Saturday 9 May 2020

Every film showing at the Sohome Horror Film Festival - 9 May 2020

Mitch Harrod and his lovely team, who put together London's annual Soho Horror Film Festival, have served up a full day of online frights for us poor locked down mortals. 9 short films, 4 features, and the following reviews were written directly after the films played, so coverage is perhaps not as in depth as usual.

Short - Boys Club (Australia 2019: Dir John Riddell) A rather brilliant little short; two guys, Max and Terry, are self isolating in their basement, because of a something that lurks in the nearby farm. One of the pair has some serious self love issues - "It's the fifth time today and it's not even 12!" the other remarks, but when an approaching truck, watched through a periscope that surveys what's going on outside from the safety of the basement, shows the promise of a woman in the passenger seat, it's too much for our masturbating hero, and he breaks cover to investigate. Big mistake. Tension, blow up dolls, snappy dialogue and a brilliant pisstake of an emo song by King Baby Jr on the soundtrack, and all in five minutes. Superb fun.

The Lake Vampire (Venezuela 2018: Dir Carl Zitelmann) Wow, I didn't expect on a sunny Saturday morning that I'd be inside watching a thoroughly absorbing police procedural/meditation on evil.

Ernesto Navarro (Sócrates Serrano) is a writer whose latest book, 'The Purple Serpent' he describes as a cult classic, although at a book signing there's only one attendee. Kicked out by his wife for having an affair with Zuley (Maria Antonieta Hidalgo), an intern on the local paper - whom he uses shamelessly for his research needs - he's asked to a murder scene (a beheaded body), because one of his signed books has been found at the site, partly burned. Via Zuley Navarro learns of The Southern Devil and starts on a long and complex search for the truth, seeking material as a possible next book. What he finds, courtesy of a retired police inspector, Jeremias Morales (Miguel Ángel Landa), who investigated a string of similar murders back in the 1970s, is a shape shifting immortal blood drinker.

This is a great meditation on the nature of evil as well as a brilliant 'onion skin' thriller, and its bleak Se7en style feel (it even borrows a scene direct from that film) and slow, ominous pace makes it a riveting watch. Strongly recommended.

Short - Dead Teenager Seance (Brazil 2018: Dir Rodrigo Gasparini, Dante Vescio) Punky and Rocky break into a supposedly haunted house; the wandering spirit being that of Adam, son of the family who lived there, who at the age of 12 skinned the rest of them. Keen to investigate, Punky roams the rooms, discovering Adam, who despatches her. But here's the twist: Punky doesn't realise that she's dead until a group of strangers, also in the house, put her straight. She's dead alright; and so are they, all killed by Adam. The house is their limbo, and the only chance of them moving on is to defeat the killer.

This is a nifty 20 minute short that probably doesn't bear close scrutiny plot wise but is a lot of fun and very in thrall to 1980s house based horrors (Night of the Demon I'm looking at you). Pity poor Cassandra though (Bianca Tadini), a psychic who when alive could see the dead, and now she is no more can see the living; her character is blind, and she plays the whole thing wearing what looks like an extremely uncomfortable pair of opaque contact lenses.

WitchStars (Italy 2018: Dir Federico Sfascia) There's no denying the level of inventiveness on display in Sfascia's ambitious but rather overstretched micro budget horror. On Halloween night, four guys slip away from their girlfriends and arrange a band reunion, complete with drugs and (rented) girls. Dalila, the fairly odious girlfriend of one of their number, decides to follow one of the blokes, stupid Renni, knowing that he's on his way to meet them. But something strange is happening in the sky: a large number of meteorites are falling to earth, each containing alien life forms that look a bit like pumpkins, and emitting jets of a sticky substance which mutate all those who come into contact with it; starting with Renni. The whole lot of them end up barricaded against the aliens and, as the mutations begin, each other.

There are some subplots about tangled love to leaven the gore and grue, and there's a lot of screaming and flashing torches. The best and funniest element of the movie is a radio DJ, Rei Satomi, who rails against the world while all his phone-in callers berate him for being a bald twit. WitchStars is apparently a reworked version of  Sfascia's 2016 movie Alienween, but whatever tweaks he's made it didn't really work for me. I found it overlong and its ambition way exceeded what was put on screen, despite some clever practical effects work and a huge amount of enthusiasm from the cast. Sorry.

Short - El LLibre (Spain 2019: Dir Francesca Català Margarit) A very short short in which a librarian discovers a book which refuses to stay on the shelf, only to find that it's actually two identical librarians shoving the book from either side of the bookcase.

Short - Most Steps Ever (USA2019: Dir Nesib Shamah, James Allen Smith) Set in a world of watch phone apps, this inventive short film has Piper, a health conscious woman, utilising software to instruct her running programme and, annoyingly, telling her how to shop sensibly in the supermarket. Retaliating against the app she steals a bar of chocolate, but when outside the store she is chased by a machete wielding assailant - possibly a punishment for her transgression. Fleeing her potential attacker, her watch responds by congratulating her on upping her fitness regime. Arguably in questionable taste, it's a slyly funny short and a good example of having one killer idea (pun intended) and keeping it going just as long as is necessary.

Every Time I Die (USA 2019: Dir Robi Michael) Wow. Foucault's principles of structuralism (the benefits of a classical education, readers - arf) would have a field day with the dualism on display in this melon twister of a movie. Sam (Drew Fonteiro), a paramedic, is a guy in crisis. He's in a relationship with Mia, a woman married to square jawed Tyler and it looks like she's chosen her husband over him. He's also been having blackouts and remains haunted by an incident that happened when he was 8 years old, when his younger sister Sara died by drowning.

Sam's work colleague and friend Jay invites Sam to a birthday party at his remote house by the lake. Jay's partner Poppy is Mia's sister and Mia and Tyler are also in attendance. Perhaps inevitably Tyler finds out about Sam's affair with his wife and after a faceoff kills Sam by drowning him.

But while Sam's body dies his spirit or soul doesn't - instead he wakes up in the body of Jay, with full knowledge of what Tyler did. How can Sam bring Tyler to justice in that nobody is likely to believe he's not Jay?

There are so many great things about this film, not the least of which is applying a fantastic, almost Twilight Zone story to an otherwise down to earth drama. Poppy and Mia are played by real life identical twins Michelle and Melissa Macedo, which further deepens the dual nature of events. And the whole thing is framed by the touching and every changing story of what happened between Sam and Sara, with beautiful performances by Fonteiro and Frankie Hinton; it's an emotional film which could so easily have felt manipulative. It put me in mind of Jacob's Ladder, which is tonally very similar. A very very good movie.

Short - Finley (USA 2019: Dir J. Zachary Thurman) Finley screened at the 2019 Soho Film Festival and was a standout of the weekend. Such a clever and witty subversion of the doll attack movie genre, hugely funny and with an emotional core too.

When a group of people move into a house, they find a load of junk left in the attic, including a nailed down box which when prised open contains a dummy, wrapped in chains. The group don't seem to worry that the dummy - Finley - can suddenly move of its own accord, and seem similarly unbothered when it starts strategising to do them in. But Finley is rather hopeless, like a murderous but clueless child, and before long the housemates ave accommodated his attempts at murder - poison in the salad included - in their stride. But when a band of housebreakers steal into their property with intent to rob - and worse - Finley comes into his own, learning from his previous mistakes.

Finley is a genius short film, hilarious, well observed and one of the few such movies that I never tire of watching. That the rest of the cast play it absolutely straight is a bonus, and Thurman's ability to obtain a human performance from a dummy is astonishing.

Short - Selfie Stick (UK 2019: Katie Bonham) A girl scrolls through her phone, looking at urban myth pages, including one that tells her that her face will get stuck like it if the wind changes. And then, courtesy of a toy windmill which produces, yes a puff of wind, the image last taken on the phone's camera is reproduced in real life: first she's stuck in an Insta pout, and then courtesy of image enhancement software she and her friend are cursed with bunny ears. This feels like a modern version of those silent films warning about the dangers of new fangled creations, and is rather sweet.

Short - Rattle (USA 2019: Dir Patrick Rea) The director's daughter features in this short short about a crying baby whose parents are unable to placate her (the film is shot from above looking into the cradle) but a sinister ghoulish third presence between mum and dad but unseen by them, complete with skeletal rattle - does the trick.

Short - Nest (USA 2019: Dir Michael Fontaine) A rather inconsequential short short in which two girls, who discover a 3 bed 2 bath apartment, find it comes at a price - it contains flesh eating monsters.

Short - Allergic Overreaction (USA 2019: Dir Zachary Eglinton) Genre face Matt Mercer stars in this short about a group of people sitting down to a 'Freddy vs Jason' movie fest. One of the group, who is nut intolerant, ingests nine cookies, and embarks on a murderous rampage

Chesterberg (UK 2020: Dir Jamie McKeller) NEW WAVE OF THE BRITISH HORROR FILM 2020 In any film festival there's bound to be films you like more than others. The UK director's debut feature, made for about £15,000, introduces a film crew into the seceded province of Chesterberg to document a community's post Brexit descent where murder is is now a sacred act, run by the creator of the underwater post it note, Chester Mapleforthe, who made a fortune and created his own community as a result.

This 'the state we're in' satire - in mockumentary style - takes its fly-on-the-wall approach from programmes like The Office but its take on suburban life is fairly shallow and the human often rather fatuous. Terrible acting, poor pacing, and narrative dreariness do not help matters. Despite the Peter Jackson-esque over the top gore and very 'on trend' subject matter, this would have been far better as a short film. And although most of the gag filled script just felt forced, there is the occasional line of dialogue that amuses - "You jammed corn into my wife's brain." Answer; "Part of her five a day" - generally though I found this rather dull.

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