Arrow Video Frightfest 2019 Round Up- Day Three

EUROPEAN PREMIERE –  THE DARK RED      Horror   Mystery  Thriller

Director: Dan Bush. With: April Billingsley, Kelsey Scott, Conal Byrne, Bernard Setaro Clark, Rhoda Griffis. USA 2018. 101 mins.

Sybil Warren is an intelligent but clearly troubled young woman who is sectioned after losing her baby. She claims to be able to eavesdrop on other peoples thoughts. More worryingly, she is convinced her baby is in fact alive. Even more disturbingly, she is adamant it was ripped out of her by a dangerous cult in order to harvest its supernaturally potent blood. Is she hopelessly delusional or a resourceful psychic determined to reclaim her stolen child?

Dan Bush(The Signal, The Vault) returns to the horror fold with a smartly constructed and tightly woven puzzle box of a movie. As we sit in on Sybil’s therapy the film is divided into sessions and her story revealed in a series of escalating flashbacks. This allows the plot to develop organically and by putting the audience into the same predicament of the participating analyst it encourages a generous amount of attention-grabbing speculation.

Keen editing and inventive cinematography are the engines that propel the movie in the intended direction and The Dark Red still manages to be suspenseful, despite the languid flashback mechanism that has already revealed certain outcomes

April Billings gives a magnificent central turn as the enigmatic Sybil, with a diverse range and steely conviction. One uncomfortable family dinner scene, in particular, showcases a rare faculty for channelling the true social tempo of vulnerability and the volatility of perceived reality. Though scripturally a few notches below the bar set by Hereditary, The VVitch and Midsommer her performance is as valuable as the female leads in those films.

Converse to its title it takes a while before the claret is brought out to breathe, but once it is uncorked there is some juicy grue to enjoy. However, the film is more concerned with weaving a credible mystery than splattering up the place and offers up some unusual concepts for debate along the way. The Dark Red explores the consequences of childhood trauma, the moral entitlement of privilege, and in one gorgeously realised verbal skirmish, the deceitful nature of memory.

The film remains, on the whole, a very original affair both thematical and structurally, although there is a subtle nod to Martyrs and less subtle one to Scanners.  The jarring final reel feels a little rushed but that does not detract from the picture as an effective whole.

This is a confident and imaginative flick that punches way above its weight and is well worth seeking out.

Signature Entertainment presents The Dark Red on Digital HD 18th November 2019

 

 

UK PREMIERE –  VOLITION         Sci-Fi  Thriller

Director: Tony Dean Smith. With: Adrian Glynn McMorran, Magda Apanowicz, John Cassini, Aleks Paunovic. Canada 2019. 91 mins.

James the clairvoyant gets himself involved with dodgy diamonds to pay his rent. When he glimpses premonitions of his own bloody demise he must make choices that would give Einstien a stress migraine. Can he and Elliot, the cardigan-wearing motherfucker, knit together fragments of his future in time to thwart his deadly destiny?

This punchy and streamlined head-scratcher relies hard on twists and reveals. Subsequently, I will steer away from anything that may dilute the pleasure of having your head fucked with, as the element of surprise is one of the flicks main strengths.

Volition does a marvellous job of enticing us along on its curveball journey with economic exposition and breviloquent dialogue. Too many films of this genre end up smashing the audience over the head with science until they are battered into compliance. Whilst the amount of care poured into this project is evident it never ties itself in knots, a massive compliment for a plot this complex. That being said, you will be cut adrift like a spacewalking accident if you nip to the toilet at the wrong time.

The film looks and sounds glossy and polished and the team of editors, and you will see why they needed more than one, do an incredible job of gelling the film. Without their skilful cinematic weaving things could have gone south very quickly.

Thematically Volition is a rich and diverting experience, with moral and ethical conundrums orbiting the central concept of the pliability of fate. The choices finally made by the likeable James, as he seeks to break from the white knuckle grip of inevitability, are compelling and unexpectedly moving.

Movies with this much intelligence and finite logistics are often prone to smug self-aggrandising. They seem to relish the Machiavellian headlock they have inflicted on the viewer, forcing them to acquiesce in the sheer cleverness of it all.  Where Volition is crucially different is that it presents its elegant narrative as a case for cherishing the present we live in as connected humans, rather than a celebration of its own hubris.

Volition is an exceptional genre flick with a shit ton of ideas and the limitless heart to express them in a way that charms rather than bulldozes.

Release date early 2020

 

UK PREMIERE –  HAPPY FACE         Drama

Director: Alexandre Franchi. With: E.R. Ruiz, Cindy Nicholsen, David Roche, Dawn Shaw. Canada 2018. 97 mins.

19-year-old Stan is losing his beloved mother to an aggressive and potentially disfeaturing cancer. Unable to process the pain, he infiltrates a CBT therapy group for people with facial differences. He hopes to discover coping mechanisms outside of his passion for role-playing games. However, his ill-advised interloping exposes flaws in his newfound associates that reflect the true horror of societies obsession with superficiality.

Once exposed as a charlatan, the  Don Quixote fixated youngster strikes an uneasy bargain to remain in the fold. For better or for worse he convinces then to join him on a real-life quest for empowerment. Through the weaponisation of everyday social cruelty, he hopes to help them recalibrate their perceptions of uniqueness and fuck up some perfunctory, judgemental scum along the way.

Happy Face pulls no punches, in both a contextual and visceral sense. The fact that it never once stoops to patronise is an incredible triumph to the commitment and guts of those behind and in front of the lens. This inspirational cinematic sparkler has zero concerns with projecting worthiness. Instead, its narrative unfolds with an ease and candour that banishes any sense of it being a preachy message movie.

Thematically, the film is as rich as it dares be without losing its irreverently entertaining edge. The lonely acceptance of ostracisation. The misplaced aggression of fear and confusion. Escapism as a tool for both avoidance and confrontation. The importance of veracity in the roles of support and loyalty. The irony of exclusion from a protective bubble due to the very reason the bubble has to exist in the first place. All these weighty issues, and much more, are explored during our time in its ultra-realism sandbox.

Much to the film’s credit, it never gets bogged down in its own intelligence. There is an infectious streak of humour and foul-mouthed wit that runs through its vivacious veins that elicits as many laughs as heart-rending moments of humility. That being said, Happy Face is relentlessly blunt and is not an easy watch by any means. Depending on viewer experience, and the rawness of any emotional wounds, it stands a high chance of smashing you to splinters on the rocks of honesty.

This is the true heart of trailblazing cinema, not the soulless aesthetic centric vision Hollywood peddles as normality. Fearless, inventive, creatively unshackled and utterly unconcerned with the safety of acceptance.

One of the very best films of the year.

 

UK PREMIERE –  FEEDBACK         Hostage   Thriller

Director: Pedro C. Alonso. With: Eddie Marsan, Paul Anderson, Ivana Baquero, Richard Brake. Spain/USA 2019. 97 mins.

Jarvis Dolan is the voice of late-night radio talk show The Grim Reality. Think James O’ Brien on LBC with a sweary slant. Obsessed with the thorny wranglings of Brexit, he is no stranger to backlash having recently been attacked and his car torched. However, when two masked madmen take control of his show, a game of confessional chicken begins that raises the stakes of free speech to insane levels.

Eddie Marsan is on superb form as the abrasive Dolan, in this hard-edged modernist hostage picture, with strong home invasion tendencies. The tension is well structured, with stylishly timed twists and turns punctuated by brutal acts of explosive savagery, more often than not, involving a sledgehammer

The state of the art radio station, that serves as the single location backdrop, is perfect for the films claustrophobic predisposition. It also provides the ideal technical conduit for the bluff and double bluff mentality of the script. Indeed, the sound design, as a whole, is crisp and provocative, including judicious music placement with an exhilarating drum interlude and the best use of Bowie since Inglourious Basterds.

On the face of it, Feedback is a taught, efficiently entertaining and violent, thriller. Yet, the film has loftier ambitions to address some of the burning issues of the day.  

Initially, a minimalist analysis of bloodshed as reparation, Feedback drifts gracefully into the arena of ethics and false morality. Dealing with celebrity immunity, double standards of family protection and the mechanics of victim-blaming makes the film a much more multi-layered and satisfying experience.

Slick and sleek in its execution, Feedback manages to be both gripping and relevant in equal measures.

 

ENGLISH PREMIER –   EXTRACURRICULAR      Horror  Drama Thriller

Director: Ray Xue. With: Luke Goss, Keenan Tracey, Brittany Raymond, Spencer Macpherson. Canada 2018. 90 mins.

A group of sadistic high school students form a bond of friendship, based on the terrorisation and senseless butchering of random targets. However, their perverse thrill-seeking is about to catch up with them as the envelope of casual carnage is pushed beyond the realms of their icy control.  If they hold the rest of society in such contempt, then just how badly will they treat each other when their facade begins to crumble?

This inherently nasty flick has two main sinewy strings to its mean spirited bow. Firstly, it never shies away from the loathsome nihilistic attitude of the main protagonists, giving the film a vicious air of frostiness that truly disturbs. Secondly, the film always plays it straight, never dipping so much as a toe in the cleansing waters of comedic satire, leaving us to stare fully into the face of a group of sincerely shitty people.

We watch them as they plan their evil assaults with a total lack of empathy, brush off unborn child death as collateral damage, and dissect their past atrocities as if they were football games. This approach of showing the killers behind the masks is as risky as it is refreshing. It may indeed dilute the tension and mystique of the flick, but the humanisation of the perpetrators of such conniving carve ups compensates for this with originality.

The film is frustrating at times, the murderous schemes are not intellectually fortified enough and the bloodshed varies in its intensity. Luke Goss is criminally underused and often appears to be fumbling for a foothold in a completely different flick, like a shaven hunk of human stock footage. Also, do we really need another reminder that decamping to a remote cabin in the woods is tantamount to suicide?

Despite these problems, Extracurricular manages to keep its head above the rising flood of cliches by refusing to compromise on its central premise, harbouring the steely resolve to remain the dead hearted bitch it set out to be.

Signature Entertainment presents Extracurricular on DVD & Digital HD 21st October 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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