Short Film Showcase 1 ‘Goblin’ (2014) Review Film 4 FrightFest Day 3

I always enjoy the promise of going to see a short film showcase.

The short film is an art form of itself and one that can ultimately deliver more poignant and highly inventive works that outdo their longer-running counterparts.

The one thing that was apparent from all the films is how easily short films can approximate big-budget production values. The films on show did not look low budget.

The highlight of the pack was the short film “Goblin” by Christian James and was, despite the above comment, just filmed in a residential house.

In Goblin, a girlfriend returns home to fin her house in a state. As she follows the trail of damage upstairs to the bedroom she finds her boyfriend who claims to have suffered an attack at the hands of a goblin and who has finally managed to trap him in the cupboard.

Cue a lighting fast exchange between the couple about whether they should open the cupboard written with a sly subtext that illuminates the state of the relationship and you have both a great well-performed story and a compelling plot around just what’s in the cupboard.

posted by admin at 8:30 am  

Starry Eyes (2014) Review Film 4 FrightFest Day 3

Starry Eyes kicked off Day 3 of FrightFest 2014 and for a 10:45 and boy was it intense.

The film’s plot is straightforward: an aspiring actress continues with a set of increasingly bizarre auditions with a shady production company to secure a leading part. Think SAW-for-one meets X-Factor and you’re in the ballpark.

The film frames its subject matter through a Faustian lens: be wary of what you sacrifice for a perceived reward because there might be very little left of you by the end.

Starry Eyes was a difficult one for me to review simply because it does as much right as it does wrong.

It’s a well-structured film with a logical flow. That said, its structure is immediately obvious. As a viewer you can mentally call what scene you’re going to see next. This takes a bit of tension out of watching unfolding events.

What’s more the film constantly hammers home the subtext, just in case you couldn’t work out that it was a meditation on power, control and the lever that is our ambitions.

The horror scenes in this are disturbing but because they’re prolonged and repeated throughout, you get diminishing returns.

Starry Eyes is better than most because horror films because it’s well constructed and has strong performances, but it’s very much a one-idea film that may make it hard to sustain interest and true tension throughout.

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posted by admin at 8:14 am  

The Canal (2014) Review Film 4 FrightFest Day 2

The Canal attracted me with its trailer.

Horror film trailers tend to give everything away in their 30-second promo spots.

The Canal intrigued me because it showed great restraint and left me quizzical about what the rest of the film was about.

If the director can do that with the trailer, then the film is likely to be in safe hands, so the logic goes.

And to that extent, The Canal is well directed. The pacing is slow, meditative and almost nightmarish in the way it makes spaces like public lavatories seem menacing.

However, a film has to work in tandem with its story to achieve an overall effect on the viewer. Well-lit and well-composed shots wear thin if the substance underpinning them is non-existent.

The story of The Canal is of a man suspected of murdering his wife and driven to it by ghosts in a haunted house. Again, we see the deployment of stock characters and situations with no genuine motivations and who are simply there to further wherever the plot decides to take them.

The Canal: a good-looking plate with not much on it.

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posted by admin at 10:11 am  

Housebound (2014) Review Film 4 FrightFest Day 2

Posters and trailers can make or break a movie.

It was on the basis of Wolfcop’s awesome film poster that I had originally planned on seeing it for the end of Day 2 film.

However, after hearing that Housebound had a wry sense of humour going for it, I decided to check out the trailer, was won over and was glad I switched films.

Housebound tells the story of a juvenile daughter forced to live with her mother under house arrest with an ankle bracelet. When things start going bump in the night however, a deeper mystery opens up forcing the daughter to shape up and put a stop to things while reconciling her relationship with her mother.

The above might sound like a stock horror movie set-up but it’s Housebound’s distinct Kiwi personality, wry humour and brilliantly inventive scares that made this a winner for me.

The film is a perfect example of how, even if you’re obliged to use stock or well-worn situations, inflecting it with your personality or sense of location and community can add so much more and make the material seem genuinely fresh.

A definite festival highlight.

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posted by admin at 9:54 am  

The Last Showing (2014) Review Film 4 FrightFest Day 2

The faults with The Last Showing are too numerous to name. It’s 90 minutes of your life you won’t get back.

Its only saving grace comes from watching Robert Englund’s performance as the psycho-projectionist of a cinema. He’s a class character actor. He could have read the ingredients on a can of baked beans and made it work in this film.

What’s more, at the Q&A afterwards, he went to great lengths to praise and build-up his younger co-stars. That for me was the true mark of a gentlemen.

An actor friend of mine told me that the nicest actors are coincidentally some of the best.

Too true.

posted by admin at 10:27 pm  

Late Phases (2014) Review Film 4 FrightFest Day 2

Late Phases has been the festival highlight for me and although we’re only on Day 2, I think it’s going to be hard to top.

The film stands on its own merit and has nothing to do with the contrast and comparing effects that usually accompany seeing several films back to back. Late Phases is a great film.

It’s a werewolf movie but with a highly original plot. No jocks. No cheerleaders. No ‘werewolves as a metaphor for…’. Nope. In fact, the presence of the werewolf in the film is incidental.

Late Phases is about an elderly blind man who finds himself in the confines of a gated retirement community. He’s ex-army and fiercely independent and so when a werewolf attack breaks out, he takes it upon himself to put an end to the beast.

If that description makes it sound like a comedy, it shouldn’t (although there are funny moments in it).

What makes this a brilliant story is that you have a man adjusting to life in a gated community while simultaneously trying to solve the mystery of the werewolf. The obstacles he comes up against are varied and entertaining and range from razor sharp claws to the razor sharp tongues of town gossips who try to isolate him from group activities.

Both the elderly and disabled are often neglected figures in horror movies when they offer the most creative potential for story development.

The film reminded me of Stephen King’s ‘Silver Bullet’ although distinct characterization, biting dialogue and a unique structure help make it its own thing.

Go see it.

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posted by admin at 10:07 pm  

The Green Inferno (2014) Review Film 4 FrightFest Day 2

The Green Inferno from director Eli Roth is essentially ‘Hostel in the Amazon’.

Once again a group of less than well-travelled Americans venture out in a foreign (and therefore obviously) dangerous land and come a cropper – this time at the hands of a local tribe who are cannibals. Cue the torture-fest until the lone survivor hatches a plan to escape.

There’s nothing truly new here, which is a shame. Despite the content of his films, Roth is a filmmaker who understands structure.

In lesser hands, the Green Inferno would be coincidence-fest, clunking along without a shape and relying solely on shock value. For his part, Roth takes his time building up the characters and ratcheting up the tension so that by the time the dinner bell is rung you have a modicum of concern for the characters.

Indeed, one prolonged scene involving a particularly chubby transgressor really does put you on the edge of your seat.

But by the time the middle of the film comes, you kind of know how things will play out and this takes some of the tension out of the film. A contrived ending that ties things up a little too neatly is meant to justify the spectacle – again, a shame, since there are some powerful ideas and themes that could have been explored in the work.

A side note: the credits reference a filmography of cannibal films that came before it. Instead of seeing Roth mine well-worn sub-genres with his own take, I’d be keen to see him bring his vision of a brand new horror to the screen and blaze a trail for others to follow.

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posted by admin at 1:29 pm  

Zombeavers (2014) Review Film 4 Frightfest 2014 Day 1

The late-night film at FrightFest is always terribly good in a bad way or just plain funny and is worth sticking along for – at least for the first fifteen minutes to make up your mind.

After spending the most part of the day watching grim films the audience needs a release or palette cleanser to be sending them on their way.

Zombeavers does what it says on the tin: zombie beavers attack teens holidaying in the woods.

The film starts off well by handling the exposition of how beavers get turned into zombies with deft comedic aplomb.

A cheesy and knowing title sequence sets the mood for what you hope will be a knowing smart horror comedy, but unfortunately that’s where the imagination ends.

Much of the first half of the film is spent establishing the characters in the most immature of ways: sorority sisters and their jock boyfriends getting away to smoke drugs, drink and have sex in the woods. The film is leery in its tone and seems to excuse itself by figuring it’s acceptable because it shouldn’t be taken seriously.

A leery but knowing tone would be fine but there’s little else the film has going for it.

The zombie beavers themselves are feral and quite funny in how they’ve been brought to life for the screen, but there is a lack of imagination in how the attacks are coordinated. As a viewer, you want to see ever-increasing and ever-imaginative scenarios of the zombie beavers attacking the teens, but you don’t get that.

Watching Zombeavers, you’re reminded how imaginative and fun films like Critters and Gremlins are and the energy that a film like Evil dead 2 still commands.

The fact that these films also had essentially dopey antagonists didn’t stop its creators in applying them in the most exciting and imaginative ways.

With Zombeavers, it seems the creators thought the title alone and its execution on screen would be compelling enough to pull an audience through for 95 minutes. It doesn’t.

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posted by admin at 8:23 am  

Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For (2014) Review Film 4 Frightfest 2014 Day 1

The first Sin City movie stood out for its distinctive look and kinetic direction, which amplified its viewing experience as a translation for the big screen.

Getting a translation of a comic book for the screen right is difficult.

One that does a straight transplant without any consideration for the material and you get Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern. One that over-thinks it and plays it too cerebral inevitably sucks out the joy and you get a Man of Steel (yes, I’m conscious the two examples are DC).

The trick, it would seem, is understanding what makes the work itself compelling and finding the best way to bring that across for the screen.

With Sin City 2 the only guiding creative principle seems to have been to churn out another film in black and white and throw in as much mindless violence and gratuitous female nudity as possible.

While that may sound like the hallmarks of a cult classic, even ironically, it isn’t and its compelling visual effects wear thin about half-way through. By comparison the first Sin City (which I enjoyed) seems well-paced and with thought put into how each scene was designed for effect.

In short, there seemed to be a love for the work, and an earnestness to get the comic book right for its first screen outing.

However, watching Sin City 2 is much like playing a video game: visually involving for the most part while you’re watching it, but ultimately a vacuous experience.

Fans of the comic may disagree, but at least with the comic book version the reader is a participant in the work. With Sin City 2 they’re just beaten over the head.

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posted by admin at 7:56 am  

The Guest (2014) Review Film 4 Frightfest 2014 Day 1

Director Adam Wingard’s home invasion flick ‘You’re Next’ was on the billing of last year’s festival and this year his film ‘The Guest’ opened it.

The Guest is a cuckoo in the nest tale – the comrade of a fallen solider returns to his friend’s family house to pay his respects only to slowly ingratiate himself in the individual lives of each family member for his own ends.

In traditional films of this nature, the tension is built around how the cuckoo reveals himself or herself for who they truly are and the exact menace they represent to those they are surrounded by.

However, almost from the get go, The Guest telegraphs the fact that this solider isn’t normal. We the audience don’t know his exact backstory, but we know he’s trouble.

The fact that The Guest telegraphs this early on is indicative of the fact that The Guest doesn’t treat itself as straight thriller: the film wants you to know this guy is not to be trusted and plays on the fact that we know this for comedic effect.

This provides several laugh out loud moments during the film, but unfortunately it’s also the film’s biggest problem: it doesn’t get the balance between being a thriller and being a comedy quite right. Indeed, it relies on comedy elements to further key plot points but then relies on serious and more tension filled moments to provoke a response.

It never really reconciles the two genres to a suitable or satisfying end. This is a shame as performances all-around are perfect and makes the film stand-up.

You leave The Guest with a few chuckles but its disjointed tone leaves you with no lasting impression or how the characters’ lives have truly been affected by the unfolding of events.

For a better Hitchcock-style take on the film’s subject (and with added humour too) check out the 2000 film ‘Harry, He’s Here to Help’.

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posted by admin at 1:33 am  
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