Film 4 FrightFest Film Festival 2014 Wrap Up

I’ve been going to FrightFest now for 11 years.

It’s weird putting that figure in to context: a couple could have had a kid that would now be ready to enter the cusp of secondary school. The difference is that a kid is just a kid, whereas we’re talking about horror movies, which are far more important.

What I get from the festival is a sense of where ‘horror is at’ as a genre. Typically the films you see at FrightFest aren’t ones which always go on to get a general release, or if they do, are so limited in their run they may as well have not been.

The festival is very much a butterfly net for catching quality flicks.

Looking back over the years of there have been a number of trends; the wave of Brit-flicks in early 2000s, the rise and dominance of Asian cinema and over the past few years the trend of American mainstream films being upstaged by younger talents with visions.

Horror has always been a banker for studios as they appeal to a defined demographic, so in periods of prosperity or which are just plain shit, there’s always a steady stream of horror movies out.

That said, the range of films from the world over was narrower, the majority representing a US view. That isn’t itself a criticism, but it does mean content chiefly reflected a teenage world-view with western ambitions and interests.

Therefore, kudos has to be given to films like Last Phases and The Babadook for giving us new characters in new situations of peril. What’s more, the film Housebound, which preserved the personality of its Kiwi roots, was a hit among the audience because it didn’t rely on stock stereotypes.

Two of the biggest problems with horror films remains frayed or predictable plot structures and the reliance on stock characters we’ve seen a million times before.

I lost track of the amount of times characters wandered down cellars with flashlights in the middle of the night or when the music went all quiet only to be turned up to 11 a moment later.

The starting point for all horror films should be the story and not a good intention to copy ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer.’ Genre filmmaking is not an excuse for a lack of genuine thought supplemented with a shot swiped from John Carpenter’s Halloween.

When it came to a lovingly crafted and thoughtful film, it was Alan Moore and Mitch Jenkins’ Show Pieces that hit the nail on the head. Where creators have firm visions to make you think rather than just to go ‘boo’, the results will always be better. The short film ‘Goblin’ was proof further of this.

The horror genre needs to get comfortable ditching worn ideas and themes. As good as the horror films were which paved the way for the scene we have today were, they should no longer be the template by which we produce horror for today.

The Green Inferno, while well-crafted, was ultimately derivative. We should be demanding the ‘new horror’ with every season of the festival.

A worrying trend is the extent to which new talent and indeed new franchises get worn out very quickly.  I was genuinely saddened to see VHS Viral (the third in the series) place the nail in coffin of a film series that was genuinely inventive in its initial inception.

Sin City 2 was another let-down: a film relying on a tried tested formula just dishing out more of the same only with less care and attention than the first.

The fact that the festival ended with the sci-fi film The Signal (and not a very good film at that) and not a horror film spoke volumes about the fact that there wasn’t really anything exceptional in horror this year.

But hey, that’s as good a reason as any to turn up next year.

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posted by JP at 2:25 am  

The Signal (2014) Review Film4 FrightFest 2014 – Day 5

The Signal caused a bit of controversy amongst the FrightFest crowd: a Sci-Fi film being chosen to close a horror film festival ruffled a few feathers.

Still, the good thing about the crowd at FrightFest is that if a film’s good, they’ll watch without prejudice.

The Signal has a purposefully slow pace to it, but sadly, one that isn’t matched by the depth of content, either visually or in story themes or ideas.

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is purposefully slow because it wants you to consider the levels of information that have been layered thickly across the screen.

One imagines that The Signal is purposefully slow only because its producers thought that it would make it appear deeply felt and meaningful.

Scratch the surface and you find that there’s less here than meets the eye. Indeed, the hokey plot twist at the end cements this as a film that genuinely doesn’t make you want to think about either life or the universe.

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posted by JP at 12:30 am  

VHS Viral (2014) Review Film4 FrightFest 2014 – Day 5

The first installment in the VHS series delivered a shot in the arm to the well-worn found footage genre.

Rather than rely on people running around in the dark a la Blair Witch or dodgy grainy footage implying terror, the first film cross-pollinated Hollywood-style effects on a low-budget scale to produce something genuinely different.

What’s more, the inventiveness of the makers behind the first film made sure the stories themselves we saw were new. It was the perfect marriage of punchy style and content.

By the time we got to the second instalment (VHS 2) it was only the Gareth Evans (of The Raid fame) section which still managed to carry the flame of the first.

With VHS Viral the franchise has clearly run out of ideas as well as steam. All stories seem like pitches for much bigger Hollywood films rather than films designed to exploit the format. Indeed, the first film about a magician gone bad is told only incidentally in found footage and in parts told as a documentary.

The narrative bridge linking all stories is purposefully unintelligible as there appears to be no story and the constant frenetic jump cuts and film spasms are overused to the point they give you a headache, rather than to enforce the authenticity of the format you’re watching.

A sad example of an exciting franchise being milked far too fast and frequently for a quick buck.

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posted by JP at 12:10 am  

Alleluia (2014) Review Film4 FrightFest 2014 – Day 5

Alleluia is a great story about a woman who needs to be loved and a man who needs to be loved by more than one woman.

The film from director Fabrice Du Welz charts the sexual and financial co-dependency that brings Gloria (Lola Duenas) and Michel (Laurent Lucas) together and eventually causes the couple to go on a murder-for-profit spree of lonely rich women.

Gloria’s jealousy mounts as Michel is required to woo female suitors and more so as he increasingly seems to enjoy his role.

The film takes its time setting up the characters and always underscores their motivations with a terrible foreboding. When the first murder occurs, it’s a genuinely shocking moment and from there on in the undercurrent of Gloria’s child-like need for a father figure coupled with Michel’s need to seduce other women makes for compelling viewing.

A festival highlight for me and a film which underscores the inherent dangers of passionate and co-dependent relationships.

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posted by JP at 11:52 pm  

Nymph AKA: Killer Mermaid (2014) Review Film 4 FrightFest 2014

Nymph falls into the so-bad-it’s-good category and is the occasional treat that makes the FrightFest what it is.

If any of you remember the soap opera “Sunset Beach” then it’s quite a bit like that although perhaps not knowingly so and this makes it even more fun.

The construction of the film itself is cohesive: it does have a clear point A to Point B direction that makes sense and which you can follow and more importantly is maintained throughout.

Like its name suggests, holidaymakers trek to a forbidden island and get offed one by one by a killer mermaid and her accomplice.

But it’s the unintentionally obvious dialogue, soap opera acting and blatantly telegraphed plot progression that will have you roaring with laughter.

A guilty but perhaps not intentionally hilarious pleasure from the FrightFest.

Nymph

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posted by JP at 3:17 pm  

Home (2014) Review Film 4 FrightFest 2014

Home is a useful example of knowing when to start the story – something the makers of the film obviously didn’t know.

Its chief problem is that it keeps re-setting who the protagonist is multiple times in a one through-line story.

Other problems of construction include: dialogue that narrates plot and feeds exposition without shame, people doing things they just wouldn’t do in real life (investigating the murder scene of a house late at night by yourself) and lazy push-button jumps.

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posted by JP at 3:05 pm  

Stage Fright (2014) Review Film 4 FrightFest 2014 – Day 4

It’s a brave thing to produce a teen-slasher flick when so many have been done. It’s even braver to do a teen-slasher flick that’s also musical, but that’s what Stage Fright does.

It’s an example of how interesting the results can be when you turn the dials on one of the parameters of a genre or trope and this above anything made Stage Fright an interesting watch.

The test of a movie mash-up however must be a subtractive one: the horror has to work without the music and indeed the music must work without the horror.

Stage Fright exists in a murky intersection of the two. If you remove the musical aspect you essentially have the plot of Scream 3 beat-for-beat. The musical numbers at the beginning of the film are quite fun, but by the time you’re in the middle of the film, it just slows the overall pace down. The end of the movie drops the musical aspect altogether.

Stage Fright is an interesting experiment but never quite succeeds as an-all out laugh riot musical nor as an effective horror film.

Stage Fright

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posted by JP at 2:56 pm  

Faults (2014) Review Film 4 FrightFest Day 4

Like the film ‘The Last Exorcism’, Faults presents a familiar set-up of a once professional life-coach turned z-list hustler who’s given a shot at redemption, but more importantly, making a quick buck.

Called in to de-programme the daughter who was taken in by a cult by her parents, the film follows his efforts in a motel room with her over five days, although questions arise about who is actually being de-programmed.

The film tries to achieve the same vibe as “The Wicker Man” or “Kill List” by guiding the audience through a world of apparent normalcy to one where these conditions become inflected, but doesn’t quite achieve it.

The problem with this film is one of structure. Three-quarters through, the narrative in Faults makes a sudden jump into the abnormal; the way the characters behave and their motivations turn a complete 180 in a way that is purely meant to service the plot and lead to an ending you can see coming a mile off.

Had Faults followed a slower drip-drip-drip approach I could have seen it being genuinely creepy. The performances are great though and it’s thanks to the actors at least that you keep watching.

Much like Starry Eyes and The Guest from this weekend, the idea is interesting, but a predictable structure coupled with shifting tones and motivations leaves hampers any lasting emotional effect.

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posted by JP at 2:46 pm  

The Babadook (2014) Review Film 4 FrightFest Day 3

The Babadook is hands-down the best film at the FrightFest 2014 festival.

While that might be a bold proclamation to make at the halfway stage of the festival, it’s going to be hard finding a film that brings a genuinely new story with depth and complexity to the big screen.

The film is about a single mother, widowed, trying to meet ends meet while coping with struggles of bringing up a son on her own.

As areas of her work, family and personal life fall under siege, things take a turn for the even worse as an apparent supernatural creature invades her home and comes after her child.

I’m not going to say too much more about the plot as it would spoil part of the tension the film relies on – that said there’s no dopey big twist, which the film relies on.

The Babadook is a film that exemplifies what horror does best: dealing with repressed thoughts and feelings in an imaginative and compelling way and out in the open.

Like “The Orphanage” (2007) it also delivers punchy effective scares and jumps that will send you through the ceiling as well as leave you thinking long after the credits have rolled.

dook

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posted by JP at 9:32 am  

Show Pieces (2014) Review Film 4 FrightFest Day 3

While part of going to a horror film festival is experiencing the length and breadth of professional, semi-professional and unprofessional works, there are some films you want to watch with the promise of being in safe creative hands right from the start.

It was this assurance more than anything that brought me to see Alan Moore and Mitch Jenkins’ ‘Show Pieces’.

Upfront, you knew that it was going to be a piece that demanded more of you as a viewer thanks to Moore’s writing, but that the investment in your consideration and time would be rewarded; unlike most horror films, there would be a point to what you would be watching.

That said, I was also mindful of how a novice viewer coming to the piece cold (and without the familiarity of Moore’s works and themes) might take it.

There are three sections of the film but the main spine is about the arrival in purgatory of two people and their interactions with the people they encounter, leading to one’s final judgment about whether he will enter heaven or hell.

The whole experience is framed through the backdrop of a working men’s club and it’s this setting that allows Show Pieces to show off some absolutely beautiful production design, lighting and performances. Out of all the film’s I’ve seen so far at the FrightFest, Show Pieces was gorgeous to look at and seems to have been constructed with genuine love and craftsmanship from all of the crew.

The piece is in part a meditation on entertainment culture and opiate and the extent to which it skews human values while we’re alive and about the consequences of living by these standards or ‘moral cholesterol’ as the film puts it. Shades of Twilight Zone and even A Christmas Carol came to mind when watching it.

It’s a film that demands multiple viewings and I’m glad a DVD release is pegged for Halloween this year complete with bonus material.

Certainly a work for Moore fans but by no means exclusively for them, Show Pieces is an imaginative work that demands your attention throughout and is sure to reward repeated viewings.

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posted by JP at 9:09 am  
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