Day 4 – Sunday 29th August
In the past few years, there’s been a pattern of “Grim Sunday” at Frightfest, with films of disturbing and brutal intent. With controversy already rife around A Serbian Film, would this year be grim for good or bad reasons?
It was off to a muddy start with this year’s sole French feature, The Pack. Goth-a-like Charlotte (Émilie Dequenne with tattooed knuckles) picks up hitch-hiker Max (Benjamin Biolay) in the middle of nowhere, and shortly afterwards they have a run-in with a bunch of OTT bikers. Max excuses himself to the toilet and promptly disappears, and after leaving her details with an ageing policeman type who seems more interested in her (the brilliant Philippe Nahon, wearing a superb t-shirt) things unravel in rather a different way than expected… There’s quite a lot to like about the film, which is nicely shot and has a wonderfully sly sense of humour bubbling under the surface at times, and some good gore and makeup effects. The creatures involved are well-designed too, albeit in need of an orthodontist 😉 On the not so good side, Charlotte’s character doesn’t seem quite in line with her look – what’s her story? – and without spoiling anything the ending is disappointing as it feels like two endings were shot but a decision couldn’t be made which to follow, so both were included. Unfortunately as they’re different in tone, feel and context a decision really should have been made, as it doesn’t work the way it’s been left. Mind you, it’s still only 80mins long, so maybe there was time to make up!
Andy Nyman took to the stage next to host the Quiz From Hell, made by Simon Williams and Lee-Jay Bannister who are behind genius pub film quiz You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat. This was well made and presented, with a good balance both for the casual viewer as well as the horror addict, and rounds like “What Happened Next?” incorporating clips added to the variety. My personal favourite section was the Soundtracks segment – 20 clips from 20 films, the first playing for 20 seconds, the next for 19, then 18… all the way down to the last for a single second! I wasn’t close to winning myself, but it was good fun and my backup film title of Shirley Bassey’s Guatemalan Adventure (what do you mean, not a real movie?!) even got an outing!
The quiz was followed by the Film4 Frightfest International Short Film Showcase – there were quite a lot of these, so time for one-line reviews!
La Madre – every parent’s nightmare, made worse by the way it looks to others. Excellently told – apparently a true story?
Nelly et Lio – you can’t go wrong when you include a gnu! Inspired slice of madness, and cute leads too 😉
How I Survived the Zombie Apocalypse – excellently shot, and with an appropriate Sarah/John Connor feel to the mother/son relationship.
Bon Appetit – three single-joke shorts about food. Unfortunately only one is funny.
Switch – A killer in the snow, with an obvious twist.
Papa Wrestling – OTT genius, watch it here:
To My Mother and Father – so intent on trying to shock and offend it forgets to be any good. Sole redeeming feature is a nice “mindscape” vision.
Rise of the Appliances – Absolutely fantastic attack-by-electricals set just outside Pontypridd, and wouldn’t be nearly as funny with any other accent!
Through the Night – effective if not especially original on partner having nightmares (or more?), slickly made.
The Red Balloon – possibly the best straight-horror short of babysitting a child who seems scared of “nothing” except we know where that’s going to go! Nice twists and good atmosphere.
Dead Hungry – it’s not easy being a zombie! Original, funny and surprisingly sweet.
Choreomania – neat concept of infectious dance not used to its full potential. Neat ending though.
2:22 – well-made short continuing one of the weekend’s themes that doggystyle is dangerous 😉 Be careful who you chat to in nightclubs, they may not be what you expect…
The End – apparently made to look like a snippet of the climax of an action film, doesn’t really excuse the lack of proper context. Some nicely done moments, but appears it would be a very cheap looking and not very good action film!
So far, not too grim then! And the next film up, We Are What We Are, was described in publicity as “the Mexican Let The Right One In“! Unfortunately, what results is neither as beautiful nor as enthralling, as its tale of the struggle of a cannibal family after the loss of its patriarch is much more a slice of pondering drama that seems almost ashamed of the nature of its characters. While I would applaud the evenness of tone for both the scenes of day-to-day life and those involving planning of victims and talk of the “ritual”, and the evocatively grimy photography (thought night scenes could be a little murky), I just wasn’t gripped; in quiet scenes there was a fair amount of light snoring from around the auditorium and more than once I wondered if I would appreciate a quick kip more than the rest of the film! Pretty sure the group of prostitutes weren’t supposed to come across in the comedy sense they did too! Disappointing.
Frightfest favourites Adam Green and Joe Lynch took to the stage next, to announce their hitherto secret project, upcoming anthology film Chillerama. An homage to the days of drive-in cinema, it will centre around 4 drive-in tales representing different eras: Wadzilla, directed by Adam Rifkin (Detroit Rock City); Curse of the Were Bears by Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs and its sequel); Zombie Movie helmed by Joe Lynch and Adam Green’s The Diary of Anne Frankenstein. Definitely going to be a must watch, and hopefully will be at Frightfest 2011!
Another comparison was in store with the next film too, with Damned By Dawn mooted as like Evil Dead 4. In this case there is an early resemblance; both are set in misty forests and involve the repercussions of reckless interfering beyond the understanding of the leads. However, it’s also unfair as the Australian Banshee flick isn’t up to the stellar expectations of a new Evil Dead; it doesn’t try to be as funny and the story centering around a banshee who wails (or more accurately screeches deafeningly) for the souls of the dying yet is totally corporeal – she even needs to use door handles! It’s entertaining enough if not standout stuff, and the biggest downside is an over-reliance on CGI – aside from some creature effects (personally I preferred the makeup effects used) there’s layers of mist and more subtle effects for most of the film. The “by dawn” element feels a little unnecessary too, with it seeming light for most of the film after the curse is stated. There’s potential visible though, and directors The Amazing Krypto Brothers are worth keeping an eye on. Still worth a watch, just manage your expectations first!
Originally, A Serbian Film was going to show next, but its controversial reputation preceded it a little too much. Alan Jones explained how Westminster Council decided to make an example (like with I Spit On Your Grave on Saturday) and decided on the week of the festival that it would have to be a BBFC-approved print to be screened. To be fair on the BBFC, they turned round extremely quickly (it usually takes 2 weeks for classification, they did it in a day) and on Wednesday 25th August reported that they required 49 cuts totalling 3 minutes and 48 seconds in order to grant an 18. They did offer to do another super-speedy check if a new submission could be made though cuts could still be necessary, but between the festival organisers, filmmakers and distributor Revolver Entertainment it was decided that as well as the timing being so tight to recut a new version it wouldn’t be the directors vision, so the decision was made to pull the film. It’s not just Frightfest that has suffered in this regard – since this it has turned out that even a private screening at Raindance is yet to be confirmed!
So, how to replace a brutal political allegory already infamous for its disturbing sexual violence? Why, with a mainstream Hollywood film of course! Oh, of course… hang on, what? 95 minutes of Ryan Reynolds in a box? Yep, it was Buried. And boy, did it defy expectations! Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, a truck driver for a US contractor in Iraq who wakes up in a wooden coffin after his convoy is attacked. There’s a lighter and a phone in there too, but it’s best to go in knowing little more than this to get full enjoyment from this brilliantly tense film. Obviously if you hate Ryan Reynolds then it’s not for you, but if you don’t he puts in an excellent performance in a unique and challenging role. Director Rodrigo Cortés, in his first english-language feature, adds an impressive style to proceedings and the limiting setting is kept visually interesting throughout. The pacing is excellent too, and I found myself on the edge of my seat from the Hitchcockian opening titles right until the credits rolled on the superbly ballsy ending. Highly recommended – a real pulse-pounder!
Following Buried came another nice surprise – the complete except for score (the temp score featuring excerpts from The Magnificent Seven, as it happens) Adam Green segment of Chillerama, The Diary of Anne Frankenstein. Styled like it was made in the 1940s, it centres around Hitler (played by Joel David Moore) finding the book of Frankenstein’s research from before the family shortened their name… cue a monster called Meshuggenah (Yiddish for madman) replete with yarmulke! Extremely funny whilst remaining a cute homage to the post-war films that inspired it, a particularly great touch is that all the cast speak German throughout – with the exception of Joel David Moore who (as well as being Jewish!) doesn’t speak a word, so gets given some fantastic alternatives instead! Keep an ear out though, as there is one line of perfect German in there – I won’t spoil how it actually translates!
Sunday’s final film was another Australian offering, The Loved Ones. Xavier Samuel, soon to be the object of millions of tweens’ affection when he stars in Twilight: Eclipse next year, stars as Brent, a teen who can’t move on from the repercussions of a tragic car accident months earlier. His only releases are smoking pot and his girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine); so when shy outsider Lola (Robin McReady) asks him to go with her to the school prom he refuses as he is already going with Holly. Unfortunately Lola is determined to be a prom princess, and refusal doesn’t factor in to her plans with Brent… Sort of like a demented mix of Heathers and Misery, the focus is quite obviously on horror but there’s a broad streak of black comedy that runs throughout and works very well. Much of the weight of the film falls on Robin McReady, and she plays Lola fantastically between the need for self-validation and cruel anger. The rest of the cast are also impressive, especially Xavier Samuel in long periods where he has no dialogue but expresses no less, and Sean Byrne handles the events well in his feature debut. There’s also an inspired choice of song that returns throughout the film that adds an element of poignancy too and will be sending many people to itunes or spotify once the film finishes. On the downside at times the cutting between the main characters and the prom itself doesn’t always flow and the ending is a little overlong, but the way that plot threads and characters are tied up is nicely done. Definitely worth a watch!
Best short – Rise of the Appliances
Film of the day – Buried