The UK’s finest fright film festival has run its bloody course and I have returned in one piece.
As the dust settles on the 19th incarnation of this mecca for horror fans I bring you the final roundup of DAY FIVE.
OPEN 24 HOURS – WORLD PREMIERE – Psychological slasher
Director: Padraig Reynolds. With: Vanessa Grasse, Brendan Fletcher, Cole Vigue, Emily Tennant, Daniel O’Meara. USA 2018. 97 mins
Mary has just been released from prison after doing time for setting alight to her evil serial killer boyfriend. During his vicious campaign as the notorious Rain Ripper, he forced her to witness the latter stages of his nefarious reign leaving her emotionally ravaged by guilt and severe PTSD.
Struggling to suppress distressing hallucinations, and determined to attain normality, she takes a night job at Deer Gas Market in the middle of nowhere. However, her terrifying past refuses to stay buried and is equally determined to make this particular graveyard shift literal.
This efficiently gruelling slasher flick is entertaining and engaging within the parameters of its remit and fluent in the expectations of its target audience.
The timeline is tight and twisty with meaty gore effects spicing up the satisfyingly frequent butchery. The plot plays second fiddle to the stylised violence, with some gigantic holes and spectacularly fuck-witted character decisions, but the all-important tension and jump scares are remarkably effective thanks to solid acting, likeable characters and an avaricious final 3rd. Vanessa Grasse is rangy and believable as the vulnerable Mary and the rest of the cast do a fine job of fleshing out the flicks self-contained milieu.
Thematically the picture deals with the stigma of mental illness with surprising decorum as it explores the internal terror of denial and silence in the face of institutionalisation. Although Open 24 Hours follows the slasher template to a degree it strays from the path in some interesting areas. Blurring the edges of actuality is nothing new in the genre but the movie uses this device to pleasing ends and when the unreal finally metamorphosises into the hyper-real the killer upgrades his murder weapon in tandem and the onslaught ups a gear in response. Look out also for an unflinchingly shocking immolation scene and a thrilling jolt where Carrie meets The Shinning by way of Trainspotting.
Fans of spiteful slasher fare will find a lot of bang for their bloodsoaked buck in this enthusiastically executed and well-marshalled genre entry.
THE FIELD GUIDE TO EVIL – UK PREMIERE – Folklore horror anthology
Directors: Yannis Veslemes, Ashim Ahluwalia, Can Evrenol, Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz, Katrin Gebbe, Calvin Reeder, Agnieszka Smoczynska, Peter Strickland. With: Sarah Navratil, Birgit Minichmayr, Jilon VanOver, Claude Duhame, Niharika Singh. USA/New Zealand 2018. 117 mins.
Devised as a cosmopolitan pick and mix of folklore and legend retellings that underpin the horror genre, this well-intended anthology movie boasts one of the finest lineups of directorial talent in recent memory. It is also a monumental misfire that will test the patience of even the most ardent arthouse junkie.
Can Evrenol (Baskin) and Katrin Gebbe ( Nothing Bad Can Happen) use their obvious talents to make a half decent fist of their respective segments, and the maverick Peter Strickland (In Fabric) tries to save the day with his brilliant silent movie themed entry, but even this is too little far too late.
Fans of Black Phillip will be particularly disappointed at the extent of goat violence featured and everyone else will be just as disappointed at the lack of cohesion and punchline endings so vital to this format.
I will not labour the point further but would advise viewers to use this floundering dud as a conduit to seeking out the participating director’s feature-length work. All of which is ridiculously superior and eminently less tedious.
THE DARK – UK PREMIERE – Horror fable
Director: Justin P. Lange. With: Nadia Alexander, Toby Nichols, Karl Markovics, Margarete Tiesel, Dylan Trowbridge. Austria 2018. 94 mins.
Mina, a tragically abused young ghoul, cannibalises anyone unlucky enough to wander into the leafy groves of Devils Den. But when she inadvertently rescues the kidnapped boy Alex, who has been burnt blind by a twisted psychopath, she realises there may be a higher purpose than vicious hatchet murder and flesh gobbling.
This unusual and relatively original slow burn horror fable blends shocking gore and tender drama into an extreme coming of age story. Too pedestrian in parts and narratively muffled in others the film’s strengths lie in the classy gore and Mina’s drip-fed backstory along with the stylish camera work and restrained performances.
Aiming for the bestiary vibe of Let The Right One In, The Dark is a frustrating affair that does as much to push the viewer away as to lure them in. Alex is a complex character well acted and written yet his weird Stockholm Syndrome mentality is never fully explored. Yes, there are sturdy thematic foundations in terms of empathetic kinship through shared debasement, disfigurement and emotional damage. However, the internal logic of the picture confounds itself and the redemptive arc of the story is much more Nanny McPhee than Leon: The Professional.
This oddly brutal fable is made with love and care with two superb central portrayals. Better to have films like this that take risks rather than safe sequels, but The Dark is too unfocused and frustratingly opaque to be ultimately satisfying.
CLIMAX – UK PREMIERE – Musical horror drama
Director: Gaspar Noé. With: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Giselle Palmer. France 2018. 95 mins.
It’s the mid-nineties and 20 young hip-hop hoofers coagulate in a remote building. Unfortunately, or not dependant on your disposition, some cheeky monkey has juiced up the communal sangria with weapons-grade hallucinogenics. Soon, the good-natured dance battles descend into the kind of nihilistic drug-crazed rampage that would have Dante asking Albert Camus if he was alright to drive him home.
Arising from the dangerworld of Gaspar Noé’s twisted imagination Climax is as close to a cinematic depiction of a bad acid trip as anyone should want to get. Shot in just 15 days the film opens with a sequence of candid interviews with the protagonists framed by stacks of infamous DVD’s on one side and literary hand grenades on the other. A cursory glance at their titles will tell you everything you need to know about the incoming barrage of head messing discombobulation. In typical Noé fashion, this is not for the purpose of cultural kudos….it’s a fucking warning.
Strap yourself in for a wild, wild ride as we visit such film musical perennials as unbridled incest, flaming scalps, feral masturbation, electrocuted tripping toddlers and hot piss on the dance floor.
In terms of his relentless mission to single-handedly trigger every being in the known universe, this is a comparatively tame offering from Mr Noé. However, in terms of an expression of artistic bravado that utterly refuses to betray its thunderous primal scream ethics, it is a stone-cold masterpiece of cine-literate abandon.
The 95min runtime, it feels much longer in a narcotic kind of way, is chock full to the filthy, frothy brim with stylistic hot-dogging and aesthetic grandstanding. Extended dance sequences freewheel hypnotically into the sweltering embrace of giddy excess. The hyper-real titles rape the screen just at the exact moment the characters become inescapably ripped of their collective tits. The blistering soundtrack symphonies the hedonistic rollercoaster of debauchery before dissolving into the sweet catharsis of The Rolling Stones. And that’s just the tip of the creative iceberg as the movie sails tantalisingly close to art installation territory.
One deliciously pretentious title card insert declares “Life is a Collective Impossibility” – both a direct modernist footnote to Dante’s “Hell is other people” and a clear statement of intent of this epic film’s agenda.
See this blisteringly intense movie masterwork in a cinema as soon as you possibly can.
So that’s it for a fabulous Frightfest 2018.
Many thanks to Greg Day and Paul Devine for the opportunity. James Turner from The Flickering Myth for the post-film chats. The Arrow Video team for letting me squat on your sofa when there was nowhere else to write and Claire Smith for letting me squat in your flat.