Friday 26 February 2021

NEW WAVE OF THE BRITISH FANTASTIC FILM 2020 #14: Reviews of COVID 25 - The Virus Has Mutated! (UK 2020), A Little More Flesh (UK 2020), From the Ground (UK 2020), Iso-pocalyptis (UK 2020), The Young Cannibals (UK 2020) and A Very 2020 Christmas Carol (UK 2020)

COVID 25 - The Virus Has Mutated! (UK 2020: Dir Tim Goodfellow) When I had a look on IMDB to confirm some details for this film, I was staggered to see the amount of titles listed, whether or not actually filmed, with 'COVID' in the title. So well done to Tim for actually getting something in the can despite the restrictions placed on filmmakers at the moment. 

Based on current events, the film's premise is that, rather than the second wave of the pandemic being brought under control, it has mutated into COVID-20, transforming the infected into 'violent, rage filled monsters known as cronos.' A team of soldiers from the Anti Virus Squad (AVS) have been despatched to test a new vaccine, but all but one have been killed by the cronos.

The last of the squad (Goodfellow) holes up in an empty house, with the infected lurking outside and possibly inside. He radios in to HQ using a toy model of the Green Goblin (no, me neither) and accounts for the failure of his mission to administer the virus antidote. He finds out that there's been further mutations into COVID-21s, but he has worse news; one of his group tried to use the failed anti virus vaccine on himself and mutated to an extreme strain - COVID 25 - and wiped out nearly everyone else. He now has to survive for 3 to 4 hours in the house to await extraction, a place full of severed limbs and hidden terrors.

The rest of the film details the soldier's fight to stay alive, which would be rather patience testing except for the range of visual and audio tricks that get thrown our way. Saturated colours, black and white footage, some quite terrifying audio sequences, random old school computer generated images, stock news footage, an occasional Hi NRG soundtrack and a garage full of power tools are paraded to dizzying and disjointed effect. 

This is the cinematic equivalent of a a fanzine put together with a John Bull printing set and Copydex, but its guerilla credentials count in its favour. Goodfellow, who's clearly having some fun here ("Goddam cronos - they're almost as bad as SJWs" he says at one point) has created his film as part of a wider media project including spinoff films and, the director tells me, a graphic novel. As someone who grew up embracing punk filmmaking in all its guises, I liked this ragged but entertaining movie a lot, and you can watch both the movie and one of its episodic offshoots here. Good luck!

A Little More Flesh (UK 2020: Dir Sam Ashurst)
 Writer/director/producer Ashurst is both a media journalist and a regular on the Arrow Video podcasts, a guy who knows his genre movies, so it's unsurprising that he should take on, as the subject matter for his second feature (his first was the excellent Frankenstein's Creature from 2018) a faux audio commentary.

We're in the company of sleazy Stanley Durall (voiced by the director) providing a commentary for his first, banned film 'God's Lonely Woman' dating back to the 1970s (a great opening sequence by Olly Gibbs sets the scene); the print we're watching also combines some behind the scenes footage from the accompanying documentary 'God's Lonely God.' Durall tells us that he wanted to make an "erotic drama that didn't compromise on emotion" and that perhaps he "was a little too successful." He also drops several hints that there's an infamous final scene to the movie, to which he urges viewers not to fast forward.

It's obvious from the get go that Durall is one of that breed of directors highlighted by the #metoo movement. 'God's Lonely Woman' is, on the face of it, a rather tedious arthouse exercise, like a minor Rollin film, although (to the director's chagrin) unleavened by nudity. GLM's lead is Isabella Dotterson (Elf Lyons, who also produced the film) and it is clear that Dotterson was an actress unprepared for any misogynistic nonsense, which immediately sets Durall up against her. The director's frustration that Isabella and her co-star Candice (Hazel Townsend) are unprepared to get it on in the name of art gives rise to Durall's rising enmity toward both actresses.

Candice's later suicide on set is treated as a minor annoyance, as is his prurient attitude to an extended sequence where Isabella remains 'frigid' despite being dosed with LSD for a wigout scene. Swanton's note perfect depiction of the amoral self absorbed director oscillates between cringeworthy and laugh out loud funny, with lines like "lovely legs there, despite the attitude problem" and, of his own talent, "I do like actors who don't take attention away from the director," and "I'm a cineaste, which is a fancy term for people with taste as good as mine."

Of course no good can come of this, and as the film progresses Durall finds himself locked in his editing suite and hearing unexplained noises. The denoument is a gloriously meta moment in which the director is trapped on film at the mercy of his late lamented lead, with a particularly leg crossing special effect provided by Dan Martin. Powerful stuff.

From the Ground (UK 2020: Dir Luke King Abbott)
 It's 1990 and the Hughes family are in mourning: Caroline (Emily Carding) and Dennis (Jason Collins) have discovered that their daughter, Jazmin (Jaz Paris Collins), who had gone missing fifteen years previously, is dead; she was murdered (the viewer has already witnesseed her death by hanging, a rather shocking scene). Jasmine's brother Joe, who was born after his sister's disappearance, so never knew her, has visions of a dead girl; it's Jazmin, and the spirit that appears to Joe has the marks of strangulation round her neck. They communicate via Joe's 'Etch a Sketch' (a nice touch) and Jaz tells him that she wants to be at rest. 

Fifteen years later Joe is a grown man (Joe Evans); his dad, still wracked with remorse over his daughter's death, seems unable to come to terms with the world. Joe's mother has just died but on the the day of her funeral Dennis can't face going; he retains a bitterness about Jaz appearing to Joe all those years ago and holds it against him. But for Joe, who's in therapy for social anxiety issues and trying to lead a 'normal' life, all that's in the past, particularly when he befriends Faith (Jemma Carlin-Wells), the woman who lives in the next door flat. But when Joe starts to see visions of Jaz again, he's anything but comforted, and her appearance triggers a relapse of his mental health issues. 

From the Ground is an ambitious (for the budget), heartlfelt look at grief and the harm that families can do to each other. The developing bond of friendship between Jaz and young Joe, one forged psychically without them having ever met, is very poignant, in contrast to the effect on adult Joe once his dead sister reappears years later. The film plays with the links between the supernatural, grief and guilt, and is careful not to come down clearly on one side or the other. The acting might be a little tentative (although Joe Evans impresses as young Joe and Collins is suitably enigmatic as the ghost girl - both tough roles for young actors) but the mood of the piece is impressive and Abbott's directorial hand remains confident.

Iso-pocalyptis (UK 2020: Dir J D Roth-round)
In JD Roth-round's debut feature, filmed for £1000 in lockdown, Daniel (Roth-round) returns home to find his house in the middle of building works and his partner Maz and daughter Casey both dead. Quickly descending into an alcoholic haze as a result of the trauma Daniel, unwilling to accept the death of his family, oscillates between mundane household activity and increasingly frenzied drunken outbursts (including pulling out his own teeth), before achieving a final act to unite himself with his departed partner.

It's a slight shame that the house chosen as the single location for Iso-pocalyptis should be some form of hostel (multiple extinguishers on the walls, clearly labelled fire doors etc.) because it slightly detracts from the otherwise authentic and involving story of one man's descent into personal hell. Bit part actor turned director Roth-round made this during the pandemic and it's pretty much a one role movie, but the guy's no holds barred performance is of the variety that people used to call 'brave'. 

Roth-round punctuates the restless movements of his camera, and footage of his more primal urges, with some poignant moments, like finding his dead daughter's hair stuck in her hairbrush, or discovering a present she'd bought in anticipation of his birthday tucked away in a drawer. While Dan Williams' instrumental soundtrack elements are very effective, there are occasionally some free music archive derived, thuddingly inappropriate songs, which flatten, rather than enhance the sombre mood of the piece. A rather clever twist ending points back to the very beginning of the movie as a clue to what this is all about. Good effort JD!

The Young Cannibals (UK 2020: Dir Kris Carr, Sam Fowler)
In René Cardona's 1976 movie Survive! (the true story of the Uruguayan rugby team, whose plane crashed in the Andes and who were forced to stay alive by eating their dead fellow passengers), the director spends a good fifty minutes or so building to the inevitable chow down. Carr and Fowler's debut feature gets to the meat, if you'll forgive the phrase, right away, in a snowy prologue featuring two blokes noshing on the remains of a third.

Sadly that's all of the (overt) cannibalism that you get here, which feels a bit of a swizz considering the title (it was originally named 'Eaten Alive'). Instead we have the story of Nat (Megan Purvis, Don't Knock Twice) who's been sectioned following a suicide attempt after the death of her mother. Her friend Ethan (Benjamin Sarpong-Broni) springs her from hospital so she can rejoin her friends for a birthday camping trip. 

Two of the group manage to obtain some burgers made by Blackwood (David Patrick Stucky), the owner of a nearby house. What they don't know is that a) the burgers are actually made from human flesh and b) the bloke who made them is one of the cannibals we saw in the prologue. As the chums happily consume the burgers, they fulfil a handed down curse; as newly defined cannibals they're about to be stalked and killed by an evil entity (ok a guy in a monster suit) who's after anyone who has deprived him of human meat.

What follows is an hour plus of the group walking around some admittedly attractively lit woods trying, and failing in the case of most of the characters, to escape the clutches of the beast, followed by a marginally more exciting final reel chase sequence. A thinner premise for walking around aimlessly I haven't met since the last time I saw a film where the cast fumbled about in darkened woodland. 

The product of a group of Bournemouth based filmmakers and actors, The Young Cannibals is that to be feared thing: a well made movie punching above its budget visually, with some credible acting but a paper thin plot and, despite its technical merits, overlong and with very little atmosphere, despite the night shooting and some grungy practical effects. One standout is American composer Gabe Castro's electronic music, which is a very fine thing indeed; a bit of Simonetti here, some Carpenter there, a pounding relentless score that frankly should be soundtracking a much better movie.

A Very 2020 Christmas Carol (UK 2020: Dir Ian Austin)
It was Austin, you may recall, who made the rather challenging to sit through Barbatachthian. Well here's his second feature for 2020, a loose adaptation of the Dickens novella, filmed again during lockdown (or 'the monkey disease from Outbreak' as he refers to it).

Austin plays uncle Scrooge (Ian with a hat on) and his cousin Fred (at least he knows his characters); they're having an argument about Scrooge being mean and not giving Fred's mum a break with the rent on the house he owns and in which she lives. 

That night Jacob Marley appears to Scrooge (Ian with - I think and hope - chocolate sauce down his arm and on his face) as does Bob Cratchit (Ian in another hat) whose wife is angry about his long hours of work and the lack of NHS support for Tiny Tim. Thereafter the three ghosts of Christmas appear, the first of which is voiced by Holly Schelkens (the only other person to be involved in this apart from someone called 'Stuart' as Tiny Tim), leading to Scrooge's extended breakdown.

Watching Ian at work is like observing a child making up an adventure in their own head; at once excitable and incomprehensible, it's difficult to dislike this guy; his sheer unwillingness to create anything resembling a watchable film, complete with terrible (and terribly odd) special effects, weird ad breaks, and a newsflash banging on about The Memorial Murderer, which draws in the cast of Barbatachthian. Footage (and sound) is slowed down for no reason, images become superimposed, and it's all very difficult to follow. I'll wager that you've never seen an adaptation of  'A Christmas Carol' featuring Thor and Odin ("You're not Odin, you're a teddy bear"). I'd understand it more if Austin appeared to be some stoned aesthete or full on visual anarchist; but he just looks like someone who works in local government and gets by on nothing stronger than Typhoo tea and jaffa cakes. Bewildering.

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