Review: Cry Havoc (2020)
Most of us can remember a time we walked out of a video rental store, face full of glee, a box of Bunch-a-Crunch in one hand and in the other a B-movie slasher flick we were ready to dive headfirst into. No premeditated context of the plot, no famous faces on the box art, no YouTube reviews to guide us to what we’re supposed to like. Finding gems in a sea of content is an art that is becoming increasingly hard to master (and exponentially more difficult in the last 6 weeks or so), but if that’s the type of horror movie looking for, then I have some good news. This week I had the privilege to watch “Cry Havoc”, the latest film from independent genre director Rene Pérez and the 4th in his Havoc series. Additionally, I took some time to conduct an exclusive interview with Pérez to gain some insight on his process.
The film centers around an ambitious reporter (Emily Sweet) who’s given permission to interview a FBI Watchlist target who goes only by the moniker “The Voyeur” (Richard Tyson), a man who’s largely considered responsible for “Havoc”, a ruthless killer who indiscriminately preys on humans that he finds. Meanwhile, a lone ranger type (played by Charles Bronson look-alike, sound-alike, and act-alike Robert Bronzi) engages in a personal quest that juxtaposes the intent of The Voyeur’s. In our interview, Pérez considered his “Havoc” films to be “80’s slasher films made for an audience with modern skepticism.” Havoc, the character, beckons similarities to Michael Meyers or Jason Voorhees, and I often found myself rooting for Havoc much like I find myself rooting for some of these other legendary silver screen slashers. Perhaps that’s the horror fan in me. The difference here is, of course, context. This film addresses a number of “what about” style questions that are left unanswered in slasher films of old. What about technology? What about law enforcement? What about the long-standing effects of these killers? This film attempts, and largely succeeds, to answer these types of questions.
In the film, The Voyeur describes Havoc as “a force of nature.” This is something that Pérez echoes during our conversation, stating “Havoc’s motivation exists outside any normal person’s comprehension.” For some reason, Havoc is drawn to killing and it’s not necessarily our place to know why. Furthermore, it doesn’t really matter why, the more interesting question is “what do the other people around Havoc do in response?” and, according to Pérez “The Voyeur wants to have power over Havoc because that would make him feel that he has power over death.” The Voyeur describes his previous fears with death to the reporter and, along with his actions, this helps drive the plot of the film.
Now it wouldn’t be fair of me to write about this film without including some earned criticism. Pérez himself said, “I know what I make. These are slasher B-movies done as cheaply as possible.” That being said, none of the shortcomings in this film are anything unusual for the genre. There’s some stiffness in the dialogue, especially early on in the film before the story really starts to hit stride. I saw a handful of creative shots and well-utilized camera movement, but overall the cinematography is not a strong suit. The main cast all turn in honest, emotional performances, but the performances from the supporting cast don’t do much to aide the story. Lastly, I found there to be some interesting choices regarding the music. The soundscape, in general, is well-executed and effective, but the music often shifted tone in a dramatic way. Sometimes this was used effectively, and sometimes it felt tonally confused.
Despite a handful of weaknesses, the story is still compelling and quite fresh for what I often find to be a bloated genre of slasher films. Havoc, the character, has a terrific design and is exceptionally terrifying every time he’s featured. Sweet, Bronzi, and Tyson all have strong chemistry and presence, driving the plot of the film and showing unique perspectives in a very believable way. The story is coherent, has a nice flow, and is plausible. Plausibility is something that I often find films like these to be lacking in, so this was particularly refreshing. Pérez’s directing is brilliant throughout. The suspense is tightly crafted and a number of these sequences are playing out in my head as I type this review. One of the many ways these suspense sequences made my skin crawl was through the use of a multitude of practical effects, which, according to Pérez, were all filmed two days in an off-site location.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the film gives you everything you could possibly want in the first five minutes – a tightly suspenseful series of events which culminates in Havoc using garden shears to, nearly, engage in severe body horror with a young woman. As stated, “Cry Havoc” is the 4th in a series, but Pérez doesn’t take that for granted. He finds it pivotal to make every film a potential entry point for new fans. So, where a standard horror sequel may spend the first act rehashing some of the events of previous films, “Cry Havoc” jumps into the action on the top, and cleverly communicates the events of the previous films through a series of flashbacks featured in the second act of the film. Pérez states, “the first fives minutes is my promise to the audience that, yes, this is a slasher movie.” So, as we see a deep tabletop conversation between conversation between an ace reporter and an FBI Watchlist target, we have Chekhov’s Gun (or, perhaps more aptly, Havoc’s Shears) sitting in the back of our mind. “Cry Havoc” may not be reminiscent of video store gems of old for everyone, but all you have to do to find out is watch the first five minutes.
“Cry Havoc” releases May 5th, 2020 on Video on Demand platforms.
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