·The first feeling of “Wait, what day is it?”
when I woke up.
SHUT IN is a revenge drama
about an agoraphobic woman beset by three home invaders. But then… Again, going
into a film knowing next-to-nothing means the pleasures of the twists are a joy
for being unexpected and this isn’t quite as expected. Sleek, a little mean,
high concept and greatly entertaining, it also boasts fine performance all
BAIT is an English drama about
a couple of women trying to get ahead in the world and being victimised by a
sadistic loan shark. Good performances bring out the most of the script,
despite an undercurrent of Brit-crime shouty crime dramatics. Despite plot
holes (are the police completely unaware when there is plenty of evidence and
devastation lying around?) this is an engaging revenge drama (again). Since
this is all an allegory for the way people are exploited by unscrupulous
others, including banks, the audience is ecstatic when the girls get their own
back. Turning-the-tables seems to be a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.
FRANKENSTEIN updated by
Bernard Rose and moved to Los Angeles. Rose’s concentration on the monster is
closer to the novel than most, although he is less verbally articulate, and
removing all the pleasurable Gothic tropes leaves a starkness to the story of
humanising a monster and no less affecting. I suspect time will tell this
version’s true stature but it’s certainly a successful modernisation, with –
again – good performances.
SOME KIND OF HATE will be the
first of two films concentrating on hard rock/metal fans and their alienation.
Finally fighting back on the bullies only gets Lincoln into a reform school in
the middle of the desert where old patterns only manifest themselves again,
driving him to the attention of a vengeful spirit. The pacing and editing
really stick out, minimising scenes you might have thought would be more
central and longer whilst keeping it all speeding along. It also blithely
eschews jump-scares to get to harsher truths. In Moira, the vengeful spirit who
attacks her victims by self-harming, the film truly taps into something about bullying
and its effects without ignoring masochism or brutality on all sides.
RABID DOGS is not horror at
all, but rather a violent heist thriller that is often as sleek as a commercial
and twisty enough not to be thoroughly predictable. The heist goes a bit wayward
and most of the film is taken up with the robbers and their hostages in a car,
until they seem to stop into an aggressively jovial small village holding a
Bear festival. It’s like a gangster thriller gate-crashed a Wicker Man scenario.
There are probably goingf to be twists you don’t see coming. Thoroughly
DEATHGASM was one I thought
was not going to do much for me, trading in to the Heavy Metal angle of Horror.
Then I realised that I was stupid to take the title as anything else but a cue
for an affectionate homage to the absurdities of the genre. This is the second film
today where a Metal-loving protagonist gets revenge, but this time he literally
unleashes Hell on Earth by using power chords. Jackson’s “Brain Dead” has to be
a reference but it mostly keeps to gags coming until the very end. Gory, gross,
·I probably was aware of the dry humour in the
dialogue “We Are Still Here” because of
an audience; I might have taken initially it at face value otherwise
·Seeing some glowing reviews of films on the
other screens, I wondered if I might be missing out by sticking to FrightFest’s
main screens; then again, the films I have seen on the alternative screens have
all been lacklustre in previous years, “The Sand” being second best and “Willow
Creek” coming out top
HELLIONS is, like “Cherry Tree”,
a tale of a young girl stricken with a demonmic pregnancy. But this time, “Pontypool”
director Bruce McDonald tends more towards the abstract with reality slipping
out of control as a bunch of trick’or’treaters terrorise the poor girl. Aside
from some tonal missteps - do we need weary, defiant punchline every time an
antagonist gets killed? Do we need stirring defiant rock tunes every time a
protagonist turns into a Final Girl? And, despite the reductive promotional
material with her in angelic wings brandishing a shotgun, did she ever really
need to turn into a Final Girl since the film aims for other targets? - this is
beautifully filmed and slips increasingly into ambiguity. It also goes some way
to making kids chants creepy again (until they fit as part of the rocking
LANDMINE GOES CLICK is variation
on that rape/revenge thing that Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring” modelled, except
this time it’s the boyfriend of the victim that wreaks vengeance after being
unable to save his girlfriend from a predatory native once he believes himself
incapacitated when stepping on a landmine. But how he gets on the landmine is
just one of the subplots that seem to play out male anxieties on women’s
bodies- yes, it’s the male on the
landmine but the woman is already reduced to “bitch” and “whore” as soon as her
infidelity is revealed and male pride is wounded. That the ostensibly good guy
executes his revenge for his girlfriend by utilising the female bodies of the
antagonist’s families only adds to the sense that the women as real people
matter less than male passion plays of power. The audience laughed along when
the tables were turned and the protagonist used the antagonist’s own words and
methods against him, but they also laughed when the Russian roulette reached
its conclusion and it seems director Levan Bakhia was looking more for a “beware
if you stare into the abyss” morality tale. It seems some of the audience
thought they were watching a different film.
THE DIABOLICAL can’t do
anything without the soundtrack going BAM!!! This soon BAM!!! gets BAM!!! tedious.
It comes across initially as a James Wan-inspired jump-scare vehicle and
although the audience may roll its eyes as soon as a paranormal investigators
appear, it may be equally amused when they immediately run off. Apparitions
appear in a family house and no one will believe them. Then the film becomes
more interesting when the film suddenly changes genre just as you have dozed
off and the stuff that initially appears filler instead features as part of the
puzzle. Although possessed with a most aggravating and obvious soundtrack where
everything is cued (and when it goes silent, you know there is a jump-scare
just coming up), this shift in tone makes “The Diabolical” far more interesting
than it initially appears. It suffers from a too-tidy ending, though: in the
Q&A afterwards, director Alistair Legrand flippantly remarked that he
wanted a happy ending, sort of, but this just stymies the real sense of tragedy
and darkness that the film heads towards.
JERUZALEM uses a Google
glasses perspective but it still follows the usual subjective footage formula:
attractive American twenytsomethings go to Jerusalem and, after much bonding,
chasing sex and partying, the gates of hell open. Of course, it plays into that
American isolationist fear of other places, but directors Doran and Yoaz Paz
want to celebrate the city and offer a more realistic version too. In the
Q&A after the screening they spoke of their non-religious outlook, that the
apocalypse seems to come from the many faiths that exist alongside eachother in
Jerusalem, and it’s true that the dark angel zombies of the film offer
something a little different. While it offers nothing especially new, the local
flavour is appealing and they have obviously learnt a thing or too from “Cloverfield”
too. It culminates in an unforgettable vision, the kind of thing that justifies
that subjective-camera to me – even though the action often breaks up the
technology and is incomprehensible when things get hairy.
WE ARE STIKLL HERE’s director Ted
Geogheghan spoke of this being like Lucio Fulci meets MR James, and also John
Carpenter’s “The Fog” was thrown in. Yes. A grieving couple buys a house to
start over again and find themselves in the thick of a haunting and a local
sacrificial lot. The Seventies-early
Eighties feel is excellently rendered, the action is no-nonsense without
suffering from ADD and it is the first entry on here to properly use silences
as a tool (instead of just telegraphing jump-scares). Geogheghan also spoke of
how most contemporary horror films centre on young folk and yes, it is nice to
see adults take the foreground for once. Excellently performed, funny (that
genre-expected exposition dialogue went down like comedy with the FrightFest crowd)
and a genuine treat.
No, I didn’t want to see James
Wan’s “Demonic” on the main screen because I felt I had already seen that thing
a million times and he doesn’t quite put his name to the horror that I like,
even if this was directed by Will Cannon. So I went to see Isaac Gabaeff’s “The
Sand” instead. Obviously low budget and second league stuff, but as a
undemanding creature-feature that centres more on a bunch of Spring Breakers
working out how to deal with a monster under the beach, it took time to flesh
out characters that could have been obnoxiously 2D, had enough fun and humour
and situations to make this a fun if undemanding experience.
Let’s see if I can do this
without rambling too much. Can I update daily?
·Jonathan Ross introduces
·There seems to be less “Turn off your bloody
phones” this year, at least so far
·The FrightFest audiences are good
·My goodie bag gave me a steelbook blu-ray of “The
Woman” (hey, not bad! I have it already and mostly like it, so a result); “a
dvd of “Banshee Chapter” (which I saw at FrightFest a couple of year ago and
did not like) and a dvd of “Beneath” (which I have not seen).
CHERRY TREE is a lacklustre witch coven horror whose entire premise seems to be for the final stupid punchline. But I liked director David Keating’s “Wake Wood” well enough so would consider this a step back.
TURBO KID is a seriously fun homage to those dodgy, 80s post-Mad Max post-apocalypse VHS cash-ins. The 80s vibe is on-the-money, the lashing of gore decidedly modern, the performances endearing and the film is an obvious crowd-pleaser. An instant cult favourite.
STUNG is a giant wasp film and…
well, it’s exactly what you would expect. Competently made and performed with nothing unexpected on offer, but
with a weird negativity about women somewhere in there: for example, a stifling
mother producing a defective son, a philandering wealthy wife and a girlfriend
that won’t acknowledge the efforts of the main guy to please her. But of
course, she will: all it takes is an attack of mutant wasps on a garden party
she is catering for.
Well, I’m all set for FrightFest 2015, which starts in
earnest tomorrow. This involves night buses home and little sleep and by the
third day you are barely human. Last year (which I did not write about) I discovered that seeing a lot of
good films in a day is just as draining and seeing a lot of average or mediocre
stuff… you see a good film and you kind of want it to marinate and percolate a
little before you launch into another good film. But of course, I’m sure I
prefer it that way. Yum. I might try as-I-watch twitter updates. I’ll see how
I’ve been going the past few years and here are some of
my memorable moments:
1: I went to see “WeAre What We Are” and chanced to see if I could get tickets for “A Serbian Film”, which was already causing
a buzz, only to be told at the ticket desk that it had been banned! It was like
the Video Nasty days all over again for a moment!
2: A brief chat with Alan Jones about Dario Argento, who
was then being interviewed.
3: People breaking out into spontaneous applause at the
car lot kill scene in “Maniac” (2012).
4: Sitting behind Simon Pegg.
5: Being totally won over by Bobcat Goldthwait and
getting genuinely unnerved by his “Willow Creek”.
6: Stepping out for something to eat and heading for China
Town and seeing a red ribbon on the floor, finding my brain was so hardwired
for Horror cues that I nonchalantly thought, “Oh, there’s some entrails.”
previous film ‘Citidel’ wasn’t
remarkable but it was a decent little horror flick made interesting by its
protagonist’s agoraphobia and newly found fatherhood in a bleak world of
poverty horror. ‘Sinister 2’ is
similarly family-centred but succumbs to horror genre hokiness very, very early
on. We are barely minutes in before we get our first jump-scare without any
creepiness gaining a foothold first. There are no real surprises in store in
this sequel because it follows mainstream genre trends so slavishly. It's all surface. Any
correlation between the malevolent spirit Bughuul and a violent father is never
explored, for example, and any investigation of how the spirit may exploit
childish misconceptions and grudges are never really acknowledged in any depth.
Simply, on the run from an abusive husband, to
hide out Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon) takes her two sons (brothers Robert
Dylan and Dartanian Sloan) to an apparently abandoned house that won’t sell as
it was the site of a family massacre. (The boys spend their time tuned to the ‘Night
of the Living Dead’ channel; you know, that one that shows the Romero classic all the
time in horror films?But it does quote
the momentwhere the girl kills her
mother, which I guess is foreshadowing.) Unbeknownst to their mother, her son Dylan is
being visited by ghostly children, emissaries of Bughuul. He is paying night
visits to the adjacent deserted church to their Spooky Kid Drama Group and to view
those snuff movies that will apparently turn him into a killer.
Soon, Deputy So & So (um) is on the scene as a connection to
the last film, replacement father figure and love interest. James Ransone as
Deputy So & So is a likeable enough presence and his klutziness is perhaps
a nice contrast to the paternally-capable way that a lot of men purport
themselves in these scenarios (which is touched on in a nice interview here). But any good work done by the adults is hobbled by the badly written
flirtations he has with Courtney. In fact, there is always the danger of
unintentional humour that plagues ‘Sinister
2’, long before the ghostly children reveal their bad otherworldly make-up
and the film turns into ‘Poltergeist’.
Is it perhaps how cartoonish the characters become? Is it the bad dialogue? Is
it the ridiculous emergency word that the mother has chosen? Is it the mashed
potato incident? Is it the lack of Ethan Hawke to keep things grounded? Is it
the aesthetic observation of violence?
which: the most disturbing aspect of ‘Sinister’
was surely the snuff films Ethan Hawke found himself watching. His fascination
with them at the expense of his family tapped into that horror of being unable
to stop yourself from falling into the abyss as it were – as in fear of our own
obsessions and weaknesses - but this sequel relies on, Bughuul for scares, and
that is a mistake. Bughuul isn’t particularly scary: he just looks like an
extra from a Goth music video. And asking the kids to both (a) kill their
families in ingenious torture-porn fashion and (b) film themselves doing so in
the creepiest way possible produces remarkably coherent results. Luckily, Bughuul
seems to have a demonic editor to hand to craft these films with the cinematic
language of horror. Actually, the snuff movies have grown so convoluted that
one can only imagine the kids have been inspired by the likes of ‘Saw’. For example: how did one kid get
their whole family suspended above a crocodile pool and then filmed them just at the moment the crocodile attacked(did the croc wait for the appropriate moment,
giving the kid time to suspend his family?)? Is there an endless supply of
Super8 film stock - is there a supernatural supply? And why aren’t the kids scared of the ghosts that appear to
them while they are awake? Haven’t they seen ‘Insidious’? And how exactly does the ghostly threat work? Watch this snuff footage of a family
massacre or... we’ll massacre yours! If you’re looking for an exploration of
the accusation that horror content makes killers, this ain’t it.
The first ‘Sinister’ benefitted from keeping a lot
offstage and concentrating on the mystery: it wasn’t any great shakes, perhaps,
but it was a reasonable example of contemporary mainstream trends. It also
contained those snuff movies and one genuinely startling image of Hawke’s son
unfolding from a cardboard box during a “night terror”. It was able to work up
at least some creepiness. ‘Sinister 2’
shows everything and doesn’t dwell on how horrible the scenario is to make the
horror palpable. It plays things far safer than the original in that only those
it paints as the deserving get to die. And then it ends on the most desperate
and nonsensical final jump scare that is bound to make you (a) dismiss all that
went before out-of-hand, and/or (b) laugh. Or simply to confirm that it wasn’t
much more than rote in the first place.
believe such a story?” Liebermann (Lawrence Olivier) asks at one point. Well...
adaptation of Ira Levin’s novel goes globe-trotting, and stacks set-pieces and
villainy as if James Bond might pop up at any moment. The ingenious central
idea – cloning Hitler! – is full of morally challenging questions, yet when
this could have been a chilling and threatening film, it is simply an engaging
but silly thriller sci-fi. The premise wins brownie points for sheer absurdity,
but this is severely compromised by broad representations of nationalities and
some dodgy accents (“Do you not understand English, you arse?” in the most
snobbish and ridiculous London clipped affectation you can muster, for
instance). Of course, the cloning premise is perhaps not quite as unlikely as
it may have seemed in the Seventies, but there is little grey area here.
then there’s the showdown. The two old actors – Lawrence Olivier and Gregory
Peck, no less, bringing hints of mainstream respectability – set eyes on one
another, snarl and then start biting chunks out of one another until
bloodthirsty Dobermans break up the fight; then Hitler himself walks in, sees
the bloody mess and starts taking photographs. It’s a wonderfully over-the-top, grand guignol moment that’s worth the price of admission alone.
engaging enough actioner, but a missed opportunity and certainly of the era.
‘Casshern’ is a most frustrating film. It
looks incredible and the stills are beautiful. It often looks like a whacked-out
fashion shoot. But that's it. It has a weak sense of pacing, temporal
continuity and geography. It runs on an increasingly unengaging narrative
propped up with prolonged death scenes for characters we don't care about,
strung out on terminally tedious dialogue, trite moralising and eventually
imploding in an incoherent mess. All true suspense and action seems to be happening
elsewhere whilst we get to witness another bout of characters wandering around
one another spewing adolescent angst and Manga-style fortune cookie morals and
emotions. For ages. The action scenes are simply ‘Mortal Kombat’ outtakes, complete with inappropriate rock music.
Manga can be a great place for anarchic narratives on a huge, mythical scale –
mixing genres, styles, techniques, etc. – but ‘Casshern’ fails. It fails because it is desperately caught up in
its own faux-emotions at the expense of all else. If you cry at Hallmark cards,
or Yoda dying, you might find it moving. I think if you turned off the volume
and supplied your own soundtrack, it'll be a great watch.
Another failed adaptation of ‘The Turn of the Screw’, demonstrating
again what a fine balance of ambiguity, delusion and repression Henry James’
novel is. This version is contemporised, but this proves detrimental rather
then enlightening: despite impressive exteriors, this updated Bligh has no
atmosphere or eeriness (and there is little sense that the exteriors have
anything to do with the interiors). Elsewhere, the shoving of lesbian
titillation and highlighting of child abuse is as crass as if the governess was
made to stalk the empty hallways of Bligh with a strap-on. She is an obvious
head-case from the beginning, even before meeting the children, whom she then
subjects to endless art therapy. The film also has no idea what to do with its
apparent ghosts: they barely register, and a mark of what is so wrong and
clueless with this translation is how it resorts to Miles (Christian Olson) jump-scaring
Flora (Gabrielle Adam) in order to get its cheap shocks before ultimately
descending into slasher motifs for final chase sequence. Leelee Sobienski’s performance
as the governess gets increasingly embarrassing at more-or-less the same pace
as the film. As Miss Grose, only Tara Fitzgerald manages to step away from this fiasco with
dignity, despite a ridiculous scene where she is sent into a masturbatory
frenzy by playing the violin and incongruous electronic music. The novel is a
tricky one and there is nothing to be gained, not here anyway, by making modern
awareness and translations of sexuality as its calling card.
French film directed by Laurent Achard, based on Canadian Timothy
Findlay's novel ‘The Last of the Crazy
People’ (‘Le Dernier des fous’ a.k.a. ‘Demented’):
a coming-of-age story set in a dying little rural farmhouse where 10 year-old
Martin watches his family as it’s besieged by poverty, repression, isolation
and madness. Kind of. The trick upon reflection is that no one seems
legitimately, technically "mad", but rather beset by a fierce mixture
of despair and unfulfilled longing has driven some to apathy - the father - and
others to distraction - the mother and brother. And whatever Martin is
thinking, how he is filtering these experiences, we aren't too sure. Young Julien
Cochelin's face is impassive and ungiving, making Martin quite an abstraction;
it's a shock when a single tear quietly rolls down his cheek. His face remains
so blank that it could be considered non-acting. He wanders around, all elbows
and awkwardness, looking for morsels of affection. Around him, the adults give
brilliant performances that fall just short of indulgent, bringing out the real
tragedy of their inability to communicate successfully with one another. Martin
is the opposite of his brother, Didier (Pascal Cervo), whose emotions both good
and bad explode everywhere with the gusto of a wannabe poet. Dominique Reymond
is the pale, elegant reclusive mother, screaming the house down in the middle
of the night. Only the warmth of the maid keeps the family together.
The Gothic trimmings are always welcome, most glaringly the mother as
the Madwoman in the Attic and a sense of perpetual decay. It looks like a
provincial idyll, beautifully framed, leisurely paced so that small details of
the kitchen and the courtyard can be relished. Small gestures mean everything:
the boy at the table football nodding to the girl; mother's stare back at her
son so fixed, it looks like a freeze-frame. It's somewhere between the
bleakness of Hanake and the dour humour of ‘Koktebel’.
It is this that prevents the story from falling into the pornography of
wretchedness, although as soon as a gun is introduced, all mystery evaporates. A
gun is often cheap drama because you can tell pretty much how it's going to end
up as soon as you see one. And when it finishes as you thought, you realise
there was nothing new here, that no extra great leap was made, and that
beautifully judged as it was, that's a shame.
Nevertheless, I am a sucker for this kind of rural dystopia, and
although inferior to, for example, the thriller narrative of ‘I'm Not Scared’ or the chilling ‘Olivier, Olivier’, ‘The Last of the Crazy People’ succeeds as a minor but engrossing
One might imagine that a film that calls itself so grandly
after a continent might have something to say about its particular history, and
that this would not be dominated wholly by the romance of white protagonists.
Surely we are in trouble when a film called ‘Australia’ paints the aborigines
in such broad strokes that lean towards magic realism rather than their humanity?
The archetypes are all present and correct: we have the Magical Negro and the
Noble Savage, not only the Adorable and Cheeky Tyke. Perhaps, however, it is
hard to be offended by this when every character is so broadly drawn. Baz Luhrmann’s
film is not about anything other than making a big, CGI-assisted epic homage to
the old fashioned classic movie. We have Nicole Kidman in an initially highly
pinched and hammy performance, but one that is as uneven as the film itself so
that when she relaxes more, it is hard to discern if this is meant to be
character development or just a symptom of that unevenness. Then there is Hugh
Jackman, with his own accent, as a kind of cuddly Clint Eastwood: he is an
immensely appealing and warm performer, but all he can do here is coast. His
stereotype is to be the wild-man macho Aussie, the drover who answers to no
man, who represents the unprejudiced white man embedded in Aboriginal culture.
He says “Oh crikey,” a lot. It’s his catchphrase. Then we have Nullah, the
mixed race kid, but he is no Kipling scoundrel from which we can learn about
being caught between two worlds. He says cute things, mentions “cheeky bulls” a
lot and is generally appealingly played by Brendan Walters. But like all
characters, his reactions bend with the breeze of the plot and erratic scenes
rather than from any internal life.
Oh it is all very pretty to look
at, but it has no bearing on reality at all. This is a movie derived from
movies (and I say “movies” which is how I think specifically of Hollywood-style
escapism, rather than “film” which incorporates “movies”). It repeats its
catchphrases and appropriates liberally and somewhat shamelessly from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (!). A key example of
how the film forfeits any nod to realistic detail is in the way little Nullah
magically learns to play ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’, just out of thin air,
near enough as soon as he puts the harmonica to his lips for the first time and
having apparently heard Mrs. Boss (!) hum it badly the once. Oh, we are meant
to be moved and charmed, but it’s all built on nothing but whimsy and movie
affectation. That is, of course, not a bad thing in itself, but Luhrmann and
the screenplay - by Luhrmann, Stuart Beattie, Ronald Hardwood and Richard
Flanagan - leave the film with little of its own to offer. They trade in tropes that surely belong to those films of the past and can be considered and perhaps forgiven a little as such.
‘Australia’ reaches an ending around 110minutes in, but then it
goes on and on. There are no surprises to come, only that the scope becomes
even more epic with the intrusion of the war and, exponentially, the dialogue
becomes increasingly trite. The drama rolls along on clichés and therefore
watching becomes a passive, rote experience. We are meant to be reminded of
other classics, evidently, and perhaps we are meant to carry over affections
for them to ‘Australia’, but what
makes a genuine classic is what it does with its tropes. ‘Australia’ is pale imitation.