Thursday 28 October 2021

Report from Mayhem Film Festival 2021

In her third Festival report, DEoL's roving reporter Satu Sarkas-Bosman takes us through the highs and even bigger highs of this year's Nottingham based Mayhem Film Festival. Buckle up, there's a lot to get through!

It was a pure joy to be able to join Mayhem 2021 at Broadway cinema in Nottingham after the misery the pandemic brought to all of us cinema lovers. Mayhem, founded in 2005 by two film makers, Steven Sheil and Chris Cooke, is known for its friendly atmosphere and varied choice of films. It was a few Mayhems ago I watched an Ethiopian Sci-Fi film Crumbs which was a treat rarely experienced outside the festival circuit.

The festival started in a very gentle manner with Alien on Stage (UK 2020: Dir Danielle Kummer, Lucy Harvey) which is a heart-warming documentary about bus drivers and other support staff from Dorset whose idea for the Christmas panto is a little bit different from the general offerings. Their adaptation of Alien with an amateur cast and homemade special effects will take you on a journey from local community hall to West End stage. It has all things British; heart, tragedy, a lot of smoking, despair, optimism, dry humour, more wobbly sets than Prisoner Cell Block H and an ultimate triumph. It is pure fun and leaves you feeling quite warm and fuzzy inside.

The Deep House (France/Belgium 2021: Dir Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury) has an interesting setting since it is a haunted house story underwater. Ben (James Jagger) and Camille (Camile Rowe) are vloggers determined to film something extraordinary in order to obtain those valuable views. The story is nothing you haven't heard before: the couple are told about a remote stretch of lake where a whole village is submerged in a flooded valley, and Ben especially is more than happy to be guided by a local stranger with a promise of something unusual. The idea initially works well providing an atmosphere that is eerie and captivating. There is a growing sense of claustrophobic dread, but unfortunately the last third of the film feels rushed and disappointing. 

Mayhem also has a tradition of screening an old classic, often a gem which is rarely shown. The Queen of Spades (UK 1949: Dir Thorold Dickerson) is based upon Alexander Pushkin’s short story about an elderly Countess exchanging her soul in order to be always victorious in card games. Russian soldier Herman, played by Anton Walbrook, becomes obsessed in uncovering the old Countess’s (Dame Edith Evans) secret. This movie is such a feast for the eyes with sumptuous outfits, beautiful sets, attention to detail and dandiest hair you will ever see. It is melodrama at its finest and called a masterpiece by Martin Scorsese himself.

The Show (UK 2020: Dir Mitch Jenkins) is a rather humorous and surreal film, shot in Northampton with Tom Burke as the main protagonist. Alan Moore has written a script which, on the surface, is a simple story of Tom Burke’s character Fletcher looking for a missing man called Mitchum. However once Rosicrucianism, dream sequences, odd costumes, voodoo, stolen artifacts and noir private eyes have been added to the mix… there's no need for any additional chemical enhancements when watching this one.

Night Drive (USA 2019: Dir Brad Burah, Meghan Leon) was one of the audience favourites and quite deservedly so. Sophie Dalah and AJ Bowen have such chemistry and carry this film, ensuring that there are no dull moments. Russell (Bowen) drives a ride share picking up Charlotte (Dalah) and a whole lot of trouble. This indie dark comedy does not have the luxury of a big budget but it keeps you entertained and wondering ‘what’s in the box?'.

Midnight (South Korea 2020: Dir Oh-Seung Kwon)
offers us a familiar story of a serial killer and his pursuit to eliminate a witness. Kyeong-Mi (Jin Ki-Joo), returning from work, witnesses So Jung-Eu (Kim Hye-Noon) stabbing a young woman. This film is set apart from the many other similar ones for the fact that Kyeong-Mi is deaf and much of the dialogue is in sign language when she is communicating with her mother. The director uses silence very effectively; when you enter the silent world of Kyeong-Mi, you can feel all of your senses heightened. I have to say that there is a lot of running in this one and I ended up hoping that someone would have been a bit more ruthless when editing.

Well, if Xena the Warrior Princess and He-Man indulged in drugs and decided to tell a story the result would be The Spine of Night (USA 2021: Dir Philip Gelatt, Morgan Galen King). This all-animated fantasy horror tale is a beautiful, violent, epic visual feast spanning hundreds of years involving stories of old Gods and heroic endeavours. You have to admire the passion of its creators; this is a true labour of love.

Knocking (Sweden 2021: Dir Freda Kempff)
is a slow burn story of Molly (Cecilia Milocco) attempting to adapt to independent life after spending time at a psychiatric ward. Milocco carries this movie due to her powerful performance. The story itself holds no surprises; after hearing persistent knocking and sounds outside her new flat, the viewer is left wondering if it is supernatural or are Molly’s mental health issues emerging again. I found the ending rather disappointing but the incredible performance of Milocco kept me interested.

Remember Quantum Leap? Kang I-an (Kye-Sang Yoon) wakes up in a different body every twelve hours in this fast-paced thriller. Spiritwalker (South Korea 2021: Dir Jae-Keun Yoon) follows Kang I-an’s desperate search for his real body through different bodies and strands of stories. The action sequences are well choreographed and pace so fast that there no danger of being bored.

Get the Hell Out (Taiwan 2020: Dir I-Fan Wang)
is a Taiwanese film taking a swipe at politics and introducing you to a Zombie madness not seen since… well, I don’t know when. If you like your zombie stories completely over-the-top, utterly silly, with memes, frantic with gallons of fake blood and suits so colourful they make your eyes bleed, this is a film for you. It will also introduce you to nail clippers as a potential weapon protecting you from harm. The audience at Mayhem laughed out loud and found it ludicrously entertaining.

Hellbender (USA 2021: Dir , USA, Directors John Adams, Zelda Adams, Toby Poser)
is a true family affair; Toby Poser, John Adams and Zelda Adams are a mother, father and a daughter team writing, directing and acting in this low key, slow burn story of Izzy (Zelda Adams) beginning to question why she is being kept isolated by her mother (Toby Poser) and the true nature of her alleged illness. The setup is very strong and you find yourself genuinely intrigued by the story. It is a coming-of-age tale with a folk story vibe and an excellent soundtrack.

The Night Shift (South Korea 2021: Dir Ba-Reun Jo) also known as Ghost Mansion is Ba-Reun’s first film and an anthology of ghost stories South Korean style. Webtoon artist (Seo Hyun-Woo) has published a book which failed and is now collecting stories for his new endeavour. He visits a ‘haunted’ apartment complex called Gwanglim Mansion and implores the caretaker to share his experiences. 5 tales are told and, although there is nothing new here, it will keep you sufficiently entertained.

Lamb (Sweden 2021: Dir Valdimar Johannsson)
was the strangest story told at Mayhem this year and it is best to watch it with as little prior knowledge as possible. The cinematography is breathtaking and it presents the bleak Icelandic nature at its best. I was rather prepared to be bored since I was expecting a highly philosophical and pretentious piece of work. However, to my great surprise, the story absolutely captivated me and I did not care if anything portrayed on the screen was logical or not. Noomi Rapace (The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo) delivers a strong performance and conveys a multitude of emotions with very little dialogue. The style of this film made me think of Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth): what a start for Valdimar Johannsson’s directing career.

The success of One Cut of the Dead confirmed that there is always appetite for quirky films. Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (Japan 2020: Dir Junta Yamaguchi) follows very much in these footsteps in this rather feverish one-take sci-fi comedy. Kato (Kazunari Tosa) finds, to his great surprise, that a TV set in his cafe shows images from two minutes into the future. Throw in the woman he has a crush on, his friends, bad guys and an idea that if you use more than one screen, you can see even further into the future… This is fun and does not outstay its welcome over a 70-minute runtime. It was fresh, fun and a quirky ending to another excellent Mayhem.

Should you ever wander to the deepest darkest Nottingham in October, please consider coming and joining us in whatever Mayhem Steven and Chris decide to throw our way in 2022.

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