It’s finally here! Horror Channel FrightFest 2016, in its brand new home at Vue Shepherd’s Bush. The location may have changed but it’s immediately obvious that the things we love are still very much in place: the films, the fans, the atmosphere…
We took our seats for the European premiere of Sean Brosnan’s My Father Die, but first we were treated to an intro by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson, who announced that their brilliant play Ghost Stories is to be imminently turned into a film directed by the pair and starring Martin Freeman. Even though they have yet to shoot a frame of footage, they still gave us a brilliantly creepy little teaser. We can’t wait for this one…
So, to My Father Die. writer-director Sean Brosnan’s feature debut is a pretty potent blend of lyrical Southern Gothic and revenge-driven B-movie. As a boy, Asher was deafened by a punch from his father before watching his old man beat his beloved big brother to death. When Ivan is released from prison years later, the adult Asher (Joe Anderson) takes it upon himself to deliver the justice he deserves.
It’s a slightly schizophrenic film that Brosnan works hard to shape into a coherent whole. He’s not entirely successful but the results are still interesting and for the most part really quite enjoyable. There’s a bit of Philip Ridley and a lot of Terence Malick in Asher’s breathy, mythic voiceover (in a nice touch, we never hear Asher’s adult voice, only the child’s), and then there’s your down and dirty backwoods swamp revenge movie as our hero meets violence with violence.
There’s a deliberate swaggering machismo to the film that comes through in the homophobic slurs and the treatment of women, and Brosnan does tend to double down on this when there’s no real reason too, particularly in the final act. However, Anderson (Hannibal, The Crazies) continues to be an exciting and very watchable performer as the silent Asher and has some nice scenes with childhood friend Nana (Candace Smith) and her young son, Brosnan makes sure that there’s atmosphere to spare with his cinematographer Marc Shap and composers Ohad Benchetrit and Justin Small, and it’s consistently watchable. It’s wobbly and definitely not perfect, but it’s an ambitious, stylish and assured debut, and we’ll be interested to see what he does next.
The long-awaited film of Stephen King’s Cell was next up, and it’s a shame to say that anyone who had been holding out hope for a great adaptation will be disappointed. John Cusack stars as Clay Riddell, a graphic novelist whose journey home is cut short at Boston airport by a zombie attack triggered by a cell phone signal. With new companions Tom McCourt (Samuel L Jackson), Alice Maxell (Isabell Furhman) and Jordan (Owen Teague), Clay tries to get to his wife and son, hoping against hope that they have survived too.
Director Tod Williams (The Door In The Floor, Paranormal Activity 2) works hard to give Cell a distinct personality to help it stand out in a sea of zombie movies, and there are moments that work very well. There’s a weird and welcome sense of humour that underlines the insanity (a scene at a school run by Stacy Keach is particularly odd) and we love the in-your-face soundtrack choices, but the clunky script means that we never really connect with the characters. Cusack and Jackson previously shone in the underrated King adaptation 1408, but this muddled and murky tale can’t get itself together.
The final film of the evening was Let Her Out, the latest effort from Antisocial’s Cody Callahan. Helen (Alanna LeVierge) is a Toronto bike courier who begins to experience black outs after an accident. As her behaviour becomes more eccentric and more dangerous, Helen discovers that there may be a link to her mother’s sordid past and tragic end, and her own traumatic birth…
Drawing heavily on Stephen King’s The Dark Half with a female revenge movie twist, Let Her Out feels like a step forward for Callahan in terms of visual and narrative ambition, and the central performance from LeVierge is good, convincing both as the sympathetic, struggling Helen and her violent, rampaging alter ego. The filmmaker wears his influences on his sleeve (Cronenberg, DePalma…) and there’s some very nicely constructed set-pieces as Helen struggles to maintain control of her ever-strengthening Hyde-esque persona, not to mention a few well-executed gory shocks as the repressed id breaks free, but the story itself feels someone lacking.
After the grimly effective prologue, there’s never really any doubt about where the film is going, so for all the effective blackouts and well-acted personality shifts, it all feels a little predictable. It’s a solid, stylish chiller but it also feels a little too familiar.
That’s it for FrightFest Day 1! Join us tomorrow for reviews of Pet, White Coffin, The Chamber, From A House On Willow Street and more!.
Horror Channel FrightFest is currently running at Vue Shepherd’s Bush 25-29 August. Longer reviews of these films will run online at SciFiNow.