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Britflicks' Stuart Wright reports back from Day 5 at FrightFest with reviews of BANJO, HOWL, CURVE, AWAITING, BITE, EMELIE, CURTAIN and LAST GIRL STANDING.
Director: Liam Regan. Cast: Laurence R. Harvey, Dan Palmer, James Hamer-Morton, Dani Thompson, Vito Trigo. UK 2015. 82 mins.
BANJO channels the spirit of Troma and gives it a good Yorkshire grimace thanks to the imagination of writer/director Liam Regan.
Essentially, the story is Drop Dead Fred – the horror movie. A disgruntled office drone takes revenge on co-workers with the help of his imaginary friend – Ronnie (Damian Morter). It’s fun and like Troma’s finest it’s cheap and it’s nasty. And when it’s bloody, BANJO delivers it by the bucket full.
Regan’s cast includes the likes of: Laurence R. Harvey (The Human Centipede 2 & 3), Dan Palmer (Stalled), Clay von Carlowitz (Return to Nuke'Em High), and on a very meta level there’s a cameo from Troma head honcho Lloyd Kaufman.
Leading man Peltzer (James Hamer-Morton) acts for his life hoping some of it will rub off on glamour model Dani Thompson who plays Deetz, his gold digging girlfriend. But what the hell, this isn’t meant to be Shakespeare and she carries off most of the role of sexy femme fatale very well.
One gripe is pacing until Ronnie appears, but once he’s present it rattles along.
It may look like a child made Banjo to the casual observer, but i t’s not as easy as it looks to pull off a gross out, bad taste aesthetic. Regan clearly had a ball making this film and as his knowledge of the medium transforms into experience you can see a bright horror future for him.
Director: Paul Hyett. Cast: Ed Speleers, Shauna Macdonald, Rosie Day, Sean Pertwee, Duncan Preston. UK 2015. 95 mins.
Downton Abbey and Wolf Hall’s Ed Speleers is thrust into contemporary life for this creature feature. He is Joe the train manager finishing a late shift and desperate to get home. At his locker he finds a letter that tells him he didn’t get the promotion. Worse still his new, gloating, supervisor passive aggressively gets him to do the last red eye shift out into the far flung, rural corners of London’s commuter belt. The dregs of middle England populate the train. They barely acknowledge Joe’s existence, let alone be civil with him. But when the train is derailed he becomes the focus of their attention. However, when news reaches them that the best estimate for help to arrive is four hours, there’s instant mutiny led by odious banker Adrian (Elliot Cowan).
Together they creep through the woods until they see something that makes them run back to train. What did they see? Not sure at this stage, but it takes a chunk out of pensioner Jenny’s leg. Under siege the horror of what’s out there briefly bonds the passengers under Joe’s lead. Once the beast makes it onto the train their vulnerability and lack of familiarity with each other means they fall apart as a team and end up fighting as individuals. There’s some nasty little conflicts that are allowed to bubble to the surface. It’s particularly enjoyable seeing officious business woman Kate (Shauna Macdonald) give as good as she gets when trading crossed words with Adrian. Equally, fans of Hyett’s first feature ‘The Seasoning House’ will remember the muted performance of Rosie Day. Here she’s the exact opposite – an obnoxious rent a gob, glued to her smart phone.
Coming from an SFX background it’ll come as no surprise to fans of his that the design of the ‘werewolf’ is very effective and convincing. They are largely hairless and as a result reflect the humans they once were more than usual offering of an oversized wolf.
With HOWL Director Paul Hyett keeps the drama visually interesting and entertaining despite the very contained location of a train – a long sausage of a space to work with. He also absolutely delivers on the key action sequences when the hapless passengers go toe to toe with his creature.
Director: Iain Softley. Cast: Julianne Hough, Teddy Sears, Madalyn Horcher, Penelope Mitchell, Drew Rausch. USA 2015. 86 mins.
British director Iain Softley (The Skeleton Key, 2005) has arguably made a horror version of Danny Boyle’s biopic 127 hours. Where the latter’s trapped mountain climber is down to the crass risk taking of an adrenalin junkie, Softley’s star of CURVE Julianne Hough is just taking the scenic route to Denver when a relaxing drive listening to eighties power ballads goes from bad to terrifying… to desperate bid to survive… and finally a fight to the death.
First her car breaks down. A hiker appears out of nowhere – ripped, six pack sporting gentleman Teddy Sears. He fixes it for her and she naturally gives this white knight a ride to his motel – Mistake!
The conversation is playfully flirty until Sears flips the small talk on its head and strikes fear in our hero when apropos of nothing he says that his cock will be too big for her to handle. It’s a really emotional violent moment because like Hough we the audience see a future where this psycho is going to rape and kill her. Hough takes the desperate measure of crashing off the mountain pass. When she comes to she’s hanging upside down, her leg trapped between door and seat. Sears lies unconscious a few yards away having gone through the windscreen. When he comes to he revels in the irony of his relative good health and her accidental imprisonment. He leaves her for dead. Here’s where CURVE is similar to 127 hours because now she’s stuck it’s all about how she survives and copes with the despair and lack of hope. Sears repeatedly comes back to taunt her with food and water. He’s like a sick scientist watching how a living specimen dies. But this is no passive aggressive torture porn that runs its tragic nihilistic course. Nature has a hand in Hough’s break for freedom as CURVE’s finale heralds a third phase - a more traditional horror cat and mouse face off.
The growth of Hough’s character is fascinating, from the seeds of self-doubt that are planted about her fiancé based on paraphernalia she finds in the car before Sears enters her life through to the binary choices forced on her by a will to survive – catching and eating a rat for example. The Lee Patterson script is tight and once Sears is part of the action it is constantly surprising. Softley gets the most out of the interplay between Hough and Sears. While it was important to flesh out Hough’s character with some ideas of a life before she took this scenic route it, the same isn’t true of the bad guy. His motivation to attack you is based on your choice to invite him into your car or your home – a chilling proposition.
Director: Mark Murphy. Cast: Tony Curran, Diana Vickers, Rupert Hill, Peter Woodward, Adrian Bouchet. UK 2015. 90 mins.
Awaiting is a psychological thriller set in the backwoods of the British countryside. It is Mark Murphy’s second feature and centres around murderous recluse Morris (Tony Curran) and his home-schooled grown up daughter Lauren (X-Factor’s Diane Vickers). When he brings home the unconscious solicitor Jake (former Coronation Street star - Rupert Hill) it seems he has found a play-thing for socially awkward Lauren. Once revived Jake humours his generous, if not unhinged hosts. He even celebrates Christmas with them – despite it being September. When it becomes clear to him that plans for letting him go are unlikely, he makes a failed bid to escape.
Curran is fantastic as the psychopath. Everything he says to Jake rumbles with menace – even when he is acting nice. His character knows three things: survival, killing and protecting his daughter from the rigours of modern life. Vickers on the other hand is too clean cut and polished. She really does need to look more damaged to embody the role of a woman who at one point puts on her dead mother’s dress and passionately kisses her father as part of their Christmas ritual.
When it is good – and the Christmas dinner sequence is a real tense and uncomfortable experience – Awaiting focuses on Morris and gives us unique perspective into the mind of a deranged man. However, the film loses its way as we follow Jake’s doomed bids for freedom and the clumsy relationship he develops with Lauren. Ultimately neither storyline contribute to the big, shocking reveal that puts this film back on track in the closing ten minutes.
LAST GIRL STANDING
Director: Benjamin R. Moody. Cast: Akasha Villalobos, Danielle Evon Ploeger, Brian Villalobos, JD Carrera, Ryan Hamilton. USA 2015. 91 mins.
Meet Camryn (Akasha Villalobos) as she runs for her life from the masked killer, surrounded by the corpses of her mutilated friends – the traditional slasher finale is now the opening five minutes in this film. Surviving, just about, she’s picked up on an empty country highway as a new day dawns.
Flash forward to Camryn working a dead end job in a dry cleaners; keeping her head down. She is doing everything she can to suppress the traumatic memories and avoid making new connections with people in case they’re massacred too. Unsurprisingly, she’s not coping very well. Even a closed shower curtain poses a threat with in her imagination and heightened sense of fear as she brushes her teeth.
In work a new guy starts on reception - Nick (Brian Villalobos). He’s charming and everyone but Camryn warm to him. Her cold eyes tell you she’s asking herself who is he? Is he okay? Is he the killer? Cue increasingly paranoid, delusionary visions of the killer in her workplace as Ben Moody confidently takes you down a psychological thriller route. Circumstances nudge her more and more in Nick’s life and his group of friends. Collectively, apart from the bitchy one, they all play a part in trying to get Camryn to come out of her shell. When they learn about her infamous past attempts are made get closure for our tortured hero. Her bosses reaction to her irrational behaviour is subtle and true. He’s never anything but understanding and avoids confronting her at all costs. Suggesting that he knows exactly what she’s been through without him having to keep talking about it.
There’s a tipping point to the amateur counselling and support she’s receiving from Nick and his friends that signals a break through and then a point of no return for Camryn. The killer is never going to stop haunting her or she is never going to shake the memories. As a result LAST GIRL STANDING powerfully delivers an inevitable, but nonetheless shocking finale for our helpless, mentally unstable survivor.
One of the biggest surprises of LAST GIRL STANDING is that someone hasn’t trod down this path already. So, hats off to Ben and Rachel Moody, for this clever, nuanced take on what happens after a slasher film finishes.
Director: Chad Archibald. Cast: Elma Begovic, Jordan Gray, Annette Wozniak, Denise Yuen, Lawrene Denkers. Canada 2015. 90 mins.
Casey (Elma Begovic) goes to Costa Rica on a bachelorette party and gets bitten by a bug while swimming in a jungle oasis. While there writer/director Chad Archibald establishes that she is a little reticent about marrying Jared her banker fiancé – due to his rush to have kids and an interfering mother in law.
Soon after returning home Casey feels sick. First she loses her appetite and then she ceases contact with the close friends who accompanied her to Costa Rica. Next she calls off the wedding with Jared. All the while she is cocooning herself in her apartment and transforming into a part human, part insect a la Cronenberg’s The Fly. It’s a gloriously visceral journey to go through as the baser instincts of her arthropod side begin to dominate and make her into a biting, sucking and gouging killing machine. Ruthless and devoid of emotion her role switches from innocent human victim to diseased hybrid aggressor. Where once she came screaming out of the bathroom because she saw a bug, she now scavenges on the floor and devours live cockroaches. Begovic’s affected crick of the neck and unblinking stare is an unnerving visual clue that she’s no longer one of us. Have your sick bags at the ready because Bite is body horror par excellence.
Director: Michael Thelin. Cast: Sarah Bolger, Joshua Rush, Carly Adams, Carl Bailey, Thomas Bair. USA 2015. 80 mins.
When two loving parents go for a deserved night out to celebrate their 13th wedding anniversary they are forced to leave their three kids: Chris (2), Sally (6) and Jacob (11) in the capable hands of a new babysitter – Anna. She comes highly recommended, but pretty much after they leave it’s clear something isn’t quite right in this taut thriller.
Anna easily befriends Chris and Sally, but Jacob, racing to grow up is a tougher nut for her to crack. Their first moments alone are mid hide and seek when he finds Anna sat, pants down on the toilet. She invites him in and tells him she has started her period. It’s a very awkward moment and sets a psycho-sexual tone between the innocent boy and a woman twice his age that will colour their interactions going forward. Joshua Rush, as Jacob, is the stand out star of EMELIE. His suspicions of Anna’s motives lead him to discover her true identity. Rich Herbeck’s screenplay is rooted in fairy tale lore, Jacob must, in the absence of his parents, step up to the plate as man of the house, or lose his sister and brother.
The tension in the film comes from whether it’s all too little too late to stop the babysitter getting away with her crazy plan. After a clever build up, that includes their regular babysitter turning up out of the blue, the finale descends into a darkened version of Home Alone – without the slapstick laughs. Parents will recognise the vulnerability of children who take adults as the voice of authority and the difficulty they have determining what to do when grown ups turn bad.
Director: Jaron Henrie-McCrea. Cast: Danni Smith, Tim Lueke, Martin Monahan, Rick Zahn, Preston Lawrence. USA 2015. 74 mins.
CURTAIN is arguably the most unique horror film at Frightfest 2015. At the heart of the drama is the crazy notion that shower curtains are disappearing through a mysterious portal in Danni’s new apartment. It really shouldn’t work, but director Jaron Henrie-McCrea and his Manchester, England, co-writer Carys Edward pull it off through brilliant story telling. Danni, played by Danni Smith, is great as the burnt out nurse looking to reboot her life. Her initial response to the peculiar happening is to rue her house hunting misfortunes and return to the sofa in her uncle’s apartment, but co-worker Tim (Tim Lueke) convinces her to investigate – hell they might get famous in the process.
Unlike Quentin Duplieux’s 2010 Rubber there’s no fourth wall breaking or comedy to get you through such an unusual set up. Nor is it trashy and stupid like George Barry’s 1977 cult classic Death Bed. Far from it, Henrie-McCrea and Edward play it straight. That’s not to say it’s completely po-faced. They just avoid cheap laughs at the expense of the engine driving their film. This affords the audience the opportunity to share the path of discovery with Danni and Tim. The logic of filmmaker’s idea is tight and in true supernatural style everytime our two heroes get close to solving the mystery, a new element is introduced. Right up until the tragic finale it’s never clear where CURTAIN is heading, but you’re compelled to keep watching by all the mystery and intrigue. And the end is a real, horror kick in the gut!
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