Tag Archives: B-


Producers: Chris Mangano and Merry-Kay Poe   Director: Alex McAulay   Screenplay: Alex McAulay   Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Jack Dylan Grazer, Mena Suvari, Rainn Wilson and McKenna Christine Poe, McKenna Christian Poe, Seth Poe, Richard Fike and Abigail Froehle   Distributor: Saban Films 

Grade: B-

One might describe Alex McAulay’s debut feature as a coming-of-age thriller; and one can imagine it having served as one of those pulpy movies of the week that broadcast networks favored in the seventies.  As such “Don’t Tell a Soul” holds one’s interest over its brief eighty-three minute running-time, though it suffers from almost amusing issues of plausibility and one terribly overwrought performance. 

The protagonist is fourteen-year old Joey (Jack Dylan Grazer), who lives with his mother Carol (Mena Suvari) and older brother Matt (Fionn Whitehead).  The boys’ father is dead—we will learn that he had lung cancer, but died of a gunshot wound.  Carol is ill with lung cancer too (repeated shots of a factory smokestack belching out fumes down the block from the family’s house are obviously meant to indicate the source of the illness) , and is burdened with huge medical bills.

That is what supposedly prompts Matt, a volatile, reckless seventeen-year old with a nasty streak, to bully Joey into joining him in the robbery of an elderly neighbor whose house is being treated for some sort of infestation.  As they escape with a canister of cash, they’re accosted by a man (Rainn Wilson) wearing a security guard’s uniform who chases them into the woods.  But he stumbles into a deep hole (man-made, but to what purpose is unclear) and breaks his ankle in the process.  Matt compels Joey to follow him back to the house with the loot, leaving the injured man behind.

Joey’s haunted by what they’ve done, and goes back alone to see about the fellow, who tells him his name is Hamby and begs him to call for help.  Joey is torn, caught between his desire to assist Hamby and the threat of retaliation from Matt if he does.  The result is the emergence of a curious sort of friendship between the boy and the trapped man: Joey brings Hamby food and even a walkie-talkie so that they can converse, while still resisting the man’s pleas to rescue him.  The situation is complicated when Matt begins spending the stolen money on girls and parties and grows increasingly brutal: he actually tries to kill Hamby, and threatens to hurt Joey physically or perhaps blame him for the crime and turn him in to the police.

At this point McAulay throws a far-fetched twist into the plot that turns the movie into an oddball buddy story in which Joey and Hamby form an unholy kid-and-surrogate-father alliance.  Wilson and Grazer (who was Freddy Freeman in “Shazam!”) are both so invested in their characters that they almost pull McAulay’s contrivance off; unfortunately Whitehead is so over-the-top as Matt (has been from the very beginning, in fact, but is even more unbelievable when he turns into an Eddie Haskell type toward the close) that he undermines their delicate routine.  A further twist involving Carol, whom Mena Suvari has until then played as a one-note suffering soul, strains credulity even further. 

Nonetheless the back-and-forth between Grazer and Wilson is sufficiently clever, and their performances so engaging, that the movie is watchable to the end, despite the stumbles.  Shot in Kentucky, it boasts decent technical work from cinematographer Guillermo Garza, production designer Norá Takács and Ben Baudhuin, though the droning score by Joseph Stephens comes across as unimaginative.

Like so many of those seventies made-for-TV potboilers, “Don’t Tell a Soul” is basically a guilty pleasure, but still a pleasure, though a distinctly minor-league one.       


Producers: Daniel Noah, Josh Waller, Lisa Whalen and Elijah Wood   Director: Richard Stanley   Screenplay: Richard Stanley and Scarlett Amaris   Cast: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Q’orianka Kilcher, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliard, Elliot Knight and Tommy Chong   Distributor: RLJE Films  

Grade:  B-

Bringing together two cult favorites—writer H.P. Lovecraft and writer-director Richard Stanley (and three if you count star Nicolas Cage)—this modestly-budgeted adaptation of the popular 1927 short story is sufficiently creepy and campy to amuse horror aficionados, if not really scare them. 

In updating what’s actually a pretty simple (and rather silly) tale, Stanley has kept the location—a remote forest area outside the small Massachusetts town of Arkham—but moved Lovecraft’s tale of an encounter with a destructive meteorite from the nineteenth century to the present.  He has kept the story’s narrator, but made him a person directly involved in the action rather than someone trying to uncover evidence of what happened years later. It’s Ward Philips (Elliot Knight), a young surveyor sent into the area to assess conditions—including the quality of the water—pursuant to a major project proposed by Mayor Tooma (Q’orianka Kitcher). 

Philips meets Lavinia Gardner (Madeleine Arthur) in the forest.  She’s the daughter of Nathan (Cage), who’s brought his family to an isolated homestead where he’s raising vegetables and a small herd of alpacas.  Lavinia is performing a ritual designed to seek supernatural help in curing her mother Theresa (Joely Richardson) of cancer.  And she will develop a romantic interest in Ward, who reciprocates her interest.

The Gardner family—which also includes Lavinia’s younger brothers Benny (Brendan Meyer) and Jack (Julian Hilliard)—is soon confronted by an interstellar visitor, a meteorite that lands in their yard and emits a terrible stench and a weird, psychedelic glow.  Nathan will call in the authorities and be inundated with media inquiries, but essentially the Gardners will be left to deal with the ramifications themselves.

And they are severe.  The meteorite will bring a bountiful crop of huge vegetables, but they will be tasteless.  And its unearthly glow will affect the insect life in the area, and the water in the well, and the animals, which morph into grotesque and dangerous shapes.

It will also have a terrible impact on the Gardners themselves.

Meanwhile Philips continues his investigation, questioning a strange local recluse, Ezra (Tommy Chong), who claims to be hearing sounds from underground that portend that something horrifying—indeed, apocalyptic—is happening.

Stanley’s approach to this material is less radical than one might expect from his reputation; the film is stylishly made on what might have been a small budget (Katie Byron’s production design and Steve Annis’ cinematography emphasize elegance, Brett W. Bachman’s editing is lapidary rather than agitated, and the visual effects are relatively modest, using gauzy visuals to obscure the fact).  Nor is Colin Stetson’s droning score particularly distinctive, but it does the job.

But what makes “Color Out of Space” enjoyable is the cast, and especially Cage, who starts out making Nathan peculiar and ratchets up the temperature from there.  By the close he’s in full-bore manic mode, enjoying a few scenes where he goes completely berserk before succumbing, as most of the rest of his family already has, to the meteorite’s malignant power. The rest of the actors offer able support, but it’s Cage who really carries the film with one of his patented oddball turns. 

The result is a film that’s hardly a horror masterpiece but one that, like Stuart Gordon’s eighties Lovecraft adaptations “Re-Animator” and “From Beyond,” is—perhaps implausibly—a good deal of fun.