Day five, and we finish what has been yet another fun-filled FrightFest. As with other years, the range and consistency have both been considerable. Obviously, this Monday would be dominated by the special screening of The Exorcist, hosted by superfan Mark Kermode – one of the greatest horrors of all time. Still, there was plenty to see before. Please note that I was unable to see the closer: The Sacrifice Game due to timing. These notes are also a day later than planned because of transport issues – my thoughts to anyone still unable to leave London. And as usual, these are written almost immediately after the films have shown, so typos will follow.
Directed by Takeshi Kushida
The first of the day’s single-shot duo – this one is a thriller about the owner of a plastic factory, James, having a day from hell. The family business is hemorrhaging money, and the only way to save it is to sell for far less than he wants or resort to more extreme measures. Adding to the pressure, he is constantly interrupted by family, friends, associates, and the vision of the dead father he can’t measure up to. It’s a script-heavy piece in which Ted Rami does a surprisingly restrained performance, containing his panic and humanity behind a cold exterior. The only moments we see him truly flustered are when dear old dad, who the film implies is responsible for his financial situation, berates him. And yet his calm, collected manner is also a hindrance since it contributes to my biggest problem with Failure! – its lack of momentum. The one-shot is used effectively, with the camera orbiting James so we see every moment of his breakdown and including others as they assert more pressure. But for a film like this to succeed, escalation is critical and I didn’t think it was dynamic enough. Where I’d like to see James spinning several plates at once to maintain his lies, it ends up being more subdued.
It’s a streamlined narrative in which he has a series of mostly individual encounters that all add up but rarely seem insurmountable. For example, when one of his daughters visits for a wedding fitting (another source of economic woes), there is only one moment where you think he may be rumbled. Then, once they’re gone, that’s them out of the film before the next visitor, and so on. Granted, each encounter gives us more insight into him as a person – even if most of his motivation seems to come down to the one drive of besting his dad. This idea that each generation wants to outdo the last is laced through the whole piece – it has more allusion to family than every fast and furious combined. Still, without the feelings of stress and the complicity that comes with moments of genuine peril, it’s hard to empathise – even with a very leading score. However, Rami gives it his all, exhibiting superb comic timing with his barely contained rage. Unfortunately, not all of the cast are so convincing, and without naming names, I can think of at least one who doesn’t meet the demands of the material. It doesn’t help that he has the misfortune of a muddled motivation and exposition-heavy dialogue. Furthermore, I know part of the fun of these sorts of films is seeing people muck up, but a couple of awful decisions stretch credibility. I’m not about to use the film’s title against it, as I found it relatively enjoyable. But like a father, it’s maybe worse that I felt disappointed than angry with it.
Directed by Erik Bloomquist
The makers of She Came From The Woods return to FrightFest with a satirical whodunit slasher about local politics. As the town nears its tricentennial, a fierce mayoral election ensues. However, this takes a tragic turn when the incumbent candidate’s rebellious daughter is murdered in front of her partner. Unfortunately, she is the first of many deaths to befall the area. As a slasher, it’s accomplished, if unambitious. The mask and gear look cool, and I was glad the ensemble was given time to grieve for the first half, making the kills more consequential than usual. This is not the story of an individual = though we do have a core group of teens – but a town and the excellent cast really gives it a community feel – my favourite being Catherine Curtin, who channels Kojack. Still, with one notable exception, the death scenes aren’t especially visceral or memorable – but praises for the primary weapon. The location is good too, feeling like a quintessential small town where everyone knows everyone and people put up signs for their favoured candidates on their lawns. However, as a mystery, it’s lacking. We have the bare bones of some murders and a handful of suspects. However, and I swear I’m not going into spoiler territory here, the solution combines the highly predictable (I guessed the ultimate twist within the opening act) and the utterly inexplicable. The motivation makes very little sense, and a central character’s decision towards the end has almost no build-up at all – watching like the writers thought it’d be cool but didn’t fill in the blanks to get there. Its clumsy politics don’t help. Founders Day has an awkward combo of asking for a more reasonable debate while having even its smarter characters speak about the issues almost entirely in empty platitudes. Come to think about it, maybe that does make it timely…
HOME SWEET HOME: WHERE EVIL LIVES
Directed by Thomas Sieben
This is the second single-shot film of the day, and for me, this uses the storytelling convention far better. It’s a more dynamic piece that uses the limited vision to build up anticipation of what’s around the corner, who is lurking in the background, and create a sense of isolation. It’s a supernatural slow burn from Germany, which follows a heavily pregnant woman, Maria, as she readies her fiancé Viktor’s rural family estate, which they aim to convert into a Bed and Breakfast. Like the Flanagan hit Hush, this movie’s premise arguably does most of the heavy lifting. It’s a solid concept – who wouldn’t be concerned about a pregnant woman in the arse end of nowhere. And it does a really good in the first half of establishing geography, mood, and a normality to be broken. Unfortunately, like Silent House, its singular focus for large parts means Maria never seems in much danger – cue lots of ‘behind you’ moments where a figure appears but does nothing. However, this changes in the second half after we learn more about the surroundings and get more backing story, gradually revealing a layered piece about buried secrets and salvation. When they come into it, the villains are very effective, with a grounded motive and played with nuance. However, the real star is Nilam Farooq, who makes a physically demanding part look effortless – it’d be so easy to make a pregnant woman look helpless, but while Maria is vulnerable, she’s always empowered. Her descent into paranoia is beautifully and empathetically portrayed, giving the scarier bits a personal quality. A very good watch that’s a technical achievement that must have required meticulous rehearsals and genuinely spooky to boot.
I also saw…
The Exorcist: A superb presentation of one of the best horrors ever. This 50th-anniversary version has a few notable changes at the start and the end but is otherwise the film you all undoubtedly know and love. I was delighted to see it on the Imax screen and half a century later it retains its power.