Day Three at FrightFest and early risers for the main screen were rewarded with Lasse Hallstrom’s nordic noir adaptation The Hypnotist. Based on Lars Kepler’s bestseller, this Swedish thriller has the titular character drawn into a murder investigation that becomes personal when his son is kidnapped. We’ve been spoiled in the UK by the endless flow of quality drama from Scandinavia both on film and TV, and there’s not really anything in The Hypnotist to set it apart from the crowd. A strong opening and finale aside, the two-hour running time moves along at a snail’s pace as any audience worth their salt will have figured out whodunnit and why fairly early on. The performances are solid but the characters aren’t drawn with much in the way of detail, with Lena Olin especially suffering from her role as the distraught wife and mother. It’s competent, but uninspired.
There has been a strong showing from the found footage genre this year, especially on Day Three. In the Discovery Screen, David McCracken, Joel Townsend, Kaidan Tremain’s found-footage Daylight takes a while to find its feet, but the story of three social workers looking into the potential abuse of a young girl packs some impressively out-there surprises in its final third. The acting isn’t terrific and there’s not enough substance to pack out the ninety minute running time, but despite its (serious) flaws, Daylight is an attention-grabbing debut for the three filmmakers.
Meanwhile, Bobcat Goldthwait’s Willow Creek uses the found footage technique fairly conventionally but uses the traditional methods to make his first foray into genre a compelling experience. Jim and his girlfriend head to the titular area of the Pacific Northwest to see if they can find Bigfoot, encountering a combination of local experts and people telling them to get in their car and go home. Goldthwait’s not reinventing the wheel, but he’s got a tremendous ear for naturalistic dialogue and Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson are excellent as the two leads. A long take towards Willow Creek‘s climax that lasts nearly twenty minutes is absolutely fantastic. Scary, well-acted and gripping, Willow Creek is a tremendous example of how effective the found footage technique can be when used well.
Frankenstein’s Army‘s found footage comes from the Russian Army heading into Germany at the tail-end of World War 2, and has its sights set on monsters more gruesome than Bigfoot. A small squad (and their cameraman) stumble across an underground lab full of abominations that are half-man, half-machine. Richard Raaphorst’s film takes too long to get going but there’s a really impressive love and attention to detail that has gone into his creatures, a sly sense of political awareness and the futility of conflict, and there’s a scene-stealing performance from genre veteran Karel Roden as the titular creator. Certainly not a perfect creation, but it boasts some interesting and entertaining parts.
Hammer of the Gods isn’t a horror, sci-fi or fantasy film, but seems to be present purely for its bloodsoaked-ness. The story of a small band of Viking warriors who go looking for their long-lost leader, it’s efficient and brutal, if not particularly memorable. Still, it is well-shot by director Farren Blackburn, a veteran of Doctor Who and The Fades. In the Discovery Screen, Paranormal Diaries: Clophill is an extremely dull found-footage ghost story that attempts to conjure subdued chills, but can’t find a way to set itself apart from similar films like the far superior The Casebook of Eddie Brewer, and is best left alone.
Back in Screen One, and Ryuhei Kitamura’s No One Lives was a bloodsoaked crowdpleaser. Luke Evans plays a nameless killer who is carjacked by a backwoods family of crooks who realise they’ve taken on more than they’ve bargained for. There’s some criminally bad dialogue and performances ranging from fine to awful, but there are some good gory surprises. The biggest problem with No One Lives is that it delivers its best moments far too early on. Once you’ve seen how Evans infiltrates the hoodlums’ hideout, nothing can match it. Still, it’s endearing in its commitment to its own B-movie nature and there’s plenty of gruesome fun to be had.
Those who chose the Discovery Screens were rewarded with Josh Johnson’s excellent VHS documentary Rewind This! which talks to obsessive collectors, historians, and filmmakers who used the technology to break into the market. There’s a tremendous range of experts on display (it’s brilliant to watch a doc featuring directors as varied as Atom Egoyan and Lloyd Kaufman) who discuss the evolution of the technology, the fears of the studios, and the explosion of independent cinema that sprung up around it. It also discusses the sad fact that, with each technology upgrade, more and more films are being left behind on redundant formats. Nostalgic and informative, it’s essential viewing for anyone interested in the subject.
Christoph Behl’s Argentinian zombie drama The Desert is one of the most low-key and rewarding films at the festival this year. Axel, Jonathan and Ana have taken refuge in a house, but the relationship between the three of them has started to break down. When Axel and Jonathan bring a zombie into the house, the fractures deepen and simmering resentments are brought to the boil. The characters are very well-written and the performances from the three leads are fantastic. It’s a quiet, highly effective look at how divisions can form between people and how a lack of communication can lead to disaster. This honest and highly affecting drama is one of the best films to show at this year’s FrightFest and it deserves to find a wider audience.
The same can’t be said of the Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds supernatural action comedy R.I.P.D. You can read our full review here but, in short, it’s a disappointing mess that is only redeemed by a wonderful performance from the peerless Bridges.
Kate Shenton’s documentary On Tender Hooks, about skin-suspension and the people who practice it, is a stomach turning pleasant surprise. It’s strong stuff (watching the hooks go in doesn’t get any easier to look at as the film goes on) but it’s a big-hearted film that presents a small subculture as a genial group who have found an experience that they find to be deeply rewarding. There’s no input from anyone outside the community, but On Tender Hooks is a passion piece that conveys its passion unequivocally. However, contrary to the repeated assertions of the people in the film, we have no desire to give it a go having seen it.
The final film of the night was E.L. Katz’ vicious dark comedy Cheap Thrills. Family man Craig is broke and out of work, but when he bumps into an old friend at a bar the two fall in with a rich couple willing to pay them serious money for increasingly bizarre dares. As the night progresses, the challenges get more serious, and more dangerous. A sly, funny script is helped by solid performances from Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, David Koechner and Sara Paxton. The progression of the challenges into violence is inevitable, but that inevitability is part of the point. Katz is interested in showing how far his characters are willing to go, and, as we mentioned, the script and performances make it believable. It will feel familiar to anyone familiar with Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, but it’s well worth a look.
Check in tomorrow for a round-up of FrightFest Day Four, including reviews of Dark Tourist, The Last Days, Wither and Outpost: Rise of Spetsnaz