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Win tickets to an Aussie horror double bill

If you missed Wolf Creek 2 when it popped up at Frightfest last month, or just fancy seeing it on the big screen ahead of its September 15 DVD release – you are in luck.

Those devilish Frightfest bods are throwing a special, one-night only John Jarratt double-bill shindig, with a screening of the outback sequel followed by 1987 crocodile flick Dark Age.

As if that wasn’t enough, the screening will also be attended by Wolf Creek 2 star Shannon Ashlyn, Jarratt will provide a video intro and genre guru Kim Newman will be on hand for some chat and prizes.

But, best of all – the whole event, set for Thursday, September 4 at London’s Prince Charles Cinema at 6pm is free.

To attend, all you need to do is fire an email, giving your name and that of any guests you plan to bring, to:

wolfcreek2@entonegroup.com

Good luck!

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DVD Review: Prisoner Of War

Scratching at the surface, rather than being the hard-hitting expose it clearly wants to be, Prisoner Of War offers a different slant on the recent chaos in Iraq.

Set for the bulk of its running time in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, the film looks to shed some light on the less-than-gentle antics of the American prison guards stationed there, using real-life incidents from 2003 as a backdrop.

The film follows young soldier Jack Farmer (writer-director-star Luke Moran), shipped out to the Middle East for what is supposedly a brief tour of duty.

Eager to gain as much experience as he can, Farmer volunteers for extra shifts at the prison, and before you know it he is striking up a friendship of sorts with captive Ghazi (Omid Abtahi), who stands accused of killing 18 people with a makeshift bomb.

But as evidence of US torture comes to light, and the promised leave of absence becomes instead an extra six months duty, can Farmer remain the affable, somewhat wide-eyed innocent he starts out?

That is the question Moran poses, and it is an interesting one, with the film asking as much about the effect on the US forces themselves, as the punishments they meted out.

Indeed, with the guards holed up in cells of their own (albeit without locks) and chalking off their remaining days, Prisoner Of War makes the case that for many of the troops, Abu Ghraib was just as much a prison as for those held there.

Where the film falls down though is that Moran never really gets under the skin of what went on – very little is shown in the way of torture, nor do we ever really get into the mindset of those responsible, which really dilutes the impact of the film as a whole.

I’m not saying for a second that I wanted endless scenes of brutality filling the screen, but for a film that aims to shed light on the nastiness the Americans got up to, seeing some of that nastiness would have helped.

Performances are pretty strong – Moran is just fine as the affable, easy-going soldier slowly seeing his morals eroded, while there is solid support from Abtahi as the prisoner who may know more than he is letting on.

We also get bookend scenes back in the States, which offers up Jon Heard as Jack’s father and the always cute Sara Paxton as the soldier’s girl.

Pacing wise the film is sluggish at times – never boring, but drifting when it should be punching you in the gut.

In fact, at times the film could easily be a stage play, with an obvious low-budget, limited sets and a small cast.

That is no bad thing though, with Moran offering up an adult, interesting tale with a sting in the tail – just don’t expect too much.

Prisoner Of War is available to buy via:

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/movie/prisoner-of-war-2014/id905466961

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Movie Review: The Guvnors

In the wasteland of lazy, lairy, Charlie Big Potatoes, Mockney geezer, bish-bash-bosh, Brit crime flicks beloved by Engerland’s Stella-swilling aging lads it almost seems a no-brainer that some crafty blighter would note the success of the football hooligan sub-genre (I.D., Green Street, et al…) and that of the urban hoodie film (Kidulthood, Adulthood, whatever Plan B’s up to this week) and in a Road to Damascus flash think “Cor blimey ‘Arry, a fackin’ blinding fought’s just popped in me canister…” and decide to marry the two sub-genre’s in an unholy union of Stanley knives, shooters, grim taciturn boat-races, spitting and copious use of that ever popular term of Mockney endearment: all together now “you fackin’ caaaaaaan’t!”

As if by magic, this week sees the release of Gabe Turner’s clichéd but surprisingly effective hoodies vs. hooligans thriller The Guvnors (breathlessly inspired, allegedly, by a true tale of the London Riots) which pitches a gang of vicious, feral yoot, happily dealing drugs and striping the faces of teenage girls with impunity, into a showdown with the Guvnors, a firm of middle aged former football hooligans and all round diamond geezers returning to clean up their old manor.

In retaliation for being dissed by 60-something ex-boxer Mickey (David Essex. Yup, you read that right, DAVID “Oh what a circus…” ESSEX), rising young ghetto superstar Adam Shenko (Harley Sylvester) and his multiracial (well, one of ‘em’s white…) gang of hood rats beat to death the former stage Che Guevara and mentor of the Guvnors, a legendary firm of local football casuals.

Propaa nortee back in their day, the Guvnors were honourable thugs (women could walk the streets, only them that had it comin’ got hurt, etc) who kept order on the streets while committing mayhem on the terraces (…and sometimes on the streets to be fair) until conflicted leader Mitch, tired of the violence, turned his back on the boys and scarperred to suburbia wiv ‘is bird to have babies. Mickey’s death stokes the fires of the Guvnors’ wrath, the older, wiser (…but still a bit tasty in a ruck) Mitch (Doug Allen) reuniting the mostly middle aged and respectable gang with the promise of vengeance and a good old tear up. But as the generations clash, Mitch’s past is about to collide with his present…

Despite a chilling performance from Harley Sylvester (one half of good-natured British hip-hop duo Rizzle Kicks) and some bruising fight scenes, The Guvnors holds few surprises, all the familiar tropes and clichés are present and correct; sudden explosions of vicious violence, a slo-mo climactic battle in the rain scored to either soft rock (to emphasise the elegiac nature) or dub-step (to get the lads’ adrenaline pumping), the awkward cameos by celebrity former thugs in minor roles playing up to their image of wistful romantic ex-gunslingers…but Turner’s direction is muscular, the violent scenes suffused with an atmosphere of dread inevitability while the quieter scenes are low-key and effective. Essex shows quality as the grizzled veteran, Allen is solid as the former bovver boy whose mask of respectability is slipping and there’s remarkably decent support from, of all people, failed Eddie Murphy impersonator Richard Blackwood (yup, the comedian who once examined the results of his own enema on Channel 5 once) as a tough cop but it’s Rizzle Kick Sylvester who dominates with a hypnotic performance of sleepy-eyed menace; he’s every nice, middle class filmgoer’s worst nightmare, a strutting, swaggering embodiment of Broken Britain.

Ultimately, The Guvnors is a bit too po-faced for its own good, squandering its designer suited and booted Seven Samurai potential on a hamfisted fathers-and-sons sub-plot and a laughably Jacobean late revelation, but it’s a lot better than you’re expecting and Sylvester is a teen psycho to rival the late, great Richard Attenborough’s Pinkie.

 

VERDICT: [rating=3]

 

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Trailer lands for A Good Marriage

I’m sure someone out there will be able to give me the exact figure, but I think it is safe to say that there have been a lot of Stephen King film adaptations.

Some have been great, some have been OK, and some have been downright awful.

The latest to try and crack the code is A Good Marriage, based on a novella King penned in his 2010 collection Full Dark, No Stars.

In fact, King himself has penned the script here, a tale of a supposedly happily married wife who finds out her husband may not exactly be the person she thought he was.

Directed by Peter Askin, A Good Marriage stars the likes of Joan Allen, Anthony LaPaglia and Stephen Lang and is set for release in October.

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DVD Review: Transcendence

Rock ‘n’ Roll genius scientist Dr Will Caster (Johnny Depp), the world’s foremost researcher in Artificial Intelligence is bringing sexy back to science and is ON THE VERGE OF A DISCOVERY THAT WILL CHANGE THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT! He must be a genius; he has tousled hair, glasses and a sweater vest. Unfortunately his controversial experiments have made him as infamous as he is famous and he’s targeted by a terrorist group of 21st century Luddite anti-technology extremists.

Surviving their initial assassination attempt only to find himself fatally poisoned by a radioactive bullet, Will, with the aid of wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and friend and fellow researcher Max (Paul Bettany) downloads his consciousness into a computer before expiring. But is the Will reboot, Will 2.0, really Will?

Sceptical scientist Morgan Freeman and suspicious Fed Cillian Murphy have their doubts and, when Will takes control of the stock market, buys himself a town in the desert and starts curing the world’s sick, disabled and dying with nanobots, building himself an army of nano-enhanced zombies and splaffing around his grey goo, they join forces with arch-Luddite Kate Mara to pull the digitised Will’s plug, byting off more than they can chew as the near omnipotent computer program fights back…

Where’s Wally? With Transcendence’s less-than-stellar performance at the US box office begging questions about Johnny Depp’s validity as a movie star capable of opening a film (Answer: he can’t. None of his films have ever made bank apart from the ones where he’s a trustafarian pirate. Check the stats.) and the film itself asking some pretty big questions about what it means to be human, about how our society treats its sick and disabled, about the dangers of rapidly evolving technology, it’s intrusion into our personal lives, the impending singularity, about hubris, about love, about grief, does God exist and if not do we have the right to create Him (or Her), the biggest question Transcendence fails to ask is just where is novice director, and Christopher Nolan’s favourite cinematographer, Wally Pfister? So suffused is the film with Nolan’s DNA, borrowing his sombre, sober style and his stock supporting cast (Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy) there’s little evidence of Pfister, Transcendence feeling almost like a reverent homage to a mentor, an approximation of Nolan’s work assembled from constituent parts (think Gus Van Sant’s faithful but bland Psycho remake), much as protagonist/antagonist Will is reconstructed in the ether. Like the dilemma faced by it’s characters however, Transcendence’s biggest problem is that just because it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a duck. Aptly, there’s something just a little mechanical about it.

That’s not to say that the film isn’t ambitious (it is; very) or that it isn’t enjoyable; it’s a sleek, intelligent slice of sci-fi that, with the exception of Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly, feels more Philip K. Dick-esque than any actual adaptations of Dick’s work (yes geekboys, wonderful as Blade Runner is, even it doesn’t really engage with old Horselover Fat’s ideas and preoccupations on anything but a surface level), cherry-picking ideas and beats from Michael Crichton’s techno-thrillers (most obviously Prey), from sci-fi classics like 2001, The Matrix and Donald Cammell’s Demon Seed, as well as forgotten gems like The Forbin Project and cult favourites like Max Headroom, defying and confounding expectations right up until the moment it turns into any other Summer popcorn studio pap in it’s disappointing final act with the army bringing in tanks to fight Depp’s zombie army and dark, clouds of nanobots that move like mesmerising starlings through to a fudged final twist.

The performances for the most part are good with the luminous Hall wonderful as the grieving widow, driven half-mad by loss, single-mindedly attempting to keep her husband alive as more than just a memory, her eyes bright with wounded insanity, while Mara, Murphy and Freeman are reliably dependable though Bettany is rather wasted as the computer genius best bud whose sole role is really just to explain proceedings to the audience, much as Donald Sutherland tended to do in films of the ‘90s, and would certainly have made a more interesting, more sympathetic Will than Depp. The film’s weakest link, as with most of the films he chooses to sleepwalk through, is Johnny Depp playing the ghost in the machine as if he’s an opium-addled Professor Brian Cox but with better hair, hipster Harry Potter specs and an Elvis mumble rather than an excitable Manc nasal whine and the enthusiasm of a puppy in a room full of unhumped legs. There’s little chemistry between Depp and Hall but that may actually work in the film’s favour, Depp’s Will being something of a cold fish growing increasingly possessive over his wife. And frankly, casting the bland, tedious Depp as a genius scientist who single-handedly takes over the Internet and brings the world to its collective knees is, well, about as plausible as the decision to cast teenager-stalker James Franco in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes as a genius scientist who accidentally destroys Mankind by creating both a race of super monkeys and a deadly virus. I don’t care how many times Judd Apatow tells us James Franco was reading The Iliad on the set of Pineapple Express or how many dead, gun-nut writers Depp used to hang out with, if we’re being honest, neither one really strikes you as big readers, do they?

While Transcendence almost inevitably recycles Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with its mad scientist meddles with Nature and develops God complex plot, though Will’s God complex is tangible in that’s a Bond villain-ish underground complex, Transcendence is at it’s best in its quieter moments as the creepy Depp, remote and cold while alive, becomes a controlling, abusive presence in Hall’s life, monitoring her every move, watching her sleep, her life bracketed by his ever-present image staring out at her from computer screens, the obsessive stalker flipside of Spike Jonze’s Her, a cyber Sleeping With The Enemy.

As dire a warning of the future as Transcendence may be however with its omnipotent, sentient, control freak computer program regulating and invading every aspect of our lives, it doesn’t address our own culpability. Knowledge is power and every day we willingly surrender more and more information online to faceless government bureaucrats and viral marketers. We already live in a virtual world; we shop online, work online, date online. Who needs Johnny Depp as a virtual reality Jesus when we have Mumsnet and Dishface Cameron policing the Internet for us, telling us what we can and can’t look at. The scary reality is it’s not the ghost of dead genius virtually dabbling in our lives but a cabal of old Etonians and Amazon. Now, where did I leave my radioactive bullets?

Ambitious and thought provoking without ever really engaging emotionally, Transcendence should be commended for being a tent-pole studio flick that at least credits its audience with the same degree of intelligence as the film itself.

 

VERDICT: [rating=3]

Hypnotisoren i regi av Lasse Hallstrom

DVD Review: The Hypnotist

As a huge fan of husband-and-wife team Lars Kepler’s astonishingly good debut novel, I was excited to see how it would translate to screen.

Unfortunately, the film had a lot to live up to, being touted by many (including FrightFest when it screened at the festival last year), as the new Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The novel stands tall next to its Scandinavian sister. However, the film only suffers in comparison, the mousey librarian next to its wild, punky sibling.

The film opens in a similar vein to the book. CID’s Detective Inspector Joona Linna (Tobias Zilliacus) is called to two crime scenes – the murder of a teacher in a sports hall, and the annihilation of a little girl and her mother, the brother left comatose after a vicious stabbing (Jonatan Bökman). The murders are related as the teacher is the father of the murdered child.

At the hospital, anxious to solve the murder for the sake of the surviving boy, Det Insp Linna begs trauma expert, and disgraced hypnotist, the fantastically monikered Erik Bark (Mikael Persbrandt), to try to break through the coma to uncover what the boy has witnessed.

Meanwhile, Linna discovers the boy has a sister who is still alive but off the radar and, believing she is set for slaughter, he sets off to search for her and uncover the seeming vendetta against the family.

Bark has his own problems to contend with; chronic insomnia, a suspicious wife (Lena Olin) who wants a break from the relationship, a haemophiliac son (Oscar Pettersson) who’s affected by his parents’ problematic marriage.

And the focus is almost exclusively on the Bark family. For example, there is a nicely executed scene straight from the book where a hooded figure emerges from the shadows and steals away the son after drugging the mother. Bark Senior has already unwittingly aided him by taking sleeping tablets, rendering him out cold. The film follows the hunt for the missing boy.

There were a few complex, even controversial, plotlines in the novel which unfortunately director Lasse Hallstrom wasn’t brave enough to tackle, such as the legacy of child abuse, which is a central tenet of the book. It is only touched upon in the film with the questioning of one of Erik’s former patients, Evert Braun.

As Hallstrom has a reputation for making sentimental films (Chocolat, Safe Haven, Dear John), maybe he found the grittiness and controversy too far a departure from his usual oeuvre. This can be backed up by the fact he seems to have culled the enigmatic and complex Linna down from his starring role in the book to a mere side man, in favour of the titular hypnotist and his family, focusing more on their emotional problems and family issues. This is a shame (especially as I was hopeful there would be more sequels featuring Linna, just like the books) and especially as such a lot of the story has been culled with him. No more a Dirty Harry type, he has been castrated into a mere PC Plod.

The film’s drab traditional, stereotypical bleached Swedish noir imagery is lit in practically every scene with shots of light smearing through the shadowy soft focus; from the opening sun just breaking through the clouds over a stark city landscape, and later sunbeams reminiscent of spotlights aiding a police search, through to fairy lights, and the traditional Swedish Christmas candelabra.

What does this leitmotif mean? The light of hope shining through the dark, dirty murders, the truth emerging from lies, awareness versus catatonia – or just the light at the end of a dull tunnel..? Like the murkiness of the imagery, the leitmotif seems rather obscure as well, obfuscated by the plot twists that have been prematurely strangled, aborted in their prime.

As the last third has been slashed to pieces, and the thrilling finale re-envisaged and also truncated, the ending rushes up to you after a rather slow middle, and is over before you know it.

So much of the book’s interwoven plots and background are edited, as well as many supporting characters. In fact, the only real viciousness, apart from the brief, frenzied scenes of murder, is the culling of the script and Linna’s character.

However, I still think the film has enough to sustain it and I’d almost recommend you only watch it if you haven’t read the book. Though it’s hard to warm to the movie version of Linna (who is confusingly similar looking to Bark), the kid is cinematically endowed with Swedish blond cuteness and you do develop a relationship with the family, and care what happens to them.

There are also problems with the subtitling, like it has been rushed out without being checked, which is unlikely as it has been over a year since its Swedish theatrical release.

The Swedish title is Hypnotisoren and, seeing as there were so many spelling errors in the subtitles, I’m rather surprised Hypnotisnoren didn’t appear in large letters across the screen. It would have been more appropriate, given the circumstances.

 

VERDICT: [rating=3]

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The first trailer for The Pyramid arrives

The first trailer has bowed for Egyptian curse horror flick The Pyramid and, truth be told, it doesn’t look that bad.

Following a team of US archaeologists that get a whole lot more than they bargained for when they unearth an ancient tomb, it’s all dark tunnels, lots of running and screaming – oh, and James Buckley from The Inbetweeners.

That strange bit of casting aside, the film also stars Chronicle’s Ashley Hinshaw, as well as True Blood/American Horror Story alum Denis O’Hare.

The film is actually directed by Gregory Levasseur (making his debut behind the camera), so the trailer elects to focus on producer Alexandre Aja, who brought the likes of Switchblade Romance and The Hills Have Eyes remake to the big screen – films written by Levasseur himself.

The Pyramid hits cinemas on December 5.

 

 

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Frightfest Review: Nymph

Nymph, or “Killer Mermaid” as it’s known in the states – is a Serbian monster movie about a murderous fish-bottomed lady a la Ariel but without the red hair and Disney smile – her teeth are pointier. The American title takes away a certain je-ne-c’est quoi right?

The film takes a mythological character with a pinch of fairy-tale and creates a quirky camp creature feature that relies on lady flesh – the pretty kind, not the maimed or rotten or bloody kind to sell the story. I’m always wary of a film that relies on pretty ladies – yes, of course, it was expected with a film called ‘Nymph’ and a mermaid whose half naked half scaly, but when it’s the sole selling point you know instinctively that the content is going to be severely lacking. And, surprise, surprise, it was.

Also, it’s fair to say that when you’re served up a female protagonist in a horror film, e.g. woman as monster, her deadly trait is mainly her ability to mercilessly seduce and capture men with her stunning looks. For me, this feels a little old fashioned and equates to a yawn-fest. Kelly (Kristina Klebe) and Lucy (Natalie Burn) fancy a holiday in Montenegro a. to take in the sights and b. to meet up with Lucy’s ex-boyfriend Alex (Slobodan Stefanovich) as Lucy is hoping to rekindle their college romance. Unfortunately all does not go to plan as Alex’s fiancée Yasmin (Sofija Rajovich) tags along for the ride.

The three of them are joined by macho muscle-man of the group, Boban (Dragan Micanovich), and set out to sea adventures. After taking in an abandoned Army base and an abandoned prison, they moor at an isolated island that the Nazis once used for unethical experiments. Which feels like horror 101 – don’t go into the historical Nazi experiment island!

The gang witness a creepy old sailor emptying some scraps into a well and investigate only to find a gen-u-ine real-life rather pretty mermaid. They are then stalked all over the island by the creepy old sailor before hitching a boat ride back to shore with the original Django himself Italian legend, Franco Nero.

Have you spotted the flaw yet?

Without creepy old sailor guy terrorising the gang in order to preserve the secret of the fish-lady, where is the horror? She can’t walk; she can’t go on land because… she’s a mermaid. After maybe one ill-fated run in with her they can stick to land and avoid a watery grave. That’s why there’s so much reliance on her ability to make men swoon and therefore lure them to her lair, but it just feels flat.

Apart from jumping across the bow of the boat and some sultry struggling in a giant fish net, she’s not that much of a threat.

There is definitely thought behind Nymph but it’s a little misguided and too simplistic. And the mermaid-effects are shocking. If you want to branch out in the creature feature genre maybe invest in a better monster mask for your mermaid…

 

VERDICT: [rating=2]

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Frightfest Review: V/H/S Viral

V/H/S – a film that I would never have guessed would get a sequel, let alone a third instalment.

However, Frightfest 2014 rolled around and when the line up was announced V/H/S Viral was there in all its found footage glory.

I felt I had to see just one more instalment to double check I’m not missing out on the one that finally brings all the ingredients together to make the perfect found footage film that the first two fall short of – third time lucky I guess?

But, alas, I’m afraid to say – I’m painfully aware that this is not the horror fans’ popular opinion – this franchise has gone from average to awful in three short films.

That’s not to say I didn’t, in some parts, enjoy the first two. I like the found footage genre and V/H/S initially served up something different to the running around in the dark implied terror a la Blair Witch Project. Although, the hit and miss of this franchise comes from the multitude of mini films – if there’s nothing tying them neatly together it feels disjointed and quickly becomes boring.

V/H/S Viral, is directed by Justin Benson, Gregg Bishop, Todd Lincoln, Aaron Moorhead, Marcel Sarmiento and Nacho Vigalondo. The original plot thread of the house with the video tapes is gone and in its place is a found footage movie about a guy chasing an ice cream van that has seemingly kidnapped his girlfriend via various means – he apparently likes to film everything in case he becomes part of something ‘bigger’. It features some obnoxious and headache inducing editing, I can only presume to reinforce the idea that these are old, personally shot movies, as if the scratchy screen and overlapped images are an attempt to evoke nostalgia for VHS tapes, instead they just make the story even harder to follow than it already is due to its vague plot and makes me happy for camera phones.

Although, speaking of camera phones, much of this instalment seems to lack the old school video vibe – the loss of the house full of weird old tapes means that the franchise has lost its selling point. It felt confused and bizarre shifting from camera phones to GoPro cameras on skaters’ heads to a documentary style that used CCTV extracts. It basically lost all of its ‘found footage’ appeal.

The found footage style goes out of the window with director Gregg Bishop’s ‘Dante the Great’ section. The episode itself is pretty well shot and is a reasonably entertaining story. The segment centres around a magician who rises to fame after gaining access to a cloak that can perform genuine magic – and he ends up feeding said cloak with his magical assistants in order to preserve the power it holds.However, it feels like a short horror movie that would be used to pitch for a bigger blockbuster. The way its shot, the dialogue, the lighting – everything is so un- V/H/S it’s almost like someone has accidentally added in a trailer amongst the chaos of the running ‘ice cream van’ scene.

The same goes for Nacho Vigalando’s wonderfully weird mirror world horror. A Spanish inventor creates a portal to a parallel universe where everything is exactly the same as his own life – apart from a few monstrous oddities. The section is funny, tense and gruesome and could probably work, like Dante the Great, as a feature film.

The final segment of V/H/S: Viral is utter drivel. A couple of skaters are trying to create a super-rad skate video of all their heaviest tricks… and they end up beating to death a group of voodoo worshipers in Tijuana who may or may not be of the undead. Stupid, not scary and erratically filmed on a GoPro attached to the skateboarders and their boards. It was like a teenage boy living out his videogame fantasy – skating and getting into a gnarly with some totally creepy dudes, man. Not scary and rather annoying.

Whilst these excerpts are hit and miss to varying degrees, they are watchable and seem to have some direction. The ultimate let down of V/H/S Viral is the main vein stories which it flicks back to in-between the three mini films. It’s incoherent, nonsensical and not scary. I think it may be, vaguely, an attempt at social commentary about how tech-obsessed the Youtube / Snapchat et al generation are – although this is simply an assumption from the incredibly strange sequence. Whilst that seems like a ridiculous attempt at making a horror film high-brow and relevant it still could work as a concept. Sadly this one falls short.

Of course not all films, particularly horror films, need reasoning or sense but there is a line between creating something that will scare your audience, making them question the outcome for days and creating something so distastefully ‘different’ that it makes no sense, and your audience couldn’t care less either way.

 

VERDICT: [rating=2]

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First clip lands for See No Evil 2

OK, we’ll admit that we enjoyed 2006 bloodbath See No Evil as much as the next genre fan, but as for a sequel? Well, we didn’t really care too much for that.

But then, a funny thing happened – namely that the movie grabbed those devilish Soskas to direct.

Suddenly, with Jen and Sylvia at the helm, See No Evil 2 went from shrug-of-the-shoulders to must-see material, with the casting of American Mary herself Katherine Isabelle (who we also enjoyed in season 2 of Hannibal recently), along with genre fave Danielle Harris, only amping the excitement.

Well, as well as debuting 15 minutes of footage (to a strong reaction) at last weekend’s Frightfest, the first clip has popped up online, which shows Isabelle’s Tamara getting all frisky with the corpse of killer Jacob Goodnight (returning WWE bohemoth Kane).

We’re sure none of this will end pretty (we’re hoping so anyway), but we’ll have to wait until October to find out.

 

 

 

(Courtesy of Funny DTV)

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Frightfest Review: The Sleeping Room

Blue is a teenage call girl working in the seaside town of Brighton (which has rarely looked as beautiful and gothic as it does in this film). When she’s called to meet a client at a rundown apartment house with a sinister history, Blue quickly finds herself – quite literally – on the other side of the mirror, drawn into the sordid web of an ages-old murder mystery that takes violent hold of her dreams and her life and forces her to confront a nightmare from her own past.

Everyone involved with ‘The Sleeping Room’ should be very proud. This modest but stylish and (for the most part) very atmospheric little movie, which is receiving its World Premiere at Frightfest and is the first feature film ever to equity crowdfund online, isn’t without its faults but scores enough goodwill in the first three-quarters of its runtime that the lacklustre too-generic ending can mostly be forgiven.

Leila Mimmack is a revelation as Blue. From the first moment she appears on screen, we like her and want to follow her the whole way through this journey and see her come out safe the other side. Whether she does or not – especially given the kind of twisted supernatural terror she’s pitched against – I’m not going to say, but the road has as many twists and turns as there are pebbles on Brighton beach. Mimmack has a terrific onscreen presence and makes a wonderfully vulnerable (but ballsy) ‘girl in peril’.

Blue’s client, a shy young man called Bill who has been brought down from London to renovate the apartment house and introduces Blue to a disturbing world of secret rooms, hooded ghosts (there’s a great early jump-scare that works a treat) and probably the world’s only snuff-movie-playing ‘What the Butler Saw’ machine, is very nicely portrayed by Joseph Beattie, who adeptly walks the fine ‘can we trust him / can’t we trust him’ line for most of the film and is the perfect complement to Ms Mimmack’s terrific female lead.

As for the rest of the cast – well, it’s such a small hard-working ensemble that it seems unfair to single any of them out individually but Julie Graham as Blue’s boss Cynthia, and David Sibley as their very unpleasant pimp Freddie, are particularly strong in roles that could very easily have been hammed-up into oblivion.

John Shackleton’s direction is also very striking (as is Simon Poulter’s cinematography, particularly on exterior location in the day and night of the Brighton seafront) and together they capture the mood perfectly right up until the story wobbles off the rails in the final Act. Paul Saunderson’s impressive musical score also deserves a big mention.

It’s that last part of the screenplay that lets ‘The Sleeping Room’ down, when the story nosedives into horror film-cliché and loses direction and / or faith in itself, abandoning all the carefully constructed slow-burn suspense and character development of the first half hour for a climax that is rushed, incoherent and ultimately disappointing. It’s a genuine shame but it’s also a familiar trap that a lot of more experienced writers and directors have fallen into and in no way does it unravel all the good work done beforehand. Personally, I’d rate this over the very similarly-themed ‘The Canal’ any day, and ‘The Canal’ seems to be appearing on a lot of reviewer’s ‘Best of Frightfest’ lists (I am making no comment…)

‘The Sleeping Room’ might not keep you awake at night, but you may want to avoid your reflection for a while.

 

VERDICT: [rating=3]

 

 

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Amityville: The Awakening trailer descends

When it comes to horror franchises that just won’t die, the Amityville series is right up there.

We’ve had sequels, 3D versions and reboots, and the truth is I can’t actually remember a good one (although the Part 2 entry was pretty useful if I remember rightly).

Anyways, here we go again with yet another offering, entitled Amityville: The Awakening, which look as though it wants to dial everything back in reboot fashion.

The plot seems based around youngster Belle (Bella Thorn) and her family, which include mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and very sick brother James (Cameron Monaghan).

For healthcare reasons, they end up moving into the Amityville house, but, as we all know, that is never going to be a good thing.

Also starring the likes of Kurtwood Smith, Amityville: The Awakening is set for a January 2015 release.

 

 

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Movie Review: Night Moves

A trio of young radical eco-terrorists, desperate to make a meaningful statement, come together to plot to blow up an unsightly hydroelectric dam in the Pacific NorthWest that symbolises the consumerist, industrialist society, selfishly destroying natural resources, that they wish to strike against.

A high society dropout now working in a women-only New Age health spa, Dena (Dakota Fanning) has turned her back on her wealthy upbringing and embraced the extreme end of environmentalism. Boozy ex-marine Harmon meanwhile has been radicalised by his experiences overseas, has turned his military training to the construction of homemade munitions from ammonium enriched farm fertiliser. The group has no leader but their leader is very definitely intense, middle class outsider Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) who’s so radical he works on an organic farm and lives in a yurt (what could be more middle class?) but burns with rage and conviction, believes the end justifies the means.

Despite some last minute hitches, the group pull off their attack in spectacular fashion. But when they discover their symbolic act of grandstanding protest had very real casualties (a camper sleeping on the riverbank is drowned), suspicion, guilt and conscience split the group, forcing the increasingly paranoid Josh to take extreme, murderous action…

Far less interesting or as complex as last year’s The East, there’s a nice moral ambivalence and noirish atmosphere to Kelly Reichardt’s latest feature Night Moves (the title’s even borrowed from Arthur Penn’s seminal ‘70s neo-noir) which sees her drift along, observing without overtly judging a group of radical environmentalists as they plot and carry out an act of eco-terrorism. It’s very nearly two thirds of a good film; the planning and execution is low-key yet tense, the scene where their plan almost unravels as Fanning attempts to buy enough material to blow up a dam is almost unbearable. Is the salesman, played by James Le Gros, on to her? Is he suspicious of why she wants to buy so much fertiliser? Is he just a stickler for the rules, insisting she present the appropriate identification? Or is he just an old-fashioned sexist? It may even be one of the most thrilling scenes you’ll see this year. But it’s just a scene where someone tries to buy fertiliser. Every interaction in the film drips with suspicion and threat whether it’s the group interacting with the world around them (buying a boat, chatting to a drunk at a campsite, a chance encounter in a diner with a former prison buddy) or the internal divisions that gnaw at them.

Where the film falls down however is in its last third as the aftermath of their grand statement proves to have a human cost and guilt and recrimination tear the group apart, Jesse Eisenberg proving once again that he makes a shitty, self-serving, untrustworthy friend. As the idealistic Dena, Fanning is charismatic and bright and obviously doomed the moment her principles brush up against stark reality while in what’s really just an extended cameo, Sarsgaard impresses as the Unabomber-esque reclusive bombmaker living out in the sticks. Had his character, the All-American soldier boy who is radicalised by his service and turns against the military-industrial complex, been the focus of the film Night Moves might have made a more satisfying, intelligent piece of cinema.

Instead the focus of Reichardt’s film is the bland, intense, twitchy outsider Josh played in a stunning original piece of stunt casting by bland, intense, twitchy outsider Eisenberg. Whatever tension and goodwill Night Moves had built up is largely dissipated as Eisenberg comes over all Raskolnikv descending into a personal hell of suspicion, doubt and paranoia, the film hobbled by Josh/Jesse’s nervy unlikability.

Beautifully shot and composed, Reichardt’s Night Moves is yet another portrait of alienated outsiders from one of independent cinema’s most interesting voices.

 

VERDICT: [rating=3]

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Frightfest Review: Deadly Virtues

A home invader – who has a key to the front door – interrupts a married couple having sex. He ties the husband up in the bath using rope and a series of intricate knots. He ties the wife up in the kitchen – even more intricately – and tells her “You belong to me now.”

After several episodes of torture and humiliation, during which the (literally) bath-bound husband loses a body part, the softly-spoken intruder tells the wife that if she and her husband are going to make it through the weekend alive, he’s going to take over husband duties for a couple of days. What follows for the rest of the film is an uncomfortable dissection of a marriage, the unveiling of a few painful secrets, and an unexpected and violent ending that is let down by a trite climax which rushes too fast for the finish line.

Here’s a warning: if you react as badly to the first half hour of ‘Deadly Virtues’ as I did (and, judging from several reviews I’ve read, I’m not alone) stay with it and keep watching. I originally turned the screener off after ten minutes thinking this is exactly the kind of movie I hate. I’m glad I gave it another chance because there’s a lot more going on here than the first thirty minutes would suggest.

Director Ate De Jong has had a sporadic mixed-bag of a career. Probably his most successful film here in the UK was the 1991 comedy ‘Drop Dead Fred’, which was not so much funny as irritating.

There is nothing funny or irritating about ‘Deadly Virtues’, although the torture porn in the first Act did try my patience. I’ll never be convinced of the various arguments that directors and writers use to defend torture porn… that it’s a way to confront the audience / hold a mirror up to nature / make us feel the victim’s degradation… (blah blah blah). As far as I’m concerned, that’s all an excuse to pull out nasty little shock tactics because the filmmakers don’t have any imagination and when a film starts out using that device it’s pretty much guaranteed the rest of the film will be a waste of two hours you’ll never get back from your life. That’s why I turned ‘Deadly Virtues’ off the first time round.

But the reality is, once the torture porn is over ‘Deadly Virtues’ does have quite a few interesting things to say about relationships, death and sexual power. It also quite neatly inverts what most home invasion films are generally about and gives the genre a little more psychological depth than we’re used to. Screenwriter Mark Rogers structures the story well and shows a lot of skill, especially in his dialogue.

Ate De Jong also makes some interesting directorial choices. With such an obviously low budget and a story that takes place almost exclusively inside three rooms of a suburban London house, it would have been easy to make this look like a TV film. For the most part, De Jong manages to avoid that. He actually uses the limited space to his advantage.

But where ‘Deadly Virtues’ really scores is in its casting of Megan Maczko and Edward Akrout as the young wife and the Intruder. Megan Maczko is particularly impressive. She gives a brave performance without ever putting the self-consciousness brakes on, and takes a complex and dangerous physical and emotional journey over the course of the film’s hour-and-a-half runtime.

By a similar token Edward Akrout has such a quiet, surprisingly disarming screen presence that the psychology of his character, particularly the change-downs that take place in the last two-thirds of the film, is completely believable. Obviously how the character behaves is down to the writer, but a less sympathetic actor would have ruined it all.

Matt Barber, as Tom the husband, has much less screen time than his co-stars and meets all the requirements of a role that, basically, is just a cypher. He’s also saddled with the only lines of dialogue in the film that should have been cut on the grounds of “Oh please, really? He really just said that?! Seriously??!!”

There are two other people in the cast, both of whose names have first billing in the opening titles, neither of whom has very much screen-time but one of them (the better known one) still has a screen presence and the other didn’t really need to be there at all, except to serve a very hackneyed plot point.

So what’s my final take on ‘Deadly Virtues’? Despite the questionable first half hour, I’ll recommend it.

 

VERDICT: [rating=4] (three for the film, one star for Megan Maczko’s performance)

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Frightfest Review: Der Samurai

Every now and again comes a film that gives you something you have never seen before. More rare still, is a film that gives you something you’ve never seen before…and is absolutely remarkable. Till Klienert’s Der Samurai is such a rare delight; it is a stunning and unique thriller with an absolute identity that fully immerses and enthralls.

When a mysterious package arrives at the home of young police officer Jakob, addressed to a ‘Lone Wolf,’ little does he know the chain of events that this one item will unleash. Late in the night, his phone rings, and the intended recipient of the package requests Jakob to deliver it. Intrigued more than put out, Jakob goes to a lonely, decrepit house in the woods and finds a man wearing a dress and make up, waiting for the samurai sword hidden in the package, so he can begin a rampage through the sleepy village. Jakob will have to discover who this debauched maniac is and what drives him?

Der Samurai is a film of incredible style and creativity. It is a complete vision, absolute and moving. It at once moves gently with an ethereal beauty, and yet with a purpose and directness, the dynamism of genre cinema; the result is a sleek and relentless ride, as beautiful and streamlined as the Samurai’s sword. The ultimate example of this creativity can be seen in the most unique and expressive death I can ever remember seeing; to discuss it would be to undermine its impact, but safe to say, it completely embodies the beauty and strangeness that defines Klienert’s film. Klienert also channels the imagery of the fairytale, in a similar fashion to Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves (a film Klienert himself notes as an inspiration). Using the wolf as a symbol of wild nature, the other, freedom in animal form; the wolf becomes a symbol of what is lurking within Jakob, and what is unleashed in the samurai. The beast is the sexual awakening, one that draws the central figures together. Through the fantastical, this sense of the fairytale and the fluidity between tenderness and violence, Klienert creates the atmosphere of the dream, the bizarre space inbetween. The world of these ‘lone wolves’ transform the real and reveal the insanity beneath; the truth beneath the lie, the wolf from beneath the sheep’s clothing.

Indeed, the wolves that drive the narrative embrace the same clarity of style and tone that their director conveys; Michel Diercks delivers an excellent performance as the repressed and dedicated Jakob, a man whose absolute dedication and self-sacrifice goes un-celebrated and is in fact, mocked by locals. Diercks perfectly captures Jakob’s innocence, almost a calmness that trembles across his features, and also, the frustration, the overwhelming desire building within; that animal waiting to burst out of his skin. Pit Burowski’s cross dressing samurai IS the animal free, and his interpretation is staggering, it is a masterpiece of acting, rich with the kind of wild abandon and absolute immersion into character that separates memorable performances from unforgettable performances. He is an abstract, his freedom of self and overwhelming sexual energy make him beyond sexual norms; in his extravagant outfit, he challenges the conventions, he is free to be what he wants, and in a way, becomes an object of desire in the sheer sexual power. In his frenzy and childish abandon, Burowski’s samurai reflects the mania of Heath Ledger’s Joker and Rutger Hauer’s turns in Blade Runner and The Hitcher, and ultimately, deserves to stand alongside these legendary performances.

Der Samurai is an experience I personally will not forget. It is absolutely gripping, tense, playful, knowing, explosive, extravagant, irreverent, surreal…and yet indefinable. As a work of pure sensation, a film that is dynamic in a way that only the master works of genre cinema can truly conjure; Der Samurai is nothing short of a classic in the making. Emotive and fierce, in my opinion, Der Samurai is the film of the festival, and will go down as a cult classic of this generation.

 

VERDICT: [rating=5]

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Frightfest Review: Faults

After a rough divorce that has left him without any money, foremost cult expert Ansel (Leland Orser) is on tour giving seminars about such brainwashing. Approached by Claire’s distraught parents, he agrees to help them, and their daughter’s de-programming seems to run smoothly enough. However, the more Ansel spends with Claire the more he starts to doubt she’s actually brainwashed. Maybe there is something to ‘Faults’ after all?

Simply put, Faults is an experience. It grips and never lets go. Much like The Wicker Man, this is a film that creeps under your skin, just when you think you know where it is going, another subtly emerges from the characters, and the dimensions of the film change, and the unsettling atmosphere builds to the point of pulsing fever. What is most surprising about Faults is the wry humour that runs through the film; in the first half, it almost plays like a black comedy, as the increasingly exasperated and desperate Ansel struggles to keep everything together. In particular, the opening sequence, as he tries his best to con a hotel restaurant out of a free meal, pushing further and further as the manager desperately tries to get him to leave. It is hilarious, but also shows the creeping sense of discomfort that Riley slowly increases as the film progresses, like a kettle boiling. Indeed, Riley Stearns’ direction is superb in its subtlety. It is poised, a display of absolute visual control, allowing his stars to shine while simultaneously suggesting the subtle changes in the relationships, the shifting nature of Orser’s world, reaching an absolute peak in one devastating sequence that seems to exist between reality and the subconscious, one that absolutely shakes the foundations of the film.

Faults is an intense character study, dominated by two figures, Leland Orser and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. As such the success of the film rests as much on them as the director, Riley Stearns, and they don’t just deliver…they provide stunning, career best performances, in particularly Orser. In playing the deeply troubled Ansel, Orser emerges with a performance of such emotion intensity and thoughtfulness; it is if he is channeling the very desolation of his soul. He is a wound laid bare; the pain evident in each movement of his face and the subtle gestures of his body. It is a performance that creates tremendous pathos, and also as the film twists, discomfort as he unravels. Equally as remarkable for her control and patience is Winstead in the role of the cult’s victim, who Ansel attempts to ‘deprogram.’ She is the image of vulnerability and fragility, someone who has been manipulated and is struggling to break free. And yet, beneath is a cold determination, and a suggestion of strength, a thread that becomes increasingly complex as Ansel’s issues come to the fore. Together, they are a dynamic partnership, and absolutely unmissable. They dominate the screen, and deliver two of the most sensational performances of the year.

Faults is an exceptional horror film. It isn’t about monsters, ghosts or serial killers. It’s about a very real, very perverse horror – manipulation and control. It’s about the fragility of the human spirit and those who prey upon this weakness. As the last image burns onto the screen, and cuts to white, it will haunt for far longer. It will own you.

 

VERDICT: [rating=4]

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Frightfest Review: Open Windows

In the modern age of near unrestricted access and connectivity, through the marvels of the technological web spun between all of us, bringing us closer to objects of desire that once were seemingly out of reach, a new world of fears have been born. With images of female sexuality so readily available, and information lurking for those who are able and willing to find them, Nacho Vigalondo explores these fears, in a quite frankly dazzling thriller that moves like nothing you’ve ever seen before, as it throws you into the ever twisting layers of it’s world.

Nick Chambers, the webmaster of a site devoted to movie star Jill Goddard has won an online competition to meet her in the flesh. Unfortunately his prize is a hoax; it’s all an elaborate scam set up by mysterious Chord for him to play a part in an audacious plan that has Jill’s life at the centre of it. However, things aren’t always what they appear, and as the plot thickens, the twists come thick and fast.

Vigalondo describes the film as one that ‘became crazy,’ one that started out as a straight thriller, but in an inspired decision, became a film that would change ‘every 10 minutes into something else.’ Indeed, Open Windows is a near schizophrenic narrative, that jumps from one moment of insanity to another; every time you think you have a handle on where its going, it shifts somewhere else, adding a new layer to the mystery. This could have been either distracting or almost over elaborate, however, through the combination of performance, tone and, most importantly, framing technique, is absolutely gripping; embracing the ridiculous to create a thrilling ride that moves like lightning.

Of course, the most distinctive feature of the film is its complex visual design. As with Frightfest entry The Den, the whole film is told through computer screen, predominately Nick’s laptop. Through the myriad windows, and communication apps open upon his screen, the film is captured in a pathway of perspectives. All at once, as many as four or five characters or events are captured in synchrony, creating a depth that is unparalleled. Vigalondo’s camera moves with logic and purpose, able to always find the right window or contrast of windows to enhance the tension and the growing sense of both deception and illusion. It’s a truly unique experience to behold, and while it might not be to everyone’s taste, it is an extremely clever device that taps into our increasingly online lifestyle. It’s logic and direction is an extension of our familiarity and understanding of the computer screen. This is style as comment, and it’s a joy.

Ejijah Wood uses his ‘boy next door’ innocence, and channels the kind of bumbling ‘in too deep’ sensibility of James Stewart or Cary Grant, to bring a modern Hitchcockian wrong man to the screen. Perhaps, the wrong men of De Palma’s films are a better comparison however, as they share Nick’s technological lifestyle (Blow Out) and the inherent voyeurism, the desire to hold the image of the woman (Body Double). Sasha Grey is also particularly accomplished in the smaller, but crucial role of the pursued celebrity. Her very casting is in itself an act of reference, since her previous career as a porn star adds the layers of her character’s position of desired sexual object, and the pervading concerns with the availability of the female body online. Grey channels her sexuality in a brilliant way, playing a character who is defined by her beauty and her bankability as a sex object, and revealing an intense emotional core, displaying a distaste toward that image with extreme verisimilitude.

Open Windows plays a like a high tech Hitchcock thriller, with Elijah Wood excelling at the ‘wrong man,’ as Vigalondo, like De Palma before him, takes the ideas of identity, voyeurism and sexuality, and channels them through new technology. In the process he creates a thrilling multi-platform experience, filled with creativity, concerns with both celebrity and surveillance culture, and most importantly, a crazed dynamism that defines it as bonkers and brilliant.

 

VERDICT: [rating=4]

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Frightfest Review: Home

Fears of parenthood and the corruption of the female body come to the fore in Nicolas McCarthy’s supernatural chiller, Home. When real estate agent Leigh goes to assess a property that has just come onto the market in the highly sought Greenville area, little does she know the appalling evil she is allowing to enter her life, and it’s horrific ramifications. For this house is haunted by something beyond understanding; it is connected to a series of mysterious incidents, which involve a girl in a red coat, a tragic death, and a macabre, demonic deal. To say any more about the plot of the film would ruin one of the elements that makes Home such a surprising film.

This is a film with some truly effective twists that pull the film in directions that increase the suspense and allows McCarthy to steadily lead into greater moments of horror. Indeed, the gripping tension born of this sense of misdirection and endless possibility allows for some memorable jump scares, exquisitely honed for maximum effect, in particular born of McCarthy’s use of reflective surfaces as a layering of the horror. If you are a fan of jumping out of your seat (and which horror fan isn’t?!), Home already has something for you. Another crucial element at the heart of the film’s success is the building of tension through sound design; the film is dominated by a use of pounding and pulsing sounds, deep and brooding, both in the score and used incidentally. The effect of these sounds creates an added layer of fear; sound reflects the growing presence of evil, the demon increasing in strength and influence.

Of course, the possibilities the film sets up does come to haunt it; for a film so full of ideas, it isn’t perhaps visually dynamic enough, it’s blurring of reality and the supernatural coming across as unfortunately sterile, rather than discomforting. Furthermore, the finale is disappointing considering the ideas at play and the potential for something truly horrifying to immerge. Ultimately, it feels like an obvious and almost illogical conclusion.

Home is a quietly effective example of demonic horror, but perhaps it is too quiet for its own good (jumps aside of course). It lacks the depth, the complexity of ideas, and the finesse to push into the realms of classic supernatural horror such as Rosemary’s Baby, which shares some of Home’s fears. However, while it lacks the edge and quality, it certainly is full of an intensity that surprises and while not separates it from the pack, makes it an enjoyable and affective little horror.

 

VERDICT: [rating=3]

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Frightfest Review: Among The Living

Childhood can be a scary time; new feelings, emotions, friendship made and friendships lost. You have to be strong to be kid. And in Among The Living, this strength is put to the test by the monstrous, one that draws into the light not only the endurance of the child, but also the failings of the patriarchy before them. It’s the last day of school before summer break and 14 year-old troublemakers Victor, Tom and Dan decide to skip class to avoid detention and wind up causing mischief in the countryside. Finding their way onto the back-lot at an abandoned film studio, they witness a hulking masked figure dragging a kidnapped woman into an underground lair. Escaping this terrifying scene, they are punished for their wild actions and even worse, no one believes their ‘crazy’ story. But this mysterious evil has followed them home, with the intention to silence them, no matter what it takes.

Among The Living is more than just a tale of innocence lost, it’s about the inevitability of this loss; the ‘monster’ doesn’t steal the innocence, only draws into focus how much innocence has already been taken from these boys’ lives, through tragedy, abuse and neglect. This is where the film truly excels; it’s critique of childhood in modern times, one where the responsibility of parenthood has become eschewed. By the film’s conclusion, the best, most dedicated father is revealed to be the father of the mutant killer.

The opening half is an incredible set up, as the youthful abandon of the children is suddenly ground to a halt by the intervention of the evil in the world. The camera work is magnificent; if any element is reminiscent of Tobe Hooper’s seminal Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it is the deliberate motion of the camera, at once slow and ominous, paced to drain every last drop tension out of the audience. It also features one of the most effective openings of modern horror, one that sets up the intrigue of the film to come, but more importantly, explodes with violent menace and desperation that will leave audiences aghast with it’s intense reality and physicality.

Unfortunately, once the monster enters the children’s spaces, the pay off doesn’t live up to the set up; there is some excellent imagery once the physicality of the monster is revealed, and some scares are coaxed from this, but in truth, the nuanced emotive build up is left behind for straight forward horror tropes, and slasher film mentality, one that is less effective and horrific than the slow ratcheting tension. Indeed, the focus finds itself being placed onto the one of the children and his family in particularly; suddenly, the strength of the performance between the three children, one that drives the film forward and feels very real is lost, and the film degenerates slightly with it, which is disappointing.

Among The Living is an interesting slice of French horror with some exceptional moments, an effective ‘Hills Have Eyes’ vibe, and mature performances from the three child leads; yet, like the monstrous killer, it is one of degeneration as it cannot maintain the high standard it opens with, and falls into the trap of easy horror conventions. However, it is a film worth experiencing for the high points, which truly leave a mark on the viewer.

 

VERDICT: [rating=3]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Frightfest Review: Blood Moon

The American West, 1887. A stagecoach full of mysterious passengers rattles and rolls through the eerie Colorado wilderness. Suddenly an enigmatic gunslinger called Calhoun steps into its path and uses his six-shooter to hail the stagecoach down. Meanwhile, the Marshall of a nearby town is in pursuit of two ruthless outlaws who have just raided the local bank. His only companion is Black Deer, a young Indian woman with some secrets of her own. As night falls and the blood moon rises, all the characters find themselves fighting for their lives in a deserted town where they have to survive not only each other but the fangs and claws of a mythical werewolf-type beast called a Skinwalker.

I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t looking forward to this. I’m not a fan of Westerns and, with the exception of ‘American Werewolf in London’ and ‘Ginger Snaps’, I pretty much hate werewolf films. So why I volunteered to review ‘Blood Moon’ is anybody’s guess. But the thing is, although it hasn’t got a shred of originality, suffers from some dubious creature design in the final Act, and has a tone and style reminiscent of those terrible low-budget ‘Cowboys vs (insert monster here)’ rip-offs you see on the SyFy Channel, I enjoyed it.

Where the film gets things right is in its casting, its set design and a script that is decently paced and doesn’t take itself too seriously. ‘Blood Moon’ was scripted by veteran TV comedy writer Alan Wightman who has a nice line in snappy generic dialogue and fortunately manages to stay clear of the groan-inducing one-liners (well, mostly). There is also a neat midway twist I didn’t see coming, although that could be because I’ve had a long day. The small cast also commit themselves admirably to a hokey premise and very one-dimensional characters. Anna Skellern, as ballsy Saloon owner Marie, and Amber Jean Rowan as a willowy new bride who is more than meets the eye, are particularly fun to watch.

Unfortunately, Jeremy Wooding’s flat TV movie-of-the-week direction doesn’t do ‘Blood Moon’ any favours. A film as low budget as this one, and with such a predictable seen-it-before storyline, needs some directorial tricks up its sleeve and Wooding doesn’t have any. It’s a shame because what he obviously did have were fantastic production and costume designers (Julian Nagel and Helen Woolfenden respectively) who, together with a very realistic-looking location, had me entirely convinced – right up until the end credits – that this was US production I was watching (all credit to the actors for creating that illusion too). It isn’t. It was filmed in England with, it seems, a mostly British cast and crew. For that piece of cinematic sleight-of-hand alone, ‘Blood Moon’ gets my vote. But it’s a vote that comes with a lot of reservations.

 

VERDICT: [rating=2]

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Frightfest Review: White Settlers

Sometimes, when you settle down to watch a movie, you find yourself battling a strange sense of unease. Not the unease you expect or want to feel when watching a horror film, that sense of growing tension, dread building as a story unfolds, but more a nagging sense that something’s amiss, something’s not quite right, gnawing away at the pit of your stomach. Settling down to watch Simeon Halligan’s White Settlers, I found myself plagued by a sense of disquiet that had nothing to do with the film, a dark, half-remembered realisation dancing tantalisingly out of reach. “Never mind,” I thought, “if it’s important, it’ll come back to you…”

An affluent, middle class English couple, Sarah (Pollyanna McIntosh) and Ed (Lee Williams) abandon the urban rat race of London for an idyllic new life in the Scottish border country (well, actually Derbyshire with a random shot of a Highland cow coz you can’t move North of the border for shaggy longhorn cattle) after buying their dream farmhouse despite the estate agent’s (Emmerdale’s Joanne Mitchell sporting a Brigadoon accent so awful she could be James Doohan’s daughter) not at all ominous tale of it being the site of a historical battle between the Scots and English.

Settling down for their first night in their new home, the jittery Sarah finds herself jumping at every strange noise and creak, forcing the exasperated Ed to put his trousers back on and go roaming around in the dark investigating. But when Ed disappears and a gang of pig-masked angry locals, under the direction of “the Big Man” (Billy Connolly? Surely not…) attack the house, Sarah is forced into a desperate battle for survival.

As if the estate agent’s dodgy accent or the film’s Midlands exteriors weren’t bad enough (even in the dark Derbyshire looks nothing like The Mairches), the final nail in the coffin of White Settlers isn’t its frankly insulting cop-out ending but the moment when Scots actress McIntosh (essaying a far better English accent than Mitchell’s Scottish one), lost, alone and injured as she’s hunted through the woods by locals in pig-masks with hatchets, is briefly aided by a mute Scotland football strip-sporting youngster (mute, I imagine because his Scots accent is probably worse than Mitchell’s).

Squatting, the boy reaches into his backpack and tosses McIntosh a…bottle of water!  That was the precise moment when I spat a disbelieving expletive at the screen and knew that the film had irretrievably lost me, Halligan and writer Ian Fenton’s experience of Scotland obviously being restricted to having seen The Wicker Man on telly.  There are many things the youth could have withdrawn from that bag – a can of Irn-Bru, a poke of chips, a knife, a gun, a bag of glue, an opium pipe, the lost Ark of the Covenant – but the one thing no wee Scottish Ned would be carrying around is a bottle of water.  Buckfast tonic wine; yes.  Water; not a chance in Hell.

Insultingly being marketed as the “Scottish Referendum Horror Film,” White Settlers, unsurprisingly, singularly fails to engage with the very real issues of self-determination, social justice, socio-political and financial independence fuelling the Referendum debate nor does it address the White Settler phenomenon that in the ‘90s saw homegrown tartan terrorists like Settler Watch and Siol Nan Gaidheal pursue a campaign of largely faceless violence and intimidation (through property damage and letterbombs) against the incomers they saw as stealing Scots jobs and homes. But then it’s hardly surprising that a film shot in the Midlands and written and directed by a couple of middle class Englishmen fails to engage with Scottish politics or address in anything but the most superficial fashion the real resentments of many rural (not just Scottish) communities faced with an influx of wealthy urban dwellers. Instead, Halligan and Fenton ineptly recycle the bits of Ils (Them) and Eden Lake they really liked, throwing in the animal-masked antagonists of You’re Next (God, that visual motif got old quick), to produce a home invasion thriller that fails to thrill.

As the victimised couple McIntosh and Williams are decent, better than the film deserves, creating a believably bickering loving couple, the Amazonian McIntosh (familiar to genre audiences for her strong roles in films like Lucky McKee’s The Woman) refreshingly cast against type as an ordinary woman fighting for her life but the film is badly paced, it’s a good thirty minutes before ANYTHING happens, the action when it comes is poorly staged (though there’s a moment with a pig that did make me jump) and the laughably illogical ending undercuts everything that’s gone before it, insulting the audience.

And the vague sense of unease I felt as I sat down to view White Settlers? It was my subconscious sounding the alarm. I realised halfway through that Halligan’s last film, Splintered, had made me want to hurt myself, made me want to poke out my own eyeball and bat it around my head like a Swingball in a forlorn attempt to distract myself from it’s awfulness.  On a positive note, at least White Settlers is better than that.

 

VERDICT: [rating=2]

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