Monday, 18 August 2014

Frightfest London 2014 Preview - Main Screen Part Two

Here's another trio of recommendation from this year's packed Frightfest main screen line-up. More main screen action to come tomorrow night plus we'll be diving into the Discovery Screen line-up.

The Babadook

Directed by Jennifer Kent

REPULSION meets ‘The Gruffalo’ in writer/director Jennifer Kent’s Sundance acclaimed debut feature as the unresolved traumas of a conflicted mother and disturbed son manifest as a malevolent entity threatening to consume them both. Amelia (Essie Davis in a stunning performance) and her son, Sam, have had a raw deal in life. Her husband Oskar died six years prior while driving her to the hospital pregnant with Sam, and his birthday is a particularly painful reminder. But this year things worsen dramatically. Samuel’s been having nightmares, and when a mysterious pop-up children’s book appears on his shelf titled ‘Mister Babadook’, he is finally able to put a name to the terror. Amelia tries to handle Sam with patience, understanding and sedatives, but his increasing feral aggression and her growing lack of sleep lead them inexorably towards the darkness. Prepare for horrific chills fuelled by grief, madness and monsters in the closet.

I remember when The Babadook intially appeared on my radar. The title of the movie alone filled me with curiosity. Such an unusal name.  Then I saw the trailer and that initial interest caught fire and Jennifer Kent's debut became one of my most anticipated movies of 2014.  There's something about the monster in the closet or under the bed that has never quite left me even though I'm now an adult of 44.  I still find myself sometimes startled awake by a noise in the night only to find myself staring, hypnotised at that patch of darkness that seems just that little bit more dense than it ought to be.  I even find myself closing the wardrobe door in the bedroom I share with my wife rather than leave it ajar.  An overactive imagination some would call it and they'd probably be right. But always that tiny little voice in the back of my mind whispering, "what if".  Garnish that with the fact that I have step children today complete with the multitude of worries and concerns that come with that and this movie taps into both distant childhood terrors never forgotten and adult concerns for the safety of your loved ones.  That's a potent brew right there and the success of The Babadook on the festival circuit with both fans and critics alike suggests it gets the mix just right.  This is one not to miss.  (Oh...and how cool is that poster?)

The Green Inferno

Directed by Eli Roth

From genre guru Eli Roth comes a post-modern celebration of the notoriously lurid and savage Italian cannibal genre as popularised by director Ruggero Deodato, his HOSTEL 2 star. Roth’s long-awaited return to the director’s chair after this six-year absence finds politically attuned, if na├»ve, NYC university student Justine roped into a campus activist group’s idealistic plan to travel to Peru to halt the annihilation of an endangered tribe by a corrupt construction company. But after a horrific plane crash that leaves half the radicals dead, the survivors are drugged, taken hostage and caged by the very tribe they were trying to help. Worse the mountain clan are cannibals and they are ravenous. Tapping into dark fears of man’s inhumanity to man with grisly humour and brutally matter-of-fact style violence, this jungle holocaust delves into bleak and thought-provoking horror with the disturbing aplomb Roth fans have come to recognise and appreciate.

Eli Roth is one of the most devisive figures currently working in the field of horror cinema.  Although I distance myself from the opinions of horror fans who think he's an overrated hack who is 100% ego to 0% talent I'm also not entirely comfortable with the idea that he was ever, or ever will be, the future of horror.  Cabin Fever and the first Hostel movie were fun but flawed.  I am, however, a huge fan of Hostel II and consider it to be a subversive gem of a genre movie that's far cleverer than most people give it credit for.  The Green Inferno represents Roth's homage to a genre I'm widly unfamiliar with.  The Italian cannibal movie.  My lack of knowledge results from my not having the stomach for unsimulated scenes of animal cruelty (something that will change soon when I finaly work up the nerve to watch Cannibal Holocaust).  At least that won't be an issue here but I have no doubt The Green Inferno will prove as polarising as his previous movies and for that reason alone this is a must see just so you can join in the debate afterwards.

Starry Eyes

Directed by Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer

In the city of dreams, a desperate actress will do whatever it takes for the role of a lifetime, no matter what the cost. Determined to make it in Hollywood, reluctant waitress Sarah Walker (superb Alex Essoe) goes on countless casting calls in hope of getting her big break. After a series of weird auditions at the mysterious Astraeus Pictures, she lands her dream part. But with this opportunity comes bizarre ramifications that will transform her both mentally and physically into something beautiful… and altogether more terrifying. From Travis Stevens, producer of CHEAP THRILLS, an occult tale of ambition, possession and the true cost of fame and fortune. Skilfully and scarily showing the ways in which tarnished Tinsel Town can turn a sweet starlet into an ego-maniacal monster, this nightmarish tragedy reveals for all to see what it means when actors talk about putting their soul on the screen.

I really like the look of this.  Starry Eyes exudes a real Lynchian vibe that's obvious even from the trailer with echoes of both Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire coming through.  I'm a big fan of occult horror, an obsession I can trace back to a Saturday night screening on BBC2 of the Hammer adaptation of Dennis Wheatley's brilliant The Devil Rides Out.  Of particular note is a reportedly startling central performance courtesy of Elex Essoe as a fame hungry wannabe who sells her soul in exchange for success.  Add to this the production sass of Travis Stevens who has been involved in some truly striking genre movies over the course of the last several years including previous Frightfest hit Cheap Thrills and Starry Eyes starts to look like something that could potentially be one of the hits of this year's festival.


Directed by Riley Stearns

A subversive, psychologically disturbing back comedy marking the feature film debut of director/writer Riley Stearns, who cleverly employs the considerable talents of his wife Mary Elizabeth Winstead to play Claire – a young woman who appears to be under the grip of a mysterious new cult called ‘Faults’. After a rough divorce that has left him without any money, foremost cult expert Ansel (Leland Orser) is on tour giving seminars about such brainwashing. Approached by Claire’s distraught parents, he agrees to help them, and their daughter’s de-programming seems to run smoothly enough. However, the more Ansel spends with Claire the more he starts to doubt she’s actually brainwashed. Maybe there is something to ‘Faults’ after all? From this point on an unpredictable battle of wills begins; the question being raised, just who is being deprogrammed? Bizarre, unsettling and gripping, this proved a sleeper hit when shown at SXSW.

I can't say too much about Riley Stearns' debut feature Faults without running the risk of spoiling the various surprises it has in store for the lucky Frightfest audience. What I can say is that it's excellent and there's no doubt in my mind that what we have here is one of the highlights of this year's festival.  Featuring a couple of remarkably controlled performances courtesy of Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Leland Orser (both outstanding) and gifting them with a tight, character driven script, this is a slow burn indie gem that I'm already itching to see again. Considering he only had a few shorts to his name before now I'm truly impressed by Stearns' direction here. Faults delivers a beautifully orchestrated battle of wills, unfolding with uncommon subtlety and restraint for an utterly absorbing 90 minutes. Do not miss this and look out for our full review sometime next week.

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