Frightfest 2015: Day 2 Reviews

Britflicks’ Stuart Wright reports back from Day 2 at FrightFest with reviews of LANDMINE GOES CLICK!THE DIABOLICALAFTERDEATHHELLIONSWE ARE STILL HEREIIIBODYTHE SHELTERNEVER LET GOFINAL GIRL, JAMES WAN’S DEMONIC and ZOMBIE FIGHT CLUB.

LANDMINE GOES CLICK!

Director: Levan Bakhia. Cast: Sterling Knight, Spencer Locke, Kote Tolordava, Dean Geyer, Nana Kiknadze.  Georgia 2015. 100 mins.

In deepest, darkest Georgia (East Europe), the drama driving all the horror in this movie of two halves is established in the opening scene. Daniel stops his car and dives off into the bushes for a pee. He leaves his fiancé, Alicia, and best friend/best man Chris in the vehicle. Their conversation quickly turns to them cheating on him. Chris wants to confess and Alicia wants it forgotten. The tension is set. The three of them go for a mountain ramble and camp out. The following morning seems like relationship dramas are a thing of a past until Chris steps on a landmine. Daniel is soon out of the picture and leaves Alicia to save Chris. A local man walking his dog – Ilya – joins them and in order to help he makes increasingly vile and humiliating demands of Alicia that culminates in raping her. To avoid spoilers let’s say the sequence ends in tragedy for Chris, but he survives the landmine. Here the film takes a narrative turn that will take you by surprise as the second half of the film begins a fresh with Chris re-appearing as a man out for revenge. In a warped mirror image of what Ilya instigated, a emotionally empty Chris terrorizes him and his family. It’s morally wrong on many levels as the daughter and mother are oblivious to Ilya’s crimes. This ends in new tragedy and we’ve made little progress with Chris’s emotional state. It’s a hell of a descent from naively honest love cheat to ruthless killer.

THE DIABOLICAL

Alistair Legrand. Cast: Ali Larter, Patrick Fischler, Arjun Gupta, Tom Wright, Chloe Perrin. USA 2015. 86 mins.

Ali Larter (Clare from Resident Evil: Extinction and Afterlife) is a struggling single mum trying to fend of a supernatural entity that haunts her home. Her scientist boyfriend played by Arjun Gupta (Nurse Jackie) gets involved with solving the mystery and helps Larter and family uncover a massive corporate cock up from the future that is inevitably very close to home. This reveal is fantastic and inventive. However, the film labours under the weight of suppressing the truth of the situation and misleading the viewer to the point of tedium. While the unreliable narration is taking place the domestic drama between Larter and her troublesome son is the stuff of sub-Babadook parental nightmares. Unfortunately, not all of it really takes you to the horrific conclusion THE DIABOLICAL ends with. A shame because when you know the identity of the evil presence, that’s when Larter’s nightmare begins, but by then the film is over.

AFTERDEATH

Directors: Gez Medinger, Robin Schmidt. Cast: Miranda Raison, Sam Keeley, Daniella Kertesz, Elarica Gallacher, Lorna Nickson Brown. UK 88 mins.

Where do you go to when you die? That’s the question AFTERDEATH seeks to answer and director Gez Medinger unveils a unique vision of where we go before being sent to heaven or hell. The horrible nightmare of this place for the group of people who arrive there is slowly revealed and offers the notion that the journey to eternal happiness and joy is rigged against them. The main issue is that sin is unavoidable. Even thought crimes of lust and envy won’t get past the gatekeeper in this limbo land. Robyn (Miranda Raison) is the more astute of the five lost souls and believes if she solves the problems of where they are she can return to the land of the living. Oh if it was only that easy. Andrew Ellard’s script cleverly turns a screw on Robyn and co. to make things increasingly worse the more they work out what is going on and where they are.

In some senses AFTERDEATH posits the ultimate Monkey’s Paw type outcome. For devout Christians believing their living a life worthy of God, they may find Ellard’s twist in logic too chilling a concept to comprehend. For those living for today because they believe there is no tomorrow it could be equally jolting.

AAAAAAAAH!

Director: Steve Oram. Cast: Steve Oram, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Toyah Willcox, Noah Fielding, Julian Barratt. UK 2015. 80 mins.

AAAAAAAAH! is Steve Oram (the male half of the killer couple he and Alice Lowe created for Sightseers) feature length directorial debut and it’s far from an atypical movie. There’s no dialogue for starters. Everyone is reduced to gorilla grunts and gesticulations. However, as the cast are dressed in normal clothes AAAAAAAH! subverts expectations of the simplest everyday situations to create uncomfortable laughs out of a dark, absurd drama.

The surreal conceit is cleverly introduced like an Attenborough camera poking through the African jungle without narration. However, in Oram’s film it’s a locked frame staring into a South London patch of woodland as the director and Tom Meetan emerge out of the fauna and flora before resting on a fallen tree stump. It’s difficult to spot the animalistic tendencies at first, but it soon becomes clear that Meetan’s actions are one of deferment to Oram’s alpha male. Next we move to the main gorilla nest – Julian Rhind-Tutt and Toyah Wilcox’s house. This is the focal point of the story about the patriarch, played superbly by Julian Barratt, who was toppled from his position of power and now lives in the backyard feeding on Battenberg cake his daughter (Lucy Honigman) sneaks out to him. The Might Boosh reunion is complete with a cameo appearance from Noel Fielding as a clothes shop sales assistant. Reduced to such rudimentary actions and means of communication must have drained the cast and at times it borders on humiliating. Nevertheless, the trust in Oram’s vision is present in every scene. None more so than the stand out supporting performance by Holli Dempsey (Vicky from Ricky Gervais’s Derek) as one of Honigman’s friends.

AAAAAAAAH! is a difficult watch, but given there is a story to follow is far from unwatchable. It is brimming ideas and details that only repeat viewings will enable you to spot all of them.

Matt Wicks’ cinematography is invasive and stark. There’s a realness to what he frames – like the cameras have been snuck in while the actors were not looking. Yet there’s some stylistic moments that mimic the spaghetti western like the fast cut to close up on eyes to accentuate intense thoughts or reactions by the characters. A powerful tool given there’s no words to explain what’s going on.

AAAAAAAAH! is both bold and eccentric – early Lars Von Trier dogme films or Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth (2009) spring to mind. At the same time it is nothing like them too. Sightseers wonderfully vivid characterization meant it drew comparisons with Mike Leigh’s Nuts In May more than other killer couple horror films. By sticking to his own absurd internal logic Oram’s first film as a writer/director pulls off Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills spliced with Eric Sykes Rhubarb in a nightmarish nature documentary.

HELLIONS

Director: Bruce McDonald. Cast: Chloe Rose, Robert Patrick, Rachel Wilson, Rossif Sutherland, Luke Bilyk. Canada 2015. 82 mins.

HELLIONS is director Bruce McDonald‘s follow up to the much loved ‘Pontypool’ (2008). Here he teams up with ‘The Colony’ (2013) scribe Pascal Trottier. Dora (Chloe Rose) is a high school girl making plans for Halloween with boyfriend Jace (Luke Bilyk). A routine visit to the doctors tells her she’s pregnant. Who is the father? She’s not saying. At home her mother and baby brother leave her to go trick or treating. Dressed as an angel in Dr Marten boots she waits and waits for a boyfriend who never turns up. Menacing kids in sackcloth masks don’t take no for an answer when she tells them she’s out of candy. The more they knock at her door, the more they represent a threat to Dora before she is finally thrown into a strange netherworld that signals an absurd series of set pieces that suggest Dora’s unwillingness to embrace pregnancy is a sin and is punishable by these devilish children coming for her baby as part of ancient Halloween tradition. The strange world she finds herself fighting to make sense of appears to take from Norse mythology. Maybe it’s the limbo land of Muspelheim. Certainly the runes that appear written in her home would suggest as much. McDonald’s direction is assured. He gets the absolute most out of the limited options he faces for the majority of action that takes place in the house. The peculiar colouring once Dora leaves our world is akin to Storm Thorgerson’s ‘Houses Of The Holy’ album sleeve.

The nature of the initial action is fight as Dora takes on the demon kids who plague her. Eventually she teams up with local police officer Corman (Robert Patrick) who appears to be the only other survivor. They explore beyond her home and there’s a repeated motif of Dora being ceremonial carried across a pumpkin field. During these moments Hellions looks more like an experimental pop video. There are big issues at play and the logic of what’s occurring isn’t always entirely clear, but valuing God’s creation and the miracle of life are near the surface of what’s trying to be conveyed. Consequently it loses it way in the final third as it brings us back to where it started. If Dora’s character grows on you then the way the film resolves itself isn’t really satisfactory. However, if you’re happy to be bamboozled with creepy visual treats that take obtuse turns in story logic then HELLIONS is for you.

WE ARE STILL HERE

Director: Ted Geoghegan. Cast: Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Lisa Marie, Larry Fessenden, Monte Markham. USA 2015. 83 mins.

Ted Geohegan’s directorial debut unapologetically wears its genre influences on its sleeve. He describes WE ARE STILL HERE as MR James meets Lucio Fulci.

Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul (Andrew Sensening) are escaping the city in search of a new life following a fatal car accident which took their son – Bobby. Anne is still grieving and when she senses a supernatural presence she assumes it is her dead child. “Moving away from the city is not the same as moving away from your memories,” she tells her cynical husband. A surprise visit from neighbours sees them fall over their tongues in order to rapidly explain to Anne and Paul the dark cloud of history that hangs over their new home – formerly a funeral parlour run by the Dagma family. They sold the dead bodies to science and buried empty coffins until townsfolk found out and chased them away. They are slipped a note that instructs them to ‘Get Out!’ They stay. Which is fatal for everyone else who enters the home as the true mystery of Dagma family home unravels.

‘House By The Cemetery’ (1981) is a major influence on a large part of the story. A baseball mysteriously rolling down the cellar steps gives a big knowing nod to Peter Medak’s ‘The Changeling’ (1980) and the charred ghosts that are haunting Anne and Paul are based on the pirate ghosts in John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980). These influences also give a good indication of the time period WE ARE STILL HERE is set in. Crampton is superbly downbeat and somber as the grieving mother. Whereas Lisa Marie (Sleepy Hollow) and horror’s hardy perennial Larry Fessenden are a revelation as clairvoyant hippies. At first they’re an emotional crutch for Anne to lean on before becoming the human vehicle that brings all the evil to the surface. Geohegan bucks the modern horror trend of cheap jump scares by employing measured, lingering shots that force you to look at some things a little longer than you’d want to.  It’s a stylistic choice that puts him fully in control when he has to ramp up the pace as the film flies towards the finale. This level of confidence and elegance make him one to watch out for at future Frightfests. Like Swedish garage rock throw backs The Hives, WE ARE STILL HERE proves that if you’re going to draw directly on past greats then make sure you re-appropriate what you love with real passion. By accident or by design Geohegan’s unique voice breaks through too.

 

 

III

Director: Pavel Khvaleev. Cast: Polina Davydova, Lyubov Ignatushko, Evgeniy Gagarin. Russia 2015. 89 mins. 

An unknown disease plagues a small East European town. Sisters Ayia and Mirra, still mourning the death of their mother, are forced to stay when Mirra is struck down herself. With help from the local parish priest, Father Herman, Ayia comes across a book that defies conventional religion and wisdom. She learns a way to investigate Mirra’s subconscious mind and discover what’s really killing her.

From the very start of III there’s a fairy tale quality to the film and the Christian God is at the heart of the drama. Ayia wants to believe and Mirra has no faith. The suggestion is that without it you are vulnerable to death. On the eve of her mother dying Mirra tells Father Herman: “God doesn’t care!” After her funeral he tries to explain the nature of life and the eternal soul to Ayia. He says: “God didn’t create death … and he takes no joy from the demise of the living.” These and other brief exchanges of doubt in God’s omnipresence offer some clues as to the big theological themes being investigated. However, once Ayia takes the plunge into Mirra’s sub-conscious, III descends into the nightmare world of the non-believers immortal soul. There she sees ugliness, devilish creatures and bleakness. Regardless, it’s an elegant film with a deft touch at tackling religious and philosophical questions without getting preachy. It dares to suggest that not believing doesn’t kill off the soul and when your body dies it is free to live on in your sub-conscious. Equally, it dares to give us a priest who willing to accept additional spirituality into his religious life that’s outside his core set of beliefs.

III begins as a brooding metaphysical exploration into the power of God and slowly Ayia discovers the strength within to raise a defiant fist to such a binary notion of her faith.

BODY

Directors: Dan Berk & Robert Olsen. Cast: Helen Rogers, Alexandra Turshen, Lauren Molina, Adam Cornelius, Larry Fessenden. USA 2015. 75 mins.

Body is the simplest of stories. Make a bad choice and then another… all that follows is incrementally worse decisions that corner ordinary people into taking horrific measures to resolve back to somewhere near to normality. That’s what happens to three young women – Cali, Holly and Mel – after they sneak into a vacant home during the Christmas holidays while the owners are away. Cali is driving this misadventure, she tells them it’s her uncle’s house and he’s cool with her dropping by. Holly and Mel are a bit nervous at first but once the booze flows they are more than ready to party. A trip to the toilet reveals a series of family photographs of an Asian family. This forces Cali to admit this isn’t her uncle’s place – she used to babysit for them. But Holly and Mel do not have time to get too angry because another person enters the home. They hide hoping they’ll go. Impatient they make a run for it and cross paths with Arthur (Larry Fessenden) on the stairs. There’s a struggle and he falls down the steps and breaks his back – he’s dead. Led by Cali they conspire to make Arthur’s corpse into an out of control rapist who they killed in self-defence. Holly and Mel are resistant and the frayed edges of their friendship are tugged at until the whole fabric of what bonded them is pulled apart. There key plot points that escalate the dilemma further and further. Their revised solutions only serve to make the three women implicate themselves even more. It’s a very real drama that proves accidents plus lies do not make the truth of the situation go away.

 

 

THE SHELTER

Director: John Fallon. Cast: Michael Paré, Lauren Alexandra, Rachel G. Whittle, Amy Wickenheiser, Gayle James. Canada 2015. 76 mins.

God? He’s the good guy… right? Not according to The Shelter’s writer/director John Fallon(and founder of Arrowinthehead.com). His film takes us on the self-righteous journey of an anonymous town’s returning hobo – Thomas (played by Michael Pare). He’s indignant. Been away for five years to everywhere and nowhere. He’s a vessel of a human being and if you cross him he’ll knock you out and wash the violence down with hard liquor. Pare is excellent at rolling with the inescapable punches and kicks. His character is hardboiled like a Dashiell Hammett creation – living for the moment and fearing the future without the common sense to do anything about it. Yet we soon know there’s a dark shadow cast over him. It’s the guilt he’s suppressed about what he did or did not do to those closest to him. Like Book of Job from the bible, Thomas is tested through supernatural signs that lead him to an emotional place in his heart he’s learnt to hide from. It’s an uncomfortable watch as real become unreal, but because it’s what Thomas desires he goes with the flow. And then the faucet of all that he wanted is turned off.

Now THE SHELTER takes a sinister turn; teaching our anti-hero a lesson that will push him to make the ultimate life/death decision. One you might argue his immortal soul took when the incident that haunts him originally happened. God’s not explicitly mentioned, but even a lapsed Catholic or staunch atheist will get the feeling going into the final act and after the credits roll that someone, not of this world, can and will put you out of your misery… if you’ve given up. THE SHELTER broods on the edges of hope, but like all falls from grace, rock bottom is as high as Thomas will ever get and this story rubs him into the dirt like a discarded cigarette.

NEVER LET GO

Director: Howard J. Ford. Cast: Angela Dixon, Rami Nasr, Nigel Whitmey, Lisa Eichhorn, Velibor Topic, Darcie Lincoln, Heather Peace, Sarah Perles, Sanita Simms, Glenn Salvage, Samantha Bolter, Michael Xavier. UK 2015. 93 mins.

At the heart of this thriller is a powerhouse performance from lead actor, Angela Dixon. Dixon plays Lisa, a holidaying American single parent whose young child is abducted on a beach, possibly in North Africa. As the story unfolds, it reveals a vile industry in child abduction.

This is grim subject matter but writer/director Howard J Ford’s sensitive handling of the theme helps elevate the film above the shallow or formulaic. Combined with Dixon’s turbo-charged performance, the result is an impressive, fast-paced drama, supported by Imran Ahmad’s atmospheric score. The location shots are superbly filmed, particularly within the teeming streets where Lisa initially pursues the abductors.

Ford shapes an interesting emphasis by weaving a strong female perspective into the narrative. Lisa is no powerless victim. She ferociously battles her way through the film, embodying a resolute refusal to accept defeat. Elsewhere, the story highlights female reaction to Lisa’s plight – a US security agent, a local detective, two girls in a café and a terrorised woman caught up in the abductions all feature. It’s a welcome change from male orientated conventions.

At times, the specific conspiracy behind the abduction of Lisa’s child feels over complex. The film’s grave overall theme is powerful enough in itself to carry the story right through to its dramatic conclusion. Nevertheless, this is a dynamic take on the genre, driven by Dixon’s formidable performance.

Review by Steve Burniston

FINAL GIRL

Director: Tyler Shields. Cast: Abigail Breslin, Wes Bentley, Alexander Ludwig, Logan Huffman, Cameron Bright. USA 2015. 85 mins.

Tyler Shields‘ directorial debut FINAL GIRL proves a highly predictable, yet enjoyable thriller/horror. It begins with William (Wes Bentley, American Beauty), recruiting Veronica (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine). Both have but one thing in common, they had relatives murdered. Veronica is tasked with the challenge of murdering a group of young men, and is trained by William to become a human weapon.

One hugely positive aspect of FINAL GIRL is direction and scene composition. It was shot by a photographer and anyone who sees the film would infer that from its beautifully shot sequences. It’s almost like watching a Fincher film – shots always on a tripod, low lighting, and a strong female character.

However, what makes FINAL GIRL stand out the most is the cast. Everyone in the film brings something different and necessary to the table. Bentley conveys so much with so little, he needs all but slithers of dialogue, and small movements with his eyes to communicate with the audience (like he does in American Beauty). The group of boys, or the “pack of wolves” as they’re described, bear uncanny similarities to the droogs in “A Clockwork Orange”. There are a few moments where “Final Girl” reminds you of the Stanley Kubrick classic.

At its very core this is a film about human nature and the animalistic aspects of it. The forest setting ensures the lines between good and bad are blurred – the characters are literally animals hunting each other. FINAL GIRL is thrilling, predictable, but its scene composition and fascinating portrayals of psychopaths make it a treat.

Review by Steve Burniston

JAMES WAN’S DEMONIC

Director: Will Canon. Cast: Maria Bello, Frank Grillo, Cody Horn, Dustin Milligan. Megan Park. USA 2015. 83 mins.

Radio news reports and newspaper clippings over the open credits tell us about the Livingston murders before landing us right on the doorstep of the Livingston house with a neighbour investigating a disturbance. He sees blood and calls the police. The first to arrive is overworked, under resourced Detective Mark Lewis (Mark Grillo). He finds dead body after dead body in this dark creepy house before stumbling across one survivor – the first of many jump scares to have you leaping out of your seat. Director Will Canon is sparing with these frights. Relying instead on the impending doom and tension flowing from the intriguing story of murderous possession that emerges via a clever jigsaw puzzle of shakycam flashback, real time action and remnants of documentary surveillance. John is the survivor. He claims to be unable to remember anything, but through clues the police salvage from hard drive archives and interrogation by police psychologist Dr Elizabeth Klein (Maria Bello) he opens up about how he came to be at the house with a group of supernatural investigators who are trying to help him get to the bottom of nightmare visions he’s having and as a bonus make a documentary where they capture spirits on camera. This team includes his girlfriend and for added conflict her asshole of an ex-boyfriend who is played with plenty of spite and envy by Eurotrip’s Scott Mechlowicz. With the trail of dead bodies and his girlfriend and Mechlowicz missing all fingers point to John for heinous crimes, but what eventually emerges is much more satisfying and surprising than who is guilty and who is not. Grillo’s hardboiled detective and Bello’s cynical psychologist are not going to believe what they hear, but when they see it with their own eyes its already too late. This James Wan branded horror film lives up to its billing and then some.

ZOMBIE FIGHT CLUB

Director: Joe Chien. Cast: Andy On, Jessica Cambensy, Michael Wong, Terence Yin, Abby Fung. Hong Kong 2014. 95 mins.

Before getting into details about how bad this splatter sequel to Chien’s Zombie 108 (2012) is, lets start with the title. Zombie – Fight – Club. Three simple words that say so much, but only relate to the last 30 minutes of this ridiculously awful assembly of badly thought out story and complete lack of appreciation of what the zombie sub-genre is all about. We’re told zombies destroy humanity. Yet we get no sense of the human loss at any stage of the film. It just lunges from set piece to set piece. The hour-long prologue to ZOMBIE FIGHT CLUB uses fast-paced, sub The Raid’ action scenes to mask over a narrative that has no idea where it’s going and why.

There’s bad CGI… Lots of it! Atrocious aping of American gangster stereotypes: men in basketball gear and chunky chains dealing drugs and hip hop honeys needlessly tottering around in their underwear. In fact, misogyny is near the surface of most scenes involving a man and woman in them. Rape is just rough sex in ZOMBIE FIGHT CLUB’s world. There’s dodgy police pawing over pre-pubescent girls – who knew this could lead to the creation of the dark overlord (the harmless father of said girls) in the post-zombie apocalypse. We’re thrown into ZOMBIE FIGHT CLUB – a completely different story universe – an hour in without any rhyme or reason. There’s no segue, no expectation of it. Just badly translated text on the screen to bring the audience up to speed with the transformation of dear old dad. And yet there’s some cinematic magic among this madness. Early on the cut from a sex scene to frying bacon in a pan was inspired.

ZOMBIE FIGHT CLUB is not bold or visceral enough to be loved/loathed as a nasty, exploitation flick. When trying to be tender it’s adolescent in its understanding of human emotions. Ultimately, it fails to appreciate that even the trash aesthetic requires some thought and consideration to transcend its bawdiness. ZOMBIE FIGHT CLUB is just handfuls of mud chucked at a wall hoping some of it will stick.

Stuart Wright

Originally published Britflicks

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About Stuart Wright

Screenwriter, Podcast Host, Journalist, LFC, Horror, Leyton
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