Monday 4 March 2024

NEW WAVE OF THE BRITISH FANTASTIC FILM 2021 #18: Reviews of Bad Blood (UK 2021), Nightlens (UK 2021), What You Can't Promise (UK 2021), Huey (UK 2021), Overtime (UK 2021) and The Leprechaun's Curse (UK 2021)

Bad Blood aka Boy #5 (UK 2021: Dir Eric Steele) Originally titled Boy #5 (for its screening at London's FrightFest in 2021), this 'Mancunian vampire film' (according to the director) is the story of Nathan (Lennon Leckey), a homeless young boy picked up off the streets after being discovered drinking the blood of a dead dog, and delivered into the care of social worker Marjorie Dawson (Laura Montgomery Bennett).

Marjorie is in crisis, following the death of one of her previous cases, Curt, who took his own life while under her charge. Refusing any offers of counselling, and of increasing concern to her superiors ("You can't save everybody," she's warned), Marjorie takes the distinctly odd Nathan under her wing, turning a blind eye - and eventually becoming complicit - when she learns that he drinks only human blood, regular supplies of which are needed to sustain him. "For blood is the life!" he quotes at her; a quick internet search tells her most of what she needs to know on the subject, with a visit to a Manchester goth club filling in the blanks.

While watching this I was reminded of the films of UK director Andrew Parkinson, whose movies often feature horrific beings located in authentically mundane settings. The world into which Nathan enters is blandly municipal, an environment of clipboards and case conferences (a desk calendar from 2019 shows that the film has had a long gestation). As Marjorie Bennett is similarly and successfully prosaic; in her first screen role (she's also in two other features by Steele which haven't yet seen the light of day) she's decidedly non actorly but very effective, and her increasing need to compensate for the guilt over Curt, including bloodying her hands to meet Nathan's needs, is very believable.

A classical score contrasts well with the drab mis en scene, and a small cast, all of whom are effective in their roles, makes this well worth a watch.

Nightlens (UK 2021: Dir David Woods) Woods's first feature since his 2011 melon twister Till Sunset, get ready for more oddness as we join Blake (Kim Hardy), a man who has split from his alcoholic partner Kate (Zoe Cunningham) after popping the question at the wrong moment, and has lived to regret it.

Keen to right the wrongs of the past, Blake enrols with Cerebrics, an unusual agency straight of out a Philip K. Dick story, who can help him. The company strapline is 'For the thoughts that count' and, under the tutelage of Torrance (Susan McCann), they can provide a link to the past so that Blake can put things right. Tapping into the company's power source, a brain in a box (I kid you not), after a painful process he is thrown back onto 'the maze' of his own cerebral cortex - The Grey Matter - to reunite with Kate and give things another go.

The only problem is that Kate had the same idea, also contacting Cerebrics to help with her alcoholism, so the pair must hook up to both achieve what they want. But there's a snag; a rogue neuron in the shape of a dark stranger (ok a bloke with black tights on his head) who threatens the safety of both.

At least, I think that's what's happening, but any viewing of Nightlens comes with a big dose of WTF. This is ambitious stuff, well put together considering the obviously tight budget and with an atmospheric score from Jamie Harper (who also scored Till Sunset) to pull it all together. This won't be for everyone - pacing is not its forte - but it's hugely intriguing. What a shame that, based on his previous output, we'll have to wait another ten years for the director's next head scratcher. 

What You Can't Promise (UK 2021: Dir Richard Fysh) More 'holiday home horror', this time a two hander written, directed and 'starring' Fysh as Gareth, a chap who, grieving the death of dad (who owned the holiday let in which he is currently staying), and keen to tie up his late father's affairs.

A knock at the door announces a young woman, Ursula (Maria Tauber), who claims to have rented the cottage, and paid Gareth's dad for the privilege. Gareth is unaware of the arrangement and uncomfortable about her suggestion that, although total strangers to each other, they should stay under the same roof.

Both resolve to do this; soon Ursula's assertive ways unlock Gareth's taciturn demeanour, and he's telling her things about his personal life, his failed relationship and the passing of his father, about which he feels uncomfortable disclosing. His nocturnal visitor also seems to have a dislike of bright light, eats nothing, and takes a fond interest in Gareth's neck.

I probably won't be giving much away if I tell you that Ursula is not what she seems; and much more. Quite how you get on with this depends on how much you like the two characters, as you spend the entire 70 minutes with them. To be honest, while the setup is quite bold, neither Fysh nor Tauber are particularly accomplished actors; in fact the initial scenes, of the 'oh-no-you'll-have-to-spend-the-night' variety, feel like porn before the clothes come off. I applaud the willingness to try something a little different, but WYCP didn't work for me.

Huey (UK 2021: Dir Brenden Singh) This one took me slightly by surprise; it's not a pleasant watch but it transcends its low budget limitations, that's for sure. 

Huey (a convincing performance by Bryan Moriarty) is a young (ish) man, an unpublished writer who struggles alone at his computer. He's on strong medication, and his fragile mental health means he feels isolated when with friends; sessions with his psychiatrist (Philip Ridout) are predictably fraught. 

Huey feels that to kick start his book he needs to inhabit the world of his central character; presumably that character is somewhat of a psychopath, as we see the guy following women and, when he does bring a girl home with him, becoming angry and violent when he's unable to perform.

Latching onto a woman he sees in a cafe, Lucy (Daisy Boyden), he starts an (unwanted) conversation with her, having already stalked her around town and located her home address. Any idea that Huey is trying to strike up a simple friendship is quickly dashed, and Lucy senses quite quickly that she's in danger.

It's often difficult to work out what's real and what's in Huey's head in Singh's slender but tense psycho drama. Moriarty has something of the Sean Harris about him; you never know when he's going to go off the deep end. This is primarily a character study as opposed to a fully realised drama, but it's confidently filmed and conveys a real sense of mental crisis. 

Overtime (UK 2021: Dir Mario Covone) Wow, this was an unexpected, dark treat which seems to have passed people by, totally undeservedly. 

When student Ben (Jack Clark), spying on the phone of his girlfriend Hannah (Pippa Haddow) and discovering that she's due to meet up with one of her teachers, Mr Shaw (Chris Spyrides) on the quiet, he shares the information with Hannah's feisty sister Eve (Bethany Rumbellow). The pair decide to steal into the school that night and intercept the assignation, an indignant Eve deciding to live stream the intervention on a paedophile spotters website so that the police can take action.

Roping in their friends Chelsea (Anna Beer) and girlfriend Danny (Heather-Mae Cutts) - who persuades her school security guard uncle Stu (Gary Baxter) to sneak them on to the premises - the group don masks to anonymously confront the miscreant teacher and pupil. However, they're about to find out that Hannah and Shaw have an entirely different purpose for their nighttime liaison, and there's a bigger threat to all their lives lurking in the corridors of the educational establishment.

Mainly filmed at the University of Suffolk and utilising a talented cast largely comprising first time (on screen) actors, although Overtime isn't perfect it's cleverly put together, and the mid point plot rugpull - ok, ignore the poster - was a real surprise. Covone mixes up events in the first half to give you a couple of runs at what you're seeing from two different perspectives (very Rashomon) but then ratchets up the tension once the real bad guys show up. Add in some great practical F/X, a fab metal score and some very smart camerawork and editing, this reminded me of the work of James Smith and Caroline Spence in films like Casting Kill: Low in budget, high in quality and very, very good.

You can watch Overtime here.

The Leprechaun's Curse aka Leprechaun's Rage (UK 2021: Dir Louisa Warren) It's been a while since Ms Warren's name cropped up in one of these round ups. The last time we saw the 'Leprechaun' character was in her 2020 movie The Leprechaun's Game.

When I interviewed Warren a few years back she told me that she makes two types of horror movies; 'serious' and 'wacky'. The Leprechaun's Curse is certainly in the latter camp. 

Bao Tieu returns as the titular little fella (actually he's full size, but we'll let that pass) and this time he's guarding an amount of gold held in a house owned by a 'property into gold' type (Warren includes him in a fake TV ad) who the creature has drowned in the mansion's swimming pool. Sidebar: when I mention 'mansion' this looks more like a local authority owned hostel - fire doors and Covid signs galore. Anyhow the house has been passed on to the gold mogul's daughter Tilly (Sofia Lacey) who invites her mum (Chrissie Wunna) and friends down to spend a few days of luxury while she works out what to do with the place.

The leprechaun kind of hangs around the house, leaping on the unsuspecting guests when they access the gold secreted around the place, and leaving cryptic notes which has everyone blaming each other for trying to spook them out. The plot is about as incomprehensible as this short synopsis reads, and there's little to recommend it apart from a general tongue in cheek approach, some rudimentary gore and a few amusing lines of dialogue. Worst moment? The evil leprechaun faces off against the house's caretaker (Warren) at the front of the property in full view of passing unconcerned pedestrians, a bus and a police van. 

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