Starting Day 4 of FrightFest with a movie from Takashi Miike might seem like a good way to completely confuse your brain, but Over Your Dead Body is a surprisingly sedate affair from the man who brought us Ichi The Killer and Audition. A theatre company is mounting a production of classic ghost story Yotsuya Kaidan, and star of the show Miyuke (Ko Shibasaki) is shacking up with her leading man Lousuke (Ebizo Ichikawa). Life starts to imitate art as Lousuke turns his attentions Miyuke’s co-star, and the otherworldy events of the play seep into Miyuke’s life. Over Your Dead Body is beautifully shot and serves as a welcome reminder that Miike’s eye for composition is just as strong as his lust for carnage. The cast acquit themselves very well, playing out scenarios from All About Eve to Miike’s own back catalogue. It’s arguably a little too slow in places, but the shocks hit home, but if you’re a Miike fan this is definitely one that’s worth catching, and a welcome hit from the prolific director.
The apparent home invasion theme of the festival continued with Victor Zarcoff’s grubby Slumlord, in which a pair of newlyweds move into a new place despite the overt creepiness of their grunting, slovenly landlord Gerald (an ego-free and undeniably effective performance by Neville Archambault). Naturally, Gerald has cameras all over the house, and he’s able to witness the secrets of scumbag husband Ryan (PJ McCabe) and the showering habits of heavily pregnant wife Hannah (Sarah Baldwin). Although similar in theme to Adam Mason’s Hangman, Slumlord goes for the grimier chills by making Gerald such a grotesque, and we’re given no real reason to care about the characters beyond the fact that Hannah is being cheated on. We’re not invested as we wait for the inevitable to happen, creating an unpleasant experience that achieves the skin-crawls, but not much beyond that.
Although it shares its title with the Ozploitation classic, Road Games isn’t a remake. Instead, it’s the story of hitchhiking Irish lad Jack (Andrew Simpson), who hooks up with the beautiful Veronique (Kiss Of The Damned’s Joséphine de la Baume) when she’s thrown out of a car near Calais. They’re picked up by Grizard (The Returned’s Frédéric Pierrot), who decides to put them up for the night at the house he shares with his highly strung American wife Mary (Barbara Crampton, making her third festival appearance). It’s clear that something’s not right here…but what?
Writer-director Abner Pastoll delivers an accomplished, tense and unpredictable thriller that makes the most of a strong cast. From the very beginning the exact nature of what’s happening is kept unclear, as each of the characters displays unusual and often threatening behaviour. With an excellent cast (Pierrot is particularly good, switching moods and gears seamlessly), the tension builds from awkward dinners and loaded conversations to the inevitably dark revelation, and Pastoll delivers a strong, if slightly overwrought, conclusion. It creaks a little as it nears the end, but Road Games is a well-acted, well-shot thriller that we highly recommend.
Anthony DiBlasi continues to be a highly unpredictable filmmaker, as the director of Dread, Missionary and Last Shift switches gears again for high school reunion slasher Most Likely To Die. A group of friends gather the night before their big reunion, but they’ve barely got into the airing of old grievances and hooking up when the first body arrives. They realise that they’re being murdered according to their yearbook “most likely to…” but who is doing this? After starting almost as a horror comedy, Most Likely To Die instead settles in as a fairly straightforward slasher (though not without some giggles), but it’s never scary enough to work as a straight horror. Heather Morris (Glee) gives good final girl with a steely display, but the rest of the cast are fairly anonymous (with the exception of an energetic turn from celeb blogger Perez Hilton). This is disappointingly missable.
Next up in the main screen was Australian writer-director Ursula Dumbrowsky’s Inner Demon, which took a decidedly minimal approach. Sarah Jeavons plays Sam, a teenage girl who is abducted with her young sister by a pair of scumbags. She manages to get out of the car, but the remote farmhouse she stumbles across turns out, of course, to belong to the people she just escaped from. Trapped in a cupboard and bleeding out, how can Sam escape? There’s definitely a strong idea at the centre of Inner Demon, although it doesn’t quite totally embrace its high concept notion. Unfortunately the film does drag, and the final act comes as a bit of a jarring tonal shift after the determinedly grounded hour that precedes it. The incredibly bleak tone works in its favour but, despite a neat concept, Inner Demon struggles to keep the audience engaged.
Adrian Garcia Bogliano’s Scherzo Diabolico was an interesting blend of Coen brothers revenge thriller, white collar grubbiness and splatter. Francisco Barreiro plays Aram, a seemingly put-up jobsbody at a law firm, but we soon realise that Aram has much more to him than meets the eye. He’s got a plan. The film starts off as an intriguing, stylised thriller with plenty of quirky touches that draw the viewer in (Aram practising strangling on his father), before launching into a seedy thriller in which the lead character becomes an almost Bret Easton Ellis character, sleeping with every woman in sight and kidnapping a teenage girl. There are twists that we don’t want to give away here, but Bogliano’s gear shifts are frequent and shocking. It’s grubby and seems to relish in its protagonist’s treatment of women, but is just as giddily excited when tables are inevitably turned. It’s playful, sometimes shocking, and often very funny. Possibly not for everyone, but it’s certainly compelling and worth another look.
In the Discovery screen, Perry Blackshear’s debut They Look Like People definitely shows that he is a talent to watch. A powerful blend of mumblecore drama and creeping horror, the film tells the story of Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews) and Christian (Evan Dumouchel), two old friends who reconnect after a long time apart. Christian has rebuilt himself as a take-no-prisoners go-getter, while Wyatt seems to be reeling a little from a bad break-up. Wyatt’s keeping a secret, however. He hears voices that tell him that a war is coming, and that it may already be too late to do anything about it.
Blackshear quickly draws us in with the film’s central friendship; with excellent performances from the two leads (Margaret Ying Drake also deserves high praise for her strong performance as Christian’s boss and tentative love interest Mara). It’s naturalistic, it’s funny and it’s affecting, which makes what’s happening to Wyatt all the more distressing. The growing sense of dread is very powerful and the sequences in which he receives information, standing alone in the basement listening to a voice on the telephone, are truly frightening. We’re watching a man on the brink of something terrible, and Blackshear knows when to go for the more overt scares, and when to let the atmosphere of impending doom seep in. It’s scary, it’s tense, and we’re genuinely invested in the outcome. This is excellent.
Finally, we headed to the Prince Charles Cinema to catch the restoration of Philip Ridley’s 1990 masterpiece The Reflecting Skin. After all the prints of the film had seemingly vanished or been destroyed, it was an absolute pleasure to finally see it as it was intended to be seen, and the writer-director himself was on hand to introduce it and answer questions. The Reflecting Skin is a beautiful Gothic nightmare of the American south, with bright yellow fields and jet-black Cadillacs. Seven year old Seth Dove must contend with his feuding parents reeking of gasoline, his disappearing friends and the fact that his English neighbour Dolphin Blue (Lindsay Duncan) might be a vampire. When his brother Cam (Viggo Mortensen) returns from the war in the Pacific, Seth must take drastic measures to ensure he doesn’t fall into Dolphin’s clutches.
The film is a gorgeous dream; funny, terrifying, and touching. Seen through the eyes of its potentially psychotic young protagonists, the adults are mad, disinterested, or monstrous, and the grieving widow Dolphin becomes a horrifying threat. While the young Mortensen’s sensitive turn is an obvious talking point, Lindsay Duncan is absolutely stunning as the wryly amused, deeply sad Dolphin, who has no problem telling Seth just how terrible life is before giving him a toothy grin. She strides through the American Gothic landscape in her dark dress and sunglasses like the vampire from his nightmares, while his mother scolds him endlessly and his father moves slowly and sadly towards his own doom. The loss of innocence looms large; Seth witness death and murder, Cam’s seen horrors in World War 2, and Dolphin describes seeing the body of her husband who hung himself. “It’s all so horrible,” she tells Seth towards the end of the film. “The agony of childhood. And it only gets worse.” The Reflecting Skin is a beautiful film that we’re thrilled to see restored.