Sunday, 4 November 2018

FrightFest Halloween Edition 2018

Abra Cadaver

FrightFest Halloween Edition 2018
Horror Marathon Saturday 3rd
(and technically 4th) November 2018
Mini reviews for the movies Reborn, Deep Clean, Parallel, Mara, Peripheral, The Unthinkable,
The Predicament and Abrakadabra

It’s been a while since I’ve done an ‘all nighter’ (or in this case, an ‘all dayer’) as in sitting in a cinema for more or less back to back movies for a substantial period of time. I’ve only done this twice before, in fact. Once at The Empire Leicester Square (which is now no longer called The Empire but everyone knows it as such) back in 1989 with the debut of Star Trek V - The Final Frontier, preceded by the four previous movies with an absolutely brilliant audience and a laser show before each film. That one must have run for about 12-13 hours. Then again, in 2005, I did a slightly shorter but certainly wonderful all nighter put on by Celestial Pictures at the Curzon Soho which was four Shaw Brothers movies back to back - The Monkey Goes West, The Mighty Peking Man, Oily Maniac and The Super Infra Man... which must have gone on for 8 - 9 hours.

This year, I enjoyed the sense of communal spirit on the five FrightFest films I saw at the August Bank Holiday weekend event so much that I returned to The Empire Leicester Square (or Cineworld as it insists it is at the moment) for a FrightFest marathon which ran for around 14 hours - the most I’ve ever done back to back, to date. This was also partially inspired by the fact that I really wanted to see three of the movies they were screening and tickets were £15 each which... when the day pass was only £45 for this venue and with a couple of free DVDs thrown in to boot... seemed like the best way of doing this. I was a little bit worried I might get too tired but, no, my love of film kept me wide awake for most of it (although the first two films had me slightly sleepy, for some reason).

Now, I thought that since I saw so many films yesterday, it would be too much for me to remember everything about each film and I usually try to write a review while one is still fresh in my mind before seeing the next film. It’s hard to do that with 8 back to back movies so, hopefully my regular readers won’t think I’m cheating at this too much if I do one of those combined capsule review collections encompassing the day because... well, I just think this will be both a better use of my time and will also help capture the flavour of the event in a more concise format, so to speak.

USA Directed by Julian Richards
Festival print.

So first up was Reborn, a fairly ridiculous tale about a somewhat washed up Hollywood B-movie actress called Lena O'Neill, played by somewhat less than washed up Hollywood genre actress Barbara Crampton. This tells the story of a past that comes back to haunt her at just the wrong time, when her agent played by legendary actress Rae Dawn Chong (curiously disassociated with the movie and completely uncredited if you try and find her included in the listings on the IMDB at the moment) is trying to get her to read for an audition with great director Peter Bogdanovich (who makes a lovely cameo appearance at the end of the movie).

The past that comes back to haunt her is her left for dead stillborn baby Tess, played by Kayleigh Gilbert, who is somehow brought back to life by some dodgy and unexplained electricity, is raised by the pervert morgue assistant who whisks her away with him and who, by the time of her 16th birthday, can somehow manipulate electrical current, just like Electro in the Spider-Man comics I used to read in the early 1970s... and use her powers to kill people who get in the way of her reunion with her mother.

The film is... nicely performed but doesn’t hold well together as a story, it has to be said. There’s a lot of leaps of faith and when a couple of seemingly unrelated deaths cause Detective Marc Fox, played by Michael Paré, to somehow make the unbelievably correct conclusion that someone is using ‘powers of electrokinesis’ then that just about kills what little credibility the picture had. Sure, I understand it’s trying to parody, somewhat, the kinds of films Barbara Crampton used to headline in the 1980s (some posters of which are, bizarrely, on display in her teaching workshop for aspiring actors) but it either didn’t take it far enough or maybe didn’t reign it in enough. The audience did give a big, collective chuckle when the electrokinesis stuff came up out of the blue, that’s for sure.

Also, there were a fair few mistakes on display in the film. Such as a shot towards the end when the detective pulls his car into the front drive of Lena’s house next to her parked car, which has its hazard lights on, for some reason. However, when we get the close up of the shot, the lights on her car are definitely off. Also, when we are told one of the characters is 16 and was ‘stillborn’ in the year 2000 (dating this film as being set in 2016), why are we then confronted by a tombstone which dates her as living from November 2002 - November 2018? This makes no sense. This wasn’t my favourite movie of this year’s FrightFest, that’s for sure. 

Deep Clean
UK Short Directed by Matt Harlock
Festival print

Next up was a short movie called Deep Clean. This was an interesting concept about what really goes on in those builder's tents when roadworks are being done... aka, plugging up interdimensional portals where hostile, alien, plastic baby mannequins are trying to take over your body. It was a nice idea and I can see why the creators are trying to develop it into some kind of TV or web series but I felt the execution on the all important, alien horror scenes was a little drab, to be honest.

Canada Directed by Isaac Ezban
Festival Print

Parallel was next and I was really looking forward to it as it’s by Isaac Ezban, the director of The Incident (which I absolutely loved and reviewed here) and The Similars (which I still haven’t gotten around to watching yet but, don’t worry, due to the kind actions of a film friend, it’s ‘in the pile’). This is his first English language film and it wasn’t actually written by him this time. This kinda shows, actually, because it’s not nearly as strong as The Incident, although the concept is sound and it has some great performances. It’s the old cliché portal to parallel universes plot again but, this time, the group of people who completely luck into this ‘never once explained’ device try and use it for monetary gain by comparing what works well in one slightly different version of their reality and using it to progress themselves in their own reality.

There are some lovely moments and a nice lot of ‘moral dilemma’ issues are raised but ultimately it felt like a throwback to 1980s Americana. It starts off strong with a set up showing just what lengths a person will go to in order to replace someone in one of the parallel dimensions and, to an extent, this informs the ending which shows that this film could easily be franchised or turned into a successful TV show. However, it never really lives up to its pre-credits sequence and I just felt the director could have done something a little more original with this. It’s not really a horror movie but there is a nice sequence in the movie when we see the effect of what happens when you cross over when the mirror portal changes state into a physical glass object when you’re halfway through the jump. So, yeah, a nice gory moment where half a person’s face and body slide down the front of the mirror and the internal organs all pile up onto it. Parallel is an okay film but, for me, not quite as standout as the next movie in the day. 

UK Directed by Clive Tonge
Festival print

Mara is a British film which seems to be set in the US as a criminal psychologist, Kate (played by Bond girl Olga Kurylenko), gets involved in a series of murders involving both herself and others who have been suffering from the very common condition of sleep paralysis... only this version has many of them being systematically targeted, haunted and eventually killed by an ages old sleep demon called Mara. This is based on a real folklore myth from various cultures and I personally came across the intrusion/confusion of incidents of sleep paralysis when I was looking at alien abduction stories a couple of decades ago. The film is absolutely brilliant (if a little obvious at times) and easily stands up against a lot of the big budget US horrors we are getting these days from the likes of Blumhouse Pictures.

The writer/director, (who was very nervous at the festival but needn’t have been because his movie was one of the two standout films of the day), cannily builds in a set of horror rules for the benefit of both the characters and the audience, as he introduces us to the ‘four stages’ of Mara’s modus operandi which gives us a kind of countdown for each character and the order in which we know they will be killed off, overlapping different timelines for different people but, because of these rules, making it so it’s very easy to keep track of things. The film also utilises sound design in a very unsettling and knowing manner, such as the ticking of the swinging arm of the Chinese cat Kurylenko’s character has in her apartment and using this and other sound effects (including a nice musical score which I’m hoping may get some kind of CD release) to build tension by stopping or starting the sound in various scenes. Nice stuff and I hope this movie gets the theatrical release it deserves.

UK Directed by Paul Hyett
Festival print

Next up was Peripheral, directed by Paul Hyett who helmed Howl (which I reviewed here). This stars Hannah Arterton (little sister to Gemma) as Bobbi Johnson, an inflammatory and successful writer who is in hiding in her flat and trying to write her second novel. This is all set in said flat and involves her becoming somehow symbiotically bonded with a new piece of hardware/software writing kit which is sent by her horrible agent and which is constantly getting upgraded while she has to deal with all the distractions this brings... along with dealing with her drug dealer ex-boyfriend and a psycho follower who knows where she lives and who sends video tapes of herself slowly self mutilating until Bobbi agrees to phone her. The film get s darker as it goes on and the performances, especially Arterton’s, are all excellent. It’s basically another metaphor for the creative process (something which seems to be doing the rounds again at the moment in modern cinema) but I didn’t enjoy it as much as Parallel or Mara and some of the ideas such as the main protagonist's fingers, hands and toes slowly turning blacker seemed a bit muddled (even when the director tried to explain that one in the Q & A). I’m glad I saw it though.

The Unthinkable
(aka Den blomstertid nu kommer)

Sweden Directed by Victor Danell (as Crazy Pictures)
Festival print

And then came the absolutely best film of the day. The Unthinkable, aka Den blomstertid nu kommer, which google tells me translates as The Flower Time Now Comes, is a story about a terrorist or possibly opposing country’s military, invasion of Sweden. It takes the form of a mystery but it felt like what would happen if someone had asked the late, great Polish director Kieslowski to make a military/civilian action flick. The thing is, it’s all done through a lens which is all about the main protagonist Alex, played by Christoffer Nordenrot, his unrequited love for childhood sweetheart Anna (played by Lisa Henni), his subsequent career as a much loved progressive pop music artist and his turbulent and destructive relationship with his violently tempered father Bjorn, played by Jesper Barkselius, who managed to make both his wife and then his son desert him.

It’s a beautiful and moving tale and takes a full half to three quarters of an hour just setting up the back story of the characters. As a consequence, when the mystery of the invasion swings into place a decade or so later, you have a real emotional stake in the each and every one of the characters (even some of the minor ones) and you really feel every loss and moment of self sacrifice and redemption. This is an epic movie in every sense, something any director should be proud to have on their CV and it’s so moving that it brought tears to my eyes by the end of the movie. Also, the few jump scares of the day were provided in this film as various unexpected bullet hits and other action moments are handled in such a way that the director manages to never telegraph each new act of antagonism. That being said, I have no idea why this movie was playing at FrightFest but I’m really glad it did because it’s definitely one of this year’s best movies as far as i’m concerned. I’m hoping this will get a general release in this country next year at some point because, frankly, people need to experience the artistry of this film.

The Predicament
New Zealand
Short Film Directed by Steven Baker
Festival print

Then we had a 15 minute short film called The Predicament which was about 14 minutes too long. This has a nice central premise of three people... a woman, her partner and their irritating third wheel of a friend... who get trapped in a car with no keys and have to stay in it for many hours as zombies are trying to get at them. Even when it turns out one of the characters has an ulterior motive and kinda caused The Predicament to happen, it just feels too long for the content and I have to say that it was pleasant but I lost interest fairly quickly, I’m afraid.

Argentina/New Zealand
Directed by Luciano and Nicolás Onetti
Festival print

Last up was a brand new giallo which looks and feels like it’s been shot in the 1970s. Indeed I appreciated the authenticity of the direction and performance style a great deal. It’s like the writers and directors were not trying to imitate the style of the films made by the great giallo masters such as Mario Bava, Dario Argento or Sergio Martino but, instead, going for the look, feels and sound of one of the lesser interesting gialli of the early 1970s time period. And I appreciated a lot of the brilliant, old school flourishes, the blown out colour on old 70s looking stock and the lightning in a bottle moments of purely authentic giallo tomfoolery. It even had a very Cipriani sounding score and at one point, although this seemed to be completely unmentioned on the end credits from what I could see, a cue used as source for a scene which was lifted straight from Piero Umiliani’s score for one of my all time favourite gialli, Mario Bava’s Five Dolls For An August Moon (which I reviewed here).

For all that, though, I had a hard time with this film and felt that it suffered from the same problem that Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof half of Grindhouse suffered from, in that it was too close to the kind of film it was trying to be (rather than the post-modernistic stew which I might find more entertaining at this point) and, in this case, it just felt like I was watching a very dull, sluggish and sleep inducing example of the genre with, admittedly, the odd dash or brilliance in terms of the mise en scène. This, along with Reborn, was one of only two films where I was kinda hoping it would end soon and was clock watching down on it. However, I did enjoy parts of it and overall it contributed to what was a pretty decent and certainly varied day of cinema watching.

All in all, then, FrightFest was worth the struggle of getting home from central London in the small hours of a Saturday (although the city was completely packed with people still as I was leaving the cinema) and I thoroughly enjoyed the community feeling of being in a room full of horror film afficionados who were there for a good time. The scares were very light on these, I’d have to admit but, in some cases here that really didn’t matter and the artistry of the cast and crew made up for it on a lot of these projects. Among the world premieres here we were even shown three exclusive clips from the new Soskia Sisters 'reimagining' of David Cronenberg's Rabid... which makes me feel a little more comfortable with going to see it. This is something I would definitely do again and so I’m kinda hoping I have the financial resources to sort out a similar expedition next Halloween. Definitely one of my more memorable outings this year and watch out to see if some of these films will be hitting the cinema next year. in this country. Fingers crossed.

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