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Review: ‘Spare Parts’ Thrums With a Punk Rock Skull-Smashing Spirit

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Spare Parts

While I’ve previously discussed horror films in which bands must face the music (and their own mortality), Spare Parts is unlike anything on that list. 

In the film, an all-girl punk group named Ms. 45 (which is not only a rad band name, but also an excellent genre reference) are shredding their way across America on a “tour”, playing dive bars and getting into brawls with the locals. They prove themselves to be proficient in combat — kicking handsy drunkards off the stage while never missing a beat — and they catch the eye of a local scout, who’s casting for a different kind of headlining act. The girls soon wind up at the mercy of a community of zealots who surgically remove one of each of their arms, replace it with crude weaponry, and throw them into a “Gridiron” ring for gladiatorial combat. Under the watchful eye of the community’s Emperor (Julian Richings, Anything for Jackson), they must spill blood to appease the gods. 

Spare Parts thrums with a skull-smashing punk-rock spirit. Practical effects are gruesomely fun, with exaggerated sound effects that are — at times — shudderingly effective. One surgery scene uses minimal soundtrack to highlight the “sssschink” of a surgical scalpel and peeling of flesh. It may not seem like much, but it helps build an atmosphere that makes your skin crawl. 

The film revels in its outlandish setting. When Ms. 45 are innocently brought to the junkyard that will soon serve as their prison, they comment on the ridiculously suspicious location. One of them asks their escort “Have you never seen a horror movie?”. It’s a self-aware moment that works well, because seriously, that place screams “you’re going to die here”. To avoid dull one-note visuals, the vehicular graveyard that will now serve as their home is lit with bright gels, enriching the environment with tone and color.

Spare Parts

All the flash and gore aside, I have to wonder if some scenes were left on the cutting room floor, because there are admittedly some points where the gaps in both logic and plot are noticeable. We miss moments that inform other lines of dialogue (one scene starts with the line “you love him, don’t you”), there’s an emotional reveal that’s predictable yet still logically doesn’t make a ton of sense, and there are regular mentions of a “trinity”, the importance of which is heavily referenced but not really explained. The editing of these scenes makes the flow a bit disjointed, and some dramatic bits feel wedged in, but the overall vibe of the film maintains a balance of attitude thanks to the spunky performances of Ms. 45.

The band has good chemistry, with a believable tension between guitarist Emma (Emily Alatalo, Mother!) and singer Amy (Michelle Argyris, General Hospital), who also happen to be sisters. When they get into arguments and roll eyes at each others’ behavior, it’s immediately recognizable to anyone with a sibling. You know what that kind of rivalry looks and feels like, especially when shoved into a cramped van and driven across America. Ms. 45’s drummer Cassy (Kiriana Stanton, The Expanse) and bassist Jill (Chelsea Muirhead, Slo Pitch) balance out the sisters’ bickering and bring emotional resonance to the fate of the band. 

Understandably, fight scenes are a heavy component to Spare Parts. Now, as a bit of an action movie nerd I can be rather picky, but I am also a huge fan of practical effects and grindhouse gore, which are both used well here. The battles are an all-out brawl for survival, strung out on anarchy but juuust missing the punch of true riot grrrl attitude. They’re effective, but don’t fully meet their true furious potential. The Gridiron shows they’ve got a scrappy fightin’ spirit, but it’s when the girls are screaming their opening song and ripping riffs on stage that you really believe them as the badasses they are. 

When the band is in their element, they’re empowered by their instruments; a six-stringed axe can be just as effective as a sharpened one. I would happily watch another film with Ms. 45 fighting their way through their cross-country tour, scoring their own bar brawls (like a low-budget indie horror version of Spice World)

Of course, as a film about a band being forced into epic and deadly combat, music is integral. Composers Andrew Gordon Macpherson and Alexisonfire’s Wade MacNeil (who have also teamed up for Random Acts of Violence and Dark Side of the Ring) push everything forward with grungy guitar riffs that resonate. I have had Ms. 45’s signature song stuck in my head for a few days; it’s catchy, and it’s great music for kicking ass. 

Spare Parts rocks a gutteral grindhouse energy, rolled out with enough flash to keep it fresh. It has a fun concept that acts as a great hook — who doesn’t love a bit of surgically enhanced gladiatorial combat — and it’s executed well. 

I still left it feeling like I must have missed some things in editing, but it doesn’t affect the overall enjoyment of the film. This is the second directorial credit for Andrew Thomas Hunt (Sweet Karma), but as one of the founding partners of genre film sales/distribution company Raven Banner Entertainment, his extensive work as a producer (For the Sake of Vicious, Psycho Goreman, Lifechanger, Trench 11, and many more) shows that he knows what makes a movie work.

Spare Parts is a pushy punk rock rumble. It knows its target, and throws everything it’s got at that bloodied bullseye. It may occasionally miss the mark, but it’s got enough fight to call it a win. 

Spare Parts will be available on VOD, Digital, DVD and Blu-ray on June 1, 2021. You can click here to check out the trailer

Comedy Horror

Fantasia 2022 Review: ‘Deadstream’ Livestreams a Hectic Haunting

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Deadstream

Written and directed by Vanessa and Joseph Winter, Deadstream is a real-time riot. With goopy practical effects, a bare-bones presentation, and a very intentionally acted lead (played by Joseph Winter), the film concocts a faux-livestream that turns from uneventful to unbelievable over the course of one night.

Leading the livestream is Shawn Ruddy (Winter), a recently disgraced social media star who’s gained his fame by performing a series of ridiculous challenges (including in-poor-taste tests such as “running from the cops” and “smuggled across the border”). With his grand return to the internet (after an apology video, naturally), Shawn has decided to take a spooky turn by spending the night in a supposedly haunted house. Of course, when a controversial personality is set loose in a house with a dark past, he’s bound to upset the spiritual balance. 

We’ve seen a few social influencer horror films pop up over the last few years, but it’s a subgenre that’s kind of slid under the radar. With Sissy and Deadstream – both included in Fantasia Fest’s 2022 season – it’s got a bit of a resurgence, but the two films tackle this topic in very different ways. 

Deadstream is a goofy, entertaining romp that throws Shawn around, forcing him to confront his demons (both personal and supernatural). Promising “the most cinematic experience in livestream history”, Shawn delivers just that. It feels kind of like Grave Encounters meets Evil Dead II, with plenty of slapstick comedy and some very active ghosts. 

Winter’s performance is so very over-the-top that it’s actually perfect. It would almost be annoying, but it’s such a precise lampoon of online personalities that it becomes quite impressive. Everything done and said is a deliberate performance. There’s a set “character” that these personalities play, always focused on engagement for the sake of clicks, follows, and sponsors. 

Shawn is a man who is always aware that he’s on camera. His regular interactions with his viewers serves a dual purpose as well; not only is he staying in his very specific character, but it’s also giving the audience a bit more to focus on than just one man with a camera (or set of cameras). 

Everything in the film is orchestrated in a way to keep the plot moving and the audience tuned in. The illusion works; it’s believable (or at least entertaining) content. Winter’s comedic timing is excellent and his line delivery sells the online fantasy.

The proudly 100% practical creature effects and straightforward camerawork keep things simple and manageable for a low budget. The film is clever, well constructed, and puts a fun new twist on both the haunted house and found footage subgenres. Deadstream frolics in the puddle of its own absurdity, and has such a blast doing so, you can’t help but join in the fun.


Deadstream is part of Fantasia International Film Festival‘s 2022 season. For more on Fantasia 2022, click here to read an interview with the writer/director of Skinamarink, or for more influencer horror, check out our review of Sissy.

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Fantasia 2022 Review: ‘Sissy’ and the Obsession with Online Validation

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Sissy

“I am loved, I am special, I am enough, I am doing my best. We all are”. This is the mantra of Cecilia (known as @SincerelyCecilia), a wellness influencer who preaches acceptance and self care. Trouble is, Cecilia (Aisha Dee), has some skeletons in her closet.

In Sissy (written and directed by Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes), Cecilia runs into Emma (played by Barlow), her childhood best friend. They haven’t seen each other in over a decade, but this fateful encounter brings them back together, just in time for Emma’s bachelorette weekend. Cecilia is invited along for a chance to reconnect, however, the weekend away happens to be held at the vacation home of her childhood bully, Alex (now Emma’s best friend). Cecilia tries to make amends, but tensions rise and sanity crumbles. 

Sissy

Hailing from Australia, Sissy is about obsession and the secrets we all hide. For every post that shares a seemingly perfect life, there’s an unseen personal history behind the smiles and hashtags. We only present the positives. 

The film smartly shows the physical effects of online praise; the boost of dopamine that tickles your brain. But as the glossy sheen fades and reality creeps back in, things aren’t so shiny. Sissy is a clever and darkly charming demonstration of this obsession with validation. The lengths we’d go to maintain that social ruse. 

Online, sharing any kind of sad reality can get you shunned like a leper. It’s considered either a cry for attention or a disturbing affront. And in a time where nothing is hidden, secrets can ruin you. 

Dee is delightful as Cecilia. As balanced and zen as she seems in her opening video, we see her insecure, messy reality. It’s a good reminder that all those online influencers you see are really just people, presenting their best side with very deliberate design. It’s a fabrication. As she begins to lose her chill, all the cracks from her childhood start to show.  

Each role is perfectly cast, creating a group of characters who are believably close (and catty). Barlow and Senes capture the extreme social anxiety of Cecilia’s situation quite perfectly; anyone who’s had an anxiety attack before will find that pressure uncomfortably real. 

Things escalate quickly when you’re pushed past your anxiety’s breaking point, and Cecilia’s reactions are actually pretty unsurprising. This relatability is well orchestrated by Barlow and Senes, tightening the strings until they snap. 

Sissy

The film is well polished, well paced, and excellent at crafting a mix of emotions towards our dear sincere Ceclia. Her validation elation and pure bullied dread are beautifully communicated. The score adds to this, too, with a plinking harpsichord to highlight a twisted mental state.

Sissy works well and does exactly what it means to. It’s an entertaining and well crafted horror film, but it also shines a focus on the unreality of online influencers, and what exactly all that attention does to one’s mental health. 

Influencer culture is a bizarre thing. We only see what’s curated, and put our trust in people we don’t know. There’s a conversation within the film that explores this idea; how much should we hold influencers responsible? What are their credentials, really? On a grander scale, what does that pressure do to a person? 

While Sissy does pose some challenges towards influencer culture, it also understands the impulse to want that kind of attention. It acts a bit as a cautionary tale for online obsession, but also serves as a great horror film with some gnarly effects.

Sissy is for anyone who craves validation. It’s for anyone who doesn’t quite feel like they fit in. It’s for anyone who feels like they’re not enough. But really, it’s for everyone.

4 eyes out of 5

Sissy is part of the Fantasia International Film Festival’s 2022 lineup. You can check out the trailer and poster below.

For more from Fantasia 2022, check out our review of Rebekah McKendry’s Glorious, or our interview with the writer/director of the chaotically psychedelic All Jacked Up and Full of Worms

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Fantasia 2022 Review: ‘Megalomaniac’ is a Weighted Tale of Trauma

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Introducing a film’s troubled protagonists as the children of a real-life serial killer (The Butcher of Mons, whose identity still remains a mystery) is bold. Of course, as horror fans, we appreciate bold, and writer/director Karim Ouelhaj certainly deserves some appreciation. His most recent film, Megalomaniac, is a heavily weighted tale of trauma that’s beautifully composed and enriched with blood-soaked stylization. 

The film follows Martha (Eline Schumacher), born in bloody fury from a victim of the Butcher. We see her as an adult, meek and unstable, working as a cleaner in a factory where she is assaulted by her coworkers with regularity. Her brother, Felix (Benjamin Ramon, Yummy) is a stoic spectre who takes after his father in the most violent of ways. 

The complex and disenchanted characters in Megalomaniac bless (or curse) the film with their dark legacy. It’s immediately compelling. When we first meet Felix, it’s a harsh and – frankly – frightening reminder of how quickly someone can be taken off guard and into the trunk of a car. His efficiency is sobering. 

Schumacher as Martha somehow manages to dominate your attention while remaining socially withdrawn. Her performance is incredible, swinging from one mental state to the next with erratic precision. It’s quite impressive; she completely inhabits this character, and you feel a strange balance of emotions for her. 

Martha’s scenes of trauma are devastating and hopeless. They’re haunting, harrowing, and almost unbearable. Her scenes of solitude are punctured with strange conversations, speaking to herself in harsh tones. But we are still reminded that she is not so delicate. Though her mental state is fragile, she wavers the line between victim and villain. 

Megalomaniac is centralized on this fuzzy distinction, and the echo of trauma that carries across generations. From a horrific heritage, Felix and Martha carry the torch. Pushed by the weight of the patriarchy – and in the vein of New French Extremity classics like Calvaire (which also hails from Belgium) – Megalomaniac challenges its audience to bear the brutality of human nature. 

It’s quite the load to bear, but Megalomaniac is so well put together and so competently navigated that you don’t feel lost in despair. The film hits on the illusion of Manichaeism (the cosmic struggle between good and evil), showing that it’s not quite as simple as that. While the despair is ever-present, there’s almost a comfort in its darkness. 

Executed with stunning visual composition, a powerful pulsing score, and production design to die for, Megalomaniac is an impressive creation. It’s not one you’ll soon forget.


Megalomaniac is playing as part of Fantasia International Film Festival’s 2022 lineup. You can check out the teaser and poster below!

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