FRIGHTFEST 2015: DAY THREE
BAIT **** UK 2015 82 mins Dir: Dominic Brunt.
“Emmerdale” star Dominic Brunt made an astute directorial debut with BEFORE DAWN, a zombie tale set against the dramatic backdrop of a failing relationship. His second feature similarly unfolds in a bleak post-recession Northern England town beset with misery and debt, and it displays a similar core emphasis on credible, sympathetic characters plunged into a situation of escalating horror and violence.
The human centre is represented by the wonderfully feisty, foul-mouthed Victoria Smurfit and her long-term best friend (Joanne Mitchell), with whom she runs a market stall where much of the day involves wittily fending off the advances of passing perves. Their dream to open up their very own modern café gets a major push when Mitchell is wined and dined by the charming Jonathan Slinger, a merciless loan shark whose false promise of an easy £10,000 loan is the beginning of a campaign of terrorisation against the increasingly desperate women. Smurfit and Mitchell convey a rare, naturalistic chemistry in their scenes together while Slinger’s mesmerising performance provides us with a charmingly persuasive, detestable villain for the credit crunch era – a family man whose horrifying scream of “I never want to be poor again” reinforces the disturbingly credible motivation behind all the violence he sanctions throughout the film. Dynamically paced and almost unbearably intense at times, BAIT chills in its small moments (Slinger wiping blood off his shoe while getting his young daughter to bed) and pays off with a rousing, brutal climax that really delivers. Kudos also for an unpatronising, authentic portrayal of an autistic character and a very funny post-credits stop-motion sequence created by Lee Hardcastle.
DEATHGASM **** New Zealand 2015 Dir: Jason Lei Howden. 90 mins
A hilarious and consistently inventive 80’s-homaging splatter comedy about an outcast (Milo Cawthorne) who forms the eponymous band with surly fellow metal head James Blake and end up unwittingly unleashing the ancient evil “The Blind One”, turning much of the town into rampaging demons. Can metal save the day? An infectious directorial debut for New Zealand VFX artist Howden, the film’s frenetic array of crazy p.o.v. shots, tooling up montages, chainsaw slapstick and dildo bludgeonings recall the early work of Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson, while the funniest sequence – involving a character decapitated twice – reflects a keen sense of barely controlled Python-esque lunacy. Fans of affectionately remembered 80’s horror-metal flicks like TRICK OR TREAT and BLACK ROSES will get a special kick out of it, but the appealing performances and inspired gore set pieces should please everyone, alongside the incidental jokes at the expense of Poison and Rick Astley.
FRANKENSTEIN ***** USA 2015 Dir: Bernard Rose. 89 mins
Writer-director Bernard Rose has made his best movie in years – and the best adaptation of FRANKENSTEIN in decades – with this bold, relevant interpretation of the oft-filmed novel, in which Dr Frankenstein (Danny Huston) and his wife Elizabeth (Carrie-Anne Moss) are both scientists who have created a physically perfect specimen (Xavier Samuel) via revolutionary 3-D technology. Born as a wide-eyed, beautiful innocent, this creation develops apparently fatal imperfections and only becomes a “Monster”, physically and morally, when disowned by his “parents” and exposed to an authentically unpleasant presentation of contemporary L.A. Rose reworks certain familiar elements – including the Monster’s encounters with a little girl by a river and a sympathetic blind man (beautifully played by a blues-singing Tony Todd), but the bleak modern backdrop and the emphasis on the character’s harsh loss of innocence distinguishes it from just another trip to a well-known well. Samuel’s central performance, physically and emotionally closer to John Hurt’s John Merrick than earlier incarnations of the Monster, is astonishingly poignant, capturing the child-like innocence we recall from Karloff alongside considerable physical presence. His haunting voiceover anchors an unusually powerful, sometimes shockingly violent take on the material, culminating with a moving confrontation between Monster and Creators: “You made me….you hate me…”
RABID DOGS *** France 2015 Dir: Eric Hannezo. 90 mins
A Gallic remake of a Mario Bava movie that was, sadly, as famous for being unfinished and essentially “lost” for a long time, as it was for being one of its director’s most uncharacteristic works of genius. The set-up remains more or less the same, albeit with the locale shifted to a crime-ridden Paris, where a bank job leaves four people dead and three perpetrators scarpering with the loot (now two million Euros), and with a child in dire need of medical treatment among their hostages. Slick and technically excellent, the 21st century RABID DOGS has some offbeat diversions from its source material (including surrealistic flashbacks and an interlude at “the feast of the bear”) but otherwise retreads old ground without capturing either Bava’s sense of sweat-inducing intensity or the clearly defined, nervously funny characterisations that made the original so memorable. En-route to an underwhelming reproduction of Bava’s killer twist ending, it offers an eerie cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” but very little else that lodges in the memory.
SHUT IN *** USA 2015 Dir: Adam Schindler. 90 mins.
Agoraphobic Beth Riesgraf cares for her wealthy, dying brother in their remotely located Victorian mansion, her only other point of human contact being chummy meals-on-wheels delivery driver Rory Culkin. When a trio of would-be thieves break into the house in search of Riesgraf’s inherited fortune, we realise that this ostracised woman is more capable of dealing with a home invasion than most. This starts as an old-school WAIT UNTIL DARK-style woman-in-peril thriller, with an effective gimmick familiar from Sigourney Weaver’s role in COPYCAT, before detouring awkwardly into SAW territory with the revelation of Riesgraf as a daft, Jigsaw-esque puppet master beating the villains at their own game via disappearing staircases, remote controlled door and secret passageways. A trashier approach might have helped it, since SHUT IN unfolds in a fairly bland TV movie-ish fashion, and the suspense ebbs and flows. Riesgraf is very good, however, and kudos to the sadistic ringleader who casually beheads a budgie with a hammer and has an admirable flair with nasty wit: “He was your friend – now he’s a doorstop.”
SOME KIND OF HATE ** USA 2015 Dir: Adam Egypt Mortimer. 83 mins
The title is, presumably, an ironic pun on seminal 80’s teen comedy SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL, while the film is an pretentious, ponderous reincarnation of light 80’s supernatural teen-revenge horror movies (eg. HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II) filtered through an indie-drama sensibility and torpedoed by a dubious portrait of teenage self-mutilation. Sullen, bullied Ronen Rubinstein is among the troubled teens attending the remotely located rehab-retreat “Mind’s Eye Academy”, where those who have wronged him are gruesomely offed by Moira (Sierra McCormick), a previous attendee who committed suicide and now uses her body to inflict harm on bullies. Although, at heart, a sincere attempt to deal with bullying, self-harm and teen oppression in a gory, supernatural context, this film sorely lacks the perceptive writing, wit and sympathetic characters that enabled TV’s BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER to deal successfully with similar subject matter on a regular basis. One particular sequence involving two “cutters” intimately bonding represents a major mis-step in a film that fails to blend serious social issues with the blatantly commercial attempt (in director Mortimer’s words) to create a new villain that’s part Carrie, part Freddie Krueger. Evidently inspired by intense 21st century French horror like MARTYRS, Mortimer has made an inert film that feels contemptuous of its own audience and pivots around a potentially striking villainess who isn’t even consistent in her own rampage.