Tuesday 1 September 2020

Films from 2020 Digital FrightFest Part 3: Reviews of A Ghost Waits (USA 2020), Enhanced (Canada 2019), AV The Hunt (Turkey 2019), Blinders (USA 2020) and The Swerve (USA 2018)

A Ghost Waits (USA 2020: Dir Adam Stovall) The diversity of 'fantastic' film is ably demonstrated in Stovall's odd but charming movie, lovingly shot in black and white.

Lonely handyman Jack (MacLeod Andrews) has been displaced from his apartment because of a cockroach infestation, and, because of a lack of options, is forced to stay at an apartment which he's doing up. But when he moves in he's surprised to see it full of other people's belongings. Jack finds out from his boss that the previous tenants moved out in a rush, and it's not the first time the apartment has been vacated so quickly.

There is of course a reason for all this, as he discovers by degrees; the apartment is haunted by the ghost of a woman, Muriel (Natalie Walker). But after the initial surprise Jack realises that he has more in common with this spectral agent than he thought.They both have a job to do - he fixing up and she appointed to haunt the place - and gradually develop a friendship which is in danger of blossoming into romance.

Without blowing the ending, obviously there's only one way for Jack and Muriel to be together, and Stovall engineers a climax to the movie that is both intensely sad and strangely sweet. It's hard to believe this is the director's debut feature; he's taken some difficult to navigate subject matter and made a pitch perfect sweet indie romance between the living and the dead, with superbly timed performances from both Andrews and Walker.

Enhanced (Canada 2019: Dir James Mark) Oh dear. Mark's drab and dour futuristic thriller is more SyFy than sci-fi. The 'enhanced' of the title are mutants, human in form, but who have glowing blue eyes and fantastic strength when roused. They're hunted by a Government team, armed with a form of taser and some silly little shields, who want to round them all up, and there's also a lone mutant who wants to bump off his fellow supermen. And that, my friends, is pretty much it.

Enhanced is filmed in a very snowy Canada so it has that going for it - I'm normally a sucker for films with the white stuff in them, but I drew the line at this. Basically it's well over 90 minutes of blokes getting into and out of big shiny dark cars, with some chop socky moments which fail to convince. People who know their FrightFest history will be well aware of the nightmare that was Shockwave Darkside 3D back in 2014. Well Enhanced wasn't quite as bad as that, but I'm pretty sure if FrightFest 'live' had gone ahead there would have been quite a few empty seats by the end of the movie.

AV The Hunt (Turkey 2019: Dir Emre Akay) Wow. From the awful to the emotionally explosive. AV The Hunt is set in contemporary Turkey, and the 'honour killings' problem which, the director mentions in a pre screening introduction, is even more an issue now in the country than previously.

Billur Melis Koç plays Ayse, a young woman who, when we first see her, is making love to a man who is not her husband. Both are nervous - the price they would pay if discovered does not bear thinking about - so a knock at the door spells trouble. It's the police; they shoot and kill her boyfriend, but Ayse manages to escape, jumping off the balcony and injuring herself in the process. Ayse manages to access her father's car, but she's stopped by police on the road and detained while her details are checked and her family summoned. She manages to evade the inevitable consequences by stealing a police car, which she later crashes, and continues her escape on foot; her ultimate destination is Istanbul, where she can flee the country by plane.

As the film progresses the enormity of her adultery is made very clear; members of her family disown her, and everyone in authority (and the rules they follow) seem hellbent on denying women any dignity. Meanwhile her husband Sedat (Ahmet Rifat Sungar) ropes in a posse of friends and family, and is clearly determined to kill her.

The whole movie acts as a massive anxiety trigger almost from the first frame, and Koç is amazing as a woman who refuses to back down from her own transgressions and is determined to fight to the end. it's a tough watch: there's not much light and shade to the picture but the whole thing feels like one continuous punch to the gut, and the penultimate indignity, featuring a bus driver who may or may not act on his word, is agonising.

Blinders (USA 2020: Dir Tyler Savage) Here's a buddy turned stalker film that has one foot in the 1990s and the other firmly in the 21st century.

Vincent Van Horn is Andy, a teacher recently relocated from Austin, Texas to LA following a breakup with his girlfriend; it's an area he doesn't know at all. One evening, nursing a drink in a dive bar, he meets Sam (Christine Ko), a location finder for music festivals. They're two lonely souls who hit it off immediately. After the bar Sam invites him home; she's already pre-booked a Ryde trip, the cab being driven by Roger (Michael Lee Joplin) who comes on a bit over friendly with Andy.

A couple of days later Andy, who has landed a job as a tutor to a disaffected teen inseparable from his phone, meets Roger on the street; they agree to go for drinks. But the day after, when Andy fails to return Roger's calls, the latter acts hurt. Attempting to patch things up, it becomes clear that there is something very wrong with Roger. Andy decides not to share his concerns with Sam, conscious that he wants to keep her out of it. But Roger ratchets up the craziness, Andy's life spins out of control, and Sam ends up involved anyway.

It would have been so easy for Savage's second feature, after the brooding 2017 movie Inheritance, to have played this on the surface formulaic thriller straight down the line. But if he were to do that, he'd be centring Sam, one of the only women in the piece, as the focus of aggression, rather than Andy. But Roger's subterfuge, which is made apparent pretty early on in the movie, is only one element of dissociation which Andy faces, if the most extreme. Moving from Texas's still relatively small capital city to the sprawling Los Angeles truly places him in the lion's den, and any attempt at civility on Andy's part to shopkeepers or potential employers is met with offhandedness and indifference. Only Sam's friendliness seems to be the olive branch that LA passes to him.

Blinders is frequently tense beyond belief and Andy's victimisation is often painful to behold, even when it's borderline darkly amusing; all three of the central characters are perfectly cast, adrift as they are in an inhospitable location; in particular Andy's apartment never has the chance to progress beyond 'unique fixer upper' status. This may not be a typical FrightFest offering, but it's a very good one.

The Swerve (USA 2018: Dir Dean Kapsalis) This is an incredibly powerful character study of a woman's declining mental health which reminded me a lot of Lucretia Martel's 2008 film La mujer sin cabeza aka The Headless Woman.

Teacher Holly (Azura Skye) is a woman on the edge. Her two sons are very trying (one is obnoxious to her), her husband Rob (Bryce Pinkham) is aloof and playing the field in his role as supermarket manager, and her wayward sister Claudia (Ashley Bell) is mean and pinched, constantly dredging up a story about the sisters from the past which may or not be true.

And as if this wasn't enough, Holly may, on a night drive, have swerved into and pushed off the road a car full of partying young men. And at school one of her students, Paul (Zach Rand) becomes besotted with her, using her face in a series of erotic drawings in a notebook, a book which she confiscates and takes home. Due to their closeness, Holly also suspects that her husband and Claudia might be having an affair. But when she confronts him with her suspicions, he tells her to "get your goddamn meds checked." Holly starts having sex with Paul: in one scene, while they're making out in a car outside a bowling alley where her husband has been present, she sees Rob and throws open the car door, in a desperate plea to be noticed. "Look at me!" she cries.

The Swerve is a deeply disturbing film. Watching it feels voyeuristic, like slowing down to look at the results of a car crash, and when Holly finally decides that she's had enough of life it's almost a relief, although even her chosen method of self despatch - an apple pie laced with rat poison - goes wrong. To be fair the movie would be nothing without Skye; it's a terrific performance of almost non acting. I wasn't sure what I should be taking from the film though, beyond witnessing the mental decline of a woman that you know very little about even after the end credits roll.

No comments:

Post a Comment