FrightFest 2013: Round-up 2 – Dispatches From The Dark Heart of Cinema
A round-up of the second day at Film4 FrightFest, where there were ghosties, zombies, beasties, time travel, guys making prime manure out of other guys... well, most things, really
Day 2 of FrightFest saw those cheery little gore scamps return to Leicester Square on Saturday morning with an extra skip in their step after a strong finish to opening night. Another mixed-bag was in store for them, but a couple of absolute corkers help gloss over the ropier elements.
The first film, Renny Harlin’s The Dyatlov Pass Incident, was one such element. Following a group of student documentarians as they travel to Russia to uncover the mystery of some hikers who disappeared in the 50s, Harlin’s picture puts the onus on character for the first hour or so, but fails to do anything remotely interesting with them in this period. Bringing nothing new, or even competent, to the found footage subgenre, things get incredibly silly during a third act which throws as many different ideas as it can think of at the screen: mad Ruskie soldiers, human experimentation, teleportation, time travel… the list goes on. And none elicit more than a snigger.
Next up was Dementamania, from director Kit Ryan. Not without strong moments, this tale of a yuppie slimeball unravelling over the course of a day unfortunately stole all those moments from much better films. American Psycho, The Fly, Angel Heart and Jacob’s Ladder were all mercilessly ripped-off, but there were enough good gags and some very strong imagery to keep things interesting.
FrightFest darling Adam Green then arrived to introduce the climax to his grue and giggles trilogy, Hatchet III. Attending the event for the seventh time, Green has genuine affection for the audience and offered some other treats in the form of scenes from his successful sitcom Holliston, in which Green and Joe Lynch play aspiring genre filmmakers who share a flat. Kane Hodder is a sometime sleepover guest. These delirious and gory snippets went down well, and there should be a good turnout when he screens three episodes in full on Sunday. Hatchet III provided what anyone familiar with the Victor Crowley franchise should expect, but would have been well advised to make more of charismatic star Danielle Harris. For reasons unknown, she’s kept away from the action for the vast majority of runtime, restricted to glowering and shouting obscenities at police from a cell or the backseat of a cruiser.
A more sober, sombre mood was evident in spook story Haunter. Starring Abigail Breslin and directed by Vincenzo Natali, the man behind Cube and Splice, the picture overcomes its fairly hackneyed narrative of a spirit helping to solve a murder by presenting it from the ghost’s point of view. Very atmospheric and keenly observed in the first hour, where dead teen Lisa (Breslin) and her expired family potter about their suburban home purgatory, reliving the day of their demise for eternity, things unravel with a return to the formulaic in the third act. However, when this is at its best, it’s quite brilliant.
Any leaning toward the contemplative was then immediately eschewed in favour of flying viscera, zombies and devil worship for compendium sequel V/H/S/2. Introduced by the ever charming and lively Gareth Evans, who co-directed a segment with Timo Tjahjanto, this was the most anticipated film of the day for almost everyone in the crowd. And a lot of it delivered on that promise. Evans and Tjahjanto’s effort, Safe Haven, set in a Thai cult’s compound when their leader agrees to be interviewed by a documentary crew, is absolutely bonkers. Violent, tense and shocking, it was pound for pound the most effective piece of the weekend thus far. Eduardo Sánchez and Gregg Hale’s zombie POV attack, A Ride in the Park, was also inspired, but the other two shorts fail to register on the same scale, and the wraparound narrative, so insipid in the original V/H/S, proved pedestrian once more.
The real treat was yet to come, though, as Evans also presented rough footage from his upcoming The Raid 2. The scene shown was the introduction of Hammer Girl, seemingly an assassin whose preferred method of dispatching her marks is, unsurprisingly, a pair of claw hammers. Watching this soon-to-be cult icon bash a gang of bodyguards to a pulp on an underground train had the whole audience screaming in bewildered awe. It was simply astonishing.
Those with the sand to stick about into the wee small hours, and there weren’t that many, had the pleasure of Aussie comic-shocker 100 Bloody Acres to send them on their way. Despite a slow start, this typically absurd Antipodean offering about a couple of country bumpkins offing passers by for use in their special brand of fertiliser had a very strong finish, some super setpieces and great performances. Damon Herriman in particular was a joy as the befuddled but principled Reg, his timing and subtlety of expression making everything around him that much funnier. A perfect way to round off the evening.