One of the best films at this year’s FrightFest could be found in Discovery Screen One on Sunday morning. Painless is a beautifully shot and deeply affecting tale of a Spanish hospital in the 1940s for children who can’t feel pain, and a man in the present day desperately hunting for a bone marrow donor. Although it’s fairly clear where the story is going, the sequences in the hospital are deeply moving and there’s a political awareness here that makes it all the more devastating. With beautiful cinematography and superb performances, it might not match the heights of Guillermo del Toro (there are a few too many broad strokes, especially in the final third), it’s not far off. Painless is a haunting, excellent piece of cinema.
In the main screen, Sunday kicked off with Missionary, a Fatal Attraction-esque thriller from Anthony DiBlasi. Single mum Katherine (Dawn Olivieri) is paid a visit by a couple of Mormon missionaries, one of whom takes a shine to her. Before long, the man of God has all sorts of unholy ideas. DiBlasi has made his name with inventive Clive Barker adaptations like The Book of Blood and the underrated Dread, so it’s a shame that, gender role reversal aside, Missionary‘s plot is so formulaic. That being said, it’s well-shot and very well-edited, creating an effective unreliable narrative, and the performances are strong. It’s a decent thriller, if a little familiar.
At this point, anyone who watches an Outpost film should be aware of what they’re getting and prequel Outpost: Rise of Spetsnaz offers very little by way of surprises. A small group of Red Army soldiers ambush a Nazi convoy, only to find that the trucks are carrying something a little harder to kill than the average soldier. The Russian survivors are taken to a bunker where experiments are underway to create the perfect killing machine. This has all the ingredients of the Outpost franchise: po-face, grim colour-palette, grimmer outlook, and it’s safe to say that if you enjoyed the others, you’ll enjoy this. The quality is almost exactly on a par with its predecessors: unspectactular, but not disastrous.
Back in the Main Screen, and British chiller In Fear is one of our favourite horror films of the year so far. The performances from Alice Englert and Iain De Caestecker are excellent and Jeremy Lovering ratchets up the tension to an almost unbearable level. You can read our review in full here.
Following Andy Nyman’s Quiz From Hell, which put the horror fanatics through their paces, the Main Screen was host to Suri Krishnamma’s moody thriller Dark Tourist (formerly The Grief Tourist). The excellent Michael Cudlitz (Southland) plays Jim, a security guard who uses his vacation time to visit the locations where serial killers committed their crimes. But the more Jim digs, the more his psyche starts to fracture. Dark Tourist is compelling with a fantastic central performance from Cudlitz. It’s an extremely bleak piece of filmmaking that’s tough to watch at times, but it’s highly effective despite a disappointing third act that starts to rely on genre tropes a little to readily. It’s also worth pointing out Melanie Griffith’s excellent supporting turn as a big-hearted, easily-wounded waitress who wanders into Jim’s life. A gruelling but rewarding film.
A big part of FrightFest is the fact that it celebrates the horror community as well as the industry, which is where the short film showcase comes in. This year, the short films have been whittled down to a final six to win £6,666 to develop their short into a full-length feature. Weronika Tofilska’s winning short was followed by Canadian shockumentary The Conspiracy, in which two documentary filmmakers go digging into conspiracy theories and stumble across a powerful cabal that could very well destroy them. We mentioned yesterday that this is a good year for found-footage/first-person films, and The Conspiracy builds from the predictable 9/11 theories towards a strong climax. The performances from Aaron Poole and James Gilbert are good, and they’re likeable enough to keep the film moving during its slower moments. It’s not the best film of its type playing here this year, but to its credit, it’s facing stiff competition.
Less effective is Antisocial, a routine modern communications horror in which a group of friends celebrating New Year’s Eve are suddenly faced with an online virus (spread via the film’s Facebook surrogate) that drives people insane. There are one or two well-played shocks, and a couple of scenes that will make squeamish audience members squirm, but the biggest problem with Antisocial is that we’ve seen these ideas before in better films (particularly The Signal). It’s certainly not a categorical failure but there just isn’t enough here to set it apart from similar movies.
In the Main Screen, and The Last Days also dealt with an apocalyptic virus that brings the world to a standstill. Software engineer Marc (Quim Gutiérrez) and efficiency expert Enrique (José Coronado) work together to reach their loved ones when a condition known as “The Panic” leaves everyone unable to go outside. With the world in ruins, can Marc and Enrique make it through alive? Writer/directors David and Àlex Pastor (makers of the underrated Carriers) give the viewers a lot of bang for their buck but, crucially, they’ve written a very good script. The two leads put in excellent work as they bond and fight through Barcelona’s underground and, although it’s about ten minutes too long, The Last Days is a moving, often thrilling piece of end of the world cinema that has a little too much treacle.
In the Discovery Screen, Swedish Evil Dead homage Wither may not have had the most exciting premise (we’ve all seen our fair share of Evil Dead homages after all), but this low-budget shocker is surprisingly rewarding. In the time honoured tradition, a group of friends head to a cabin in the woods where they’re turned into ravening undead creatures. What sets Wither apart from its fellows is that directors Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund decide to play the film with a straight face, ramping up the tension and gore rather than the laughs. There are no self-aware nods to horror films, it’s simply a straightforward cabin in the woods horror. The practical effects are good and there’s more than enough inventive gore and jump scares to make this worth a look for genre fans.
Check back tomorrow for our review of the final day of FrightFest, including Dark Touch, Odd Thomas, We Are What We Are and Big Bad Wolves.