FRIGHTFEST GLASGOW 2019: FRIDAY
Reviews by Darren Gaskell
It’s a month to the day since I attended my first full day of Frightfest Glasgow after a couple of years of trying to fit it into my schedule and failing miserably. I’ve given myself plenty of time to think about what was screened – partly because I haven’t had the time to complete my reviews until now but partly because in the whirlwind of a film festival and that buzz of being around the lovely horror film community it’s easy for my like (or occasional dislike) of a film to be amplified. Distance and a clear head make for more considered reviewing in my case.
Anyway, after not much in the way of sleep due to a frankly stupid decision to drink an espresso martini after watching Lords Of Chaos the previous evening, the familiar adrenaline rush of being at a film festival allowed me to power through and make it all the way through whole Friday line-up. Which was as follows…
Within the confines of the Vestalis Academy young girls are taught – or I should I say programmed to accept – feminine virtues such as obedience and sweetness in preparation for their adoption by well-to-do families.
Vivien is one such girl, eager to be a model member of the Academy after punishment for a previous incident which was not her fault. When Vivien reaches Level 16, she encounters Sophia – the girl who was involved in the previous incident – and who also has a lot of questions about the institution and its purpose. At first Vivien has no interest in the subject but as time passes, she wonders if Sophia’s concerns are well-founded…
Writer/director Danishka Esterhazy’s Level 16 overcomes a slightly overlong running time and the odd strain or two in terms of logic by delivering a solid mystery, bolstered by uniformly excellent performances from its mostly young and mostly female cast, particularly from Katie Douglas in the lead role. The ultimate reveal is not quite the bolt from the blue I was hoping for but it’s still chilling and effective. Pace-wise, it could possibly do with being a tad brisker but it’s still well worth a view.
THE DEAD CENTER
A John Doe arrives at a morgue only to wake up, haul himself off the slab and show up in a hospital’s psychiatric wing where unsuspecting Doctor Forrester (Shane Carruth) takes in upon himself to treat the catatonic patient. At the same time, a local Medical Examiner is on the trail of the missing body…
A tense mix of medical thriller and ominous horror, The Dead Center benefits hugely from the excellent central performances of Carruth as the caring, emotionally damaged doc and Lewis Childs as the John Doe in question, by turns sympathetic and terrifying.
Building the tension carefully with a steady drip feed of information, the two storylines stitch together neatly in a surprisingly grim final act which sets up the promise of a conventional, epic, good-versus-evil showdown but then subverts it, ending on a lower-key, much more sombre note. A cerebral shocker with an impressively relentless sense of dread, writer/director Billy Senese’s movie was one of my favourites of the festival.
HERE COMES HELL
A bizarre cocktail of 1930s old dark house thriller and 1980s video nasty, Here Comes Hell is the story of five people who come together at a dilapidated, rambling country pile to catch up, eat, drink, be merry and, of course, hold a séance in an attempt to communicate with a previous owner of the place who was a supposed master of the dark arts. Pretty soon the blood and the body parts fly and the question is who will survive.
Made for peanuts but looking anything other than cheap, Jack McHenry’s debut feature hits the right notes in the first half as it introduces us to familiar archetypes and has fun with the dialogue and roles of a bygone era before going all Evil Dead on us and slathering the final half hour with a generous serving of gore. Clocking in at just under an hour and a quarter, you’re unlikely to get bored with this one.
The enthusiasm with which Here Comes Hell was made comes across on screen and the commitment to the project by both cast and crew really shows. The effects are practical and clever, the performances fit the tone very nicely and the location is just right for evoking that vintage chiller atmosphere. It’s gruesome, it’s fun, it’s British! Well played, chaps!
Oh, and Jack McHenry’s about ten years old. Well, maybe not quite that young, but he has a ridiculous amount of talent considering his age. Makes you sick…
BLACK CIRCLE (SVART CIRKEL)
Swedish student Celeste doesn’t have much in the way of focus until her sister Isa gives her an old vinyl recording of a hypnosis session which is to be played as the listener is going to sleep. The effect is dramatic as Celeste completes a long-stalled academic paper in no time at all and is full of positive energy. What she doesn’t realise is that she has also unleashed a ghostly doppelganger which is intent on replacing its original version…
A genuine oddity, Black Circle approaches its horrors from a pleasingly tangential direction, throwing away any idea of conventional jump scare/girls in peril tropes in favour of a surreal, dream-like collection of sonic and visual strangeness where genre icon Christina Lindberg holds the key to it all. Lindberg is, of course, predictably great.
Even the climax of Black Circle isn’t conventional as what we thought was the main plot is suddenly resolved just over two-thirds of the way in and what looked to be the B-plot becomes the focus for a large proportion of the final act.
Either way, both denouements are strange in that there’s a certain amount of repetition and the film is more concerned with atmosphere and outright weirdness than pushing the obvious terror buttons. It will no doubt grate with some viewers because it’s genuinely out there, but I found it to be a unique, stylish and bold piece of work.
Is it scary? Not in the way you’d normally measure these things. Does it matter? I don’t think it does.
Washed-up rock band and one-hit power ballad wonder Sonic Grave (featuring Sean Astin and Jake Busey as two of its members) head out to the No-chella festival – as manager Tom Arnold couldn’t get them a slot at Coachella – in an attempt to rekindle interest in their music. Stopping to partake of some peyote at a spiritual location on the way, Astin completely ignores the warning not to harm any of the local creatures and drowns an ant. What do you think happens next?
A talented cast and some chucklesome gags throughout the piece don’t quite make up for a CGI monster mash of the type which has been made many times before. The expected clichés about bands are present and correct but there’s still comedy mileage in them and Leisha Hailey is particularly good as the drummer (who isn’t the dumb one here so fair play, that’s the one place where this film goes against the grain of perceived rock wisdom) but the CGI is nowhere near good enough for most of the ant attacks to be either funny or exciting.
It’s a passable time-flier and your enjoyment of it may well be directly proportional to the amount of alcohol you’ve consumed beforehand but it’s unlikely to stay long in the memory. Having said that, I did find myself humming the band’s latest opus “Side Boob” on the way out of the Glasgow Film Theatre. Just shows you how classy I am.