No Knock List

Most neighborhoods seem to have one house that attracts all the strange stories. Maybe everyone thinks it’s haunted, maybe it just seems cursed. We had a house like the latter a few miles down the road from where I grew up, where every new family that moved in seemed to have deeper problems than the last. Thankfully, after the illegal detainment incident someone realized the house was slowly sliding down the hill and it was condemned before anything worse could happen. In No Knock List, the house is far worse but also far more gorgeous, a rambling Victorian mansion that’s been converted to an exclusive bed and breakfast.

Reclusive owner Ms. Vangobels (the redoubtable and terrifying Maria Olsen of Marrtown) has lived there for years raking in money and never seems to spend anything, so rumor has it there’s a fortune hidden somewhere inside. Keith (Brian Stowell) grew up in that neighborhood and now he’s told his friend Lou (James Quinn) the story. They could both use some quick cash, you see, since they’re both recently escaped convicts. I’m not sure how they ever managed to join forces since Lou is a murderer headed for Death Row whereas I’m fairly certain Keith couldn’t kill anything larger than a mosquito without being crushed by the weight of the guilt, but there we are. Lou needs someone to bully and Keith apparently enjoys being bullied, so it works for them. Anyway, they need money and this seems an easy place to rob.

A creature on the bathroom floor
That’s the thing about a B&B – you never know who you might have to share a bathroom with.

You know that can’t be true with Maria Olsen in charge, however, and soon their simple plan starts unraveling as they get caught up in the strangeness of the house and its inhabitants. Repairman Lee (Rick Montgomery Jr.) has only one eye but doesn’t miss much, acting as a creepy lookout for the even creepier Mrs. Vangobels. Maid Andrea (Emily Lapisardi, also of Marrtown) mainly just keeps her head down, trying to avoid getting on her boss’ bad side, and I can hardly blame her. There are plenty of other beings in the house as well, though most aren’t staff or paying guests — or even alive, probably — and since they seem to like bullying bullies you can imagine that Lou might be in for a rough time. But the next several hours won’t be easy for either Lou or Keith, and the choices they make will affect them in more than just this life.

Of course Maria Olsen couldn’t be more sinister, stealing all her scenes as she cautions her guests to follow the rules, with the “or else” strongly implied. Even she has her unseen superiors, but in her house she’s undeniably the queen and even a hardened criminal like Lou has no idea what he’s in for. Montgomery as Lee has a marvelous time chewing the scenery, while Lapisardi floats ghostlike in the background, more than a little overwhelmed but still doing her best. The house itself gives up its secrets only reluctantly, creating an effective slow build of suspense. There are solid special effects and a quietly creepy atmosphere that fills the house and haunts the characters. It might even make you think a little about how the person you are compares with the person you always hoped you’d be.

Marrtown

Theo wakes screaming. Those nightmares about having missed class are the worst.

Long ago, in the wake of a deadly duel, a family was cursed through the generations. Though innocent of any wrongdoing, it was daughter Theodosia (Kristin Mitchem) who faced the worst of the curse, struggling to protect her young son. She finally consults a mysterious seer (Emily Lapisardi) who says that the curse cannot be broken, but perhaps it can also become a blessing. Casting a spell upon Theodora’s locket, she says that it is now an object of great power and returns it to Theodora, also advising her to change her son’s name and hide him away.

In the present, descendant and lookalike Theo Burton faces more ordinary problems. Her father has recently passed away, and though they were divorced her mother (Sherri Knapp) isn’t taking it well. Theo also has one more year of college to complete, and while Professor Daniels (Jeff Little) is happy to give her extra credit she isn’t too thrilled with the idea since it involves letting him sexually harass her. Theo’s friends Blythe (Mandi Bolyard) and Winter (Philip Morris) are supportive of her in this unpleasant situation, while Kelley (Toni Marie Perry) suggests blackmail. This, we will see, is typical of how Kelley’s mind works.

But other things are going wrong as well, like the strange dreams that Theo is having which seem to mimic real life. Also, her neighbor Missy (Maria Olsen) is convinced that Theo is a witch from a family of witches and isn’t afraid to say so very loudly. Beginning to wonder if there might be some truth to Missy’s accusation, Theo consults her cousin Angus (Zeilo Vogta, who also wrote the script), who hints at old family stories regarding curses and the locket. And it does seem as though the Burton men in particular tend to die young. Only Uncle Jason (Bob Butler) is still around to give Theo some family keepsakes, among them the locket.

While Theo doesn’t quite know what to make of any of this, frenemy Kelley has plenty of ideas and isn’t afraid to break all the rules in order to further her own schemes. When she tries to tap into the power of the curse, she risks all hell breaking loose — perhaps literally — but all she cares about is getting what she wants, from supernatural abilities to worldly riches, and a little thing like a curse doesn’t scare her. But power isn’t always easy to control, and when the dust settles lives will have changed — or even ended.

The historical scenes felt off to me — though granted I’m fussy about historical settings — and also a bit rushed, but the film hits its stride once the background is set up and the action enters the modern day. The mystery unravels gradually and convincingly, and Theo’s frustration over all the people (read: men) trying to protect her by hiding the facts from her is particularly realistic. Yes, everyone needs help sometimes, but “help” generally shouldn’t involve lying or concealment of useful information.

Maria Olsen naturally steals all her scenes and gives unexpected depth to a relatively minor character, though many of the other lesser roles are unfortunately neglected. It’s still worth four out of five, however — it’s an ambitious undertaking for an indie film but it largely succeeds, offering some interesting ideas and and more cohesive internal logic than many horror movies. Theo’s character is also given a wonderful arc, showing her journey from an uncertain, often lost student to a capable young woman ready to live the life she wants, even if she has to fight all the curses in the world — with a little help from her loyal friends.

Consumption

This is Mallory. She's not having the best of days.

One crisp winter’s day, four friends decide to head up to the mountains of Utah for a vacation. The family of one friend, Seth (David Lautman) has a condo there, and it’s a great place to get away from it all and relax. And they all seem like they really need to relax. Sounds like a good plan, right? Don’t let it fool you.

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Mark of the Witch

Jordyn with blood on her face. She's having one of those days.

Everyone has wished for a different family at least once. How can you not, when every Thanksgiving Uncle Harry tells the same tired jokes and your cousins won’t stop fighting over the best way to cook brussels sprouts? (Hint: There isn’t one.) Or you might have the opposite problem, like Jordyn (Paulie Rojas) does in Mark of the Witch, where it’s just her and her strict aunt Ruth (Nancy Wolfe), and Jordyn can only wish that someday she might find her real parents.

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