Reviewed by Stewart Horn
For two days every February, the Glasgow Film theatre is home to FrightFest Glasgow, a scaled down version of the FrightFest horror festival that runs inLondon every August. Horror geeks from Glasgow and beyond brave the sunlight once a year to speak shyly to each other.
We have guests. This year we had The China brothers: two English chaps introducing their Australian horror thriller Crawl. We had the Monetti brothers, introducing their feature L’Arrivo Di Wang, and their friend Federico Zampaglione (the Italian Rob Zombie) who played us a little snippet of his forthcoming Giallo Tulpa, which is going to be nasty by the look of it. Gareth Evans, the unlikely Welsh director of Indonesian film The Raid, was there along with the film’s star, the endearingly polite Iko Uwais. And our own Christopher fowler made a guest appearance and gave away some books.
This reviewer is far too shy to speak to the stars, but I did chat to some of the audience. There was general agreement on some things: the Glasgow-brewed St. Mungo’s beer they serve in the cinema bar is delicious, but overpriced; and the Wee Curry Shop is as fine a place to eat as any inGlasgow. There was less consensus about the films – many people had completely opposite views from mine, but I’m going to ignore them all and give you my opinions.
There were two films this year that lacked good narrative structure, and seemed to jump from one level to the next, the way video game plots work. It made me wonder if some young writers have spent more time playing games than reading books or watching films and I wonder what that means for the future. Perhaps our whole expectation of narrative coherence will change.
TAPE 407: THE MESA RESERVE INCIDENT
dir: Dale Fabrigar/Everette Wallin,USA, 2011
A found footage movie about plane crash survivors realising that they’re being hunted by creatures or persons unknown. It starts slowly but gets fun quite quickly: a group of really annoying characters being videoed by a particularly loathsome pigtailed girl – turbulence – plane crash – something killing people. There is a lot of running, screaming and confusion, very much in the found footage style, and some repetition of situations that weren’t original in the first place. You could see the end coming a mile off, but the last shot was great. This was fun, flawed and forgettable. **
dir: Paul China,Australia, 2011
This is a crime thriller, rather than a horror film. A modern noir somewhat in the style of the Coen brothers. It’s heavily stylised with some effective visuals and quite a lot of scenes with little or no dialogue. In the Q&A after the screening, the makers acknowledged the influence of Blood Simple, and No Country for Old Men, but there was some of Sergio Leone’s style there as well – close-up shots of dusty cowboy boots and extended stationary stand-offs. There were good suspenseful moments and touches of typically Australian humour. Well made and competently acted, this was a visually diverting way to spend a couple of hours without adding much to the genre. ***
dir: Douglas Aarniokoski,Canada, 2011
In a post-apocalyptic world, there are normals and there are cannibals. Apart from the whole eating people business there seems to be very little difference between the two groups, and it plays out like a story about rival gangs, complete with Romeo and Juliet sub-plot. This is often tense, very violent, with lots of lovely squelchy and gristly noises from the foley department. Yet for all the darkness and brutality, there is heart here. The central female character is compelling in her quest for some kind of moral compass, and perhaps a family, despite being the most ruthless killer of them all. There is a scene in which one character is prepared to torture another to death, yet the film rounds off with an upbeat moral message, a kind of why can’t we just all get along? sort of vibe. The cannibal leader is visibly upset by the deaths of his family and comrades, but still sends them off to almost certain death, so the humanisation of the monster is a bit half-hearted. I thought it was going to end with a twee walking into the sunset moment, but the very last scene undercuts any thoughts that there was going to be any redemption for anybody. A good, unpleasant film, set in a world that Cormac McCarthy and George Romero would recognise. ****
WAR OF THE DEAD
dir: Marko Makilaasko,Lithuania/USA/Italy, 2011
This was the last film of the Friday night, running till about 1am, so the Frightfest boys always choose a light pacey romp to keep us awake. This ticked the boxes in that respect – non-stop action, no characters to worry about, no discernible plot, no reason at all to engage your brain.
Naughty Nazi scientists have been experimenting with “anti-death” drugs in a bunker somewhere inRussia. The experiment fails and some time later a load of soldiers are sent to find and liberate said bunker. Cue Nazi zombies. If this was a video game I would think the plot was a bit thin; there certainly wasn’t enough to make a movie. We should bury this one and hope it never claws its way out of its shallow grave. *
dir: Howie Askins,USA, 2011
More found footage. Sigh. It starts like a Blair Witch clone: four young Californians go camping and one of them is making a documentary about his city-slicker friend. The characters and dialogue are realistic if not particularly interesting. Scary things start to happen and it’s a bit formulaic and familiar, though competently delivered. In the last half hour, it changes gear, becoming a different kind of film entirely. They must have spent 95% of the budget in the last twenty minutes. It’s quite fun, but there are two major flaws:
- It’s repetitive – the characters escape one peril to pass on to a similar, escalated situation. It was more like a video game plot than a properly rounded story arc.
- Idiot Ex Machina – for the plot to move one or more of the characters have to do something really stupid. Once in a movie is okay, but this was their main plot device.
It’s still worth watching just for the last few minutes, despite major gaps in logic. **
dir: Adrian Garcia Bogliano/ Ramiro Garcia Bogliano,Argentina, 2011
This was an Argentinean film whose protagonist is a Spanish woman who spends most of the film slagging off all things Argentinean. It was funny, but perhaps not to an Argentinean. There is excellent dialogue, good acting and a healthy dollop of dark humour. I liked the premise and I thought I saw the end coming, but I was wrong. It’s Lovecraftian in its subject matter, but delivered with subtlety – the menace just out of sight until the last few minutes when all hell breaks loose. Excellent.
Incidentally, our print had subtitles that were obviously written by somebody whose first language is not English. There were a few extra laughs there, but after a while I stopped noticing because the film was so compelling. ****
RITES OF SPRING
dir: Padraig Reynolds,USA, 2011
This is a crime thriller in which a very bad man and some stooges kidnap a millionaire’s daughter and demand a $2m ransom. The cash is delivered but the angry daddy follows the crooks to an abandoned lunatic asylum where they all shoot at each other.
It’s also a horror movie – in a parallel story a man abducts two young women and takes them to a deserted farmhouse so he can ritually sacrifice them to God of the Spring Harvest. One girl escapes, pursued by the god (a roughly human-shaped thing with a big axe). They coincidentally arrive at the lunatic asylum with the gangsters. Mayhem ensues. This has some proper scary moments – Reynolds handles tension well – and it’s well made and well acted. In a Q&A after the screening the director told us it’s the first part of a trilogy. I’m looking forward to seeing the other two. ***
L-ARRIVO DI WANG
dir: Antonia Monetti/ Marco Monetti,Italy, 2011
An alien being is held captive in a secret service base in Rome. He calls himself Mr. Wang and speaks only Mandarin Chinese, because his research told him that was Earth’s most widely spoken language. So the central character is a Mandarin/Italian interpreter brought in to translate at the interrogation. The driving force of the film is the tension between the translator, who is sympathetic to the alien, and the interrogator, who is suspicious. This is a good piece of cinema, with nice moral ambiguity and some obvious subtext about the treatment of prisoners. How it turns out in the end is almost irrelevant. The alien itself is a CGI triumph: shiny, silver, and endearingly ugly in the same way as ET was, though personally I wouldn’t trust anyone with tentacles. An intelligent, playful and very enjoyable film. ****
dir: Anthony DiBlasi,USA, 2011
I like a nice traditional ghost story. A young deaf woman is haunted by her dead sister. After a séance, she’s haunted more aggressively by the ghost of a woman she doesn’t know. She has to find out who the ghost is, unearth her remains and find the murderer.
In between times we meet the murderer, who makes puppets out of living (or dying) women, severing limbs and reattaching them with metal hinges so that the finished puppets move more reliably. There is some unnecessary back story for the murderer and a redundant love interest for the protagonist. A well-made film that might have been better without the puppeteer. It was nice and spooky, but the really nasty bits felt shoehorned in for sensational effect, as if the producers weren’t sure people would accept just a ghost story. ***
dir: GarethEvans,Indonesia, 2011
An Indonesian martial arts thriller written and directed by a Welshman sounds as though it shouldn’t work, but it does. A police assault team is sent to capture a high rise building run by the city gangster boss. It all goes wrong and they have to fight their way out of the building. Imagine The Horde without zombies.
The plot is silly, with irrelevant sub-plots about a pair of brothers on opposing sides, and police corruption, and most of the characters are barely more than sketched. But forget all that proper movie nonsense. The pace, energy, brutality and inventive choreography of the fight scenes make it worth the price of a cinema ticket. It’s joyous in its extremity, a thrill ride that hardly stops for breath. The FrightFest audience enjoy a good death, and this film got more laughs and cheers than any I’ve seen. Great fun. ****