Director Patricio Valladares is no stranger to FrightFest. His Hidden In The Woods (2012) – which he shot in his native Chile and then remade two years later in English – outraged some and delighted others with its shock tactics and constant lapses of taste, in a festival which many that year felt was already oversaturated with presentations of rape. Its fellatio-and-spit montage is something that this viewer will never forget. Last year, his Downhill (2016) proved similarly divisive, if less shocking. His latest, Nightworld, shot entirely in Bulgaria, is certainly the most mainstream of the three, but also the most technically accomplished and good looking. Like all his films, it feels like a fanboy pastiche of familiar horror motifs.
Suffering the twin traumas of a last police case gone fatally wrong and the recent death of his Bulgarian wife (Diana Lyubenova), retired LAPD officer Brett (Jason London) is living alone and haunted in Varna. Hoping to escape recurrent nightmares about his wife’s suicide, he moves to the capital Sofia, where he takes a job as a live-in security guard in an old building with a peculiar history. Brett is assigned to check regularly a row of computer monitors in the basement, and to report back anything unusual recorded by cameras set up in a dark hangar securely locked behind two huge engraved basement doors. As voices are heard, as Brett’s nightmares intensify, as he loses track of time, and as something is filmed moving about in the hangar, Brett starts wondering just who his employers are, and what exactly he is guarding. His sightless predecessor Jacob (Robert Englund) may have all the answers, or may just be the blind leading the blind.
Nightworld conjures the spirits of many other stories to tell its own. In a film regularly punctuated by vivid nightmares, the mere presence of Englund references the actor’s past horror filmography as the iconic dream-demon Freddy Krueger. There are also the Lovecraftian tentacular monsters carved in the doors to the hangar, the ghostly twin girls from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), the diabolical architecture of Dario Argento’s Inferno (1980), the impossibly old person being kept alive on a respirator from Alexandro Bustillo and Julien Maury’s Livid (2011), the edifice built over a gate to hell from Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (1981), and the trickster dead determined to find their way back to the world of the living from James Wan’s Insidious (2010). It’s an uncanny amalgam which, though pointedly derivative, to an extent confounds through the sheer multitude of its influences – and takes full advantage of very atmospheric sets.