her decision to sympathise with Patti against the will of her associates is exactly the kind of naivety (or stupidity) horror films have thrived on for years – and it always annoys!

This is clearly a low-budget venture, and some will attack it purely for that reason: the acting isn’t always entirely convincing and the effects are sparse. And yet, I really enjoyed ‘BreadCrumbs’. The story is silly if you examine it beyond superficially, but the deliberate avoidance of explanation leaves us to speculate how Patti and Henry came to be the way they are. Also, the question raised a few times is – why don’t the characters simply physically overpower the two killers at some point?

There is good use of location, and the character of ‘the Woodman’ is a good red herring. In the somewhat open-ending, it is possible he saves the day, but the fact that the film ends almost mid-scene leaves us guessing. My score is 7 out of 10.

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The Cleansing

Cleansing spoilers folow ...

(Edit) 10/03/2020

A kind of cross between a 14th century ‘I Spit on your Grave (1978)’ and ‘Witchfinder General (1968)’, this story finds wayward teenager Alice (a great performance from Rebecca Aycock) spurning the advances of Priest Tom (Rhys Meredith). Humiliated, he does his best to convince the small village that the girl is a witch and as such, has to undergo gruesome torture to prove her innocence (or not). Right there we have another example of an alleged man of the cloth using his position to behave in a most ungodly way. But he is not a monster, just a weak, pathetic man whose spite takes things beyond his control.

Alice is an enigma, played with real gusto. That she does not speak for a sizeable portion of the story makes it hard for the audience to decide if she entirely innocent, which is a decent red herring. Not so successful is the arrival in the midst of events, of a stranger (Luke Bailey). He comes and goes without ever affecting the storyline.

Alice’s journey is a slow-burner, but by the third act, enters into satisfying horror territory. Never overtly graphic, the scenes of violence and gore are successfully employed, and the characters – even the minor ones – are interesting enough for us to be invested in their (often grisly) fate. The title character is a good, powerful-looking monster, and he proves himself to be far more than the brooding killer you might expect him to be.

Kudos to all concerned at High Fliers Films for this good-looking, well made and powerfully played folk-horror project. I thoroughly enjoyed it. My score is 8 out of 10.

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Trauma

Would have been more enjoyable if the characters had been more likeable.

(Edit) 04/03/2020

I wonder just how difficult it is to make a juvenile character interesting without also making her the kind of brat you would like to throttle. I’m speaking hypothetically in case anyone is worried I’m encouraging child abuse. But after spending all morning telling her mother how bored she is in her company, little Alice (Lola Flanery) goes on to tell her, “I expect ice cream,” and mum Jane (Abbie Cornish) looks on adoringly. To cheer the child up, Jane will then confide little secrets to the girl about how daddy wets the bed when he’s drunk too much. So the pecking order is laid down. The brat makes the rules, and when mum gets frustrated, dad – who is well meaning but a bit thick – gets the brunt of it.

It’s such a shame, because these characters provide the heart of what is a fairly interesting psychological horror thriller – but if the audience is not allowed to like these people, they don’t care what befalls them. And really, little Alice takes every opportunity to test the patience constantly.

It all comes good in the end though (or does it? That would be telling) and through their frightening situations, the characters become seemingly improved. And this story does have some very good moments. How much more involving it would be, though, if the main players had been more likeable from the beginning? 6 out of 10.

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The Exorcism of Molly Hartley

Something old, something new ...

(Edit) 04/03/2020

In this sequel to 2008's 'The Haunting of Molly Hartley', here the unfortunate girl not only continues to be assailed by demonic power, but has had a face and body transplant too. Now she is played by Sarah Lind, who makes a valiant stab at all the unpleasant requirements a host body for dark forces demands.

The problem with any film with the word 'exorcism' in the title is that the audience can be fairly certain whet they're in for: green vomit, outbursts of blasphemy, a priest whose belief is tested and a young girl being manipulated by a gravelly voiced demon. This gives reviewers ample opportunity to enjoy spotting references to/from other such films, just in the way that a zombie film will obviously feature a host of the shambling dead being shot at whilst trying to devour handsome heroes. Problem is, you can do a lot within the zombie premise (I'm using this as an example - I could also have picked vampires and werewolves to illustrate the point), whereas the theme of exorcism is far more limited. Unless the filmmaker is willing to take huge risks and possibly disappointing viewers who have come to see traditional exorcism antics, we get films like this - and still the audience complains, because there is nothing new here. It is very difficult to get right.

While there is not much progression - one moment Molly is her normal, effortlessly perfect-looking self, the next she is a fully made-up demon - puke, words written under her skin, young female host body rising from her bed, and repeated 'spirit commands you' lines from the ex-priest, are all featured here, bringing back fond memories of 1973's pioneering 'The Exorcist'. Whilst none of these echo the raw shock value of that ground-breaker, there are a lot of new scares too. And a whole raft of false endings that make your head whirl.

I would say this is a good entry into the genre. It mixes old chills with new and provides something which has an identity of its own, rare for these kind of films. My score is 7 out of 10.

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Cruel Passion

More worthwhile than its reputation suggests - spoilers!

(Edit) 04/03/2020

As a film, 'Cruel Passion/Justine' isn't easy to define. I went into it with no knowledge whatsoever, other than it starred Koo Stark, and was based on the story by the Marquis De Sade.

It is also impossible to review without spoilers, so beware - I knew nothing about what was to follow and found the ending truly shocking as a result.

It begins as a frightening type of 'nunsploitation' picture, which has become its selling point - rather misleadingly as it turns out. It then threatens to become a wild 'bodice-ripper', with a large segment set in an elegant brothel. This section features two extraordinary performances: that of Katherine Kath as exotic Madame Laronde, and also features the mainly dialogue-free, whooping Barry McGinn as George. What follows then is an excursion into low-life thievery and rape, featuring Louis Ife as Pastor John and Hope Jackman is Mrs Bonny. All of the performances are terrific, and the visuals have a look similar to Stanley Kubrick's 1975 period piece 'Barry Lyndon'.

Through this superficially elegant tangle drifts Justine, a virtuous innocent played beautifully by Koo Stark. In a kind of publicity ploy that mirrors the content of the film, Stark's brief nude shots and her infamy as one of Prince Andrew's girlfriends, have been used to bolster the production's reputation as an exploitation film - the truth is, it is a lot more than that (as a lot of films cynically placed under that banner have also proven to be). Justine's sister Juliette (Lydia Lisle), by contrast, accepts the fact that to survive outside of the convent from which they've both been jettisoned, she must whore herself. "It is the life I have chosen," she weeps as she is untied from the bed in the brothel, having been whipped by some particularly perverse client.

Whilst Juliette appears to otherwise survive her life with a degree of happiness, Justine's constant battle to retain her virtue throughout gets her into one scrape after another. Luckily she has handsome Lord Carlisle (Matin Potter) to aide her. Promised to Juliette, on whom she is depending, Carlisle nevertheless seems determined to help Justine survive the 71 run-time 'intactica'.

What we have to remember, of course, is that all men are b******s, and slaves to their desires. To that end, he bids the scarred and battered Justine to bathe in a lake, and then on seeing her nakedness, rapes her. This is a very bleak and unexpected development in a story in which the audience desperately wants her to triumph in her wish simply to survive. In further misery, underlining the 'cruel' in the film's title, she is then gang-raped by Bonny's menials, set upon by dogs (as is Carlisle) and hurled into the freezing river, where we see her floating away, lifeless.

It is one heck of a note on which to end the story, an unapologetically shocking development offering no hope whatsoever. Also, I get the impression the actors suffered here. Clearly filmed in the bowels of winter, the recording of these scenes cannot have been anything other than punishing.

All of this comes together to make a film that is so much more than its reputation suggests. True, there is flesh on display, but this is far from soft-core titillation. Nuns are held up to be just as hypocritical as everyone else with any degree of power, but this only forms a small part of the narrative. The real story is one of utter hopelessness, of a world controlled by the 'haves' who continually physically and mentally abuse the 'have-nots'. It is well worth seeing. My score is 9 out of 10.

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Don't Knock Twice

Very effective (spoilers!).

(Edit) 04/03/2020

This is a very effective horror film involving a sculptor who attempts to rebuild a relationship with her estranged daughter. While Jess (Katee Sackhoff) has become fairly successful in her field, Chloe (Lucy Boynton) is mischievous, occasionally bratty and appears to have attracted the attention of a demon.

Having got that plot detail out of the way, we are then treated to some scary set-pieces, some of which are familiar from other similar horror projects, and others which are more impressive on their own merits. While the plot itself isn’t advanced much during this time, other than to cast doubt on who exactly the true villain is, it is enormous fun to sit back and let Director Caradog James’s effectively orchestrated chills do their work.

The pay-off however, is that there isn’t one. We find out what the entity isn’t, but we don’t find out what it is. Not that films, horror in particular, need to have every plot detail tidied up by the close – sometimes only having suggestions as to the perpetrator of evil is enough. It is all down to individual opinion, and mine is that ‘Don’t Knock Twice’ is a very effective, well played and beautifully written horror venture. My score is 8 out of 10.

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Horror Express

Three legends together - on rails!

(Edit) 04/03/2020

The involvement of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee was something of a coup for producer Bernard Gordon, and it is true to say their presence does lift ‘Horror Express’ somewhat. However, for my money, their stoical, mannered characters aren’t as much fun as Telly Savalas as Captain Kazan. Kazan has barely been onscreen for ten minutes before he has shot, stabbed and whipped others around him.

Using a (very realistic) miniature train from another film (possibly ‘Pancho Villa’ from the same year), Gordon, director Eugenio Martín and writer Arnaud d'Usseau have concocted a nicely claustrophobic horror chiller. On the Trans-Siberian Express, no-one can hear you scream.

Where things become a little dull is during the second half, when it has been established that the frozen creature captured by Saxton (Lee) is up something monstrous, and the audience has little to do but wait until it continues on its path. This leads to some nice creepy set-pieces, but not quite enough to sustain the interest and this leaves us waiting eagerly for the climactic moments to take place.

Cushing was unsure about making the film, but Lee gently talked him into it. The results are good, with some fine moments of stifled horror with something running (or moving languidly) amok in a confined area. Some nicely lit moments and eerie music courtesy of John Cacavas add greatly to this. My score is 6 out of 10.

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Dracula vs. Frankenstein

Two titans meet - and it isn't pretty (spoilers)!

(Edit) 04/03/2020

Sometimes you wonder what is going on in the minds of film producers. Al Adamson, a director of low-budget projects whose personal life threatened to enter into the realms of the macabre fantasy, for example. It's a serious question: just what was he aiming for when he helmed 'Dracula vs Frankenstein?'

From the outset, we are bombarded with unconnected images - Zandor Vorkov's bearded Dracula unearthing the cauliflower-faced body of the Frankenstein Monster (John Bloom); a girl beheaded by an axe; Judith Fontaine (Adamson's wife Regina Carrol) performing a musical number in a seedy Los Angeles nightclub; diminutive ticket-tout Grazbo (Angelo Rossitto ) aggressively selling tickets to an exhibition owned by Doctor Durea/Frankenstein (J. Carrol Naish); a mindless, speechless brute (Lon Chaney) who goes by the name of Groton. All this filmed in footage so thick and grainy, it gives a genuinely unhealthy sheen to everything and makes everyone look as they could do with a bath. The scenes seem completely unconnected with each other, and the hope is that clever plotting will weave them all together.

The spectacular electrical equipment designed by Kenneth Strickfaden (from 1931's 'Frankenstein') is interspersed with less impressive fluorescent 1960's paraphernalia in a bid to return the Monster to life, and Dracula is promising 'Soon he will be born again.'

Vorkov's lines are delivered entirely deadpan, his voice filtered through a gadget that makes him sound like a disembodied robot. Whilst this is no-one's idea of what Dracula should be like, I think the character is partially successful - a true dead man walking who speaks in a distant echo, as if he is unused to communicating. When Frankenstein's creation is finally resurrected, the first victim is Dr Beaumant. Beaument is played by long-time horror fan and this film's technical advisor 'Forrest' J Ackerman. Ackerman's is the least convincing performance of all.

And yet just as it seems, often via the art of exposition from Dracula, certain elements of the story are beginning to go somewhere, Adamson insists on returning to Judith Fontaine and her interminable search for her missing sister. These dull walks along sandy beaches to a love song soundtrack seem to belong to another film. This is because Adamson has married two projects together; which explains why Durea/Frankenstein looks older when he finally meets Dracula - Carrol Naish returned to film these scenes a year later in a bid to tie the two plot strands together. The old line 'tonally, it's all over the place' fits particularly well here.

Anthony Eisley is Fontaine's ageing hippy boyfriend Mike, who suddenly has an uncanny insight into the mind of Frankenstein and his plans. This leads to a series of finales, where everyone bar Fontaine is dispatched. In a brave and unexpected move, even Mike doesn't make it.

The clash between the two 'titans of terror' is a fairly easy win for Dracula, who relieves the Monster of both arms and even his head! Sadly, these scenes are filmed with such a dark filter over the camera, it is impossible to see what is happening. The Count's own death is far more satisfying.

How to feel about stars wheelchair-bound Carrol Naish and silent, corpulent Chaney in their final films? Difficult to say. An actor's life is a very public one, of course, and seeing the ravages of their age and ill-health displayed in a cheap and tatty project such as this is hardly a blaze of glory. But they give it their all, and despite everything, I have a really soft spot for 'Dracula vs Frankenstein'. Badly made and edited it assuredly is, but it is enjoyable. In fact, it is great fun. My score is 7 out of 10.

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Stake Land II

Average vampire sequel.

(Edit) 04/03/2020

A sequel to the successful ‘Stake Land’ (2010), this features more of what you might expect – an apocalyptic world infested with vampires and young Martin’s (Connor Paol) attempts to survive it. Also, he’s searching for the elusive vampire hunter Mister (Nick Damici, who also writes).

The action comprises of several enjoyable set-pieces scattered about this threadbare world. Although a low-budget offering (which helps sell the austerity of the surroundings) directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen are never over-ambitious in a way that would make things look cheap – but more concerned with telling Damici’s grounded, more intimate stories.

A downside to all this is that the episodic formula denies the film a huge sense of progression, and the project comes across as a television show. That said, this provides a solid sequel to the low-key ‘Stake Land’ story.

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The Mummy Rebirth

Low budget, but lots of heart.

(Edit) 04/03/2020

The people behind ‘The Mummy Rebirth’ have clearly put a lot of time and effort into making a tense, exciting horror-tinged film. That alone, for me, places their production ahead of the juvenile, stereotypical ‘romps’ headed by Bendan Fraser at the turn of the millennium, or the computer generated cartoon starring Tom Cruise in 2017.

However, there’s no getting away from it: ‘The Mummy Rebirth’ isn’t great. While the locations are often nicely claustrophobic, the acting is variable, the dialogue is pure exposition throughout, and many of the effects (mainly CGI) are flawed. Whilst directors (and producers) Khu and Justin Price (Price is also the writer) valiantly try to generate a commendable air of suspense, as does Maui Holcomb‘s bombastic music score, The Mummy is just an actor (Michal Aaron Wiede) in a mask that allows us to see the area around his eyes.

The other characters are over-earnest and played in the style of a daytime soap opera. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – in a film like this, the audience is more interested in the monsters anyway. But there is clearly not the budget here to make them an exciting distraction.

That said, I still commend the makers for producing this: it is flawed, but at least the intention to make something worthwhile is there, and that gives it a good heart. Ultimately, while I enjoy low budget films, I would say this definitely suffers due to lack of adequate funding. My score is 5 out of 10.

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