Paco Plaza takes the reins solo from the previous partnership with Jaume Balagueró in second-sequel-that’s-also-a-prequel [.REC]3. With the first two films in the zombie saga enjoying great success without the backlash that usually follows in the found-footage genre (Troll Hunter which showed at Frightfest 2011 was another rare exception), expectations were high for the third installment which was to set up as well as add to the mythology of the first two films.
It starts usually enough with handheld cameras recording a wedding but there are two major changes – the handheld footage is eschewed in favour of “regular” style of filming after the first act, and there is the introduction of quite a lot of comedy into the mix. Both work pretty well – the action is clearer and there’s no annoying shakycam to deal with for the majority of the film, and there are lots of genuine laughs from good writing and amusing characters (credit especially there to John Sponge!). The romantic thread from the newlyweds who seek each other having been separated in the chaos manages to be strong without getting too cheesy, and the additions to the background about the nature of the zombies are intriguing too.
But the problem is that the tone and feel has changed – if this is your first entry to the franchise it’s not too much of a problem, but having the number 3 on it makes it unlikely and so it doesn’t sit right in its place as is. As a standalone RomZomCom it’s great, or even as a [.REC] spinoff it would be absolutely fine, but that it isn’t will annoy alot of series fans, which is a shame. Good entertainment value, but a bit mismarketed! ***
Anthology films are pretty rare these days – the last that springs to mind being Trick R Treat – but on the other hand found footage films are three a penny. So what happens when you put the two together? In the case of V/H/S, it seems you put your weaker foot forward first, as the opening of the film seems to focus on the most criticised elements of found footage in unlikeable characters and lots of shaky cameras.
Ostensibly the wrapper is that a group of young robbers are being paid to break into a house in search of a VHS tape, but they don’t know the contents other than they must be blackmailable. This is roughly where the format links end, as the rest of the stories are set in times past the usage of VHS in camera formats, mainly focussing on digital technologies. But of course anything can be recorded onto VHS tape… while the digital formats are played with effectively in several of the segments, there’s a bit of a missed opportunity in the “quirks” of VHS not being used at all – 90 minutes of movie and not one skipping pause or need to adjust tracking!
However, if you can get past the first 20 minutes or so, things start picking up towards the end of the first segment when events take what was developing into a rather uncomfortable date rape tale into something really unexpected! Though there’s some variation in the other segments, there are some really strong stories that raise the film as a whole – particular favourites being a slasher-esque tale set in some woods with some clever work done involving the killer, the Skype tale and the final story. By the time the credits roll its been a mixed bag, but the balance has tipped well into the watchable. Given how many focus on their ending, maybe there’s some value in trimming found footage films to the length to fit anthologies – watch this space for V/H/S 2? Or maybe that should be called D/V/D? ***
There are a few things that are stereotypically found in woods – odd (and usually single) wellington boots, rotting remains of ripped tents, and particularly in the pre-internet days, occasional stacks of second-hand porn, Unfortunately, its the latter that seems to have most connection to Hidden In The Woods, a grotty grindhouse tale centering on sisters Ana and Annie (or Anny, depending on what the subtitles decide) and Ana’s inbred mutant son Manny. Cue rapes, prostitution, random resurrection from the dead and occasional cannibalism while the subtitles gradually get worse and worse to the point where you can’t tell which character was meant to say the word that resembles nothing in english.
It’s pretty well stylised in a grindhouse/exploitation sense but is really not the kind of subgenre I like to watch or have ever gotten in to, so not for me at all. If you are, you may appreciate the look and feel, and may find intentional humour as well – other than the subtitles of course! **
Nightbreed is a film with a chequered history – based on the visionary novella Cabal by Clive Barker, the original theatrical release was marketed as slanted towards the slasher genre despite and despite a wonderfully creepy turn by David Cronenberg in a rare acting role, felt disjointed and reassembled yet with occasional glimpses into the epic that many suspected had originally been filmed. Over the years since its original 1990 cinema release, there had been much work done trying to find some of the reported major amounts of footage edited out, and finally while spring cleaning Clive Barker’s office a VHS tape marked “Nightbreed” (who’d have thunk it!) turned out to be the start of a holy grail… what was shown at Frightfest was still a work in progress to an extent (v5 so far!) – the festival showings which include footage cut together from multiple sources including the original print and VHS tapes is heading towards a full restoration which will have reportedly also have some of the VHS footage replaced with film from Fox so will look more consistent.
For those unfamiliar with the previous release, the film follows Boone (Craig Sheffer, here providing the template for the look of Angel in Buffy that would eventually come full circle in Hellraiser: Inferno), who has been trying to bring himself back to normality following recurring dreams of a town of monsters called Midian. Accused of serial murders by his psychiatrist Dr Decker, Boone has to go on the run – but what of his love Lori (Anne Bobby) and could all of his dreams have been real?
Unsurprisingly considering its subtitle, this version is much closer to the original novella, and feels much more complete for it. While there is still some footage missing – some of the creatures in the promo materials are still absent for example – this is much more of an epic, and a much more coherent story too. Lori’s role is fleshed out, as is Rachel’s, and the climactic siege is much more fully realised. The quality of some of the footage makes occasional elements difficult to follow, yet it’s still easier than the theatrical cut which speaks volumes. The design is still brilliant and really hasn’t aged; a testament to practical effects and Clive Barker’s vision. It’s only really things like hairstyles that have dated at all as the film’s focus on the monsters’ story has always felt ahead of its time. A brilliant event and something well worth following, as the DVD/Blu-Ray release promises to be something very special indeed. ****
If In Bruges was Father Ted with hitmen, then Grabbers is Father Ted with alien sea monsters. There we go, review done, off to the pub! That choice, as it turns out, may not be coincidental… After a fairly standard monster-movie intro, we go into full-on rom-com mode as new Garda Lisa (Ruth Bradley, soon to be heard as Molly in Big Finish’s Dark Eyes) arrives as holiday cover to back up perpetual drunk (Richard Coyle) just as a storm is due to head for their island – not the best time for the arrival of a monster that drinks human blood and can travel anywhere wet, so has picked Ireland as the perfect holiday destination!
* A quick interjection for anyone who has a similar experience to me, to save the self-annoyance I had – Richard Coyle played Jeff in Steven Moffat comedy Coupling, where he had a welsh accent. In fact, if he had played Jeff in this it would probably have made it the perfect film, as Jeff in a proper rom-com and Jeff in a monster movie would both be brilliant! *
There’s a lot of emphasis on the Irish as heavy drinkers, but director assures that it’s fine as it isn’t so much a stereotype as an archetype! Good job though, as our alien monsters are allergic to alcohol – so be sure to drink while watching!
What may seem an odd pairing of rom-com and monster movie does end up working well together, and the monster effects and design are excellent. The story itself may be a little on the disposable side, particularly with the blatent sequel setup, but it’s fantastic fun even without a drink. Watch out for Russell Tovey being exceedingly english and with a neat nod to Being Human, but don’t be tempted to try a drinking game such as having a swig every time one of the cast members do or you may end up in hospital! ***1/2
Ronseal really should start sponsoring movies, with films like Snakes On A Plane, Man On A Ledge, My Dinner With Andre and now Cockneys vs Zombies there’s an increasing number of titles that really do exactly what they say on the tin. (Product placement cheque is in the post, right?) The zombie apocalypse has arrived courtesy of some greedy workmen looking to loot a crypt marked as sealed by royal decree in 1666 – and so with the evidence of Terileptils and 5’s sonic screwdriver in there too, obviously – and it’s all kicked off in East London. Bad news for the zombies…
The story follows two brothers (Andy and Terry, played by Harry Treadaway and Rasmus Hardicker) who decide that the only way they can raise the money to save their grandad’s care home is to rob a bank. So they enlist the help of their cousin (Michelle Ryan), well-intentioned but rarely-successful Davey (Jack Doolan) and Mental Mickey (Ashley Bashy Thomas) for whom the nickname is something of an understatement. Perfect time for zombies to get involved then… they may be slow, but old people can be slower!
This idea along with the cockney acceptance of the whatever comes their way underpins the movie, and while the younger generation are the ones we follow for the “rescue”, the real stars are those in the home. Joining ubercockney Alan Ford are such TV and movie royalty as Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore herself!), Georgina Hale (Daisy K in The Happiness Patrol), Tony Selby (Glitz), Richard Briers (Paradise Towers) and Dudley Sutton, and they show age really is just a number when it comes to zombie-bashing. The film is gleefully un-PC and with a good sense of its own silliness, which are tied by James Moran’s brilliantly funny script into set-pieces, one liners and visual gags that will satisfy both zombie and comedy fans alike. Plus we get to see the answer to questions like “do zombies still support football teams?”, “how would you really deal with a zombie baby?” and “what would you call a zombie in rhyming slang?”
Excellent music choices and neat directing and editing (all about the Star Wars-style wipe cuts!) add up to a film that can proudly stand as a great British zombie film and a cracking comedy to boot. And keep an ear out during the closing credits for a proper zombie-themed knees up by Chas and Dave! ****
Cockneys vs Zombies shuffles onto DVD and Blu-Ray on October 22, including just over 20 minutes of Behind the Scenes featurettes (watchable individually or all together), a four minute Zombie School shown to the extras before filming, and the trailer. The first run also has a neat lenticular slipcase.
The Seasoning House would be a chirpy title for a cannibal knees-up, but there’s nothing so cheerful in Paul Hyett’s vicious tale of the young girls dishomed by war and exploited by ruthless soldiers. We follow Angel, a deaf and mute girl who has been chosen to help the soldiers by keeping the girls made up and drugged up for the paying visitors, and cleaning up the blood and mess afterwards. Compliance is set early on in a way that rams home the casual disregard for life by the men involved, but after being entrusted with a key apparently opening the main door, and striking a friendship with a girl who can communicate via sign language, will Angel take her opportunity – or is it a test?
Set in the Balkans, the story elements may be ficticious but the basis is predominantly in fact, which makes the film all the more disquieting. I really wasn’t proud of being male by the end of the film!
Blistering performances by Kevin Howarth, Sean Pertwee and especially Rosie Day as Angel add effectiveness to the sparse use of dialogue, and tension levels are kept high by the direction and soundscape. It’s a film you won’t say you “enjoy” per se, but it’s an disturbing and well-made movie that has a real point to impart and does so effectively. ***1/2
Time really does fly when you’re having fun, and it was sad to realise that it was already the last day. How did that happen – it felt like 4 hours not 4 days!
The final day of this year’s fest kicked off with documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape. Directed by Jake West and produced by Marc Morris, it’s an excellent and even-handed account of how the term began, how the panic and vilification of horror progressed with the Video Recordings Act and how it still has repercussions for the future. With a plethora of interviews including MP Graham Bright, Martin Barker and those who grew up during the Nasties era like Neil Marshall (The Descent) and Christopher Smith (Triangle), as well as archive footage featuring infamous BBFC director James Ferman and Who-archenemy Mary Whitehouse, it’s a gripping and fascinating piece of work. The archive footage is probably scarier than many of the films discussed, with the pro-censorship brigade intent to shout down anyone pointing out contrary facts to their assumptions and using much of the same kinds of inciteful language as religious fundamentalists. And wait till you hear a claim about the impact of the films not being limited to children… 😉 A great strength of the documentary is that it easily prompts further discussion on multiple aspects – one covered outside afterwards was the Nasties panic as the start of the handing off of parental responsibility. A must for anyone who is interested in film or British cultural history, an extended version will be released in October as part of Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide.
A panel discussion followed, featuring Jake West, Marc Morris, Martin Barker, Allan Bryce (known for Dark Side magazine) a slightly bemused Tobe Hooper, and Dave Hyman of the BBFC. Martin Barker came out best, with an impressive sense of passion yet still always calm and sensible, though credit to Dave for facing some hard questions and describing how classification works now – and how to help get involved. The secret is to stay aware, and stay reasonable – the internet is an extremely powerful tool, but just ranting won’t put across a positive argument!
Next up was zombie film The Dead, directed by Brit brothers Jon and Howard J Ford. Rob Freeman stars as Lt Brian Murphy, stranded after a plane crash and fighting to get back to the apparent safety of America and his family. But there’s alot of Africa to cross, and even more zombies in the way… Set and shot in Burkino Faso, there’s something of a Resident Evil 5 look about the style and editing, but with proper slow zombies 😉 The pacing is something more like a road movie than the traditional zombie movie, being set in the wilds, and the environment is more than a pretty background in that its effects are evident and important. Burkino Faso is a pretty country and while there are some nice shots in there, with a fair amount set in close scale the opportunity is missed for more panoramic beauty. That’s a reasonable payoff though, as the focus is intentionally on Murphy and his journey, and despite the odd misstep (a technical scene seemed to be waiting for accompanying A-Team music) it’s an impressive film, above the zombie norm and a good calling card for the Ford Brothers.
Continuing the zombie theme, Andrew Lincoln (who I remember from Teachers) took to the stage to introduce a roughly 10 minute preview of upcoming TV series The Walking Dead. Based on a graphic novel, it looks like few punches have been pulled in bringing the story to the small screen – it will be showing on FX in the US, not sure if there is a UK deal as yet.
The scene included in the preview had a slightly 28 Days Later feel insofar as it centred around Lincoln’s character waking up in a deserted hospital, and was an excellent teaser for what looks like it’ll be a lot of fun. If not on TV, may be one for a DVD/Blu-Ray buy!
A complete change of pace came with Bedevilled, a Korean film that opens with Seoul banker Hae-won (Ji Sung-won) being annoyingly passive to the detriment of others. Being forced onto vacation, she decides to go back to the island of Moodo for the first time in many years, although her friend Bok-Nam (Seo Young-hee) has been begging for her to go and rescue her across many letters without response. Arriving at the island she sees the unpleasant treatment of Bok-Nam by her husband, his brothers and even aunts, but her indifferent attitude lets things continue, and following a tragic turn of events things escalate to a terrifying head…
It’s a testament to the filmmakers that a film that for the majority of its running time is ponderously paced and with almost exclusively unlikeable characters (even Bok-Nam isn’t perfect, taking out her frustration on her daughter) still holds the attention, and when the story takes its inevitable turn into violence there is a sense of just desserts about proceedings. Knowing this, the thread of black comedy that has been running through turns into a broad streak at this point and although it ends up as a sad film, it’s one with some surprisingly entertaining parts along the way. Well-made and decent overall, but would have preferred Hae-won to be a bit more likeable!
Before the next film was the final installment of this year’s Road to Frightfest shorts by Adam Green and Joe Lynch. The pair have become a brilliant double act since meeting at Frightfest and for the past 3 festivals have made a collection of shorts – one per day – from their own pockets and completely by themselves as “The Douche Brothers”. They’re hugely appreciated and selfishly it’s a bit sad that as they become busier with bigger film projects the scheduling is probably going to make them impossible – but we all hugely appreciate those that they’ve made and the huge amount of time effort (and a fair amount of money!) that the pair spend making them – thank you guys! This year’s theme was The Blair Witch Project and was as funny and gross as ever, whilst chock full of nods to events, films and people from Frightfests past and present. Ending on a touching tribute to Kevin (the Frightfester who passed earlier this year) they’re also a testament to the filmmaking of Green and Lynch that they can carry emotion through the laughter. All of the episodes from the three years of The Road to Frightfest can be seen over at the Ariescope website – just click on Shorts then Television and More. Though there are many Frightfest in-jokes they’re still pretty accessible – and while there also check out Adam Green’s other shorts!
The penultimate film (awww!) was Red, White & Blue. Coming from writer/director Simon Rumley (The Living and the Dead) and set in Texas, it initially centres around apathetic Erica (Amanda Fuller), who spends her evenings in bars and clubs around Austin and nights with whoever she picks up. Her first line is her mantra – “Look, I don’t stay the night, I don’t fall in love, and I don’t fuck the same guy twice”. It seems to serve her well, till she meets in Nate (Noah Taylor) someone who isn’t interested in her just to get her into bed, but is hardly normal – he describes how he used to torture animals out of interest! As the two gradually build a friendship though, her past is catching up with her, and this isn’t heading for a fairytale ending… Simon Rumley’s greatest talent is in his creation of character, and the primary players are all three-dimensional flawed people. No-one is truly evil, but evil things get done from circumstance and a loss of control; the film is all the more affecting as everything that unfolds is entirely character-consistent. Brutal and upsetting yet also gripping, it’s a journey through an emotional wringer that leaves the viewer feeling exhausted and dirtied. An example of just how powerful cinema can be.
So, 24 films, 14 shorts, 5 Roads to Frightfest and a whole lot more had been and gone, and Frightfest was almost done for another year. Just one film remained – The Last Exorcism. Patrick Fabian stars as Cotton Marcus, a preacher and exorcist preparing to hang up his Bible after realising his faith isn’t what it was. Disturbed by a tale in which an autistic child accidentally died during an exorcism, he decides to expose the fakery and showmanship he used by filming one last performance. Except as always happens in this kind of situation, this time round the possession might actually be real… You’ll notice I said “might”, and that leads into the most important thing to take into this film – forget the trailers! Or avoid them if you can – this is a case where knowing little going in is a distinct advantage. It’s also one of those rare movies where you can take very different impressions away on different watchings, something aided by superb performances by Patrick Fabian and especially Ashley Bell who is outstanding as Nell. The semi-documentary style coupled with Cotton’s intentions give a feel of honesty, so when the creepiness kicks in it works very well. Ultimately, it will be a divisive film – the marketing may leave some feeling cheated that the film even questions the possibility of possession (as well as featuring things that were never shot so not in the movie) and the ending is likely to be controversial too. But I loved it, and will be definitely revisiting on Blu-Ray when it gets released!
After a last Q&A including Eli Roth, Daniel Stamm, Ashley Bell and Patrick Fabian which ended in one of the best last questions ever (I’ll just say that there’s something wonderfully surreal about several hundred horror fans properly getting into a “HALLELUJAH!” 😉 ) It was time to head to the Phoenix for the customary festival-finishing drinks. Huge thanks to Ian, Paul, Alan and Greg for organising another fantastic festival, the friendly Frightfest crew, Adam, Joe and all the guests who came along, the brilliant Empire staff (not least those who came down from Glasgow to work the fest!), Maurice and the Phoenix staff, and most importantly all the other Frightfesters who again made this festival such a brilliant place to be for five days!
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!
Third day already, where is the time going! It’s not a cheery start to Saturday, though, with the stark and tense Cherry Tree Lane. Centering around a married couple whose evening is rather abruptly interrupted by teenage house invaders looking for their son, early impressions are of Daily Mail middle class paranoia come to life, with the attackers initially portrayed as the expected stereotypes. It even skirts uncomfortably close to racial typing, with the white teenager as a bit dim but motivated by money, and a black teen as the violent instigator. But as the film goes on, the characters are subtly developed and all involved are extremely well-written and three-dimensional; they feel real and it helps keep the tension high. Natural acting from all involved brings out the drama, and the impact of the film’s climax is heightened by its believability. Not one that is likely to prompt rewatching, but a gutpunch of a film nonetheless.
Next up was the latest from Twisted Pictures, The Tortured, which seemed like it would be another uninspired “torture porn” type entry. But it’s not quite as it seems, and some neat twists alongside decent pacing raise it above average for a genre I admit I’m not keen on. Erika Christensen and Jesse Metcalfe star as an annoyingly attractive couple whose young son is kidnapped (for a change, before the movie starts!), and the police don’t get there in time to save his life. When the perpetrator is only sentenced to a “25 to life” sentence – meaning possible parole in 10 years – they decide that this isn’t punishment enough so plan their own brand of justice… there’s a few decent twists in store and it’s slickly presented, but like some of the Saw franchise there’s a slight over-reliance on flashbacks and it occasionally feels like motivation is spread between the characters so you don’t dislike one with the other as a sole moral compass. And don’t do something silly like look at any notes you may be taking, or even blink, in the last 10 minutes or you might completely miss a rather important visual twist! Flawed, but a decent enough watch.
Then we got to watch a Halloween feature-length crossover between Hollyoaks and My Family… no, wait, it was 13Hrs. A low-budget British horror, there’s fun to be had here but the slightly soapy opening doesn’t really do the rest of the film justice with an overlong party and conversations about sex. Sarah Tyler (Isabella Calthorpe, Trinity) returns to the family home from several months abroad building an independent life to find things have changed since she left – her best friend (Gemma Atkinson, Hollyoaks) is going out with her half-brother, and suspicions are rife that her mother is cheating on her stepfather. And on this particular night, they’re not alone either… Good set design, some clever foreshadowing and good deaths help smooth over dialogue that at times feels rather scripted and a couple of silly mistakes (visible baldcap and tit tape!), to make a brisk flick that while an entertaining enough watch is still likely to disappear on DVD.
A nice surprise followed with Tom Six taking to the stage to introduce some photos from Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence and answer some questions. He jokes about being proud as a filmmaker of the death threats received in response to the first film (probably by those who hadn’t seen it!) and how “Part 1 is My Little Pony next to Part 2!” And to answer the inevitable question, this time round it is 100% medically inaccurate! The photos look much madder than the first, with huge amounts of nudity looking pretty likely this time round too – I hope that the strengths of the first will be built on with character keeping strong as well as the expected shocking imagery!
A touch of controversy next, as thanks to insistence by Westminster Council the Horror Channel-sponsored presentation of I Spit on Your Grave is the BBFC-passed version with 43 seconds of cuts (though the running time difference is only 22-seconds due to shot substitution). A remake of the unpleasant and amateurish 1978 rape-and-revenge film that gained cult status mainly thanks to its title and placement on the Video Nasty list in the 80s, the cuts are all to the gang rape rather than the revenge element, so I can’t honestly say I was disappointed. As you may have guessed from the preceding sentences, I never liked the first, and although the remake is better I still have a problem with films that involve sexual violence included just so revenge can follow. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the genuinely good The Horseman which showed at Frightfest in 2009, but the flaws stood out here – the biggest of which is tone. The rape is brutal and unforgiving, but when it comes to payback the tone switches to one of a wisecracking and cartoony horror with elaborate setup for grossout impact that completely forgets the psychology of the main character (played otherwise excellently by Sarah Butler) and in so doing, makes the whole brutal setup unnecessary – half an hour could be saved and a better film made with no reason behind the female’s psychosis. Alternatively, have the guts (pun not intended) to keep the tone consistent and with repercussions – it would be a harder watch but a much better one. Still, it’s slickly done so those who liked the original or the rape/revenge genre will probably appreciate it more than I did.
There couldn’t have been more of a contrast to the next film – the 12A-rated (what?!) road trip (eh?!) Monsters. In a near future where a capsule carrying samples from Jupiter’s moon Europa crashed in Central America, leading to the quarantine of a large portion of Mexico as an “infected zone”, a cynical journalist (Scoot McNairy) looking to make a living from pictures of the huge aliens and their impact when they clash with humans is employed to escort his magazine owner’s daughter (Whitney Able) back to the safety of the United States. Unfortunately much of the advertising draws comparisons to District 9, which is very wrong – the aliens are a backdrop to the journey of two very well drawn characters on what ultimately is much more of a love story than it is a traditional sci-fi or horror film. It’s also a film about unexpected beauty – it’s fantastically shot, and the aliens when seen in detail are more than just brilliant special effects (which will really make your jaw drop when you hear the budget…) but highlight the wonder of new life forms that the Doctor always delights in. Eagle-eyed viewing is also rewarded in the tapestry of the film, especially early on 😉 A brilliant surprise, and a wonderful, gorgeous piece of work that highlights a true talent in British writer, director and VFX artist Gareth Edwards. Will definitely be buying the Blu-Ray when it comes out!
Saturday’s final film was Hong Kong slasher Dream Home, described intriguingly as “Friday the 13th meets Location, Location, Location“! The story centres around Cheng Lai-sheung (Josie Ho), who after being forced to move due to rising costs and closure of tower blocks as a child dreams of moving back to an apartment with a sea view. Many years later, and with her father in ill health, she finds the perfect apartment – however prices are rocketing and the cost will stretch her funds to the limit even working two jobs. But there’s no way she will give up her dream home… There’s a really rich and detailed backstory to the characters which can be both a blessing and a curse at times, as while the story is interesting the movie’s tendency to jump back and forth in time could get confusing at gone midnight after five other films! As well as good writing for the character beats – there are some really sweet moments between the children in the 1990s sections – there’s a good balance of humour throughout. There’s also an interesting reversal of the usual portrayal of gender bias, which makes a refreshing change! Ultimately though, this kind of film will be judged on it’s kills and in this case they’re brilliant and messily inventive, putting Dream Home in a strong market position for quick sale!