WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE?
When Matvey (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) is asked by his girlfriend Olya (Evgeniya Kregzhde) to go and murder her father, he happily obliges. Taking along a hammer, he arrives at the designated apartment ready to dispense swift and violent justice, but it doesn’t go quite to plan, and a simple hit job turns out to uncover something much more complicated…
Writer/director Kirill Sokolov’s film moves like a rocket, beginning with a destructive, blackly comic, gruesome scrap and taking it from there, interweaving the stories of the characters involved in a style which I heard described post-screening as “Tarantinoesque”. I get the comparison, but this is funnier, bloodier and a damn sight more enjoyable than QT’s recent output (it’s also about half the length of his recent movies as well).
This is another of those movies which you’ll enjoy more the less you know about it, leaving me with the usual dilemma about what to write as a review beyond “this is really good, you should see it”. It’s gut-bustingly funny, it’s violent, it’s twisted, it’s crackers and if you thought that Russian movies were unrelentingly downbeat affairs, think again.
This is really good, you should see it.
DANIEL ISN’T REAL
College freshman Luke (Miles Robbins) reconnects with Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger) – his imaginary friend from childhood – as a coping mechanism following a traumatic family incident. The problem is that Daniel had to be locked away when Luke was a kid. Now that he’s back out of the box – or in this case, doll’s house – this figment of Luke’s imagination is eager to make up for lost time, putting Luke and everyone around him in danger.
There always seems to be just one movie at every Celluloid Screams (out of an entire program, that’s an astonishing hit rate) which leaves me somewhat on the cold side and unfortunately this one was it. I was intrigued by the set-up and Patrick Schwarzenegger is excellent as the ego-driven title character but as a glimpse into mental deterioration I found it rather clumsy.
Still, it doesn’t fall into the trap of degenerating into a slasher shopping list where those who’ve wronged Miles are bumped off and ticked off and it’s great to see Mary Stuart Masterson still doing great work all these years after I first saw her on the drums in Some Kind Of Wonderful. This isn’t a whole bundle of wrong but at the same time it’s not a depiction of psychological trauma with which I was especially comfortable.
That’s my take but I spoke to others afterwards who really enjoyed it so give it a go and judge for yourself.
Hank (Jeremy Gardiner) owns a bar in a small town and is in a loving relationship with girl of his dreams Abby (Brea Grant). However, after ten years of unwedded bliss Abby leaves suddenly, giving no idea as to when or if she’s ever coming back. Also, Hank’s attempts to come to terms with this aren’t being helped by the fact that Abby’s departure has coincided with the arrival of what appears to be a monster which shows up at Hank’s door every night, trying to get in…
Okay, so how do I review After Midnight without giving anything else away other than the above? I say this because you really need to go into this movie cold and I’d hate to spoil where the film goes after the initial set-up.
What I will say is that I went into After Midnight expecting one thing and getting something totally different, not to mention a whole lot more satisfying. It’s a tale full of heart, offbeat humour and winning performances. Gardiner and Grant are excellent as the central couple – watch for the long scene shot in one take, it’s wonderful – but the supporting cast are just as vital to the success of the story, notably Henry Zebrowski as Hank’s best friend Wade and Justin Benson as the town’s Sheriff.
It’s beautifully judged, romantic, suspenseful, comedic and dramatic. It also features the very best, not to mention the most hilarious, jump scare there’s been in a movie for years and the payoff is perfect. Yep, I kind of liked this one.
SYNCHRONIC (CELLULOID SCREAMS SECRET FILM #2)
After one amazing Secret Film unveiling, surely the Celluloid Screams couldn’t top that with Secret Film #2, could they? You bet they could. If you heard someone near the back shout “YES!” when it was revealed to be Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s Synchronic that was probably me. I’d been wanting to see this since it had started shooting.
Paramedics Steve and Dennis (Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan) work the streets of New Orleans, doing their best to save those citizens who’ve managed to get themselves into some gory scrapes. When a series of callouts is linked to a legal high called Synchronic, the designer drug is about to take them to a series of places they never expected.
If anyone’s read any of my previous reviews concerning Benson and Moorhead’s movies (Are you that person? Thanks, if you’re out there) you’ll know that I’m a big fan of their work and when it came to Synchronic their track record proved to be the usual double-edged sword for me in advance of viewing this. It was surely going to be good, right? Then again, could it live up to the quality of Resolution, Spring and The Endless? Was I going to end up disappointed?
Yes. Yes. No.
At the time of writing this I’ve now seen Synchronic twice and my second viewing confirmed just how much I love this movie. It’s slightly edged The Rusalka as my favourite of 2019 although I would again urge you to watch The Rusalka as it’s a beautiful piece of work. Back to Synchronic, which has all of the usual genre-hopping you’d expect from Benson and Moorhead, with an emotional, life-affirming story of friendship as its anchor.
The performances are top-notch across the entire cast. Ally Ioannides, as Dennis’ daughter Brianna, is the sort of college-age character you hardly ever get in film. There’s rebellion there but it’s portrayed in a real, unshowy way and the relationship with her parents is free of all that fraught melodrama so beloved of a thousand other movies.
Of course, I must mention the two leads, who totally convince as the world-weary, bickering colleagues and pals. Dornan is excellent as a man whose life is thrown into turmoil and now questions everything about the situation he’s in but it’s Mackie’s movie (you’ll appreciate why when you see it). You’re with Steve every step of the way and his journey is a thrilling, affecting one. I’ll just say that I suffered from a case of sweaty eyes during this, especially in the second half. Thanks to fellow horror buff and my go-to science resource Dr. Lauren McIntyre for the “medical terminology”.
Synchronic is an accomplished, remarkable piece of work that hits you dab smack in the feels. I can’t wait to see it for a third time.
After coming home to catch his wife in mid-cheat, struggling musician – not to mention aimless man-child – Dave (Alexander England) finds himself living at his sister and being asked to look after her kid Felix (the brilliantly named Diesel La Torraca) in order to help out. Dave’s none too keen on this idea at first but when he meets Felix’s teacher Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyongo’o) and sees the change to spend more time around her he soon changes his mind. However, the school outing he’s managed to tag along with is about to turn into a zombie nightmare…
I always like a horror festival to end with something lighter and fun and Little Monsters fit the bill very nicely indeed, although the humour on display is definitely not kid-friendly, particularly from the hilarious Josh Gad as iconic children’s entertainer Teddy McGiggle. McGiggle the man is a million miles away from his chipper TV persona, always on the lookout for the next drink and quite willing to sacrifice anyone – even his young fans – in order to survive the undead onslaught.
As Dave, England engages with his transformation from feckless, idle muso to reluctant yet reliable hero but it’s Nyongo’o who steals the film as the unfailingly sparky and resourceful teacher, there for her kids whatever the situation. It’s easy to see why Dave – and, I guess, most of the audience who see this – falls for her.
The film might be a little on the light side in terms of zombie action, but the premise is agreeably wacky and it doesn’t especially matter than gags are favoured over gore although there’s a smattering of the splattery stuff to ensure that Little Monsters earns its horror cred. It may not stick long in the memory, but you’ll have a bloody good time while you’re watching it.
THE FESTIVAL’S OVER….OR IS IT?
As far as the films went, that was your lot. However, the fact that there’s no further movies to screen doesn’t mean that Celluloid Screams is quite done. There’s the announcement of the Audience Award For Best Film – which went to Extra Ordinary this year – plus the Celluloid Screams Jury Award For Best Short which was carried off by Caleb J. Phillips’ unrelentingly creepy Other Side Of The Box.
Other shorts to which I should give a mention were Lorenz Wunderle’s wonderfully strange, animated riot that is Coyote, Sam Bailey’s gleefully bonkers Asparagus Tips and Jonas Gramming’s meticulously crafted and thoroughly satisfying Skickelsen. All of these are well worth tracking down.
Which just left the closing party, always a staid affair where we treat ourselves to a half-glass of sherry and reflect on what a jolly good time was had by all.
Okay, it’s not quite like that…
Thanks to photographer Gregor Hannah for capturing “Seepers” director/co-writer Melanie Gourlay and me in full karaoke belt. If you’re wondering what we were singing it was “Suddenly Seymour” from The Little Shop Of Horrors. Apologies to anyone at Celluloid Screams who was a fan of that tune before we got our hands on it.
The party always runs until the early hours and I’m not sure whether I should admit that I finally fell into bed at 7:45am the next morning. Hey, sleep’s overrated, especially when you get to spend time around such a lovely bunch of people. It’s an absolute pleasure to be a part of the Celluloid Screams crowd, the atmosphere is always friendly and welcoming and I always look forward to catching up with my horror family. You’re awesome and I love the lot of you.
Finally, a huge thank you to the amazing folks behind the event. To Rob, Polly, Lucy and Clare – you knocked it out of the park once again this year. The huge amount of planning that goes into the festival is massively appreciated and I always know the line-up is going to be incredible. Special thanks this year for getting Synchronic, you should have seen my face when I realised it was going to be screened.
Thanks ever so much to all of the volunteers for the hard work they put in over the festival (no thanks to that one idiot who gave them needless shit) and thanks to the Showroom Cinema for providing horror fans with a home for four days in October. If you haven’t attended Celluloid Screams before, I’d urge you to give it a try next year, I think you’ll love it just as much as I do.
See you in 2020!