LONDON, Sunday, 28 August
Here's a brief round-up of films at Day 3 of FrightFest:
The Collingswood Story
Not unlike The Blair Witch Project, or Zero Day, writer/director Michael Costanza turns the constraints of a very low budget to his own creative advantage, ingeniously compiling almost the entire story from webcam footage of videolink conversations between Rebecca (Stephanie Dees), her increasingly unnerved boyfriend Johnny (Johnny Burton), his feckless pal Billy (Grant Edmonds), and an enigmatic on-line medium (Vera Madeline), as the horrific history of the Collingswood house, into which Rebecca has just moved, begins to cast its shadow over everyone. In a world full of expensive, effects-driven fakes, this no-budget frightener is the real deal, gradually entrapping characters and viewers alike in its uncanny web before launching into a finale of hysterical tension. Unquestionably the best "pure" horror film of this year's Frightfest - and high time that it gets a release in Britain, some three years after it was made.
Directed by Takashi (The Grudge) Shimizu and starring cult Japanese director/actor Shinya Tsukamoto, Marebito traces the meandering efforts of freelance cameraman Masuoka, both to experience for himself and to capture on film, what exactly it was that drove a terrified man in the Tokyo subway system to stab himself (fatally) in the eye. What follows is a disorienting underground trip into horror and madness, featuring a vampiric foundling, warm-blooded murder and a lot of surveillance cameras. For all its visual splendour, the film's combination of Peeping Tom-style obsession and Lovecraftian netherworlds is a self-indulgent piece whose different elements fail altogether to engage, let alone to cohere.
Hotelier Lisa (Rachel McAdams) is on a crowded flight to visit her dad (Brian Cox) - and as if the airline food, cramped seats, stormy turbulence and screaming kids were not enough, she finds herself stuck next to Jackson (Cillian Murphy), a smooth-talking killer who wants Lisa to facilitate the assassination of a political VIP. Much like the plane onto which Lisa has been diverted, Red Eye was a last-minute replacement, filling in at Frightfest when the reels for Anthony C. Ferrante's Boo failed to show up in time. It marks Wes Craven's continuing descent from innovative anti-establishment horrormeister to genre-bound director-for-hire - for while there is no doubting the film's competent handling of tension, its bland slickness suggests a director who has switched onto auto-pilot. Taut enough, but characterless and forgettable, it is, ironically enough, the perfect film to watch on a plane.
The Night Watch is a supernatural police squad, assigned to ensure that the forces of Darkness stick to their centuries-old truce with the forces of Light - and Anton Gorodetsky (Konstantin Khabensky), their newest and most ambivalent member, must decide where his true allegiances lie as a messianic child emerges with powers to visit upon modern-day Moscow a truly cosmic apocalypse. The highest-grossing Russian feature of all time, Night Watch is the first film in a projected trilogy using fantasy, horror and gobsmacking special effects to explore the grey areas between good and evil in contemporary life. Fans of Hellboy, Constantine and the Blade trilogy will find themselves on familiar ground here, but writer/director Timur Bekmambetov executes his ideas with impressive visual extravagance, and shuns all simplistic morality - and the stylised subtitles, changing position and colour in response to the action, are without parallel in a feature film.
Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist
Originally shelved by Warners for being "commercially unmarketable" and then entirely reshot as Exorcist: The Beginning in 2004, with an altered cast, a different director (Renny Harlin) and a significantly rewritten script, Paul Schrader's Dominion is at last on limited release after the commercial failure of its remake and offers a rare insight into how low an opinion the big studios have of their viewership. For though it features the same set, the same lead actor (Stellan Skarsgard) and the same basic story outline as Harlin's reworking, Schrader's film is a far more cerebral affair, concerned less with obvious horror effects than with the serious theological preoccupations (good, evil, doubt and faith) of William Friedkin's original 1973 The Exorcist, which makes it the better, and even the more frightening, of the two. Still has those silly CGI hyenas, though...
Monday, 29 August
It's a Bank Holiday weekend, the sun is shining - so what better way to spend the time than enclosed in the dark confines of the Odeon West End with other like-minded sadists, masochists, geeks, ghouls, Goths, voyeurs, dirty old men and assorted hangers-on watching a relentless stream of horror. Yet all good things must come to an end, and after three days of mutilation, madness and mayhem, the final day of reckoning has come for loyal Frightfesters.
Today's line-up comprised:
Born To Fight
Like Ong Bak, which its director, Panna Rittikrai, co-wrote and choreographed, Born To Fight is a Thai-based, stunt-driven action extravaganza insanely performed without the assistance of CGI, or wires. Unfortunately, and again like Ong-Ba, the film is marred by naive nationalism, bordering on xenophobia, by a laughably black-and-white morality, and by an almost total absence of characterisation. Still, fists are rarely connected to brains, and fans of the action genre are unlikely to be disappointed by what is on display here, although how this film found its way into a festival devoted to fantasy, sci-fi and horror is beyond me.
Day Of The Dead 2: Contagium
Ana Clavell and James Glen Dudelson's unofficial prequel to George A. Romero's Night Of The Living Dead and Day Of The Dead is set in an asylum, built on the grounds of a military hospital, where, in 1968, the outbreak of a highly contagious virus had been contained and covered up. The film shows remarkable restraint in its portrayal of the mentally ill, but in all other respects is hilariously over-the-top, even if many of the ideas that it, er, throws up are abruptly dropped, owing, no doubt, to poor writing, or dwindling financial resources. Nonetheless Day of the Dead 2: Contagium is great fun, and has its heart in the right place - not to mention its spleen, liver, kidneys and intestines.
Based in, and funded by, Thailand, but written and directed by Englishman Paul Spurrier, P tells the story of country girl Aaw (Suangporn Jaturaphut), who, desperate to pay for her ailing grandmother's medication, is tricked into moving to Bangkok and working as a prostitute in a go-go club for tourists. Forgetting the strict rules for the Khmer witchcraft that she learnt from her grandmother, Aaw transforms by night into a vampiric Thai spirit, first preying upon her clients, but soon turning on her co-workers and even her close friends. As well as being a beautifully shot tale of the supernatural, P (named after the Thai word for ghost) allegorises the monstrous degradation of traditional Thai values under the corrupting influence of modernisation and foreigners, and, in a highly reflexive sequence, features Spurrier himself as the sleazy club owner who breaks in the new girls.
After Gabriel Engel (Andre Hennicke) is arrested in Berlin for the brutal sexual murders of over a dozen young boys, Michael Martens (Wotan Wilke Mohring), the devoutly Catholic police chief in the small rural village of Herzbach, is drawn to the big city to interview the serial killer, in the hope of determining whether he was also responsible for the unsolved murder and mutilation of a young local girl, who was friends with Martens' adolescent son. Antibodies sets itself up to be a German Silence Of The Lambs, but before long becomes an investigation into the nature of good and evil and the infectious danger of doubt, as Engel tests Martens', not to mention the viewer's, faith to its limits. As twisted and monstrously ingenious as the killer, Christian Alvart's film will confound anyone's moral compass and includes a challenging ending whose apparently redemptive quality will morph in your mind into something far more bleakly ambiguous the more you allow yourself to think about it - psychodrama at its most chillingly intelligent, and the finest film of the day.
For his debut feature, Australian writer/director Greg McLean follows a tried-and-tested horror formula - young people out on a drive become stranded in the middle of nowhere - and takes it way off the beaten track by offering a narrative "based on true events" without a reliable narrator in sight, by introducing a supernatural thread whose lack of proper integration only adds to its mysteriousness, and by lulling viewers into a false sense of security before grabbing them by the throat and, at least metaphorically speaking, wrenching their guts out. Wolf Creek is a viciously visceral trip that dares ask whether evil is something as arbitrary as a meteor shower, or a more calculating force in the heart of man. You will never think of the phrase "head on a stick" in quite the same way again...
And so to bed.