The UK’s finest fright film festival is up and running and I’m at the frontline for The People’s Movies to bring genre fans news of the very latest in cutting-edge horror entertainment.
Get ready to fill up that must watch list as we embark on DAY ONE.
The bloodied stairway of horror awaits
The barf-bag handed out before The Ranger
THE RANGER – UK PREMIERE – Postmodern slasher flick
Director: Jenn Wexler. With: Chloe Levine, Jeremy Holm, Granit Lahu, Jeremy Pope, Larry Fessenden. USA 2018. 77 mins.
Troubled Chelsea and her misfit band of punk teens get in over their drugged up heads and make for the relative safety of a mountain cabin, in the most conspicuous van in movie history, to lie low. However, Chelsea has a dangerous past with the local park ranger who insists on applying the code of nature with extreme prejudice.
Set against the grungy backdrop of 80’s punk culture The Ranger spends an age setting up a group of weapons-grade irritating youths as slasher fodder. The more ludicrous and selfish their life choices become the quicker we wish their wholesale slaughter would ensue. There is not a single appealing character in the whole piece and whilst the anarchic ethos of this sits in parallel with the films punky intentions it generates no empathy what so ever and consequently no tension.
The thing that made the far superior punk opus Green Room work so well was the fact the audience became invested in the likeable cast and their altruistic decisions. While it is obvious that The Ranger is angling for a far more humorous b-movie feel the same rules of audience immersion still apply.
Once the titular Ranger breaks cover and the senseless violence commences things pick up massively and the gory set pieces are delivered with obvious over the top relish. Played dead straight by the imposing Jeremy Holm he gets easily the best lines in the film as he goes about his murderous business.
Some genre audiences will lap up the bombastic soundtrack and nonsensical narrative twists and enjoy it for what it clearly is. Others, however, will wonder how a film that aims to embrace the coda of punk rock with such obvious affection could have ended up so disappointingly formulaic.
The Cineworld staff enter into the spirit of things
As do Frightfest fans
SUMMER OF 84 – EUROPEAN PREMIERE – Retro horror mystery
Directors: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell. With: Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Gruter-Andrew, Tiera Skovbye. Canada 2018. 105 mins.
An eclectic gang of teenagers buy into a serial killer based conspiracy theory for the summer. But is this a shared adventure game to mark the end of childhood, or is there something genuinely horrifying hiding in plain sight in the very heart of suburbia?
This wittily scripted story of friendship, camaraderie and loyalty says as much about the value of personal belief and courage as it does the protective cocoon of nostalgia.
Beautifully constructed from the DNA of a hundred final summer movies it is, of course, as derivative as they come but is so addictively natural, gripping and often surprising that it avoids becoming a sterile clone.
Consistently hilariously crude and sophisticatedly taut by turns the primary agenda of Summer of 84 is to entertain. From “butt-fucking Wookiees” and a joyously escalating your mum joke the banter between the youngsters is what carries the first 3 quarters of the film and cements their shared bond. Theirs is a union formed outside of adult judgementalism and social standing, fused together by the virtually unspoken knowledge that this is their last hurrah.
The cast is universally engaging, perfectly capturing both the awkwardness and over-confidence of youth. Each character is given proper time to evolve with subtle glimpses of home life that speak volumes for the allure of escapism and provokes moments of genuine empathetic sweetness.
Edited with stylish levity by Austin Andrews the pace rarely drops and the mystery remains enthralling until the big reveal. Although having said that, try and go into this future coming of age classic as cold as possible because a large part of it’s power lies buried beneath its final reels.
Summer of 84 works hard to break out of low budget genre circles and certainly deserves to do so. Rarely does a film this charming manage to be this chilling.
Where else would you find a machete-wielding clown?
MEGA TIME SQUAD – EUROPEAN PREMIERE – Sci-fi adventure comedy
Director: Tim van Dammen. With: Anton Tennet, Jonny Brugh, Milo Cawthorne, Josh McKenzie, Yoson An. New Zealand 2018. 81 mins.
Underdog loser John lives in his mum’s garage and is obsessed with the size of his metaphorical nuts. Part of a hopelessly inept crime gang led by the constantly exasperated Shelton, John harbours designs to strike out on his own and cease being anybody’s bitch. Cue the accidental acquisition of an oriental time travel bracelet and a chain reaction of multidimensional tomfuckery.
Full of heart and low rent soul, Tim van Dammen has created a midnight movie that is entirely happy to luxuriate within its own c-bomb-strewn universe. It gives no fucks at all about the pretensions of time travel logic. To have done so would be like a Chinese rickshaw challenging a DeLorean to a drag race. Instead, we get an avalanche of quotable one liners – “I’m so hungry I could eat the crotch off a rag doll” – and a barrage of filthy banter and inventive slapstick. No matter if one gag misses the mark the filterless muck spreading continues relentlessly until another one does.
Filled with pop culture references, from turtles to taxi drivers, and superbly infantile low-fi montages the flick crackles with a puerile energy. To be mean to it would be tantamount to booting an overexcited wide-eyed puppy in the chops for shitting on the carpet. However, Mega Time Team lacks the cinematic dynamics to match its narrative ambitions as it dissolves into sentimentality. The relentless time-looped multi-self horseplay becomes a bit debilitating by the end leaving the audience wishing the film had the nuts to go off on its own more diverse character tangents.
Refreshingly original in its treatment of hackneyed tropes and crafted with much love and obvious talent the film charms you into submission. Worth seeking out for cult kudos but be warned it is definitely an acquired taste.
BAD SAMARITAN – UK PREMIERE – Suspense thriller
Director: Dean Devlin. With: David Tennant, Robert Sheehan, Kerry Condon, Lisa Brenner, Jacqueline Byers. USA 2018. 107 mins.
Sean Falco is a roguish struggling artist who does not mind relieving the odd rich asshole of their wealth. But, in stretching the limits of his own moral canvas he stumbles into the world of psychopathic dressage fetishist Cale Erendreich, who is clearly fifty shades of fucked-up.
Bad Samaritan is a relatively derivative foray into 90’s thrillerdom that knows how to manipulate the dynamics of cinema to offer up top draw tension and thrills. The action unfolds at a delirious pace that leaves scant time to pick loop-holes and the judiciously sprinkled jump scares are executed with stylish gusto.
This is a very well cast flick indeed with Robert Sheehan (Mute) charmingly believable as the hapless Sean and timelord alumni David Tenant excruciatingly demented as the loathsome Cale. The rest of the performances are bang on point too with Kerry Condon putting in another solid shift as love interest Katie and Carlito Olivero amiably articulate in his portrayal of Sean’s partner in crime Derek.
The character decisions, so important to audience investment in this strand of thriller, are at least logical if not particularly smart, and this compliments the bustling flow of Bad Samaritan immensely.
With fluid story arcs and tech-savvy plot developments, the script is astute enough to know when to slip in flashes of jet-black humour that act as breathing pockets amongst the almost constant conflict.
On the downside, the police procedural thread of the film is not as strongly written and feels somewhat weakly shoehorned and there is one instance of narrative spoonfeeding that truly grates.
As the movie barrels towards its satisfyingly grotesque climax you will wonder where the time went and that is exactly how a decent escapist thriller should leave you feeling.