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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: The Cleaning Lady

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Poster-TheCleaningLadyIn director Jon Knautz‘s The Cleaning Lady the lonely Alice (Alexis Kendra) befriends Shelly (Rachel Alig), a woman scarred by burns. The two develop a friendship where they are both equally saving the other from very different types of pain.

At first I was worried that this film’s story would be too predictable; the scarred lady will get too close to the pretty blonde, developing an obsessive relationship that leaves one of them dead. I was only partly correct. Instead of falling down an entirely expected rabbit hole, The Cleaning Lady only toys with the idea. There is a lack of surprise in the story which is a little disappointing, but learning about Shelly’s back-story in neat exposition does offer a few moments of intrigue.

Both the leading ladies are complex and interesting, mainly steering away from cliches associated with female characters. Sure, it’s a little under-whelming to see a woman sick with love and another hindered with supposed imperfections – women do care about more than just their romantic relationships and their beauty, you know? – but perhaps this film’s grounding in horror can be transferred to more than just its jump scares. There is a certain horror in the sadness of these women that perhaps urges us to remember that, as women (and men, of course), we can find happiness outside of these stereotypical preconceptions of joy.

The similarities and differences between Alice and Shelly feel a little cliché – they’re both broken, scarred and tormented – but, Kendra and Alig’s performances feel real. The friendship becomes touching, the conversations between the two feel sweet and credible, which is enough to generate the desired empathy from us, the audience. There are times where it feels shallow, but there is certainly a worthy sentiment below the superficiality.

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Of course, these moments of friendship only feel like warning signs, because this is a horror film, so the happiness can only last so long.

The Cleaning Lady has one heck of a nauseating opening scene, so it’s a shame when you realise that nothing in the main body of the film can live up to this immediately icky beginning. Except maybe when you realise where it’s going… OK, I’ve said to much. It does feel like much of the film is spent waiting for something to happen and, even though it’s a meagre 90 minutes long, there are times when it feels a lot longer.

The film feels like a horror fairytale, where a twinkling soundtrack works well against the foreboding visuals to enhance a clash between the dark and the light, good and evil. There are no scenes of real terror – although, Shelly’s childhood is filled with a generous helping of its own, twisted horror – but, The Cleaning Lady‘s own obsession with jealousy, envy, abuse, toxic attachments and the idea of being saved, do offer an element of thematic horror.

The Cleaning Lady is a decent, almost all-women-led semi-slasher – which is quite the mouthful, but you get what I mean. It’s creepy and strange, led by a couple of great actresses, so add it to your never-ending watch lists.

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CinemaKiller Chords

Review: It Comes at Night

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It Comes at Night is a work of taut, paranoiac angst, agonizingly tearing open an unsettling fissure at the heart of modern societal fears, as it explores the limits of humanity through the collision of empathy against the darkest survival instincts of the nuclear family.

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