Tuesday, 6 December 2016


JOHNNY FRANK GARRETT’S LAST WORD **** USA 2016 Dir: Simon Rumley. 95 mins

British filmmaker Simon Rumley, influenced by WEST OF MEMPHIS and Netflix’s popular “Making A Murderer”, here offers a compelling hybrid of American true crime drama and commercial horror film. Before his execution, the eponymous Johnny Garrett (Devin Bonnee), convicted for the rape-murder of an elderly nun, vows vengeance on those connected to his fate. Soon, folks linked to the trial start dying in “accidents”, while ex-juror Mike Doyle sets out to exonerate Garrett.
This Amarillo-set picture thematically echoes the wave of late 80’s horror films in which executed prisoners enact supernatural retribution, and even apes Wes Craven’s SHOCKER for a strikingly designed sequence of evil apparently invading a television set during a screening of CARNIVAL OF SOULS. As with all Rumley’s films, it sustains a sense of pervasive dread, subtly incorporating familiar genre tropes while employing staccato editing to disorientating effect. As with his previous U.S. film, RED WHITE AND BLUE, it displays a fascination of Americana (and a particularly compelling true case) from an outsider’s point of view. If the film offers a few too many shock cuts to Garrett’s Manson-ish visage, it’s refreshingly mature and effectively balances overt, alarming scenes of physical horror (notably a harrowing classroom suicide) with a credible study of the psychological impact an all-too convenient “conviction” and a resulting Death Row pledge has on a God-fearing community. Discordant, effective score by Simon Boswell.

BROKEN **** UK 2016 Dir: Shaun Robert Smith. 98 mins

Mel Raido offers a brave and compelling performance as an embittered, hard-drinking tetraplegic, a former rock star prone to long periods of self-pity and abuse directed at his home carers. The agency employing immigrant carer Morjana Alaoui (also excellent) stresses the need for her patient to live his sex and drug-fuelled life as before as much as possible, but Alaoui’s first week on her own seems to set her on a downward mental spiral of her own. Oppressively set entirely in the house – itself falling apart with peeling wallpaper and broken tiles - this bleak study of two fracturing minds offers a frank distillation of the minutia of Raido’s existence, not shying away from catheters and shit-caked bedsheets. Increasingly irrelevant and disorientating week-day intertitles echo THE SHINING (also reflected by one particular wallpaper design) as Alaoui loses grip on sanity and reality. It’s certainly involving, though Alaoui’s inevitable climactic meltdown results in an overly convenient and contrived TAXI DRIVER-inspired cathartic rampage in which stylistic decisions (notably, slo-mo and a misguided soundtrack selection) neuter the impact. A strong movie with a disappointing final reel.

DOWNHILL ** Chile 2016 Dir: Patricio Valladares. 85 mins

Following a BMX race tragedy, American BMX hotshot Ignacia Allamand and girlfriend (Natalie Burn, whose arse gets more screen time in the first half hour than her face) take a break with friends in Chile. An altercation with leery locals begins a conveyer belt of modern horror clichés, from the aerial shots over the rural wilderness a la WRONG TURN to the obligatory gas station scene. Chile’s mountains stand in for DELIVERANCE’s Appalachian, and there’s even a post-BLAIR WITCH PROJECT self-filmed confessional. A shambling mess from the director of misogyny-fest HIDDEN IN THE WOODS, this throws everything at the screen in a bid to make some stick, before settling on a cult of parasite-worshipping weirdos. Some of it is almost endearingly crazy, but none of it hangs together and the protagonists are as one-note and unlikeable as the villains.

31 **** USA / UK 2016 Dir: Rob Zombie. 102 mins

Rob Zombie’s latest is a narratively sparse, high concept horror riffing on sadistic game show movies like SLASHERS and THE RUNNING MAN. Malcolm McDowall, Judy Geeson and Jane Carr as a trio of powdered and wigged aristosadists overseeing the game of “31” on Halloween night in 1976. An RV full of oddballs and miscreants break down in the arse end of nowhere, taking refuge at their Hellish abode, and enduring 12 hours of confrontations with trussed up chainsaw wielding lunatics sporting cheerful names like “Sick Head”, “Psycho head” and “Schizo Head”. Zombie’s familiar obsessions are reassuringly present and correct: a gallery of grotesques, freeze-frames, a 70’s backdrop, character actors (Tracey Walters, Daniel Roebuck, Meg Foster, Lew Temple), Sheri Moon’s ass, movie references, dirty jokes and, of course, one scene of someone taking a dump on screen. His fondness for rough, handheld brutality is rife in the various frenetic, violent battle scenes, and it’s set to a loud, startling soundtrack. It’s an intense ride though truly fulfils its potential thanks to the intervention of Richard Brake’s marvellously troubling deviant “Doom Head”. Opening the picture with a monochrome, straight-to-camera monologue, Brake’s verbose, insidious drawl and philosophical asides alternate with outbursts of pure rage and, whenever he’s on screen, 31 has real edge.

Reviews by Steven West

Frightfest 2016: Day Three reviews here.

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