Discovery Screen 1 – The Borderlands
The Borderlands concerns a sleepy hamlet somewhere in the south west of England. The local priest, Father Crellick, low on congregation, has witnessed some miracles, and has invited the Vatican’s special investigation team to prove or disapprove what he believes is happening at the hand of God. The team has a non-believer in its ranks – Gray – played by the effervescent Robin Hill (writer and star of Down Terrace). He’s been hired for tech support on this latest mission and cleverly, from a found footage point of view, provides everyone with a head cam as well as the static cameras for the church they’re monitoring. Gray is not what Deacon, played by George Kennedy, needs right now. He’s a man worn down by a lifetime of miracle busting and Gray is the consummate newbie who is keen to impress with his kit and fresh eyed enthusiasm. Just as they are forging what looks like a working relationship Father Mark arrives – leader of the team. He’s officious, wants to quickly prove no miracle has taken place and get out of there. Deacon shares some of these sentiments, but they are very different people and that helps to cement the strong bond growing between himself and Gray. Cynics together Mark and Deacon go about the early stages in order to prove the miracle is fake, but what they find at the church grows more and more sinister by the day. Armed with the church records and a journal written by the founder (circa 1260) Deacon starts piecing together a rotten history of the site that uncovers that maybe it’s not miracles that Father Crellick is witnessing, but some malevolent force awoken from a prolonged slumber. Local kids mock their work in a very gruesome fashion. Later on customers of the only pub in the village make their angry feelings known to Gray and Kennedy – this investigation just isn’t welcome. As tensions run high with what the investigation is finding and the suicide of Father Crellick, Deacon, fuelled by guilt from past work, becomes more irrational, impulsive and ultimately a danger to Mark and Gray. The headcams plus static cameras make for an easy watch compared to the usual shakey cam of found footage films. The dialogue is sharp – certainly where Robin Hill is concerned. He brings a lot of light to the seething darkness brooding inside Deacon’s and Mark’s heads. He also provides the face of real human fear as Deacon takes things too far and finds much more than he bargained for.
The Borderlands is a neat take on local history that time has conveniently abandoned by the church in order to protect everyone from a truth they no longer want to discuss or rekindle. 3.5/5
Mike Tack’s ‘Turn Off Your Bloody Phone’ is one of the best i-dents of the five days. He transforms himself from disgruntled audience member to Pinhead in his ode to Hellraiser short that ends with a spin on a famous line from the self-same movie: “I’ll tear your phone apart.”
This was followed by a two very special exclusives for Frightfest. The first was a preview of a new documentary – Future Shock: The Story of 2000AD. A film Britflicks.com was introduced to when we had Sean Hogan on the podcast earlier this month to talk about the DVD release of Little Deaths.
Final exclusive of Frightfest 14th was Paul Davis’s follow up to last year’s short film – Him Indoors – about an agoraphobic serial killer. Called The Body he billed his new film as “unpleasant and humorous” as opposed to either horror or funny. Sticking with subverting the serial killer theme, The Body, takes you on an evening out with a murderer who is dragging a wrapped up corpse (The Body). Halloween revellers think it’s part of an elaborate, well thought out costume choice by our killer, played by Alfie Allen, Needless to say the people he attracts the closest attention from meet the same fate as the body they’re so drawn to. 2.5/5
Banshee Chapter gets my vote for scariest film of Film4Frightfest 14th. It delves into the murky historical facts of the infamous MK ULTRA, mind control, US military programme of the 70s. It starts with Michael McMillan (writer of Hills Have Eyes II, 2007) as James Hirsch, the long lost college friend of fearless reporter, Anne Roland (Katia Winter – Nadia in Dexter’s final series). He foolishly experiments with a secret government drug – he got from friends in Colorado – and inexplicably disappears while being filmed. His hapless cameraman is hauled in front of the police as chief suspect, but within 48 hours he disappears too. A combination of journalism and unrequited love compels Roland to find Hirsch’s body. Along the way she dupes counter culture throwback Thomas Blackburn into being her sidekick. He’s a Hunter S Thompson/Ted Nugent type renegade writer: drinks too much, smokes too much, loves his guns and canes his drugs. Hell it’s still 1974 in his mind. Ted Levine revels in this rebel without a cause role – a far cry from the police and military types you’ll be used to seeing him play. Roland’s search moves fast. She starts out with natural shock and awe at the temerity of successive US governments inducing fear and paranoia in unsuspecting human guinea pigs. She’s then so far in she is unable to stop lest she doesn’t find out what happened to her friend. A surprised Blackburn comments to her on her unerring tenacity: “You don’t scare easy do you?”
The impending doom is good. Because of the experimentation with drugs element you’re never quite sure of real vs unreal and the presence of a shortwave radio signal is genuinely clever prop to create tension in scenes. It’s a real mixed media treat too. Writer/director Blair Erickson uses real archive footage of politicians and fabricated VHS tapes of experiments to ensure he shows, not tells, the audience all about the MK ULTRA programme. By the end of the film all that context fades away as Roland’s search leads her to the notorious ‘Chamber 5’. Deep underground at an old fallout shelter in the desert she must meet her fears head on to destroy the source of the evil.
This is an intelligent horror movie that uses a plausible conspiracy, builds fiction into it and delivers the scares in such a way you’re never quite ready for the next one. Make no mistake, The Banshee Chapter will have you on edge. 4/5
Main screen – ODD THOMAS
Odd Thomas is an adaption of a Dean Koontz novel. It is also a bit of light relief in terms of the usual horrifying, scary content you might expect from Film4Frightfest. OT is a short-order cook with clairvoyant powers. He uses them to help police solve murders when the lost spirits of the dead come to him to reveal their killers. The dark side of his power is the sight of Bodecs. OT has learnt that these ugly demon creatures represent deaths to come and the more of them OT sees the more deaths he should expect – right now he can see lots buzzing round the head of a new man in town. Meanwhile he dreams of people in black and red bowling shirts getting murdered, but finds no links until a waitress at his diner mentions a nightmare she’d had with the same clothing motif. OT uses his special talent, with some basic detective skills, to build and build the film into a surprise race against the clock to save the lives of 100s of towns people. The post-modern tone is very much Buffy’s slickness meets the deductive prowess of TV’s Columbo. There’s lots of voiceover to keep you informed on the plot and theories of our amateur sleuth. It’s a technique that is tirelessly used throughout the film, but for the most part it felt like it was imparting the layers of information they just couldn’t show on screen that were needed to understand what the hell was going on. The ending was a twist too far for some and caused either consternation amongst the cynics or a few tears to flo w amongst the more emotional Frightfesters. 2/5
Main screen – BIG BAD WOLVES
Shuffling onto the stage comes co-directors and co-writers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado to introduce their new film – Big Bad Wolves – under the glare of a packed Empire Screen 1 and their own Israeli media. As such they bring a number of cast and crew to celebrate with them too. This truly is a momentous occasion. The third ever Hebrew horror film is actually closing the biggest horror/genre film festival in Europe. Who knew a two year period they could climb from Discovery Screen darlings – with 2011’s Rabies – to showcasing the event. Well done Aharon and Navot.
The film, according to them, is revenge on the parents who scare their children with fairy tales of wolves when what they’re really talking about is paedophiles. They translated that ambition into a police investigation thriller about a child murderer. The police have their prime suspect, but no real evidence and he’s not for spilling beans. So, they beat him up, badly, but still he pleads his innocence. A headless victim is left in a park to taunt their lack of real progress and show them who is boss. Video footage of the rough house interrogation techniques makes it onto youtube and disgraces, Miki, the lea d detective – played by Steve Carrell look-a-like Lior Ashkenazi. He has his badge taken off him, but with the captain’s tacit approval to start a lone wolf investigation as a civilian. This unorthodox approach crosses paths with, Gidi, the father of the murdered child – played superbly by Tzahi Grad. Trapped at Gidi’s house in a sound proofed basement with supposed killer paedophile, Eli, he chooses to torture him with Gidi to find the location of his daughters head. This escalates to farce at times – shades of Coen Brothers are all over this movie – as Gidi’s simple plan is constantly interrupted by his mobile phone ringing – usually his mom checking in on her 45 year old son. It’s amazing how they find the laughs in such a dire situation, but they do. Eventually, Miki gets sucked into Eli’s patter and as most reasoned cops would do, he begins to have his doubts about Eli’s guilt. Gidi on the other hand is determined to get a confession, find the missing head and kill Eli come what may. Eli and Miki form an unlikely alliance to try to escape. This inevitably leads to a number of good twists and turns in the tale that either: adds to farcical dark humour or stretches the intrigue to breaking point as a sub-plot you’ve seen happen in front of your eyes isn’t quite true and the real revenge story unfurling in Big Bad Wolves is a long way from what you will ever suspect. It keeps you guessing right up to the bitter end. By the time you’ve worked it out, it’s already too late.
Judging by the appreciative laugh, gasps and applause this went down gangbusters with the Frightfest crowd. We can only wait to find out what they do next – they suggested a spaghetti western: “Once Upon Time In Palestine”. Sounds brilliant. For now, Big Bad Wolves is more than an excellent follow up on the promise of their first film, Rabies, and rumours are abound of an American remake in the offing already. 4.5/5
With that resounding thumbs up, for the closing movie, it just remains to say to Alan Jones, Ian Rattray, Paul McEvoy and Greg Day – Thank you from Britflicks.com for another great Film4Frightfest. The Darkside of Cinema never seemed so wide and varied as it did in its 14th year.
Originally published at http://britflicks.azurewebsites.net/blog.aspx?blogID=381