FRIGHTFEST 2015: DAY TWO
DEMONIC * USA 2015 Dir: Will Canon. 83 mins
Things don’t look great when DEMONIC boasts the grammatical nightmare “James Wan Present Demonic” in its opening titles. The hackneyed flashback-heavy plot that subsequently unfolds predictably and desperately rides the coattails of Wan’s major directorial successes THE CONJURING and INSIDIOUS.
Cop Frank Grillo and shrink Maria Bello attempt to piece together the mystery of a fresh body count at a Louisiana house that was the setting for a spate of Satanic murders back in the 80’s. Footage recovered from the scene and the recollections of the sole survivor reveal events familiar from around eight dozen recent straight to DVD spooky-house horror movies in which the protagonists foolishly decide to make a documentary about said abode’s dark history. Cue: figures lurking in the shadows, slamming doors, transparent jump-scares after extended periods of quiet…and no genuine frights whatsoever, unless you happen to be singularly freaked out by CGI birds fluttering out of the mouths of cardboard characters.
THE DIABOLICAL *** USA 2015 Dir: Alistair Legrand. 86 mins
Directorial debut for Alistair Legrand offers a good-looking, effectively eerie twist on all those INSIDIOUS-style movies documenting the supernatural invasion of a domestic environment. In a nice touch, THE DIABOLICAL subverts the usual format of this kind of movie, revealing the horror is underway at the start: before the movie proper has begun, the parapsychologists -whom we would expect to turn up much later – have already fled in horror, and the heroine, having been through a lot even when we first see her, has developed a determination to find and battle what is troubling her family. Single mom Ali Larter and her two children regularly witness three different figures – including a skinless, severely burned ghoul slithering out of the tumble dryer – appearing and disappearing in a flash of light around their house. Although it has the feel of a strong TWILIGHT ZONE episode extended to feature length, and despite a dull love interest, THE DIABOLICAL rejuvenates the clichés of recent Hollywood supernatural chillers via a refreshingly nutty unravelling plot and alarming images of the invasive strangers. Larter is a credible leading lady, and at its best, Legrand’s film has the creepy charge of a stand-alone X FILE.
HELLIONS *** Canada 2015 Dir: Bruce McDonald. 82 mins
Home alone and newly pregnant at Halloween, 17 year old Chloe Rose is visited by a trio of malevolent trick or treaters carrying her boyfriend’s head in their treat bag. As the unwanted visitors prove more persistent, her unborn baby appears to be growing rapidly and cop Robert Patrick ominously notes “They’ve come before…” Director Bruce McDonald’s follow up to the exceptional PONTYPOOL is a strikingly designed occult tale with WICKER MAN undertones of sacrifice and harvest running alongside its teen-pregnancy / monster-baby paranoia. Visually evocative (with a certain TRICK ‘R TREAT influence), it sports creepy denizens of evil but feels like a hallucinatory, impressive short film stuck inside the strained format of an increasingly incoherent feature film. Certainly atmospheric, and enhanced by a suitably demonic score by Todor Kobakov and Ian LeFeuvre, it dissolves almost completely in the second half but still represents a curious failure.
JERUZALEM **** Israel 2015. Dir: Doran Paz, Yoav Paz. 87 mins
This stand-out found-footage horror employs a state of the art gadget to side-step the usual “Why are they still filming?” credibility questions. U.S. heroine Danielle Jadelyn permanently wears “Smart Glass” technology on a booze / hash-fuelled trip to Jerusalem, capturing unfolding events and allowing for character introductions via Facebook profiles, while also making her look only slightly less silly than someone with an I-Pad strapped to their face. A simmering sense of menace is fulfilled by Jerusalem descending into chaos during an extremely well realised sequence of the Old Town struck by what is assumed to be a terrorist attack but transpires as the ultimate realisation of ancient prophecies and fears. The deftly employed technology and unique location filming lend this movie a look and feel that sets it apart from its competitors in this over-saturated sub-genre. Shot on the fly – the directors convinced the authorities they were making a bonafide documentary – it captures a vivid sense of a beautiful, fascinating city on the edge, with the emergence of overt supernatural elements merely reinforcing the citizens’ paranoia of imminent destruction via other forces. With outstanding use of sound and fleeting visual horrors, the technically accomplished JERUZALEM is one of very few found-footage genre films to come close to matching the intensity of the original [REC].
LANDMINE GOES CLICK **** Georgia 2015 Dir: Levan Bakhia. 100 mins
In a picturesque area of rural Georgia only recently invaded by the Russians, handsome Dean Geyer cruelly avenges the recent infidelity of his future wife (Spencer Locke) and best friend (Sterling Knight) by arranging for the latter to step on an apparently active landmine. If he attempts to get off, it will most likely blow him to smithereens, but this proves to be the least of worries for both him and the powerless Locke when a local dog walker (Kote Tolordava) stumbles across their plight. Another paranoid, xenophobic tale of good looking Americans in a hostile foreign environment (a la THE RUINS, HOSTEL, et al), this transcends familiarity via a vaguely satirical portrayal of Typical American Youth (they actually use the phrase “How do you like them apples?”) and the surprising twist that the intense survivalist scenario invoked by the title is the direct result of the actions of said American Youth. When the landmine peril is usurped by something all-too-human (with the late Tolordava brilliantly essaying the role of an ordinary father / husband chancing upon a situation that awakens his most primitive impulses), the film shifts into shocking yet non-sensationalistic LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT territory, in which humiliation and shocking violence prompt an equally joyless climactic reversal. The harrowing final act of LANDMINE GOES CLICK offers none of the vicarious thrills of the rape-revenge sub-genre, instead offering guttural cries of agony as violence yields yet more pointless violence and an extended LONG GOOD FRIDAY-styled final shot haunts long after the end credits have rolled.
WE ARE STILL HERE **** USA 2015 Dir: Ted Geoghegan. 83 mins
Screenwriter Ted Geoghegan makes a first-class directorial debut in collaboration with exceptional cinematographer Karim Hussein for a film he defined as “arguably the weirdest haunted house movie you’ve seen in a while.” Heavily influenced by European horror cinema of the 70’s and 80’s (notably DON’T LOOK NOW and Fulci’s HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY), it has a wintry backdrop and tragic plot catalyst also reminiscent of Peter Medak’s classic Canadian ghost story THE CHANGELING. Grieving the sudden death of their teenage son, Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig take refuge in a remote New England home that hosts an ominous “energy” she optimistically assumes to represent their late son. The slightly strange locals soon begin speaking of the dark history of the house, a former funeral home overseen by morally bankrupt proprietors, and a place that apparently demands to be “fed” in a very specific fashion every thirty years. A rare movie that embraces genre clichés while possessing a unique look and tone all of its own, this slow-burn mood piece unfolds in a non-specific time period and confidently segues from low-key ghost story to in-your-face Fulci-inspired grue as eye sockets are violated and the Staircase From Hell claims a hapless victim. The controlled, convincing performances ground it – Larry Fessenden and Lisa Marie are characteristically watchable as visiting friends – and the commendably understated yet authentic portrait of grief holds it together even when the plot gets more outlandish. Crampton, in a role not dissimilar from her CASTLE FREAK heroine, is typically good, and there’s a lovely, oddly poignant ambiguity about the ending.