★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Directed by Noah Mucci
An enigmatic mash-up of cerebral science fiction and superhero-origin–style action, director/cowriter (with Matt Patterson) Noah Mucci’s Lunamancer is a thrilling supernatural feature that punches above its budgetary weight. Jake Pirkkanen gives a mesmerizing performance as Isaac Blake, a scientist who returns to the city where he grew up to find his missing sister Sue (Nicki Clyne). Angered by the fact that no one seems to have known that the well-known young woman was missing, Isaac arms himself with crowbars and goes on a vigilante-like hunt, only to be confronted and confounded by the titular otherworldly presence (Cliff Tullis). The performances are solid throughout, including Nick Denning as Isaac’s estranged friend Tim. Mucci directs with verve, pacing the proceedings wonderfully and showing a fine grip on suspense and mystery. A terrific score from Evan Michael Brown and Shayon Daniels, combined with superb sound design from James Funicelli, help drive the proceedings perfectly.
The Girl in the Straw Hat
★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Directed by David J. Schultz
Fans of horror films and thrillers know that getting involved with a cult never bodes well for movie protagonists, and writer/director David J. Schultz’s The Girl in the Straw Hat further proves that rule. Tommy (Michael LoShiavo) and Katherine (Kristen Tomanocy) are engaged to be married, but are going through a rough patch as Tommy is working through some emotional issues. This leads the pair to a week-long retreat at The Aletheia Institute of Self Actualization led by New Age personality Dr. David Tilquin (James Sharpe). The deeper Tommy falls under the influence of the charismatic Tilquin, the more suspicious Katherine bccomes — and rightly so on her part, because the doctor’s methods and especially his intentions for Tommy are dangerous ones, indeed. Adding to the peril is Tommy’s growing infatuation with Margaret (Evangline Young), a young woman he has seen by chance. LoShiavo and Tomanocy give highly charged performances, and Sharpe is pitch perfect in his turn as the manipulative cult leader. Young also shines in her supporting role. Schultz ratchets up the tension expertly and shows a fine ear for realistic dialogue. His characters are excellently written; even as Tommy grows further away from Katherine as he gets caught up in Tilquin’s psychological grip, we can’t help but keep empathizing with both members of the couple. The Girl in the Straw Hat has a retro edge to it that adds to some of the character’s feelings of hailing from a bygone time.
Reviews by Joseph Perry
Lunamancer and The Girl in the Straw Hat screen as part of MidWest WeirdFest, which takes place March 4–6, 2022 at the Micon Downtown Cinema in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. For more information, visit http://www.midwestweirdfest.com/.