SLUMLORD, it must be said, doesn’t feature many slums, being concerned with a somewhat middle-class couple who have just moved into an apartment and are just about to become parents, despite troubles in their marriage. But perhaps the title is referring to the slumminess and scumminess of the voyeuristic landlord (an unforgettably sleazy Neville Archambault). He fixes cameras in his tenants’ homes and watches the dramas of their lives with a gormless look on his face and probably some drool on his chin. He is creepy from the word go and it’s a surprise he can get by at all, but he does and he’s canny enough to act as a serial killer when needs be. Director Victor Zarcoff makes notable use of reflective surfaces and lets the unease take hold by matter-of-factly portraying how all sides go about their business. It also helps that there appears to be no neighbours and that the dog has an amazing ability to disappear at key moments. Nevertheless, disturbing and credible, infused with streaks of black humour and admirable restraint.
ROAD GAMES works hard to undermine your guessing who the killer on the road actually is. Is it Jack, hitchhiking across rural France, who rescues hitchhiking Veronique from a fight in a car? Or is it Veronique herself? Then they are then picked up and taken home by a friendly Frenchman to meet his wife, so it could be him… or her. Beautifully filmed with a great script to keep everyone a suspect, making good use of understanding languages. And surely an example of great casting truly bringing out the best of it.
INNER DEMON is an oddity that isn’t afraid to keep its potential heroine – teenage Sam – incapacitated for most of the film. That is, she spends most of her time in the closet of a serial killing couple, having escaped from the boot of the car. It also becomes apparent that her younger sister is in the other room, captured, so how will Sam save her? Things then moves late in the game from more realist vein into something weirder and more supernatural, shifting the film’s philosophy into something more troubling, a rumination on failure. Whether it is totally successful may require further viewings but there is no doubt that this is well-made and an oppressive mood created and maintained. Like much of FrightFest this year, the film is also marked by a great performance by its lead in Sarah Jeavons. The move from creepiness to eeriness may raise an eyebrow, but the underplayed nature of it all makes that shift intriguing.
SCHERZO DIABOLICO is another upsetting and brilliantly plotted tale from “Here Comes the Devil” director Adrián García Bogliano. This is one that benefits from knowing as little as possible so that the twists and cruelties escalate into raw brutality. A cautionary tale that the means won’t justify the ends and that everything has consequences? A sleak shocker.
I did want to see “A Christmas Horror Story” but there was also a screening of a restored print of THE REFLECTING SKIN with a Q&A with director Philip Ridley at the same time. I have loved “The Reflecting Skin” ever since I first saw it and there are few films I have seen so often. Anyway, I could not miss this and was pleased to find that the film has lost little of its emotional impact upon me, which I attribute greatly to Nick Bicat’s amazing score and its sweeping but mournful strings. Very few films are this odd, beautiful, funny and mysterious all at the same time. The theatre seemed full of people that seemed to be Philip Ridley fans, or at least they all were after the film. What did we learn?
· There were only four prints of “The Reflecting” Skin” made from the original source and these were played all over Europe and America and was now in dismal shape. But here the film was, restored and more vibrant than ever.
· Yes, Ridley did paint the cornfield when it proved not yellow enough.
· It was a very rainy shoot – hard as that may be to believe when watching the screen.
· Ridley and Viggo Mortenson got on really, really well from the first meeting.
Ridley was funny and chatty and I am sure he would have gone on with more stories if proceedings hadn’t been brought to an end. I wanted to know about the score and its relationship to his children’s books but didn’t get to find out. I still love it.