Film Review: Here Alone

Pandemic movies that were shot pre-COVID and released after the outbreak are now so prevalent that they need their own genre. Maybe we could call it Prescient Pandemic Horror. Rod Blackhurst (Amanda Knox) directed one such offering in 2015. Here Alone premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival received a theatrical release in 2017. Four years later, it’s been resurrected to audiences who will likely relate much more closely to the story of a zombie pandemic survivor who wrestles with sharing her precious resources and personal space with strangers. Their presence also forces her to reckon with survivor’s guilt surrounding the fate of her husband (Shane West) and baby. 

Written by David Ebeltoft, Here Alone follows Ann (Lucy Walters), a woman who has settled into a survival routine following the deaths of her husband and infant in a recent-ish zombie pandemic. There is a Kelly Reichardt-ness to the direction, particularly in the rural setting and long stretches without dialogue. We watch Ann go about her routine, keeping herself safe in the woods away from the deadly threat lurking in the urban areas. She keeps two camps: One in her car and one by a lake, splitting her time between the two. She uses the lake site in good weather to bathe and wash her clothes and the car site as shelter from the unpleasant elements. She keeps careful track of her rations and only goes on supply runs when absolutely necessary. She also consults a hand-written guide book for foraging, and doesn’t always get it right. But barfing and passing out is better than dying of hunger. Protective measures on the supply runs involve bleeding into a jar to set up a decoy, covering herself in animal feces to mask her own scent, and saving her urine in a bucket for a quick dousing if she’s being pursued. 

One day, Ann runs into a teenager and her older male companion in need of medical attention. Ann is hesitant to help, but she concedes to the daughter’s pleas. She sets up a tent for them, bandages the man’s headwound, and shares her rations. A significant portion of the film involves the three of them sitting silently around a campfire, carefully crunching on the minute morsels they must call their dinner. 

While the man heals, the girl tells Ann their story. They are a step-father and daughter heading north (presumably to Quebec) in search of a safe haven that has been broadcasting a beacon to survivors. Olivia’s (Gina Piersanti) mother succumbed to the virus and it’s been the two of them ever since. When Chris (Adam David Thompson) heals, he shares his side of the story, which involved having to kill his wife in front of her daughter. They’ve been in search of a safe place to call home ever since.

Ann doesn’t reveal much of her trauma to her reluctant roommates, but Ebeltoft shows the audience in periodic flashbacks. Ann’s condescending and gruff husband was somewhat of a survivalist and he directed her in packing up and getting the fam out of Dodge. He also dictated to her the survival guide and went on supply runs while she remained at camp with the baby. Of course, there’s no baby or husband in the present so we know something awful happened to them. Eventually, we see those awful things and they go a long way toward explaining Ann’s wariness of Olivia and Chris as well as her reluctance to leave her camps, however dangerous it is to stay in one place. 

Olivia seems protective of her step-father, but their bond is more complicated than that, as we learn when Chris begins to show a romantic interest in Ann. Olivia’s jealousy throws a very dangerous wrench into the works when Chris invites Ann to join them on their journey up north. 

What sets Here Alone apart from other zombie films is its focus on the survivors. We rarely get a glimpse of the threat that decimated humanity. We just know it’s out there. Sometimes, we hear an inhuman snarl or wail, but we mostly stay with the living in isolation hoping to avoid the plague that got them there. Also, no one ever says the word “zombies”. But whatever is affecting people, it starts as little red rings on the stomach, and ends with an automaton craving for human flesh. 

The performances from leads aren’t bad, and I’m sure the casting was budgetary, but script and direction are so strong that it’s hard not to think about how much more impactful the film would be in the hands of more dynamic performers. Imagine what Ryan Gosling could do with a monologue about having to kill his wife in front of her daughter. Or what Michelle Williams or Tessa Thompson could do with extended periods of silent survival. 

Overall, Here Alone is a riveting film with home-hitting elements like the initial uncertainly surrounding how bad things would get with the “virus”, the prevalence of masks, and how quickly one can get used to being alone, despite the mental unhealthiness of isolation. There’s a subtle message about coping here that I haven’t seen much in genre films. Ann wonders how Chris is able to make jokes and try to have fun on occasion, when he has experienced so much loss. He tells her, “I choose what to remember and when to remember it.” Ann, on the other hand, wears her trauma like an armor. Neither of them is wrong. We do what we must to survive. One nice thing about our pandemic is we don’t have to murder anyone ourselves to keep from getting infected. 

Film Review: The Pink Cloud



The pandemic has inspired loads of films about isolated people because isolation is where we’ve all been for a year and a half. Surprisingly, The Pink Cloud was filmed pre-COVID, but you wouldn’t know it by the way it poignantly captures the maddening nature of being stuck inside. This quiet Brazilian sci-fi feature posits: What if, when the deadly thing hit, you were immediately confined where you stood indefinitely. You’re at a slumber party with your fellow tweens and one single dad. You’re at the grocery store with strangers and your partner is at home, alone. You’re spending a leisurely morning with the person you picked up in a bar the night before, expecting them to leave soon. No walks around the block to cool off. No therapeutic trips to Trader Joe’s. These walls are now your entire world. 

That’s what happens to the protagonists of The Pink Cloud, a meditative, understated disaster film from writer/director Iuli Gerbase. In this case, the McGuffin is a toxic, pink cloud that inexplicably rolls in all across the globe and kills anyone who breaths it in within 10 seconds…

Read the rest on Hammer to Nail!

Film Review: WYRM

It’s difficult to impart a sense of Christopher Winterbauer’s feature debut, Wyrm without making it sound like a bit of a drag. The films’ own synopsis compares it to Yorgos Lanthimos (presumably The Lobster) and Todd Solondz, (presumably Welcome to the Dollhouse). The film also lends itself to comparisons to Napoleon Dynamite, but again, this is unfair. Winterbauer’s film, based on his 2017 short, isn’t nearly as nihilistic as Lanthimos or Solondz, and it’s much more nuanced than Jared Hess’ breakout smash. On its face, the script is about the mortifying awkwardness and quiet indignity of junior high sexuality, but underneath, it’s a poignant exploration of grief and the myriad ways it manifests. 

Wyrm (Theo Taplitz) is the unfortunately-monikered titular protagonist and his origin story is tragic. Born with a heart condition, he is the latest of bloomers, and literally the last kid in his 8th grade class to complete his Level 1 Sexuality Requirement. Until he’s kissed by a willing romantic partner, Wyrm must don a bulky, chafing collar around his neck, telegraphing his predicament to everyone he encounters. His twin sister, Myrcella (Azure Brandi), was once his closest confidant. But now that she’s “popped her collar,” she wants nothing to do with him and is even angling for her own room…

Read the rest on Hammer to Nail!

Paid in Puke S5E10: Fast Times/The Anniversary Party

On our series 5 finale, we’re doing a double shot of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Phoebe Cates, with Amy Heckerling’s 1982 comedy debut, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, written by Cameron Crowe, and 2001’s Mumblecore template drama, The Anniversary Party, written and directed by Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Alan Cumming. These two films are spiritual sequels, linked by JJL and Cates’ twenty year friendship. Fast Times is also Amy’s favorite movie of all time! Both of these films find a perfect balance between the realistic struggles of women in these respective places in their lives, and belly-laugh comedy. Plus hella abortions.

Two movies means we double your pleasure on Meaningful Passages and Lunchtime Polls!

Paid in Puke is taking a break but we’ll return soon with Series 6!

Download the episode here!

SFFILM Review: Censor

Most Americans probably don’t know that before Tipper Gore wreaked havoc on the United States music industry with her crusade against profanity in art, the UK had their own epidemic regarding the world of straight-to-video slasher films. Prano Bailey-Bond sets her directorial debut in a Thatcher-steeped 1980s Britain, when the BBFC (the British Board of Film Classification) demanded to run so-called Video Nasties through a rigorous screening process that resulted in mandatory edits and a viewer rating. Censor never namechecks the BBFC, but it’s clear that the film’s troubled protagonist, Enid (Niamh Algar), works for the organization. For her, it’s more than just a job – it’s a calling. That’s why she’s shocked when a brutal murder makes headlines for being linked to a film that she herself screened and rated. Soon, Enid is the victim of sinister phone calls and other harassment. Meanwhile, she is disturbed by a film that eerily resembles an incident from her childhood which resulted in the disappearance of her sister. Is Enid the victim of a sinister conspiracy, or is there something more internal at play? 

Read the rest at Hammer to Nail!

Transference: A Love Story

Transference: A Love Story

Raffaello Degruttola wrote, directed, and stars in Transference: A Love Story, a romantic drama loosely based on his own experience with his father, who suffered from Bi-Polar Disorder. The story is told through the eyes of Katerina (Emilie Sofie Johannesen), a young Norwegian nurse new to the staff of a London hospital. Katerina is smitten after a handsome older nurse, Nik (Degruttola), consoles her through a hard day at work. She comes onto him and at first, he resists her advances. But once he caves, the two embark on a torrid affair that they elect to keep secret from colleagues. Katerina soon begins to suspect that Nik is also keeping a very big secret from her. 

This is also a fish-out-of-water story for both Katerina and Nik, who are first generation immigrants to England. Katerina’s roommate, and many of their co-workers are also immigrants. Degruttola’s script spends a little time on how immigrants struggle more because of language barriers and prejudice. Katerina’s roommate is also very prudish and judgmental and there’s an implied rift between her and her family so Katerina really has no one to talk to about her struggles. Nik would prefer not to talk at all, if he can help it. In contrast, there is a lot of unnecessary voiceover from Katerina but it doesn’t tell us anything new. If anything, it further drives home the notion that Katerina doesn’t really want to know what’s going on with Nik. She prefers to remain frustrated in the dark rather than face an ugly truth. 

Degruttola often relies on the score to embody the characters’ emotions. The music is habitually intense, and sometimes it feels like he’s telegraphing a plot development from a Lifetime movie that never comes to fruition. I kept expecting Nik to hit Katerina or to murder his pregnant ex-wife. Though this is not that kind of film, occasionally the music betrays Degruttola’s true intentions for his characters. It’s unfortunate because music for films can be so cost-prohibitive but it’s important to make sure the music is sending the message the director intended. 

Transference is often boring or frustrating. Katerina and Nik are not fun Hollywood damaged. They like to ignore problems and keep things from each other, which often makes their interactions as terse as they are tense. They frequently storm away from one another with no resolution to their conflicts. I’m sure this is very true to life but it doesn’t make for a good time at the movies. 

Degruttola’s feature debut is an authentic portrayal of the complications that arise when two people enter into a relationship before they’ve properly healed from their respective traumas. Transference is a difficult watch, but those who seek veracity in their romantic dramas, or wish to study a cautionary tale for therapeutic purposes, will find the film riveting and perhaps even refreshing. 

Paid in Puke S5E9.5: Oscars Special 2021!

It’s Oscar Season!! Join the Paid-in-Pukettes for lamenting snubs, ragging on Aaron Sorkin, loving on Lakeith, and worrying that people will get the wrong message from Nomadland. Stay for some very opinionated commentary on movies we didn’t see and equally opinionated commentary on the ones that we did see!

Plus! 

Hot Props: Who will be the In Memoriam Hammer photo? Who will bring their mom as a date?

Fun Facts: Which Best Picture winner is the lowest rated on IMDb?

Hosts: Is the non-problematic host a myth?

And the funniest description of David Fincher’s Seven that you’ve ever heard!

Download the episode here!

Film Review: The Power

Corrina Faith’s debut feature, The Power, is a haunted hospital story with social justice overtones. Set during the real-life planned power outages in 1970s Britain, it follows a fledgling nurse called Val (Rose Williams, Changeland), on her first day at a hospital in the East London neighborhood where she grew up. But her fortune quickly turns when a vindictive supervisor assigns her to the night shift. Val soon becomes aware of a malevolent supernatural presence that may hold the key to a conspiracy within the staff to cover up abuse. It’s part classic ghost story, part intricate commentary on the myriad power dynamics at play in the healthcare system, even in a country with socialized medicine. 

It’s a busy day at East London Royal Hospital, as the staff prepare to transport most of the patients to a nearby facility in anticipation of the scheduled overnight blackout. The only patients left behind are a handful of newborns and those on life support. When Val accidentally angers her new supervisor, Matron (Diveen Henry, Grow Your Own), she is sentenced to the night shift – which is especially problematic for Val because she has a fear of the dark brought on by a childhood trauma. Nevertheless, Val knows this is her one chance to prove her worth, so she stiffens her upper lip, pulls her skirt 3 inches below her knees, straightens her head piece, and prepares for a long night in a definitely haunted hospital. This dilapidated behemoth boasts pitch-black corners, creepy murals, and a utility closet that just won’t stay shut. As the night wears on, Val becomes increasingly certain that everyone is in danger, whilst her incredulous and condescending colleagues take her warnings as a sign of her mental deterioration…

Read the rest at Hammer to Nail!

Paid in Puke S5E9: Hard Candy

On today’s episode, we’re cutting our teeth on David Slade’s 2005 directorial debut, Hard Candy, starring Elliot Page in their breakthrough role. We discuss Elliot’s electric performance and the perplexing ways in which critics received this film at the time. (Looking at you, Roger Ebert!) We also learn about what castration really does to an erection and briefly touch on some famous predators and how their crimes have done little to effect their careers.

We keep it light on the Lunchtime Poll, revealing our early screen names and shouting out some cool people we met on the internet.

Download the episode here!

Paid in Puke S5E8: The 40 Year-Old Version

On today’s episode, we’re losing it over Radha Blank’s 2020 semi-autobiographical comedy, The 40-Year-Old Version, written, directed by, and starring Radha Blank. This film fills so many cinematic voids for us, and we love the way it pays tribute to the male auteurs who influenced Blank, whilst simultaneously subverting their genre. It’s all about reclaiming artistic spaces for women of color and of a certain age and we’re here for all of it. FYOV!

On the Lunchtime Poll, we reveal our hypothetical hip hop names, and the history of the “My name is ______ and I’m here to say” cliche. 

Download the episode here!