Day two of Film Four FrightFest 2015 sees the London film festival kicking into full gear, and as usual there is a bumper card of new horror and genre flicks to choose from across the main screens and three discovery screens. Read below to see what we made of The Diabolical, Hellions, AAAAAAAAH!, Jeruzalem and We Are Still Here.
This disappointing supernatural chiller from director Alistair Legrand certainly begins in a typically uninspired fashion. Ali Larter plays Madison, a single mum who along with trying to hold her young family together, is also struggling to fend off a series of supernatural attacks on their home. Paranormal investigation teams visit the home only to quickly leave and Madison is at a loss as the what to do, while the films ineffective attempts at scares come way of uninspired crash and bang cuts.
So far, so clichéd.
Things do become a touch more interesting however when Madison’s scientist boyfriend Nikolai starts to help investigate what is going on and Madison discovers that the hauntings appear to have a much more scientific reason behind them and are actually coming from an entirely unexpected source that is much closer to home than she could have ever expected. Unfortunately though, even this proves to be a frustrating case of too little too late.
It’s a shame because this science fiction twist on a ghost story is a neat idea, and played out earlier on and handled with a bit more verve it could have made The Diabolical an interesting spin on the genre. As it is though it is bogged down by the sheer tedium of a script that really drags out its ace card and simply leaves you willing it all to finish.
This visually beautiful but ultimately confused trick-or-treaters home invasion tale from Pontypool director Bruce McDonald certainly starts off as a fairly standard Halloween based chiller.
High school girl Dora (Chloe Rose) is understandably shocked when she discovers on a routine doctors appointment that she is pregnant. She is asked if she knows who the father is, but she either doesn’t know, or simply isn’t saying.
Having made plans for a night at a Halloween party with her boyfriend, she waits alone at home while her mum and young brother go out, but when he fails to arrive or return her messages she becomes increasingly worried. A knock at the door announces a sackcloth wearing trick-or-treater. A short while later and the trick-or-treater is back and is joined by more creepily quiet little ghosts and ghouls, but when Dora tells them that she has no more candy to give, she soon finds herself under siege from these creepy little monsters.
It is at this point that Hellions takes a turn into altogether more surreal territories. Dora finds herself trapped in a strange nightmare netherworld bubble that seems to envelope the house while these ‘hellion’ creatures attempt to take from her the baby that seems to be developing inside her at an alarming rate. As she fights for survival, odd colour shifts cleverly lend this netherworld a beautifully strange psychedelic feel, while dreamlike sequences of her being carried across a field of pumpkins only adds to the general oddness that unfolds on screen.
There is undoubtedly some message about the preciousness of an unborn life at play here, but it never really gets satisfactorily explained by the time the film reaches its muddled conclusion, and while fans of all things Halloween or the surreal will certainly find plenty of things to enjoy with what’s on offer here, others who prefer their narratives a bit straighter cut may find Hellions somewhat of a slog to sit through.
Imagine an alternate contemporary London where humanity has retained some of its more primordial, animalistic tendencies. It is a world where life is dominated by the struggle between alphas and those under them and where many of the niceties that sets humanity apart from the animals have not quite evolved. We communicate in simian grunts, we crap on the floor, urinate on things to mark them as ours, hump pretty much anything, and yet still dress in normal clothes and love that moment of peeling the anti-scratch plastic from a new electronic gadget. This is the world that writer director Steve Oram (Sightseers) has boldly chosen to present in his outlandish feature length directorial debut AAAAAAAAH!
Filmed in handheld 4:3 ratio with an almost fly-on-the-wall documentary feel AAAAAAAAH! focuses on a family unit headed by alphas Ryan (Julian Rhind-Tutt) and Barbara (Toyah Wilcox). Ryan happily unpacks a new flat-screen TV and Barbara makes dinner in the kitchen by following a salt and sugar loaded recipe from a topless, overtly sexual television chef, all while previously supplanted alpha male Jupiter (Julian Barratt) meekly lives under a bush in the garden and is sneakily fed Battenberg cake by the daughter Denise (Lucy Honigman).
When outsider alpha Smith (Oram) and his friend Keith (Tom Meeten) arrive at the house later that evening during a drug and drink fuelled party, a deadly shift in power is kicked into gear when Smith decides that he wants to take Denise as a mate and to become the new head of the household.
This dark surrealist comedy drama is certainly going to divide audiences. Subversive, rough around the edges, with a strong vein of sick humour running throughout it, and with a dialogue consisting entirely of ape-like snorts, AAAAAAAAH! certainly isn’t an easy going watch and it will undoubtedly prove too much for the majority of mainstream movie-goers. There is a lot to like here for those that do get it though, and the film will unquestionably prove to be a hit with the more niche market ― and rightly so. Brilliantly twisted, darkly satirical and with a punk attitude this marks Oram as a refreshing and bold new directing talent.
This debut from Paz brothers Doron and Yoav comes as yet another in a long, long line of found footage style films. As everyone knows, there are very few good films to be found in this tired sub-genre, and unfortunately Jeruzalem isn’t about to be added to that list any time soon.
The film follows two American travelers Sarah (Danielle Jadelyn) and Rachel (Yael Grobglas) who get convinced by a fellow traveller Kevin (Yon Tumarkin) to visit Jerusalem instead. Sarah appears to still be grieving at the loss of her brother, and everything we see is from her viewpoint via the Google Glass unit that she wears. She looks at someone and the augmented reality of the glass uses face recognition to look of their Facebook profile, she receives Skype calls from her father, and uses a street navigator to find her way around.
Once in centre of Jerusalem, the trio are shown the sights by guide (Dibi Ben-Yosef) and it is here that they come to realise that something bad is happening in the city. The military aircraft appear to be trying to control some kind of issue on the ground, and word is spreading that people are appearing to become possessed and attacking each other. As panic spreads, they attempt to flee via one of the city gates, but they find to their horror that the military have cordoned off the city and are not allowing anyone to leave.
This augmented reality view of what is happening via Google Glass is a fairly neat spin on the usual found footage style, and it certainly works well as an interesting exposition device for a while, but it has to be said that the novelty of it wears incredibly thin very quickly. This is in no way helped by that fact that the meat of this film doesn’t really start to kick in until half way through its running time. By the time that the apparently biblical event does eventually start unfolding, the constant graphic overlays and system error messages splashing across the screen as the camera swings widely around really does become a chore.
To be fair, it isn’t that Jeruzalem is particularly bad as such, and there are some fairly good moments to be had here and there. The novelty of seeing a horror film set on the narrow streets of such an unexpected place is a good one, while its exploration, albeit somewhat slight, of how people of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian quarters manage to uneasily live among each other in the boiling pot of a city also adds something a little fresh into the mix. Yet you just can’t help but find yourself frustrated by what could have been so much better had it been presented as a regular film. It’s a massive shame, because this first horror film to have been made in Jerusalem has some cool ideas behind it.
We Are Still Here
Director Ted Geohegan has described We Are Still Here as a cross between something from Lucio Fulci (House By The Cemetery in particular) and M R James, and you can certainly see both of these influences written unapologetically large across this great debut.
When Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul (Andrew Sensening) move from the city to a new small town home in the hopes of a fresh start following the loss of their son in a fatal car accident, Anne becomes convinced that a supernatural presence she is feeling in their new home is in fact him. Paul is entirely incredulous to her claims however. It’s not long before some neighbours arrive at the house and gleefully recount its murky history – it seems that it was originally a funeral home owned and run by the Dagma family, who sold the bodies of the dead while burying their empty coffins. Anne and Paul are not sure how to take this news, and become even more perturbed when they are slipped a note as the neighbours leave. The note simply reads ‘Get out’.
It’s a great set up for this slow-burning haunted house story. Scares come way of the tension that is deliberately ratcheted up as the charred ghosts begin to haunt the house from a dark corner of the basement. The considered approach here certainly comes as a refreshing change when compared to the all too common crash scares that seems to have infected a large part of modern horror, and it makes We Are Still Here all that more effective for it. It’s an 80s horror ethic from Geohegan that also runs through the production, from the soundtrack across to the great cinematography from Karim Hussain (Hobo With A Shotgun).
There is humour to be had here too. While Barbara Crampton is suitably downbeat as the grieving Anne, Andrew Sensening’s Paul is altogether more humorously cynical – especially toward the hippy clairvoyant friends May (Lisa Marie) and Jacob (the fantastic Larry Fessenden) who come to stay at the house. There are some great moments among the interactions between Sensening and forever bewildered looking Fessenden, and these moments make for a great release of tension before Geohegan expertly ramps up the pace with some great moments scares and effective gore to see things to a conclusion.
We Are Still Here draws on horror films of the past that Geohegan obviously loves, and he has appropriated the essence of these films to create a debut that works with both its chills and humour. It will be interesting to see what he does next.