DEADLY VIRTUES (UK/Ned)
Directed by Ate de Jong
Written by Mark Rogers
Tom and Alison are doggy style in the throes of their Friday night sex when they are violently interrupted by an enigmatic Frenchman we later learn is called Aaron. He ties them up in elaborate rope binds and so, you think, begins another home invasion/torture porn flick. As the dust settles on the horror of the intrusion, a very different story unfolds than the one you’re expecting. Deadly Virtues is a genuine subversion of the home invasion sub-genre. Sure the husband, Tom, is trussed up in the bath like a pig ready for roasting and over the duration of a weekend he loses the odd digit and tooth, but it is cruel tactics by Aaron to coerce Alison into role playing the perfect wife to his temporary, caring, loving husband character. Rather than an escalation of vile and gruesome acts on two helpless victims, ‘Deadly Virtues’, via Aaron, chooses to psychologically experiment on Alison and ask questions about her relationship with Tom as much as what to do about Aaron.
It’s a delightful, suspense filled thriller. Edward Akrout (as Aaron) is great as the understated villain. He’s a cruel bastard, but he’s a smooth talking charmer too. The tension between him and Megan Maczko (as Alison) teeters on the edge of death to one of them as his actions and words taunt her mere existence. When we reach Monday, he slips out of their lives as seamlessly as he entered it – leaving deep, dark emotional scars behind that Tom and Alison can never recover. Strong performances, rounded characters and a tight screenplay by Mark Rogers mean you’re gripped from start to finish.
Written and directed by Fabrice Du Welz
Alleluia is the second opus in Fabrice Du Welz‘s Ardennes trilogy – the first was The Ordeal (2004). It’s a project deeply rooted in the Belgian director’s childhood memories of the Ardennes landscape. However, this hasn’t produced a film full of picture postcard nostalgia. Instead Du Welz shows us how human frailty and vulnerability can manifest itself in crazy psychotic behaviour. The story is a simple one. Gloria (Lola Dueñas) is a single mum who reluctantly goes on a date with Michel (Laurent Lucas) – a guy she met via an online dating service. Charming as he is in polite company, and as good as he is in bed, he turns out to be a serial seducer who takes money from those who fall for him. Heartbroken, but perversely besotted, Gloria tracks him down and, after a little show and tell about why they’re such messed up individuals, makes an offer he can’t refuse – find lonely widows and divorcees with healthy inheritances and together they will fleece them for everything.
It seems inspired by one of Francois Truffaut’s favourite movies – The Honeymoon Killers (1969). Shot on 16mm, Du Welz really stretches this old format to its very limits to achieve a uniform, grainy quality that adds to the troubling nature of the action on screen, and feels utterly unique in these days of pinpoint sharp HD digital. Consequently, there’s a very earthy, human quality to the involved performances of Duenas and Lucas as the functions of love, lust and jealousy are explored to breaking point. After each transgression they seem to be closer to each other as a result. However, the evil forces that drive both their selfish desires mean they can never be happy or trust anyone – let alone one another. Alleluia is an unrelenting, emotional odyssey that trades blows with the cerebral and visceral expectations of the audience to wind up with a truly unique horror film. Best film of Frightfest 2014 for this reviewer.
BLOOD MOON (UK)
Directed by Jeremy Wooding
Written by Alan Wightman
Here’s a novel combination for fans of British horror – a period western/werewolf film. A packed stage coach of: a newly wed Deputy Marshal and his wife, London Times Journalist, a priest and saloon owning woman are joined by an enigmatic gunslinger called Calhoon (Shaun Dooley). They get trapped, at their first pit stop, by a couple of career criminals. Although the threat of their bullets soon dissipates when it becomes clear a beast outside – a Skin Walker they call it – is stalking them all. There’s a dominance of British cast, but that’s not to say it doesn’t feel authentic – far from it – and token American, Corey Johnson, playing a tobacco spitting bad ass, is a joy to watch. Dooley is also excellent. He buries his usually strong Yorkshire dialect beneath the spit and sawdust drawl of a cheroot smoking cowboy to good effect. Australian born Anna Skellern is a convincing American too as the ballsy saloon owner. It’s not surprising though as Wightman provides them with lines to relish. What is more the many characters all enjoy subtle reveals about their true identity that keeps the film exciting throughout.
Blood Moon never takes itself too seriously. It is a cracking, gothic western B Movie with moments to be fearful for our heroes futures and times to enjoy dark laughs too. Certainly, turning the tables on the bad guys is a clever, neatly set up sequence and the scares that follow will make you jump.
LEMON TREE PASSAGE (Aus)
Directed by David Campbell
Co-written by David Campbell & Erica Brien
The text on the screen and YouTube footage tells us a ghostly figure haunts a certain stretch of road in Australia. Enter American backpackers Maya and sibling, Amelia and Toby. After a bout of scary stories around the campfire, they get taken to Lemon Tree Passage by local lads from the beach, Oscar and Geordie. Each of these characters is well drawn – none of them are horror film fodder earmarked for death.
Back at Geordie’s house we meet his brother, Sam. His introduction at the very start of the film establishes enough mystery and raises questions that aren’t immediately answered when we’re reacquainted at this juncture. Out on the road Maya doesn’t see the brightly lit phenomena that we the audience and everyone else in the car sees. That night she also has night terrors and Amelia wakes to find her inside the wardrobe. The following day they return to Lemon Tree Passage and bold Oscar stands in the road while the others drive by to see if he can witness the ghost at close quarters. He does, but goes missing in the process. The search for him leads to a litany of deaths amongst the group as Maya becomes possessed by someone trying to tell her something. This is complicated further by Geordie’s troubled brother, Sam, who is driven by voices in his head to hunt someone – maybe one of them – in the same bit of roadside forest.
The unexplained apparitions, people going missing and people winding up dead soon begins to reveal a true life tragedy caused by someone within the group that is much worse than any of the urban legends they shared on the beach. At times the film seems over-elaborate and fanciful for its own good – to the point where it appears Campbell is having so much fun bombarding the audience with craziness that he almost obscures the central premise in the process. Plus, the logic as to why some of characters have to die seems a little shaky too. They’re just niggles because the main narrative stays intact enough to provide for a satisfying denouement.
Written and Directed by Milan Todorovic
Story by Marko Backovic
Notorious horror bad boy A Serbian Film (2010) caused quite the storm when the local authority stopped Frightfest from showing it. Nymph is made by the Serbian director, Milan Todorovic (Zone Of The Dead, 2009). In comparison to its controversial cultural relative, and because it is shot on the sun-drenched coast of Montenegro, Nymph is a much milder horror experience. It’s the story of two American girls – Kelly (Kristina Klebe) and Lucy (Natalie Burn) – coming to Montenegro to reunite with an old college buddy Alex. While out on a boat trip with his fiance Yasmin and local man Boban to a forbidden island fort they discover a killer mermaid (an alternative title judging by IMDB).
Nymph guest stars the legendary Franco Nero – so kudos points for that casting. The locations are stunning and Backovic paints a picture, with the beautiful cast and expensive power boats, of an exotic and enticing part of the world. And when trapped within the island fort the flash light lit chase sequences in darkened corridors are the perfect playground for Todorovic to push claustrophobia and scares. That being said, Nymph is B movie grade action and relies heavily on a lengthy monologue from Nero’s seadog character to make sense of the story as a whole.
Despite the European location the language spoken by everyone is English. It clearly makes good business sense to have an eye on the American market when it comes to selling the film. However, it has been poorly developed and makes many scenes unintentionally funny with pointless, and/or unnatural sounding lines of dialogue from characters who would have been better off saying nothing at all. Even the Americans as described in the synopsis aren’t both American. Klebe certainly is, but the accent of Burn (The Expendables 3) holds firmly onto to her Kiev, Ukraine roots.
Fortunately, Burn loves the camera and Todorovic‘s camera loves her pouting and skimpy summer holiday clothes. Cynicism to one side, there’s a few surprise kills with what looks like a mini-anchor by a shadowy Guardian figure. In the wake of his death, the mermaid is forced to act for herself, reveal a monstrous side that’s prepared to battle with surviving members of the group. Nymph is a fun, old school horror film sprinkled with a little bit of 21st century glitz and glamour. It operates like a slasher film for more than half of it, but ends as a creature feature. No one at the local council was disturbed by the showing of this movie.
TRUTH OR DARE (USA)
Directed by Jessica Cameron
Written by Jessica Cameron & Jonathan Higgins
Jessica Cameron‘s directorial debut is one sick puppy of a film. Amoral in the extreme Truth Or Dare takes its name from the title of a YouTube-type viral smash hit show that is featured within the movie. During a talk show appearance, celebrating their online success and controversial death of one of the team, a crazy fan (Derik) is angered to discover it was all faked. Consequently, Derik stalks the three couples to their home and forces them to play ‘Truth Or Dare’ for real. He videos it and uploads it to give the ‘Truth Or Dare’ fans what they want – and lend himself the fame, notoriety and cache he projects onto the ‘Truth Or Dare’ team.
It starts off tame enough as truths reveal who out of the couples is really sleeping with who, but then it soon escalates to admissions of paedophilia, incest and sex changes – and that just the entree. Once Derik hits his stride he has them doing the most daring and despicable things to one another. To list them would spoil the natural evolution of sickness within Cameron and Higgins‘s tight script. Set in a single location it revels in the intimacy and claustrophobia that that constraint forced upon them. It’s a gross out, exploitative experience with nothing seemingly out of bounds – but it’s never too graphic, think the ear cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs done over and over – your mind’s eye has to keep filling in the sickening blanks. Cheap Thrills ( E.L. Katz, 2013) springs to mind too, but only if you can picture its crack addicted bastard off spring. If you never squirmed in your seat you mustn’t human.
X MOOR (UK)
Written and directed by Luke Hyams
An urban legend obsessed American couple – Georgia and Matt – are off to England to capture video footage that will prove the existence of a black panther that is believed to roam Exmoor and bag themselves a £25,000 prize. Their guide is enigmatic tracker, Fox. Armed with a sub-machine gun, he has decades of experience helping find and kill elusive beasts all over the globe.
Equipped with 40+ cameras they set up in dense woodland in the middle of the moor. To their horror they discover multiple dead bodies in their vicinity too. They’re not victims of a wild cat – unless it’s learnt to tie knots to bind their hands. The change in emphasis turns this hunt for a legendary beast into a slash’n’stalk film in the woods. Hyams exploits the grandeur of the Northern Ireland landscape that doubles for the south west of England. Sweeping shots across open moor land establish a wild, remote corner of Britain.
He also knows how to scare you. An early scene where Georgia is dragged into their camper van by a couple of hoodies will certainly make you drop your popcorn. The David Bellamy gag is a cracker. The story is fairly generic and none of the kills are particularly new or interesting. There’s an over reliance on Matt tripping up to isolate Georgia and Fox seemed too easy to kill for an expert tracker. With the addition of a surviving murder victim – Romanian prostitute Vanya for Georgia to contend with – and the killers child, X Moor‘s third act becomes convoluted and confusing. As a consequence the ending seems abrupt and tacked.
VHS: Viral (USA)
Directed By Gregg Bishop, Todd Lincoln, Aaron Moorhead, Marcel Sarmiento, Nacho Vigalondo
This is the third in a hugely popular modern day horror anthology series. It involves tales of a deranged illusionist, Dante The Great, and his magic cloak, a machine that opens a door to a parallel world and skaters fighting for their lives in a Mexican death ritual.
It features the talents of Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes), Marcel Sarmiento (ABCs of Death segment D is for Dogfight), Gregg Bishop (The Birds of Anger), Justin Bensonand Aaron Moorhead (Resolution), and Todd Lincoln (The Apparition).
Just like the previous two there is a wraparound story. It’s seemingly about people’s obsession with recording the next viral, but as it pops up between chapters it makes less and less sense. Crunching, static white noise punctuates a boyfriend videoing his girlfriend and escalates to an ice cream van/police helicopter chase across town and some sort of videodrome finale.
Best of the bunch was Vigalondo‘s preposterous parallel universe exploration. An amateur scientist opens up a door to a world where an identical version of himself exists. It’s a cute opening as the excited hobbyists giggle like school children for the first minute or so. They agree to swap universes for 15 minutes and while the normal world as we know it holds no mysteries, the new place is a dark satanic place where blimps with neon, inverted crosses patrol the skies, a bag of raw meat hangs in the middle of living room and the wife is about to get it on with two other guys. In the normal world she went to bed and is fast asleep. What’s revealed next is best left unspoilt, but safe to say it’s crude and rude.
The segments were all wildy entertaining thrill rides. The film makers really do embrace coming up with ingenious ways to play with this shorter, found footage format.
Originally published by Britflicks