Arrow Video Frightfest 2019 Round Up- Day Two

EUROPEAN PREMIERE –  FINGERS     Comedy   Crime  Melodrama

Director: Juan Ortiz. With: Sabina Friedman-Seitz, Jeremy Gardner, Michael St. Michaels. Michael Richardson. USA 2019. 87 mins.

Highly strung Amanda, played with gutsy relish by the excellent Sabina Friedman-Seitz, is a mental health app designer with a serious case of physician heal thyself.  Irrational fears of black dwarfs, birthmarked hands and more conventional anxieties about her early pregnancy blight her life. When her employee Walter turns into work with a series of freshly pruned fingers he proves the tipping point for a domino effect of derangement.

The damaged love child of David Lynch and vintage John Waters, Fingers is primarily a social commentary comedy.  Its quirky low budget charm lies mostly in its honest treatment of psychological issues and warts and all representation of those who design to help them.

A colourful cast imbues the conveyor belt of bizarre characters with delirious neurosis and a manic pathos that anchors the picture both tonally and emotionally.  Crazy talky panda man, quiet clown, Fox, the guy who eats his own poo and a knock off Morgan Freeman with a GoPro are just some of the eccentricities waiting to greet you.

It’s not all crappy shark tattoos, campy surrealism, and slapstick meltdowns though. No, Fingers has the audacity to get pretty nasty when it wants to. Vicious appendage violence, baseball bat shellacking in a shipping container and casual cannibalism darken the mirthful mood. One scene involving the cold sweat of terror is so uniformly disgusting that it is a veritable love letter to the gag reflex.

However, the film is bigger than the sum of its horribly broken parts. It may well have its barbed hooks deep in the guts of the internal politics of abhorrence and the monetisation of therapy, but it is the profound message that fear is a tangible monster, to be conquered and killed, that resonates the loudest.

From opening panda dance to parting C-bomb shot, Fingers refusal to play by cinematic rules dominates its scope of appeal. Willfully weird and pervasively off-kilter it will leave many who stumble into this freakshow confused and agitated. However, those who delight in the punk rock aphorism of truly independent movies will revel in the perverse journey from crippling revulsion to a spunky reclamation of self-confidence and contentment.

 

INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE –   DARK ENCOUNTERS     Sci-Fi   Mystery  Drama

Director: Carl Strathie. With: Laura Fraser, Mel Raido, Vincent Regan, Alice Lowe. UK 2019. 97 mins.

It’s early 1980’s Pennsylvania, and after a dubious decision to leave their 9-year-old daughter Maisie home alone, her parents return from date night to find her missing. One pain-filled year later, they congregate with other family members after a remembrance service for their beloved child.  Later that night, the tensions of grief are usurped by the blinding lights of a close encounter of the terrifying kind.

This Sci-Fi slow-burner may not have the slam-bang immediacy of recent extraterrestrial efforts but it entertains in most areas and excels in others. However, the incessant refusal of any of the characters to mention the alien word, even when they are staring them in the face, causes major believability issues. Seriously, a fuck off space ship flies right over one of their heads and they still stoically refuse to utter the word.

There are other problems but let’s deal with the positives first. The acting is naturalistic and intimate, with the strained family dynamic given ample breathing space to convince. The damaging nature of grief and lack of closure is well realised with plausible restraint. The alien craft, there I said it, are beautiful light shows of genuine menace that could have jumped from discarded Spielberg storyboards.  Overall, Dark Encounter feels very 80’s with credible set designs and a flawless Mise-en-scène. Best of all, the film resits the crushing magnetic pull that seems to morph everything else set in this era into a Stranger Things pastiche.

Creating sustained tension around coloured flashing lights is not an easy thing and the fact the films strongest moments come during these scenes is a credit to the direction and editing. There are moments of genuine terror in Dark Encounter that rival those of abduction based pant shitters Fire in the Sky, and more pertinently, the criminally underseen Communion.

Having the plot take such a brave, and disturbing left-field turn, is commendable but it puts to much weight on the shoulders of a twist that it cannot fully bear. David Stone Hamiltons’ stirring score is admittedly a thing of wonder, but the filmmakers know it and abuse its mechanics. There are simply too many drawn-out scenes of cast members gawking wide-eyed at the alien craft, there I said it again, whilst Hamiltons’ music works like a trojan in the background.

Dark Encounter is a classy, well made alien abduction film that dares to be different but insists on hurting itself with bizarre character decisions and a flawed central premise. That being said, fans of extraterrestrial harassment pictures will find much to love. It also represents further damning evidence that, in no recorded circumstance, is owning a stuffed monkey with symbols ever going to end well.

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

 

UK PREMIERE –   DACHRA        Witchcraft  Folk Horror Mystery

Director: Abdelhamid Bouchnak. Cast: Hela Ayed, Yassmine Dimassi, Aziz Jbali , Bilel Slatnia. Tunisia 2018. 113 mins.

Three student journalists are stuck for an original project idea until they hear of a suspected witch, who can fast for months and lose no weight, festering in a local asylum. Scuppered by the head of the institution they bribe the guards and gain access to the terrifying entity that is known as Mongia.

At first, it seems the dodgy plan has been derailed when things turn a bit bitey. However, Mongia has marked the location of her village in blood on a map during the scuffle. The desperate trio heads off to find it and see if they can uncover her mysterious origins.

A massive hit in North America this Tunisian terror tale tries hard but fails to break free from its predestined genre constraints. Its slow-burn approach is a perfectly viable strategy that seems appropriate for a film so obsessed with the meticulous execution of ritualistic preparation. There are decent jump scares, double nightmare sequences and startling imagery as Dachra builds its story but it isn’t anything you won’t have seen before.

The incessant bickering of our three protagonists becomes very wearing and coupled with their vacuous decision making the setup process becomes excessively laboured. Further still, the film’s twists come so late in the narrative it’s impossible to form a significant empathetic bond with any of them during this overlong stretch of initial exposition.

The acting is serviceable for a pedestrian script and indeed the beautifully washed-out photography cries out for a more original premise. The soundtrack is a thunderous affair that carries the film to some extent, but at times it appears to be serenading a different, better, movie.

Once the action moves to the sinister woodland encampment things improve, but it takes more than a dead bird snacking reject from  Don’t Look Now and a scattering of Black Phillips to create a tangible ambience of folk horror dread.

Relatively bloodless until its final reel, Dachra does push the batshit button during its admittedly deranged climax and the shock value it generates may save the flick for some. However, it is so violent and disgusting in turns that it looks like a derivative last-ditch attempt to gain cinematic notoriety, rather than artistic pandemonium.

It is commendable and welcome for filmmakers from all over the world to throw their hat into the genre ring and the passion and commitment of this entry is patently obvious. How much you get out of the film will depend on your patience reserves, resistance to unoriginality and your tolerance for the foulest of cannibalistic predilections.

 

EUROPEAN  PREMIERE –    PORNO             Horror Splatter Comedy

Director: Keola Racela. With: Evan Daves, Jillian Mueller, Katelyn Pearce, Bill Phillips. USA 2019. 98 mins

It’s 1992 and a nieve cinema crew, under the auspice of Christian life coach Mr Pike, stumble upon an old movie print in a secret archive. They decide to screen the flick and as a consequence evoke an evil fuck demon with an unquenchable affection for penis mutilation. This motley band of misfits must find a way to defeat the unholy sex pest or become her personal pleasure ponies for eternity.

This consistently hilarious splatter-comedy comes at you like the sexually deviant offspring of The Breakfast Club and Lamberto Bava’s Demons. The film’s approach to humorous horror is much more early Peter Jackson than vintage John Landis, but that is no way detrimental to the film.  Porno is a blast from start to bloody finish, with an avalanche of quotable one-liners and the irrepressible spirit of the drive-in midnight movies of yore.

The predominantly young cast charm with their wide-eyed enthusiasm and comedic prowess. The effects work, from Brett Schmidt and Greg Pikulski, is repulsive in the extreme. The cack-handed attempt at running repairs on a pulverised ball sack is almost unwatchable. Seriously, the dick damage in this flick is off the charts.

As for the film within the film that sparks the cock carnage, it’s actually fantastic. A discombobulating, psychedelic kaleidoscope of ritualistic sacrifice, that looks like something Peter Strickland would direct if he had feasted on nothing but peyote for two straight weeks.s

Plot-wise, things are pretty sleek, with the mean succubus on the rampage premise providing impetus and a perverted twist to spice things up. The movie posters in the corridors, that hint of events to come, are a nimble touch and there is a wealth of pop culture references for fans to lap up.

Porno is the kind of movie that will have you heatedly debating if that really is a Mirkin or not and teach you that you instantly morph into a confirmed nihilist once your testicles have exploded. A rare breed of film, that is pitch-perfect for viewing with beers and a bunch of similarly depraves souls, and also a creatively rich piece of cinema crafted with care and reverence for the genre.

 

UK  PREMIERE –    BLISS             Horror    Thriller

Director: Joe Begos. With: Dora Madison, Tru Collins, Rhys Wakefield, Jeremy Gardner. USA 2019. 79 mins.

Dezzy is a temperamental but brilliant artist, who is facing eviction unless she can rekindle her artistic mojo. Dropped by her slimy agent, she seeks inspiration in the form of a hyper potent mind-altering narcotic called Diablo. Whacked off her face for days, she manages to snort her way past the artistic blockage, but at what horrifying cost?

Joe Begos enters the genre big leagues with this primordial tidal wave of explicit sex, extreme gore and brain-melting psychedelics. He never gives his characters a chance to take a breather as he wreaks his havoc, resulting in a hijacking of the senses that distils into pure cinematic adrenaline.

Riddled with disorientating camera angles, strobe overkill and a soundtrack that could easily pass for grievous bodily harm, Bliss is as relentless as any horror film you have ever seen, and then some. Every scene is honed to a sharp, venomous point, with the sole purpose of lambasting the viewer into submission.

Bliss may not be the druggiest film in the world but it is definitely on the podium. When insane mega-violence and deranged vampiric shenanigans are not the dominant forces in your film, you know you have a substance issue.  The near-constant trippy visuals and head raping soundscape are so imperious they drag the film to the very cusp of experimentalism.

Begos achieves the ultimate budgetary chicanery with Bliss, in that he makes the film look like it cost a fortune, to make it look like it didn’t. The plot is threadbare and at times nonsensical, Dezzy can’t afford rent but can buy an industrial-sized bag of top-notch mind smashing gear, but that really is not the point of the film. The characters that infest its universe are selfish, hedonistic, entitlement monsters, but building empathy bridges is not a tabled motion either.

The unflinching strength of Bliss lies in its ability to demand undivided attention without pretentious posturing, to be nothing other than an outpouring of raw creative bilge spewing in your face, and expecting you to thank it for the privilege.

Bliss is the ground zero of independent cinema, and if you enjoy being sadistically tormented by your art, then trust me, you have just found your favourite new playmate.

 

 

 

 

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