Britflicks’ Stuart Wright reports back from Day 3 at FrightFest with reviews of BAIT, FUTURE SHOCK! THE STORY OF 2000AD, FRANKENSTEIN, THE NIGHTMARE, HANGMAN, SHUT IN, ESTRANGED, RABID DOGS, DEATHGASM, SUN CHOKE, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB and SOME KIND OF HATE.
Director: Dominic Brunt. Cast: Victoria Smurfit, Joanne Mitchell, Jonathan Slinger, Rula Lenska, Adam Fogerty. UK 2015. 84 mins.
BAIT is Dominic Brunt’s follow up to his zombie flick Before Dawn – a discovery screen sensation at 2013’s Frightfest. His new film is a much more nastier affair and arguably gives rise to the finest bad guy of Frightfest 2015 – Lancashire loan shark Jeremy (Jonathan Slinger). The story follows the plight of two glamorous market stall traders – Bex and Dawn. Stuck in a northern town rut, they’ve got modest business ambitions – raise the finance to re start up their café in a property of their own. For one reason or another – usually Dawn’s (Joanne Mitchell) nervousness making her too honest – they keep being refused a loan from the bank. Enter the charming white knight Jeremy who sweeps gullible Dawn off her feet with a little flattery and a glass of wine. Or so he seems until the morning after the night before when she and Bex (Victoria Smurfit) realize they’ve been duped into borrowing £10,000 at a ridiculous rate of interest. They refuse his offer, but he holds them to it and as long as they don’t repay him, he gets increasingly violent and depraved in his demands on them to pay him back.
Slinger plays the villain to perfection. Early teasers of his terrifyingly persuasive methods are seen by the audience but not by Bex and Dawn. So when they resist we know he must assert his authority. He exploits them for sex and makes them live in fear for their own safety – and their loved ones. Jeremy is a big fish in a small pond and can do what he wants. Made easier by having the police in his back pocket too. The bleak Yorkshire town setting and the brutal nature of the violence remind you of Shane Meadows Dead Man’s Shoes (2004). And like its East Midlands predecessor BAIT uses a dark sense of humour to convey some of the harsh realities of post-industrial provincial UK. Just when you think Bex and Dawn are finished these two helpless women turn to desperate ideas of revenge and lure Jeremy to a showdown fight to the death. The horror of modern capitalism gets one hell of a beating in a finale that evokes the moral values of Michael Winner’s original Death Wish (1975) ending. There’s nothing subtle about BAIT and that’s what makes it such a satisfying watch.
FUTURE SHOCK! THE STORY OF 2000AD
Director: Paul Goodwin. Cast: Pat Mills, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Kevin O’Neill, David Bishop. UK 2015. 105 mins.
2000AD is often portrayed as a footnote in the story of the graphic novel, but never has it been the star of the show. Goodwin’s documentary corrects this anomaly and in doing so asserts the cultural significance of a UK weekly comic versus management fuckery that never understood the creativity and genius they had on their payroll. 2000AD founder Pat Mills is the star of the show. Almost four decades contributing he’s still very much kicking against the pricks who ever doubted him. Opposite to his angry energy is Neil Gaiman. He offers a more measured response to the artistry in the comic storytelling – quite emotional at times. Grant Morrison’s affection for 2000AD is apparent with every word of praise he has for the other contributors and what he was able to achieve while working for it.
Repeated recollections from all of the old guard is that their publisher never knew what it was they were doing and whenever they got involved they would be a spanner in the works. Whereas when Vertigo Comics founder Karen Berger came to the UK in 1987 on a hunt for talent – it was 2000AD where she found writers and artists who would go on to change the face of the comics industry – Alan Moore, Morrison, Gaiman et al. Yet still the 2000AD phenomena was ill-judged by those who were responsible for growing it. Goodwin cleverly uses the two Judge Dredd films to showcase how wrong (Stallone’s 1995 version) and right (Alex Garland’s 2012 version) other people can be when translating the magic on the page to the big screen.
A big surprise for the casual observer might be that 2000AD is still being published today and interviews with the current publisher, Jason Kingsley, illustrate perfectly why it’s still able to flourish – he’s a fan himself and knows he’s a custodian of something rather than its owner. Opposite to his view of the comic are the hilarious attempts in the mid-nineties to bring 2000AD to a broader public – aping the Loaded, lad-mag template is probably one of the dumbest ideas you’ll hear.
There’s still a lot of love for 2000AD, even those who haven’t worked on it in years, and what Goodwin and co have captured in this documentary ensures those closest to the magic got to tell their side of the story for once.
Director: Bernard Rose. Cast: Xavier Samuel, Danny Huston, Carrie-Anne Moss, Tony Todd, Maya Erskine. USA 2015. 89 mins.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is thrown head first into the 21st century by Candyman director Bernard Rose. The action starts at the moment the scientist’s creation takes his first breath of air. From that point on this film is about Australian actor Xavier Samuel’s fantastic performance as the Monster. Barely recognisable from his last Frightfest outing as Brent in The Loved Ones (2009), he gives his all to a character, who despite his adult form, has the cognitive skills of a one year old.
In his early and closing moments he is ably supported by American Horror Story’s (s3) killer jazz player Danny Huston and Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity from The Matrix). These he recognises as mama and papa. Rejected by those that made him for a skin rash and ugly growths he is slung away like trash. After a violent clash with the pathologist he escapes into the real world. Here Rose’s screenplay playfully subverts expectations of Frankenstein movies of yore. Most obvious is the classic girl and the pond scene. 21st century style mob justice a la the towns people storming Frankenstein’s castle is administered but not before the Monster beats a cops face to a pulp. The police find Moss’s ID badge and call her in. She claims to not recognise him and so leaves Frankenstein to fend for himself. Left for dead by a vengeful officer he stumbles upon his first friend – a blind, blues playing hobo played by Candyman himself Tony Todd. For the time this relationship lasts the Monster gets to hone some human traits. Todd’s blindness means he doesn’t judge him, but Samuel’s pained eyes make you see a child frightened by the world at large. He just wants to be loved. That’s never going to happen as Frankenstein’s exhausting and emotional journey brings him back to makers in the research facility. Themes of what it is to be human and the cruelty of man are explored and observed from Frankenstein’s point of view. Unfortunately, his binary responses of fight or flight are never going to help him integrate into today’s society.
Therefore, the conclusion to this sorry tale of playing God in the 21st still means Frankenstein is always doomed to end fatally, rather than joyfully.
Director: Rodney Ascher. Cast: Yatoya Toy, Siegfried Peters, Steven Yvette, Age Wilson. USA 2015. 82 mins.
Rodney Ascher’s compelling, often disturbing documentary gives light to the condition of sleep paralysis. As told through some harrowing interviews with eight people, sleep paralysis can variously include severe bodily seizures and visitations from spectral, shadowy figures.
A key feature of the film is Ascher’s decision to give central focus to the interviewees, partly by attempting to recreate some of their experiences, using actors. The film accords a strong voice to the interviewees, an approach that Ascher further emphasises by giving no air space or analytical role to medical experts. It’s a bold style that lends the film a deeply personal tone and intensifies the terrifying nature of the recounted experiences. The overall result is frequently unsettling and shocking.
Ascher, whose other work includes Room 237, an examination of some interpretations surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, also explores the incidence of sleep paralysis. THE NIGHTMARE includes indications that comparable experiences have been reported in diverse cultures across the world: this suggests there may be deeply embedded cultural factors that could at least explain the characteristics of the condition, if not its actual cause.
However, at the heart of the interviewees’ torment is a traumatic mystery with no comprehensive explanation or solution. As the film concludes, we know we have been peering into vast unknown domains of the human psyche. Skilfully edited, compassionately presented and with a brooding soundtrack from Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson, this is powerful, troubling filmmaking.
Review by Steve Burniston
Director: Adam Mason. Cast: Jeremy Sisto, Kate Ashfield, Ryan Simpkins, Ty Simpkins, Eric Michael Cole. USA 2015. 85 mins.
British director Adam Mason moves the found footage sub-genre forward with a new twist on the surveillance horror angle – a la Marc Evans groundbreaking movie My Little Eye (2002). Big difference is that our hapless victims do not know they’re the stars of the show. HANGMAN flips the usual conceit of piecing together a horrifying story from the hero’s point of view and makes the bad guy – Jimmy – the driver of all the action.
Inspired by news reports of a spate of burglaries by homeless people who fed, washed themselves and lived in the attics of houses until they were discovered, Mason confronts us with the question what if the intruder set up cameras in every room, monitored your every move and walked around your home while you slept. Shaun Of The Dead’s Kate Ashfieldis the increasingly paranoid mum who enjoys the most screen time, but her skill as an actress is to always be oblivious to the cameras. Her story arc is never about trying to find Jimmy. She is just living her life and we’re getting to see it implode. It’s a genuinely creepy concept and the complete lack of awareness by the family of four to the invisible eyes that watch sustains their vulnerability from start to finish.
The pace is never rushed, but the tension is ever present as Jimmy assaults the family’s Californian suburban sensibilities with brutal efficiency. First he teases them – like a mischievous ghost might. He then escalates his activities to divide and conquer. Being the villain’s eyes is an unnerving experience and because he is mute for almost the entirety of the film, you do not get to know him or understand his motivations. It’s a waiting game and the game is when does he decide to reveal his murderous presence. Hangman is an inspired, yet logical, evolutionary step for the found footage sub-genre. Horror always does best when it subverts expectations. With this film Mason achieves that goal with ease.
Director: Adam Schindler. Cast: Beth Riesgraf, Martin Starr, Jack Kesy, Rory Culkin, Leticia Jimenez. USA 2015. 90 mins.
Shut In is a contained thriller with more than a few stings in the tail. It’s a difficult film to review without spoiling the fun of watching it for the first time. The set up is simple. An agoraphobic Anna (Beth Riesgraf) is looking after her dying, cancer ridden Brother, Conrad. Helping make light of her endless days holed up in a massive Victorian mansion is Dan, the gag a minute meals on wheels guy. Anna is meek. She’s dreading the day her Conrad dies and refuses to entertain the lawyer for his estate when she turns up with papers to sign. Inevitably he dies and she inherits more money than she knows what to do with. She even tries to palm some of it off on Dan. He doesn’t feel good about taking it. On the day of Conrad’s funeral Anna is unable to leave the house and while dealing with the guilt she is subjected to a home invasion.
Now is the time to bring the problem of her agoraphobia explicitly to the fore. Chased by her attackers she freezes at the door. Perry (Martin Starr), the dark witted, raven bearded career criminal is amazed to see her not run for her life. Here’s where the underestimating of the victim is cemented at the home invaders peril. Without going into details about the why or the how, Anna uses her home to trap the men who threatened her life and while subjecting them to their just deserts reveals a much darker cloud hanging over her life than the recent death of her brother.
Riesgraf is the driving force behind SHUT IN. Her performance is almost sleight of hand as she seamlessly shifts from victim to aggressor while clinging on to the tortured soul in everything she does. Starr as one of the three invaders is also good value. His sardonic barbs are always dripping with aggression and intent. This is a clever, witty and intriguing tale. Best to go into SHUT IN knowing as little as possible and with this review I’ve probably said too much.
Director: Adam Levins. Cast: James Cosmo, Amy Manson, Nora-Jane Noone, James Lance, Craig Conway. UK 2015. 88 mins.
January (Amy Manson) has a near fatal accident while travelling in South America. Suffering from amnesia and needing time to recover her boyfriend takes her back to the UK… to her family. A family that she’s been away from for more than six years. A family who, to his surprise, live in a remote country pile that’s cut off from civilisation. A family who at best are eccentric, but for the large part are just plain weird. That’s the set up for ESTRANGED .
Her overbearing father (James Cosmo) and apologetic mother (Eileen Nicholas) uphold outdated, prudish rules. Her sister (Nora-Jane Noone) struggles to make an emotional connection with her and the brother (James Lance) challenges her to give him a blow job. It’s all very confusing, but in her fragile mental state this odd behaviour serves to trigger memories that explain why she left them in the first place. What starts out as a mysterious awakenings story turns into a woman must escape plot before twisting into something that resembles Gosford Park the revenge horror movie. Like the Robert Altman film, the butler holds the key. Strong performances from all the supporting cast make for a peculiar and tense experience for our trapped woman.
Being cut off from the real world, ESTRANGED has an unusual other worldliness quality as a result of January’s fight to rebuild her memories. Normal rules of mobile phones, radio, TV and the internet do not apply. It labours the point in the first half of ESTRANGED, but once the truth starts to get revealed in the second half the descent into an ever more logical explanation drives January to take desperate measures.
Director: Éric Hannezo. Cast: François Arnaud, Franck Gastambide, Guillaume Gouix. Lambert Wilson, Virginie Ledoyen. France 2015. 90 mins.
This remake/rehash of the 1974 Mario Bava lost classic is directed by first time director Eric Hannezo and The Horde’s cowriter/director Yannick Dahan. The template from Bava is the bank job gone wrong and boy does it go wrong. After a gloriously violent and slick get away ends with their car smashing into a van the four hapless bank robbers are on the back foot. They lose their leader early on when he self-sacrifices himself. Sabri (Guillaume Gouix) takes charge in his absence and has to manage the nervous energy of the reluctant passive aggressive one and try his best to contain the wild impulses of the psychotic loose cannon one.
By now they have killed one hostage and have gained another – a recently married woman out shopping for sexy underwear on the third day of her honeymoon. They hold up an unassuming man driving a Volvo estate and head for the border. His sick daughter in the back is on her way for a life saving kidney transplant. Panicking they choose him despite this added complication. What follows is a big dose of no honour among thieves and a couple of twists you are not going to see coming. Every time the robbers seem to gain advantage their progress to safety is hindered – largely due to their incompatibility as a group and lack of a real plan.
The Driver and Married Woman bide their time and almost achieve a coup while they’re stuck at the Feast Of The Bear ceremony in a remote village. Yes their route to freedom included a town that’s shut off its road through to burn a big wooden bear. The directors concoct a very poignant scene where Sabri lectures the Driver on his escape bid over a school girls choir version of Radiohead’s Creep. The tension is throughout given the sick child, innocent woman and Driver. However, the way that tension is released will leave you with a wry smile after you’ve got over the shock.
Director: Jason Lei Howden. Cast: Milo Cawthorne, James Blake, Kimberley Crossman, Sam Berkley, Daniel Cresswell. New Zealand 2015. 90 mins.
Germany’s power metallers Helloween have a song called “Heavy Metal (Is The Law). It’s pretty obvious that DEATHGASM director DEATHGASM is channelling the sentiment of it into his splatterfest debut feature.
Brodie, the orphaned metalhead teenage child of a drug addict, is sent to suburban hell to be looked after by his devout Christian aunt and uncle. To make matters worse his cousin, of the same age, is a bullying asshole. Lucky for Brodie there’s a odd record shop in this tiny town run by hippy spiritualists. There he meets Zakk a long-haired, biker jacketed outcast. These kindred spirits form a band – Deathgasm – with other outsiders from school and hide away in Brodie’s garage playing heavy riffs and conflating adolescent misunderstandings of the world around them with sniggers and smirks at double entendres that would make Beavis and Butthead proud. They somehow come into possession of sheet music for the ‘Black Hymn’. They perform it and inadvertently set in motion a demonic plague that possesses most of people in their hometown.
In addition a group of Satanists have come to town for the Black Hymn so they can make hell on earth and share in the demon Aelsoth’s power. Brodie and co are the only ones who can save the world. Cue much hilarity and one-liners combined with ultra violent and bloody ways for possessed people to die. Axes splitting skulls and entrails torn from stomachs are just teasers for some really inventive ways to take a demonic life. The showstopper is arguably the anal beads and dildo fight Brodie and Zakk have with his aunt and uncle, but there’s so much more to wince at and guffaw.
Beneath the 16 year old’s fantasy notion that listening to heavy metal is the answer to all your ills and ailments, DEATHGASM is a quick witted and deeply funny film. It’s gory to ridiculous proportions, but it’s not without a warm heart and characters you can invest in. It’s the closest anyone’s come to emulating Peter Jackson’s OTT gorefest Brain Dead (1994). In genre circles there is no praise higher.
Director: Ben Cresciman. Cast: Sarah Hagan, Barbara Crampton, Sara Malakul Lane, Evan Jones, Jim Boeven. USA 2015. 90 mins.
SUN CHOKE stars Sarah Hagan (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) and Sara Malakul Lane(12/12/12, Sharktopus). It also sees the continuation of the Barbara Crampton’s recent renaissance/Frightfest love in that began in 2013 when she featured prominently in Adam Wingard’s You’re Next. All told she appears in four films at Frightfest 2015: Road Games, Tales Of Halloween and We Are Still Here are the other three.
The action comes on like a fever dream and never really offers the viewer a clear distinction between what’s real and what’s unreal. Isolated in a minimalist, white walled mansion high in the Hollywood Hills, Hagan’s Janie is seemingly being led back to health by Crampton’s live in care worker Irma. We are told Janie’s father is working away and an explanation about her missing mother is saved for the final act.
It is a beautiful film. Every frame that cinematographer Mathew Rudenberg has captured is purposeful and beguiling. Quite what the film is about is never absolutely clarified. Janie is sick or suffering from mental health problems – never explained. She’s a prisoner in her own home and then she is let out to do whatever she likes. This generally entails roaming the streets hot on the heels of Lane’s Savannah who is blissfully unaware she’s being followed.
Janie’s inability to comprehend the outside world or interact with other people leads her to take horrific, brutal actions that carry few consequences beyond a tougher love regime from Irma. The more Janie is pushed into a corner, the more she resists until she’s in charge of her own fatal destiny
SUN CHOKE is reminiscent of the pharmaceutical fuelled states of Todd Haynes’s Safe (1995) with the intrigue of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive crossed with the obtuseness of Paul Auster’ New York Trilogy. If you can live with the threadbare narrative you’ll be rewarded with a truly unsettling and jarring cinematic experience.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB
Director: Kyle Rankin. Cast: Maria Thayer, Michael Cassidy, Ray Wise, Chris Marquette, Julie Brister. USA 2015. 85 mins.
Infestation’s (2009) Kyle Rankin is back. This time it’s with a RomCom Horror cut from the same cloth as Edgar Wright’s Shaun Of The Dead (2004). Even the title – Night Of The Living Deb – is a very direct nod to his source material. Naturally, the hero of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB is Deb. She’s a strong willed, fun loving red head played by Maria Thayer (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, 2008). When she wakes up in pretty boy, metrosexual Ryan’s apartment the morning after a girl’s night out – she’s no recollection how she got here. He’s fully aware and is filled with regret. He wants her out of his place asap. Her departure is delayed and ultimately thwarted as they soon work out they just slept through a zombie apocalypse. Like Wright’s homage to Romero, Rankin’s movie is more RomCom than it is horror. The humour stemming from the will they / won’t they get it on again is much more engaging than any trouble they get from the walking dead. Nevertheless escaping town is their mission and working together helps a fondness for each other grow very naturally. Jokes come thick and fast. Helped in particular by the comedic presence of Twin Peaks’ Ray Wise and Infestation’s Chris Marquette as Ryan’s domineering father and macho brother respectively.
A beautiful turning point in the odd couple’s relationship comes when Deb’s, spooning down a tub of ice cream, reveals that her father regularly exposed himself to the neighbour’s bassett hound. When she adds she’d never told anyone that story before, it elevates the poignancy of the moment way above the cheap laugh you may have had at her expense at the start of the scene. It’s simple reversals of expectations like that that will endear you to Rankin’s movie and will no doubt make it very rewatchable.
SOME KIND OF HATE
Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer. Cast: Ronen Rubinstein, Grace Phipps, Spencer Breslin, Maestro Harrell, Sierra McCormick. USA 2015. 83 mins.
This supernatural slasher stars Ronen Rubinstein as Lincoln – the perpetual teenage victim. Over a rumbling death metal opening track we are thrown into our hero’s dilemma. His drunk father offers nothing more than shouts and slaps. At school there’s no escape from violence and intimidation either. During lunch Lincoln snaps and stabs his attacker in the face with his fork. Cut to Mind’s Eye Academy – a new age reform school in the middle of the desert. And despite Lincoln’s attempt to keep his head down, the bullies of MEA soon find him. Frustrated, he confides in his roomie: “I want to live in a world where assholes get what they deserve.” Regardless he is forced to fight back and gets a severe beating. His empty cries of: “I wish they would all die” find the ears of Moira – a lost bullied spirit manifest in physical form from beyond the grave. She wants his pain and channels it into offing everyone – starting with those who tormented Lincoln most. Right there the film flips from being a mumblecore drama into a fully-fledged, unapologetic horror.
From this dramatic set up and genre bending SOME KIND OF HATE emerges as a grungy new take on the slasher. In so much that the killer is in service to our hero and the drama comes from Lincoln’s realisation that his aggressors do not deserve to die. Rejecting the killer’s help is ignored and Moira reveals her own tragic issues that are born out of a fatal stay at the MEA. Ultimately, it’s a tale rooted in the notion of be careful what you wish for combined with an unwittingly agreed Faustian pact. While Cabin In The Woods or the Scream franchise were knowing, meta-horrors, SOME KIND OF HATE brings a new perspective. For example the evolution of the American teen in horror films couldn’t be starker: from the eighties bright-eyed, get loaded, strip off and shag generation to SOME KIND OF HATE’s introspective, earnest and self harming bunch of no hopers. Maybe in Moira co-writers Adam Egypt Mortimer and Brian DeLeeuw have unearthed the first emo horror icon.
Originally published Britflicks