Fright Fest day 3: hallows, hangings and self harming

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Day three, and a mixture of tiredness and horror overload has left me a little shaken. Still, a well-timed visit to Coffee Republic in the morning, and pick me up from the local shop, and I’m ready for more.


FILM 1: BAIT (2014)
Directed by Dominic Brunt


With a CV consisting mostly of Emmerdale, Brunt never struck me as someone that’d find their home in horror. However, in his second genre piece he further shows himself to be a natural. Bait is a recession-revenge movie set in a small northern town. Amongst the sad dilapidated décor are two dreamers: down on her luck Dawn (Joanne Mitchell) and mouthy best friend Bex (Victoria Smurfit), who want to open their own café. Enter the relentless lone-shark Jeremy (Jonathan Slinger), and his heavy Si that resembles a wed fed Steve Austin (Adam Fogerty), and the two women are soon out of their depths in debt. What follows is a fairly by the numbers revenge film as they struggle to satisfy this human Wonga. Where this film excels is in flippant, funny dialogue and top notch acting.

It all feels very authentic, with relationships so realistically portrayed that it’s easy to invest in the characters’ struggles. We understand the lonely Dawn falling for Jeremy’s charms because we would too. Slinger is an actor I never expected to fear, but here he in immensely haunting. Consequently, when the revenge portion kicks off its emotionally satisfying to see him have everything including the bathroom sink thrown at him. It just unfortunately feels so much more sensationalist than the movie that’s led up to it. What begins as a powerful British drama, about friendship, sticks all too rigorously to a genre template. This means we’re left with an overblown finale that turns its man into an unstoppable machine. As the slow motion and scantily clad fights take place you won’t feel bored as much as vaguely disappointed. Still, as with the malicious gangster, at its wicked core, this will movie will get your interest.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5


FILM 2: HANGMAN (2015)
Directed by Adam Mason


Some films are slow burns – this one’s a bloody glacier. It’s found footage time, in this new home invasion movie from a director that continues to be as divisive as they come. In what’s being billed as a first person Funny-Games, Aaron (Jeremy Sisto), Beth (Kate Ashfield) and their kids come home to find somebody has been in their house. Only unknownst to them he’s still there watching via cameras placed all around the house. Yes there’s a lot of watching here – and waiting too. The bulk of this film is the family going about their everyday lives, be it sleeping, peeing or showering, with Hangman (Eric Michael Cole) appearing in the background. And then doing nothing. Repeatedly. There’s little tension to it since halfway through we no longer wonder what’s he’s going to do next as the answer is the same as before: watch and wait. Ok, so he does something quite nasty late in the second act – though this is ultimately swept under the rug later, making it feel a pointless inclusion.

Really, Hangman is the kind of movie people who don’t like the Paranormal Activity films think Paranormal Activity is. This could be forgiven if the character drama amongst the family was intriguing, but it’s fairly minimal and potentially interesting strands don’t get the emphasis they deserve. And it’s a shame because the conceit could have made for a great short film of around 25 minutes. It’s just there’s no payoff to reward the time invested in it. Some sections towards the end suggest a somewhat tragic motive for our watcher, though these are not substantiated enough to offer any genuine psychological depth or explain the long drawn out process. Instead we’re left with a gibbering caricature that probably draws pictures of his own parents killing him between bouts of tears and wanking. At 80 minutes long there’s no feeling of a horrific crescendo being reached as it’s simply too late in proceedings that the family even catch on to their fiend’s presence.

Verdict: 1 out of 5

shut in

FILM 3: SHUT IN (2015)
Directed by Adam Schindler

A recurring motif across the horror genre is being trapped. Here, Adam Schindler takes this to a new level with the agoraphobic Anna (Beth Riesgraf) isolating herself from the outside world in a creeky old mansion. Following the death of her brother Conrad (Timothy C McKinney) she is expected at his funeral. In fact three small time criminals are counting on it (Jack Kesy, Martin Starr and Joshua Mikel). Unfortunately, she’s stayed home that day and finds herself at the intruders’ mercy. However, before audiences get lulled into a false of security about this being a by the numbers home invasion, the tables are promptly turned and with it the power dynamic. To say more would be to give away some of the stings in the tale, though the second half plays very nicely with audience identification and will genuinely leave you morally torn. There’s a rewarding mystery at the heart of the film, and whilst some of the solution feels a little clichéd there’s enough intrigue to keep you entertained from start to end. Twitter suggest a lot of viewers have called this a festival highlight, and it’s easy to say why. There’s a very strong central performance at its centre, some generous gore throughout and a twisted plot that unravels as a satisfying pace. Really the only key issue I had with it was a thematic resolution, which really wasn’t justified by the hour and a half that preceded it. It’s not that the plot is left hanging – it’s wrapped up in style – but that matching the character’s emotional journey to it seems incoherent with what’s actually happened. The lasting impression if of something that’s highly accomplished but not quite complete.

Verdict: 4 out of 5


Directed by Corin Hardy


This Fulciesque gorathon from Ireland is one of the most pure monster horrors I’ve seen in some time. Whereas others may fall-back on a wink or a nudge every so often, The Hallow remains an intense adult creature feature from its gloomy start to screaming end. In many ways its more Evil Dead than any of its sequels. This time the cabin’s in deep Irish woods, with tree surgeon Adam (Joseph Mawle), his wife Claire (Bojana Novakovic) and infant son Finn. They’re looking to start a new life but unluckily for them there’s mythical beasts between the trees. And their bites are damn worse than their barks.

Though the opening seems slow, with only a few muttered words about folk lore here and there hinting about what’s to come, the second act is a collection of visceral set pieces – the best of which involves the threat of eye-penetration. This leads to a tense third act where the focus effortlessly switches to paranoia – less the threat outside than that within. There really is a lot to commend in this gory fairytale, including some of the coolest creature designs in a while, great effects and some believable performances. The settings magnificent, and the atmospheric wilderness goes fully exploited by a creative team that succeed in producing a fine back to basics horror. Definitely a contender for best of the fest.

Verdict: 5 out of 5


Directed by Jason Lei Howden


It’s The Lords of Salem by way of The Inbetweeners in this nasty New Zealand horror comedy. If that doesn’t sound like your kind of thing then give it a miss. For the rest of you, in Deathgasm metal head misfit Brody (Milo Cawthorne) moves out of home to stay in the arse end of nowhere with the religious wing of his family. Thankfully he meets fellow Goth Zakk (James Blake) in the local record shop and the two set about starting their own metal band named, you guessed it, Deathgasm. A short string of events later and they’re playing a song that unleashes demonic forces on their otherwise peaceful community. People transform and it’s up to them to save the day, whilst also fighting over the beautiful Medina (Kimberley Crossman).

The jokes come thick and fast, with lowbrow punchlines and visual gags littered all the way through. The good to bad joke ratio is slightly skewed towards the latter, though this weakness in the script is countered a lot by excellent comic timing from the cast. There’s also some very graphic violence, though mostly of the crude slapstick variety. Chainsaws go up arses, penises are lobbed off and dildos make for deadly weapons. Then when you’re bored a set of breasts will get exposed or blood pours out an anus. Really, it’s all the things your parents wouldn’t have wanted you watching as a kid. One thing sorely missing though is the villains – who make a few memorable appearances but never feel as if they get used to their full potential. In saying that, a comedy that makes you want more maybe isn’t a bad thing. However, as a word of warning there were factions in the audience that seemed to respond with belly laughs where the rest of us merely chuckled. No surprises for guessing these were the Goths. As such, add a star if you love all things metal and chop one off if you hate it. As for me, I’m apathetic to the genre. Which seems fitting really.

Verdict: 3 out of 5

some kind of hate

Directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer


Bullies – bah! What are they good for? Well in this supernatural disrespect-and-revenge horror some of them invoke the angry spirit of a girl that died at the hands of other aggressors. It’s cycle of abuse time as Moira (Sierra McCormick) dishes out what she took to bullies old and new. This resurrection comes about because she finds something of a kindred spirit in Lincoln (Ronen Rubenstein): a young goth that’s having his life made worse by a bully half his size (a miscast Maestro Harrell). The result is like Candyman: The Angst years. Together they take their own back, with her hurting their oppressors via the unconventional method of self-harm: everything she does to herself they feel, be it a leg jab or throat clit.

Now while I appreciate the attempt to integrate the thematic content of the film into the killer’s methodology, this aspect of it definitely left a bad taste in the mouth. Whereas yesterday’s Landmine felt mean spirited in its mishandling of sexual violence, I fully believe Mortimer means well with this film. Yet as the subtext becomes main text, and slow motion cutting sends blood left, right and centre, it all feels a little fetishised. Indeed, chuck in a hot lesbian-erotic cutting sequence plus a confrontation where two characters dynamically harm themselves, to damage the other, and it feels like almost completely irresponsible film making. This would be forgivable if the dialogue drew you in, but it doesn’t – it’s many of the same melodramatic and anguish-riddled clichés that run through the veins of other romanticised outsider flicks.

Verdict: 1.5 out of 5

The night ends around one, and I leave what’s been a mixed day of movies. But the atmosphere has gotten to me – trudging towards the bus I feel more than a bit paranoid of the shapes in the dark and drunks I see on the street.

Only 10 movies to go.

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About david.s.smith 455 Articles
Scottish horror fan who is simultaneously elitist and hates genre snobbery. Follow me on @horrorinatweet


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