Day three is upon us, and the festival is in full swing. As per last year, it’s a testement to the online community, and the efforts of the organisers, that they can replicate the feel of being there in person. Not it isn’t the exact same, but on the plus side snacks are cheaper, nobody blocks the screen by coming in late and there’s no line for the bog. Today’s lineup looks spectacular – a triple bill of three very different movies from three different countires. They include an anthology and a comedy. But first, we have some German arthouse…
DAWN BREAKS BEHIND THE EYES
Directed by Kevin Kopacka
Won’t someone think of the reviewers!? This is both an excellent film and an absolute bastard to describe without saying too much. Seriously, you’re maybe best stopping here and seeing the star rating. I loved it: an excellent combination of the gothic and the psychedelic. But sticking only to the official synopsis, a melancholic woman, Margot, and her bad-tempered, insecure husband Dieter have inherited a castle following the death of one of her relatives. It’s old, dilapidated and dusty enough to have me reaching for my inhaler. They decide to spend the night, before deciding what to do with it. However, the following day she doesn’t want to leave – having been seduced by the castle both literally and metaphorically. She also begins talking to herself, muttering about lives gone by and to come: a spiral of events that will repeat. The Dieter goes downstairs and finds a whip…
I’ll stop there – while we’re still in act 1. Though I will say this is only scratching the surface of the sort of film this is – there’s a neat sleight of hand going on, and boy does it work. Heck, after years of watching independent horror, I’m rarely surprised. This one, I wanted to stand up and start applauding in my livingroom. What’s curious is as it goes on it becomes far increasingly accessible, finding a more concrete focus than the abstract/ weird for its own sake epilogue. The key themes are developed throughout: entitlement, emasculation and sexual freedom. The trope of a promiscuous mistress getting punished. All seen through the filter of a 70s acid trip. The acting is solid, with Frederik von Lüttichau as Dieter being the best of a terrific ensemble: the combo of self-loathing and embitterment as he remembers going to his wife’s family for money.
Director Kopacka is a brilliant stylist, and knows how to get the most from his castle location. During the first act, almost every shot is framed to look like a classic painting: the board husband, whisky glass in hand, watching his wife play piano. The sun flooding through the open windows as they look out across their grounds. Visually, it’s simply stunning. In the second half, it’s a really different vibe, but equally well executed – completely immersive. The soundtrack is also pretty special, going between synth, delicate piano keys and some rockier material – a soundscape which gives it an ethereal feel. It won’t always make sense, and some may be dissatisfied by the ending. But like last night’s Broadcast Signal Intrusion you just got to let it wash over you. An excellent film, and I’d like to thank everyone who saw this last week for saying so little about what happens in it.
Directed by Scott B. Hansen, Desiree Connell
It’s anthology time. And like Trick’r’Treat, or Tales of Halloween, this one uses our favourite night as its inspiration: when the line between the living and the dead is thinnest. Corey Taylor, from Slipknot, and Zach Galligan, from Gremlins, play a pair of DJs (the “hosties with the mosties”) who talk about the local legends of New Salem in a framing device. Their parts are not dissimilar to the Shatner role in A Christmas Horror Story, hyping up the stories before they happen or saying how scary the thing we just saw is. Their stories are fairly different, though all have a similar camp, almost comic book style complete with cheap masks, rows of pumpkins, and loads of orange. Oh, and all of them are connected by a creepy looking killer clown. There are also tonnes and tonnes of sweets: treats, or tricks with mild-altering effects. To an extent, all of these yarns are ones you’ll have heard before – the little girl whose drawings come to life, the old man who puts razor blades in his candy, the “nice guy” who can’t take no for an answer and the war vets with rage problems. This doesn’t really matter, since urban legends are a huge aspect of the holiday. But the only segment that offers something especially new is about a woman who has to leave her an evening of drink and drugs behind to do an extra shift in the morgue – where something dead unexpected happens. Still, despite their best efforts, Taylor and Galligan can’t manage to sell them.
All of the shorts look cheap, and rely on the kind of broad, lazy dialogue that allows characters to be established quickly. The stories also lack the memorable quality these sorts of films need. We don’t have any especially smart subversions here, and what twists we get are not developed enough to really work – characters are too broadly sketched for their motivations to work. I didn’t care about anybody in it and was rarely invested in the material since, the race to get on to the next tale, even the better ones came across as rushed. For the most part they have the bare minimum plotting necessary, and too few moments of calm to bask in the fall atmosphere. The only exception is an uncharacteristically nasty chapter about Afghanistan veterans which lacks the fun factor seen elsewhere – along with clumsily choreographed fight scenes – and outstayed its welcome for me. Still, on the plus side the voice is otherwise consistent throughout. The way the bits bleed into one another is also cool, with the DJs interfering with whatever else is going on and someone from the start influencing the end. Plus, the emphasis on practical effects means gorehounds should come out satisfied – especially where we have one of the better bathroom kills since Scream 2. Nonetheless, as per the sweeties given out every October it’s a mixed bag.
SWEETIE, YOU WON’T BELIEVE IT
Directed by Yernar Nurgaliyev
I’ve said it before, and definitely will again, but one of the most rewarding things about FrightFest is seeing how other countries do horror. The other day, me and another member of the forum counted out 51 countries we’d seen film from over the years – and we were definitely missing a few. Continuing this tradition, Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It marks the first movie I’ve knowingly seen from the great nation of Kazakhstan (the obligatory Borat reference). It’s a slice of slapstick splatter, filled with dick jokes, during which a group of guys try to get away from their family lives with a fun fishing trip. In doing so, they witness a brutal murder by a cult of clumsy criminals who will try (and fail) to do anything to silence them. Then, on top of that, the would-be killers are being stalked by an actual killer.
It’s The Hangover meets The Hills Have Eyes: bloke humour and a slaphead killer with more than a passing resemblance to Pluto. There’s also litres of blood – enough to make multiple characters vomit. The movie’s able to go between the two modes fairly well, bestowing ridiculous situations with serious stakes ala last year’s Two Heads Creek. It may be comical, but there are consequences. Hence when a character struggles to hide from deadly killers because they keep threatening to release gas, it’s funny and unexpectedly thrilling because we never question the danger they are in. This isn’t to say the horror elements quite comes together – the baddies are not well characterised throughout, and there’s a scattergun approach to what the source of tension is supposed to be. The busy later sections mean we have a lot of momentum, but it also meant I didn’t find myself particularly invested in any one strand.
And then we come to the characters. The guys are endearing enough to spend time with, but not likeable enough to support. Thematically, there’s a “man up” motif that’s at best underdeveloped, and at worst recycles the casual misogyny of shrewish women ruining the boys’ banter, with their nagging, that I thought we’d passed a decade ago. To be fair, the guys’ impression of masculinity is deliberately punctured, and there’s quite a well done, if tragic, exchange about fatherhood as a sense of duty – even if one’s in a loveless marriage. But amidst all the bromance I wanted some more heart to it. Maybe it’s form underlying meaning, but the film works best when its characters let their guard down. Of course, it’s still funny to watch them pass a bottle of piss round like a hot potato – I’m sure as hell not above it. The final fight is also an inspired moment of mayhem and organised chaos too: an enjoyably silly ending to an enjoyably silly film.