Celluloid Screams 2019: Day Three – Reviews by Darren Gaskell

*** WARNING: THERE’S AN F-WORD NEAR THE END, SORRY FOR THE PROFANITY BUT IT SUMMED UP THE DEPTH OF FEELING I HAD ***

Where could you have found a couple of American tourists, a social media prankster, a convict out for revenge, a son looking to connect with his estranged father and a struggling artist-turned-vampire? If your answer is the bar at the Showroom then I’ll allow it as maybe that’s true (all human life appears to be there), although to be accurate they were all part of the Day Three line-up of Celluloid Screams which began with…

OUTBACK

One dumbarse (other dumbarse not pictured)

Sweethearts Wade (Taylor Wiese) and Lisa (Lauren Lofberg) have travelled from the US to Australia on the trip of a lifetime but the whole thing hasn’t exactly started well as Lisa has rejected Wade’s proposal on the flight over. Trying to make the best of an increasingly strained situation, they head inland towards Uluru but slavishly following the sat nav ends with them stranded in the middle of nowhere. Will they survive long enough to be rescued or find civilisation?

And my early guess to the above question was “NO!” because Wade and Lisa’s decision-making process is far from the sharpest as they lurch from one calamitous idea to another in their struggle to stay alive. My alternative title to this one would have been “Two Dumbarses” and, as the film progressed, I was wondering just when one or both would blunder straight off a cliff. Minor spoiler alert: they don’t.

As the days tick over and conditions of Wade and Lisa deteriorate, there’s some reasonably effective suspense as their plight becomes ever more hopeless but to be honest this didn’t totally hit the mark for me. It’s decently made, well-acted and the locations are striking but I didn’t feel the movie was anywhere near the unrelenting ordeal it could have been. Watchable, certainly, but far from exceptional.

MAKING MONSTERS

Someone’s day is about to get a lot worse

A couple known for their appearances on a YouTube scare prank channel are invited by a friend to spend a weekend away with him and his partner at an old converted church. Awaiting the return of the friend (whose flight is delayed), the partner cooks for they while away an enjoyable evening chatting and drinking. Sounds great, right? Well, it is, right up until the point that the weird things begin to happen…

The feature film debut of directors Justin Harding and Rob Brunner, Making Monsters is a generally confident effort, unafraid to spend time in allowing the audience to get to know the main characters before dropping them into a steadily escalating nightmare. The leads are agreeable enough for us to care about their worsening situation and this makes for a couple of positively tense moments, especially as events take an especially nasty turn during the third act.

If anything, this does slightly suffer from the malaise of some first features in that there are possibly too many ideas in play, leaving some of the subplots feeling underdeveloped. One of the characters has a link to the supernatural, which is an interesting idea that unfortunately isn’t given the attention I hoped it would. Still, it’s hardly much of a gripe to say that the film is overstuffed with suggestions.

A crowd pleaser than knows when to show its hand and when to leave things to the imagination, Making Monsters is a fine first shot at full-length terror from two directors who show a great deal of promise. Looking forward to whatever you do next, sirs.

THE NIGHTINGALE

This is actually one of the least depressing moments in the movie

After a hideous act of violence is committed against her family, a young Irish convict woman (Aisling Franciosi) sets off in pursuit of the British officer responsible. With the help of indigenous tracker Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) they travel through the Tasmanian wilderness and Clare has revenge on her mind.

The second film in the programme to come with a content warning, The Nightingale made the previous day’s The Golden Glove seem like a stroll in the park and the events of the opening half-hour led to a few people leaving the screening. I don’t blame them one little bit. There was one sequence that made a couple of hundred hardened horror fans gasp which gives an idea of just how powerful this movie is.

This is Jennifer Kent’s second feature film after 2014’s The Babadook and, although there are a small number of commonalities between the two, The Nightingale is by and large a vastly different piece of work. It’s a brutal, revisionist, Antipodean Western which portrays the unchecked, brutal sweep of British colonialism and its effect on anyone unfortunately enough to be caught up in its grip.

Its run time of 136 minutes may be just a tad too long, especially for something as unrelentingly downbeat as this but it recovers from the odd unnecessary detour – figuratively and literally – to deliver a compelling and unflinching tale. Franciosi is superb as Clare, Sam Claflin is utterly, convincingly cold and horrible as the evil officer Hawkins but for me it’s Ganambarr who walks off with the film here, portraying Aboriginal guide Billy with a deft mix of spikiness, humour, warmth and steadily building outrage.

Praise also should go to the Celluloid Screams team for programming this. It was a bold choice for a horror festival as it doesn’t obviously fit the popular idea of what horror should be. However, the folk in charge are dab hands at this, they know their audience, they know that they can go with choices which show horror in all its forms, even historical adventure dramas such as this one.

Highly recommend, but with extreme caution, The Nightingale is masterful, occasionally jaw-dropping cinema which I won’t forget in a hurry. Check the content before you go view this, it’s a challenging watch.

COME TO DADDY

Elijah spies on the Celluloid Screams audience from the car park

Sensitive, arty hipster Norval Greenwood (Elijah Wood) travels to the beachfront home of his long-estranged father, holding out hopes of a chance to genuinely reconnect with the man who abandoned Norval and his mother decades ago. It doesn’t start well as Brian (Steven McHattie) is the very definition of “hard work”. Norval persists despite the frosty atmosphere, unaware that a bizarre series of events will reveal the real reason he was invited there…

Watching as much genre output as I do, there are a lot of films that are perfectly entertaining, good even, which are still very much by the numbers in terms of plot and characterisation. Come To Daddy is neither of these, serving up a tale which twists and turns in the most unexpected of ways and presenting us with people who are not quite what they initially appear to be.

The performances are terrific, most notably Elijah Wood. Yes, it drives me batshit when he’s just referred to as “that guy from Lord Of The Rings”. Okay, he was in that, granted, but he’s great in a whole load of other movies – including this one – and he’s a huge fan of horror. His portrayal of Norval is both amusing and emotive, inviting us to snigger at the painfully trendy names he drops in conversation but also gaining our sympathy as he desperately tries to make things right with his dad.

Steven McHattie is pretty much guaranteed to be terrific in everything he’s in – I go right back to the 80s thriller Death Valley where he played a memorable psycho who menaced Catherine Hicks and Peter Billingsley – and this is no exception, playing a guy who redefines the word irascible. He and Wood shine in the scenes where they’re bickering and sniping, and I hope they were as fun to shoot as they are entertaining to watch.

It’s rare these days for me to see a film where I have no idea where the film’s going next 20 minutes in and even rarer to have absolutely no idea where it’s going next 40 minutes in. Come To Daddy is that film. Go in with as little knowledge of the plot as possible – the summary above should tell you all you need to know – and chances are you’ll have as much of a blast as I did. This is a sheer delight.

BLISS

But is it art?

Dezzy (Dora Madison) is struggling to complete her latest work of art, her agent is on the verge of dropping her and her best client looks to be heading the same way. Doesn’t help that she spends rather a lot of time in local clubs, hoovering up all the spare drugs she can. It’s during one of these substance-fuelled nights that she ends up in a wild threesome that sparks her creative urge back into vivid life. Trouble is, she’s now a vampire and needs blood to keep her artistic juices flowing…

What Bliss brought to mind – well, to my odd little mind at least – was an amped-up, colour-drenched Driller Killer for this generation with the scuzz of 1970s New York replaced by the sleaze of modern-day Los Angeles. However, whereas Jimmy Laine’s Reno found it difficult to express his rage at the world in his art, Dezzy is an absolute force of nature once she finds a way to harness her newly found powers.

There’s also a compelling ensemble of supporting characters whom Dezzy encounters as she navigates the seedy side of the city, including Jeremy Gardner (who’ll also be featured in the Day Four article when I discuss After Midnight), “er” alumnus Abraham Benrubi and George Wendt who’s a million miles away from Cheers here. He’s excellent, by the way.

I was really looking forward to seeing this movie and it did not disappoint one little bit. It’s a full-on, audio-visual assault on the senses for almost all its 80 minutes, a gory mindfuck with a pulsating soundtrack and an incredible central performance from Madison who deserves to be a massive star on the strength of this. I pretty much staggered out of the screening; such is the intensity of this movie.

Bliss is a film which takes creative chances throughout and it’s clear that Joe Begos is not concerned with pleasing everyone. Hell, he may not be concerned with pleasing anyone. But it’s exactly this ballsy approach which makes Bliss such an incredible experience. Its blitz on the sensibilities may not be to the taste of mainstream audiences but I fucking loved it will all my heart and I can’t wait to see it again. Easily one of my favourites of the year.

And with that, Day Three had flown by. Just one day of Celluloid Screams 2019 to go, but Celluloid Screams doesn’t go out with a whimper, it goes out with a bang. And some karaoke. And a celebratory beverage for the survivors. Ah, I’m getting ahead of myself, that’s all in the Day Four article, coming soon.

About celluloiddeej

Film fan, horror festival goer, karaoke enthusiast, cat whisperer, world traveller, complete idiot. Invite me on your podcast if you can stand the Yorkshire accent.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *