Horror Channel FrightFest 2016 – Britflicks’ Stuart Wright reports back from Day 5 with reviews of DIRECTOR’S CUT, MAN UNDERGROUND, THE WINDMILL MASSACRE, HERE ALONE, MONOLITH, FOUND FOOTAGE 3D, RED CHRISTMAS and TRAIN TO BUSAN.
Director: Adam Rifkin. Cast: Missi Pyle, Penn Jillette, Harry Hamlin, Lin Shaye, Nestor Carbonell. USA.
Director’s cut’ is a story-within-a-story about a sociopathic outcast who is infatuated with the star of a film he helped crowd fund. Missi Pyle – playing herself, as most of the cast do – is the star of ‘Knocked Off’, the film Herbert Blount (Penn Jillette) helps to refashion with his own idiosyncratic ideas.
Director’s Cut flits between pure comedy and unsettling horror with ease. It neatly satirizes how a director’s ego can make rationality – or sanity – subservient to his preconceived idea of how his piece of art will look, while also conveying the disillusionment Herbert feels because his whole reality has been reduced to an uninterrupted fictional film.
‘Director’s cut’ felt original and fresh, as well as disturbing and uncomfortably funny.
By Callum Shepherd
Directors: Michael Borowiec, Sam Marine, Cast: George Basil, Gregory Borowiec, Pamela Fila, Stephen Girasuolo, Felix Hagen. USA.
Willem Koda (George Basil) is a former geologist turned conspiracy theorist who believes the US Government is storing aliens in tunnels deep under the ground. However, no one wants to hear about it anymore. Live seminars barely reach audiences larger than ten people and his YouTube audience is stuck in the early hundreds. He retreats to the sympathetic ear of his best, and only friend, Todd (Andy Rucco). He suggests making Willem’s message into a film – weave the truth into a fictional story. Over night he drafts a feature length script. They enlist the help of local waitress/wannabe actress Flossie (Pamela Fila) and they’re ready to go.
Unfortunately, the collaborative nature of filmmaking and the surprise introduction of Flossie’s boyfriend all serve to unravel William’s underlying mental health issues. Basil is great as the emotionally shut down, socially awkward man. Fila and Rucco’s characters do their utmost to accommodate his vulnerability and paranoia. However, Todd and Flossie are also busy working through their own life issues too – he’s in therapy for complacency (as he describes it) and she’s had to return to small town life after dropping out college in the big city.
Co-writers/directors Michael Borowiec and Sam Marine deliver a gentle, heartfelt tale that gets overtaken by the impending inevitability it is leading you to a tragic and not a triumphant place.
THE WINDMILL MASSACRE
Director: Nick Jongerius. Cast: Noah Taylor, Charlotte Beaumont, Patrick Baladi, Tanroh Ishida, Fiona Hampton, Ben Batt. The Netherlands.
This is a supernatural/folkloric slasher set, unsurprisingly, in the lowlands of Holland. A coach load of tourists, from as far away as Japan and Australia, breakdown in a remote outpost by a windmill. There’s no cell phone coverage and it’s soon nightfall. As impatience sets in two of them venture out to find help. This triggers a catalogue of gruesome scythe killings at the hands of Miller Hendrick. A figure of 17th century legend who was invited by the devil himself to stand guard at the gates of hell. Seems the coach they boarded and the windmill they’ve unwittingly stopped at was no accident – it was their destiny.
The set pieces for each kill are done really well. Each victim relives or sees why they must die before Hendricks scythes them down; and the finale has a lovely sting in the tail too.
There’s plenty of ambition in The Windmill Massacre: the production values are high and the acting is leagues above most other slasher fodder. In particular, Watford born Charlotte Beaumont (her first onscreen role was Jemima Drury in 2010’s Sex and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll) carries much of the action on her young shoulders as Aussie runaway Jennifer. Her guilty secret that brought her here is also the most tragic.
However, the overall storytelling is a mess and is too beholden to the constraints of the slasher formula that goes before it to claim its own place at the table. The film wastes way too much time setting up characters and telling us we’re in Holland, than it does foreshadowing why we should be scared. The first kill is genuinely out of the blue. Given the necessity of telling or showing each characters sinful backstory, The Windmill Massacre would’ve have been perfect for the anthology format a la Vault Of Horror.
Director: Rod Blackhurst. Cast: Lucy Walters, Adam David Thompson, Gina Piersanti, Shane West, Holly Adams. USA.
Ann (Lucy Walter) is isolated and hidden away by a lake in the densest part of the forest with her basic survivalist know-how and saloon car as shelter for when it rains. Surprisingly, she is one of the lucky ones. Through flashback we learn about a contagious epidemic that shut down life as we know it, how her husband’s knowledge of this wild terrain was passed down to her before his life was taken and the tragic way she lost her baby to the infection. Those who catch the virus become 28 Days Later (2002) style raging zombies attracted to the blood of the healthy – like sharks they have a nose for it.
David Ebeltoft’s script structure for Here Alone cuts between brief clips from the tragedy of then and the unbearable reality of now rather like Julian Pölsler’s Die Wand (2012). Whereas the exploration of what drives a human being to fight on alone and endure extreme hardships for the simple privilege of staying alive has echoes of Stephen Fingleton’s The Survivalist (2016). And when Chris (Adam David Thompson) and his step-daughter Olivia (Gine Piersanti) become part of her settlement for one in the woods the similarities with Fingleton’s film provide a useful comparison of the of the post-apocalyptic sexes. In The Survivalist the man on his own is suspicious. He needs convincing and bribing to allow a mother and daughter into his ordered life. Whereas Ann is only too willing and trusting from the moment she meets these two drifters to make them part of her existence. There’s emotional rewards to be had from that decision, but ultimately petty human jealousy raises its ugly head to prove that while we can survive almost any dire situation, we are also programmed to be forever on the brink of self destruction.
Director: Ivan Silvestrini. Cast: Katrina Bowden, Damon Dayoub, Brandon Jones, Jason Hayden. Italy/USA.
“The Monolith is the safest car ever built and the safest place for you and your family’” boasts the infomercial during the opening credits. By the end of the movie you’re in no doubt that’s a fact. However, to get there you must go on a harrowing and physically draining journey with Sandra (Tucker & Dale vs Evil star Katrina Bowden). The car is the SUV version of Knightrider’s KIT, but uptight mum is too wound up by green-eyed thoughts of the fun she’s sacrifice to appreciate what’s important in her life – David her baby boy in the backseat – until convenience and technology conspire to lock her out of, and him in the Monolith on a desert trail miles from anywhere. Suddenly the reluctant mother isn’t clinging to her former singing career, or paranoid about her partner’s infidelity. David’s health and safety is her sole priority, but the binary logic of the car’s defence system is going to keep her at bay.
It’s a fraught 85 minutes that taps into a very primal fear for parents – imagine being six inches away from your kid and there’s nothing you can do to save them. Director Ivan Silvestroni ramps up the jeopardy out of very little and manages to keep making Sandra’s situation increasingly worse – blistering heat, isolation, water, wild dogs and so on. Bowden’s exhausting performance runs the gamut of emotions as she desperately searches for a solution while simultaneously the beacon of hope she can save her own son dims inside her minute by minute, hour by hour.
When you think Sandra has tried everything and she is beat, she finds one more drastic moment of inspiration – the ultimate test of the Monolith’s safety features. A fitting and real end to a surprisingly action packed film.
FOUND FOOTAGE 3D
Director: Steven DeGennaro. Cast: Carter Roy, Alena von Stroheim, Chris O’Brien, Tom Saporito, Scott Weinberg. USA.
Steven DeGennero’s debut feature is the story of how filming behind the scenes footage on the shoot of a new found footage film: ‘Spectre Of Death’ (SOD) turns into a real found footage movie in its own right. Irony ahoy!
Derek (Carter Roy) is the domineering producer and star of SOD. He has pulled together a skeleton crew of just three plus his co-star/writer and on/off wife Amy (Alena von Stroheim).
Right out the gate Derek is every inch the opportunist filmmaker with delusions of grandeur. He epitomises what Found Footage 3D is really satirising. This character is made all the more authentic opposite passive aggressive director Andrew (Tom Saporito).
The introduction of the 3D cameras is a case of point. Derek posits that to get your film noticed you’ve got to have a ‘first’ – SOD will be the first 3D found footage movie. Andrew asks why the character would shoot in 3D, Derek’s dismissive response is that he’s a 3D enthusiast – one of many daggers to Andrew’s earnest, artistic heart.
Before they reach their ‘remote farm’ location they discover it is haunted from a couple of good old boys sat on the porch of a store. This revelation is wonderfully delivered for laughs and subverts the mid-journey horror cliché with aplomb.
Early scares are explained away and buried beneath Derek’s drive to get the film made, but the presence of a real evil force is slowly taking hold of the situation.
The arrival of Fearnet’s Scott Weinberg, playing himself – a respected horror journalist doing a set visit – is perhaps the most overt meta moment, but is also clever misdirection and distraction as DeGennero drops the wry smiles and knowing winks to launch into his final, terrifying act.
With Found Footage 3D DeGennero has done for the worn out, abused found footage sub-genre what Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) did for slasher. He pokes fun at the tired, unimaginative tropes and low expectations of the shyster production companies who have shoe horned found footage into the most impossible scenarios because it’s cheap. Simultaneously, there’s a lot of love in there for the pioneers as well. It’s a very clever film that knows it knows the subject well. However, like Scream, it is not just an academic exercise of cleaning the film palate. It genuinely works on its own terms. The laughs are funny and the unsettling scares are the perfect reminder this is a horror film first, found footage second.
Director: Craig Anderson. Cast: Dee Wallace, Sarah Bishop, Geoff Morrell, Janis McGavin, Sam Campbell. Australia.
Australian director, Craig Anderson provides this year’s summer time seasonal greetings with the holiday horror film – ‘Red Christmas’. In short, it’s about an aborted foetus killing his family. Unfortunately, or should that be unsurprisingly given that synopsis, it is devoid of logic and subtlety. Regardless, Anderson demonstrates a flair for the more ghastly violence that is both unique and very cinematic. However, for a film that trades on spectacle, it is slow to get going. The first 30 minutes consist of insignificant family spats; the kind you find in soap operas, not a horror about a psychopathic foetus.
There are some laugh out loud moments to savour, but at times it is hard to decipher if ‘Red Christmas’ is a genuine parody, or if the screenplay really is just bad. Occasionally films demand you leave your brain at the door, but there is a fine line between dumb fun and being taken for a fool by the director.
By Callum Shepherd
TRAIN TO BUSAN
Director: Yeon Sang-Ho. Cast: Gong Yoo, Jung Yu-mi, Ma Dong-seok, Choi Woo-sik, An So-hee, Kim Eui-sung, Kim Su-an. South Korea.
Estranged Su-an, and her father: workaholic, fund manager, Seok-wu take the train back to her mothers. Collapsing money markets and a glut of riots suggest there’s a destabilising force sweeping South Korea, but until, among many other signifiers, #zombie trends on Twitter it unclear why. Unfortunately, they are not safe because an infected woman boards the train right before departure. She rapidly spreads the mysterious contagion to soon amass a violent, flesh eating horde. Before you know it, a fast-paced disaster movie explodes to life as raging zombies bite, massacre and convert even more passengers.
Among the faceless, frightened huddle who survive the initial wave of attacks we know who to root for: kind hearted brute Sang-hwa and his heavily pregnant wife Sung-kyu, a couple of high school sweet hearts and two elderly sisters. There’s a cartoon villain too – this cowardly corporate snake in a suit adds selfish unpredictability when the threat of zombies isn’t enough.
Every situation where calm is allowed to settle upon, Korean director Sang-ho Yeon soon piles on the hysteria, and yet he also finds perfect moments to dial it down to a real melodramatic schmaltz. It’s a masterclass in exposing the human cost of the tragedy and it’s what makes it superior to its obvious comparable: Snowpierecer (Joon-ho Bong, 2013).
On a recent Sam Harris podcast about being good and doing good he discussed how children are much more compassionate and will want to help those in obvious need without a second thought for themselves. Whereas adults will compute the value of one life saved versus the sacrifices they’d have to make. He could have been talking about the conflict between Seok-wu and Su-an.
In the first station sequence dad has called ahead to a business contact and arranged help to have him and his daughter extracted out of there. As she wonders why they’ve peeled away from the group he tells her: “In these situations, you only care about yourself.” She cuts him deep with a response that ends with: “That’s why mummy left.” It’s an interesting subversion of the cliched white knight role that dads usually get to play. It’s doubly interesting to see how she is actively the one who guides him to altruism. The repairing of their broken relationship is a satisfying sub-plot amid the death and destruction.
Train To Busan delivers the zombies on a train premise. The unpretentious action crawls over every inch of the train interior: turning even the lowly toilet cubicle and overhead luggage racks into a stage for powerful drama. However, Yeon does more than just the visual spectacle of an against all odds fight for 113 minutes. He will also break your heart – repeatedly – as survivors you want to make it run out of luck and choose to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the remaining pack, or their soul. Remarkably he manages to save his biggest emotional beat for the closing moments. You’ll be gripping the arms of your seat until the credits roll before you really believe it is over. Now breath.
Originally published Britflicks