Don’t Breathe (2016) US Dir: Fede Alverez
Stephen Lang, Jane Levy

One of a crop of home invasion horrors that inverts its premise by having the occupants of said home far more terrifying than the intruders, DON’T BREATHE is a fairly efficient crime horror that mixes in themes of grief, loss and PTSD to come up with a ninety minute knuckle whitener that has enough points of  interest to make it stand alongside peers like THE STRANGERS and INTRUDERS.
As usual with the home invasion trope, the plot is basic; girl from the wrong side of the tracks Rocky (Levy), and her two partners Alex and Money make their living turning over well to do properties courtesy of Alex being the son of the man whose company installs their home security systems.
Rocky’s long term game plan is to get enough money from selling the stolen goods to move to California with her younger sister and start afresh, escaping their alcoholic white trash mother and her lowlife boyfriend.
When Money receives a tip that a blind special forces veteran (Lang) living in a deserted neighbourhood has $30,000 stashed in his house from compensation received over his daughter’s death in a road accident, the trio hatch what seems to be the perfect break and enter in order to steal the cash. Things go awry almost immediately of course with the blind man (Lang) not nearly as helpless as the house breakers imagined. He also harbours a dark secret in the basement…

From here on in, Alvarez’s film follows a cat and mouse narrative before taking a sharp turn with a genuinely surprising curveball which ups the stakes even further for Rocky.
If you can get past the film’s blatant emotional manipulation of its audience, DON’T BREATHE is a deft and well acted thriller, with enough dark turns to earn its spurs as a horror. Levy plays Rocky as the bad girl with her heart in the right place trope. She is the only one of the gang whose home life we get a glimpse of, and Alvarez telegraphs the audience that her criminality has been ‘forced’ upon her by circumstance, (and it’s for a good cause, even if it means robbing a blind war veteran.) Needless to say her male accomplices are entirely expendable. Their portrayal means that we have little sympathy for them anyway, and given the aforementioned plot revelation, the viewer quickly transfers their  initial sympathy for the bereaved war vet over to the imperilled Rocky in good time ready for the climactic confrontation.
If you can get past the film’s questionable morality, then there is an enjoyable ninety minutes to be had here, especially whenever the superb Lang is on screen, exuding a grizzled physical presence and utterly dominating proceedings. A solid entry in the home invasion horror sub genre.

Dogged (2017) UK Dir: Richard Rowntree
Sam Saunders,Toby Wynn-Davies, Tony Manders, Debra Leigh-Taylor

Sam (Saunders), a university student returns to his middle class parents home, a remote tidal island called Farthing to attend the funeral of Megan Lancaster (Abigail Rylance-Sneddon), the 11 year old daughter of family friends who has mysteriously perished from a cliff top fall.
Soon after attending the funeral service given by local vicar Father David Jones (a superbly menacing Wynn Davies), Sam re-encounters Jones’ disturbed son Daniel (a superbly off kilter and menacing Nick Stopien) and hooks up with his old flame, Jones’ rebellious daughter Rachel (Ayisha Jebali). Realising that Jones appears to exert some kind of hold over the town’s menfolk, including his outwardly authoritarian, but weak willed father Alan (a fantastically twitchy performance by Philip Ridout) and the local Doctor Donald Goodman (Manders), Sam and Rachel are drawn to a hippie commune whose inhabitants are despised by the island’s more ‘well to do’ natives. Suspecting that there is more to Megan’s death than just a tragic accident, they team up with one of the hippies, Sparrow (Nadia Lamin) to investigate further.


Revealing any more will mean plot spoilers, so I’ll refrain and instead, highly recommend that you seek out DOGGED for yourself. The film is the debut from writer/director Richard Rowntree’s Ash Mountain Films outfit, co-written with Matthew Davies from an original short film of the same name co-written and directed by Richard and Christina Rowntree, that was entered into BBC Three’s The Fear, a competition to find up and coming filmmakers in the horror genre.
Considering that DOGGED is a mini budget affair (it became the fourth most successful UK based horror feature film to receive funding from Kickstarter on 24 March 2016), Rowntree works wonders with fifteen grand, delivering a bleak slice of very British folk horror that bodes well for future output from Ash Mountain and for a renaissance in British horror in general.

On first viewing DOGGED appears to owe a very large debt to Robin Hardy and Anthony Schaffer’s 1973 folk horror classic THE WICKER MAN, with it’s tale of an alienated outsider in an isolated close knit community, a missing/dead little girl and strange cultish goings on. But it also has traces in its DNA of two other classic British folk horrors of that era; namely WITCHFINDER GENERAL and BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW. The film’s themes of religious mania, malevolent authority figures and outward hypocrisy masking a cold hearted evil seem particularly suited to british horror, drawing on the class system and our shared history of puritanism and sectarian conflict.The class commentary aspect is represented by the antagonism between the middle class, slightly incestuous villagers and the hippie community, featuring a scene stealing turn by Tony Parkin as Woodsman Jim, the town derelict driven mad by a long ago trauma connected to the island’s dark secret.
But rather than seeking to ape the style or look of the aforementioned films, Rowntree wisely treads his own path to give DOGGED its own identity, the cinematography drenching the film in bleak, windswept greys, browns and creams, and staying just the right side of making the film look like ITV drafted in Eli Roth to direct one of it’s kitchen sink misery-dramas.
Grounding the horror in a real world setting sans any supernatural elements is another aspect of 70’s horror that runs through the film’s bloodstream. Back then indie filmmakers were reacting against the stylised gothic melodramas of Hammer which by then were looking increasingly irrelevant in the era of Vietnam and Watergate. In our own time a film like DOGGED seems like a return to basics after all the derivative jump horror, bloated franchise sequels and tiresome paranormal  found footage cheapies.
As a writer, Rowntree understands that the most terrifying monster is the fallen nature of the human condition itself, where monsters look just like you or I, and hide in plain sight among us. The script is confident enough to leave just the right amount of ambiguity about just how far knowledge of the island’s secret extends, and the direction is assured enough to make certain that Ash Mountain’s feature debut stands on its own alongside its influences. The creative passion and energy of both the cast and behind the scenes creative team really shine through, an once again prove that you don’t need a massive budget to produce something special on screen.
Based on this outing, both Richard Rowntree and Ash Mountain Films have a great future ahead of them, and indeed are filming their second feature NEFARIOUS (also crowdfunded through Kickstarter) as of this writing.

Of course the best way to support indie filmmakers like Ash Mountain is to buy the fruits of their labours, and I hope this review may go some way to persuading you to part with your hard earned and add a contemporary Brit horror gem like DOGGED to your collection.Let me know what you think of the film in the comments below, or alternatively you can find me on Twitter @thestrickenland or in my Facebook discussion group Movie Babylon.

You can also follow Richard and Ash Mountain Films on Twitter at @r_rowntree and @AshMountainFilm respectively.

Get Out (US 2017) Dir: Jordan Peele

Daniel Kaluuya, Alison Williams, Bradley Whitfield, Catherine Keener

The explicitly political horror film is a rare beast. Over time, the genre has justifiably gained fame as a vehicle for societal allegories, even if these were attached to certain films in hindsight by critics looking to give their copy more resonance. I’m thinking of the underlying social conservatism prevalent in the slasher sub genre (so memorably lampooned in the Scream franchise), and the alleged critique of western consumerism as the underlying theme in Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead (1979). Personally I like to think of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) as a treatise on the horrors of unemployment, a sort of Boys from the Blackstuff with a darker heart.

The two horror films that best exemplify an intentional socio/political commentary in this reviewer’s opinion are the original Night of the Living Dead (who can forget its shocking nihilistic ending?), and Bryan Forbes’ excellent 1975 second wave feminist chiller The Stepford Wives adapted from the Ira Levin novel of the same name.

It is this latter film that Get Out owes a debt to. Jordan Peele’s directorial debut begins as a taut, slightly unsettling tale centring on the angst of meeting the parents of one’s other half for the first time. Along the way it also weaves in an examination of the disparity between the level of media exposure that missing black people receive in the US as opposed to cases featuring whites (particularly females) that disappear.

Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), a young black photographer is taken to meet his girlfriend Rose Armitage’s (Alison Williams) parents Dean and Missy (a pair of splendidly restrained performances by Bradley Whitfield and Catherine Keener respectively), and her passive aggressive brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jone) at their spacious country pile.

The Armitage family employ two black people, groundsman Walter (Marcus Henderson) and maid Georgina (Betty Gabriel), both of who display curiously affected behaviour. Conscious of how this domestic setup may look, Rose’s neurosurgeon father Dean reassures Chris that ‘he would’ve voted for Obama a third time if he could’. This case of protesting too much is soon compounded at a weekend gathering of the Armitage’s friends and family who all make disparaging, passive aggressive racist remarks towards Chris, with the exception of Jim Hudson (Stephen Root), a blind art dealer, who tells Chris how much he admires his work. After Missy tricks Chris into being hypnotised over curing his smoking habit, matters quickly go south for the young man.

Black Lives Matter go to Stepford is perhaps too crude a label to give the film, and Peele goes for more of a straight horror/thriller angle than the satire of Forbes’s classic. We are cleverly wrong footed near the start of the film with a skilfully navigated confrontation with a local traffic cop, and the film resists the temptation to play up the victim angle (the climax to the third act shows that Chris is anything but). In fact it is this climax to the third act that is the weakest point of the film, seeming rushed and splatter heavy where a subtler, more nuanced and sinister denouement would have been more in keeping with the overall mood and tone of what has gone before. One half expects there to be a coda to events at this point, to rob the audience of reassurance and show that all is not well in this world despite the hero’s survival. Perhaps Peele was wary of sequelitis, and who can blame him? Given the film’s success and capturing of a particular moment in the zeitgeist, one wouldn’t put it past the studio to float the idea of a follow up.

In summary then, Get Out is an interesting and well made horror with great performances, even if the material is not quite as fresh and original as some of the hype has made it out to be. In the wake of this success, Peele has been linked to the long gestating live action Akira project, which he may be wise to stay clear of given Hollywood’s track record with Japanese properties. Resist the siren calls of sequels to your debut feature though Mr Peele, few recall the follow ups to The Stepford Wives, and with good reason.