Frazier Park Recut (9/10)

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NOTE: This review originally appeared on Red River Horror.

Friends and amateur filmmakers Tyler (Tyler Schnabel) and Sam (Sam Hanover) are working to put together their first feature before Sam moves across the country to be with his beautiful girlfriend Jen (Monica Marin-Diaz). The movie starts with behind-the-scenes footage of their pre-production, where they meet and cast Tom Morris (David Lee Hess) for the role of a creepy Groundskeeper. The trio head from Los Angeles to Frazier Park, California, where they have rented a cabin in the woods via Airbnb.

The found-footage horror movie they are shooting follows two brothers (played by Tyler and Sam) who are going to clean out their late mother’s cabin, where they unexpectedly encounter the Groundskeeper. The brothers soon discover a dark secret about the Groundskeeper that leaves them fighting for their lives.

Outside of the movie-within-a-movie, tensions are rising between Tyler and Sam. Tyler feels that Sam’s head is out of the game from his frequent video chats with Jen, while Sam is alarmed by Tyler’s constant tinkering with the script. To bring a spark back to the production, Tom becomes much more assertive in the filmmaking process and begins to document his own efforts to add conflict and drama to what he feels is a failing, cliched, and inferior project. As the friends’ movie runs ever more off the tracks, how far will they go to make the day’s scenes?

Frazier Park Recut is a refreshing addition to the ever longer-in-the-tooth found footage genre. The choice to wrap a found-footage horror film around a found-footage horror film is a great one, and the skillful blending of the behind-the-scenes footage with scenes from the “actual” film leads to both humorous and creepy moments. The dialogue in the behind-the-scenes footage, largely improvised by the actors, seems natural, while the dialogue in the movie-within-a-movie is a bit hackneyed and delivered a bit woodenly — this is not a criticism, it is an intentional feature of the storytelling. In fact, one of the funniest moments of the film comes when one of the actors delivers an intentionally awful one-liner in a key scene in the movie-within-a-movie. All in all, this is a great first feature by some very talented filmmakers. Highly recommended.

It Knows (9/10)

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NOTE: This review originally appeared on Red River Horror.

“It Knows” opens with a scene of family terror. Young Claire and her mother are hiding out from Claire’s father Monroe, who is a monstrous figure in her life. When he eventually finds them, his rage is unleashed and only Claire survives. Years later, Claire is happily married to an understanding and caring man, and they have two beautiful children. But Claire finds herself trapped in her house by a mysterious force, and her family is nowhere to be found.

Claire is shattered, a woman unmoored from reality by her brutal childhood. The puzzle-piece structure of “It Knows” reflects Claire’s fragmented existence; she opens a door to the outside and finds herself back in her house, unable to escape; she turns a corner and finds a masked specter confronting her with her deeply buried pain; and finally, she is led further down the spiral of depression and mania by her younger self, until she is finally unable to avoid facing the truth of her past and must take action to protect herself and her family from the growing evil that surrounds her.

“It Knows” is a very dark psychological horror that goes places many will find very disturbing. And yet, it is also a frenetically paced survival horror with shocks and scares aplenty. These two horror sub-genres are blended seamlessly by co-writer/directors Mark Maness and Rob Winfrey, and are given life by the strong performances of Carmen Patterson as the desperate adult Claire, Dan Michael as the sinister and brutal Monroe, and, most of all, the outstanding performance of Lauren Lasseigne as the terrorized 9-year-old Claire. It is her scenes in particular that can be tough to watch, but those that do will find themselves challenged by a harrowing narrative that pulls no punches in exploring its deeply emotional territory.