Initiation

A polished and serviceable slasher that despite an initially interesting concept, can’t quite provide a satisfying conclusion.

Synopsis: Whiton University unravels the night a star-athlete is murdered, kicking off a spree of social media slayings that force students to uncover the truth behind the school’s hidden secrets and the horrifying meaning of an exclamation point.

Initiation (or Init!ation for those fans of quirky spelling in titles) manages to provide sleek visuals and a debt to slashers that comes not in the form of direct references to specific films, but in nods to the kind of slasher beats that work best for audiences. This makes it engaging enough for the most part, although the seriousness of some subject matter feels misplaced at times.

Initiation sets out its characters early on, showing the women of a sorority house setting up a buddy system for an upcoming party so everyone gets home safe. In the same moment, we’re introduced to a typically detestable group of fraternity boys who are discussing their special codes and the importance of falling in line with the group. The groups are linked beyond their shared college experience by siblings Wes (Froy Gutierrez) and Ellery (Lindsay LaVanchy) – members of the fraternity and sorority respectively. Despite their closeness, an incident at the party where Kylie (Isabella Gomez) passes out in a locked room with Wes and Beau (Gattlin Griffith) has Ellery begin to question the behaviour of her brother and his friends. However, as she starts her own investigation, it seems that someone else is seeking revenge.

Stylistically, the film is strong, especially in the way it includes social media as something that intrudes upon the screen and the character’s lives. A digital to-do list pops up on-screen early on and continues the thread of mobile devices as of importance to the characters – a way to keep track and perhaps most importantly, see and be seen. There is an acknowledgement of the presence of technology in the slasher format, but it feels like something the script has to work around rather than confront, especially later in the narrative. In fact, that may be most of my problem with the film – no one theme quite feels like it is leading or driving the action. There are several touch points in terms of social media, campus assault, hazing and institutional behaviour but all feel without significant depth. The performances are solid with LaVanchy’s Ellery being the standout.

With the multiple themes not fully explored (or at least not given any new angle) you might accept that the slasher elements are more fleshed out and this, unfortunately, is not quite the case either. The pitching of gore and stalking sequences is solid: enough gore without dwelling and slowing down the runtime. However, with so many (especially postmodern) slashers having led the way for some time in terms of weaving believable red herrings and surprising outcomes, Initiation falls flat, managing to be too obvious and unearned.

An engaging, if unmemorable entry into the slasher genre.

3 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars

Signature Entertainment presents Initiation on DVD and Digital Platforms 24th May

PG: Psycho Goreman

A delightfully silly, effects laden offering that delivers plenty of laughs.

Owen Myre as Luke, Nita-Josee Hanna as Mimi and Matthew Ninaber as Psycho Goreman – Psycho Goreman – Photo Credit: RLJE Films/Shudder

Synopsis: After unearthing a gem that controls an evil monster looking to destroy the Universe, a young girl and her brother use it to make him do their bidding.

Psycho Goreman is a film that sets out exactly what it is very early on, featuring a high-stakes ball game between siblings Luke (Owen Myre) and Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) in which the loser is to be buried alive. If that opening exuberance does not tick the right boxes for you, it is unlikely that the film will win you around. So much of this is focused on Mimi and her particularly excitable brand of outright tyranny that if that doesn’t strike a chord the rest of the film is likely to be an uphill struggle. On a personal level, I thoroughly enjoy seeing a character like Mimi – a young girl who is for the most part unapologetically brash, loud and confrontational in contrast to the representation of troubled or quiet young girls trying to find themselves. It helps that Nita-Josee Hanna is a charismatic presence whose dedication to that performance absolutely sells it.

The other performances are also excellent, with a standout turn from Adam Brooks as largely ineffectual, injury-prone dad Greg, delivering poorly framed wisdom and the least comforting advice at almost every turn. Alexis Kara Hancey as put-upon matriarch Susan is given enough sillier moments that it doesn’t feel too well-worn. On a similar note, while Owen Myre’s Luke is a quieter counterpoint to Mimi’s force of nature, but his anchoring is sorely needed to balance that. Matthew Ninaber as the physicality of Psycho Goreman does noticeably great work even under a mountain of prosthetics, with voice talents provided by Steven Vlahos managing to deliver on all the incredible, meme-able moments.

There is no wasted motion here – within the first 10 minutes we’ve been introduced to the family and their dynamics, introduced to our central monstrous figure and then back to further explore the family. That pace doesn’t let up throughout, packing in as many ways to showcase Kostanski’s design work through an alien council and scenes from Goreman’s home planet Gigax. There is never an opportunity for a joke that the film doesn’t take and it is no surprise that the film has spawned merchandise and special editions that lean into how riotously funny it can be. As the rest of the pacing is so relentless the film surprises by lingering on the close of some scenes, taking it’s jokes to the limit and exploiting off-kilter moments of absurdity.

There is such a lot to appreciate in Psycho Goreman. Fans of Astron 6 will be on board instantly (and are rewarded for that) for its mix of humour and impressive effects work but even those without that context are bound to find fun in this punchy, escapist, 1980’s throwback.

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars

Psycho Goreman arrives on Shudder U.S. Canada, UK and Ireland Ireland, Australia and New Zealand on May 20th.

Captive

Hinging on a captivating performance from Tori Kostic, Captive is an interesting, if imperfect twisty thriller.

Synopsis: A teenage runaway who’s trapped by a delusional man, pretends to be his daughter in order to escape.

With so many films that focus on an abused, captive young woman out there, seeing another one can sometimes be a challenging experience. Not in terms of disturbing content, necessarily, but in the sense that it can be difficult to tell such a similar story in a way that doesn’t feel like a retread of earlier films. Captive manages this for the most part, thanks to an excellent central performance and a more inventive, almost more gentle take on the material.

We first encounter Lily (Tori Kostic) through her voiceover in a diary. Quickly we learn she is leaving her home for her safety. “I’m fucking out of here” is her final, emphatic response. These early moments see Lily escaping from her home, led by boyfriend Neil (Jairus Carey). There is an interesting dynamic between them, exploited quickly as Neil chastises her for her anxiety. The fact that they are escaping to the woods, with little water and seemingly less plan makes her anxiety feel like an understandable response. Lily snaps that if he really knew her he would understand – a clear sign that Lily’s home trauma has impacted on her, prompting her to lurch to other unsuitable people and situations in search of finding a better life. Soon, Lily’s fear sees her run again, this time into the home of Evan (William Kircher) where things take a turn for the strange.

Captive neatly sidesteps being too invasive and focused on what Lily has endured previously with most left to Kostic’s performance, full as it is with micromovements, small flinches and moments of incredible internal strength. There are some details but there is less dwelling on it, especially given that Evan’s focus is on Lily actually being his daughter, Katherine. His focus on discipline and training Lily for a race that Katherine was due to take part in skews from the usual punishing elements of these kind of films. Kircher’s performance is well-balanced and restrained, when there could be a tendency to enter high-camp. The majority of the film is a two-hander between them with that human chess game taking centre stage.

Occasionally those intrusions from the outside world are where the film falters, giving over to too much exposition when the two central performances hold the mood and tone so well. The budget shows itself occasionally in some choices made with multiple voiceovers sometimes slowing the pace a little too much. On one hand, the fact that much of Lily’s fear is neutralised early on, leading to an uneasy atmosphere rather than openly hostile is appreciated, but on the other, it does leave some space in the film where there is little progression, leading to a little bloat and lack of momentum.

A smartly written take on a saturated sub genre with mature, well-rounded performances, Captive is a surprisingly compelling story that takes some interesting, if not entirely sensible swerves. Carefully straddling the line between a grim portrait of suffering and a survivor’s resourcefulness this is one that creates a space for itself by being unafraid to take a different direction.

3 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars

Captive is currently available in the US on Amazon, AppleTV, iTunes, GooglePlay, Microsoft, FandagoNow, Redbox on Demand, Vudu, AT&T U-Verse, Comcast X1, DirecTV and other platforms.

An Amityville Poltergeist

A relatively misleading title and a generic narrative make Amityville Poltergeist tricky to recommend, even if there are some interesting aspects.

Synopsis: The terrifying tale of Amityville is Back. When a young man encounters a weekend of horrors after taking a house sitting job from a spooky old woman.

Amityville Poltergeist shares very little with its franchise cousins, although this is perhaps unsurprising as the project came to life under a different name. In some ways, this title undermines it, despite some shared themes as the narrative progresses.

Parris Bates plays Jim – a young man who takes on house sitting duties under unusual circumstances. When he is told that the house has a terrible history, his scepticism and intrigue drive him to continue spending time there, even when his friend Collin (Conor Austin) advises him to fake his responsibilities. It is a solid performance, with his curiosity driving him. Collin’s characterisation is unusual, seemingly only turning up to talk about his latest sexual conquest to an increasingly detached Jim.

There are attempts to do something a little different here but nothing quite has the desired impact as there seems to be a resistance to fully committing to it. For example, an early moment seeks to shift the narrative structure somewhat, but does so in a way that ends up diffusing attempts to build tension later on. Further to this, the film’s cold blue grading, save for a few interruptions of colour gives it a visual flatness. The film’s reliance on J-Horror style spooks does interrupt this and adds some flare but all too often the creepier moments are fleeting, cut short by a shriek or otherwise engineered in a way that denies them the impact despite the focus on building tension. There is promise here, but as a whole package, it doesn’t quite marry.

The thing to keep in mind here, is there is clearly not a lot of budget to work with and in those terms, there are more ambitious moments that deserve celebrating. The fact that the film recognises its limitations and to some degree, creates a story that it can tell within those limitations is also worthy of comment, even if at times, it results in a flatter viewing experience.

Those going in expecting a film with active, noisy poltergeists as suggested by the title will be disappointed here. By the same token, anyone looking for a more restrained, perhaps human exploration of the haunting may be put off by the reliance on sudden noises. It is a shame, because there are a few poignant ideas here that if expanded upon could really strike a chord.

2.5 out of 5 stars
2.5 out of 5 stars

An Amityville Poltergeist arrives in the US on May 18th – available on iTunes, Amazon, Xbox, Playstation, Vudu, FandangoNOW, and local cable & satellite providers, as well as DVD.

The Darkness

A curious haunted house film that struggles to find its footing in a small-scale film with large-scale ambitions.

Synopsis: Spanning one hundred years, and filled with mythology and folklore we start in the present day where writer Lisa and entrepreneur David are desperate for a brief escape from their hectic London lives. They take up residence in an old remote home in Ballyvadlea, Ireland, where Lisa has plans to start writing her new book and David has a business plan to work on…but the house has other ideas. When strange things start to occur Lisa uses her investigative skills and discovers a memoir of a woman called Niav and delves deep into the past. But unlocking long closed doors has awoken a dormant evil spirit…and now the nightmare begins.

The Darkness is an interesting film, chasing the atmosphere of a time-spanning, haunting tale of betrayal and cyclical troubles, but appears to be limited by the budget and also a tendency to disrupt its pace by lingering on elements that neither further the plot, nor add atmosphere.

One of my issues with the central couple is a relative lack of chemistry, although some of this is undoubtedly linked to the scripting. At the outset, David (Cyril Blake) veers from talking about his mostly unspecified business duties or sex with wife Lisa (Amelia Eve) in clumsy characterisation that does little to endear you to the couple. The performances are solid, but hampered by the way they are constructed in this sense. In addition to David’s limited interests, Lisa appears too ill at ease in the house before she is given cause for alarm. It feels a little like the film is so concerned with the bigger picture that it forgets to set the ground it needs for that to truly impact.

This extends into the film’s handling of its horror material with some scenes jammed with musical cues and a sense of importance that fail to manifest. On the other hand, some moments that feel more deserving of fanfare pass quietly and unremarkably. There is an abrupt shift from uncanny oddness into the full-blown supernatural within one scene that again, can’t help but feel muted as that sense of progression is lost. There are some timing issues with other reveals, leading to a first half that feels sparse and a second half in which there is almost too much information to absorb.

Despite these issues, the film does satisfy some ghost story elements, leaning into the quieter, spooky moments of productions like Ghost Stories for Christmas to varying success. There is clear attention to detail on smaller, creepier elements, ticking some necessary haunting boxes as it progresses. The split across time is well handled too, with clarity and cohesion. Quirky, stalled transition shots lend an uneasy atmosphere which are successful in drawing the viewer’s eye.

A horror film with good ideas and ambition that can’t quite turn its eye for the creepy into a more solid final product, The Darkness is to be commended for attempting to scale what would otherwise be a standard story.

3 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars

The Darkness is available on digital in the UK from May 3rd.

Sam and Mattie Make a Zombie Movie

An often moving ode to community, creativity and of course, zombie movies.

Synopsis: Sam and Mattie, two badass best friends with Down syndrome, rally the entire town of Providence RI to help them storyboard, script, produce, cast, and star in their own dream movie: ‘Spring Break Zombie Massacre.’

I’d argue a film title like Spring Break Zombie Massacre will have something of limited audience appeal – it calls to mind the kind of low-budget, CGI-reliant horror that can be fun for the runtime, but rarely delivers too much in the way of lasting impact. The story behind Spring Break Zombie Massacre is far more interesting and presents a documentary that is full of heart, although not without challenges.

Sam and Mattie Make a Zombie Movie follows two friends with Down Syndrome, who decide they want to make a zombie movie. With the help of Sam’s brother Jesse and a selection of his friends and the wider community, they set to work making their vision come to life. The project is governed by two rules: 1. everyone is to have fun and 2. Mattie and Sam are in charge. These two driving principles are felt throughout the film, even when the pair are confronted with constructive criticism and realities of budget that they admirably take in their stride.

The main stumbling block, for me, comes in how much time the documentary dedicates to showing the film as a final product. At the 50 minute mark, the film’s premiere segues into showing the film itself, which is a nice touch in terms of showing the excitement of that occasion but does leave you feeling slightly short changed in documentary terms. While showcasing some of the content of the film makes sense, it does feel at times like it overbalances the documentary side in the latter half. The interruptions to the clips to provide further context are welcome, adding depth to what is presented on screen. There are no pretensions about the quality of the film, with a summary that ‘the journey is more important than the destination’ feeling very fitting. So much of the joy in this film is seeing wish-fulfilment in action and the drive that everyone has to support that. Just shortening the film clips in favour of more behind the scenes content would be preferable.

Sam and Mattie are such magnetic presences that watching them get to live out their dreams, meeting film writers, effects artists and other personal heroes is really where the appeal of the documentary lies. Matt’s interaction with his local librarian makes for an adorable moment and further highlights the ways that those kind of resources and the people within them become so important to communities. The writing process featured leads to some funny, if somewhat heated exchanges, as some of Sam and Mattie’s ideas are occasionally lost in translation. That the best thing you can give to someone is your time and energy feels incredibly poignant and the film conceals an unspoken tension until the timing is perfect. There is a definite balance here between happy and sad tears, but that is makes you feel throughout is to be commended.

Overall, Sam and Mattie Make A Zombie Movie is a sweet, funny and often moving portrait of the collaborative film-making process, the importance of community and the power of making dreams happen.

3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars

You can rent or buy Sam and Mattie Make a Zombie Movie on iTunes

I Blame Society

A witty, acerbic, meta mockumentary that delivers laughs and darkness in equal measure.

Synopsis: A struggling filmmaker realizes that the skill set to make a movie is the same to commit the perfect murder.

Spurred on by an odd compliment from friends that she would make a good murderer, Gillian (Gillian Wallace Horvat, also writing and directing) sets out to make a documentary about the perfect murder. She even has a target in mind: her friend Chase’s (played by the film’s co-writer Chase Williamson) girlfriend (known only by the nickname Stalin), who she considers a perfect victim due to her casual cruelty. While her discussion with Chase about her plan understandably goes down badly, three years later and burdened by the frustration of trying to find work as a director doing political work and battling ideas about likeable female characters, Gillian picks up her camera once more for a more personal pursuit.

Tackling everything from the difficulty of making it as a female filmmaker, negotiating tricky personal relationships and trying to authentically capture the escalation of serial killer behaviour, there is a lot going on in I Blame Society. It retains a sense of cohesion through its focus on Gillian, whose one-liners, determination and at times, outright narcissism make her compelling and entertaining, especially when the wider world she finds herself in is exasperating in its performativity. Meetings with a producer duo who mangle representational buzzwords and state their preference for a ‘strong female voice’ with no actual thought of what that means in their films add to the frustration, renewing Gillian’s drive to create her own film. Her boyfriend Keith (Keith Poulson) calls himself an ally, supporting the use of female directors while also lamenting their need to collaborate more leading to longer working hours, again contextualising the boundaries she faces and setting out Gillian’s need to go it alone as a creator. The tedious need for strong female characters to be ‘likeable’ is also raised throughout, a thread that serves to make Gillian’s various transgressions feel more like a kick back against a system that places limitations on female characters it doesn’t even consider for their male counterparts.

The film plays with the boundary between criminality and art throughout with Gillian assessing her creative choices in the moment, moving a camera around a sleeping woman in a house she’s broken into is “not being creepy, it’s just a second angle”. The connection that women have to true crime stories also features here, with Gillian’s descent drawn on at least some level from media saturation on the development and acts of serial killers, affording them a level of fame. Gillian’s spiel about the Golden State Killer’s unpredictability demonstrates a knowledge of how these things ‘work’ in the eyes of media, law enforcement and the public and therefore how to subvert this for her own means. The fact that during this whole scene, she is operating her own zoom for dramatic effect lends it a sense of absurdity that the film comfortably lapses in and out of at just the right beats. Her outrage when she is almost too good at laying false clues to truly claim credit for her work feeds further into her self-obsession.

Peppered with excellent soundtrack moments, commentary on film style choices and a wider satire on the treatment of serial killers in the media and among law enforcement, this is a film with bite. The truly impressive thing though is despite the gradually darkening tone, there are still laugh out loud moments that keep the film engaging. Gillian Wallace Horvat makes for an charismatic central figure, part-Patrick Bateman monologue, part-neurotic artist whose quirks devolve into outright cruelty throughout the film’s progression.

I Blame Society is a sharply written, endlessly entertaining and bold film that hinges on an excellent performance from Horvat that despite its specific focus on filmmaking almost certainly holds wider appeal.

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars

Blue Finch Film Releasing presents I Blame Society on Digital Download 19 April  

Amber’s Descent

A curious and layered horror that doesn’t always hit the right notes.

Synopsis: After surviving a violent encounter, renowned pianist, Amber Waltz, relocates to a rural farmhouse to complete her latest symphony. When the music mysteriously begins writing itself, Amber slowly discovers that this piece could be her last.

Every now and then you experience a film that would be better if it leant into its weirder moments a little further – Amber’s Descent is one such title. Sections of the film featuring eerie musical intrusions work well and are genuinely unsettling at times, but the more traditional and predictable “fake-out” scares threaten to derail that tension as they never feel like they sit comfortably in the wider, more sombre tale of trauma and recovery.

Kayla Stanton provides a stable, excellent performance as the titular Amber and it is her presence that holds the film together. While her chemistry with handyman Jim (Michael Mitton) does feel a little off, their swift introduction to one another and ongoing uneasy interactions more than excuse some awkwardness. Stanton is required to do the emotional heavy lifting of Amber’s past in frenetic and violent flashbacks and also the slow realisations of her present which she manages well.

Dreamy sequences set in the grounds of the house are the film’s biggest strength, lending it a sense of the uncanny and uncomfortable. A relatively late addition to the mystery of the house comes with exposition, slowing the pace and again draws away from the film’s more successful moments of oddness and abstract quality. The aforementioned musical intrusions work well, situating us in Amber’s world of being finely attuned to sound and the sound design aids this sense of something breaking through very well. This makes the flatter moments of dialogue-heavy explanations stand out as more traditional and less interesting by contrast.

The finale is ultimately hollow, despite the sequence leading up to it being one of the film’s strongest as it swiftly turns up the pace and volume. However well-crafted, the mismatch of types of scare throughout never let you feel like you know what level the film is operating on and while this can sometimes be a successful technique to wrongfoot audiences, it ends up as a barrier here. The numerous threads the film are also an issue as it seeks to do them all some justice, resulting in stalling to setup and try to pay-off a new kind of scare. This seeks to make the reasonable runtime feel longer and more laboured.

Certainly an ambitious and layered tale with a strong central performance, there is a solid film here that gets slightly lost in the numerous aspects it tries to include.

3 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars

Amber’s Descent is available now through Breaking Glass Pictures.

Demon

A charming lead performance offers some anchoring in this interesting, but ultimately disjointed work.

Synopsis: When an unpaid train fine comes back to haunt him, office worker Ralph flees London to a forest motel where a temporary hideout becomes a nightmarish purgatory, and emerging ghosts of the past force him to confront the loss of his father.

All films that seek to blend genres and step outside of that conventional storytelling framework need an anchor and Demon is no different. Ryan Walker-Edwards’ charming and nuanced performance as Ralph provides stable ground, even as the other elements around him vary in quality. Ralph is disconnected, increasingly paranoid and seemingly trapped in a trauma-based arrested development as he leaves his life due to the threat of a pursuing bailiff. Ryan Walker-Edwards is easily able to match both the intensity and vulnerability the role requires. The wider film, however, is more of a challenge, with an uneasy mix of elements that jockey for position without necessary balance.

Part of this disjointedness is no doubt intentional, but the uncanny, dream-like portions of the film never quite feel like a cohesive unit, so the effect is somewhat lost. Some segments that play to a darkly comic critique of fiddly, pointless bureaucracy land well, so there are certainly flashes where the film feels like it has a handle on what it is trying to do. Equally, the moments where it recognises its budgetary limitations and adjusts itself accordingly, including a small-space fight that turns into a video game display, are good, innovative ways of working to its strengths.

However well handled these moments are, Demon is unfortunately all too often lost to indulgence, thematically and physically wandering into scenes that do not offer any extra texture to the film. This is not a case of the surrealism being confusing, as such, but even if something isn’t intended to add meaning, it should leave an impression. A few too many scenes leave you questioning what it added, as opposed to leaving you with any feeling of unease or other emotion. Despite a relatively short runtime, this also makes the film feel longer. Some of the dialogue doesn’t really land, especially in sections where his friend Kent (Jacob Hawley) awkwardly quotes mental health statistics at him. An ongoing side gag is afforded far too much time for a relatively meagre pay-off.

The stylistic choices are of interest here and in addition to the aforementioned switch to video game for a fight scene, there are further switches to the format. Opening on home video footage, before shifting to black and white that adds red tones as the threat rises, there is clearly a desire to experiment here with form and mood, which is to be celebrated, even if it isn’t entirely successful.

A film as disconnected as its protagonist, Demon is an interesting, if flawed descent into paranoia supported by a willingness to experiment with form.

2.5 out of 5 stars
2.5 out of 5 stars

Demon plays at Cinequest’s 2021 virtual festival Cinejoy until 30th March. Find out more here.

BFI Flare 2021: The Dose (La dosis)

A fascinating thriller concept with great performances that struggles to turn tension into intensity.

Synopsis: Experienced nurse Marcos has worked the night shift at the same private clinic for many years. Quiet and introspective, he is a man of routine, tirelessly dedicated to his job. But he has a secret – euthanising deteriorating patients who appear to stand no chance of recovery. With the arrival of Gabriel, an attractive and charming new nurse on the ward, Marcos suddenly finds his position under threat. Not only does Gabriel effortlessly ingratiate himself with his fellow colleagues, he too appears to be ending the lives of suffering patients, but with far more sinister motives.

Martin Kraut’s feature debut, focused around an intensive care unit, shows a great deal of promise, handling a sensitive topic with skill and empathy. There is an incredibly deliberate energy to the whole film and some will struggle to stay with it for the runtime due to that lack of ebb and flow. However, as the subject matter will be challenging for some, there is a difficult balance to be struck between the sober and more thrilling elements that would be tricky to get right under any circumstances.

The driving force of the film is Carlos Portaluppi’s beautifully observed performance as Marcos – a sensitive, dedicated and introverted nurse with a dark secret. The film opens on an overhead shot of a patient about to pass away. Medical personnel start to crowd her for a failed resuscitation attempt and after all appears to be done, Marcos delivers one more shock, bringing the patient back to life. It is a short scene that tells us almost everything we need to know about Marcos’ dedication to keeping patients alive. However, his actions spark frustration from his colleagues, bitterly remarking that he has given her another week at most. This is no surprise to Marcos, who has taken on the role of secretly euthanising truly hopeless patients who cannot be treated.

The film feels even, almost static, because we are dealing with a character whose day-to-day life is one of relative monotony, displayed in repeat shots of the same lunch, routine and relatively empty home life. The sense of futility and even depression with spending so much time with patients who are either combative or unlikely to get any better clearly has an impact on the drudgery of the environment. The atmosphere of the care unit, all greys, muted blues and greens with a touch of fluorescent light gives the unit a sense of oppression that works to trap the characters within it. Despite this, when the more vibrant and edgy character of Gabriel (Ignacio Rogers) is introduced, the pace doesn’t rise to meet his energy. The performances are key here and both Portaluppi and Rogers’ uneasy chemistry is compelling. Lorena Vega’s presence as fellow nurse Noelia is strong, although she slips further into the background as the story of the two men takes precedence.

Gabriel is also using his position within the hospital to kill patients, although in contrast to Marcos, he appears to relish the opportunity and is not concerned if they are treatable. Of course, the pair can only talk about their activities by revealing their own. The experience of killing as something secret and shared between them does take on elements of homoerotic tension and this allows the film to introduce more interesting imagery, particularly later as Marcos begins to unravel. Unfortunately, there is always a sense of something being held back here and that the film moves from A to B to C at very similar emotional levels. Towards the finale, there is a hint of dark comic farce coming to the surface, but otherwise the deeply serious, even tone remains throughout.

An interesting idea directed with a capable hand and supported by excellent performances, The Dose is too restrained to leave the impact it should.

3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars

The Dose plays at the BFI Flare Festival 2021 until March 28th. Click here for more information.