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These days it’s easy to make a horror movie, and these days it’s even easier to be taken in by movie makers who promote their product as being one thing when it’s actually another. Here are two movies that, on the surface, look like horror movies and even have a basic horror movie set-up. Closer attention though reveals two movies that in reality are closer to thrillers with horror overtones than out and out scarefests.

Cryptic

Cryptic (2014) / D: Bart Ruspoli, Freddie Hutton-Mills / 93m

Cast: Ed Stoppard, Dan Feuerriegel, Ray Panthaki, Philip Barantini, Vas Blackwood, Ben Shafik, Sally Leonard, Robert Glenister

Five gangsters, their banker, their lawyer (and a random drug addict), find themselves in a crypt containing a strange metal coffin – and have strict instructions not to open it until their boss arrives later that night. With wild stories about a vampire killing off their fellow gangsters, it’s not long before the group begins to wonder if their boss has captured the creature in the metal coffin, and they’re all there to exact revenge on it when their boss turns up with the key. Tensions arise, however, with the idea that one of them might be the vampire instead, and accusations abound. With guns and knives all too ready to be employed, the group’s initial solidarity begins to disintegrate, and when one of them is found dead with wounds that could have been made by a vampire, suspicion and paranoia are the order of the night.

As the group struggles to reconcile their boss’s orders with the possibility of being locked in with a real “live” vampire, they become obsessed with the contents of the metal coffin. Now believing it contains weapons that could kill the creature – if it is one of them – they argue over whether or not to try and open it. Some, like banker Steve Stevens (Stoppard), are all for leaving the coffin alone and waiting for their boss. Others, such as loose cannons the Jonas brothers (Feuerriegel, Barantini), are all for opening it and using whatever’s inside to defend themselves (even though there’s no guarantee weapons are inside it). With an uneasy truce between the two sides looking unlikely to last, another death makes it impossible, and things quickly escalate…

Cryptic - scene1

A very low-budget British independent project, Cryptic is a rough diamond of a movie that mixes often corny humour with outbursts of blood-soaked violence and an East End vibe that works surprisingly well given its single location set-up and coolly bizarre scenario. That writers/directors Bart Ruspoli and Freddie Hutton-Mills have managed to stretch their very basic plot over ninety-three minutes and kept it entertaining is a tribute to their inventiveness, and the obvious fun they had in putting it all together. Even if the narrative does get bent out of shape now and again thanks to some fervent story ideas, and the need to keep its oh-so-important subplot ticking along in the background, Cryptic still manages to hold the attention and reward the viewer’s time.

Ruspoli and Hutton-Mills are aided by a more-than-game cast who invest their characters with recognisable traits and motivations, even when the action descends into unbridled psychopathy. Stoppard leads the pack as the suave, acerbic banker who refuses to let himself be rattled by the notion of a vampire in their midst, while Feurriegel and Barantini sidestep the script’s occasional need to caricature their characters by highlighting their solidarity as brothers even when they’re violently at odds with each other. And Blackwood is a delight as Meat, possibly the dumbest gangster ever, who buys his weapons on the Internet. They and the rest of the cast are hugely responsible for just how good the movie is, and it’s to Ruspoli and Hutton-Mills’ credit that they chose their cast so effectively and so well. By buying into the absurdity of the situation, their efforts make the movie a treat to watch.

Rating: 7/10 – an unexpected gem amongst the plethora of low-budget tosh the British Film Industry has released in recent years, Cryptic is deserving of a wider audience, and all because it’s clearly a movie that its creators have spent more than five minutes putting together; with a wicked streak of humour running through it from start to finish, and an edge that is only employed when necessary, this is proof that East End gangster movies don’t all have to be pony and trap.

 

Visions

Visions (2015) / D: Kevin Greutert / 82m

Cast: Isla Fisher, Anson Mount, Gillian Jacobs, Jim Parsons, Joanna Cassidy, Eva Longoria, Bryce Johnson, John de Lancie

Moving to Paso Robles to reopen a vineyard they’ve purchased, Eveleigh and David Maddox (Fisher, Mount) are expecting their first child. Having been on anti-depressants following a car accident a year earlier, Eveleigh has come off them thanks to her pregnancy, but is beginning to experience strange visions that lead her to believe that there are supernatural forces at work in their home. David isn’t so convinced, especially when their realtor confirms that the property doesn’t have a bad history. At the insistence of her OB/GYN doctor (Parsons), Eveleigh resumes taking anti-depressants and the visions cease.

Some months later, Eveleigh is persuaded to come off her anti-depressants by her friend, Sadie (Jacobs). But the visions return, and Eveleigh’s paranoia surrounding them leads her to believe that David is somehow involved. She delves further into the vineyard’s history, and discovers that a century earlier, paranormal activity prompted the then owner to burn it down. And Eveleigh’s research reveals pictures drawn by a medium who tried to contact spirits in the house; the pictures show Eveleigh and David. When her doctor and some of their friends mount an intervention, Eveleigh is forced to realise that her visions are not as she first thought, and are even more frightening for what they really mean.

Visions - scene1

There’s a twist in Visions that, all things considered, comes too late to save the movie from its determination to be bland and unremarkable. Despite a plot that requires Fisher to be put in jeopardy from the beginning, Lucas Sussman’s convoluted screenplay throws in everything bar the kitchen sink in its efforts to distinguish itself from every other “haunted house” movie. The result is a movie that promises much but delivers very little, from Fisher’s anguished mother-to-be, to Mount’s too-good-to-be-completely-true husband, and all the way to the “surprise” villains that audiences should have spotted a mile off. Greutert’s last movie was Jessabelle (2014), a movie that gave new meaning to the phrase, “so-bad-it’s-bad”, but here he’s on firmer ground, even if that ground contains the occasional narrative quicksand.

But the central mystery isn’t as gripping as it needs to be, and Fisher is often left stranded by the sudden twists and turns that her character’s visions propagate. Mount is left stranded by the script’s decision to involve him only occasionally, while supporting characters come and go without making any impact (including Parsons’ doctor, a role that does nothing to allay any suspicions that the actor can only play The Big Bang Theory‘s Sheldon Cooper). As the fitful tension begins to escalate, the movie – also edited by Greutert – at least makes an attempt at providing real thrills, even if they’re of the cheap and nasty kind. But all this pales beside the notion that the sins of the future are as dark and disturbing as the sins of the past; they’re not.

Rating: 4/10 – an unremarkable “chiller”, Visions tells its dull story with a modicum of creativity, but sadly, remains an underwhelming experience; Fisher is given the enviable task of not only being pregnant but “possessed” as well, but isn’t given enough support by the script to make some (or all) of her possessions come to her.

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