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Review by Ally Russell

When same-sex couple Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and Aaron (Ari Cohen) move to a small suburban town with their 16-year-old daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte), they hope the new home will give them a chance to relax and resolve some underlying family drama. However, their dreams of a quiet life spiral downward as the family is plunged into a toxic and paranoia-inducing environment that is rife with homophobia and the occult.

We follow the story through Malik’s eyes—a character with whom we immediately empathize as flashbacks reveal that he was the victim of a hate crime. This crime has left Malik vulnerable and on a daily diet of medication, but it doesn’t define him. He is also the peacekeeper in his home, and instead of the tired evil step-parent trope, we’re treated to a warm stepfather-stepdaughter relationship between Malik and Kayla, whom he affectionately calls Booger. However, as the short winter days turn to long nights in a cold and unfamiliar landscape, Malik’s sanity is compromised and his sense of time warped.

Whenever a film presents sinister neighbors as villains, I immediately think of Rosemary’s Baby—a film that expertly explores the theme of living and being at home amongst people who make you uncomfortable. Spiral (directed by Kurtis David Harder) may not dissect the subject of strange neighbors with as much precision, but the same way that Rosemary’s Baby made viewers want to abandon urban apartment buildings, Spiral will make viewers question the safety of the suburbs.

For viewers looking for that Get Out (2017) ambiance, Spiral mostly delivers on that mood. In addition to the microaggressions that Black characters are often forced to silently endure, Malik has the added weight of tackling homophobia in his new community and in his home. This Get Out atmosphere is most prominently felt when we are confronted with Malik’s work as a ghost writer—a job that requires him to listen to a doctor espouse hateful views about gay conversion therapy and the importance of the “traditional family unit” via grainy VHS tapes. While these scenes effectively convey homophobia as a driver for the horror elements in the film, I do wonder if the LGBTQIAA community is exhausted with watching this kind of trauma unfold on screen.

The film is compelling and creepy, but it’s not perfect. Additional details about the significance of the occult symbols and ritual practices would have yielded a more complete story and left me with fewer questions. However, the film does an excellent job of adeptly highlighting one unequivocal fact: humans will always find something to fear.

Spiral is a dark and brooding horror film that requires multiple viewings to fully appreciate some of its more subtle storytelling, but with each watch, viewers will unearth information that they may not have noticed before.

Spiral is available on Shudder.

AllyRussellAbout the writer: Ally Russell has a ghastly passion for horror writing. She has created podcasts episodes and written content for the Horror Writers Association’s Young Adult & Middle Grade blog, Scary Out There, and has written for Night Worms and reviewed horror films for Out of the Past and She also hosts the FlashFrights podcast, which can be found on Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud. Ally holds an MFA in writing for children from Simmons University. When her childhood dreams of becoming a full-time witch didn’t work out, she settled for a career in publishing. She lives in Boston but hails from Pittsburgh—ground zero for the zombie apocalypse. She can be found on Instagram at @OneDarkAlly.

Raquel’s thoughts: Get Out meets Rosemary’s Baby, Spiral demonstrates the horrors of othering in a way that is both modern and classic.


Review by Ally Russell

What happens if your virtual meeting room is haunted?

Host is a new Shudder original horror film about six friends who decide to hold a virtual séance using the popular video communication platform Zoom. As the group’s evening of entertainment quickly unravels into a night of terror, viewers are immersed in a found footage-style horror movie that shows the worst-case scenario when technology and the supernatural converge on a computer screen.

Filmed in the homes of the actors and directed from afar, Host was conceived of by director Rob Savage (Dawn of the Deaf, 2016), who collaborated with his producing-partner Jed Shepherd (Salt, award-winning short, 2018), producer Douglas Cox (Dawn of the Deaf, 2016), and writer Gem Hurley (Tin Foil) to craft the story and script. In his director’s statement, Savage credited his enthusiasm for found footage horror movies, specifically Unfriended (2014), for inspiring Host, but it was Savage’s recent Zoom prank that propelled the idea of the film that’s now streaming on Shudder.

Host is haunting, and it doesn’t waste time telling its scary story. There is no trivial dialogue or banter to introduce the characters. There is no music to lull you into the story. There are no intro credits because, after all, you’re just watching a free 40-minute Zoom session. Savage quickly familiarizes viewers with the group’s relationship dynamics and drama, and he grasps our short attention spans with speedy pacing and plenty of obligatory jump scares…and he does it in less than an hour.

The friends, played by Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louis Webb, Caroline Ward, Radina Drandova, and Edward Linard, have outstanding chemistry, which bolsters the film’s authenticity. For viewers, the experience is a bit uncanny because it feels like you’re zoom-bombing a private moment between friends. Savage attributes the harmony of the cast to their long standing friendships beyond the “set” of the film.

In addition to acting, it is worth noting that the actors operated their own cameras and assisted with their own lighting and practical effects. While all of the actors were stellar in their own roles, we must give Emma Louis Webb a special round of applause, because her genuine fear and panic are palpable on screen, and she does a lot of the emotional lifting toward the end of the film.

Host is an outstanding horror film because it doesn’t allow us to escape the terror of our current reality. This film is set in the present amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and every facet of the film—from the plot to the production—reminds us of that alarming fact. Why are these friends having a Zoom call instead of meeting up at someone’s house or a pub? Because they and we are in the middle of a pandemic. Why are they risking their spiritual and physically safety by holding a séance via Zoom even though, as their spiritual guide warns, the group will be “slightly less protected than they might have been”? Because of the pandemic. Why can’t they leave their homes to escape their frightening situations? Because pandemic. When two of the characters do come face-to-face, they greet each other by bumping elbows. Pandemic, pandemic, pandemic.

It’s difficult to go into detail about the plot without spoiling the fun of the film. So, for a fully immersive—and potentially haunting—experience, grab your laptop and just press play!

Host is best described as a fraught fifty-seven-minute thrill ride with Paranormal Activity (2007) meets Unfriended: Dark Web (2018) vibes.


Ally Russell occasionally creates content for the Horror Writers Association’s Young Adult & Middle Grade blog, SCARY OUT THERE, and she hosts the FlashFrights podcast on Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud. Ally lives in Boston and works at an independent children’s publisher. She enjoys talking about cryptids in her free time. She can be found on Instagram at @OneDarkAlly.

Toss It

Review by Ale Turdó

RATING: 7/10

Relationship goals

Writer, producer, director and actress Michele Remsen goes all out in Toss It (2019), her first feature film, a layered story disguised as an anti-romantic comedy.

Emily (Michele Remsen) and Finn (Phil Burke) are long time friends, he is a ladies man, she is the pseudo-intellectual type that won’t settle for an ordinary guy. After they get reunited at Finn’s brother wedding, the flimsy possibility of trying to work out some sort of romantic relationship and get together once and for all becomes a reality. From that point onward, the story story will set into will they/won’t they mode, and a vast assortment of colourful characters will speak their mind about it as the audience navigates through the plot along.

Initially, Toss It takes a dark approach at middle-aged single people in our modern times, and the way they need to deal with the feeling that other people’s plans -the more conventional ones- don’t necessarily fit their aspirations and desires. Is there something wrong with them? How bad is it to be trapped at the me phase after your late-thirties/early forties? Is there a real need for love in their lives?

But what starts as a run-of-the-mill rom-com evolves into something a bit deeper. Long conversational scenes about marriage, family traumas, getting older, working out a relationship and standard middle-age crisis turn the tables during the second act, as two people resisting to fall in love with each other hold hands and venture into the unknown… unknown to them of course.

All the actions that seem to happen in the background are no minor details as Emily and Finn iron out some relationship wrinkles. A wedding, a funeral, a trip to Las Vegas, all this set pieces are transitional stages that make Emily and Finn’s bond advance across the narrative. It seems to give the idea that love can be found in the most cliched, mundane and unexpected moments of everyone’s life. And the reason why we find it in all those different places it is because we can always learn something from it, no matter the circumstances.

The diverse cast evolves into a curious ensemble: the wise mother, the submissive younger brother, the controlling wife, the buddhist wannabe friend. Each of them shine a light into the different paths love can take, and which of those paths could be the right one for us. But one thing is for sure: there is no right answer.

The core idea behind Toss It is that you should give yourself a chance, a chance to be happy with someone else, in your own way, whatever or however works. In Finn’s words no one gets it right, but you just hope to get it better. Is there a lesson in love, relationships, getting older? This is the kind of movie that won’t give you a straight answer. Instead, it unveils different points of view on the subject matter. Perhaps the only certainty here is that no relationship is perfect, we all need a tribe a to belong to and it can get quite lonely to navigate this world alone.

Foto Ale TN_2018 Ale Turdó —Based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Alejandro is a film critic and movie enthusiast that has been writing about movies for the past 7 years, covering everything from blockbusters to indie gems and all in between. He majored in Sound Design and Cinematography in college and is a full time digital content producer. He’s the kind of guy that thinks that even the worst movie can have something interesting to write about. Additionally, he writes for Escribiendo Cine and A Sala Llena. Twitter: @aleturdo and IG: @hoysalecine


Review by Ale Turdó

RATING: 8/10


Writer, director, voice talent and actor Jeff Nimoy decided to make his feature debut a Rom-Com in an actual anime-con, with a fictionalized version of himself as the heart of the story. Fame-ish (2020) becomes as meta as it can possibly get and ventures into nerd territory —or why not nerditory?— with some mildly entertaining screwball extravaganza.

10+ years have passed since voice talent and anime director Jeff Nimoy —real life second cousin of Star Trek legend Leonard Nimoy— last struck success in his line of work. With his glory days long gone, Nimoy reluctantly accepts a paid invitation to be the main guest on an anime convention held somewhere in Wisconsin. To his own surprise, anime fans are still crazy about his work on a very popular show from his heyday, and are willing to spend big bucks on autographs and photo ops, which makes Jeff realize just how good of a business conventions have become in the past couple of years.

While doing his thing at the convention, Jeff reconnects with some old time colleagues. He also meets Nikki, a voice actress he starts developing a surprisingly deep relationship with. But Jeff’s old habits die hard, and threaten to jeopardize his brand new shot at being finally happy.

Whoever has ever been to any sort of comic or anime convention will immediately recognize the mandatory tropes: cue lines, official merchandise, fans in need of a bath. Filmed in the midst of a real convention, Fame-ish does an interesting job at recreating that universe up to the smallest detail. Once the audience is caught inside the convention domain, the story gets a reliable background to start developing its narrative.

There is a certain charm about Jeff Nimoy’s approach to this over the hill voice talent alter ego fighting with his own demons, there is a sense of vulnerability in the way he talks, the way he moves. Reality based or not, this attributes sure make his character a profound and deep one.

Technically wise, Fame-ish is a movie that makes a naturalistic approach to filmmaking. The camera follows its characters freely, some shots give us the conventioneers point of view and this generates a sort of intimacy, it feels like we as an audience are sitting there, being part of it all. The script is flexible enough to turn from screwball to drama in a split second, and vice versa. The indie-like soundtrack helps smooth the edges and navigate from one scene to the next, creating all sorts of transitional moods.

There is also an interesting look inside the convention-era business. No matter how big or small, the past decade and a half proved that there are fans of almost everything, and the special connection between fans and artists always stands the test of time. But all things aside, in its core Fame-ish is a movie about second chances, about an alcoholic trying to turn things around, trying to do better. Deep down, all the characters involved are simply flawed people doing their best to improve. Not a bad silver lining for a movie initially about the shenanigans of a washed up anime voice actor.

Foto Ale TN_2018 Ale Turdó —Based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Alejandro is a film critic and movie enthusiast that has been writing about movies for the past 7 years, covering everything from blockbusters to indie gems and all in between. He majored in Sound Design and Cinematography in college and is a full time digital content producer. He’s the kind of guy that thinks that even the worst movie can have something interesting to write about. Additionally, he writes for Escribiendo Cine and A Sala Llena. Twitter: @aleturdo and IG: @hoysalecine

The Dragonfly Conspiracy

Review by Ale Turdó

RATING: 7/10

The Truth is Out There

Veteran indie filmmaker Brian Neil Hoff cooked up a simple but smart found footage flick with his latest feature The Dragonfly Conspiracy. Shot as an almost guerrilla-style kind of movie.

Blake, played by Hoff himself, and Christine (Carolina Liechtensein), real-life granddaughter of Hollywood legend John Ford, are two friends trying to escape from the invisible and mischievous grip of The New World Organization, an ominous cult, a wolf in sheep’s clothing laying down a meticulous plan to exterminate most of the human population worldwide. After cutting loose from the cult camp, Blake and Christine start a frenetic journey across the country trying to reveal the organization’s true face. They take a camera with them in order to record everything they go through.

After some twenty plus years of found footage lore, Hoff still manages to get the best out of such a beat up genre, with moments of spontaneity that convey a believable enough sense of urgency. With nothing close to a big budget, they manage to build a considerable level of paranoia and suspense almost from nothing, not even scratch. The road trip spirit latches to the found footage scenario and move into a completely different territory, almost an uncharted one.

Most of the scenes consist of long uncut shots that add an eerie realism to the whole thing, evoking an Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County (1998) kind of vibe, in a good way of course. The opening sequence is an eleven minutes suspenseful car chase thru L.A. highways they relies on the two main characters reacting to each other and the situation. Not an easy trick to pull at all.

The frantic pace slows down every now and then to introduce new characters that help out Blake and Christine on their journey, and deliver a much needed rest to the audience. Their testimonies help building up the narrative, each new character adds a new piece that shape the story.

Like almost all found footage movies, The Dragonfly Conspiracy often struggles when it comes to provide information to the audience that normally would not require the main characters to actually be in a certain place, but the constraints of the genre, and this particular plot, forces them to.

A lower runtime would have been probably a better fit for the movie. With almost ninety minutes on its back, you often get the feeling that this sort of narrative could have been a bit more efficient taking ten of fifteen minutes off, avoiding some iterations and circling around.

Putting aside all the classic paranoid tropes of the thriller conspiracy genre such as news media attacks, pharmaceutical schemes, DNA manipulation and imminent clone uprising, The Dragonfly Conspiracy still leaves some room for a not so crazy and not so subtle message: don’t be a sleeper, read the signs and stay awake.

Foto Ale TN_2018 Ale Turdó —Based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Alejandro is a film critic and movie enthusiast that has been writing about movies for the past 7 years, covering everything from blockbusters to indie gems and all in between. He majored in Sound Design and Cinematography in college and is a full time digital content producer. He’s the kind of guy that thinks that even the worst movie can have something interesting to write about. Additionally, he writes for Escribiendo Cine and A Sala Llena. Twitter: @aleturdo and IG: @hoysalecine

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