EIFF blog: All Aboard the Night Train
This year's EIFF Night Moves strand, aimed at that hardy festival mob who like their celluloid blood soaked, creepy or just a bit strange, offered an eclectic mix of horror, action and comedy. Occasionally, and most successfully, this triumvirate would be found in the same piece; the broad laughs, unexpected jumps and well-staged thrills of Boris Rodriguez’s bonkers Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal and Jon Wright’s riotous Grabbers undoubtedly standouts. But was everything else keeping the crowds up at night for a very soggy two weeks in Edinburgh quite as enjoyable? Hmmmm.
First out the blocks was Eduardo Sánchez’s Lovely Molly, an unsettling tale of a woman slowly unravelling upon moving back to the house of her childhood. The spectre of previous abuse hangs over Molly (Gretchen Lodge) in the form of her deceased father, whose presence appears to manifest in increasing violent attacks around the home. Cleverly focusing on factors other than the supernatural that could be causing Molly’s torment – her drug abuse and a loneliness exacerbated by her absent truck-driver new husband – heighten the ambiguity. Lovely Molly is marked by outstanding sound design, solid pacing and a good deal of genuinely disquieting imagery; there’s a fair amount to like (and be freaked-out by) until Sánchez has everything fall flat with some spectacular failures of logic in the third act and a frankly silly denouement. Still, worth a watch while on general release.
Onwards then to the delightful Grabbers. A packed Filmhouse crowd lapped-up this Tremors and Gremlins-tinged throwback to classic comedy-horror. There’s monsters in the water. They get out of the water. They terrorise a tiny community of assorted Oirish oddballs and a Matt Hooper-inflected biologist (Russell Tovey). Hilarity ensues. Not just the highlight of Night Moves but troubling the best the whole festival had on offer, Grabbers is a pitch perfect creature feature with some nice frights to compliment all the daftness and a wonderful performance from telly’s Ruth Bradley, a talented comic performer hopefully destined for bigger things.
The first Saturday, however, offered somewhat of a lull for the nocturnally-minded. While Magnus Martens’ Jackpot, based on a story by Jo Nesbø, was diverting enough in a seen-it-all-before, blackly-comic caper kinda way, with a wonderfully befuddled protagonist in Kyrre Hellum’s Oscar, it was made to look like a masterpiece by the unceasingly dreadful Guinea Pigs. Ian Clark’s feature debut wastes an interesting premise: seven (lazily drawn) archetypes volunteer for a pharmaceutical trial in a sinister, secluded complex. The drug turns them (at differing rates) into squawking, super-strength psychos after ingestion, only to neglect the potential in the dual terror of fighting both an internal and external threat to deliver a succession of banal, dim-witted, poorly shot set-pieces and appallingly ill-conceived social commentary. Bewilderingly chosen for Best of the Fest on the last Sunday evening, Guinea Pigs was about as scary as a basket-full of the titular fluffy rodents – albeit slightly cross ones.
Night Moves returned at the start of the final weekend with the highly-anticipated double-bill of V/H/S and Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie. What a let-down. If the words ‘found-footage horror portmanteau’ have you running in the opposite direction, the involvement of promising director Ti West and mumblecore founding father Joe Swanberg in V/H/S may tempt a volte-face. Should have stuck with your gut. West’s segment, definitely the strongest and least problematic in terms of its sexual politics, was a brief shining light along with a raw, ferocious opening reminiscent of Man Bites Dog, but the initial frisson of excitement is soon supplanted by tedium as various horror tropes are tackled in five shorts of varying (though never great) quality, tenuously linked by a tale of hoodlums seeking-out a mysterious video in a derelict house seemingly populated by zombies. Bizarrely quiet, sleepy zombies. V/H/S would have been just plain forgettable were it not for an incessant misogyny rendering it pretty hateful; though there is a theme of abused women getting revenge on male tormentors, there’s an awful, awful lot of leering, nastiness and ogling before we get to that. These boys seem to be having their cake and eating it, too.
If only there was something as interesting to get annoyed with in Tim and Eric, an excruciating non-comedy from some guys who apparently do stuff on the internet. Please, return there… Not satisfied with being simply not funny, Eric Wareheim and Tim Heidecker seem hell-bent on bludgeoning the audience into a stupor with unbearable inanity, the effect recalling being repeatedly punched in the face. Not by a large, burly man, which would at least promise the release of unconsciousness, but by a yabbering, slavering, malevolent toddler. Avoid at all costs.
A relief, then, that the final Night Moves movie to screen saw another highlight in Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal, a deadpan slice of Canadian fried gold. Another film expertly walking the tightrope of horror-comedy with some great chills and a marvellously absurd, often laugh-out-loud script, Rodriguez’s tale of a once great artist rediscovering his joie de vivre thanks to the night-time eating habits of his by-day sweet-natured, lug-headed lodger offered a strong close to a strand of changeable potency. With a gleeful amorality and loftier ideals than initially apparent as the nature of beauty, exploitation by the intellectual-elite and violence inherent in much of the finest art are ironically, subtly invoked, Eddie will hopefully be lumbering his way to a cinema near you. If only we could await all the others with quite so much eagerness.