It’s hardly surprising, but there are a more than a few tired looking faces among the crowds of weekend pass holders on the fifth and final day of Film Four FrightFest 2015. Still, with yet another bumper crop of new genre films including Nina Forever, Curve, Last Girl Standing, Emelie and festival closer Tales Of Halloween to choose from, there is sure to be more than enough on offer to get the blood pumping again.
Dark, funny, erotic and featuring a dead woman returned from the grave, this feature debut from directors Ben and Chris Blaine is certainly a refreshing and altogether different take on a domestic love triangle story.
Following the loss of his girlfriend Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy) when she dies in a vehicle accident, Rob (Cian Barry) finds himself lost in suicidal grief. A year later and the once promising PhD student has dropped out of his studies and now works in a supermarket as he continues to try and recover from his emotional wounds, despite clinging to the past by keeping an ongoing relationship with Nina’s parents.
Meeting Holly (Abigail Hardingham), a trainee paramedic who also works at the supermarket, the pair hit it off and they quickly begin a relationship with each other, but things don’t quite go as planned when on the first time of sleeping together the bloodied, mangled form of Nina appears on the bed with them. Nina tells the startled couple that she is still Rob’s girlfriend as he hadn’t broken up with her before she died, and she seems determined in that the pair should not be together. Holly on the other hand is equally determined that this relationship is going to work.
The sight of a physically broken Nina materialising naked and writhing through a gradually blood-soaked mattress to berate Rob and Holly every time that they try to be intimate is certainly a shocking way of portraying a past that Rob still cannot let go of and indeed must feel some guilt for trying to move on from, but it’s part of the brilliance of Nina Forever that this very human tale of the baggage that we carry into relationships is presented in such a twisted and fantastical way.
Like some perverse, Clive Barker-esque domestic drama, the love triangle plays out as the strangely alluring Nina brilliantly chastises Rob for daring to move on (and with a young supermarket worker no less) and cuttingly goads Holly about her inadequacies, while Rob is torn about what to do and the darkness inherent in Holly drives her to do anything to try and keep her man, including trying to involve Nina in their love-making. It’s dark, comedic, and it must be said, sexually charged stuff for sure, but not without a tenderness that makes you feel for this bizarre ménage à trois of people who are all utterly broken in their own way.
Of course, such out-there material the likes of this simply wouldn’t have worked at all were it not for the conviction and indeed the bravery with which the three leads portray their parts here. Cian Barry certainly puts in a strong turn as the man so trapped in grief that he cannot seem to leave the past behind even when an opportunity of future happiness presents itself, but there can be no doubt that it’s O’Shaughnessy and Hardingham who really steal the show here.
O’Shaughnessy shines as the almost doll-like Nina as she exudes no small amount of pathos despite the biting way in which she treats both Holly and Rob, while a fantastic physical performance from her here too fantastically conveys the damage that Nina’s now dead body had endured in the accident that killed her. Hardingham too will be sure to turn heads with her impressive portrayal of a young woman whose darkness and sexuality begins to blossom as she in some ways tries to prove to herself that her previous boyfriend was wrong when he accused her of being too safe. A mention must also be given here to … as Nina’s father. .., who’s superbly delivered speech explaining to Rob what it has been like to be constantly reminded of his daughter by him is incredibly moving.
Superbly realised by the Blaine brothers, and with substance to back up its brilliant concept, Nina Forever has so much more to offer than the apparently unending spew of uninspired films that seems to infest modern horror and as such it is absolutely deserving of your attention.
Iain Softley (Hackers) directs this mix of The Hitcher and 127 Hours from the Blumhouse production line behind the Insidious, Paranormal Activity and Sinister franchises.
Bride-to-be Mallory (Julianne Hough) is driving across country for her wedding when her car breaks down on a deserted road. When a handsome stranger happens by and fixes the car, she offers him a lift. Christian (Teddy Sears) seems like an affable guy at first, but it’s not long before his disturbing true nature shows through and Mallory finds herself being forced into driving to some remote location. Feeling that she has no other option, Mallory deliberately runs the vehicle off of the road and down a steep embankment in the hopes of injuring Christian and escaping, but things don’t quite go to plan when she comes around and finds herself trapped by her leg in the upturned car, with Christian very much alive outside. As Christian begins to play a psychological game with her, Mallory finds that she has to call on hidden strength in a bid to survive and escape her predicament.
After the all too familiar start, this flip into survival film territory is certainly a welcome one. The journey of self-discovery that Mallory takes as she struggles to find a way of escape while also trying to sustain herself over several days without readily available food or water is certainly well played out and is undoubtedly where Curve works best — despite being hampered somewhat by thoroughly unneeded appearances of Christian every so often so that he can spout some nonsense in an attempt to hammer home what Mallory needs to do with her life.
Julianne Hough is certainly put through it during these struggles trapped in the vehicle and to her credit her performance is top rate as she instils a genuine feeling of fear and building determination to proceedings. It is such a shame then that such a fine performance is utterly wasted when Mallory inevitably escapes her dilemma and this interesting story of the human will to survive reverts to becoming just another cliché-ridden exercise in by-the-numbers horror. It’s almost an insult after investing in Mallory’s journey trapped in the car to have to sit through so many well-worn ‘victim turns on her attacker’ tropes, and it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth as the credits role and anything good about Curve has all but been totally undone.
Last Girl Standing
What happens to that one person who survives through to the closing credits of a slasher movie? That’s the question that Writer/director Benjamin R. Moody poses with his feature-length debut.
Brilliantly evoking the slasher films that Moody so obviously loves, Last Girl Standing kicks off as a bloodied and hysterical Camryn (Akasha Villalobos) manages to fight back and overpower the maniacal deer masked killer The Hunter to end a reign of murder that has left all of her friends dead. Flash forward several years and the unwanted infamy that her survival has given her means that Camryn now lives a deliberately guarded and solitary life as she still tries to recover from her continuing post-traumatic stress disorder. With no social life to speak of, Camryn keeps herself to herself as she works at a dry-cleaning business during the day and sits alone in her home at night, but things begin to change when new employee Nick (Brian Villalobos) starts at the dry-cleaners and the pair slowly begins to hit it off.
Convinced to meet Brian’s friends, Camryn is unsure of this (mostly) likable group of alternative types at first, but just as she begins to warm to them, The Hunter seems to return to finish what he started, and her fear of losing everyone around her surfaces once again. How can The Hunter be back? Is it him, one of these new friends playing a sick joke, or is it all a creation of Camryn’s stressed imagination?
Partly a slasher film, but primarily a character study, there is plenty to like about Last Girl Standing. Perhaps it’s biggest strength is the way that Moody allows the bulk of this film to concentrate on its characters. Not only is this a smart move from Moody given the low budget involved here, but building the bulk of the film around characterisation and the naturally portrayed interactions between the cast also lends it an integrity beyond the cut-and-paste character inhabited films that generally litter this particular genre — and it certainly has you caring for those involved by the time that the body-count inevitably begins again in fine gore-soaked fashion.
Very serviceable performances from the believable cast certainly helps with this too, and it is hard to find too much to fault from any of those involved. It is a standout turn from Akasha Villalobos as Camryn that really shines here though as she does a fantastic job of transforming from an almost silent, insular woman destroyed by her past through to a blossoming and happy person again, only to then see her life fall apart once more amidst an explosion of violence.
The odd moment here and there may betray the small budget and the relative inexperience of the people involved with this project, but overall Last Girl Standing proves to be an enjoyable and refreshing take on a genre so littered with generic stalk-and-slash fare.
Emelie is definitely a film best served by going in on it unaware of the finer plot details, so while refraining from giving too much away, it is sufficient to say that first time feature director Michael Thelin has created something pretty disturbing within this films simple premise.
When the Thompsons can’t get their regular babysitter to sit for their children while they go and celebrate their anniversary, they turn to her friend Anna (Sarah Bolger) to take her place. Anna is all smiles until the Thompsons leave for their rare night out, when an altogether more sinister side to her psyche sees her slowly but surely finding increasingly twisted ways of subverting house rules and the innocence of the youngsters in her care. Why is Anna being this way, and is she in fact who she says she is?
While it is certainly true that those people with children will find what unfolds in Emelie that more affecting, there is no doubt that the psycho-sexual and transgressive interactions between Anna and her various charges will have many squirming in their seats at times. Indeed, Thelin barely manages to stay on the right side of a fine line between genuine psychological horror territory and pure, barrel-scraping exploitation at points, but stay there he does and the end result, for the first two thirds of the film at least, makes for a tense experience. A standout performance from Sarah Bolger who brilliantly switches up from cute girl-next-door to ice-veined psychopath only goes to add an air of believability to the tension, as do the three young actors who all give a very natural turn as the Thompson children thanks to some skilful handling from Thelin.
Things are undoubtedly derailed somewhat here by the disappointing decision from Thelin to have the final third of Emelie play out in a much more standard horror movie fashion as it enters provinces more akin to a Home Alone film, but overall what leads up to it is certainly strong enough to leave its mark and as a result adds Michael Thelin to the list of new genre names to watch out for.
Tales Of Halloween
Aimed squarely at horror fans with a particular love of the likes of Creepshow, Tales From the Crypt and Trick ‘r’ Treat, a group of eleven directors bring us this new portmanteau movie of ten short stories all set in the same suburban area on a Halloween night. Contained within its own distinctive style that captures that 80s practical FX horror era, filled with twisted laughs, a mass of hidden nods to the horror greats, and featuring cameos from the likes of Barbara Crampton, John Landis, Joe Dante and a fantastic The Fog style narration from Adrienne Barbeau, there really isn’t a great deal not to love here.
Let’s run down the list of segments:
Dave Parker directs Sweet Tooth — a fun and bloody tale of a babysitter and her boyfriend who try their best to scare a kid out of eating all of the sweets from his trick or treat hoard by telling him the tale of the titular monster that will get you if you don’t leave any for him, but end up unleashing something horrible instead.
Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II) directs hilarious standout segment The Night Billy Raised Hell. When Billy knocks on the door of the strange neighbourhood recluse Mr Abaddon, he ends up being taken out by him for a night of mayhem and destruction that neither he nor the townsfolk will forget. Director Adam Gierasch (writer of Toolbox Murders) brings us Trick — the pretty nasty story of a bunch of obnoxious grown up slackers who find themselves under attack by a particularly nasty gang of machete wielding trick-or-treaters.
Paul Solet (Grace) directs The Weak and the Wicked — A twisted urban-set spaghetti western where a masked killer attacks a gang who pick on the wrong kid, while Axelle Carolyn (Soulmate) directs Grim Grinning Ghost — another standout segment that finds Lin Shaye trying to terrify the skittish Alex Essoe (Starry Eyes) with a ghostly tale to chill the blood.
Director Lucky McKee (The Woman) brings on the laughs as he joins forces with Pollyanna McIntosh again for Ding Dong — the Hansel and Gretel referencing story of an eternally upbeat and utterly demented witch who is on the lookout for a cute trick-or-treater that she can have as her very own child.
This Means War sees directors John Skipp (writer: A Nightmare on Elm Street 5) and Andrew Kasch tell the tale of an escalating war between a pair of very different neighbours who do battle over old-fashioned vs. modern Halloween celebrations, while Mike Mendez (Big Ass Spider!) throws the idea of an unstoppable Friday The 13th style killer on its head as a hilariously bad stop-motion clay mini alien schools a hulking masked serial killer in a blood-splattered battle in Friday the 31st.
The Ransom of Rusty Rex from Ryan Schifrin (Abominable) sees the plans of two hapless kidnappers Sam Witwer and Jose Pablo Cantillo go horribly wrong when they snatch a child from a wealthy father (Landis), only to find that not only is the guy not going to pay a ransom, but is in fact glad to be rid of the child — for reasons that become hilariously apparent, while Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers) wraps things up in wonderfully dumb style with Bad Seed in which a killer mutant jack-o’-lantern is pursued by a police officer after it bites the head off of the man who carved it, before going on a rampage across town.
Much as is the case with most omnibus style movies, some segments of Tales of Halloween certainly work better than others; The Night Billy Raised Hell, Ding Dong, Friday the 31st and The Ransom of Rusty Rex in particular shining with their fantastic mix of horror and over-the-top humour, while The Weak and the Wicked doesn’t hit the mark quite so much. The fact is though that none of the segments are actually bad, and indeed every one of them has a twinkle in its eye and a style that will undoubtedly make Tales of Halloween a firm Halloween favourite for many.