Britflicks’ Stuart Wright reports back from Day 4 at FrightFest with reviews of – ROAD GAMES, SLUMLORD, MOST LIKELY TO DIE, SCHERZO DIABOLICO and THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE.
Director: Abner Pastoll. Cast: Barbara Crampton, Andrew Simpson, Joséphine de La Baume, Frédéric Pierrot, Lou Castel. UK/France 2015. 90 mins.
ROAD GAMES is a peculiar and unnerving horror thriller. A serial killer is running rampage in rural France. Who will be the next victim we are made to think?
First up is lost British hitchhiker Jack (Andrew Simpson) – is he the killer? When he partners up with Veronique (Josephine de La Baume) they are soon happy with the notion of safety in numbers. Is she the killer? Eventually, they get lucky when a Frenchman driving a British number plated car, Grizard (Frederic Pierrot) offers them a ride. Is he the killer? The choice of car is a great curveball to throw at our hitchhikers and audience alike. When they make it back to his house, they meet Mary (Barbara Crampton). She’s American, not British so hardly explains the car – more mystery and story chicanery is carried into the next few scenes.
There’s a dark turn for Jack at the hands of Grizard and Mary, but it’s not fatal. Obligated to protect Veronique he returns to the house to save her.
Gentle synthesised electronica gives the score an 80s genre feel, the remote French countryside setting and lack of modern day gadgets like cell phones make the action seem out of time with the present day.
From what we learn about the characters we initially meet, who knows what is held back for as long as possible. However, once the twists and reveals are known, all the oddness and eccentricity of Grizard and Mary in particular make sense looking back and moving forward from that point.
But none of this obviously sets up the barmy ending. It shouldn’t be as divisive as Alexandre Aja’s flip flop in 2003’s Switchblade Romance, but it comes close to being that out of blue.
For some Frightfesters the screening of cult classic Captain Kronos is a chance to belatedly celebrate the life of writer Brian Clemens – he sadly passed away in January 2015. However, with ROAD GAMES it appears his spirit lives on in this Anglo English/French movie that has more than just a passing resemblance to his 1970 murderous romp around France’s countryside: “And Soon the Darkness.”
Director: Victor Zarcoff. Cast: PJ McCabe, Sean Carrigan, Sarah Baldwin, Brianne Moncrief, Neville Archambault. USA 2015. 87 mins.
SLUMLORD is about a young, married couple moving into a new home on the brink of starting a family – she’s heavily pregnant. Unbeknownst to them their creepy landlord, Gerald (Neville Archambault) has fitted hidden cameras around the place and feeds surveillance footage back to his office like a live soap opera. It’s a great set up and gets the ball rolling on a tense ‘A’ story – will they discover they’re being filmed and what will they do? At this stage it is reminiscent of Jaume Balagueró’s Sleep Tight (2011).
The ‘B’ story ramps up the drama no end and is one Gerald captures for the audience’s benefit. PJ McCabe (the husband) is behaving like a teenager. Everything his nesting wife (Brianne Moncrief) wants or needs are met with a frustrated shrug or whine. It’s like he’s terrified to admit he’s about to become a father. This is compounded when we learn via Gerald’s cameras that McCabe is also having an affair. Now we’re all hoping Moncrief finds out her man is cheating on her and the landlord really is a creep… in that order.
Archambault is brilliant as Gerald. He lumbers into every scene with a dumb, expressionless look on his face and rarely says a word. You can almost smell the stale body odour from the screen. When he does speak it’s loaded with subtext, because his actions or motives are never quite clear. Sure he enjoys perving over the naked women from his showercam, but beyond that he’s a passive observer until what he witnesses via his cameras threatens to undermine his warped fun and games. Ever the methodical opportunist he ups the ante with a violent intervention and ends the film with much more than he bargains for – even a warm smile on his face. Writer/director Victor Zarcoff’s A and B stories collide together wonderfully well to serve up a dark thriller that will make tenants in rented properties worry about who is watching much more than is my partner trustworthy?
MOST LIKELY TO DIE
Director: Anthony DiBlasi. Cast: Heather Morris, Ryan Doom, Perez Hilton, Chad Addison, Tess Christiansen. USA 2015. 81 mins.
If you’ve ever wondered about the value of school reunions, this film won’t reassure you. Out in the Californian hills, there’s a high school reunion that goes horribly wrong as an assailant begins to kill off the erstwhile friends, one by one. Is it the work of a psychopathic outsider or someone else? And what’s going on in that outhouse with the generator?
With its wry referencing of classic slasher traditions, Anthony DiBlasi’s film has some quality components. The early, deftly shot scenes skilfully rack up the suspense and the mystery behind the vengeful killings promises much. However, despite this and some good performances, particularly from Heather Morris as the tough-minded Gaby, there are too many dips in the tension. This is most noticeable during the often overlong scenes that seek to establish the characters’ unfinished, interconnected emotional baggage. It’s a shame, particularly given the shock potential of a rampaging killer storming around the grounds.
There are imaginative flourishes later in the film, including a gruesome, hockey stick-related slaying and a dark joke that wickedly combines a grisly decapitation with a whistling kettle. However, even with these moments and a shivery twist in its last scene, the film’s structure lacks the kind of truly visceral impact that could deliver the full payload.
Review By Steve Burniston
Director: Adrián García Bogliano. Cast: Francisco Barreiro, Daniela Soto Vell, Jorge Molina, Milena Pezzi, Vita Vargas. Mexico/USA 2015. 91 mins.
Last year SCHERZO DIABOLICO’s director Adrian Garvia Bogliano mesmerized and surprised many Frightfesters with Late Phases – his English language beguiling werewolf movie set in an retirement village. With SCHERZO DIABOLICO he returns to his native Spanish tongue for an unusual tale of workers revolt and the consequences that follow. Aram is overworked and underpaid. His boss won’t pay for his overtime. His dissatisfied wife thinks he’s weak and will never get a promotion.
Meanwhile Aram seeks solace in a prostitute and with the stop watch on his smart phone he is plotting something. He suffocates his father and times how long it takes for him to come to. He monitors the daily movements of a teenage girl as she makes her way home from school. It’s somewhat intriguing, but any tension Bogliano is trying to build is offset by some of the most tedious and mundane dialogue. Everyone over talks and very little of what they say drives the story or creates conflict. Withnail & I’s Bruce Robinson refers to this problem as the Gin and Tonic conversation. It’s a shame because as a sharp contrast Bogliano uses no dialogue at other times, allowing his stunning visuals to speak for themselves – although something was clearly wrong with the drone shots of the open road as the frame rate stuttered and spluttered.
Eventually there’s a pay off to the tedium and mystery as Aram kidnaps the teenage girl he was monitoring and imprisons her for six months. It’s the daughter of his boss. The missing child breaks the man in charge and he is forced to leave work. Aram is promoted. All is good in his world. He stops seeing his prostitute. His moany wife is happy to see their life get upgraded to a bigger house and a nicer car. Meanwhile the post-traumatic kidnap victim is finding freedom difficult to come to terms with until her dad plays an innocent piece of piano music – a tune she heard regularly, during her ordeal. This triggers a violent reaction in her and so begins a crass final act as Aram’s perfect world come’s tumbling down at the hands of a vengeful seventeen year old girl. And without giving too many more spoilers as to how it pans out, so concludes Frightfest 2015’s most ludicrous storyline. Tonally SCHERZO DIABOLICO bounces all over the show. It’s at its best when it’s a taut Euro thriller. However, the slow burn story, ridiculous as it becomes, is weakened by the plentiful supply of naked breasts and OTT gory finale that drag SCHERZO DIABOLICO down to exploitation movie standards.
THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE
Director: Perry Blackshear. Cast: MacLeod Andrews, Evan Dumouchel, Margaret Ying Drake, Elena Greenlee, Mick Casale. USA 2015. 80 mins.
Perry Blackshear’s debut feature is an intense psychological thriller taking place in the fragile minds of two best friends who are reunited after ten years apart. We start with Christian played by buff pretty boy Evan Dumouchel. Despite these external attributes he’s full of self-loathing. He’s always working out at the gym, reads website advice on how to date your boss and listens to self-help tapes to make him more aggressive and forthright in his work. The identity of the woman’s voice telling him how to act is, in reality, a reminder of how weak he is.
Returning home one night he finds Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews) at the entrance to his apartment block with a large holdall slung over his shoulder. It’s an awkward encounter, but Christian convinces his forgotten friend to come inside. During that first night Wyatt takes a phone call. The voice we hear is other worldly and foreboding. It is the first of a number of messages that feed his paranoia to flee the city before an impending war for earth begins and the bad people reveal their true selves. With deft of touch Blackshear’s screenplay tells us enough in the way Christian treats him that he realises Wyatt has ‘issues’ but it’s never reduced to debates about who is crazy and who is not. Instead Christian, haunted by his own demons, entertains Wyatt’s delusions. Perhaps hoping he can make him see it’s going to be okay. There’s a meeting with a mysterious Doctor figure at a lake where Wyatt talks about his schizophrenia, but beyond this brief scene the film forces you to live in his crazy understanding of the world around him.
At first Christian tries to temper the paranoia with happy memories. The pair regress to childhood – sock wars is one particularly playful moment. The spanner in the works is Christian’s boss Mara – the voice of reason as actress Margaret Ying Drake describes her character in the opening introduction to the Frightfest screening with Paul McElvoy. Her uneasy encounters with Christian are like a series of bad first dates. Whereas Wyatt believes she has chosen him for a higher purpose. Naturally, she’s no idea what he’s talking about. After Christian loses his job the growing intensity of Wyatt’s disturbed mental state combines with the claustrophobia of the tiny New York apartment to create a Pinteresque existential crisis for a finale. At this juncture Christian takes a leap of faith by fully committing to Wyatt’s harebrained belief they are in grave danger – making himself very vulnerable in the process. The film truly pays off on all the promise of the unreliable narrator living in Wyatt’s head.
THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE is a dark, non-judgemental exploration into the everyday trauma of someone coping with mental health issues.