Arrow FrightFest Digital Day 4 Reviews.
Once again Stuart Wright reports back from deepest cyberspace with his look at THE WORLD WE KNEW, FOR THE SAKE OF VICIOUS, BLOOD HARVEST, RELIC & HOSTS from Day 4 Of Arrow FrightFest Digital 2.
THE WORLD WE KNEW
Directors: Matthew Benjamin Jones & Luke Skinner.
Writers: Matthew Benjamin Jones and Kirk Lake.
Cast: Struan Rodger, Johann Myers, Finbar Lynch, Kirk Lake.
Frank Sinatra opens his song that shares its title with this film: “Over and over I keep going over the world we knew” Subconsciously, these words rattle around the heads of each of the six men holed up in this beaten up, rural safe house. Unaware of the tsunami of mistrust, regret and self-doubt that is about to drown most of them.
*Carpenter (Finbar Lynch) is in charge. When he speaks, you listen. HP (Simon Rhodes), his oldest friend of the bunch, is shot to pieces and close to death. Former boxer Gordon (Johann Myers) and rookie criminal - with renowned dad - Eddie (Alex Wells) are out in the garden burying an unknown dead body. Old Lag Barker (Struan Rodger), calmly waits with Stoker (Kirk Lake) in the main room with their huge haul of cash. They've just done the crime of all crimes, but like RESERVOIR DOGS (1991) there's dead coppers left in its wake. They're lying low for the night before sharing the bounty and going their separate ways.
Rumour has it there’s a mole in the camp. Clipped exchanges reveal there’s no love lost, or much familiarity between most of the men present. They’re forced to hang out because they don’t want to lose their share.
The search for the truth and people to trust is at the heart of all good drama. Or as flawed optimist Barker puts it: “Everyone’s alright until they turn out to be a cunt”. It’s a tension that’s present in every scene of this beautifully acted neo-noir chamber piece.
For a gangster film populated only by men, there’s a vulnerability to each of characters that means there’s minimal histrionics or macho BS. There’s barely a raised voice, except to be heard between rooms. Instead you are treated to scenes like the subtextual delights of Barker’s retelling of Orpheus. His rapt audience of four make it seem like 15 years in prison spent reading this material was worth it.
As night falls, HP inexplicably crawls out of bed and jumps to his death from the bedroom window. Soon after, the interloper is outed, and dispensed with. Increased worry and paranoia poison any remaining bonds as supernatural forces begin to present a bigger threat to their sanity than Carpenter’s authority and gun. Slowly, the world these men knew – a guilt ridden past – smoothers them and clouds their thoughts. The unknown that haunts this cottage isn’t going to let them forget the evil they’ve done. This sudden, but fitting, switch in genre is reminiscent of Sean Hogan’s Pinteresque horror THE DEVIL’S BUSINESS (2011).
Benjamin Jones and Lake’s choice of shot is always precise and considered. Realism constantly meshes seamlessly with expressionist ideas of light and dark. Coupled with the neo-psychedelic, French pop of The Limiñanas score, it makes THE WORLD WE KNEW a fascinating, contained cinematic treat.
*Since drafting this review, I have read Kim Newman's brilliant and incisive review of THE WORLD WE KNEW and discovered a huge set of easter eggs hiding in plain sight that I missed completely. Every character is a nod to a famous horror writer: Eddie, Barker, Carpenter, Gordon, HP, Stoker... even the unseen mob boss is called King. Seems like review revisionism to add it in, so tacking it to the end.
Here’s the full review he wrote: https://johnnyalucard.com/2020/10/24/frightfest-review-the-world-we-knew/
FOR THE SAKE OF VICIOUS
Directors: Gabriel Carrer & Reese Eveneshen.
Writers: Gabriel Carrer & Reese Eveneshen.
Cast: Lora Burke, Colin Paradine, Nick Smyth, James Fler.
It’s Halloween and children are making their way around the neighbourhood. When nurse Romina steps into her home, ready for the onslaught, her only worry is having enough candy for everyone. By the time she reaches the kitchen the discovery of two uninvited men dramatically alters her plans. One is her landlord, Alan, beaten up and in urgent need of medical attention. The other is Chris. He believes Alan raped his daughter and is failing to beat out a confession. No matter what Chris does to him, Alan remains resolute in protesting his innocence. It feels like the uncomfortable rough justice of say PRISONERS (2013) or BIG BAD WOLVES (2013), designed to make the audience complicit in the Chris’s judge and jury cruelty, and increasingly doubt Alan’s guilt, but that’s not where directors Gabriel Carrer & Reese Eveneshen plan on taking you.
In a brief moment of respite, encouraged by Romina’s need to get everyone out of her house, Chris relents. Everything calms down and it appears Alan is off the hook. He makes just one phone call. Instead of drawing a line under the incident, this turns the threat and stress levels up to eleven as masked thug, after masked thug try to gain entry to the property. With no way out, and no clue of what is going on, Chris and Romina escape upstairs. Chris admits: “I don’t know what to do right now, but something is happening that is completely out of my control. I can’t do this by myself.” It’s a wonderfully unheroic prelude to the mayhem to come. Together they plummet to new chaotic depths of violence and brutality – a la LIVID (2007). The gruesome, practical SFX make it all seem twice as real. A teeny, tiny bathroom becomes the unlikely venue for an epic four person face off. All the while, Gabriel Carrer’s synth score hits you as hard as reluctant heroine, Romina, hits the men in her house with a claw hammer.
FOR THE SAKE OF VICIOUS dazzles with intensity. It never takes its proverbial foot off the audience’s throat. The rights and wrongs of it all are thrown out the window, as getting to a truth, and meting out rough justice for the rape of Chris’s daughter simply means one more death by the end of the film. The lasting surprise is how anyone survived to tell the tale.
BLOOD HARVEST (aka CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW)
Director: Thomas Robert Lee.
Writer: Thomas Robert Lee.
Cast: Catherine Walker, Hannah Emily Anderson, Jared Abrahamson, Don McKellar.
Agatha Earnshaw lives at the only productive homestead in a famine struck, plague blighted community of Irish settlers decanted to a remote corner of North America - circa 1873. She’s a loner and shows no interest in helping anyone from the nearby church, but the small congregation of honest to goodness, God-fearing people, show an interest in her. They’ve grown increasingly desperate and jealous in the face of her bountiful crops while they go hungry.
The reason for her self-imposed isolation is established from the get go. Agatha has two big secrets. There’s her teenage daughter, Audrey, who has been raised to believe she must stay hidden at all times because the church community will want to steal her away. Her second secret, which you discover is intrinsically linked to the first, and perhaps explains why she has crops in these harsh, barren and toxic conditions, is the coven of witches she belongs to.
A violent altercation between a devout Christian and Agatha leaves Audrey feeling both helpless and fuming about her mother’s lack of fight. The young woman seeks out the advice of a witch and sets in motion a cruel curse that destroys any hope that remains in the community. This zeal for revenge exposes an evil streak in Audrey that only Agatha could have predicted, or is it feared? She wasn’t keeping Audrey safe from the Christians, she was keeping the Christians safe from Audrey. Too late now, the proverbial cat is out of the bag.
The peerless Sean McGinley excels as the Seamus Dwyer, the hapless pastor of this Godforsaken place. While Jessica Reynolds revels in the anti-hero role of Audrey. She really gives an effusive and excited, malicious and mean performance throughout the second half of the film – a far cry from door mouse who’d only ever endured time at the beck and call of her mother.
As Seamus Dwyer’s congregation dwindles at the hands of a maniacal teenager, possessed with the new powers and knowledge, God idly sits by and watches his people perish or become taken over by the dark forces Audrey unleashes. This reviewer, refers you back to the side bar discussion earlier.
The desaturated palette used by Thomas Robert Lee, is a nod to the superior THE VVITCH (2015). Despite the obvious folk horror tropes, that make these two projects comparables, BLOOD HARVEST is much closer, narratively speaking, to being a period CARRIE (1976) meets a Pagan subversion of ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968).
Director: Natalie Erika James.
Writers: Natalie Erika James, Christian White.
Cast: Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, Bella Heathcote, Jeremy Stanford.
The fear of dying is at the heart of most good horror fiction, but with RELIC, Natalie Erika James subverts that notion to tackle what it means to be alive; and the dependency that brings. The sad and inauspicious start begs where is octogenarian Edna? Her always too busy daughter, Kay, and granddaughter, Sam, come up from the city to crawl over what remains of her long life looking for answers. The police are no help. The neighbours appear to have stopped caring too.
Edna’s sudden re-appearance resolves nothing. It simply adds more questions. Who or what took Edna? And where has she been? Confused, but with moments of lucidity, Edna can’t put Kay and Sam’s minds at ease. A search beyond the house, for answers to a problem called Edna, brings new and existing tensions to the fore. James’ uses self-examination across the three generations of women to cleverly tap into our guilt receptors as much as the unknown presence in the dark feeds on our fears. The traditional haunted house movie this is not. RELIC dares to state that the passing of time diminishes a life as we get older. Edna certainly feels that threat, because by simply being around past the age of 80, she must accept handing over her existence to a daughter who’ll put her in an old people’s home without any forewarning or discussion. Kay is not a bad person. She is a by-product of a modern – western - society that accepts cash rich and time poor enables you to buy the solution to all your problems. Giving more of yourself is always the first solution to be dismissed as ludicrous by the selfish masses. Yet it is the hands of time and memories accumulated that give any meaning to our trio. In one particularly moving moment, after Edna buries a photo album, she asks Kay: “Where’s everyone?” Kay reassures her the photos are right there. Edna repeats the question through her tears.
Simply put, RELIC does for old age, dependency and the guilt of the children now responsible what BABADOOK (2014) did for unresolved grief and the guilt of not loving your children. Natalie Erika James’ feature film debut is a smart, considerate and, if it’s not too much of an oxymoron, a caring horror film.
Directors: Adam Leader & Richard Oakes.
Writers: Adam Leader & Richard Oakes.
Cast: Neal Ward, Nadia Lamin, Frank Jakeman, Jennifer K. Preston.
HOSTS happily dances with home invasion tropes to a sci-fi tune as one family’s Christmas dinner is systematically destroyed. In remotest, rural England, Michael, dressed as Santa Claus, bumps into Jack, his good friend and neighbour. They confirm their Yuletide arrangements and go their separate ways. Before Jack and his partner Lucy leave for dinner at Michael’s house, they exchange gifts… And strange torchlights outside melt their minds.
None of Michael’s family seem concerned their newly arrived guests are wide eyed and monosyllabic. Although when Lucy, inexplicably takes the claw hammer to mum’s head before the roasties are cold, they discover what they missed the hard way. It’s a brutal moment. Certainly, Kate Griffith’s practical SFX are amazing and unforgiving – not for the first time in this blood-soaked film. The problem is the family’s reaction: Michael, his eldest son, Eric, daughter Lauren and ten year-old Ben remain seated for the duration. None of the adults, for example, jump up to shield Ben from harm. Michael doesn’t torpedo his whole self at Lucy before the second hammer blow connects with his wife’s skull. Thereafter follows a series of non-sequitur scenes of violence and foot chases. Each one has all the terrifying ingredients you need, but daisy-chained together they just don’t fit because the characters are too thin to care about. For example, a long-held family secret regarding Michael and Jack is revealed at the height of the madness that simply didn’t matter or serve a purpose in terms of the nihilistic conclusion to the film.
If characterisation comes second to your gore and screaming quota, then this is the grubby little, no budget horror you’ve been looking for.