Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Kill List - Fright Fest Review #6

Jay (Neil Maskell) hasn't worked in eight months and he is fast running out of cash and his spiraling mood swings and lack of work start to take a toll on his marriage.  Business partner and friend Gal (Michael Smiley) brings his new girlfriend to dinner and witnesses first hand that the demons which plague Jay are becoming uncontrollable.  Sensing his need to work again he offers him an opportunity for a job under instruction from a mysterious client with three assignments on their list. 

Jay starts to turn the kill list into a personal crusade with his controlled hit man style becoming increasingly a thing of the past with each hit becoming more violent and entwining the two of them into something neither could predict.

The film consists of three parts all equal in quality and all necessary to reach the terrifying conclusion.  What starts out as a Mike Leigh style character based drama, it moves into a tense crime thriller only to jolt you with an ending sequence fit for many of the best horrors made.

The performances are rich with a natural delivery and all are thoroughly convincing in their roles but Maskell and Smiley are a cut above as the pair of ex soldiers turned hitmen.  Only the dark nature of the material will prevent them from recognition come awards time.  Jay's slow descent into his personal Hell is crafted at a perfect pace, the fact that he feels he is on some form of mission to rid the world of bad people suggests he is looking for redemption for his own past misgivings.  It's this part of his character which allows to follow in his footsteps and understand the path he chooses to take.

The way Ben Wheatley directs this film manages to insert a sense of dread all way through its heart, keeping you on edge the whole time.  A simplisitic yet haunting score burrowing it's way through each more intense and bloody scene.  He creates a sense of realism with the docu-drama camera work during the opening sequences, fully focused on the family life and the devotion Jay shows to his wife and especially his child.  His need to support them by allowing his job to keep his darkness at bay is detailed within sudden mood changes from love to fits of anger and back to love again, which is also shown as a part of his fractious relationship with Gal.

Avoid reading anything which provides references to other films, details too much about the plot or show this film negatively because of it's violence.  This will only detract from your enjoyment of undoubtedly one of, not only the horror stand outs of the year, but also best British films I have seen in a long time.  Unfortunately the Full Monty's and Bridget Jones' will get all the plaudits and make all the money but they are devices in popular comedy made specifically to attract the crowds.  This is an intelligent, thought provoking, expertly crafted mix of genres that certainly has something to say.  It may not be a highbrow statement but it's a statement that you won't forget.

After seeing this at Fright Fest I tweeted a very simple summary of this film which I stand by.  This was...

Bleak, brutal, terrifying..... sensational.


Sunday, 4 September 2011

A Lonely Place To Die - Fright Fest Review #5

From Director Julian Gilbey comes this taught, tense thriller set in the highlands of Scotland.  A group of climbers make a startling discovery buried in a small chamber in the wilderness.  That of a small Serbian girl.  Not knowing why she was there or who put her there, they take it upon themselves to get her to safety.  This starts a chilling chase, putting them all in grave danger without even knowing why.  What would you do?

The film opens with stunning shots of the Scottish Highlands, beautifully captured and just dripping with the vast sense of disconnect from human contact.  This set up enables us to understand the degree to which these people are cut off which helps build the tension when trying to escape the attentions of the mysterious, unseen enemy that wants the girl back.

Melissa George is superb in her role as Alison making it easy for us to believe she would take the actions she chooses to take.  This is central to the film keeping us willing to go along with it.  Without that suspension of disbelief you lose the tension and excitement that this film delivers in droves. 

The plot is straightforward and this allows the film to concentrate on the characters and the action.  Both of which are handled expertly, persuading us to care about what happens to the climbers and the girl.  The action is never over the top and not filled with super slo mo running and an excessive amount of explosions.  Instead it keeps it grounded and uses the antagonists coldness and ease of taking a human life to ratchet up the tension. 

To the films credit, even when it enters a potentially formulaic ending sequence, it manages to keep the feel of the helplessness of our protagonists even when moving the action into a more populated area.  The side story of a money exchange could have detracted from the build up being created following Alison but it was inter-cut into the action at the right times meaning that both were able to run alongside each other until their inevitable and bloody interception. 

As I mentioned in my synopsis, this also raises a very interesting question... what would you do?

This is one of the best British thrillers I have seen, never finding myself bored or detached from the action I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this film.


Friday, 2 September 2011

The Theatre Bizarre - Fright Fest Review #4

Warning.... Graphic Trailer.

This is a horror anthology with six stories all brought to us via a storyteller residing in a mysterious theater.  A young woman obsessed with this theater one night sees the doors slowly open up, chilllingly inviting her to enter inside.  An invitation to which she readily accepts.  Inside it is empty save for some very humanlike puppets and their puppeteer - the storyteller (Udo Kier)  He leads us into the stories of The Theater Bizarre....

The Mother Of Toads (dir by Richard Stanley)
Having been absent from directing since 2006, Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) returns to bring us the opening segment.  Following two young travellers in the French countryside, one looking for a relaxing vacation the other, naturally seeking the Necrinomicron.  Or at least this appears to be his only need seeing as the story develops it almost appears to be an obsession.  The motives of the character are unclear.. why he wants it, what does his background have to do with the ancient occult?  Unless he's just a huge evil dead fan.

The reveal of this story is less than scary, almost laughable.  Stanley's touch remains as it was with his earlier work.  I have always felt his direction is laboured and he struggles to bring any humanity to his pieces.  They always seem more about the scenery and cinematography rather than character and story.  He's like the Terence Malik of horror, trying to make it all feel very "arthouse" sometimes at the expense of entertainment.

I Love You (dir by Buddy Giovinazzo)
An engaging look at the dark places an obsessive love can take you.  It is the depiction of a marriage on the brink of collapse, brought about from the controlling nature of the husband (Andre Hennicke).  The wife (Suzan Anbeh) is emotionless as she explains she is leaving, even going to the point of detailing her multiple instances of adultery.  This is well acted seeing the husband slowly fall apart whilst his wife watches on stoney faced.  The sex scene is particularly eye opening to their relationship in which he wants to be gentle inside her whereas she keeps calling for it to be harder.  A total reverse to the emotional treatment of each other.

The story is told in a non linear fashion which didn't really serve to add much and the outcome was of particular surprise.  However the characters are well fleshed out for a short and provided us with an insight into these two incompatible people and the slow collapse of a man's fragile mind when he realises that he has lost his love but still unable to comprehend why.

Wet Dreams (dir Tom Savini)
The man behind some of the greatest make up effects ever put onto screen and the mentor of Greg Nicotero (who arguably is now the better of the two) brings us a twisted tale of revenge.  With Savini's love for the genre you know this was going to be nothing less than gruesome and on that count it didn't disappoint. 

An abused and cheated on wife (Debbie Rochon) seeks to take revenge on her despicable husband, Donnie, (James Gill) in the most horrific way possible.  Told through the dreams of the main protagonist (although on reflection he may not have been - a clever change in direction of who is delivering the story to us) Donnie, seemingly stuck on the idea his wife is cutting off his penis and feeding it to him, you are never sure if what you're watching is real or part of his sub conscious.  The segment certainly spends more time on the visual disgust rather than the human side.  But it's not trying to be high brow and Tom Savini is well aware of this. And the final reveal is all a bit familiar and by saying what film it is reminiscent of would only serve as a spoiler.   Whilst certainly better than the opening piece, the extremes to which the wife goes to exact her revenge seem a little over the top and only makes you wonder who was the more evil of the two.

The Accident (dir by Douglas Buck)
A short tale told told via the use of questions being put to a mother form her daughter about death after witnessing an accident.  The dialogue is used as a narrative over flashbacks to the titular accident with a haunting score by Pierre Marchand creating the feel of the piece.  Beautifully shot and s superb turn from the young girl.  The best of the segments.

Vision Stains (dir by Karim Hussain)

An unusual tale about how the eye's memory is stored within its aqueous humor (the clear fluid in the front part of the eye) and the attempts of one woman to reveal things about humanity by stealing this and implanting it into her own eye allowing her to see what the owner of the fluid saw.  No detail as to who this person was and how she came to be addicted to this activity and how seeing someone's memories gives the insight she needs.  The victims were generally junkies or people that wouldn't be missed as she has to kill them first as it's at this point the fluid stores the memories.  How she discovered this is anyone's guess.  The premise is intriguing but I felt the central character was far too motivated in her own needs over the preciousness of human life and without her journey to getting there it was hard to believe.

Sweets (dir by David Gregory)
A darkly comic tale looking at another break up.  The beginnings of the relationship told in flash back with the overriding use of food stuff depicting their growing love.  But for very different reasons.  The script is witty and the performance of the desperate boyfriend especially good.  You could look at this on a study of the addiction to food or just addictive personalities in general.  Is it just the food or is he addicted to her and not actually in love with her.

This is a sort of Hansel and Gretal story for the modern horror fan and the realisation of the relationships motives show that perhaps she really cared about this man by wanting to break up with him.  However, unfortunately for him, he persuaded her to give him another chance.  An enjoyable tale and well balanced with the horror and comedy.

Overall The Theater Bizarre is a mixed bag, with the exception of The Accident, never quite moving above okay.  It is too long and could have lost one or two segments to bring it to a more viewer friendly running time.  The puppeteer and theater parts were very uninteresting and only had me waiting for them to be over to get to the next part.  Sadly, even though I enjoyed parts of this, I was looking for it to end.  never a good sign.  As far as anthologies goes, whilst not terrible, it is a long way short of the likes of Creepshow and Tales From The Darkside and even Fright Fest's other anthology film, Chillerama.

Overall 2/5

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Deadheads - Fright Fest Review #3

Can you still love after you're dead?  This is the question Deadheads seeks to answer and through a blood drenched, gut achingly funny 90 minutes they manage to answer with a resounding yes!!

Mike (Michael McKiddy) and Brent (Ross Kidder) are dead.  Though this comes as quite a surprise to Mike and that it's been three years since his death.  The only thing on his mind is the love of his life, Ellie (the stunning Natalie Victoria) and getting the ring he was going to propose with, before his untimely demise, to her.  To tell her one last time that he loves her.  However as a zombie, things are never that straight forward seeing as they have some secret agents on their tail because experimental talking zombies need to be kept under wraps.  Oh and they also have to babysit Cheese, a kind of pet Zombie.

If that summary hasn't whet your appetite for this movie then I'll have to try and persuade you to go see it with this write up.  The movie spins the zombie genre on its head, giving us a story entirely from the zombie point of view and adds in a slice of buddy movie, romantic comedy with dashes of actions and plenty of limbs being removed, heads being decapitated and one penis falling off.  Yes you did read that right.

The chemistry between Mike and Brent is superb allowing you to really root for these guys to complete their adventure, with Cheese thrown in for extra (but not cheap) laughs.  All round this was brilliantly written and directed by two brothers with an obvious affection for the genre.  You can't successfully twist something on its head as well as this without knowing the constraints you are breaking free from.  Their knowledge of all things zombie allows them to become self referencing and manages to let them allow their characters play this straight faced.  No one liner style jokes here - its about funny dialogue, great visual gags and the cast playing off each other with expert timing.  If they played like they were in a comedy then this film would probably have failed from the beginning.  All credit to the Pierce brothers for pulling this off and giving us a rom-com-zom to rival Shaun Of The Dead.

Deadheads harks back to the films of the 80's in the same way Grosse Point Blank did with the Action/Thriller genre.  And thinking of it Kidder even reminds me of a young Cusack at his humorous best.

I unashamedly, thoroughly enjoyed this film and look forward to seeing it again, and again.  The cast and crew will undoubtedly go on to do more and I can only hope this film finds the wider audience it so richly deserves.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Victoria becoming sought after for love interest roles with her natural charm, and the camera obviously loves her, but hopefully we will see her in far more diverse material.  As for McKiddy and Kidder, again they could very easily get themselves pigeon holed into The Hangover type of movies but on this showing they both have far more to offer.  With the Pierce brothers I can only hope they do exactly the opposite and bang out more horror material.

Go see it will ya.