FRIGHTFEST GLASGOW 2019: SATURDAY
Reviews by Darren Gaskell
Powered by an enormous breakfast, several mugs of coffee and an early meet up with a few fellow festival goers, I hit the Glasgow Film Theatre early (well, earlyish) for the second day of wall-to-wall horror flicks courtesy of FrightFest. Six movies screened over the course of the day and I was there for every flipping one of them.
At a secluded lakeside spot, Al (MacLeod Andrews) is searching for the creature which murdered his husband. Meanwhile, the deeply religious Tom (Evan Dumouchel) arrives at one of the holiday cabins and soon attracts the attention of a mysterious girl (Margaret Ying Drake) who seems to spend most of her time swimming in the very same lake where a worrying number of people have drowned.
People who know me will be aware of just how much I love director Perry Blackshear’s previous movie They Look Like People (and if you haven’t seen it, you really should). I must admit, I approached The Rusalka with more than a little trepidation, hoping it would be great but bracing myself for the potential disappointment.
What the hell did I worry for? I’ll just come right out and say it, this is my favourite movie of the year so far. It looks beautiful, it’s fiercely romantic and the underlying tension is built deftly. In the hands of less skilled film-makers, elements such as a mute main character and the exploration of a gay marriage could have been clumsily handled but here these details develop organically and enhance the story rather than overwhelm it.
The Rusalka is a film which demands – and rewards – patience. The story unfolds in an unsensational way but it’s this approach which makes it so much easier for the viewer to identify and become involved with the otherwise otherworldly events taking place. The three principal characters are detailed, flawed and real, all of them fascinating in their own different ways. An ominous sense of impending doom hangs over the proceedings but for whom? It’s not clear until the very end and the messy, emotional conclusion is perfect.
This is wonderful, heartfelt film making. Go see it.
Antiques expert Brendan Cole (not the guy who used to be on Strictly) is brought in to authenticate a life-size, 300-year old doll with a supposedly cursed past. Staying with his daughter Rose in the remote Scottish mansion where the doll currently resides, his investigations draw him deeper into the history of the automaton and, as strange things begin to happen, can he and Rose escape the curse?
Alexandra Nicole Hulme is excellent as the automaton and the make-up job on her character is terrific, striking just the right balance between beguiling and creepy. I really wish I could be as positive about the rest of the movie, which possesses all of the necessary Gothic horror ingredients but never really mixes them into something satisfying.
Ambitious in its scope, with a story spanning different timelines and an opening historical battle sequence, Automata sets its sights admirably high but hits those targets sporadically. Some of the performances are impressive – step forward Victoria Lucie as Cole’s daughter Lucie – and some aren’t quite as sure-footed, which throws some of the scenes off-balance.
As a fan of Gothic horror, I’m happy to see it played for maximum theatrics but even here the malevolent presence from the past is OTT to such a degree that I was uncomfortable to hear it raise some slightly derisive laughter rather than the odd knowing chuckle. The final act at least goes for it with plenty of gusto but throws in ill-judged incestuous father-daughter scenes which ultimately proved too distasteful for me personally.
I’d really been looking forward to this one, too.
The Danish national football team has reached the final of a major tournament and everyone in the country is at home watching the game. Well, almost everyone. Agnes (Anne Bergfeld) is working her last shift at a petrol station alongside the somewhat disinterested Belinda (Karin Michelsen) whose focus is more on when her boyfriend will show up. Little do they know they’ve been chosen to participate in a ghastly game and there’s no one around to help.
Proving that the Danes can turn out torture porn just as efficiently as the States, Søren Juul Petersen’s movie begins intriguingly and sets up an interesting guessing game as to whether the intentions of the handful of customers are good or bad but then the story jumps forward to where one or more of the characters has clearly been captured, which robs any subsequent flashbacks of a good deal of suspense as you know where the movie’s headed.
An hour in, we’re done with the flashbacks and the third act is a mix of “31”-style game show stagecraft and the all-too-familiar plot of an online audience witnessing the mayhem taking place. Apparently Finale had walkouts in its previous screenings but hardened horror fans are unlikely to be running for the exit because of the gore.
Yes, there’s one moment that I found a little on the offensive side but it was at a point where I was getting fed up of the brutal violence being dished out to the female characters. The guys in this movie, they die relatively quickly – maybe not painlessly, but relatively quickly. The women? That’s another story and Finale does seem to take a little too much pleasure in seeing them humiliated. Even when they turn the tables the sense of justice is fleeting.
Finale is the proverbial game of two halves, starting out brightly, showing some neat touches and looking in control but then failing to take its chances in the second half, sending the fans home disappointed.
THE WITCH: PART 1 – THE SUBVERSION
A Government experiment ends is a massacre but one of those thought to be dead – a young girl – has escaped and has been taken in by a couple on a farm who raise her as their own. Years later, with no memory of her previous plight and with the farm in financial trouble, the girl takes part in a talent content with the hope of winning a large amount of prize money, not knowing that she is now again on the radar of those who believed she was dead…
Hoon-jung Park’s movie sets expectations for kinetic horror action and eventually delivers the goods but you’ll have to be patient for the first hour of it, which sets up the warring factions and the innocent bystanders at a leisurely pace – getting a little too bogged down in the X-Factor alike talent show subplot if you ask me – before the second hour explodes in a series of increasingly batshit assassinations, shootouts and fights.
As the title suggests, the end of The Subversion is in many ways just the beginning of a potentially larger story and universe but there are more than enough loose ends tied up in this episode for it to stand alone. If this is an ongoing series then there are a lot of characters who won’t be coming back for Part 2, put it that way.
You may be shuffling in your seat waiting for the action to kick in but it’s worth the wait and hopefully Part 2 will get down to the business of arse-kicking in swifter order now the origin stuff is out of the way.
A seven-and-a-half-year-old girl (Lexy Kolker) is forbidden from leaving her house, her protective father (Emile Hirsch) warning her of the dire consequences that would follow if she did so. But what’s out there? Why does she need to stay indoors? And why does she need to practice “being normal”?
To tell you any more about Freaks would be totally wrong of me because you have to experience all of the imaginative twists and turns of this movie with no knowledge of what might (or might not) be coming next. What I can tell you is that it’s funny, scary, packed with thrills and is chock full of terrific performances, including a brilliantly layered turn from Bruce Dern. Much of the kudos must go to the astonishing Lexy Kolker who convinces from the word go and commands the screen as much as her more experienced screen partners.
Freaks is a film which takes its central idea – still not going to tell you what that central idea is – and addresses big themes which are perhaps more relevant now than ever, leaving you with a jaw-droppingly ambiguous closing line that will give you something to think about long after the credits have rolled.
Sorry that I can’t say much more about this, but you’ll thank me for not giving anything away. Please seek it out, it’s a brilliant, brilliant movie.
The team behind the pilot of reality TV show “Extremely Haunted Hoarders” heads to Rockford, Ohio – dubbed “the hoarder capital of America” – to meet Murph Evans, a legendary hoarder with several properties. All of these properties are full to bursting with antiques/junk (delete as applicable) and all of them may be subject to supernatural occurrences. Of course, as the investigation proceeds, things go seriously awry and the team begins to unravel…
Reality shows are easy targets for laughs but The Hoard hits the ground running and introduces us to an array of amusing, well-drawn characters which are all too familiar to those of us who’ve seen our fair share of home renovation and ghost hunting shows. For the first third of the film the laughs come pretty thick and fast as the team’s foibles and lack of humility are writ large but then the story starts to tread water and the proceedings sag quite badly in the middle before the last third rallies to end on a pleasingly high note.
The Hoard won’t go down as a classic of the comedy/horror genre but it’s a good-natured, undemanding, fun film and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It was also a really nice way to close out the festival.