Japanese director Takashi Shimizu takes viewers back to the heyday of J-horror — of which he was a big part, including helming Ju-On: The Grudge (2002), Ju-On: The Grudge 2 (2003), and the American reimagining The Grudge (2004) — with his 2019 effort, Howling Village. Featuring hallmarks of the director such as an ever-present sense of dread and eerie figures lurking all around, this tale sees Kanata Morita (Ayaka Miyoshi in a fine performance), a doctor at a hospital, go down a deadly rabbit hole when her teenage brother Yuma (Ryota Bando) and his girlfriend Anika (Rinko Otani) go searching for the titular location — a place of urban legend — with tragic consequences. Kanata has been seeing strange figures at the hospital where she works — or has she? When the other members of her family act strangely in different manners, and Yuma goes missing when he tries to return to Howling Village, Kanata learns that there is just as much mystery and potential terror at home as there is in the fabled village. The second act slows the pacing down a bit, but Shimizu delivers a third act that will remind viewers what they love most about classic J-horror.
Director Aaron Fradkin’s horror comedyVal (2021) is highlighted by the effervescent performance of Misha Reeves as the titular character, a high-class escort whose well-appointed home is invaded by Fin (Zachary Mooren), a dangerous criminal being pursued by the police. When Fin kills one of Val’s customers but the man just doesn’t seem to want to remain dead, things take a diabolical turn. To give away any more of the plot would be a grave disservice to viewers. Reeves is a hoot, and she and Mooren have great chemistry together. The solid supporting cast includes Sufe Bradshaw as a no-nonsense police officer and Kyle Howard as her comic relief partner, and Victoria Fratz as Fin’s girlfriend Jenny. Fradkin, who cowrote the screenplay with Fratz, keeps the pacing at a lively clip and doles out the puzzle pieces and humor in an intriguing, engaging manner.
The Accursed (2021), from the writing/directing duo of Kathryn Michelle and Elizabeta Vidovic, weaves Eastern European folklore and familial drama into a horror film light on shocks and scares but heavy on dread and tangled webs of deception. Yancy Butler (Initiation, Witchblade) and Melora Walters (The Pale Door, Offseason, The Butterfly Effect) star as estranged sisters who share the burden of keeping a family secret buried — quite literally — on their family land. When the son of one of the sisters marries an outsider to the clan on that land, long-held feelings of resentment lead to supernatural mayhem and murder. Michelle and Vidovic serve up a nice offering of intrigue and twists, but the family drama occasionally gets bogged down. There is plenty to like here, though, especially for viewers who love a good story of ghostly revenge, and the performances are highly impressive.
Howling Village, Val, and The Accursed 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.
Silent Night (U.K., 2021) is a gut punch of a film. What seems to be a traditional British Christmas gathering of...