The Horror Network (2015)
Tagline: Side Effects May Include: Screaming, Fear, and Death!
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The Horror Network (Vol 1) is a low budget portmanteau horror movie consisting of five short stories. Like most anthologies the quality of the stories varies. Unlike most anthologies there's no attempt at a framing story or linking device and there's no thematic, stylistic or even linguistic consistency.
Things don't start well with the pre-credit story, '3:00 am'. This is a simple story of a woman plagued by strange phone calls and sounds in the early hours of the morning. There's no real story, but it could still have worked as a subtly scary mood piece. Unfortunately it goes the other way and throws in a barrage of weird camera angles, loud noises, etc which make the ultimate lack of resolution unsatisfying. This is a case where less would definitely have been more.
The second story, 'Edward', is for me the best of the set. It's a simple two-hander concerning Hal (Nick Frangione) and his therapist (Artem Mishin). Hal is scared to sleep because when he does he gets violent dreams and wakes up in strange places... Yes, you can see where it's going, but it throws a nice curve near the end. Great acting from both Frangione and Mishin.
Story three, 'The Quiet', is also strong. Alice (Jenni-Lea Finch) is a partially deaf schoolgirl who gets stranded in the countryside. As she starts to walk home she is followed by a stranger in a blue van. The atmosphere is very good in this one with great use made of music and sound effects to fill in for the almost total lack of dialogue. The ending leaves much open to interpretation, which is fine, but the final shot is a mistake.
'Merry Little Christmas' should have been brilliant. Set during a modern Christmas with flashbacks to an earlier one the story shows the long term effects on a mother and her daughter by the abusive and violent acts of the father. It's well acted, the material is uncompromising and it oozes oppressive style. Unfortunately the storytelling is confused and messy, more ambiguous than even I like. The result was unsatisfying.
Last and by far least is 'The Deviant One'. This follows a man who drugs, rapes and kills his young male neighbour, all intercut with Biblical quotes. It's filmed in monochrome with no dialogue, but even these arty touches and a (predictable) twist can't prevent it from feeling like it's just nasty for the sake of being nasty.
With no overarching storyline to hold it together, The Horror Network has to be judged simply on the strengths of its individual stories with no potential for any synthesis between them. On that basis it doesn't do very well - two out of five isn't a good enough hit rate. There is some talent on display here, but not enough to merit a feature film.