Horror Club: Astral
The popularity of the Insidious franchise over the past few years has also grown the popularity of "astral travel" or "astral projection" - terms referring to the out-of-body experience that is willingly induced in an attempt to travel other planes or even universes. A quick internet search will produce hundreds upon hundreds of websites, videos, and even tutorials on how to induce an out of body experience; so it shouldn't come as any surprise that a horror flick based on the very concept of astral projection eventually made its way to the masses. "Astral" is a brand new film written by Chris and Michael Mul and directed by Chris Mul that tells the story of a young college student named Alex, and his journey into the unknown and unconquered world of the astral plane. Portraying the part of Alex is Frank Dillane (Fear the Walking Dead) who experiences the loss of his mother at a very early age to suicide by hanging (unbeknownst to him until he turns 21). After being introduced to the concept of astral projection by his college professor, he becomes a man on a mission to master the ability of projecting his soul out of his body and into another plane, in hopes of reuniting with his deceased mother's spirit somewhere along the way. Within no time, Alex becomes a professional at projecting his spirit and he is able to look down on his own motionless body (shots that you, as the viewer, never really end up seeing). But little does he know that his projections have opened up a portal to a whole realm of evil that he didn't know was there, and it isn't long before haunting shadow people begin to appear to him not only in the astral plane, but in the physical world around him and his roommates. It will take the power of his will and desire - and maybe the help of an outsider or two - to help him overcome his newfound demon friends and his mothers dark past. (Reader warning: this review may contain spoilers!)
Going into Astral, I didn't really know much about it besides the topic it was based around and whatever was in the trailer. I jumped right into it expecting shit to hit the fan as quick as it did in the original Insidious film, hoping to see some really epic, haunting shots from the other spirit realm. Astral goes a different route, however - a good portion of the first half of the movie is strictly dialogue. While it isn't exactly a slow-burn film per se, it definitely takes its sweet time leading into the action (which wasn't an issue with me, I don't mind slow-burn horror films, but I know many others can't stand them, so its worth noting) as well as seeing the actual shadow people. A portion of the dialogue is pretty essential - such as introducing the concept of astral projection in case the viewer isn't fully aware of what it entails - but a good chunk of it is just slow moving dialogue. And once Alex is able to astral project whenever he wants (which takes no time to learn at all apparently), he does it on a nightly basis, and besides a few eerie, hard-to-see shots of what looks like a smoke-filled room, you never actually see any shots of the spirit realm; you just kinda have to take Alex's word about his travels there, which was slightly bizarre. Regardless, the shadow people do make it into the physical realm and begin haunting Alex and his friends, and those shots aren't all too bad, to be honest: not scary in the slightest, but certainly entertaining to watch. The highlight of the film comes in the final scenes when Alex and his new girlfriend take matters into their own hands and visit a clairvoyant, and suddenly the film becomes a possession/exorcism show. The demanding demon who is responsible for haunting Alex makes his on-screen debut, and honestly he's brutal as fuck, definitely the highlight of the movie. The final scene gets pretty wild and crazy, but is it worth sitting through the rest of the movie for? In my opinion, yeah - the payoff is not anything game-changing or genre-crushing, but its entertaining enough that it's worth watching if it ends up hitting a streaming service you subscribe to. Worth seeing in theaters? Not really, but I wouldn't (and didn't) mind throwing a few bucks at a rental for it. While it may not be the best film to come out this year, it's certainly not the worst, so that stands for something, surely.
As far as the acting goes, no complaints here: the cast were fun to watch interacting and the acting wasn't bad at all. The only issue some might have is the lack of a connection with the main character, Alex - at least for me, I just didn't really connect or have any emotional attachment to him. But he's definitely a likable guy - and Soulless Cult might appreciate the fact that he's rocking a Hatebreed hoodie throughout the film just a little bit more than other movie-goers might. But that lack of connection resulted in me finding his possession scene almost funny rather than haunting like it probably should have - it was still a fantastic scene though, and worth watching the movie for. But like I said, you don't really get any insight into the astral plane or the horrors that really lurk around the dark corners there, and that was something I was really hoping to experience with Astral (and maybe that was my own fault, to be honest). But this film is far from bad - it's a fun and neat little addition to a sub-genre of horror that I'd love to see more of, and I'd watch it again later on down the road. Check this one out!