Sheffield’s annual celebration of horror features and shorts returned for its 11th edition having announced a typically eclectic, strong-looking line-up a few weeks previously. The festival continues to grow year on year but still manages to retain the feel of a horror family get-together and for me it’s just as much of a chance to catch up with a bunch of lovely folk as it is to check out a carefully curated exhibition of the best in modern fright flicks.
With an extra day added this year to allow for a slightly more relaxed schedule, Day One eased the crowd into the fest gently with two films on its opening evening, both centred on places away from the big city, both featuring spooky houses with a tragic past.
After being fired from her job at a painfully hipster organisation, millennial Olive (Amanda Crew) decides to take her commune-dwelling mum’s advice and get away from the big city, renting a place from widower Harvey (Robert Patrick). Now, we already know that Harvey is not a big fan of younger folk with their sense of entitlement because he’s told us – directly to camera. However, his sense of displeasure is about to escalate into something murderous…
If anyone’s read my previous reviews of the films of Richard Bates Jr. (I think there’s probably a couple of you out there, thank you so much) then you’ll know I’m a fan and, for me, Tone-Deaf continues his unblemished run of hits. While it doesn’t quite hit the heights of Trash Fire – and, let’s be fair, that’s a lofty peak – there’s still a huge amount to enjoy here.
Full of the acerbic dialogue we’ve come to expect, the screenplay skewers the attitudes and the expectations of millennials which may not be the most difficult of targets, but the barbs are still skilfully and amusingly crafted. It also has a pleasing little sting in the tail which suggest we mock this tranche of society at our potential peril.
Tone-Deaf also boasts a superb performance from Robert Patrick, whose fourth-wall breaking antics risk derailing the whole enterprise but, in this case, his vitriolic asides to the audience enhance the proceedings rather than detract from them. Amanda Crew gets less of the juicy dialogue but she’s still doing fine work here, Kim Delaney is an absolute joy in a smaller but ultimately significant role as the mum and Ray Wise continues his run of delightfully hilarious turns in Richard Bates Jr. flicks.
GIRL ON THE THIRD FLOOR
Recently unemployed Don Koch (Phil Brooks aka C. M. Punk) takes on a renovation project involving a rundown mansion out in small-town America, hoping to start anew with his heavily pregnant wife Liz (Trieste Kelly Dunn). However, the place has a grim history and the spirits within the house have a different view of Don’s plans.
This was one of the movies I was looking forward to the most when the Celluloid Screams festival was announced and perhaps it was the weight of expectation that left me feeling just a little disappointed. Even so, compared to a lot of horror output out there this year it still marks itself as something to check out.
Even if the haunted house plot doesn’t stray too far from the template, Girl On The Third Floor is a film that’s clearly made with love and dedication, doesn’t skimp on the icky effects and deftly builds the atmosphere over its first half before drip feeding its reveals.
In the lead, Brooks has the unenviable task of selling an unlikeable main character to us and he does a fine job of keeping the audience engaged even though Don is seriously lacking in ethics – you’ll find just how lacking as the story rolls on. There’s also excellent supporting work from Trieste Kelly Dunn (as a massive fan of inexplicably cancelled series Banshee I always look forward to seeing her in pretty much anything), whose character really comes into play during the third act.
Must also give a special mention to Sarah Brooks as a local temptress who makes a play for the affection of Don and – spoiler alert – knows much more than she’s letting on. It’s a piece of spot-on casting and it’s wonderful that the fact that she’s stunningly beautiful ends up being by far the least important thing about her. Girl On The Third Floor genuinely sparks whenever she’s on screen so bravo, Ms. Brooks.
And with that, Day One was over. What would Day Two bring? You’ll find out in the next instalment.