Movie Reviews

The Dyatlov Pass Incident

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

In 1959, a crack team of Russian mountaineers went trekking in the northern Ural mountains, at the Dyatlov Pass. These hikers promptly went missing and were later found dead and only partially clothed. Today, still a mystery, a faux-footage film has been made surrounding a student documentary. If you’re interested, and you can find it^, then maybe you can watch… The Dyatlov Pass Incident!

Early on in the film there’s a callback to the movie that made found footage popular – a crying documentary-maker in night vision is very Blair Witch, though thankfully less snotty. But in many ways this is a also a far cry from the low-fi chills of that film; the format may not allow director Renny Harlin to exercise the level of style he brought to snowy environs in Cliffhanger or Die Hard 2, but this being the twenty-teens the cameras are HD and there is far less motion-sickness-inducing shaking than is typical of the subgenre.

The mainly British cast is solid, and the American accents generally decent (compared to, say, Richard Coyle in last year’s Outpost 2). They have a believable dynamic together which helps the tension when things start to go wrong and the direction keeps the viewer engaged through some genuinely unexpected twists.

The Dyatlov Pass Incident is not a film that breaks new ground in its genre, and it won’t be remembered as an all-time classic. But it is entertaining and original, and fun to go back afterwards and theorise over some elements – tell us in the forums! ***1/2

(^ – Pretty easy, most shops have it and it has a rather natty lenticular slipcase)

You’re Next

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

I have to confess, I was slightly guarded going in to You’re Next. Sure, the posters were cool (especially the map-mask one), and the usage of Perfect Day in the trailer was inspired, but the idea of another home invasion movie wasn’t one that had me exactly jumping out of my chair – and not just because once wedged in there any movement was difficult 😉 Obviously I had forgotten the nature of the Frightfest boys in seeing something different, as what resulted was certainly not just another home invasion movie!

The film opens with a brutal attack on a post-coital couple (including 2011 Total Film Icon Larry Fessenden), before introducing the varied members of a well-to-do family meeting at their holiday home (next door – uh oh) and their dysfunctional dynamic is funny and natural. Of course, the calm is soon shattered, and survival becomes the order of the day, but this is no normal house invasion – and neither are the targets!

I’m not going to give away any of the twists, but they are numerous and add an excellent energy to the film. The script is punchy and witty, and the acting is consistent too with a fitting role as family matriarch for 80s scream queen Barbara Crampton.

It’s bizarre why You’re Next has been sitting on the shelf since 2011 – it’s a fresh, fast and fantastic piece of horror cinema that revitalises its subgenre. Definitely worth a watch! ****

Curse of Chucky

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

As creator Don Mancini introduces the world premiere of the uncut version of the film, it doesn’t seem like it’s been 25 years since the series began – not least because from where I’m sitting Mancini looks like he must have been about 10 then!

The latest installment in the evil doll series features Fiona Dourif, real life daughter of Chucky-voicing Brad, and is cited as being a return to the more serious nature of the first three films after the comedy focus of Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky. It sets its cards early with an effective pre-credits spike, and as the film progresses it becomes increasingly obvious that this time round it is about balancing the comedy and the tension, and it does so impressively. Also handled well is the characterisation – it would be easy to define Nica (Fiona Dourif) solely by her disability but the script wisely avoids this, and the relationships with mother Sarah (Chantal Quesnelle) and sister Barb (Danielle Bisutti) have a ring of truth without being patronising. And as the plot darkens and Chucky comes again to the fore as the teensy terroriser, long-held secrets will be revealed…

Deaths are inventive and effectively nasty with a clear streak of black humour, and the dialogue is sharp and witty. As for Chucky himself, he’s had a bit of a facelift – 25 years is a long time for a doll! – but it doesn’t detract much (and ultimately makes more sense than it initially appears), and the vast majority of doll action is done without CGI, continuing the trend of the other films.

If having to nitpick, the film does suffer a bit from the Return of the King syndrome of multiple endings, which also gives a question mark over the post-end-credits bonus, and while it is weaved nicely into the first three films how Bride and Seed slot in is less clear.

But these are minor really, as Curse of Chucky is genuinely great fun, and to my mind, the best of the series. Long live the demonic doll! ****

The Dead 2: India

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

Read the review of the first film here!

2010’s Frightfest saw the debut film from brothers Jon and Howard J Ford, a visually lovely zombie movie set and filmed in Burkina Faso. It was The Dead, and it will shock no-one that The Dead 2: India is a sequel set and filmed in India.
The first film was notable for its photography and sort of road movie feel, and both elements are in evidence here – it’s shot sumptuously, and the story concerns American wind farm engineer Nicholas (Joseph Millson) trying to get across 300 miles of the Land of the Kings, Rajasthan, to his girlfriend Ishani (Meenu). Along the way he meets a young boy guide (Anand Krishna Goyal) and the pair have to survive the desert conditions as well as the undead; all the while, the bustle of the slums of Mumbai only means more potential zombies to threaten Ishani and her family.
The level of action has been ramped up, with a couple of impressive set pieces, though it isn’t as packed as the average zombie movie.
The revenants themselves are also particularly lethargic even by undead standards – maybe it’s the heat? – and it diminishes the sense of threat somewhat when they can be casually sidestepped and pushed away with ease.
Acting and characterisation is generally good, though Ishani’s father has a tendency to be drawn in stereotypes and there are some soap-opera cliches in revelations made. It’s also disappointing to see that late on after ammunition has been pointedly scarce through the whole film, a character manages to happen upon a Pistol Of Unlimited Bullets which is a little bit jarring as well as making the sequence feel a bit video-game and defusing its tension.
The Dead 2 is a solid sequel, though its deliberate pacing and even more deliberate antagonists mean it’s not for everyone. But it’s still satisfyingly brutal and looks gorgeous, so if you liked the first then it’s definitely worth a look! ***

Frightfest 2012 – Roundup

Here’s a quick reference guide for all the main screen films that showed at Frightfest 2012 – with the sole exception of Eurocrime (sorry, I had a lie in!)

More detailed reviews for all the below are in our movie reviews section or just by clicking on each of the titles below!

Frightfest 2012 - aka Frightfest the 13th

All scores are out of 5 stars

 

  • The Seasoning House – disturbing and brutal. Sean Pertwee and the lead actress both awesome. ***1/2
  • Cockneys vs Zombies – fantastic fun, bloody, funny, un-PC ****
  • Grabbers – good fun too, if Richard Coyle had played it as Jeff from Coupling (which could still have made sense) it would have been the perfect film ;-)***1/2
  • Nightbreed: the Cabal Cut – awesome. The story hangs together really well in this version, and the design hasnt really dated. Some of the footage was ropey but will be improved come the Blu-Ray ****
  • Hidden in the Woods – too rapey for me, though the grindhouse audience will probably appreciate it more. Hilariously inconsistent spelling in subtitles, even in character names! **
  • V/H/S – starts a bit weak and if you dont like shakycam you’ll be a bit annoyed as its a found footage anthology but some of the segments are really good ***
  • [.REC]3 – tone and camera style shift (much more comedy and most is shot “normally”) don’t really gel with the other films in the franchise but other than that is excellent and funny too ***1/2
  • Stitches – great fun, Ross Noble and Tommy Knight (Luke from The Sarah Jane Adventures) are both good and its very very funny, some superb deaths too! ****
  • Outpost II – decent with intriguing ideas behind it (like the first), some silly bits and Richard Coyle’s american accent is duff though ***
  • Paura 3D – solid but unspectacular, 3D occasionally nice but repetitive (lots of use of branches or leaves in foreground) and could have been used better IMHO. Overly unnecessary nudity which was way overexplicit in one scene for me **
  • Under the Bed – two completely different but both decent films were apparently made by this team, unfortunately they then smushed them together and said it was one! A bit like Mirrors in that sense… both “halves” have good aspects but as a whole it means it doesn’t make sense. The ending is especially ridiculous, but I can’t hate it somehow! **1/2
  • Tulpa – love letter to giallo genre in all senses – beautiful and sounds great, but dialogue can be horrifically bad and I couldn’t tell if the laughs were intentional or not… ***
  • Maniac – stunning, impressive how Elijah Wood can put in such a good performance when the entire film is first person (you only see him in reflections/photos/occasional hallucinations). The style makes it more disturbing too… and yes, I’ll say it – better than the original *****
  • The Thompsons – flawed but nice originality, helps if you’ve seen The Hamiltons! Some interesting twists on an oft-used mythology involved… ***
  • The Frightfest International Short Film Showcase – ranged from the unnecessarily nasty (Tokophobia) through the fairytale (The Halloween Kid, The Captured Bird) to the silly fun (Snails!, Metal Creepers). Good overall but can’t really give a single score!
  • Sleep Tight – fantastic, tense, really shocking twists, and can be summed up in three words – “What a b*stard!” *****
  • Berberian Sound Studio – looked and sounded stunning, but I still don’t have the foggiest what happened! Toby Jones is really good though ***
  • Sinister – best mainstream American horror in years. Yes, it’s that good, genuinely creepy and several moments that even made a screen of 1500 Frightfesters jump! *****
  • Dead Sushi – contains the cutest singing egg sushi you’ll see in any film this year. Utterly hilarious! ****
  • American Mary – superb, with starmaking role for Katherine Isabelle. The only film of the weekend containing nudity that was necessary. The directors are adorable too! *****
  • After – decent but not great (predictable to me but may not be to others). Kind of sweetly romantic, which elicited first facepalm of the weekend as a result 😉 **1/2
  • Chained – another brutal one this, Vincent D’Onofrio is really good. Unfortunately ending was trimmed for time (the whole film had a running time requirement) which diminishes a big twist slightly ***1/2
  • The Possession – good and slick, but suffered slightly from coming a day after Sinister (if it had been shown before and with a bigger gap it may have been appreciated more as it falls into some tropes that while not bad per se became obvious by their avoidance in Sinister) ***1/2
  • Tower Block – brilliantly tense, nicely witty and really well acted. Cracking thriller but very important to go in cold – don’t even look at the trailer! ****

Seen any of these films? Let us know what you thought in our forum!

 

Tower Block

Seen at
Frightfest 2012 - aka Frightfest the 13th

Tower Block

Reviewed by Andy

 

Every so often, a film comes along where there is huge value to going in knowing as little as possible; not so much because of increasingly spoilerific trailers but where not knowing even an outline allows the first watch to have better impact in either twists, laughs or changing tone.
Tower Block is one of those films, and has a very spoilery trailer, so for you to be able to go in as best as possible I’ll just give this information – it’s a thriller set in a tower block scheduled for demolition where only the top floor is still occupied, and stars Sheridan Smith (Lucie Miller, companion of the 8th Doctor in Big Finish), Russell Tovey and Jack O’Connell. And if you keep an eye out there’s a poster for Cockneys vs Zombies briefly visible!

So, is it any good? The answer is a resounding yes – James Moran’s script is taut, tense and witty and the pacing is excellent. The cast shine too, Sheridan Smith showing she can easily handle a movie lead role and Jack O’Connell taking a potentially completely unpleasant character and running a fine line that doesn’t undermine any cruel acts but also shows an underlying code and reasoning for his behaviour with a wicked sense of humour. It’s the first feature for directors James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson, but you wouldn’t know it from watching; the environment is used effectively to give a sense of isolation and even claustrophobia at times, and there is a good attention to detail.

Another test for Tower Block will be if it stands up to rewatching; I believe it will as the sense of logic is pretty good, and while there are twists that may be best the first time round, the film’s focus isn’t solely on them so there is still much to appreciate second time round or beyond.
There are some minor niggles – the ending doesn’t quite live up to the impact of earlier events – but this is a British thriller of real note. Try to keep away from trailers and other details of the film, and there’s extra reward to be had for seeing with a completely blank slate. ****

The Possession

Seen at
Frightfest 2012 - aka Frightfest the 13th

The Possession

Reviewed by Andy

 

Films involving demonic possession occupy a crowded subgenre in horror, and one that is unsurprisingly still heavily influenced by The Exorcist. The Possession aims to stand out by eschewing the usual Christian-centric themes in favour of Jewish mythology; does it forge its own identity or is it destined to cook pork in Hull?

Winchester senior Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays recent divorcee Clyde, moving house and trying to maintain a relationship with daughters Em and Hannah (Natasha Calis and Madison Davenport). So when Em starts behaving weirdly shortly after buying an elaborately carved large box at a yard sale, the emotional pressures of the divorce seem a natural cause. But really, 9 Hellraisers on, when has there been a film where a wooden object with strange markings hasn’t had something untoward going on?

The Possession is inspired by the story of the Dybbuk box that notoriously appeared on eBay in 2003 and brought illness and strange phenomena to each subsequent owner, and handles the elements of Judaism even-handedly. It doesn’t look down on either the viewer or the religion with over-stereotyping, and the result is refreshing and maintains interest. A solid picture of a strained family engages, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan is as watchable as ever, though Grant Show as “new man on the scene” Brett has something of a tendency towards cliché.

Coming from Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures, who also produced Drag Me To Hell in 2009, there is an obvious visual influence as well as the unfortunate tendency to put all the best visual moments in the trailer but director Ole Bornedal (Nightwatch – the one in the morgue not the Russian fantasy) adds his stamp too with some lovely overhead shots.
Unfortunately, the film at time falls foul of some of the tropes of the genre – it takes a long time for the characters to accept anything is really wrong and unless I was a Winchester I would have been long gone from Clyde’s new house before anyone else seemingly considers it!

It’s not quite up to the quality of Sinister – and suffered a little by being shown a day later – but it’s well worth checking out for a new angle and well told, interesting story. Now, where’s Sam and Dean when you need them – they’ll have this sorted out quicker than you can belt out some classic rock… ***1/2

Chained

Seen at
Frightfest 2012 - aka Frightfest the 13th

Chained

Reviewed by Andy

 

Vincent D’Onofrio as a serial killer. That sentence by itself can make a film worth checking out (though you have to worry a second where the method acting may lead!) but by the same token can be used as an excuse to have little substance beyond the hook. Fortunately that isn’t the case here, and the story is a hook in itself – taken with his mother by Bob (D’Onofrio) on a fateful cab trip, 9 year old Tim isn’t killed but kept to assist with preparation and cleanup. Renamed Rabbit and on a long chain that keeps him inside, as he ages Bob starts to educate him. But will the education Rabbit into a killer too?

Chained is a brutal yet compelling film that is anchored by a disturbingly real feeling performance from Vincent D’Onofrio. You never really find out why he kills but get a sense of slightly tired compulsion. There’s also a sense of growing attachment from treating Rabbit like his name to almost like a son, which plays into the tension around whether Rabbit will follow in Bob’s footsteps.

Unfortunately though, there are some flaws. Bob only seems to be making token attempts to avoid capture at times and seems to rely on coincidence that his abductees will only notice something is up once out of signal range, for example! It’s also a shame that to match time requirements some elements leading to a huge twist are slightly lacking – and it doesn’t look like they’re being restored for at least the US home release with the only additional footage in extras being the unrated version of a scene that originally earned the film an NC-17 rating due to the accuracy and realism in one of the murders. (The R-rated version is the one coming to the UK too)

It was interesting hearing director Jennifer Chambers Lynch talk about the film and its commentary on the argument of whether killers are born or made – personally I think Chained ultimately goes almost opposite to her indication in the Q&A. Watch the film and let us know your take in the forum! ***1/2

After

Seen at
Frightfest 2012 - aka Frightfest the 13th

After

Reviewed by Andy

 

According to IMDB, there are 20 films called After, all of which have been made since 1994. So with 19 other identical titles to compete against, how can After(2012/I) stand out from the crowd?

The story follows comic artist Freddy (Steven Strait) and Ana (Karolina Wydra), and when the coach they meet on crashes nearly as horrifically as his attempt to chat her up they find themselves the only people in their now deserted town. With a dark fog gradually encroaching and a creature tracking them, can they work out how to escape, why everything seems to relate to childhood memories, and how you can hire an armpit toupee?

After is one of those rare films that you can tear to pieces without actually disliking; while watching it hangs together well enough to keep you watching and invested but when looking in hindsight the cracks begin to appear, much like I have been feeling with some of Steven Moffat’s stories! Also in common there, you have an optimistic aspect to the fantasy elements, with a focus on romance over cynicism, and it all looks fantastic and big-budget (which it doubtless isn’t). The creature design too is excellent, and there are some moments that are visually iconic. But the central twist is one that has been done often, some of the dialogue is clunky and the love story aspects are cliched. The inevitable kiss elicited its own cliche for me – a full-on facepalm

With all that said, for some reason I still don’t dislike the film. Especially if you’re less familiar with the kind of twists involved – chances are that if you are familiar you’ll have guessed it already – there’s a good heart underneath, and it may not even be bad as a date movie. And see if you can make sense of the brief scene after the credits! ** 1/2

American Mary

Seen at
Frightfest 2012 - aka Frightfest the 13th

American Mary

Reviewed by Andy

 

There’s something of a dearth of body modification and particularly its associated culture in movies, aside from occasional usage for individual characters (like in The Cell) the last non-documentary that springs to mind was Dee Snider’s Strangeland back in 1998! It gets a much more even-handed view in American Mary, the latest feature from the Twisted Twins – also known as Jen and Sylvia Soska – whose debut feature Dead Hooker in a Trunk belied its micro-budget in entertainment value. American Mary has a higher budget behind it (though I suspect still low by Hollywood standards, not that you can tell by looking at it), but can the fun that was present in the sisters’ first film return?

Mary Mason (Katherine Isabelle) is a medical student in training to be a surgeon, struggling to meet her bills and with a tutor who seems to be particularly harsh on her. Not in a Perry Cox way either, though his Scrubs compatriot Todd may thrive in the very male-centred environment. In order to try and get some extra cash, she decides to audition as an exotic dancer, but circumstances mean the interview goes a very different way than intended and soon she is using her talent on more than stitching up turkeys and in a far more lucrative way!

Katherine Isabelle, who lit up the very first Frightfest in Ginger Snaps, is utterly brilliant here, making Mary believable and relatable through her physical, emotional and ethical challenges. I’ve always wondered why she hasn’t had more leading roles in bigger films, and with her owning the screen here she shows how she really deserves the big time.

This is a starmaking film for the Soska twins too, who wrote and co-produced as well as directed – and even have a fitting cameo! The heart put into the film is evident and it’s impressively accessible considering its darkness, and the ear for soundtrack from Dead Hooker in a Trunk is still present. It looks awesome too, with everything from the lighting to the sets/locations and the costume design being neatly thought. Seeing Jen and Sylvia Soska on stage their cheerful enthusiasm and humour makes them genuinely adorable, and they have fed that into the film expertly. Watch it, love it, and love the Soskas too! *****

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