Well, here we are on the Sunday and it was an interesting experience. Everything ended up being a little messy, in part because of Westminster Council’s decision to try to block the showing of A Serbian Movie by enforcing a BBFC certificate for the first time in the festival’s history. This led to last-minute rushes on the part organisers to get a certificate for the movie (which had been shown uncut at various other festivals in the past), and ultimately to it being dropped. Rumours abounded as to what might replace it – one girl behind the counter at FOPP was apparently telling everybody it would be Robert Rodriguez’s Machete – but the replacement turned out to be the fairly decent Buried.
That was already the second film to be replaced after the original announcement of the line-up (Gregg Araki controversially pulled his latest movie Kaboom!, although the exact details are still debated – and replaced with Damned By Dawn), so this day looked like it might become the event’s darkest moments. Luckily, we ended up with a mostly decent line-up of films, including my personal favourite of the festival. We were also treated to some behind the scenes shots of the upcoming sequel to [cbc:-usa:-ca]Human Centipede: First Sequence[/cbc][cbc:+usa:+ca]Human Centipede: First Centipede[/cbc], which looks to be shaping up quite well as director Tom Six promised up at last year’s première.
A young women on a road trip to nowhere in particular picks up a hitch-hiker, only for him to vanish without a trace at a small restaurant where they stop for a drink. Intrigued, she returns after dark to investigate what happened to him, but soon falls victim to locals who need bodies to feed a strange curse that befell the miner population many years ago.
Le Meute, as it was called in its native France, is a decent if ultimately unsatisfying little horror movie with enough quirks and twists to keep anyone engaged. It starts off as a kind of quirky road movie, with the young woman driving nowhere in particular and developing a quick romantic relationship with the hitchhiker. Before she realises he has gone missing, a few other characters are introduced who are all charming, weird and compelling in their own right. In fact, it’s these characters that really give the movie its entertaining edge, leading to the film’s unique and darkly amusing atmosphere.
I don’t want to give too much away as to how it develops, but it’s a film worth watching, if ultimately a minor recent entry into the French wave of horror. When the supernatural elements kick in, it’s genuinely creepy, while at other times it’s actually quite funny. Although the outlining plot is quite predictable, you never quite know where it’s going. Sadly, an unsatisfying ending and short running time give the feeling at the end of a story cut short.
Having said that, it’s well worth a watch, if nowhere near as powerful as other recent movies from the country.
QUIZ & SHORT FILM SHOWCASE
Hosted by Andy Nyman, this was a reasonably decent trivia quiz, which bookended a series of short films from around the world. The quiz itself took the form of a number of rounds, culminating in a music quiz featuring clips from movie soundtracks that got gradually shorter and shorter until the final clip was just 1 second long! Tough but enjoyable…
As with all short films, the selection ranged in length and quality, and in subject matter. They ran the full gamut from silly, gory comedy (Para Wrestling, Rise Of The Machines) to subtle and creepy ghost stories. Overall, a decent selection.
WE ARE WHAT WE ARE
A man collapses and dies in a shopping centre, leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves. This means that one of his sons has to take up the mantle for hunter, providing food for the family’s secret cannibalistic rituals.
While hyped in the marketing as this year’s answer to Let The Right One In, it’s really a very different film other than the slow, deliberate pacing. The movie is essentially a character study of a family beset by unusual problems that threaten to tear them apart. The film is centred around the need to get a new victim for their “ritual”, something that clearly involves the consumption of human flesh but is otherwise not clarified. This mystery carries over into other areas, the mother’s hatred for whores which removes an otherwise easy route for getting a victim. Some might find this coy attitude toward what should be the movie’s major themes a little annoying, but I personally found it quite intriguing and interesting.
DAMNED BY DAWN
Visiting her family in their lonely Australian farmhouse along with her boyfriend, Claire is warned by her dying grandmother about the Banshee, an old legend that she was told when she was a girl. The Banshee screams and wails for the dead, and must not be interfered with when the time comes for the souls of the dead to be taken. Unfortunately, Claire fails to heed the warning, and soon the Banshee and her ghostly minions are after the souls of everybody in the house.
The initial hype for this movie was good. It seemed to promise a return to the low-budget style of the Evil Dead films, and that’s exactly what the marketing promised. Sadly, it fall a long way short.
Now, to be fair the hype damaged the film and it was a film with obvious low budget problems. The Australian backdrop was OK, but the script was quite muddled. The relationships never quite convinced at the beginning, and the whole film hinges on the lead doing the exact thing they’ve been warned at length not to do. The look is a flat, digital style and the effects were quite frankly rather bad.
Even here, there’s room for an enjoyable film, but there’s 2 things missing from the final product. The first is a sense of fun, which the Raimi movies had in spades but which I felt were completely absent here. The other – and the major one for me – is the sound design. The banshee’s scream, present every time she’s present on screen is effective the first time or so, but it quickly becomes very annoying. Maybe it’s because we were watching on such a large screen with such a big sound system, but I quickly found it almost unbearable.
I feel I should maybe revisit this on DVD and see if my lack of expectations and a controllable sound level help the experience. But, I have heavy doubts that this will ever come near any of Raimi’s movies, or indeed most of the other knock-offs that have surfaced over the years…
An American contractor working in Iraq is kidnapped and wakes to find himself buried alive for ransom, quickly running out of both light and oxygen.
Buried is one hell of a concept for a film, and one that I can say is masterfully made. The entire movie takes place inside the coffin, with just one actor on-screen (Ryan Reynolds), and everything lit from the various light sources the character finds around him (a lighter, a mobile phone, etc.). Most of the movie follows the character as he struggles to find a way to get rescued from the coffin via his mobile phone, which his captor mocks and threatens him in the same way.
It sounds like a crazy subject for a film, but thankfully everything involved is tight and realistic. We start from the character’s point of view in pitch darkness, and follow him as he tries to work out what’s going on. We discover the character’s real predicament through phone conversations, as he makes increasingly futile attempts to contact the outside world through his mobile phone.
Given that it’s a film in such a small space with only one visible character, the film is amazingly gripping and cinematic. Various types of light source are discovered, and utilised to film the coffin from every conceivable angle. There’s also a very tight script, with every possible emotional state reached for the character in a reasonably short space of time.
While there are a few flaws in places, it’s an amazing achievement for a movie that, on the face of it, has no business being as gripping or as cinematic as it is. Reynolds is excellent, as he usually is in the serious roles I’ve caught him in, and his performance is vital to the film – a less engaging actor would make this movie boring, but it’s totally thrilling.
THE LOVED ONES
Brent is a good teenager who has become increasingly withdrawn after his father died in a car accident while he was driving. He manages to maintain something of a normal relationship with his girlfriend, however, and thinks nothing of rejecting the advances of a girl in his school, who asks him to the prom dance. Unfortunately, she’s not quite sane, and thinks nothing of kidnapping and torturing him into becoming her dream date, at a special prom arranged at her house by her similarly deranged father.
The most pleasant surprise of the festival for me, as I’d heard a little bit about this film but had virtually no expectations for it. Generally speaking, the bigger and better movies of Frightfest tend to get scheduled during the afternoon, while the late showings are normally reserved for crazy Japanese gore movies and other niche films that can play pretty well to keep tired audiences awake while making sure that those who need to catch the tube home don’t miss out. For me, however, this was one of the highlights.
The film has a light, comical tone throughout, but manages to never allow this to overshadow the horrific moments – of which there’s a surprisingly high amount.