Sunday, 30 August 2015

FrightFest Day 3


·         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 round.

 

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 enjoyable.

 
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, funny.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

FrightFest 2015 Day 2


·         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 soundtrack).

 

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.

Friday, 28 August 2015

FrightFest 2015 Day 1

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).

The films:


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.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

FrightFest 2015




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 it goes….
 
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.”

Sinister 2

 
 Colin Foy, 2015, USA


Ciarán Foy’s 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 moment  where 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?

Speaking of 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.


Monday, 24 August 2015

The Boys From Brazil


 
Franklin J Schaffner, 1978, USA/UK

 
“Who would believe such a story?” Liebermann (Lawrence  Olivier) asks at one point. Well...

Schaffner’s 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.
 
But 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.

An engaging enough actioner, but a missed opportunity and certainly of the era.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Casshern


キャシャーン , Kazuaki Kiriya, 2004, Japan

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.

 

 


Sunday, 9 August 2015

In A Dark Place

 
Donato Rotunno, 2006, Luxembourg-UK

 
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.


Tuesday, 28 July 2015

The Last of the Crazy People



Laurent Archard, France, 2007

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 melodrama.

     

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Australia

 
 
Baz Lurhmann, 2008, Australia-USA-UK
 
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.