It’s day four of the biggest weekend of horror and genre film festival in the UK calendar and it’s time for yet another mixed bunch of new movies from around the world. Films this time around include Australian genre-bender Inner Demon, Anglo-French serial killer tale Road Games, disturbing Spanish speaking kidnap horror Scherzo Diabolico and budget masterclass They Look Like People.
Despite teenager Sam (Sarah Jeavons) promising her little sister that she will always keep her safe, the pair finds themselves abducted from their home by a husband and wife serial killer team. Managing to escape the vehicle she finds herself in, Sam evades the couple until she eventually happens across an isolated rural house. Once inside she tries to find some way of contacting help, but when her abductors suddenly arrive at the house that she now realises is theirs, she hides herself away in a wardrobe. Injured and trapped inside this wardrobe, can she find a way out, and can she rescue her sister?
You have to give director Ursula Dabrowsky some credit for trying to bring something a little bit different to the well-worn path of the abduction horror genre with Inner Demon. The sad truth of it is though that the end result of this Australian serial killer survival story/supernatural tale mash-up just really doesn’t succeed in working particularly well with any of the parts that it attempts to thread together.
Quite simply, the biggest problem with Inner Demon is that it is just boring. Things certainly start off well enough as Sam and her sister find themselves under siege, and the interest is held further as Sam escapes and then tries to evade her captors as she is stalked through a wooded area. All of that momentum is killed dead at the moment that Sam finds the house and hides herself away however. Trapped inside a large wardrobe, she watches the husband and wife killers go about their business via a comically large hole in the door. She watches as they come and go, she watches as the wife has a wash, she watches as the husband drinks some beer in the kitchen, she watches as a friend arrives and they have dinner and some more beer… and she watches, and watches, and watches.
There are some genuinely tense moments to be had as the husband comes to realise that Sam is in the wardrobe and he begins to creepily taunt her, but even this can do little to prevent the film from dragging on, and by the time things start drawing towards a conclusion and an attempt is made to flip things on its head by injecting a somewhat confused, poorly tacked on supernatural spin to proceedings, it is hard to care at all. With neither of its two angles working well as separate entities, and with them looking decidedly forced together, Inner Demon makes for a disappointing whole.
News has it that there is a serial killer running amok across a region of rural France and so when British and French hitchhikers Jack (Andrew Simpson) and Veronique (Josephine de La Baume) meet while travelling through the area, they decide to do so together for safety. Could Jack be the killer that has been terrorising the area? Is it Veronique, or indeed could it have been the creepy man that she was last given a ride by? It’s just the first in many questions that director Abner Pastoll poses to try and keep you guessing at what is going on at the heart of this fairly enjoyable thriller.
When the pair accept a lift from local man Grizard (played with glee by Frederic Pierrot), he soon convinces them to stay with both himself and his wife Mary (Barbara Crampton) at their country home. Grizard seems to be a likeable type, and things seem reasonably normal at the home at first, but when the demure Mary starts to secretly give Jack cryptic messages of danger and Grizard’s darker more aggressive streak begins to show itself as he makes further and further excuses for Jack and Veronique to stay with them, it seems all may not be as normal here as it first appeared.
Of course, the increasingly strange behaviour from both Grizard and Mary only goes to add to the mystery that Pastoll tries so hard to keep playing out. The truth is though that all but the most unseasoned film-goer will see just who the unknown serial killer is coming a mile off, and perhaps because of this, things tend to start dragging a little before the truth is finally revealed. There are plenty of things to like with Road Games as you wait for the final reveal however. Cinematography is first-rate and it’s wonderful, almost dream-like quality beautifully shows off the French countryside (which in reality is the English countryside oddly enough), while a fantastic minimalist electronic score lends the film a great 80s genre vibe. Acting too is strong across the cast for the most part, with Frederic Pierrot standing out in particular as Grizard, the way in which he goes from portraying an amiable host who then has moments of barely contained menace as he switches between speaking in both English and French makes for both laughs and moments of tension.
Despite losing its way somewhat by the time it goes past its midway point, and while it doesn’t quite manage to hold onto its secrets quite as well as it might have hoped, Road Games proves to be pretty successful in achieving what it sets out to do. With a bit more gusto in its pace though, it could have been great.
If you’re looking for a film that, despite being horrifying, holds some sort of moral message or indeed glimmer of endearment to it, then you may be better off giving nasty exploitation flick Scherzo Diabolico a miss. With its downbeat bleakness and grimy violence, it is bound to split even the staunchest of card-carrying horror fans — but then again perhaps that is what Late Phases director Adrián García Bogliano intended with his latest Spanish speaking film.
Aram (Francisco Barreiro) is unhappy in his life. Brow-beaten by his dissatisfied wife, and overworked and underpaid by a boss that takes advantage of him, this apparently timid man has a secret life that sees him seeking solace in a prostitute as he begins to plot something altogether nefarious. It is soon revealed that Aram is meticulously planning to kidnap a teenage girl who he follows as she leaves school. As he learns her movements, he studies how to disable people using choke holds, which he practices on his elderly, mentally confused father, while he also learns how to judge a person’s weight by carrying his young son around.
It’s a slow, but unquestionably tense setup for what is to come. It is when Aram puts his plan into action and he abducts the girl who it turns out is the daughter of his boss that Scherzo Diabolico first twists and ramps up into truly dark territories though, and as the increasingly illogical plot grimly enters its final act and fires off into yet another whole new level of depravity, things go that far off the rails that it becomes almost comical at points. Violent and very bloody, many may find what happens here beyond their tastes, while those with a like for the more sadistic side of cinema will certainly glean some dark kicks from what unfolds; it’s certainly done well, but boy is it grim.
Despite the slow pace and frankly awful dialogue that litters this film, Scherzo Diabolico certainly delivers on the unerring nihilism front, and it undoubtedly marks out Bogliano once again as a bold genre director.
They Look Like People
This great, imaginative feature debut from director Perry Blackshear proves to be a perfect example of what can be done in independent cinema despite a lack of budget.
Obsessed with success and with exuding confidence, Christian (Evan Dumouchel) is an upwardly mobile marketer. He works hard at projecting a certain image, and hopes that a possible promotion is going to help him convince new girl Mara (Margaret Ying Drake) out on a date. Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews) has recently given up his job as a gardener in a nunnery and appears to be down on his luck. When the two previously close friends happen to meet up in New York after a gap of some ten years, Christian convinces Wyatt to stay with him and they start to try and rekindle their lost friendship.
What Christian does not know however is that Wyatt has become convinced that the world is ending; people are contracting some kind of virus that makes them become ‘one of them’, and an otherworldly voice is telling him to prepare for the quickly approaching cataclysm. When Christian does discover what is worrying Wyatt so much though, he decides to risk everything he has been trying to build to help his friend. Is Wyatt mentally disturbed or is he indeed somehow in possession of a deadly secret.
Where so many films, even genre ones, are so often overly reliant on visual bells and whistles to make up for a lack of good story, what writer/director Blackshear has brilliantly done with this drama based horror film is to remember the fact that in cinema, character is key. The way that Blackshear has crafted his screenplay means that you genuinely begin to care for both Wyatt and Christian as they get to know each other again. Their well observed interactions come across as very real, funny and heart-warming, and indeed are vital in guiding you to the point where you are fully invested in what starts to happen as Wyatt’s mind appears to unravel and Christian’s life falls apart as he becomes prepared to go to ends that are potentially lethal to himself to help his friend.
They Look Like People may be a bit rough around the edges here and there, but it is a very small point given what has been achieved here on such a low budget. Brilliantly wrapping what just could be a genuine, albeit fantastical, end-of-days event around a very real world look at friendship, mental illness and the insecurities that people carry with them, They Look Like People is tense, refreshingly different and will keep you engaged throughout.