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FrightFest 2019 Review: The Wind

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In this supernatural western set in the 1800s, a young woman is haunted by her past and, possibly, a demon while she reminisces about times gone by while her husband is away.

Directed by Emma Tammi, The Wind is an assured debut and, although it may not be so admired by those that like their horror more extreme, it is a welcome difference from popular modern horrors like It, Annabelle and Pet Sematary. Tammi follows in the footsteps of directors like Robert Eggers and Ari Aster, preferring her horror to stand the test of time, rather than embrace short and sweet moments of shock.

This is certainly a horror film more reminiscent of The Witch than The Conjuring, so don’t expect there to be jump scares galore on anything extremely, overtly frightening. This film’s horror lies in its eerie atmosphere and the sense of loneliness that is felt by Lizzy Macklin (Caitlin Gerard). Her isolation is filled with dread as there is literally nobody around. She can scream and run, but there’s no one here to help her. It’s immediately, easily scary to place yourself in her position and imagine what you would do if your husband disbelieved your fears that feel so real.

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It’s a slow-burning, complex horror-drama that weaves seamlessly between the past and present as Lizzy remembers her time spent with the pregnant Emma (Julia Goldani Telles) whilst she is alone. She is soon haunted by whispering voices that travel on the wind and begins to believe there is a demon after her. The film’s moments of physical terror are quite impressive, feeling like a welcome explosion in the film’s subtle darkness. A moment with the reverend is a stand-out; if a little over-the-top for a film that has been so consistently slow and steady.

It’s all set to a score that is wonderfully menacing and puts a horrifying twist on the music typically heard in westerns. The desolate landscape becomes drenched by sinister strings that heighten the film’s suspense, perfectly mimicking Lizzy’s descent into possible madness. Her journey is an emotional and heart-felt one, ultimately portraying a woman’s fight to be believed and Gerard does well to embody the necessary amount of emotion and strength needed to convey such an important character.

The Wind is a worthy take on western-horror, but my main fear is that it is overall rather forgettable. It doesn’t quite manage to pack the long-standing and chilling punch that it so admirably tries to land and doesn’t hit the horrifying heights of the aforementioned The Witch or Ari Aster’s efforts with Hereditary and Midsommar. The Wind is a spooky 80 minutes, but it eventually succumbs to cliched horror tropes and that prevents it from being truly significant.

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Reviews

Arrow FrightFest 2019 Review: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Andre Ovredal (Trollhunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe) cements his place as one of the finest horror directors of the moment with his thrilling, fun and rather creepy adaptation of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

Based on the books from the ‘80s and ‘90s, a group of teens discover a book of horror tales in a supposedly haunted house. They’ve been written by the long-since deceased Sarah Bellows, whose life and death are shrouded in mystery and myth. Whatever happened, it’s clear that something dark went down when she died. When her terrifying stories start to come alive the teens must band together to piece the petrifying puzzle together, hopefully preventing the fictional nightmares from becoming even more real.

Thanks to Ovredal’s attraction to atmospheric scares over studio-favourited jumps, the scary stories are brought to life in a vivid and spooky fashion. It’s Goosebumps amped up to 100, where we have a nostalgia trip that’s a thrill, but the terror here is certainly not always family-friendly. As seen in his painfully tense The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Ovredal perfects a use of petrifying slow-pace to build up the tension. Silence dominates to let the audience’s imagination run riot: When will the scare happen? Now? Now..? Oh shit, it’s now. A bedroom scene especially makes for anxious viewing, so look out for that one.

A couple of scenes will stick with you after the credits roll; I, for one, think scarecrows are terrifying, so there’s a segment here that’s particularly nightmare-inducing. Also, when was the last horror feature about scarecrows? We need more of those, please. If you hate hospitals, cornfields, weird smiling ladies or being chased by old men who lose their heads, then something here will certainly get you sweating. The scares are creative and fun; the film plays out like a haunted house of horrors. You’ll be glad to reach the end, but the journey was mostly heart-racing and entertaining.

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Producer Guillermo del Toro’s keen hand for horror aesthetics can be felt across Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, where the on-screen frights within friendship are complimented by gorgeous, haunting visuals. The house itself is draped in cobwebs and shadowy corners, wonderfully reminiscent of gothic horror tales; Dracula could have easily made himself at home here.

There are some un-welcome/welcome (delete as you see appropriate) comedic dips in the horror that are understandably inserted. Come on, it’d get too dark if it was as relentless as I’d have made it. (Muahaha!). Gabriel Rush and Austin Zajur’s Auggie and Chuck offer some of the best comedic relief with witty one-liners, but Zoe Margaret Colletti’s Stella Nicholls is the film’s most important character. She’s the star of the show; an intelligent, horror fan who stands on her own two feet. She’s no damsel in distress and another character example of how horror is the perfect genre for strong women.

The pace weakens in the middle and I did find myself wondering how long could possibly be left – the runtime edges unnecessarily close to the 2-hour mark – but, the stories themselves and the scares that surround them are a treat, even when everything around them starts to feel tiresome. Scary Stories… would have benefited from tighter editing and a loss of around 20-minutes, to prevent those more humdrum moments.

All in all, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is great fun for all ages, which is a rarity and should be appreciated. If you’re not fed-up of riding the nostalgia train with films like It and Netflix’s Stranger Things, then you’re sure to have fun with this ’80s homage to spooky stories and the monsters within them.

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Reviews

FrightFest 2018 Review: Summer of ’84

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Summer of 84 4In the tradition of Stephen King tales like Stand By Me and It, and modern endeavours such as Netflix’s much-loved Stranger Things, Summer of ’84 is a story of childhood drama that is interwoven with tropes of horror and mystery.

Summer of ’84 follows a group of young teenage boys during their summer break; they talk about sex and girls, they make fun of each other and, of course, there’s the classic riding the bike around town. Like a typical murder-mystery or whodunit, the film drives into quiet horror territory when the boys think their neighbour is a serial killer. The binoculars come out, the curtains start to twitch and the kids make it their mission to prove that hiding behind Mr Mackey’s (Rich Sommer) guise of normality is a stone-cold killer. Oh, did I mention that he’s a police officer?

The film follows a familiar route and, honestly, I was nervous. As a HUGE fan of Francois Simard, Anouk Whissel and Yoann-Karl Whissell’s super retro horror-actioner Turbo Kid, I was worried that they’d peaked in 2015. Turbo Kid managed to ace its desire to blend a fun ‘80s-throwback with elements of humour and gory action, plus a hearty dose of emotion. It was brilliant and to match that, Summer of ‘84 would have to do something special.

Nonetheless, Summer of ’84 did do something special. It successfully jumps from trope to trope, hitting all those familiar beats I was getting ready to tear it down for, before abandoning everything. This film has one hell of an epic shift in tone and it made me want to stand up and applaud. Aside from a shoe-horned in romantic sub-plot, which purely felt like a desperate attempt at getting a female character in there, you should expect the unexpected. Beneath those expectations there is a dark and unpredictable beast waiting to rear its head.

Summer of ’84 goes full on Rear Window as the boys – lead by the conspiracy-obsessed Davey Armstrong (Graham Verchere) –memorise Mr Mackey’s entire schedule in the hope of finding the proof they need to show they’re not imagining things. The young ensemble cast here could give those Stranger Things kids a run for their money. They’re 10x dirtier and 10x funnier, with laugh-out-loud, crude jokes that are certainly NSFW. Judah Lewis as “Eats” has some of the film’s best gags as he torments his pal Woody (Caleb Emery) with jokes about his mum. The jokes aren’t clever or smart, but when they landed they were excellent.

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As the audience, we’re on their side and we want them to be right, but it’s difficult to shake that niggling feeling that the adults are right. He’s a good guy, he’s been their neighbour for years and he’s a police officer. Or is it the perfect disguise? Despite the feeling of predictability that drapes over this story like a fog, there is still a tiny part of us that wants to believe.

Within this back-and-forth story and subtle cat-and-mouse chase, there is plenty of ‘80s nostalgia for those that wish to relive their childhoods. From the kids’ clothes and hairstyles, to their film and TV chats to their obsession with Boudoir magazine and the synthy soundtrack that weaves in and out to further remind us of the ’84 setting, it’s filled with obvious, but appropriate drops of reminiscence.

Summer of ’84 proves that this trio of directors are masters of what they do: crafting a film with a mask of predictability that reveals itself to be something else entirely. This is another entertaining and loud-out-loud retro horror, that may not be as bloody, but is certainly a dark and compelling rollercoaster ride.

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