Film Reviews by NP

Welcome to NP's film reviews page. NP has written 1069 reviews and rated 1170 films.

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Outpost: Rise of the Spetsnaz

The final 'Outpost' film?

(Edit) 17/08/2023

Kieran Parker, the producer of the two previous ‘Outpost’ films, here directs the third and, it seems, the final part of the story. A prequel, this is more of an action/horror than previous instalments, a mix of ‘Saw’ and 2011’s relentless ‘The Raid’ – with more than a smattering of Nazis and an uprising of the living dead battling the Russian Spetsnaz.

The cast is fine, although the character development comes a distant second to the often very effective set pieces. The locations have a heavily washed-out look which can sometimes prove to be dull visually, often coming across as virtually monochrome. The contrast between action inside the clammy, sweaty underground bunker and the cold and frosty-looking woodland above is very effective, however.

A fast-moving, brutal horror, this is a powerful end – if it really is the end – to the Outpost series. It’s ended on a high. My score is 7 out of 10.

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Footsteps in the Fog

Classic Horror Thriller

(Edit) 04/05/2017

This is the kind of rich, expensive, epic, matinee horror thriller from Columbia that belongs very much in the 1950s when it was made. That's not to say it has dated, or is in any way a relic, but that the meticulously measured performances ad intelligent writing tells an adult tale without ever stooping to gratuity of any kind. You think you'd get that now, especially in a big budget production?

Stewart Grainger plays Stephen Lowry, an initially sympathetic character. The audience's goodwill dissipates rapidly however, when he maltreats the family cat: some things a hero should never do. He is guilty of even worse, too, but that's not for this review. Suffice it to say that he meets his match and it's then that things become really interesting. Jean Simmons is Lily Watkins, another character who holds our sympathies - but should she? Such is the nature of this terrifically twisting plot that you never really know.

The intrigue takes on a darker turn and thus provides the thrust of the story. All this in a richly furnished, luxurious house that quickly becomes cold and unfriendly - a terrific setting for the bleak drama, all furnished with a host of well-known faces like Victor Maddern, Bill Travers, Peter Bull and the original Doctor Who, William Hartnell. My score is 8 out of 10.

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Zombie Virus on Mulberry Street

Spoilers follow ...

(Edit) 10/05/2018

This is exactly the kind of horror film I love. We are given a cast of realistic, very individual characters - the kind of people you might actually meet instead of quick-talking catwalk models - in a location you can identify with. Mulberry Street is in the throes of being destroyed, swept away by Manhattan developers who want to make the lived-in community extinct and make everything clean, new and faceless.

Director Jim Mickle, who worked on 2010’s ‘Stake Land’ invites us to spend the film's running time living in this location relishing in details of garbage-littered walkways, weathered, run-down apartment blocks ... and a flourishing infection, causing humans to develop into blood-thirsty rat creatures.

As is often the case in less prosperous communities, there is a dark and occasionally brutal humour prevalent here. The characters are endearing partly because of this, and when the gruesome transformations kick in, we care about what happens to them.

Bleak, uncompromising and with a genuine sense of spreading horror; my score is 9 out of 10.

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The Head Hunter

Monster slaying tale, steeped in atmosphere ...

(Edit) 09/10/2021

Director and co-writer Jordan Downey's film sticks a couple of fingers up at those who complain about low-budget productions. Big Christopher Rygh plays the unnamed father, Viking warrior for a distant power and head-hunter of the title. Off he goes when summoned, to fight the most fearsome, monstrous foes - and we never see them. The story makes a virtue of sending him off on his way, and then seeing him return bloodied and battered, with only a dismembered head as evidence there was any monster at all (all the work of Downey, for whom this was clearly a labour of love).

Everything else about this production is visually superb. The locations, cinematography and sense of isolation. Only the warrior's daughter shares the spotlight with him, and she clearly has her own story to tell. The air is thick with Gaelic atmosphere, the dialogue is virtually non-existent - 'Head Hunter' is a film that, for 72 minutes, the viewer is encouraged to live inside, if you'll allow it.

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Beckoning the Butcher

Mild spoilers follow ...

(Edit) 30/07/2015

An Australian found-footage horror, steeped inevitably in the trappings of 1999's 'Blair Witch Project', where we, the viewers, are invited to become the sixth member of a group of five bloggers. The group is filming a ghost hunt and, as we are, hope for some spooky manifestations. When the name of 'the butcher' is mentioned, they appear to get their wish.

The characters here are likeable (which is not always the case in such films) and naturalistically played, so when 'bad' things happen, we're given reason to care. Only physicist Shannon comes across as 'acting', and that is mainly because she is given spurious academic dialogue to help explain away the phenomena. A very good found-footage entry; my score is 9 out of 10.

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The Battery

The resilience of the living dead ...

(Edit) 29/04/2016

When you have the same person writing, directing and starring in a production such as this, it can often be an unrefined ego project, with no one on board to reign in the excesses of the ubiquitous creator. Occasionally, a very personal and very successful outcome can occur, such as is the case here.

Jeremy Gardner plays Ben, outwardly a stoner and a bit of a layabout, and inwardly - especially when the chips are down - a methodical thinker and unlikely to panic in frightening situations. In 'The Battery', frightening situations are the name of the game, and Ben is the kind of person you need around. That's not to say he's entirely successful in evading the mass hordes of the living dead who inhabit the world following some kind of apocalyptic zombie holocaust.

This film examines the often unspectacular, grinding reality of such an occurrence. It does so without frills and is all the more effective for that. Ben and Mickey have been thrown together and their relationship produces moments of bleak humour. This is tested throughout, but never more so than during the last act, when the resilience of the marauding antagonists is exploited in a gruelling manner.

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Awakening the Nun

Deadly vows ...

(Edit) 22/07/2023

2018’s ‘The Bad Nun’ gets a sequel, again produced, directed and written by the extraordinarily prolific Scott Jeffrey and featuring a return for Becca Hirani’s character Aesha Wadia. We don’t have to hang around long before shadowy, habit-shrouded shapes start appearing in doorways and windows. Politely, our antagonist always knocks first, which is a creepy courtesy – we know the faceless creature is likely to come in anyway.

This is a considerable step up from the first film – the pacing is sharper, the dialogue more natural and the Nun is genuinely creepy. It’s not a stellar production, but it features some good shots, a nicely isolated location and some fairly likeable leads. Also, the story is a good one, with convincing reasons given for the murders. The twist at the end is signposted, but in a way that doesn’t necessarily reveal anything too early.

Jeffrey’s schedule is mind-boggling. According to IMDB, he’s produced 144 films in eight years, and I happen to have seen quite a few of the more horror-infused ones. Technically, they have become more impressive and the stories more engaging over time. His 2023 offering has received more notoriety than most because its subject matter, ‘Winnie the Pooh’ has been given a slasher makeover. His upcoming ‘Bambi: the Reckoning’ suggest the theme might become a recurring one. My score is 8 out of 10.

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Neverlake

Increasingly demented - highly recommended!

(Edit) 25/02/2022

Director Riccardo Paoletti has managed to weave a dark fairy-tale out of Manuela Cacciamani and Carlo Longo stark and tragic horror story that is hugely enjoyable. We're given a selection of characters, some of whom appear to be 'good' and others 'bad'. However, we're not given to judge them, simply to go along with their actions and interactions and make up our own minds. The ending is bittersweet, and it's up to the audience to decide whether the outcome is the correct one.

I love films that challenge us in this way, rather than hand every emotion to us on a plate. It's also beautifully photographed and convincingly acted. It's a slow story that gives us the chance to get to know the characters as events slowly spiral into more twisted, demented places. The plot isn't entirely watertight, but the holes only occur after the credits have finished rolling - for the duration, you are captivated and intrigued - and horrified - enough by the story not to let such things distract.

My score is 9 out of 10.

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Jekyll and Hyde

An economic reimagining ...

(Edit) 15/07/2023

Steve Lawson delivers once more an intelligent, dialogue-heavy, atmospheric period piece – this time with a twist on ‘The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ novella.

Michael McKell is very good as the titular character (and sings the excellent closing theme too – a very talented individual). My only gripe is probably a very personal one; during moments of humour – and there is a handful amidst this grim tale – we are treated to strains of ‘comedy music’. Plink plonks accompany each sideward glance and awkward smile. It’s unnecessary – don’t do it (this is general advice, not exclusive to this production)!

The fairly sizable tweaks that have been made to the classic original story seem mainly to allow the low budget to adequately convey events (shades of early Hammer classic adaptions). Therefore, there are many scenes, especially near the end, where characters spend a great deal of time explaining the plot and gloating over their cleverness. An interesting spin – not perfect of course, but a production given the care and attention that’s become associated with Steve Lawson’s projects. My score is 7 out of 10.

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Ditched

Beware the flashing lights!

(Edit) 24/06/2023

‘Ditched’ is an interesting and unusual Canadian horror story with a unique directorial style and a truly superb electronic soundtrack by Clayton Worbeck (I wish it was available to buy – can’t find it anywhere).

At the centre of this lies a storyline that is not unfamiliar. The twist at the end places the tale in familiar territory, but where this succeeds is in the way the tale is told. We begin at a point where the action has already started and the cast of characters attempts to piece events together alongside the audience. The dialogue is sometimes irritating (too much of the ‘we can *do* this’ grandstanding).

The cinematography is unusual and striking, with key moments and characters often obscured by sickly yellow/red lighting. Viewers should be warned that the continual flashing of lights might induce additional discomfort – but although overused, it works very well ensuring that nothing appears to be quite real.

The third act is when the increasingly confusing narrative becomes a mix of lengthy exposition and events that ask too much of the audience. Far too much talking deadens the atmosphere, which is a shame. A definite case of the journey proving more enjoyable than the destination, in my view. My score is 5 out of 10.

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The Winter Witch

The curse is real ...

(Edit) 24/06/2023

The locations and cinematography are excellent, with establishing scenes often shot through a slight misty autumnal haze, which is very effective. The acting is mixed – some lines are garbled on occasion, but what lets this down is the lack of incident in a very dull and uneventful story.

There is a lot of dialogue issued from curiously underwritten characters. For example, the estranged Frank (Jimmy 'The Bee' Bennett – also the film’s location manager) is treated with contempt by former partner Ingrid (Rose Hakki) and admits he deserves such treatment, but it’s never explained why. From the evidence onscreen, he seems a fairly decent character. Cult actress Rula Lenska is Omi, and it is to her we return during the course of the film where she is given reams of static exposition to unload.

This is a real shame as much of the production is really good. The pace is leaden, any frights are few and far between. It’s not really a spoiler to say that we do see the witch from the title … for a total of about ten seconds, mainly in the anti-climactic finale.

Director and writer Richard John Taylor has helmed a number of productions, many of them gangster yarns (starring the late Leslie Grantham, to whom the production company – Hello Princess - is dedicated). A strong co-writer or script editor would do wonders for future endeavours. A real mixed bag; my score is 4 out of 10.

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Morbius

Not as bad as they say - but not good either.

(Edit) 09/06/2023

If you read articles about ‘Morbius the Living Vampire’, you’ll doubtless be reminded how it was one of the biggest flops of 2022. It only made a few squillion dollars profit instead of *loads* of squillions of dollars profit. In the high-flying world of big-budget mainstream films, of franchise ‘universes’, a mediocre performance is unforgivable.

The film itself I found to be okay. The pacing dragged somewhat in the middle, which made me question why it was given 104 minutes of runtime instead of something leaner. The acting from Jared Leto as the title character Michael Morbius is good, supported by a surprisingly flat turn from Matt Smith as his pal Milo – although it's curiously wonderful to hear the former Doctor Who say ‘ar*ehole.’ We also get your typical husky, strutting, growling cop, and there are a few other sundry characters we never really get to know.

Michael conducts a series of blood experiments to cure his malady and that of his friend. It’s no spoiler that he becomes vampirised, but isn’t fazed by daylight or crucifixes and looks smashing with his shirt off.

Overall, the film is average, but with some very good set-pieces. It looks spectacular, of course, in the way that all mainstream films do. Possibly the reason it is perceived as a failure is that it tries to appeal to fans of superheroes as well as horror hounds and ends up satisfying neither. Minus points for the CGI-fest in the final scenes; there are also a couple of tie-ins mid/post credits to the bigger Marvel Universe which will be meaningless unless you’re familiar with other brands and franchises in the factory such films have become. My score is 5 out of 10.

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Hatching

Pahanhautoja

(Edit) 09/06/2023

This Finnish horror film starts in a world of pure (and slightly nauseating) ‘loveliness’. The unnamed Mother (Sophia Heikkilä), often equipped with a selfie stick on which to record her regular, wholesome vlogs, is the centrepiece of a blissful and well-off family unit. Except things aren’t quite so blissful.

Slowly, director and co-writer Hanna Bergholm (in her debut film) introduces an element of not-quite-rightness in Mother’s manner. Father (Jani Volanen) also extols a sweet tolerance of events that strays into … the unusual. At the centre of it all, daughter Tinja (a remarkable performance from Siiri Solalinna) tolerates it all, together with occasional ritualistic bullying from her (underwritten) brother and the addition to the family of an outsized bird’s egg.

This is when things become stranger still.

I like films that are difficult to define, and this falls into that category, although ‘psychological body horror’ might just cover it. And yet ‘Hatching’ is also enjoyable simply by sitting back and seeing in which direction events turn and how the characters react to them. By the end, things have moved on to the ‘next’ stage of strangeness, but you get the impression it isn’t quite the end of the story. My score is 8 out of 10.

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Dominique

Effective horror-thriller.

(Edit) 09/06/2023

A host of wonderful, veteran British faces pop up in this thriller/horror directed by Michael Anderson who, with Jenny Agutter, would bring ‘Logan’s Run’ to a cinema near you a few years later. Underused thesps Jack Warden, Ron Moody, and Flora Robson (who beneath her wig, looks uncannily like Peter Cushing!) support the magnificent Jean Simmons as the titular character. Playing her husband David is Cliff Robertson, an actor who gives a good performance despite never appearing to actually *do* anything. Simon Ward plays David’s newly hired chauffeur.

As a horror film, this doesn’t quite work. It’s much more satisfying to be viewed as a steady thriller with creepy elements. Some say the twists and turns in the plot are predictable, but I was happy to go along with it all - even its admittedly overloaded finale. The direction is moody, the cinematography Bava-esque rich, and much use is made of silence at pivotal moments, which is a refreshing alternative to an over-saturating score the like of which are often served up in productions of this nature.

Jean Simmons steals it though – alive or dead! My score is 7 out of 10.

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The Village in the Woods

Harbour

(Edit) 26/05/2023

This is a foggy slice of low-budget folk horror in the mould of The Wicker Man. The cinematography is excellent, the choice of locations inspired and the acting helps convey a growing sense of foreboding.

For a slow-moving story, what hurts this production is inconsistent pacing. Much time is taken up with immersing the viewer in the heavy atmosphere, and yet some key moments and plot points are given short shrift. The ongoing business of the ring worn by Rebecca (Beth Park) for example, is given scant explanation, and the figure in the window that bookends the story looks very unsettling, but again isn’t given any reason to be there.

It isn’t always necessary to tie up all the loose ends in a tale such as this – often the continuing mystery fuels the chills, but the lack of reasoning behind certain events prevents the growing horrors from being as effective as they otherwise could be.

Other than that, I really enjoyed this. Rebecca and her partner Jason (Robert Vernon) are good company, and we have every reason to side with them as things get progressively worrying. As the villagers, Richard Hope as Charles and Therese Bradley as Maddy are especially good. Unfortunate CGI effects notwithstanding, I enjoyed this despite the inconsistencies. My score is 7 out of 10.

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