Sunday, 9 September 2018

FRIGHTFEST day #5, 2018


Padraig Reyolds, 2018, USA

Mary (Vanessa Grasse) has just been released from a mental institution for setting her serial killer boyfriend on fire – how’s that for baggage? She is barely keeping it together as she tries to embark on a normal life and gets a job at a remote all-night petrol station (you see, there’s your problem…). Things are made harder by the fact that she has the stigma of being called “The Watcher” due to the fact that her boyfriend The Rain Ripper (cue old classic rain-themed popsong) used to force her to watch him kill. …But she keeps seeing him right now: is she going crazy?

Despite the fact that it’s a pretty crowded story, it’s more of a grab-bag of tropes and red herrings to mask the fact that it’s your usual slender premise. There’s nothing wrong with that but the twists don’t really resonate as much surprise as they should and the whole premise of is she imaging it? runs out of steam pretty quickly. It’s nowhere near as tricksy and trippy as it should be. It also cheats in that the Rain Ripper seems to be able to appear whenever and wherever. Too long and without a good shave to sharpen itself up, ‘Open 24 Hours’ provides unremarkable genre diversion.


Yannis Veslemes, Ashim Ahluwalia, Can Evrenol, Severin Fiala, Vernika Franz, Katrin Gebbe, Calvin Reeder, Agnieszka Smoczynska, Peter Strickland, 2018, USA- New Zealand

There’s always one FrightFest film that induces unintentional humour, but it’s not usually the arty subtitled one. On paper, this looks like a winning premise: eight tales from folklore and myth by a variety of international directors. Fiala and Franz’s opening story, “Die Trud” has the quietude and pace that speaks to the patience of European cinema: in a time ago, a couple of girls try to conduct a love affair but only seem to summon the eponymous monster. It’s promising and despite the vivid and troubling Trud itself, the story seems to go nowhere – although I am willing to accept that perhaps this impression is because I am unfamiliar with the legend. The man next to me just threw up his hands in bafflement when it ended. But what is most interesting about this and Katrin Gebbe’s “A Nocturnal Breath” is that the summoned monster is embraced by the women for sexual freedom.

But there was a little response of bafflement to most of the tales. As Kim Newmanwrites, “many of the episodes have an unfinished, anecdote-like feel typical of often-told stories handed down with contradictions and ellipses.” There was outright laughter at the revelation of the melon-headed cannibal children (Calvin Reeder’s “The Melon Heads”). That, and the references to “fucking up a goblin” in "What Ever Happened to Panagas the Pagan ?" caused much laugbter. This Yannis Veslemes’ episode is so frantically edited and dark that I gave up trying to understand what was going on (forgive me: I am watching a lot of films here). Peter Strickland’s “The Cobbler’s Lot” perhaps proved the most satisfactory, channelling his inner Guy Maddin to conjure the ludicrous and nasty nature of his tale.

‘The Field Guide to Evil’ is by the same team that produced ‘The ABCs of Death’, Ant Timpson and Tim League, and the idea that this could be a similar series promises further improvements and gems, but for now this film succeeds mostly on its bizarreness.


Justin P. Lange, Austria 2018

There’s a pleasing patience and austerity to ‘The Dark’ that, at first, implies that there’s going to be a concentration of build-up to something perhaps unusual… the kind of tone and austerity that served ‘Inheritance’ so well. There’s even a slight playfulness at first and slyly delivered twists (Alex’s first appearance made me jump). But then it settles down to something far more recognisable, resembling one of those tween romance-horror about a misunderstood special one overcoming their alienation through friendship. Yes, I’m aware I’ve dampened its appeal as adult fodder, but there is much to like about ‘The Dark’ and that tone, although not especially leading to transcendent things, maintains a level-headed detachment and elusiveness throughout. The slightly drained palette helps.

Mina is a flesh-eating ghoul, mythologised as the creature in the woods praying on those unfortunate to stray into the trees. But then she accidentally discovers a blind and abused boy in the back of a victim’s car and, finding herself burdened with him, things start to change for her. For a start, Alex (Toby Nichols) is a far more convincing representation of trauma than Mary in ‘Open 24 Hours’, exhibiting a crushed soul and a little Stockholm Syndrome. It’s a physical performance where he always seems to be trying to make himself smaller. Mina (Nadia Alexander) is a little on the side of the bratty undead, a Goth girl fantasy about to save the nervy needy boy. Nadia Alexander’s performance storms ahead through the film like a teen strop, providing momentum that always seems a step ahead of the more deliberate pace. She provides the dynamism without disturbed the measured tone. The relationship of the kids doesn’t fall into unwarranted sentimentality and there is a healthy streak of nastiness to keep it on the right side of the tween horror I compared it to earlier. The pinnacle of such a tale is ‘Let the Right One In’, but ‘The Dark’ is a assured and spiky enough to conjure a painful coming-of-age fantasy.


Doran & Yoav Paz, 2018, USA

The Paz brothers produced one of the better found-footage films in ‘Jeruzalem’, a film that did right what ‘Cloverfield’ got wrong. For this reason, I had much anticipated for their second feature, ‘The Golem’. It starts much like I imagined the film would continue, with a huge Golem in the shadows. But this is the prologue and we then move into the tale proper. In 17th Century Lithuania, Hanna is trying to assert herself as a woman as their community is threatened by outsiders. She uses Kabbalah magic to create a Golem from mud to protect them, even though she is forbidden to do such a thing as a woman, which puts her in conflict with the men and her husband. But the Golem she creates takes the form of her dead son, responding to her desires and dormant anger, and this can only lead to tragedy.

This isn’t a monster movie as you might anticipate, but something more concerned with characters and the question of genders and defiance. It’s the monster as an extension of the individual, an Id unleashed for both good and bad. In this, it benefits immensely from the full-blooded performances of Hani Furstenberg as Hanna and Ishai Golan as her husband who treat it like the serious drama of relationships and community that it also is. It’s intriguing and shows that the Paz’s are interested not only in Judaism but in the nature and origin of monsters, not just in unleashing them (‘Jeruzalem’ had evidence of this too). Perhaps I wanted more head-crushing Golem devastation, but this is a thoughtful, considered and well-rounded tale about the uses and causes of monsters.

Gasper Noé, 2018, France

The surprise was that Noé was there to introduce the film. The opening question was from Alan Jones who declared how this film was receiving the best reviews of Noé’s careers, that is was generally getting great response, and then he asked, “So what went wrong?” Of course, Noé is notorious, loathed and heralded for being controversial and although the Twitter responses to ‘Climax’ have mainly been positive, I have also seen reactions bemoaning that this is not a horror film and should have not have closed the festival. All I know that I was fully engrossed and captivated and that then when I actually thought of the world around me, about two thirds into the film, I realised the women next to me had walked out and I hadn’t noticed: I guess that is an example of two differing responses.

It starts with the epilogue and end credits and then a series of talking heads introducing the diverse bunch of dancers we are about to meet in a practice hall surrounded by the harsh winter conditions outside. Then they come together and dance in what might be one of the greatest dance scenes ever filmed. And when the music starts, it never stops: this is a constantly sublime dance soundtrack (a highlight being Aphex Twins’ ‘Windowlicker’, one of my all-time favourites).There is no flash setting or context or props, just amazing moves and glides and contortions: Noé uses a typically long take which allows the dancers to perform without edits interrupting or creating false fluidity; and when the camera does move, it’s to gently prod and probe the performances with flowing slides between them. Synchronicity is not the whole game here, although they do that too, but it’s the individualism of each dancer that is prioritised and celebrated. And I was mesmerised from then on as the long takes deliver a real-time descent into madness when someone spikes the booze.

Then the outrageousness takes a nasty turn. PeterBradshaw says, “It is as if Noé has somehow mulched up the quintessence of dance, coke and porn together and squooshed it into his camera.” The acting of hysteria is something I’m usually averse too (hysteria is often mistaken for poignancy in film, which is why I can’t quite get along with Zulawski’s ‘Possession’), but this is about that. There is a long scene where Selva (Sofia Boutella) puts her hands down her tights in a kind of onanistic ecstasy and then, in the following moment, has this abruptly change to panic when she thinks her hands trapped: it’s moment that plays out the ups and downs of drug-induced moods that can change in a blink, and a convincing playing-out of the high and lows of hysteria. We don’t get to connect with characters and we know just enough about them to give their LSD nightmare some context. But this is not a film for that: it’s just following them around as the barriers to their civility, restraint and responsibility crumble. And the music keeps pumping.

Descents into madness and/or hell are standard in horror – and of course represented at this festival - and in this way ‘Climax’ fits the horror mould: it’s not a fall into an orgy of gore and Bosch-like terrors, but there’s nothing truly stretching the realms of plausibility. In this way it’s all the more unsettling. It’s not a character piece, but the various personalities come through enough to make it a tragedy that we start out at a place of ensemble exuberance and, when the barriers are down, fall into the realms of irresponsibility and debauchery. By the end, it falls into the realms of an upside down camera with strobing editing which left me wondering what the hell was going on and I gave up trying to decipher; it’s only at this final hurdle that Noé lets the camera interfere instead of observe. But otherwise, it’s formally engrossing with its long takes and convincingly lays out its improvisations and decline into cruelty in real time. But it’s true that from the evidence of the first half of the film that Noé would do just fine with a ensemble piece if he ever decided to step away from being a shockmeister. Perhaps the camera is searching too hard to find the next outrage. It’s conclusion that our civility is a tissue-thin construct is an old one, but this mixture of dance and decadence is vibrant and compelling where hell is on the dancefloor.

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