(Now Streaming) Minutes to Midnight (2018) - Reviewed

Good, old fashioned bloodletting is a staple of the stalker genre, and Christopher Ray's violent, schlock filled homage is right at home in its depravity. Featuring a cast of cult icons, grotesque make up effects, and several gruesome kill scenes, Minutes to Midnight is a triumph among the low budget shockers that flood streaming sites every week.

A group of revelers gather at an abandoned resort lodge to drunkenly ring in the new year. Their celebration is cut short with the arrival of an enigmatic loner, along with a trio of masked killers. Victoria Dadi and Christopher Don's script brings an unexpected edge to the story you've seen play out countless times in a film such as this. While much of the dialogue has the expected amounts of laughable melodrama and crude humor, there's a sense of dread that snakes in and out of each sequence. This unease blends with the rampant violence to create a grimy piece of exploitation that will delight fans of the genre. The cast, particularly the "victims" do an excellent job with their material. There are gratuitous sex scenes interwoven with over the top murders throughout and each of the actors do well with their assigned archetypes. While the budget shows at the corners, its apparent that the majority of the cast is having a good time and this enhances the overall experience.

Richard Grieco, William Baldwin, Bill Moseley, Viva Bianca, Dominique Swain, and Christopher Judge have roles that range from indulgent monologues to creepy sequences of mutilation and ritual. It is in these unspeakable scenes of carnage that Ray's direction is the steadiest, doubling down on the extremities in order to remind the viewer of their juxtaposition from the playfulness that fills most of the first act. When it works, it works, however, most of the time, the result is a hysterical mix of millennial satire and tough guy antics. MMA fighter John Hennigan is enjoyable as the brooding stranger and his complete surrender to the physics-lite combat scenes is admirable.

Laura Beth Love's cinematography is both tasteful and lurid, upending expectations of a late-night thriller with a surprisingly steamy sex sequence and uncomfortable closeups of all manner of viscera. It's one of the film’s many charms. The victims inhabit their stereotypes, and yet, the script, Ray's direction, and Love's camerawork allows each character room to breathe, thus making them more than promiscuous vixens and brazen "bros". Eric Wilson's make up is the final ingredient, adorning each corpse with horrific wounds and each human monster with corny, but memorable masks that hide various deformities. 

Now streaming on digital on demand, Minutes to Midnight doesn't change the formula, but it strengthens it with stalwart direction and an undeniable sense of fun. This is exactly the movie you think it is, but it eclipses all of the tropes with smart, decisive direction and an absolute sense of abandon by its performers. If you're interested in an loving homage to the stalker genre, you can't go wrong with this one.

--Kyle Jonathan