Day Two of FrightFest kicked off with Renny Harlin’s found-footage horror The Dyatlov Pass Incident in the main screen. Three film students and two climbers travel to Russia to investigate the disappearance of nine hikers in 1959. Needless to say, they really shouldn’t have. The film takes the real-life conspiracy theory surrounding the incident at Dyatlov, and presents a conclusion that we can safely assume is far from the truth. However, it’s entertaining enough for the most part, with enthusiastic turns from the largely British cast (including Misfits’ Tom Stokoe, Hollyoaks’ Gemma Atkinson and newcomer Holly Goss). The resolution is disappointing, but that’s largely because Harlin manages to build up a good amount of suspense during the film’s first half. It’s also an interesting change of pace to see a found-footage film that looks so glossy.
Meanwhile, viewers in Discovery Screen One were treated to Spanish horror/thriller For Elisa. Ana, student in need of some cash interviews to babysit the daughter of Diamantina, a sinister elderly musician and doll collector. Ignoring all the warning signs, she takes a cup of tea and quickly finds herself playing a disturbing game with Diamantina’s disturbed adult daughter Elisa. Writer/director Juanra Fernández keeps the tension up during the film’s brief running time, and there’s an interesting undercurrent of arrested sexuality, but there’s not really anywhere for the story to go once Elisa has been revealed. It’s a stylish and promising debut, but it’s too slight to really impress.
If found footage or living dolls didn’t appeal, Discovery Screen Two offered up the endearing documentary The American Scream. Michael Stephenson’s documentary follows three different families in the same small town who turn their homes into haunted houses every Halloween. It’s an endearing film that shows the lengths that these people go to while demonstrating the love and support they have in their community. The American Scream is available on Netflix and we’d recommend you give it a look. Somewhat less endearing was Kit Ryan’s Dementamania, about a Patrick Bateman-esque software engineer who is stung by a red wasp and begins having graphic fantasies about killing his co-workers. It’s stylishly shot but all the film’s ideas are cribbed from other genre movies, so much so that the last half hour becomes something of a spot-the-reference. It’s not worth your time.
Hansel and Gretel: The 420 Witch doesn’t sound like the most promising proposition (stoner horror comedy, anyone?) but there are a couple of pleasant surprises to be found. It’s not particularly funny and most of the cast are forgettable, but there is a wonderfully hammy performance from Lara Flynn Boyle as the witch growing large quantities of weed who is forced to fend off gang competition and the intrepid Gretel that makes the film more fun than it should be.
Ben Wheatley was the subject of this year’s Variety Spotlight (following last year’s Greg Nicotero), and spoke to Damon Wise about his superb back catalogue, including Down Terrace, Kill List, Sightseers and A Field in England. Those who chose to venture into Discovery Screen One were rewarded with Robin Entreinger’s surprisingly effective horror comedy Sadik 2. The title refers to a gruesome slasher film within the film, while the plot centers on five friends who grew up together in an orphanage, who travel to a cabin for New Year’s Eve. They bicker, they bond, they relive old times…then things take a gruesome turn. The characters are believable and sympathetic and the twist is strong. While the low budget is clear and there are definite imperfections, there’s a really appealing combination of energy, wit and heart that make this worth a look.
Adam Green’s slasher franchise continues without him at the helm for Hatchet III (although he wrote and cameos), but it picks up exactly where it left off. Danielle Harris’ belaguered heroine manages to bissect Victor Crowley and takes his scalp to the local PD. When they return to the scene, they realise Crowley can’t be killed by conventional bissection. Although it has its moments, this is the weakest of the trilogy that suffers from diminishing returns and flagging energy. There’s rivers of blood and guts but the biggest problem is that we’ve seen it before. Still, there are plenty of nods to the first two films for fans of the saga, and it’s fun to see Gremlins’ Zach Galligan as the foul-mouthed hardass Sheriff.
Following his criminally underrated sci-fi Splice, Vincenzo Natali offered up a teen-centric ghost story with Haunter, starring Abigail Breslin as Lisa, who is forced to live out the same day over and over again with her family, who are unaware that they’re dead. When Lisa hears strange noises, she realises that someone living has moved into her house and must stop the same fate befalling them. Haunter has some lovely ideas and it’s beautifully photographed, but it’s all quite slight. Breslin gives a solid central turn and there’s some good work from Canadian character actor veterans Stephen McHattie (Pontypool) and Peter Outerbridge (Kissed), but this could have used a little more energy. After a very strong first half hour, it settles into a leisurely pace that doesn’t kill the film, but it does hurt it. The butterfly in a jar motif is unfortunately a little too reminiscent of Haunter itself.
V/H/S was one of our favourites at last year’s festival and this sequel is more of a straight-forward crowd-pleaser, at the expense of some of the scares. V/H/S/2 is less insidiously creepy but arguably more consistent, as it aims squarely at crowd-pleasing fun and hits its mark. Adam Wingard’s bionic eye segment is entertaining although it’s arguably the weakest, while Eduardo Sanchez’ zombie bike ride is a lot of fun and surprisingly touching (It also got a tremendous reaction from the crowd). Best of the lot is Gareth Huw Evans and Timo Tjahjanto’s Safe Haven, in which a group of journalists investigating a cult get much, much more than they bargained for. It’s disorienting, relentless, completely mad, and it’s scary. Jason Eisener wraps things up with Slumber Party Alien Invasion, which has the inspired idea to strap the camera to the family dog. It’s all good fun but, Safe Haven aside, it does mostly miss that creepy element of the unknown. Gareth Evans introduced the film and discussed Killers (The Mo Brothers horror film he’s producing) and, of course, The Raid 2. Fans who stuck around for his Q&A were treated to an exclusive clip from the not-even-finished film, which introduces a new character: Hammer Girl. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and it looks brilliant.
Jim, a painfully shy young dubstep musician, feels his psyche start to break in Snap, a mostly-effective psychodrama. It suffers from the occasional misstep but the performances are strong, with Jake Hoffman, Thomas Dekker and Nikki Reed impressing. There’s also a relatively brief but affecting turn from Scott Bakula as Jim’s old therapist. The question that the film raises (whether or not a person can really be treated) is provocative and frankly a little troubling, but there’s something quite powerful about Snap’s grim outlook, even as it’s fairly predictable.
100 Bloody Acres finished the day on a high. We’re fans of the Australian horror comedy (read our review here) and its combination of laughs, heart, and fertiliser make it one of the best films at the festival this year.
Check back tomorrow for reviews from FrightFest Day Three, including R.I.P.D., No One Lives, Cheap Thrills and many more.