Wednesday, 23 September 2015


In recent years film makers haven't been able to avoid referencing the very real financial crunch that has affected people all around the world. 
With some people facing a real-life situation that is every bit as frightening as cinematic boogeymen, it comes as no surprise that it has slowly crept into our beloved horror genre.
Nicholas Bushman's Union Furnace is one such effort and it's a film I've been looking forward to sitting down with for some time.
Is this one a game that I'll want to play? Or a film that I'll be all set to burn?
Read on…


Dir: Nicholas Bushman
Starring: Mike Dwyer, Seth Hammond, Katie Keene, Keith David, Kevin Crowley, Tara Bellando, Lyle Kanouse, Louie Lawless, John W. Lawson, Ben Wallace, David Hayward, Ed Fisher, John Lawson, Wade Graham

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

Cody (Dwyer) is a down-on-his-luck smalltime car thief in a Southern Ohio town trying to pay back the substantial debt he owes to the wrong kind of people.
After ripping off his latest car he makes a terrible error of judgement and crashes the vehicle. However, a blonde Southern gentleman (Hammond) is onhand and assists him. He seems to know a lot about Cody and offers to help him out, handing him a substantial wad of bank notes and saying that there's plenty more what that came from.
Cody is intrigued and arranges to meet the man that night at a remote location. Upon arrival he's offered the opportunity of a lifetime, play some games and, if he wins, he'll be set for life.
Cody agrees, dons a hood and is driven to a new location deep in the forest and prepares to play… unaware just how deep he is in.
Watched by a crowd of wealthy masked individuals who bet on the outcome of the games, while the blonde man in a shiny lion mask acting as master of ceremonies, Cody finds himself competing with seven other individuals including an uptight businessman (David), a desperate young woman (Keene) and amiable Jim from Kentucky (Kanouse).
However, at the end of each round the losing member is removed and each of the players is returned to a saferoom where they each have a box that slowly fills with money. As the games become more sinister and disturbing under the Lion's watchful gaze, Cody starts to realise that there can only be one winner — and no losers will ever get to their tale...

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Union Furnace has a real wealth of assets, but chief among them must be its sterling cast. 
Dwyer is fantastic, reminding me a little of Ryan Gosling with his intensity. He starts off as a real anti-hero, a 'No fucks given, no shit taken' kind of guy who is totally willing to cut down his rivals to ensure that he reaps the rewards of their failure. He has some fantastic interplay with Hammond and there's even the sense of a burgeoning bromance between these two ruthless individuals. Later on, when Cody's shell is knocked by the terrible things he witnesses and is forced to do, Dwyer is utterly able to portray the vulnerability behind the facade. He's an extremely talented guy and I can't wait to see more from him.
Although Dwyer's character is the most complex, the cool as hell Lion, as brought to life by an icy Hammond is the most memorable. Strutting his stuff with some of the sweetest dance moves this side of John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, his swaggering, preening compere is utterly captivating. With good looks that remind me of Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd, I can see Hammond going a long way too. 
The supporting cast are equally impressive — the prolific, ever-reliable and always awesome Keith David stands out as serious class act among the contestants, while both Keene and Bellando are excellent in their parts.
Of course strong actors are wasted if they aren't given strong material to work with and the story (written by director Bushman and star Dwyer) gives them all plenty to sink their teeth into.
Playing out like a fascinating cross between 13 Sins, The Game and Hostel, the plot is infused with a gritty, grim desperation that never lets go. The characters are all given a little motivation and all of them have their reasons to compete. They stand out from one another and, wisely, the strongest characters are kept in until the latest stages of the competition. The baying horde watching them, plus the seriously creepy attendants are all chillingly unnerving, utterly robbed of any humanity by the array of bizarre, cheap plastic Halloween masks that they're wearing.
This is just one element of the production design that hits the spot. The set is wonderfully brought to life, feeling like a filthy, dilapidated outpost on the edge of an impoverished town on the outs. However, at times the set also feels otherworldly, Roy Rossovich's cinematography presenting the proceedings with bright, bold coloured backdrops, especially those Twin Peaks-style red curtains. We are also given glimpses of the dark and shadowy woods outside, heightening the sense of isolation and ratcheting up the tension.
However, it is the events of the script that shock and disturb the most. The games start as simple fare, board games and the such, but the always uneasy atmosphere hints at worse nightmares to come... And boy do they come.
With some scenes of startling violence and degradation, by the time the final game comes around you start to think that the losers might actually have been better off dead than to have faced the trials it took to get here. The penultimate game in particular is horrifyingly haunting because it leaves so much to the imagination, just giving us upsetting images of the traumatised players in the aftermath. Forget your tacky torture p0rn effects, few celluloid horrors have made my skin crawl like the implied violation of two shell-shocked bodies on a couch did.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Union Furnace has a story that is told well, but that story is surprisingly simple. It's pretty linear with no real twists, turns or bumps along the way. What's more, at the end very little has been resolved. Two characters have received endings worthy of their arc, but so much else is left unfinished. Of course, this just adds to the horror of the film, but some may find that it falls a little flat. If you're after some especially complex story-telling or you want everything wrapped up in a neat little bow, you could find yourself let-down. Be warned.
Equally, those of you who like your horror filled to the brim with blood and bodyparts may be a little disappointed with the reserve with which Union Furnace dishes up its atrocities. There are a couple of very nasty gore moments but for the most part, Union Furnace steers closer to an especially grim psychological thriller than a Saw or slasher flick. I can appreciate both types of scary movie, but if you're not prepared to work with a film until you get to the good stuff or just want wall-to-wall splatter, this isn't the film for you.
Equally, those of you looking for a fun horror film may well find the near constant depressing mood definitely kills your buzz a little. Like so many films that have a touch of realism about them, it's oppressively downbeat and even the attempt to give one character a somewhat happy ending doesn't do much to lift the spirits after witnessing everything said character has endured to reach this point.
Finally, Union Furnace is a pretty low-budget film and every now and then the production values do reflect this. It isn't a major problem to the film, in fact I actually thought it added to that grim and gritty realism I mentioned earlier, but every now and then a minor member of the cast or the quality of visuals will dip a little. If you're used to polished and shiny Blumhouse style productions, complete with glossy mag teen leads and keyboard slam jump-scares, look elsewhere.

THE VERDICT: Some filmmakers have an ability to achieve a lot with very little. The guys behind Union Furnace certainly fall into that category. They tell a story that remains utterly captivating despite its comparative simplicity, gives us some seriously disturbing shocks with very little in the way of graphic gore and looks great despite any financial constraints. It's not fun, but it does entertain in all the ways you'd want a spiteful horror movie to hit the spot. 
In short, if you're thinking of splashing out on Union Furnace, I'd say that's a gamble worth taking.

You can buy or rent Union Furnace from Vimeo On Demand here.

Check out the movie's Facebook page here too and give it a Like, I'm sure sure Bushman, Dwyer and co. would appreciate it!

If you haven’t already, do please check out and Like the Hickey’s House of Horrors Facebook page, which you can find here. It gives you a nice quick link to any new posts on this blog, plus regular news updates from around the web. I check the Internet so you don’t have to! Alternatively, follow me on twitter: The House @HickeysHorrors

Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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