FrightFest 2014 Day 4 Reviews

OPEN WINDOWS (USA)

Written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo

Elijah Wood stars as Nick Chambers, the webmaster of JillGoddard-caught.com – the first and best internet resource for all things Goddard. Chambers has won a dinner date with Goddard as part of a round of pre-publicity for her latest movie – ‘Dark Sky: The Third Wave’. Soon after completing his video address to the organiser, his computer is interrupted by a mysterious English person, calling himself Court. He claims to be associated with the Dark Sky website and is here to tell him that Goddard has cancelled the dinner date. Using the magic of wifi and computers they hack into her phone and discover she is off to continue an affair with her agent. What starts out a little innocent revenge slowly, but surely becomes a high stakes game of manipulation and eventually coercion by Court to commit criminal acts and hunt down Goddard. This is further complicated the presence of a group of hackers from Paris and a faceless super hacker called Nevada.

It all gets a bit silly on the use of technology to see what it going on in the world. The film is viewed entirely through CCTV, webcams and phones. It’s not quite found footage, but it’s close. The main visual is Chambers’ desktop. For a short film it would’ve been novel, but for a feature, sliding across a laptop display and viewing many open windows loses its appeal. There’s a warning message in here somewhere about the pervasive nature of internet or is it a finger wagging tale about online obsessives who creep about the web creating unofficial websites to beautiful women. Towards the finale it gets far too convoluted and silly for its own good, and relies on Mission Impossible style ghost protocol to enable Vigalondo to explain what has happened. Nevertheless, for the most part it’s as entertaining and thrilling, as it is ridiculous and implausible.

Discovery #1

DREW: THE MAN BEHIND THE POSTER

 DREW: THE MAN BEHIND THE POSTER (USA)
Directed by Erik Sharkey

The description is simple enough – A documentary on legendary movie-poster artist Drew Struzan. You know his work, hell you probably love his work. He’s created so much movie memorabilia he’s arguably defined a generation of film with his paint brush: Star WarsRaiders Of The Lost ArkBack To The FutureFirst BloodBig Trouble In Little ChinaPolice AcademyMuppet movies etc. Drew is a modest, gentle sounding man and personality-wise a far cry from the bombastic Hollywood world he occupies. Thankfully, the documentary is a reflection of him rather than movie business. Sure there are lots of superstar faces – Steven SpielbergGeorge LucasMichael J Fox and Guillermo delToro – waxing lyrical about what he means to them, but each time the camera returns to Drew the documentary takes a chill pill.

The story begins with him sneaking into art classes he couldn’t afford to attend, selling his work to students to make ends meet, living on the breadline with a wife and child to feed and at the same time having to cross roads that every artist faces – what to do to earn a living as an artist. Drew’s intermediate step before movie posters was album sleeves – Sabbath Bloody Sabbath anyone? From this very public forum he got spotted via poster ads for Alice Cooper‘s Welcome To My Nightmare… from there a movie poster career was born and the documentary charts the rise and rise of a largely unseen, but much loved icon of film.

There’s twists and turn along the way. It would have been revelatory to name names in the section about getting ripped off, but Drew’s delight in coming out on top was actually enough. Then there’s the awkward press junket clip where he shakes hands with Harrison Ford – a man he’s painted more times than he’s met (Drew has a full Indiana Jones outfit at home to adopt poses in). Unlike his artwork there’s no immediacy to this film. Instead you are given time, be patient people, to get to know a man many have heard of, but rarely seen.

Faults

FAULTS (USA)

Directed and written by Riley Stearns

Ansel Roth is a disgraced and morally bankrupt cult deprogrammer who is pulled back from the brink of jacking it all in by a desperate couple who pay him to abduct and deprogram their daughter Claire – she’s fallen in with a new organisation calling themselves Faults. Ansel’s controlled process is confined largely to a couple of second floor motel rooms – mom and pop are just an adjoining door away. Unfortunately, Ansel, rather than his subject, is finding it hard to focus on the job at hand. His former manager is demanding money owed and is using threats of violence to ensure he pays up. This exploitative relationship exposes a greater vulnerability in Ansel, than the deprogramming ever does in Claire. Consequently, the power base of their relationship shifts from him to her as Claire draws on the principles of Faults to sooth, seduce and ultimately fire Ansel up to be the strong, vengeful man he needs to be.

Riley Stearns debut feature revels in the claustrophobia of the limited locations to slowly unveil a number of satisfying twists. And with the use of unusual characterisation Stearns combines the unorthodox indie charm of say Charlie Kaufman or Todd Solandz with the twisting ratchet of suspense and tension you’d associate with traditional horror movies. Plus, masterful performances from the likes of Leland Orser and Mary Elizabeth Wanstead mean it’s constantly captivating. Faults is a genuinely intriguing dark drama.

Discovery #1 

Doc of the Dead

DOC OF THE DEAD (USA)

Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe

Written by Chad Herschberger, Alexandre O. Philippe

Not to be confused, as this reviewer did when he originally scanned the list of Frightfest 2014 films, with Document Of The Dead (1985). No this is a new zombie documentary. Starting off with a whistle stop tour of the origins – White Zombie (1932) is the where it all began according to Doc Of The Dead. We then flash forward to the Night Of The Living Dead – unquestionably why zombie films, comics and TV programmes are made to this day. Seems though that not re-applying for the films copyright did as much for its ubiquity as the quality of the cinema experience.

Romero‘s career has been defined by the zombie and Dawn Of The Dead and Day Of The Dead get plenty of airtime via Tom Savini and Sherman Howard (Bub from Dawn Of The Dead). So do some of the more contemporary names: Max Brooks, author of World War Z. key figures associated with The Walking TV Series and Shaun Of The Dead star Simon Pegg – the latter’s film is identified as the second most important zombie film after Romero’s ‘Night Of The Living Dead’ by one talking head. It’s entirely USA/UK centric. There’s not even a passing mention of say Lucio Fulci‘s Zombie Flesh Eaters. Which seems a striking omission when a director of porno zombie spoofs gets to be part of the discussion.

There’s a funny separation and misunderstanding between creators of zombie content and the fans of zombie content who dress up and take part in zombie walks. The former, on the whole don’t seem to get why anyone would bother. The doc felt a little too light hearted at times and skated over some really important points raised about satire, social commentary and race and gender politics. Although you’ve got to snigger when a dumb nuclear bunker salesman finds time to attack liberals in a discussion about a hypothetical zombie apocalypse.

Among The Living

 AMONG THE LIVING (Fra)

Directed by Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo

Among The Living is from the makers of Livid (2011) and Inside (2007). This time they bring their French sensibilities to the slasher film. It starts with an explosive scene where a good for nothing husband, Isaac, surprisingly survives a baseball beating from his pregnant wife – a brief appearance by Beatrice Dalle – before she takes her own life with a knife to her baby filled stomach. Isaac skips town with his traumatised son – Klarence – and the attention shifts to rural France where three fourteen year old tearaways – Victor, Dan and Tom – are up to no good. While on the run for setting fire to a barn they visit a disused film studio set. Here we are reunited with Isaac and Klarence – now a six foot clown masked monster – as they bring home a bound a gagged woman they’ve kidnapped. The boys seeing this are spotted by Isaac and Klarence and they run for dear life as the masked monster gives chase as they manage to escape.

Here’s where the stalk’n’slash element kicks in as our man/child is let loose to kill the three boys. Dan and Tom are dispatched without too much fuss or on screen violence. Given the impact of the opening scene, it’s a surprising change in ferocity. Maury and Bustillo have decided to show a father beat up his child rather than Klarence kill the offending father. Consequently, it a slasher film with fewer interesting kills on camera than deaths in the overall movie. The finale takes place at Victor’s house and having met so much resistance spills over to the abandoned studio.

It’s never absolutely clear what the relationship is between the opening scene and the subsequent murder spree. Among The Living might not be as blood thirsty or tough enough for the purist slasher fan, but it does have it moments and all the characters, including the teenage boys, are well drawn and feel part of a real world versus stages in a film plot.

Discovery #1

Discovery #1 LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR MOREAU (UK/USA)

LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR MOREAU (UK/USA)

Directed by David Gregory

Richard Stanley wrote and directed cyberpunk cult classic Hardware (1990). Drawing on his connections made making pop promos it has Iggy PopLemmy and Carl McCoy in supporting roles and a soundtrack that nods to the fledgling industrial music scene that would soon grab the mainstream as much as grunge. Next was supernatural horror Dust Devil (1992). He headed out to the African continent to shoot this fantastical, hitchiking serial killer movie in Namibia. His growing reputation as an auteur plus a script adaptation of HG Wells’ Island Of Dr Moreau got picked up by New Line and this young, eccentric writer/director, in his wide brimmed hat, jumped to a studio picture and handling A List actors.

This documentary charts the mini rise and absolute fall of Stanley the film maker. It’s a bonkers tale that leaves you with lots of sympathy for the earnest film maker caught in the cross fire of when making movies goes bad. If the career elevation was too good to be true, so was the casting – Marlon Brando attached himself and what self-respecting director wouldn’t want to work with Brando. Especially when he likes you so much – the Hollywood star would, while it lasted, be Stanley’s main ally when caught up in studio politics. Unfortunately, Brando is not box office so they add James Woods and Bruce Willis to the cast. Willis gets divorced from Demi Moore and has to drop out. Stanley takes a trip to Japan to meet hot property Val Kilmer. There’s no connection and Stanley explains he felt there was an arrogance there. Not surprisingly as Kilmer insisted that his set time be reduced by 40% or he’s leaving. Stanley explains he couldn’t afford  for that happen because the studio would shut down the film if they lose Kilmer. His creative solution is to offer him the role promised to Woods.

And so starts the slippery slope in movie making folklore. Many extras, heads of department, cast and studio executives give frank opinions on what they saw unfold during the making of this film. The audience is exposed to the honest truth and how the crazy world of big budget films can end up being a warzone of actors’ egos, the show must go on and a fired director who is smuggled onto set dressed as a background artist. You couldn’t make it up.

The Samurai

THE SAMURAI (Ger)

Written and directed by Till Kleinert

The Samurai centres on Jakob (Michel Diercks), a small town policeman, who is obsessed by the wolves in the surrounding forests. He leaves bags of meat to lure them away from the populated areas. When a mysterious parcel arrives he is instructed to deliver it at the dead of night to a man in a dress – The Samurai (Pit Bukowski). Inside the package is a katana (samurai sword). There begins an extravagant battle of wills where the uptight copper is goaded by The Samurai. His motives are never quite made clear. It would seem he wants Jakob to come out of himself, lose the shackles of small town life and take charge of his exploited, boring existent – his parents are dead and he looks after his grandmother. Perhaps the biggest clue is in their opening exchanges are where Jakob warns The Samurai against cross dressing because the locals won’t take kindly to it. This seems to spark the horror that unfolds as the transvestite swordsman fearlessly marauds through the town leading Jakob on a merry dance both figuratively and literally.

There’s a beautiful elegance to everything Bukowski does as The Samurai. There’s fire in those eyes, a stark contrast the wide eyed innocence of Diercks performance as Jakob. Muddled in with the rampaging is a seduction of kinds. Each fight scene between the two is a very physical man on man wrestle. Then again The Samurai could easily be read as Jakob’s dark alter ego. What is much easier to comprehend is what you see on the screen as these two characters fight it out. The Samurai has some of the most beautiful cinematography that you’re ever likely to see at Frightfest. A stand out moment or two is where The Samurai has just decapitated a biker gang. Kleinert holds on the devastation – the blood and gore is exaggerated under an orangey hue. He cuts to Jakob, the viewer of this scene and then returns our attention to the exact same shot of the dead bikers. Only now The Samurai reveals himself to be in the heart of the picture as he opens up his crouched body like petals on a flower. The Samurai is an enchanting horror fairy tale that blends homoeroticism with absurdism.

Discovery #1 

HOUSE AT THE END OF TIME

HOUSE AT THE END OF TIME, THE (Ven)

Written and directed by Alejandro Hidalgo

This Venezuelan ghost story is mesmerising. Hidalgo throws you right into the action as a terrified mother wakes up with a scar down her cheek, discovers the dead body of her husband and watches her son disappear into the darkness, snatched by an unseen force. Convicted of their murders, we see her carted off to prison. The film fast forwards thirty years to the present day as the mother is released from prison to serve the rest of her life under house arrest. From here a chilling and gripping yarn about a mysterious house unfolds.

Hidalgo cleverly straddles the thirty year period without ever falling over his own story logic. When the loose ends start being drawn together you will lose your sense of dread and open up to a magical, heart-warming tale about a mother’s boundless love for her child. The denouement is as satisfying and revelatory as those infamous closing moments of The Sixth Sense. But this is much more than seeing dead people. Once Hollywood gets wind of this they’ll be queuing up for the rights to do the English language remake. Here’s hoping they take Hidalgo along for the ride. This is one of those diamonds in the Discovery Screen rough you’ll be glad you left your main screen post to see.

Discovery #2 

Another

ANOTHER (USA)

Directed and written by Jason Bognacki

Another is a peculiar film about demonic possession. We start off with the birth of a child at a satanic ritual. People are dressed in ceremonial cloaks, a baby is held aloft and then we fast forward 18 years where we meet the beautiful Jordyn (played by Ana Paula Redding) celebrating her birthday with what appears to be a reluctant guardian – her Aunt Ruth – and a couple of friends.  Aunt Ruth sees something that scares her in Jordyn’s eyes and tries but fails to take her own life. Not surprisingly this episode turns Jordyn’s world upside down as she stumbles awkwardly onto her dark origins.

Explanations for Aunt Ruth’s drastic actions are slowly revealed via the haunting presence of her dead mother. Poorly applied after effects expose the low budget of the film at times, but you get used to them as you try to follow what can sometimes be a surreal, evil provenance for Jordyn. Who plays for what side – light or dark – is teased out for a neat reveal; and Redding’s performance is heightened by: some artsy directorial choices and a wigged out edit that overlays imagery to the point that real, dreams and supernatural blur into one. What makes it most appealing is that ‘Another’ has arthouse ambitions very close to its genre heart.

Stuart Wright

Originally from Britflicks

Advertisements

About Stuart Wright

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s