Friday 30 April 2021

NEW WAVE OF THE BRITISH FANTASTIC FILM 2020 #16: Reviews of They Came from the Sky, I Saw Them (UK 2020), Paranormal Activity: Origin of Toby (UK 2020), Unfriended: Proxy (UK 2020), Tawn-19 (UK 2020), Sacrilege (UK 2020) and Crawl to me Darling (UK 2020)

They Came from the Sky, I Saw Them (UK 2020: Dir Matt Shaw) An amiable but daft short (running at 46 minutes) this low low budget sci fi movie is stuffed with ideas and slightly surreal rudeness.

Illicit couple Donna (Dani Thompson) and Rudy (Shaw) have both made a pact to tell their respective partners that their relationships are over, but haven't delivered; complications ensue when Donna tells Rudy she's pregnant. As they ponder their next steps they're taken over by visiting aliens.

Back home at their respective domiciles, Rudy lives in a weird 1950s black and white setup with his stay at home wife Diane (Maria Lee Metherington) who has her own bit on the side, Caleb (Jonathan Butcher). Donna on the other hand has to contend with her thuggish husband Steve (Rod Glenn), who has tied her to a chair to extract a confession. But Rudy and Donna's alien selves soon show themselves, much to the surprise of their still human partners.

There's a definite Plan 9 From Outer Space feel to this, complete with Criswell style narrator (Justin Park), man in black (Ben John Jewell), inappropriate policemen, terrible sets and dodgy effects. I'm also guessing that Shaw is a big fan of the surrealistic humour of The Young Ones. Silly dialogue, comedy rumpy pumpy scenes and some genuinely funny moments (a Tarantino interlude and brilliant mock rock opera finale) make this a very entertaining three quarters of an hour, and shows what can be done with lots of imagination and a game cast. Excellent. 

Paranormal Activity: Origin of Toby (UK 2020: Dir Matthew Landford)
The second of three of Landford's short films released onto the internet in 2020, PA:OoT's setup has a young guy (Edward Hudec), left alone in his parents' house shortly after a robbery occurs, and deciding to install CCTV around the home for additional protection and personal safety. His friends think that the increased surveillance might be unhealthy for his already jittery state of mind, but how wrong they are; the house is definitely haunted.

Taking its cue from the series of films of the same name, PA:OoT tells its story largely from the assemblage of camera and phone footage, both night and day modes (of course), as the ghost ramps up the frights, from pushing the guy out of bed, to a series of increasingly loud knocks and, ultimately, a physical manifestation. The spirit also has the ability to move the cameras and mess with its time codes, at one point spelling out 'TO:BY' and thus giving itself a name. 

OK none of this treads any particularly new ground, but the camerawork is very good, creating a real sense of tension. Effective use is made of the toggling between day and night cameras and there's some eerie creaks and groans sound design from Mick Powell. 30 minutes is all that's needed to deliver the scares required, easily besting the likes of similar bigger budgeted productions.

You can watch PA:OoT on YouTube here.

Unfriended: Proxy (UK 2020: Dir Matthew Landford)
Somebody on imDb asked whether U:P was an 'Unfriended Fan-Made movie?' and the answer, from one of the cast who uploaded the thing, was a resounding 'No.' But that hasn't stopped that site's users from thinking that this is some kind of low low budget sequel to Unfriended, which it most certainly isn't, even though it draws inspiration from that franchise.

Sammy (Sam Grant) and Ed (Edward Hudec) have a Zoom chat about nothing in particular, just two friends shooting the breeze about food, chores and technology (Sam has a new HD webcam, possibly to compensate breaking up with his girlfriend). An unknown user joins the chat, messaging "You have something...I want back." The 'something' is the webcam, which Sam actually stole, and the anonymous person begins to play deadly games with the pair of them.

U:P feels like a dry run for the infinitely better Zoom, also filmed in 2020. The problem is that, for most of the film's 24 minutes, it's just one guy reading a load of messages on screen. There's some good use of sound, and the idea of structuring a fright flick, even at this length, online takes some doing. But unlike Zoom, which also modelled itself on Unfriended, this feels like an exercise which should have just been kept between friends.

You can watch Unfriended: Proxy on YouTube here.

Tawn-19 (UK 2020: Dir Tim Bryn Smith)
 Devised by the Actors Workshop Online, Tawn-19 has 94 characters, all filmed on their own equipment under lockdown conditions, and is quite a feat of editing to make such a coherent, watchable (and prescient) hour of sharp satire.

News Alley is a successful TV news network reporting on the development of a virus sweeping the world. Top epidemiologist and all round pisshead Everett Pickering (Matthew Thomason) lets slip to the viewing public that Tawn-19 is actually a man made virus. Leaked footage of Professor Reznor Strong (Jade Moore) played on the channel confirms that she's been a prisoner working on the virus, which has been designed to wipe out most of the world's population. 

The Infoclash website, run and subscribed to by conspiracy theorists, is being stealthily but successfully taken over by anti vax reporter Pandora Kerez (Claire Waterall); she siezes on the disclosure to spread further disinformation; principally about the possibility that the two developed vaccines, one authorised and one sold by the crooked Gabe Carbon (Joe Kirton), could contain mirochips. As the vaccines head towards the rollout date, conspiracy piles on consipracy, and Kerez's real motives are revealed.

OK so this can feel like an hour of extracts from actor demo reels, and at times the story becomes almost too dense to navigate: but Tawn-19's biggest selling point isn't the fact that the directors and editors have managed to put together something eminently watchable, it's that so many of the events in the October 2020 released film, depicted satirically, have actually come to pass (witness the recent anti everything marches in major cities and the rise of increasingly unhinged conspiracy theories). The film may only marginally fit into the 'fantastic films' category, but it's a spirited project and its truthful depiction of the spread of conspiracy is sadly the least 'fantastic' thing about it.

You can watch Tawn-19 on YouTube here.

Sacrilege (UK 2020: Dir David Creed)
 A host of British horror regulars join the cast of this unoriginal but nevertheless enjoyable folk horror romp.

Keen to escape the city, and her violent ex-boyfriend just released from prison, Kayla (Tamaryn Payne), her sister Stacey (Naomi Willow), Kayla's ex Tricia (Emily Wyatt, Sensation) and bar owning friend Blake (Sian Abrahams) decide to spend a weekend in the country. As befits city girls out of their element there's the usual whining about lack of wi-fi and pisstaking of the local handyman (Rory Wilton, An English Haunting). On the way to the cottage they also pick up local guy Vinnie (Jon Glasgow) who tells them that the annual solstice festival is due to take place in the village.

The girls re-connect over a stash of weed found in an outhouse and a lot of booze. Vinnie turns up and takes them to the festival, which is a bit of a low rent event, involving some villagers with twigs in their hair and daubed faces praying to a budget wicker man figure (in this case a mythical goddess). The leader of the event, Father Saxon, (Ian Champion), assisted by Miss March (Emma Spurgin Hussey, The Curse of Hobbes House, A Werewolf in England), asks the girls to write down the things that they most fear - responses include dogs, bugs and, in self absorbed Stacey's case, getting old - before they lose themselves in wild dancing and strong liquor. Miss Marsh warns two of them to get out while they can.

The morning after - and following Blake's late night swim where she's bothered by a dog that seems to vanish instantly - the girls blame their collective wooziness on the previous evening's partying, but when Stacey has visions of herself as an old woman, and Tricia imagines herself covered in bugs, it looks like their worst fears have become real; the women have been marked by the goddess, and it's only a matter of time before they meet their ends.

"Who's ready for a weekend they'll never forget?" asks Blake, somewhat innacurately as far as the viewer is concerned, as the girls set off in her yellow van, nicknamed 'Sunny D,' for their doomed getaway. Blake has a flare gun in the glove compartment, which you know will come in useful later; it's that kind of movie. It's atmospherically shot in and around the Forest of Dean, with some well mounted sequences of horror, but despite its rather racy storyline - a group of girls on a hedonistic weekend, with two of the cast sexually reuniting after a period apart - it's a surprisingly chaste film. But at least the girls who want to have fun don't need blokes to do it, or ultimately to save themselves.

Crawl to Me Darling (UK 2020: Dir Adam Wilson)
If the title of Wilson's debut feature sounds like a prime piece of pure exploitation, well you couldn't be more wrong. In fact CtMD is rather indefinable, which I like in a movie.

Millie (Makenna Guyler, The Curse of Hobbes House, Vampire Virus) has been on a date with a guy - whose face we don't see - who has turned rather threatening. She's so worried she phones the police; she's shaken up but otherwise unhurt, and feels silly for calling them. 

Some time later she wakes up, tied to chair, facing a man with a muslin mask over his face (Scott Whatley), who could well be last night's date from hell. In calm, measured tones, he just wants her to be nice to him, feeding her lines which, if she doesn't get right, trigger a succession of electric shocks through her body.

The man clearly wants her to be his, although seemingly not sexually. He feeds her a sedative through a tube, which Millie manages to stop entering her body by twisting it between her feet. Faking sleep, she lets the man wash her, but is surprised to hear that they're not alone. A third voice belongs to Zoe (Isabele Harnandez), a witting, indeed willing participant in the man's plans, who has been a previous partner of the man, only to see his affections transferred to Millie.

And so develops this very strange and at times frustratingly inconclusive three hander psycho-drama, in which the trio set up a kind of weird home together, the long term aim being some kind of perverse wedded bliss; little happens, but it's all incredibly tense, aided and abetted by a terrifying electronic score from brothers Sam and Owen Roberts, and some very imprssive performances by Guyler, Whatley (who both co-produced with Wilson) and Hernandez. Supposedly an allegory about power, control and relationships, it borders on the surreal in its delivery; I liked it but didn't love it, but it's certainly a bold bit of film making.

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