Arrow FrightFest Digital Day 5 Reviews.
Once again Stuart Wright reports back from deepest cyberspace with his look at SCAVENGERS, LAXX & HONEYDEW from Day 5 Of Arrow FrightFest Digital 2.
CARROÑA ( UK title – SCAVENGER)
Directors: Luciana Garraza, Eric Fleitas.
Writers by Sheila Fentana, Eric Fleitas and Luciana Garraza.
Cast: Nayla Churruarin, Sofia Lanaro, Gonzalo Tolosa, Tisso Solis Vargas.
Tisha is a paid assassin surviving between jobs as an organ dealer on the desert wastelands of post-apocalyptic Argentina. It appears in this dystopian nightmare, meat is in short supply (and high in demand) and the early meat market sequence acts as an early signifier of the predatory nature of this energetic, no budget, throwback trash-a-thon.
The collapse of this particular society has led to, surprise, surprise, a misogynist, hate-fest of a world. You’re either strong enough to kill and fuck your way through life or you’re getting fucked and eventually killed if you step out of line. Sentiment, nuance and subtlety are not in Fleitas and Garraza’s ultraviolent playbook.
Tisha’s next job comes from Angelika, a past her sell by date whore (as she describes herself) who’s been banished from the Old Town by the people who used and abused her for years. When Tisha sees who the mark is, she agrees to do this one for free.
The well-planned hit goes horribly wrong before it really begins. Out for the count she is endlessly raped while clinging to vague memories of pre-apocalyptic times from her childhood. Once she comes to, she’s naked and tied to a bed. The man she’s come to kill dons a huge strap on and rapes her two more times. It is worth noting that this film is only 73 minutes long. Far too much time is spent showing the audience sexual violence, or the threat of sexual violence against women. You hope the filmmakers grow out of this unimaginative urge before their next film.
Once Tisha escapes the brothel, SCAVENGER regains its purpose. She re-emerges as the kickass, hi-octane, monosyllabic avenging hero from the opening scene of the film. The brief, yet gruesome killing spree finale revels in the imaginative way tools and weapons allow Tisha to do her violent worst.
For all the cheap thrills they waste their time on, Fleitas and Garraza know how to deliver a darkly comedic gag. They save their best, bad taste joke for last, with the grossly unfair, yet poetic, what comes around, goes around moment for Tisha in the final frames of SCAVENGER.
There’s a strong rock-a-billy, garage rock revival vibe about the music used in this film and judging by how the actor Sofia Lanaro (playing Luna) wears her hair, it would suggest this rock’n’roll sub-culture is woven into the fabric of SCAVENGER.
This film has all the grimy ingredients of a re-energised, uber violent MAD MAX knock off meets the trash aesthetic of THE CRAMPS, but the more extreme attempts to challenge the audiences’ sensibilities are not only cultivated from the baser instincts of the filmmakers, they are 40+ years out of date as a shock tactic in cinema.
Director: Elza Kephart.
Wrieters: Patricia Gomez, Elza Kepha
Cast: Sehar Bhojani, Stephen Bogaert, Romane Denis, Brett Donahue.
SLAXX is an absurdist horror comedy about a pair of killer jeans with a very serious message about our consumerist society. The faux UNIQLO style clothing store, where the action takes place, is the perfect temple of colourful, corporate capitalism parading as beautiful, sustainably sourced, no GMOs, sweatshop free clothing. The humanitarian demagogue, and founder of this fashion empire, Harold Landsgrove is coming to visit to launch a revolution in denim – jeans that adjust to your body size and shape. This special occasion brings out the worst in uptight, autocratic and Machiavellian store manager Craig who executes every on-message action to the letter of the company guidelines – even after the severed bodies start piling up. Enter new employee Libby. She’s waited her whole life to work for Landsgrove’s inspirational company, but instead of the dream job, she finds tired, cynical and embittered colleagues who can paint on the smile at will, but really they’re motivations are as selfish as Craig’s career ambitions. The dialogue is sharp and skewers the window-dressing aspects of employees towing the line to remain employed, not because they believe in their employer’s grand vision for the world. Newsflash! No one is saving the world via the shopping mall.
When a denim has been invented to adjust to your body shape, this piece of living clothing gone wrong will literally squeeze you in two, and spill the wearers guts on the floor. Zippers become the teeth. The legs become a noose. You get the picture. Against all this madness, Libby will eventually discover the jeans are doing the killing, but on the evidence of her first shift, they are not the real problem- the company is. They are giant brand, like many others, who sell perceptions of caring for the planet and its workers, because that’s the sugar-coating customers need to swallow the bitter pill of exploiting those furthest down the food chain.
SLAXX adds nothing to the deregulated markets and exploitation of the third world labour debate that Naomi Klein’s 1999 book NO LOGO wasn’t warning us about two decades ago. However, the fact that Elza Kephart’s underlying message still resonates in 2020 and you can’t help imagining that in another twenty years, the same point will need to made again. Corporate greed is nothing new, but it takes two to tango, and first world consumers either don’t care or don’t want to know the real horrors feeding their fashion habits. When the laughs die down and the fun memories of watching jeans dancing to Bollywood music fade, SLAXX delivers a gut punch to its audience that may sadly be drowned out by the buckets of blood and SFX that preceded it.
Director: Devereux Milburn.
Writer: Devereux Milburn.
Cast: Sawyer Spielberg, Malin Barr, Barbara Kingsley, Stephen D’Ambrose.
Rylie (Malin Barr) and Sam (Sawyer Spielberg) are heading out for the day in rural New England. She is a botanist studying the harmful effects of fungus on rotten wheat entering the food chain, he is an actor/waiter reluctantly taking time out to be her research assistant. They appear to be having a bumpy period in their relationship and the smallest thing seems to trigger a defensive snarl from either of them.
Their journey takes them into a cell phone/GPS blindspot and they get a little lost as result. When it gets too late to drive home, they camp out for the night. Local landowner, Eulis – a name everyone in the film struggles to say – takes exception to them pitching their tent in a quiet corner of his 950 acres. They dutifully pack up, but their car won’t start. Setting off on foot to find help, a phone signal, or both, they stumble across a home with the lights on. Here they meet a sweet old lady - Karen (Barbara Kingsley). She’s a tad eccentric to say the least, but she’s friendly and welcoming. They’re invited in while Karen calls her mechanic friend Pete, 30 mins away, the preferable option over Triple AAA. That’ll take at least two hours to get out here, she tells them.
An unsettling atmosphere begins to settle on this cosy set up. Pete never turns up and Karen invites them to stay the night in her basement. A bizarre supper with Gunni, the overweight, mute son, wearing a chinstrap bandage around his face, surfaces new tensions between Rylie and Sam. He’s on a strict diet aimed at lowering his cholesterol vs the gluttonous choices Karen is offering him – literally – on a plate. Sam seems to resent Rylie’s concerns for his wellbeing and allows his petulance to cloud the rest of the evening.
At this stage nothing more overt than John Mehrmann’s skincrawling, atonal score and Kingsley’s obtuse ways of being could predict what follow, but it would be grossly unfair to begin to unpack it in any specific way.
Urbanoia is Carolyn Glover’s film theory about the ongoing thematic battle in horror of the city vs countryside. In so much that the latter is taking its revenge on the former for ruining their way of life. The absurdly terrifying conclusion of HONEYDEW shifts the emphasis away from the kill the city folk trope so they’ll leave us be to something a whole lot more disturbing and upsetting.
In some senses, it’s easy to read HONEYDEW as an allegory of liberal fears and concerns about the potential for a second term of office for Trump. Karen and her perverse, God-fearing ways is nutty as a fruitcake, but with the arrival of Rylie and Sam, she manages to make her ambitions and logic even nuttier. Imagine what you never saw coming since 2016 that Trump has implemented, or said, and then worry about how far he might be able to take it with another four years in office. That’s the level of surprise the first watch of HONEYDEW represents.
Spielberg and Barr are innocence and entitled personified. A 21st century contradictory concoction that Milburn’s script so brilliantly skewers as we watch them be a couple, but we also see them behave in a multitude of selfish and self-serving ways. It is exemplified by Rylie’s attempts to dampen down Sam’s knee-jerk tendencies (read downright rude) to speak first, think later, for fear of offending Eulis or Karen’s sensibilities. This habit of hers to worry about her awful boyfriend upsetting others, sabotages any hope they have of exposing the truth of the situation before it’s too late. It’s a cruel ironic twist that they probably spend more time trying to escape each other, than they do the horror looming large on the horizon.
Star of the show is undoubtedly Kingsley. Her portrayal of Karen blindsides you so much, you’ll want to rewind the film to ensure there wasn’t a body switch at some point. Dotty, polite, welcoming, loving, but then behind that crooked smile and generous food portions she’s as dogmatic and ruthless as any horror fiend you want to suggest.
Milburn understands the importance of being eerie and that you get more bang for your horror buck if you can sustain a sense of dread. HONEYDEW doesn’t waste its time trying to make you jump. It wants you to squirm in your own curious uncertainty; question what is happening and be helpless and alarmed as the fatal finale steamrollers your emotions. This is an assured, directorial debut and a brilliant piece of genre cinema.