Spoiler-Free Film Reviews: “The Activated Man,” “Escalation,” and “Ron” (Romford Horror Festival)

February 27, 2024

Written by Joseph Perry

Joseph Perry is the Film Festival Editor for Horror Fuel; all film festival related queries and announcements should be sent to him at josephperry@gmail.com. He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Gruesome Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.


Writer/director Nicholas Gyeney’s feature The Activated Man is an interesting variation on the “shadow people” subgenre. The film goes all-in on its exploration of psychic power and supernatural forces. Leaning perhaps slightly more toward tugging at the heartstrings than delivering full-blown horror, the film does serve up a decidedly frightening new character in The Fedora Man (Edward Michael Scott), whose appearance should inspire cosplay and Halloween costumes aplenty. The Activated Man is loaded with ideas, perhaps almost too many for a single film, including a late reveal that I won’t spoil here. Unemployed Ors (Jamie Costa) is suffering from depression after the loss of his dog Louie to cancer, and his police detective significant other Sarah (Ivana Rojas) is supportive of him, while she herself investigates local cases of murder–suicides, an epidemic of which is sweeping the United States. Ors begins to see ghostly visions of Louie, as well as unwelcome appearances from The Fedora Man, whose visits are making Ors question his own sanity. Luckily — or perhaps not, the suspicious Ors wonders? — for the couple, the renowned “World’s Greatest Psychic Exorcist” Jeffrey Bowman (Tony Todd) has just moved in as a new neighbor, and he offers to educate Ors in the ways of psychic energy, spirits, and the like, to help him understand about why he is seeing Louie and The Fedora Man, and what it all means. There’s also a subplot concerning Ors’ extremely troubled mother (Sean Young) and father (Kane Hodder). Some viewers will find the alternate philosophy behind the story somewhat of a stretch, but there’s no questioning the heart at the center of this film. Costa embodies his grieving, confused character in a dynamic lead performance, with admirable turns from the supporting cast members. Gyeney displays a unique vision with The Activated Man, crafting one of the more unusual fear-fare features in recent memory. 



ESCALATION (China/Italy, 2021)

Christian “Kang” Bachini directs, cowrites (with Charlie Cooper receiving a dialogue credit), films, edits, and stars in pandemic-era shocker Escalation, and the result is a dizzying, grue-soaked display of the man’s talents as a filmmaker and actor. Bachini plays Chris, an egotistical jerk (to put it mildly) who prefers action movies to horror, stuck at home watching movies on his big screen television during lockdown. After a phone call with a friend who berates the pompous Chris for his selfishness, a sinister character on his screen invades Chris’s real life, and the arrogant man is thrust into a deadly dilemma reminiscent of the frenetic horror of Evil Dead films. Bachini’s bravura performance, his shot selections, the gory practical effects work, and overall production values are all top-notch. The multiple-award winning Escalation, which is absolutely worthy of a feature-length treatment, is not to be missed by fright-fare fanatics.



RON (U.K., 2022)

There have been some fine horror films dealing with the elderly in recent years, and director William Prince’s Ron is another strong entry in that subgenre. Caregiver Mel (Lynn Roden) has been newly assigned to dementia patient Ron (Ray Castleton), and this being a fear-fare short, not all is as it initially seems in Ron’s home. Castleton and Roden give marvelous performances, Gareth Harrison’s screenplay delivers lean and mean surprises, and Prince helms the film splendidly, serving up a recommended 7-minute slice of eeriness.

The Activated Man, Escalation, and Ron screen as part of the Romford Horror Film Festival, which runs February 29–March 3, 2024 in Romford, U.K. For more information, visit https://www.romfordhorrorfestival.com/.


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