Saturday 24 August 2013

Frightfest 2013 - well a day of it anyway...

So to Frightfest. Twenty five years ago if you'd have suggested to me that London could potentially host a weekend of horror, sci-fi and fantasy movies in a major West End cinema and repeat the event annually rather than as a one off financial car crash, I'd have laughed in your face and asked what was showing at the Scala. The success of Frightfest is testament both to the gradual mainstreaming of this genre of film (everyone's got some goth in them these days it seems) and some consistently bloody hard work by a fairly small group of people in making the festival work year on year.

2013 was the first time I'd actually bought a day pass - I normally tend to go to several films over the weekend and pay individually, but the increasing disappointment of early sell outs of many of the screenings I'd planned to catch at previous events drove me to upgrade this year. I had an idea that my lack of staying power couldn't justify buying a full festival pass and based on my stamina yesterday I was right. Now I'm no stranger to numbing my arse in the name of cinema, but there's something about 21st century horror at the moment that gives diminishing returns en masse. One day and five films was fine - the prospect of 25 (including the dreaded 11pm slots) was too much for me.

So, time to shut up and tell you what I saw:

THE DYATLOV PASS INCIDENT (USA 2013: Dir Renny Harlin). BLAIR WITCH PROJECT on ice is a fair summary of the first two thirds of this faux 'found footage' movie - faux not least because at various points there's clearly no character member who either could or would be able to maintain shooting the footage we see. A group of twenty somethings (mainly UK actors sporting dodgy US accents) find themselves deep in the heart of the Ural Mountains investigating - and, yes, video documenting - the truth behind reports of a group of Russian hikers who went missing fifty odd years previously. Based on a real life and unresolved incident, which arguably makes subsequent events in rather poor taste, TDPI's awkward merging of horror and sci fi with some straight out action sequences felt decidedly clumsy, and the increasingly implausible X File-y elements in the last third reminded me of a group of kids making up a game as they go along. "and then we were stuck in the snow, and then we found a door" etc etc. I'm a sucker for any film with real snow in it, but TDPI's charms failed to thaw me.

DAYLIGHT (USA 2012: Dir David McCracken). An actual FF film this time, and a very impressive one too, although for most of its running time it's pretty difficult to work out what exactly is happening. The story involves a team of Child Protection Service workers investigating (satanic?) abuse incidents in the town of Daylight, Indiana. The early scenes detail a series of interviews which set it up as a more po faced The Last Exorcism, but as the film unfolds the hold on reality starts to loosen, and the audience isn't really sure what they're seeing, when it's supposed to be happening or who it's supposed to be happening to. The trend towards non linear narrative in genre films is very welcome but the messing with time (and space?) in Daylight combined with the glitchy wonky sound/video footage (if you close your eyes at time you'd swear it sounds like Aphex Twin in his drill 'n' bass years) left the Frightfest audience open mouthed and scratchy of head by the end. I'd love to see this again, but I'm not sure I'd understand it any better.

SADIK 2 (France 2013: Dir Robin Eintringer). "There's no Sadik 1"
announced Alan Jones at the start of this "although why becomes apparent in the film". Yes, and no danger of the audience not missing why, as Sadik 2 sets its stall out as clearly as Daylight didn't. A sort of Scream parody about a group of friends who rent a house in the country, one of whom is a horror film fan who has lined up a VCR fest (yes, the films he's brought are all on tape, ha ha, knowing mockery etc). Lots of Scream like post modern film analysis ensues, but in the basement, unbeknown to our bickering friends upstairs, is a real film crew about to make a film of their own...Clumsy and puerile with a script that raised only a few titters, I was more interested in the Director and one of the actors in the film, who were present at the première screening of their minimum opus. They kept looking around to gauge audience reaction to the 'cleverness' of Sadik 2 and the eventual rather rubbish gore, thereby missing seeing a number of the audience taking the opportunity to quietly leave mid film.

HAUNTER (USA 2013: Dir Vincenzo Natali) I really liked this old fashioned fantasy chiller. It's pretty gore/scare free (if it gets a 15 cert I'll be shocked) and as such some of the FF audience didn't like it. While it is a bit overlong, its Groundhog Day/Pan's Labyrinth/The Others/A Nightmare on Elm St. mashup  - about a young girl seemingly living the same day over and over again who gradually discovers the reason why - was beautifully handled, well acted and had real emotional impact in its closing scenes. Possibly the full force of the film was slightly dulled by a rather over complicated layering of timelines, but it's difficult to give too much of the plot away without spoiling it (something the FF guidebook seemed to have no problems with). A solid fantasy that unfolds its story very effectively. Recommended.

V/H/S 2 (USA 2013: Dir various). When the sequel to a film is described as 'ramped up' on the original, I tend to think it can only mean trouble. V/H/S 2 was a movie made for Frightfest. Gore, nudity, deafening soundtrack, suicide, micro edits, it all went down a storm, each segment getting a round of applause. And I didn't like it I'm afraid. I thought V/H/S was patchy but good, and in places very good, a clever updating of the portmanteau films of yesteryear. V/H/S 2 uses exactly the same framing device as the first movie, and the 'films' watched are arguably more focussed (no pun intended) than the first film. They're also much more extreme, particularly the Gareth Evans story "Safe Haven" which is a really hard watch. Arguably the best was the creative take on zombies, "A Ride in the Park" which had some great laugh out loud moments, but as in all portmanteau films, the total did not equal the sum of its parts, and for all the editing wizardry and general nowness of the thing, both V/H/S films are unlikely to age well or function as anything more than an advert for a decent VCR head cleaner. Press the eject and give me the tape now is my advice.

So there we are - that was my day out. A big thanks to my Festival partner Tara for making it more fun than it may have been entirely on my own. Now I'm off for a lie down.

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