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FrightFest 2020 Reviews

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There is no better way to prepare for the unofficial horror season of October than a good genre film festival like FrightFest. As the world remains impacted by the on-going pandemic, FrightFest, like other film festivals, adapted to the times to provide a seamless virtual film festival. Although some of the magic of being in the screen together, having a shared experience as you cheer alone to a Powerbomb Murder was diminished, Twitter stepped up to ensure the welcoming community feeling was never lost. Another positive too was at least the price of Maltesers were a little less bank breaking.

Over the course of five days, festivalgoers had a choice of 25 films and two short film showcases. Sticking as if there were actual screens, you had to do a more casual dash to go link-to-link for film-for-film. Below are the 13 films caught at this year’s festival.

I Am Lisa 2020 Poster

I Am Lisa

I Am Lisa follows a woman after being beaten by a small-town sheriff and the town’s bullies, Lisa is left for dead that night. Unfortunately for them, instead she returns from the woods with werewolf abilities.

Where I Am Lisa shines is in the fun way it takes its mythology. It contains some great original sentiments – particularly around werewolf lore – which can lead down interesting paths. Unfortunately, it also suffers from a feeling of amateurism. Some of these are budgetary and forgivable like Mike Flanagan’s Absentia, however, the biggest offenders aren’t.

Scenes open to justify their existence rather than move the story along. An example of this is as Lisa stalks a victim, a man – who you will never see again – comes in and apologises to the soon-to-be victim that they are working late. They offer some food as penance which is swiftly denied and that’s that. There is no story motivated reason for this part of the scene and these are the amateur mistakes that are real detractions. They add up and really pull the audience out of it – sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously.

The base ideas are there and there is a great twist on werewolf mythology, but there is also a lack of creativity in their pursuit. It feels the film starts asking interesting questions with its ‘what if?’s then doesn’t fulfil them because it ends at exploration at the preposition.

Intriguing ideas start with a ‘what if?’ but they also don’t end there.

★★

Triggered 2020 Still

Triggered

Nine friends wake up with suicide bombs and literal ticking clocks strapped to their chests and have to find out who, why and, more importantly, how to survive.

Triggered’s simple but immediately thrilling concept works and is a great hook into the story quickly. Setting the story in the woods at night allows the director, Alistair Orr, to revel in hyper-stylisation – even on a limited budget. Shots decorated with the LED glow of their nightmare and just a full moon to light the way add to the atmosphere, showing real promise.

The main issue is the feature uses exploitation as an excuse crutch, leaning on it to justify making characters terrible people. Characters decisions don’t reflect who they are because they aren’t anyone specific. The fun, sparky dialogue is handed out to share which shows how interchangeable they all are. Although it can be seen as having to drop their projected identities, revealing the real hatred that simmers beneath these once schooltime friends, there is not enough of them before the death vests to contrast. Survival instincts kicking should trigger who the characters really are but it seems the film’s message would be that we’re all the same in these moments and that’s not enough. It leaves them all a little unremarkable – especially the leads.

Triggered is paced well, peppered with quippy one-liners and decorates the night well but the entire time watching it, you can’t help think that there’s a better film to be made.

★★

The Columnist Still

The Columnist

What a universal concept, eh? Dark twisted fantasies of serving internet trolls’ justice in horror black-comedy about a – you guessed it – columnist who is sick of reading the hateful comments about her online. Deciding enough is enough, after tracking down one troll, Femke Boot (played fantastically by Katja Gerber) starts to unravel, finding vengeance the perfect writing muse.

The concept – no matter how universal – is a tricky subject matter to pull off. Just look at Britain’s horrible attempt in 2012 in May I Kill U?; the title alone an apt deterrent. Its concept is difficult to pull off as the subject matter isn’t really that funny. Trolling is a real modern issue. The internet, from all its power in anonymity, can breed some serious contempt and now with immediate access you can verbalise your toxic bile with little-to-no-repercussions in most cases. Even more worrying is when without the anonymity, just the safety of virtual distance, these comments are becoming more prevalent, more hateful and more worrying. How can anyone who is bombarded with such vitriol not snap? Or at the very least take it to heart?

The Columnist, guided by its deft hands in direction, manages to make the most of it by soaking the film in irony while providing plentiful reality to keep making its point. Confronting those who comment in ever-changing ways and the people in their different environments, still tumbling down the abuse path.

For all the triumph and praise you can give it in the ways it handles the subject matter it also becomes its pitfalls. A collectible subplot leaves much to be desired; especially in its discovery scene. The confrontations that do occur sometimes feel a little simplistic and some could be more daring or have more intriguing conversations than do occur. Other issues arise more likely from budget restrictions – and perhaps rating concerns – than anything else, where it could add an extra layer to its satirical revenge comedy.

It works as a funny satire of modern society’s desensitization to abuse with horror elements thrown in. There is room for more and further exploration of some of the characters around Femke, but the ending scene is likely one of the year’s best – definitely in terms of satisfaction, at the very least. The Columnist is a recommendation for all those wanting to indulge a little in the idea that justice is real and wears a flawless white suit.

★★★

Playhouse 2020 Still

Playhouse

There is always room for a good manor chiller thriller. A horror writer obsesses over the creation of his new theatre show set in a haunted Scottish castle, moving into it to live it so he can write it. Divorced Jack (Travis, not Torrance) looking for inspiration drags along his unaware daughter, Bee, for the gothic ride.

The idea has been seen before but there are plenty of avenues that haven’t been explored. Unfortunately, they remain unexplored.  The lore is slowly revealed in lifeless ways that never really capture imagination or even your attention. It never really clicks, whether it’s investigating, scaring or bantering, it feels like nothing is landing.

It feels unfair to criticise films with their lack of budget for some amateur mistakes, however, these are plentiful here and such deterrents need to be addressed to be neutralised. There is such ambiguity to a scene that you would be forgiven for thinking the actor had walked off set. The editing cuts awkwardly and we linger on scenes for too long as we watch teenagers attempt their ‘shifting about’ shtick. The colouring flattens the image even more so.

Where there is real magic to Playhouse is in its location. The most impressive parts of the film when it splashes on showing the scenery or the way shadows collect in the architecture of this great house. When the film shows the surroundings, the inevitable and unedifying greyness that is British weather, it invokes a sense of horror in a way that can only be captured by growing up in this place. Directors (Fionn and Toby Watts) really show that here with their debut; that they have seen this all in so many ways and enlightening us on their perspective of their world, portrayed through the horror lens.

There is more to be made here and there is a lot of affection from its creation, but for all of that and good grace you can give it, it never delights, entertains or scares. It’s all a bit unfulfilling. What’s most worrying about this film is that Jack and his daughter seem to be the same age in some sort of miracle that’s more intriguing than anything the film presents. Playhouse is caught between being a horror and being meta and, in the end, never becomes either. With the horror play that Jack is writing is apparently coming to life, but the film is dead on arrival.

Blind 2020 Still 2

Blind

To say alarm bells didn’t ring when the team behind the film in their introduction announced from its conception as a dream to wrapped on production was a total of three months would be a lie. Art can be like lightning in a bottle requiring a quick catch, but more often than not the lack of mediation works in detriment to its story, focusing only to service cool ideas or images in the mind. That’s where Blind comes in.

As an actress, bedazzled with her own appearance, is now still adapting to life without sight after a mishap during her laser eye surgery. Faye (Sarah French) is struggling to put her life back together with a little help from her friends, mother and mute personal trainer, Luke. When a masked stranger shows up, who knows what’s going to happen?

Well, the answer is nothing much really. To loop back to this entire production being speedrun like one of those Ocarina of Time competitions, cool images are obvious and do offer some stylistic insight into director Marcel Walz, but because the story is so threadbare we linger on them for far too long to remain interesting. Watching a character dance to music shouldn’t feel so hollow and superficial, but it does. It looks great, in the moment, but that’s all there is to satisfy. Is that the damning indictment it’s going for on the superficiality of Hollywood, society, life? Is it anything more than a cool shot? No, it’s not because at this point if you’re thinking this you’ve spent more time ruminating on the material than the creators.

The story is simple and should follow a structure we’re all too familiar with in slashers and it sort of does, substituting traditional slasher scenes for a music video here and there, but it also elongates sequences to make sure that it hits that 90-minute runtime. Instead of squeezing the tension from its story, none of it is felt, it plays as a filler.

There’s a monologue in Blind that will haunt you. It plays sincerely, but the idea that someone could talk for so long uninterrupted about their personal revelations with no interaction is not a likeable character. If they are that self-indulgent, how could they ever be?

Blind has one of the creepiest masks of recent slashers but it’s all wasted on a hasty production that never really improved on the script to make it all it could be. Apparently, when you can’t think of an ending, you just don’t make one and hope for a sequel – with Walz mentioning his long-term goal of making this a trilogy. Let’s hope he learns from his mistakes because there is plenty of visual flair and potential – that mask, honestly – but none of that cover up the lack of story and extended shots of LA won’t change that.

(Side note: they also misspell Michael St Michaels name in the credits and a waste of The Greasy Strangler for one scene, one line and then that level of disrespect and undue care of attention is a summation of the feature you’re about to watch.)

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Don’t Click

Another debut feature at FrightFest, G-Hey Kim’s film investigates the fraught brutality of male sexuality, obsession with pornography and problems of instantaneous accessibility of horrifying content. In our reality, a click could lead us to some sincere emotional scarring – or in Don’t Click’s case, your housemate’s.

Josh (Valter Skarsgård) comes home from a date with his girlfriend one night to a missing roommate and a laptop left open on torture porn. Unfortunately for him, it’s not the horror subgenre kind, it’s the dark web and Josh is then, as quick as a cut can be, transported to a windowless, doorless room where they have to face their demons.

The anger that emanates from the feature is clear. Frat guys’ self-absolution of their disturbing, misogynistic practices is an infuriating topic to deal with, with this a pretty slap-in-the-face metaphor to wake up from them by forcing two people to live up to it and justify themselves. The issue is, if you are only focusing on two main characters, sewing their mouth shut at the beginning of the film already stops you from having conflicts and stops both characters live up to their actions. Instead, it focuses mostly on Josh and the deconstruction of the passive man and how they will ignore some their friends’ red flags to avoid conflict or to disturb their dynamic. An important topic but one that requires more nuance to be effective. The ending seeks justification of its own supernatural element and is very misguided, diminishing the work before it.

For the horror fans looking for gore, this will definitely satiate. There are gruesome set pieces in between the story, scarring and scaring with effective, horrific imagery. This is where the visual style shines with a fresh perspective on films in the Saw vein. The idea that we are in the dark web being illustrated by the characters moving at 20 frames per second instead of 24 is a bold choice, but ultimately a bad one as it is nauseating (especially for epileptics, like myself, so a warning regarding that).

Don’t Click has the right message in its morality tale, but it is laid on thick and puts its message above the story and the characters’ stories. The message would become stronger if better woven into the material rather than being the material. It does have an important thing to say, it just needed a better way to express it.

★ ★

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Skull: The Mask

Wanted to watch a priest and a demon have a swordfight? What about watching someone get powerbombed to death? Then this might be the gem for you. Skull: The Mask opened the day with some of the maddest sequences you can expect from a Brazilian giallo-inspired exploitation flick inspired by Halloween, CSI, Indiana Jones and WWE (their words). When it’s balls-to-the-walls, it’s spectacular; when it flicks to its noir love, it’s lost.

The mask of Anhangá, a Pre-Columbian God, carries some supernatural powers with it that was even sought by the Axis in 1944. The Skull, with all its power, searches for a worthy wearer to take control over. Just as quickly as it is found, it’s lost again… until it turns up in modern day Sao Paulo. Teenagers being teenagers dice with destiny by not thinking carefully enough about the demonic ritual they are performing, making the mask spider-dance its way across unworthy wearers’ faces until it finds a professional wrestler (Rurik Jr.) to begin its rampage across the city.

That is exactly where the film shines, in this batshit world of exploitation. On a microbudget, it still causes absolute chaos and you see the gore, the viscera, the inventive beatings. Where it stumbles is when it takes the story away from this, focusing on its noir love that doesn’t quite fit into this flick. Although we have a hard-grizzled typical noir detective in Beatriz Obdias (Natallia Rodrigues), heavy-drinker and disillusioned chasing down the killer. The moment where it dips its toe in the procedural water, it sinks. Although you can tell the film comes from a place of love and passion of all it celebrates within it, it doesn’t quite transfer that across as we the follow detective. A too dull a thread as we wait for the bead of the Skull’s carnage.

There’s a lot to love in here. Its insanity is only matched by its creativity in creating them and then showing it to you with a minor budget. Style is a part of its grindhouse-esque presentation. That swordfight? It takes place in front of a stained-glass window. Silhouettes squaring off with beautiful colours behind them.

There may not be a real message in Skull: The Mask, but there is a real massacre. That’s the sort of film it is. A splatter fest made of love from all the films that came before it, keeping it stylish, gory, horrific and hilarious. It’s best when it indulges itself and the procedural element is too dull and, ultimately, superfluous to the story of the carnage. Two trains running in parallel that never really collide. At least, when it is fun it’s being RKO’d to death fun.

★ ★ ★

Two Heads Creek Poster

Two Heads Creek

After the Brexit referendum further amps up the racism in their non-descript small town that could be anywhere in the nation, two Polish siblings get sick of it and head to Australia to find their mum. As much as a hellscape Britain is, nothing can prepare you for the backwater town of incestuous cannibals that love karaoke.

Subtlety is not here and Two Heads Creek is not too dissimilar to The Columnist and Don’t Click in their approach to being catharsis pieces for their themes and audiences. The issue is by aiming to be a catharsis piece for a distinct audience group – let’s say 48.2% for some reason – means that it will struggle to win over other audiences. Although it is bombastic and hilarious at times, slipping into a full third act of viscera and comedic carnage, perhaps wearing its intentions so blatantly early on would be off-putting to the people where the message could open their perspectives.

Another issue is that it is very clear early on where the film is going, but it keeps heading in the direction like it is taking unwitting passengers. It is like the film feels it’s taking you on this surprise holiday and it’s hinting heavily to the point you know it now; you’ve even drove passed the sign pretty early into the trip. There are lulls in the second act which could provide greater insight into characters – main and supporting. If a little more had been given to the surrounding mad-as-hatters townsfolk, there could be more to say rather than populated with comedic characters to cut to.

Two Heads Creek is a fun flick and relevant with its biting satire (if heavy-handed) of global widespread xenophobia, packaged in a neat horror-comedy. Although the film is not very ground-breaking outside of one Baz Luhrmann-esque sequence, the laughs and splatter will keep you entertained. A good time film; not a game-changer film. It does enough to not be wasteful, much like the mentalists who populate the town.

★ ★ ★

Hall 2020 Still

Hall

When looking through synopses of the FrightFest films, none felt as eerily prescient as Hall; a slow-burn horror about a debilitating virus spreading through a hotel. As the hall lines with victims of the disease, pregnant runaway Naomi and Val, a mother trapped in a toxic marriage, must find a way to make it out alive. With such a good hook and production design, this may be the biggest disappointment of the festival due to its squandered potential.

As it opens on a victim crawling up the hall, it illustrates from the get-go its intention on pacing. This is a slow-burn horror with mounting tension being its main goal than abject horror. The unknown quantities of the virus being its most terrifying subject matter for the crawl to the end of the hallway. Hall shines with its camerawork and the way it maximises its budget for atmosphere.

That is where what is good in Hall really ends. It feels Hall was born of just a feeling, a mood, a tone it wanted. The synopsis and logline say more than the film does in its brief 85-minute runtime. We flash to the future which evaporates all tension as we know a main sequence that the film peppers in throughout of an arduous, laborious crawl down the corridor. One that begins to labour its audience more than the protagonist.

Both lead actors, Carolina Bartczak and Yumiko Shaku, do what they can but with little characterisation that coincides with its lack of story so they cannot shine. What can you do when the film deals with an X-Files style man-in-a-hat subplot that opens and ends in the same breath. There is even cause for cynicism as a post-credit fake-newscast feels like 10 minutes (don’t quote me on this) of its runtime, as if just to qualify itself as a feature and not a short film. An unwelcome exposition dump for its own sake; is it an epilogue, prologue, justification? It is at the very least a huge mistake.

Director Francesco Giannini clearly can shoot a film and they can capture one of the harder parts of it. They are a director to watch because with a script in good condition, they could really make a standout feature film. Hall is sadly a major misfire. For all its good in capturing its mood, it forgot to frame it around a story.

★ ★

A Ghost Waits Still

A Ghost Waits

Independent horror-romcom A Ghost Waits is a feature debut by director Adam Stovall and written alongside his leading man, MacLeod Andrews. Jack (Andrews) is a cleaner who goes into a house with revolving tenants to do his job. When the ghost finally appears to him and attempts to drive him out like the others, he is only more insistent on staying and their clashes turn meditative, complicating their relationship further.

A neat and simple premise with plenty to play around with ends up stumbling a lot. Although it can be quite charming, the uneven pacing causes severe structural issues. It asks for too much good faith in its consumption because that is how it was made, but it needs to be built better to get away with that. The blocks are uneven, as we go from quick cuts, to thirty-minute conversations making it feel a little everywhere.

Clearly budget was more than just restrictive which may be the reason that it is monochromatic. Nothing else is gained by the choice other than perhaps it emphasises that it is hiding more than a flew blemishes underneath. Perhaps there is an artistic intention behind it, but it does not come across. Digital black and white is always such a risk as it is and with A Ghost Waits, it points more towards its amateurism when it should be shying away from it.

A film created from an affectionate place, clearly wearing its heart on its sleeve but it indulges itself in its own romanticism with disconcerting message that alone everyone is destined for depression and that relationships – primarily romantic – are the driving force for continuing. It feels a little high school, in that sense. It’s best earlier on when it shows a disaffected Jack and building him up – one-sided friend phonecalls, his boredom and growing apathy – yet it veers further off course as it loses its structure. A Ghost Waits is well-intentioned and quirky – it’s already found its audience of fans, which is great – but it feels poorly crafted and left this one cold.

Enhanced 2019 Still

Enhanced

Breaking up the horror selection available at the festival, FrightFest nabbed Enhanced as a familiar sci-fi flick about a group of mutants who are outcast and hunted by a sinister government organisation. Between running and trying to stop a mutant from becoming all-powerful, lead Alanna Bale – a rarely named mutant – must decide her allegiances. Although it’s aiming for an X-Men­ vibe, it feels more like The One or War; that standard 2000s sci-fi actioners vibe.

If you think Enhanced sounds a little generic, you would be forgiven because it walks its way down the story to prove you right. We know the story and it doesn’t dare to deviate nor even cover it up with any real theme. Sci-fi themes should be weaved into the story, not skipped entirely. Missing commentary is replaced with quips or attempts at dramatising, where it could be saying something about the persistent, well-funded government organisation or even an allegorical representation of systemic issues. There’s just… nothing.

Enhanced does show the talent to craft, choreograph and capture fight scenes doing so with passion. Action sequences are where it is at its most creative and shows exciting promise for director James Mark (and actor brother, Chris Mark, as the mutant vying for power). With a decorated past in stunt coordination in most sci-films studio pictures of the 2010s, there is potential in James Mark to direct some creative actioners in the future and one to earmark for the future.

A deftly made picture but due to its generic and simple story, it is unremarkable. Competently made does not make entertaining. It will be on the Syfy Channel in no time.

★ ★

Blinders 2020 Still

Blinders

Tyler Savage’s latest film finds its fear in the implicit trust we place on people in an unsettling, tense horror-thriller with a few tricks up its sleeve. Blinders follows Andy (Vincent Van Horn) who has recently made the plunge to move to LA from Texas after a bad break-up. His potential romance with Sam (Christine Ko) is then put in jeopardy when an unstable ride-share driver finds as many ways as possible to interfere with his life.

Blinders is a tight thriller at its best when it is more a character study and changes character allegiances. Andy isn’t as simple as a good guy and it’s not as clear-cut as being tortured by a bad guy either. Andy is, however, a real guy generally more distant from society than they should be. They aren’t unempathetic, but they aren’t empathetic. They aren’t unkind, but they aren’t kind. They are the complexity of mood-controlled personalities. When it studies its characters and adds as many layers as it does for Andy and Roger (Michael Lee Joplin), it neglects to do so for Sam, making her one-dimensional until the end. Although this could be a deft criticism of Andy’s perspective, it needs to work harder to achieve that as a successful reflection rather than feeling like a jolt of belated energy.

Stalker pictures often rely on their imagery and it shines here. Tyler Savage has a great eye with this film the visual highlight of the festival; there are even beautiful transitions reminiscent of the paranoid pictures of the ‘70s. It adds atmosphere while charming you and finds sleek ways to integrate the screen time imagery that is pervasive with modern technology.

Blinders could have done with refining the script to give more depth to Sam, but otherwise it’s a lovely looking thriller with a few twists and turns to remain entertaining, ignoring one awkward rug pull. The film plays on how scared we should be that the price of technology and instant interconnectivity is the resignation of privacy and the many ways it can be weaponised. Especially in a world that is further distancing itself from people – Ryde-drivers are services, not people underneath. Tyler Savage is a name to look out for.

★ ★ ★

The Swerve Still 2

The Swerve

To say the festival ended on a high would be accurate yet misleading for the existential nightmare and tragedy this film so devastatingly crafts. The Swerve should be a star-making role for Azura Skye who explores the depths and pain of her character that sees the worst in herself through a manipulated perspective.

Holly (Azura Skye) has a seemingly perfect life for the generic punch card of being married with children and in a comfortable position when an accident starts to unravel her world and her sanity. Ostensibly not a horror per se, it paints a chilling picture on the power of microaggressions and that a to-do list tick box for life goals doesn’t lead to happiness. Holly’s world paints a tragic picture of long-term mental health struggles exacerbated by family and their need to remind you of your own past. Trauma never heals, the scab is always picked, even infused into dinner conversations where painful memories or not just resurrected but relayed as hilarity, showing that families and friends use others’ suffering for edification, as a comfort to their own self-image in the face of meek ineffectiveness.

Director Dean Kapsalis’s debut captures pain and illustrates the ripple of broken relationships across the cast. Azura Skye is superb but so are Ashley Bell and Zach Rand. Ashley Bell plays the projecting sister with a recognisable self-awareness that illustrates their inner dissatisfaction while fusing it with that seeming, easy-breezy confidence associated with it. Zach Rand’s Paul is the only one outside of the corrosive circle of her family dynamic that sees who Holly is. Unable to help but willing to give whatever to do so.

The Swerve is a haunting study of family, lingering trauma and the disturbing impact broken social dynamics cause. A stark slow burn representation of our influence on others told with remarkable confidence from a first-time director. Drama which is restrained like its lead and resolute in its bleakness. A powerful, harrowing, uncomfortable gut-punch picture.

★ ★ ★ ★

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Vivarium (2020) Review

Vivarium2

VivariumIn Vivarium, Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) and Gemma (Imogen Poots) are on the lookout for a new house and stumble upon an Estate Agency offering them a home in a new district called Yonder. Upon entering the seemingly peaceful and homely area, they are soon drawn into a world of hell where they may never escape.

Vivarium is an intriguing oddity that thrusts its audience into a mystery that is almost indescribable. I can tell you that the pair become trapped in a house with a child that’s not their own – one that may not even be human – but, that is only the beginning. It’s the type of film that must be seen to be believed. Describing the events will not do its level of weirdness any justice. It’s freaky AF.

A Vivarium is a “place for life”, but in this Vivarium, the couple have anything but. The lives they had before are gone. They are now, perhaps, the playthings of otherworldly creatures. They are being watched and mimicked, trapped in a place that poses as a utopia, but is something much more sinister. Their every day lives are monotonous and without change, until Tom discovers a sound beneath the ground that occupies his every day.

Writer-director Lorcan Finnegan keeps his cards close to his chest as he takes his audience down a long and winding road in a world that is made up of endless streets that lead to nowhere. Mystery is effortlessly encapsulated in the film’s visuals, where each house looks the same as the next and every door leads to the nightmarish number 9 that Tom and Gemma were first taken to. It’s an Isaac Ezban movie by way of David Cronenberg, where the overwhelming oddness begs the audience to unpick its every moment. Are we smart enough to piece the puzzle together or will we, also, be trapped in Vivarium’s grip, helpless to escape?

As the isolated couple, Eisenberg and Poots convey their characters with heart-breaking realism. Their performances are grounded and believable, never venturing into a melodramatic territory that is more suited to a soap opera. Tom sets his sights on a hole in the ground and gets through the never-ending days by digging and digging and digging… Gemma becomes increasingly closer to their new “son”, but angrily corrects him every time he calls her “mother”. “He’s not a boy” Tom reminds her; but what is he? Where has he come from? Why is he here? What is the purpose of all this?

The endless questions will be frustrating for some, but those that appreciate a film that wants to challenge its audience, will find a lot to like in Vivarium’s refusal to conform to expectations or spoon-feed its audience answers. It’s an undeniably maddening watch and one that doesn’t end with a neat little bow, so prepare yourself to feel angry to the end if that’s how you begin. Perhaps this idea would have been better suited to a short, because there is a lot of dawdling and a feeling of narrative uncertainty that cannot be escaped. The film is a lengthy sensation rather than an intricate story, so it will certainly be divisive.

Vivarium is as sinister and creepy as it is playful and witty, treading that thin line between hilarity and horror with tremendous ease. It’s a bold and unnerving feature that is more than welcome in this cinematic world that is far too often filled with endless re-hashed remakes and tiresome sequels.  Finnegan has arrived onto the scene with a bang and cemented himself as a director to keep a watchful eye on.

VIVARIUM will be released in the UK and Irish cinemas and on digital 27th March 2020. Check out the trailer below.

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FrightFest 2019 Review: Daniel Isn’t Real

Daniel Isn’t Real3

Daniel Isn’t Real follows a troubled student called Luke (Miles Robbins) who looks to his childhood imaginary friend Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger) for support when his family life starts to hit the rocks.

Director Adam Egypt Mortimer has said that this is the film he wanted to make before 2015’s Some Kind of Hate and used his debut to help get Daniel Isn’t Real off the ground. In short, it was worth the wait. Daniel Isn’t Real is a strikingly creative piece of film-making and one that will linger long after the credits roll.

The film begins with Luke as a child, innocently playing games with Daniel and talking to him as a means of escaping his reality. It becomes clear that Daniel has been conjured out of Luke’s sadness and isolation. His mother suffers from mental health problems and his father seems to be at his wit’s end about what to do. Daniel becomes a welcome distraction for Luke, someone he can use to take his mind off what’s happening around him. However, when Daniel forces Luke to do something dark and dangerous, his mum decides it’s time to lock Daniel away for good.

Daniel Isn't Real2

As the film progresses and time moves ahead to when Luke is a teenager, it is soon questioned whether Daniel is simply an innocent imaginary friend or something else entirely. Daniel becomes the devil on Luke’s shoulder, egging him to do think he’d usually not have the confidence to do; talking to smart and confident girls like Sasha Lane’s Cassie, for example.

Lane continues to solidify herself as a strong, young actor after her breakout performance in American Honey. She brings a complex character to Daniel Isn’t Real and is far more than a romantic interest. She represents an alternative way of life for young people, showing that choosing to live creatively and independently can be just as fulfilling as following an educational route. She becomes the devil on Luke’s should that he should be listening to; encouraging him to live more freely,  but without the danger associated with his invisible friend.

Much of the film’s intensity is thanks to the cast’s performances. As Daniel, Schwarzenegger is brilliant. He perfectly treads the line between charm and chilling, portraying a character that is easy to admire, but nonetheless terrifying. He is Luke’s dark side (May the force be with you! I wonder if that’s a purposeful joke in Daniel Isn’t Real…) and although, their opposing personalities seem a tad cliché and reminiscent of Tobey Maguire’s character change in Spider-Man 3, it can’t be denied that Schwarzenegger was born to play a role like this.

Daniel Isn't Real1Robbins is also excellently cast as the tortured Luke and he really gets the chance to get his teeth into this script. As Luke begins to question his own sanity, wondering if he has similar cerebral problems like his mum, it’s easy to empathise with his character. He figuratively and literally begins to fight his own demons as he realises that Daniel’s intentions are far more sinister than he could ever have imagined.

Like the films Hellraiser and Baskin, Daniel Isn’t Real is awash with a gorgeous, scary visuals and sharp editing that’ll give you nightmares on their own. While Daniel further infects Luke’s mind, increasingly more nightmarish visuals haunt the screen; Mortimer creates a world that wears its darkness brightly and isn’t afraid to go the extra mile to ensure his audience leave the film on-edge. The film is awash with dark imagery that may have come straight from hell itself and it is used to reinforce just how terrifying Daniel’s hold on Luke is.

Daniel Isn’t Real is an excellent achievement in horror-drama, using the fantastic to heighten a very real and grounded commentary on mental health and schizophrenia. It’s a haunting film, both thematically and visually, succeeding as an intelligent work of art, but also as a pure and simple horror film.

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Arrow FrightFest 2019 Review: Spiral

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In Spiral, Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman), his partner Aaron (Ari Cohen) and daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte) move to the suburbs for a change of pace and a chance to escape the pressures of city living. However, their hope for a peaceful life is soon interrupted when Malik notices strange looks from his neighbours and a worrying, late-night celebration ends in death.

Most obviously, Spiral explores the fear and worry that can come with being in a same-sex relationship. It’s 2019 and to be gay, a lesbian, bi or trans-gender can still come with backlash and judgement – usually from people who will be entirely unaffected by anyone who falls into that category, but that’s a discussion for another day.

In a similar to vein to Jordan Peele‘s social-commentary horror Get Out, one of Spiral‘s strength is in its mystery; what are the townspeople doing? Do they hate gay people? Or is it something else entirely? In the film’s clever climactic sequence all these questions are answered and the eventuality is as shocking as you’d expect.

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Writers Colin Minihan (It Stains the Sand Red) and John Poliquin (Bitten) do well to use Get Out as an inspiration without entirely copying its intentions. There is possibly one moment that subtly mimics the running man moment in Peele’s effort – and it’s very effective, because of Get Out – but otherwise, Spiral has its own identity and wears it loud and proudly.

Spiral‘s themes are depressingly timely and its exploration is one of heart-breaking realism, but that only cements the film as necessary viewing. As important as Get Out, Spiral is a horror film of the times we’re currently living in and is all the more terrifying for its grounding in a harsh reality. It’s a more emotional and sadder story that edges towards the drama genre as its feet stand firmly in horror. It never steps into comedy like Get Out did, so what we have here has a similar message and drive, but is a different beast entirely. It is one that is wholly serious and sadly, very scary.

In videos watched by Malik – who works from home as a ghost writer – to “disrupt the nuclear family” can come with consequences. This idea is placed at the base of the film, neatly inserted and repeated to give us an understanding of Malik’s lessening grasp on reality and quickening descent into a place of dangerous paranoia. Spiral satirises statements and beliefs such as this, confidently showcasing a family that is strong despite deviating from these supposed societal norms.

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During an early scene in the film we learn that Malik’s teenage boyfriend was the victim of a hate-crime; brutally beaten while the pair shared an intimate moment. It was after this that Malik’s fear was born, furthering our understanding for his eventual drastic action. It’s heart-breaking to see Malik succumb to his fear and thanks to a powerful performance from Bowyer-Chapman, it is easy to empathise and understand the pain he’s going through.

The only quibbles I have with Spiral are minor. It’s perhaps a little too long, with a few moments in the middle that could have done with a bit of a trim. However, as the majority of it is so gripping, it is easy to forgive and easy to understand why a film like this is not just an 80-minute by-the-numbers scarefest.

Thanks to a strong central performance from Bowyer-Chapman and a great cast in general, Spiral manages to pack an emotional punch and it’s certainly one that you’ll not forget for a long time after receiving.

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Arrow FrightFest 2019 Review: Bliss

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In director Joe Begos’ (The Mind’s Eye) astounding Bliss, a struggling artist called Dezzy (Dora Madison) resorts to taking a highly-addictive, hallucinatory drug called Bliss (a tasty blend of cocaine and DMT) to help get her creative juices flowing. What ensues is a mind-bending and visceral experience; one where the line between reality and fantasy is as hazy as Dezzy’s memories of the night before.

Bliss is what you’d get if Gaspar Noe and Abel Ferrara co-directed a drug-fuelled vampire movie with Kathryn Bigelow over-seeing the whole shoot. It’s what The Addiction would have been if Lili Taylor‘s character had taken a shit-ton of hallucinogens before biting into her victims or if the drugs in Climax turned everyone into blood-thirsty creatures of the night. It’s a real treat.

Hiding behind the Bliss façade of trippy visuals and a nightmarish soundscape is a vampire movie through-and-through. The film tricks you into believing you’re going to see a certain of film, before it shifts 180 degrees and takes you on a completely different journey. Sure, Dezzy takes a ton of drugs, gets addicted and craves the creative high she experienced that first night, but it soon becomes clear that her thirst is not for drugs at all.

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It all begins when Dezzy bumps into Courtney (Tru Collins) and her partner Ronnie (Rhys Wakefield) who exhume coolness with their dark sunglasses and don’t-give-a-fuck, life-is-for-living attitudes a la Near Dark. They tease Dezzy with a life of excess, encouraging her to stay out late and leave her normal life for tomorrow. It’s one of Bliss‘ most risque scenes as the trio embark on a night of drink, drugs and sex against a backdrop flooded with bright and brazen, flashing lights. Get used to this because Bliss is FILLED with visuals that’ll leave your eyes sore and your brain thumping.

The camera is as high as the characters as it weaves in and out of crazed-scenes drenched in blood to the sound of screams of pleasure and pain. It’s a traumatising descent into a hell that is beautifully captured, but there’s nothing here that will leave you desiring the life that Dezzy now has to live with. Her painting may be getting painted – despite her never remembering actually picking up a paintbrush during her nights of unadulterated bliss – but what is being exposed on the canvas is dark in itself, teasing a climax that is going to be more painful than pleasurable.

Bliss is a heavenly mind-fuck. A visceral, hypnotising exploration of the pain that comes with creativity and the lack of it. What Joe Begos has delivered is a semi-autobiographical (…I hope) piece that delves into his own creative struggles, leaving me thankful that he had these conflicts. Without them, we’d not have had this intoxicating, mesmerising and unforgettable slice of psychedelic cinema and that’d be a downer.

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Arrow FrightFest 2019 Review: Crawl

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When I first saw the trailer for Crawl I thought it looked like a good time. I’m always keen for more creature features and Alexandre Aja is a more than competent horror filmmaker with a few excellent flicks under his belt. However, I did not expect the scope, heart or heart-racing intensity that would come with it. Crawl is a 5-star film, welcome to my TED talk.

When a father and daughter are trapped during a hurricane, the pair must, not only battle the terrifying elements, but a bunch of alligators that swim into their home during a flash flood. Crawl explores a home invasion of the worst kind as its killers are hungry for blood and bloody quick. You can’t reason with an alligator, they don’t give a shit. All you can do is run, swim or crawl your way to safety and hope to keep all your limbs intact.

Crawl is a blast and a relentless one at that, so strap yourself in because you’re in for a roller-coaster of a ride. Aside from about 15 minutes of set-up, introducing us to Kaya Scodelario’s Haley and her rocky relationship with her father (Barry Pepper), Crawl kicks into fifth gear and doesn’t let up until the film’s final seconds. It’s 90 minutes of non-stop action, drama and nail-biting tension that I wholly wasn’t ready for, but was ecstatic to be experiencing. With Alexandre Aja at the helm, you know, the director of High TENSION, you’d think I’d have been more mentally prepared. But I wasn’t.

The film is fast-paced and furious, excellently combining genres of horror, action and heart-felt drama in one fell swoop. Haley and her father’s troubled relationship feels real and never melodramatic, intricately woven into the film’s structure to raise the stakes, but also to give us characters that we want to root for. Along with their dog Sugar – who is, admittedly, my star of the entire film, despite almost giving me multiple heart attacks – we care for them and want them to survive.

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The scope and use of space is Crawl’s greatest feat. You’ll probably have the impression that the film is going to be small and claustrophobic and, for the most part, you’d be correct. The basement is already an eerie place associated with horror, but with the addition of rising water levels, a raging hurricane outside and the final terror cherry on the cake: murderous alligators, it makes for treacherous viewing.

The location may be mostly small, but Crawl branches out into something bigger and it’s extremely impressive to watch as our characters fight to survive in the most insane circumstances. Their hopes are relentlessly dashed and, all the while, poor Sugar helplessly barks and whines. To describe Crawl as anxiety-inducing is an understatement, because I’m pretty sure I held my breath for a solid 20 minutes.

Crawl is filled with jump scares and moments that are scrupulously frightening, but a surprising amount of heart that’ll only increase the stakes. It’s such good fun in the most twisted way, and I can’t wait to watch it again. Honestly, it’s a perfect creature feature and is more Alien, than Alligator, so dive in and enjoy the monstrous mayhem.

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

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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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FrightFest 2018 Review – Upgrade

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Upgrade PosterGrey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) has to adapt to an exciting and terrifying new way of life when he is fused with a computer chip called Stem. The chip is planted in his brain and in one simple command it can control the entirety of Grey’s body, giving him the strength and power to do almost anything he wants.

From director Leigh Whannel, Upgrade is what you get when you let one of the creators of Saw and Death Sentence combine the two to create a dazzling fusion of futuristic, violent revenge. It’s equally as sophisticated as it is gloriously gory, showcasing a visual display that seems impossible on its measly $5 million budget. You’ll feel every punch and love every second, eager to see Grey put a grisly end to those who have wronged him. From its to its hypnotic and pulsing soundtrack to its unbelievable moments of exquisitely choreographed combat, Upgrade is an action-horror treat that you’ll want to watch immediately after you’ve seen it.

Grey is a self-proclaimed hater of technology, criticising self-driven cars and expressing a hatred of intelligent computers. Thus, he is the perfect man to be fused with the smallest, smartest computer of them all. He becomes a symbol for the clash of humanity and technology, where only one can win. The film is a warning for society’s future and what could happen if technology gets out of control. Sure, the potential of being a badass ninja (sort of) is the ultimate cool and almost worth the fall of life as we know it, but in Upgrade there is an important and familiar, underlying reminder that creating something bigger than yourself and playing god, will have dangerous repercussions.

Upgrade oozes a contagious confidence as it grips you by the throat, straps you in and takes you for a ride that you’ll never want to get off of. There are plenty of surprises and even if you’ve seen the trailers, you’ll be pleased to learn that there’s a lot more to this story than the marketing suggests. What ensues is a complete blast, a perfect combination of sci-fi horror and well-timed humour. The first scenes where Grey realises his new abilities are bone-crunching for his victims and a joy for us. Marshall-Green brilliantly and hilariously conveys a man who is confused and terrified, shocked and excited about his new life and the possibilities it has opened up.

Upgrade is one of the best films of the year and it would be criminal to miss it. It’s stylish as hell and an example of a film that can wear its inspirations on its sleeve and still succeed as an excellent addition to an overflowing genre.

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FrightFest 2018 Review: Await Further Instructions

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A family awaken on Christmas morning to see that they’re trapped in their home. Mysterious black shutters have appeared on the doors and windows overnight, leaving them forced to confront a host of issues that paint them as less than perfect.

Await Further Instructions is an imperfect exploration of a family’s ignorance and blind following of orders. In many ways it’s as smart as it wants you to believe as it further provides a timely comment on society’s reliance on the media and the problems that arise when we forget to question what we hear on the radio, read on the internet or see on TV. However, questions like these have been raised before and Await Further Instruction‘s message may be a positive one, but it’s not something we haven’t heard before.

The nicely-named Milgram family live on the also nicely-named Stanford Street. These are neat – if a little obvious – touches that invite the audience to work out what’s going on. Await Further Instructions does try very hard to be smart and meaningful and even if it doesn’t entirely hit the mark, it stills earns some praise. It’s a confident endeavour from director Johnny Kevorkin and impressive visual flourishes make it exciting to ponder what he could do with a bigger budget and a better cast of actors.

A Christmas Day horror film setting is always a favourite of mine, so it was a shame to see this film not take advantage of the festive potential it had at its finger tips. Despite some sci-fi-friendly bright lighting choices, I wondered why the film chose to be set at Christmas at all; except to have an excuse for the entire family to be together. The more the film progresses, the more the day of the year becomes irrelevant. Without a monster in the midst of things or a slasher killer to wreak a bloody havoc, there becomes no way for the story to use the most wonderful day of the year in a way that is either fun or scary.

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The first half of the film sets up the family as, mainly, a bunch of idiots. The father and grandfather are racist, the son and his girlfriend are also a bit racist, BUT the other son is dating a girl of Indian descent. Played by Neerja Naik, Annji is the only person in the family who has any sense and she’s not white, get it? She’s smart and she’s a doctor, but she’s shunned because a terrorist attack is being broadcast on TV. I bet you can tell where this is all going. It’s a positive message, an education in promoting equality and an attempt at dismissing an arrogance that is undeniably still present, but it’s as subtle as a brick.

I became more invested the longer the story went on, forgiving the film’s slow start and obvious messages when the television started to tell them what to do. Not LITERALLY, but messages like “the food is contaminated, throw it all away” and “wash yourselves with bleach” start popping up from the supposed “government”. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go full David Cronenberg, but by the end, it becomes even clearer that he was an influence on this smart little indie flick.

Await Further Instructions is a worthwhile, if not completely unique sci-fi-horror. It’s let down by a slow pace and over-meandering story, but the final act is a good one and we can never have too many films that want to teach us societal lessons. Can we?

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FrightFest 2018 Review: Boar

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When fences are knocked down, people go missing and mutilated bodies are found, a small town in the Australian outback begins to believe the rumours are true: a huge boar is on a murderous killing spree.

Boar is a fun, but flawed, monster movie that works entirely as a re-telling of 1984’s Razorback. It’s without the latter film’s more bizarre characters – the Razorback tone feels very Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 – but the story is criminally similar. Both are set in Australia, both have characters searching for missing people and both focus on a giant killer pig.

The best thing about Boar is the cast. John Jarratt and Roger Ward are brilliantly funny as a couple of old drunks who try to be heroes. These golden oldies are hilarious and Boar‘s comedic edge is welcome. There are sure to be more than a few snappy one-liners that’ll give you a giggle, which is better than nothing, because Boar won’t be scaring you out of your skin. In fact, scrap the other characters, because I could have happily watched 90 minutes of just Jarratt and Ward vs. the Boar.

Strongman Nathan Jones returns to the horror scene after playing the antagonist in 2014’s Charlie’s Farm (there’s a neat reminder of that performance in Boar, for those who’ve seen it). He plays the role of Uncle Bernie (not Bern!), a monster of a man who, surely, must be the only match for the huge boar. Standing at a mighty 6 ft 11 himself, he’s brought in to show how huge the beast is, because even he struggles in hand-to-trotter combat. That is a great moment, though. Bill Moseley also shines as always, playing the only American in a town of Aussies.

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If you’ve criticised films in the past for not giving you a good look at the monster, then you’ll be impressed here, because director Chris Sun ensures we get to see plenty of the big pig. Rightly so, because he’s hugely impressive. The film can’t be faulted for it’s great effects – or its humour – but, there’s definitely a spark missing that prevents it from being something relentlessly entertaining.

Maybe it’s because a big pig isn’t particularly scary or the annoying, predictably shaky camera-work that accompanies the killing, but it’s definitely hard to feel any genuine fear or threat from this huge beast. The kills are expectedly messy and gore-hounds will enjoy the mutilated bodies and icky blood effects, but Boar hangs around for a very long time and after 96 minutes you’ll just want it all to end.

Boar is the perfect midnight movie experience; it’s an easy watch and you’ll not have to think too hard. The cast is spot-on and the moments of wit are the film’s strongest aspect. It’s a shame it couldn’t deliver the horror thrills and spills, but Boar is worth a watch for its concept alone. I mean, how many killer pig films do we get these days?

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FrightFest 2018 Review: Incident in a Ghostland

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Incident in a Ghostland3Incident in a Ghostland is quite something. As it comes from Pascal Laugier, the director behind 2012’s hard-hitting Martyrs, you’ll be unsurprised to learn that it is a brutal, terrifyingly relentless take on the home invasion subgenre. But it’s more than that, it’s a horrifying look at what happens after witnessing a tragedy and the demons that linger long after.

The film begins when a mother and her two daughters Beth and Vera, move to a new home they’ve inherited. Terror strikes when their home is invaded, leaving the three with scars that will take a long time to heal. Cut to years later and Beth, now a renowned horror author, receives a strange phone call from Vera that leads her to re-visit the home that she left so long ago. What greets her is madness beyond belief, forcing Beth and Vera to confront the demons they hope to leave behind.

There is so much to delve into here, I’m finding it difficult to put into words. Occasionally a film will come along that will shock you into silence, that will hit you full-on in the chest and force you to watch something unpleasant, upsetting and unforgettable. Martyrs was one of those films and this is another one.

Incident in a Ghostland adopts many of the ideas that were present in Martyrs, bringing its audience another difficult to watch story of abuse and psychological terror. Again, the victims of the story are a couple of girls – begging the question of why Laugier possibly hates women so much – played heroically by the young Emilia Jones and Taylor Hickson. As actresses, they are pushed to their limits to bring Laugier’s vision to life, and it is their brave performances that drive this horrific story. You’ll feel every beating and every moment of physical, mental torture that these girls do. You’ll want to cover your ears to shield yourself from the screaming and cover your eyes to stop the brutality, but at the same time, you can’t look away.

How far can this go? How much time is left? Surely, it can’t get any worse? The questions you asked yourself when you watched Martyrs will rear their ugly heads once again, just like the girls’ memories of that fateful night return to haunt them again and again. It’s worrying to see Laugier’s shown preoccupation with the abuse of young females and, understandably, many will see this film as wholly problematic. However, this is not just a glorification of violence or a gratuitous display of assaulted women, but instead, a complex exploration of psychological repression and the important part a mother plays in protecting her children; even if what she does is not always right.

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Laugier’s story is a complex one; below the extreme physical violence and visceral horror there is an emotional focus on mental health and madness. When Beth returns to her sister, she sees that she relives the night of the home invasion over and over again. She believes that she’s still there, causing herself harm as she’s beaten by an unknown force, immediately reminiscent of those early scenes in Martyrs where Lucie is tortured by a demonic manifestation of her own traumatic memories. This film has a multitude of layers, adding to the intensity of the on-screen violence with genuinely heart-wrenching scenes that will have you on the brink of tears.

By the end, Incident in a Ghostland becomes our house of horrors, one we’re glad we survived and one we”d not like to revisit. It’s a harsh watch and not for the faint-hearted, a film that’s difficult to watch, but important for its portrayal of post-traumatic stress and the inner demons that wreak havoc even when the terror is supposedly over.

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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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