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Arrow Video FrightFest 2020 Reviews: The Pale Door, The Owners and The Reckoning

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Day 3 of the second digital edition of Arrow Video FrightFest featured the UK premieres of the horror Western The Pale Door, the Maisie William starring The Owners and the new film from Neil Marshall: The Reckoning.

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THE PALE DOOR

Written and directed by Aaron B. Koontz, The Pale Door stars Melora Walters (Magnolia), Zachary Knighton (The Hitcher), Stan Shaw (The Monster Squad), Noah Segan (Knives Out), Bill Sage (We Are What We Are), Natasha Bassett (Hail, Caesar!), Devin Druid (13 Reasons Why) and Pat Healy (Cheap Thrills).

After losing their parents at a young age, brothers Duncan (Knighton) and Jake (Druid) take separate paths with Duncan leading a posse of bandit outlaws and Jake working in a saloon. When one of his posse drops out, Duncan reluctantly lets Jake join the gang for just this one job: robbing a train of a chest of gold. But when the heist goes south and Duncan is injured and the chest turns out to contain a muzzled girl, Pearl (Bassett), the gang take refuge for the night in Pearl’s nearby town.

The rest of the gang, Lester (Shaw), Truman (Segan), Dodd (Sage) and Wylie are psyched to find that Pearl’s safehouse is actually a brothel run by Maria (Walters). The group let down their guard but are ambushed – in pulse-pounding From Dusk Till Dawn style – when it turns out that Maria is a Salem escapee and she and her girls are all, in fact, crispy witches intent on killing the men.

The action scenes are really exciting with the burned witches crawling on ceilings and walls and athletically attacking our heroes from all angles, and there is plenty of cool practical gore too. It’s a unique premise with excellent production design by Rebekah Bell and an atmospheric score by Alex Cuervo. Koontz’s witty script and likeable standout performances from Healy, Shaw and Sage, in particular, also make for great lived-in chemistry between the gang.

THE OWNERS

Directed by Julius Berg (The Forest) and written by Berg and Mathieu Gompel (The Dream Kids), The Owners is the first film Maisie Williams made post-Game of Thrones and also stars Sylvester McCoy (Doctor Who), Rita Tushingham (Doctor Zhivago), Jake Curran (Journey’s End), Andrew Ellis (This Is England) and Ian Kenny (Sing Street).

In the 90s English countryside wannabe bad boys Nathan (Kenny), Gaz (Curran) and Terry (Ellis) spy from a car on the posh house of old Dr. Huggins (McCoy) and his Alzheimers-y wife Ellen (Tushingham). They are waiting for them to go out so they can rob the place, and Nathan’s girlfriend Mary (Williams) is waiting for them to finish messing about so she can have the car back to drive to work.

The gang break-in, admonished by Mary, and look for a safe Terry swears is there somewhere. But even when they find it they realise that they don’t have the combination. So when the Huggins’ return early the gang ties them up to try and extract the code from them, but there is a lot more to the good doctor than any of them could have imagined.

Pulling a flip-reverse-it on the home invasion horror when the tied-up become the terrorisers is a fresh take on an overplayed sub-genre and actually quite satisfying at times as the gang – Mary excluded – are just so darn unlikeable.

Because of this the first act drags as the gang really grate on the nerves and their swagger and silly actions teeter on the edge of comedy at times. Once it gets going and Maisie steps up and the doc reveals his true colours though, The Owners is brutal, tense and twisted.

There is a technical issue at one point where something seems to have gone wrong during the playout and a chunk of the film – frustratingly an action sequence – plays in a small square in the middle of the screen. There is also an unneeded final coda that sucks away the power and punch of the doozy of an ending.

But Maisie is very, very good and McCoy is an absolute revelation in a wonderfully warped home invasion horror where Sly simply smashes it.

 

THE RECKONING

 

Directed by Neil Marshall (The Descent), The Reckoning is written by Marshall, Edward Evers-Swindell (Dark Signal) and Charlotte Kirk (Ocean’s Eight) who also stars alongside Joe Anderson (The Grey), Sean Pertwee (Event Horizon) and Steven Waddington (Sleepy Hollow).

In a medieval village Joseph (Anderson) is purposefully infected with the bubonic plague by local landowner Pendleton (Waddington) so that he can have his way with his wife Grace (Kirk). But when Grace resists and wounds his pride, Pendleton spreads a rumour that she is a witch and soon the witchfinder Moorcroft (Pertwee) arrives to torture a confession from Grace.

After a Connect Four of fantastic genre films with Dog Soldiers, The Descent, Doomsday and Centurion, Marshall suffered the Hellboy debacle and cited studio interference for the state of it. Now he is back with full control, but if anything, this is even worse.

Featuring Hollyoaks acting from all bar a pantomiming Pertwee and Horrible Histories sets and costumes, The Reckoning looks, sounds and feels like bad TV from start to finish. It is also a deathly dull affair that just seems like a vanity project for Kirk – who always looks like she just stepped out of the salon when she has been being tortured in a medieval dungeon for a week.

The Reckoning is dreadful and makes one wonder and worry if the problem with Hellboy wasn’t the studio after all. Hopefully, Marshall returns to his previous exquisite form soon.

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