From its opening sequence to its jaw-dropping climax, writer/director Christopher Donaldson’s Canadian feature Ditched is one wild swerve after another. Paramedic Melina (Marika Sila) comes to and finds herself in an overturned ambulance with memory loss from a concussion. A man strapped to a gurney (Kris Loranger as Franson) is also awake. As Melina tries to make sense of what happened before she blacked out, she finds other people both alive and dead around the rural, isolated scene — and then something hairy and dangerous makes its presence known. Giving away more than that would be heading into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that what I have described happens very early on in the film, and plenty more is in store for viewers. Donaldson skillfully peels back layers while planting seeds for further mystery, and keeps the suspense at a hand-wringing pace. The members of the sizable cast give solid performances, especially Sila as a confused, scared, but strong single mother who just wants to make it home to her daughter, and Loranger as a mysterious man with a unique way of words. Ditched does slow down at one point with a character giving an exposition speech that will remind viewers of Bond villains, but otherwise the film is a tense, energetic blast.
Take Back the Night
Director Gia Elliot’s Take Back the Night is a creature feature with a social message. Hard-partying artist Jane Doe (Emma Fitzpatrick) is attacked in an alley by what she describes as a monster, with people such as her more conservative sister (Angela Gulner) and the detective in charge of her case (Jennifer Lafleur) being quite skeptical about her description of the events. She had been drinking, taking drugs, and having anonymous bathroom sex just before the attack, so people, including Jane’s social media followers, are split on how much of her story is true and how much of it might be attention seeking. These and other parallels to sexual assault cases are the core of Elliot’s film, with Jane doubling down on her story and her quest to expose the monster that attacked her in an effort to help others. The cast is very good throughout, but Fitzpatrick carries the bulk of the film on her shoulders in fine fashion, infusing Jane with a strong, defiant attitude toward both authority and the thing that savagely attacked her. Elliot, who cowrote the screenplay with Fitzpatrick, directs with verve and balances the horror and social commentary well.
Director Marcel Walz and screenwriter Joe Knetter serve up a sequel to their 2018 feature Blind with Pretty Boy, in which the titular killer (Jed Rowen) takes his unrequited object of affection, blind actress Faye (Sarah French), to an ‘80s-themed Valentine’s Day party, where he proceeds to go all hack-and-slash on the revelers. The first two acts are largely by-the-numbers slasher fare, though Walz and Knetter give a few potential victims more backstory than most such characters get, and a bit of camp and dark humor are in play. The third act heads into wholly different territory, unexpected but not always hitting its targets. It’s so jarringly different and more mean-spirited than the first two acts that it took this reviewer out of the film during the final half hour or so.
Ditched, Take Back the Night, and Pretty Boy screen as part of Popcorn Frights, which runs on both the big screen in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and online nationwide from August 12–19, 2021. For more information, visit www.popcornfrights.com.