Adam, Rifkin, 2016, USA
It’s the era where we’re all film directors, editing, scoring and shaping our life on film to upload on social media. Now more than ever our lives are dictated by film and their narratives. And remember those mix-tapes we made… well, we call them playlists now, but…? Well, what else has Quentin Tarantino been doing except making films around his mix-tapes? Hell, he even steals other film’s theme songs (of course, it helps that he can actually write). And you know how a big part of hip-hop was sampling other tunes to make a new claim on its ool? Well, that’s where ‘Director’s Cut’ begins, with a nerd appropriating someone else’s film to make it his own. This means wandering around as a crowd-funder on the set of the film ‘Knocked Off’ and splicing into it amateur footage he’s made on the fly. His real intention is to make a film with its star, Missi Pyle, which goes on to involve stalking and kidnapping. ‘Knocked Off’ is one of those slick serial killer movies that take up a lot of space, but it soon gives way to his “improvements”.
‘Director’s Cut’ is a hilarious satire on film-making with jibes at crowd-funding and product placement and all. The sequences with ‘Knocked Off’ are done as if it’s a credible script – it’s the kind of ridiculous serial killer thriller that certainly took off in the Nineties – until it falls to the delusion of Herbert Blout, the nerd who is the natural result of an audience who’s criticisms go “Yeah, but they should’ve done this to make it better.” Blout is played in a remarkable turn by Penn Jilette; and the film features a very droll cameo by Teller. Blout’s narration is a funny appropriation of the director’s commentary and although the actual plot is lesser than the satire, and although it pokes fun at the problems of film-making, it’s also a great dig at a generation that will film everything. Even their delusions and crimes.
The Windmill Massacre
Nick Jongerius, 2016, The Natherlands
Not every film can be a masterpiece and it’s surely wrong to expect that. Some films, Like ‘The Windmill Massacre’, are just good solid fun with enough style and artfulness in script and execution to avoid being bad. ‘The Windmill Massacre’ plays like a story from Amicus portmanteau films: certainly director Jongerius reference Hammer horror as an influence. A bus of tourists find themselves at a mysterious windmill where their ‘sins’ are to punished by supernatural malevolence. Except the innocents, who are to be dispatched anyway as kind of collateral damage.There are visions of the sins before the ghoulish Miller appears to dispatch standard outrageous slasher kill-offs and the whole thing is played with an straightforward professionalism and intent that may not be enough for some, but it’s fine undemanding entertainment.
Ivan Silvestrini, 2016, Italy/USA
My experience as a passenger in a smart car is that it beeps and alerts you all the time – which I dislike immensely. But a car like the eponymous Monolith doesn’t seem so very far from plausibility. Designed to be impenetrable, Sandra’s new car is meant to keep her and her toddler safe, but there’s no protection from the messy errors of humans. Soon, through a sequence of foolish impulses, Sandra (Katrina Bowden) is stuck out in the middle of a desert locked out of the car and desperately trying to save her child trapped within. As a cautionary tale, ‘Monolith’ gets how the easy yet fussy usability of super-technology – a big selling point, being all interactive and interconnected and susceptible to accidental touches on a screen – can quickly create crisis for the owner. It’s the standard warning we get from science-fiction not to trust technology, although this is very softly in that genre. But its real intention is to track how Sandra’s self-absorption and bad luck leads her to calamity and how she’ll have to think past herself and use all her smarts to resolve the situation. It’s a tale of redemption, then, but is resolved more by Sandra getting some simple and critical insight to herself rather than some big salvation. It’s a gorgeous film to look at, utilising its Utah locations to maximum stunning effect and looking somewhat slyly like a car commercial. It’s increasingly tense and never really uses a deus ex machina to spur things on. Katrina Bowden is more than able to carry the film and from a simple premise a lot of suspense is generated.
Craig Anderson, 2016, Australia
One of those endless chains of date-themed horrors that subvert holidays and so on, this starts well with a typically dysfunctional family gathered and set up for slasher slaughter. The mother thought she had an abortion a long time ago, but the foetus was saved and has grown up to be a hideously deformed character that just wants to be loved (and I don’t believe that head would really be capable of speech). And if he isn’t getting that, he’ll kill everyone in sight. The comedy of awkwardness when the cloaked figure gatecrashes the Christmas celebrations and insists on reading a letter provides a peak of black humour that the film never goes on to replicate, although it’s a great moment of high absurdity. The abortion provocation seems like strong stuff for a film that then just goes on to abandon its black humour for increasingly routine and shoddily executed slasher tropes. The ellipses in scenes that show before and after a killing is mordantly amusing early on, but by the end these ellipses seem out of necessity to skip over budget restrictions rather than producing more gags at the expense of genre expectations. It’s a shame because early on it seemed to promise something raw, outrageous and darkly funny.
Yeon Sang-Ho, 2016, South Korea
The last films of FrightFest has often been notable. I loved both ‘Big Bad Wolves’ and ‘Willow Creek’, for example. ‘Train to Busan’ follows a tradition of delivering one of the best for last.
A rip-roaring zombie film set mostly on a train, a real crowd-pleaser because it’s brilliantly presented, funny, nasty and with a decent emotional core. It’s been a great hit in South Korea. These are the fast kind of zombies that swarm – and how they swarm. The audience I was with was sent into repeated laughter of delight as the zombies burst through glass doors and clung to the rear of the train en masse. I got into a debate with a friend who said that this wasn’t a zombie film because, as per Romero, zombie films are slow and existential and social commentaries, but since ‘20 Days Later’ they just run. Well it’s true that the swarming zombie is a standard now, representing how quickly society can descend into chaos and how we are easily overwhelmed by it. It’s true this is more like a virus horror, but I’d say they’re still zombies, whose nature has progressed from voodoo origins through Romero and Fulci to the overpowering hordes they are now. There is no brooding here and very little social commentary, but themes of heroism and self-sacrifice provide the commentary that guides the narrative without letting them be smothered totally by the sentimental streak. Rather this is fun and furious with enough emotional punch to feel like a full course meal.