Frightfest 2013 Day 3 Reviews

Discovery Screen 2 – DAYLIGHT
A trio of choices is what makes Frightfest so beguiling for horror fans and when the Discovery Screens were added World Premieres like yesterdays Daylight are exactly the type of film you hope to unearth. So word of mouth got Britflicks up early for this repeat showing. Daylight is a found footage film – haters get over it – but one with such an interesting tale to tell you’ll be picking the bones out of what happens with those who caught it too. Child Protection Services (CPS) go to the town of Daylight to investigate reports of child abuse. What they find at first is circumstantial evidence of bad parenting and perceptions of religious foul play – resurrecting notions of the satanic ritual abuse moral panic of the 1980s. They are like a dog with bone with all the adults they meet. Everyone seems to be under suspicion. However, when they begin to think they’re interventions will save the abused children of Daylight, their problems escalate into the realm of demonic possession as hauntings from past lives envelope the CPS and their concepts of the real world give way to somewhere much more terrfying. 3.5/5

Discovery Screen 1 – WILLOW CREEK
Willow Creek is my second found footage film of the day. But before the screening begins Bobcat Goldthwait is upfront and he’s taking the pee pee out of Frightfest organiser Ian Rattray. He tells us he’s nick named him Bubbles – because (tongue-in-cheek) he’s the friendliest man in genre film festivals. He also talks about the inspiration and thought processes going into producing a found footage movie too. He says he never understands the concept of imaginary film maker editing found footage into a movie. He wonders out loud what the conversation between the director and the victim’s family might go like: “I’m sorry your daughter got raped, but if we cut it right and put some music to it, it’ll be a movie.”

Willow Creek certainly isn’t that type of found footage. Like Paranormal Diaries: Clophill, it’s a real place and the majority of the people featured are real too. It’s the story of Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) and Jim (Bryce Johnson) driving off to the hills to hopefully bag themselves Big Foot footage to rival the late 60s Pattison/Giblin footage – most people with only a passing interest in the topic will be aware of. The townsfolk of Willow Creek are accommodating and help provide the context for Jim’s quest; because Kelly is a sceptic and really only here to be with her boyfriend. Ignoring warnings from the Bob Dylan of the Big Foot world, Tom Yamarone, they drive out to the wilderness. There they are met by one last harbinger of doom who physically threatens to make them go back to the town – they by pass him and set up camp somewhere near the creek in the Pattison/Giblin footage. Thus sealing their fate and leaving us this film as their evidence. The chemistry between Gilmore and Johnson is very natural and they’re very likeable too. Johnson’s take on the wannabe documentary film maker is more roving regional TV reporter than Nick Broomfield or Michael Moore. Goldthwait even uses the bad takes as well as the good ones to let us in on the amateur at work here. Flash forward to the night time and Jim wakes up to noises outside. There follows a tense 19 minute, single frame take, that covers a gamut of emotions through the terror on their faces. It is surprisingly engrossing for such a static sceen and far from self-indugent or lazy as it would have been in the wrong directorial hands and bad actors. If Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity are the benchmark for this type of film, then Willow Creek is up there as one of the most compelling examples of what you can still do with the found footage sub-genre. 4/5

This is a big daft film. Even the cast acknowledge it in the introduction with Paul McEvoy. Lead actor Charlie Bewley, who plays the main man of the film, Steiner, tells the audience if they’re Viking history Nazis leave now because HOTGs is like Swiss cheese – full of holes in terms of the real story of Vikings in the UK. Not being too familiar with the real story Britflicks will judge HOTGs on it’s own merits. It is billed as a young man transforms into a brutal warrior, but given the open sequence sees Steiner and co. wielding their broad swords, hammers and hatchets, he seems pretty prepared for the subsequent fights ahead. The story loosely revolves around King Bagsecg who lies dying as Saxon forces conspire to take him and his army down. He calls on his son, Steiner, to take on a mission to find more Viking forces for him to lead and overcome the Christian threat. There’s a little power struggle at the top because the man who would be king when Bagsecg dies, Harald (Finlay Robertson) feels snubbed by this surprise plan and sets about his own underhand plan to get rid of Steiner via an alliance with the Saxons. Because the character of Steiner seems complete from the start each battle he meets along his journey across the epically shot Welsh and Scottish countryside feels like you’re watching a video game rather than film. They’re thrilling and inventive scenes in isolation, but do become formulaic in the end. The ‘bad guys’ get a hell of a beating and the ‘good guys’ move onto the next challenge a little weaker or as the film progresses a man or two light. The dialogue throws away any ideas of the period and at times it’s perversely urbane for the setting; other times it’s just downright laughable. Ivan Kaye is boisterous, like a young Brian Blessed, as Ivar, the hulk of a sexual predator, who holds the key to Steiner’s crew finding their way. He describes his current political status with the Vikings as “Persona non grata,” adding for clarity, “That’s Latin.”

At the end of his quest Steiner finds much more than he bargained for and must fight his naïve assumptions about family loyalty as much as he must fight for his life to survive. It’s always violent and brutal enough to keep gorehounds happy, but lacks the emotional content to make you really care who lives and who dies. 2.5/5

Discovery Screen 1 – CANNON FODDER
Within only two years since the first ever Israeli horror hit Frightfest the third now finds its way onto the bill. Written, directed and produced by Eitan Gafny – a student of Aharon Keshales (Rabies and Big Bad Wolves) – Cannon Fodder is his feature debut. It’s a zombie flick in the vein of 28 Days Later laboratory experiments gone wrong, but without the raging dead to match. A crack team of Israeli Special Ops, led by civilian government contractor Doron, have been sent on a mission to Lebanon to find, and bring back alive, one of the leaders of Hezbollah. However, what they find is an outbreak of the walking dead and the realisation they’ve been sent on a suicide mission. Pillaging tropes and ideas from Predators and Aliens it tries to be fast paced through action, but unfortunately the story is unable to keep up. There’s a really interesting tale in here somewhere, but all too often attempts to explore Israel vs the Hezbollah are either clunkily done through dialogue or lost to scenes of dead people chomping on flesh. For example, in the face of hoards of walking dead the jock dunderhead special ops character says to the Hezbollah woman desperate to help them lay down bombs, “No terrorist bullshit.” She replies: “Only if you manage to keep yourself in your pants… Rambo.” For zombie film fans there’s plenty of visceral gore, but the scares are non-existent. 2/5

Main Screen – NO ONE LIVES
Reading the production notes for this film you’d be mistaken for thinking it’s a wrestling cash in – WWE Studios produced it. However, nothing could be further from the truth. This is the bloody relentless evil twin of Die Hard – such is the wit and wonder of David Cohen’s screenplay and the performance of Welshman Luke Evans (Bard the Bowman in The Hobbit) as the enigmatic ‘Driver’. In one sequence the chased down victim asks him why is he doing this? And in a style reminiscent of John McClane he quips: “To keep fit.” The story centres around the news of missing teenage girl, Emma, thought dead months ago – new evidence suggests she’s still alive and the hunt for her is renewed. Evans and his girlfriend are car jacked by Flynn, a rogue redneck gang member trying to the right the wrong of an earlier mess up. This sparks a chain of events that’s going to keep you coming back for more. Firstly, Evans reveals himself to be a man you do not handcuff to a chair, and secondly, the mystery of Emma slowly comes right back round and slaps you in the face. The kills are ingenious and often messy. Every fight sequence has just another twist, turn or reversal. And there’s an ear scene to rival Reservoir Dogs too. Hate to say it, but this is a franchise in the making. 4/5

Discovery Screen 1 – REWIND THIS!
Josh Johnson celebration of the videocassette is an enchanting documentary about the first revolution in home entertainment and the new breed of collector now fighting to archive this redundant technology before some films are lost forever. Let’s face it the, late 30s and older, Frightfest crowd will have been weaned on VHS. Seduced by exotic box artwork and ludicrous titles – not to mention bootlegs of films banned under the Video Recording Act 1984. And so Johnson takes us on an enthusiastic journey through the shifting sands in domestic technology, the faux war between Betamax and VHS – the latter won simply because the tapes ran for longer (who knew it was that simple). In fact Johnson takes us through seventies, eighties and all the way to History of Violence – the last mass-produced film to be packaged and sold on videocassette. In the true originators corner he talks to the likes of Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case, Brain Damage), Japanese actress Shako Nakahera (Visitor Q) former porno actor Bill Margold. You get the consumers who became filmmakers like Jason Eisener (Hobo with A Shotgun). Finally, there are the aficionados, the people keeping video cassette alive to this day. In particular are the contributions from Dimitri Sumakis (Everything is Terrible) and Zack Carlson (author of Destroy All Movies). A cultural line has been drawn in the sand with this documentary and it would seem not everyone is giving up on the videocassette just yet. 4/5

Discovery Screen 2 – THE DESERT
The Desert is set in a bleak dystopian future where zombie-like undead people outnumber the healthy – although how we reached this point is never explained nor explored. Instead what we do is join a trio of survivors – Ana, Axel and Jonathan – to witness the intensity of living on top of each other, in the confines of a fortified home after society has fallen. Together they demonstrate that surviving is far from the preferred option. The action is melodramatic rather than the expected genre tropes of being chased by zombies down the street as you try to move from point A to point B. I exaggerate for effect, and should add that this is an Argentinian movie, but imagine if Mike Leigh or Ken Loach did a horror film. Their anger simmers just beneath the surface and manifests itself in ways that is true to their character. Correspondingly, they are also vulnerable to the eventuality that two people will gang up on the one. It’s genuinely fascinating how early pragmatic arrangements made to ensure their survival crumble when trust and respect are replaced by an individual fear and paranoia. An unusual secret love affair is born out of their video diary room, the scorned party falls apart and one the three makes the ultimate sacrifice for the sanctity of the remaining two. This is pitch perfect for the Discovery Screen and Britflicks looks forward to more from German born writer/director Christoph Behl. 4/5

Cheap Thrills is the perfect midnight movie for a Saturday night Frightfest crowd. Pat Healy (Innkeepers) plays dirt poor family man, Craig. He leaves his last dollar with his wife and kid as he sets off for work. Things get worse when he’s fired before the day is through. In the dive bar he goes to drown his sorrows he bumps into a forgotten school friend, now a hard man debt collector, Vince (Ethan Embry). This pleasant surprise turns into an evening of dare and double dare you when they join unlikely newlyweds – middle aged, coke-fuelled sprite Colin (Anchorman’s David Koechner) and sexy young blond doll Audrey (the other half of Innkeepers – Amanda Fuller). It starts with Colin betting Craig and Vince $200 they can’t get a lone woman sitting at the bar so pissed she slaps their face. Vince wins this first instalment of easy money that grows eventually into a bet for $250,000 as the tasks escalate in terms of personal danger and laws they break. Dark humour is at the root of the set-up, as you will no doubt mentally take part in deciding whether the money offered would be enough for you to do what’s being demanded. There’s a tipping point where it ceases to be fun and Craig and Vince’s desperate need for money exposes them are increasingly selfish and ruthless. Koechner is superb in this untypically straight role. The pace is unrelenting and the nagging questions of why and how far will they have to go are saved for the closing, morally bankrupt finale. 4/5

Discovery Screen 1 – ON TENDER HOOKS
Within ten minutes you’ll know whether staying out late to catch On Tender Hooks was the right decision. That’s a rough estimate, but in this documentary about human suspension, the sight of hooks into flesh and stretched skin really exposes your perceived tolerance to pain and how judgemental you might be towards the people putting their body through its paces. After the shock has died down you begin to ignore the activity and focus in on what people are saying to London based director, Kate Shenton. The big question is why do people go through a process of pain to reach the point of pleasure. We learn that for some participants it’s emotional cleansing and for others it’s just fun, but no one person speaking on camera has the same reason or experience. Endorphins must be an incredibly powerful drug that’s for sure. Overall, Shenton’s film leaves you with a feeling that the human suspension community is littered with lots of compassion, humility and love. There’s no greater example than the footage of the director herself having a go for the first, and only time. She weeps tears of fear, anticipation and then joy. 3/5


About Stuart Wright

Screenwriter, Podcast Host, Journalist, LFC, Horror, Leyton
This entry was posted in Britflicks, Frightfest Coverage. Bookmark the permalink.

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