MONOLITH **** USA / Italy 2016 Dir: Ivan Silvestrini. 83 mins

This high-concept survivalist thriller has a tour-de-force from occasional genre sex symbol Katrina Bowden, test-driving a revolutionary new car across the desert with her two year old son in tow. The car is bullet proof, controllable by a phone app, blessed with Adamantine Nanotech body armour…and impossible to penetrate when Bowden gets locked out, with her son trapped inside, increasingly threatened by the rapidly rising desert temperatures.
Like a 21st century, stripped-down extension of the core suspense set piece in Stephen King’s “Cujo” (minus the rabid Saint Bernard, but retaining the kid’s asthma) with a hint of KNIGHT RIDER, this makes terrific use of the Mojave desert location shooting and has us rooting for Bowden every step of the way. The moment in which she takes an extraordinary gamble when all other hope seems lost, is truly heart pounding. MONOLITH is among the most suspenseful of the recent barrage of movies in which three or less people are trapped in a spatially restricted life-threatening scenario, and it’s a strong calling card for Italian director Silvestrini.

DIRECTOR’S CUT **** USA 2016 Dir: Adam Rifkin. 90 mins.

A sour Hollywood satire from Adam Rifkin, who himself graduated from B movies to experience mainstream Tinsel Town, this is a crowd-funded movie about a deranged crowd funder who uses his film-set access to stalk his favourite unobtainable lust object…and hijacks the film for our benefit. This “Director’s Cut” is a deluded psychopath’s faux “director’s commentary” on a film he has taken over, inserting “deleted scenes” of his own creation, having abducted the leading lady and forced her to take part in humiliating new footage servicing his own agenda. Penn Jillette is huge fun to watch as the deranged loser in question, a significant funder of a suitably tacky buddy-cop serial killer thriller named “Knocked Off”, starring a slumming Harry Hamlin and primadonna Missy Pyle. A suitably cynical deconstruction of the business, DIRECTOR’S CUT simultaneously offers a unique riff on the 21st century multi-media stalker movie (a prolific trend in the found-footage sub-genre of recent years), with Jillette’s portrayal somewhere between the seedy obsessive played by Joe Spinnell in THE LAST HORROR FILM and the cheerfully deluded Rupert Pupin in KING OF COMEDY. Jillette’s real-life partner in crime Teller is hilarious in a single scene as a deviant aroused by interrogations and it culminates with true hilarity from Jillette’s amateurish incorporation of himself into the movie using home computer software and the kidnapped Pyle reciting rewritten dialogue under duress.

THE WINDMILL MASSACRE **** Netherlands 2016 Dir: Nick Jongerius. 85 mins.

An unashamedly straight-faced, irony-free slasher movie that crafts an engaging mythology around its villain,  “The Miller”, while offering a horrific variant on 70s disaster movies, with exotic location and an ensemble cast of different ages and nationalities replacing the usual generic U.S. teens. There’s also a pleasingly retro EC COmics-style morality at work here, as a disparate group of people on a Windmill tour of Holland take refuge at one such isolated location when their coach breaks down. The group – among them an Australian au pair, a British kid with a snotty dad and a coke-snorting Noah Taylor – are then stalked by the scythe-wielding, Devil-worshipping “Miller”, a gatekeeper for Satan collecting sinners on a recurring basis. Afforded considerable production value courtesy of the location filming, this punctuates its suspense set-ups and unfolding backstories with gruesome kills, notably a clog-based head stomping in the first half. The killer is worthy of at least one sequel, the visuals are atmospheric, and it saves its biggest shock for the very end.

RED CHRISTMAS **** Australia 2016 Dir: Craig Anderson. 82 mins

A bold hybrid of retro-80’s festive slasher, satirical Christmas family drama and button-pushing issues. Widowed matriarch Dee Wallace reunites with her large family at Christmas, a gathering that activates and enhances existing family tensions fuelled further by grief and religion. The arrival of a cloaked, black-clad stranger named Cletus, clutching an envelope with the legend “Mother” and sporting obscured facial deformities, represents an all too corporeal ghost from Wallace’s past and coincides with a splashy series of murders. “Some pro-life piece of shit preaching on Christmas Day…” Director Anderson superbly captures the bitterness and enduring grudges that proliferate around Christmas, as petty arguments over meringue alternate with a sense of growing threat. The initial arrival of the bizarre-acting, bandaged Cletus reflects the tonal juggling of the film as a whole, treading a fine line between coal black humour and serious, uncomfortable drama. The film’s allegiance to early 80’s slashers is reflected by the deliberately outré death sequences, with an umbrella kill paying homage to SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2. The drama succeeds thanks to the impassioned performances by the typically excellent Wallace and by Gerard Odwyer as her grown-up son, a rare unpatronising celluloid portrait of a Down’s Syndrome character, and also the most sympathetic and funniest protagonist in the film. Meanwhile, Sam Campbell makes for a unique, pitiful killer.

TRAIN TO BUSAN ***** South Korea 2016 Dir: Yeon Sang-Ho. 118 mins

Abandoning the easy route of gore gags and CG spectacle and taking the form of an intelligent disaster movie on a vastly over-familiar horror movie theme, South Korea have unleashed the greatest zombie movie in years. In its wildest dreams, WORLD WAR Z is this good. A workaholic fund manager takes his young, estranged daughter on a train from Seoul to Busan to see her mother, just as a rapidly spreading, deadly infection seizes hold of the country. An infected person boards the train before lockdown and soon, father, daughter and an increasingly depleted passenger base are fending off hyperactive hordes. Avoiding disaster movie and horror movie clichés, Sang-Ho gives us characters we truly care about and grips us with an alarming, credible sense of a country enveloped by chaos. Gore is fleeting, and the authorities are largely redundant for most of the duration, so there’s a refreshing absence of guns and artillery, enhancing the intensity further. It’s staged with astonishing skill and vigour, dominated by breath-taking scenes of mayhem, including an unforgettable set piece at a station overrun with infected military personnel. The movie represents stunning achievements in stunt work, editing and direction, and pays off with an emotionally wrenching climax that packs the kind of punch the zombie sub-genre hasn’t seen for decades.


Reviews by Steven West

Frightfest 2016: Day Four reviews here.

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