SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ It's that time of year again: THE RAINDANCE FILM FESTIVAL in London! On now.. See you there!

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

FRIGHTFEST - 2018: 'CTRL' // "Malware mayhem that's totally wired . . "



// Contains *SPOILERS* in the machine . . 

Watch before reading!! //

I stood in the FRIGHTFEST queue for the premiere of British tech-horror CTRL just behind the film's director - 
Harry Lindley. He waited patiently to be let through. Someone asked him why he was queuing up to see his own movie and Lindley replied: "Because I bought a ticket . ." - respect!

CTRL is a youthful, smart, well-plotted techno horror. It's also pretty sassy, sinister - and decidedly sexy. A love triangle between brother, sister and sister's boyfriend (and a computer virus called Daisy with dreams of new world corruption to make that triangle a chain) is queasy and kinky in equal measure. Nah, who am I kidding? Its 1000 zettabytes of pure kink!

Trapped in a creepy apartment by the virus mutating monstrosity, the three humans fight to stay alive. Special effects and make-up are outstanding: decaying bodies, and flesh-eating moths rising out of black/ 
blue bath gloop are a triumph (the intricate veined detail on the moth wings is impressive - you have to pause this sequence on the trailer to see it though (which, for some above and beyond the call reasoning, prior to seeing this movie, I did!).

Scalextric shots of miniature car stunts never seemed so James Bond a thing than it does, in slo-mo close up, on screen here. Recurring future-predicting mirror imagery that taunts the beleaguered boyfriend betters a duller sequence seen in the most recent Star Wars. A computer human hybrid zombie called Tinkerbell (Mia Foo) appears briefly, but steals the show - give this girl her own movie!

Of the ace small central cast of just 3 (or 4, if you include ol' Tink) 
Saabeah Theos as Lex is especially terrific as a power firebrand of repressed desires, panic and snippets of peace and love: mostly just pretty tough cookie - a definite new face to watch. Hainsley Lloyd Bennett as boyfriend Dru up against brotherly competition in deranged Leo is suitably angry, accepting and bloody confused: I liked Leo a lot. I think he'd also make a brilliant Doctor Who companion one day! Julian Mack as Leo is also brilliantly unhinged yet also has an air of always being in control, even when clearly he isn't and has completely lost the plot, let alone his flesh (to malware moth munchers).

The director - Harry Lindley - adds lots of fun fast flair and urgency to claustrophobic and potentially (but nicely calmed) histrionic scenarios. This is a director who knows when to chill and when to really let loose - a swirling sequence careering to a dead stop as one character gets attacked by the black moths is just plain c/ol as f/ck!

Crowdfunded (many of those involved are here on the night) and shot on a shoestring budget, CTRL is a fast, quick-clipped, browser gone crazy nightmare scenario of a movie with a smart and convincing script and brilliant final payoff that puts films with bigger profiles and budgets to shame.

Lindley (best known for the breathless short: ODE TO A FUCKBOI) tells us in an intro that his next movie will be a futuristic version of Romeo and Juliet set in South London - bring, that, on!

Definitely not for the set-in-their-ways brigade, CTRL is fresh, vibrant, modern youthful horror cinema all grown up and a sign of things - both in plot and execution - to come.

It's a film that can be enjoyed as a modern housebound zombie horror - how Demon Seed came of age - or you can choose to go beyond the monitor and muse to your heart's content on some of the geek-techie ideas being explored.


And it's not all that easy to even review in words, let alone understand in your head, some of the plot elements and theories being explored. But essentially the film is based upon writer Kevin Kelly's book "Out Of Control" that looks into human/ machine hybrid births and self-determining technology with its own levels of control - the author gave his blessing for the film when approached. One chapter in the book outlines specifically "The Nine Laws Of God" that includes such rules as to: "Honor Your Errors" and "Control From The Bottom Up" (not just a Ron Jeremy rule of law then, as previously thought!).

These nine ideas were reduced by the filmmakers (Harry Lindley - director, story and screenplay / Julian Mack - story, producer and actor /  Harriet Wade - producer) to five rules to "create something from nothing" - you can hear all five of these detailed in the film's trailer if you're looking for completion.

The birth of the machine gives rose in the film to malware monster Daisy (and friends - such as Tinkerbell) and cyberterrorism takes on human form: is this the future of human conflict? This is the Creeper's Worm (famous 1971 virus) turned into woman - a Frankenstein created virus; a being able to consciously think subjectively and experience for herself (also known as 'qualia'). Can Daisy feel and experience or is she just a new being separate from a human but similar in shape and form: going through the process of living and acting human without actually 'feeling' - a 'p-zombie' never more appropriate a term. Daisy, our 'something from nothing' does seem to have sensations of jealousy and even 'love' towards her creator Leo.

But the character of Daisy isn't explored to any great detail, instead we focus on the three members of the cast that are definitely all human: Dru, Leo and Lex. And it's probably a good thing as this central love and distrust triangle amid the rising of machine adds an identifying trick up the sleeve and a gritty, youthful, human zest that a computer/ human hybrid will always lack - personality replication (of the likes of Daisy) not all that advanced just yet.

The almost hysterical prolonged applause at the end of this screening pretty much tells you all you need to know: I'll be following this man's future movies with interest but for now: bring back Tinkerbell - right Harry?


"TECHNOLOGY" in CTRL came with a really angry byte of forewarning about how corruption of deliberately bred malware attacks used as modern day combat (so often in the news now) or as a force of terror, or even for peaceful protest, could eventually breed an unstoppable monster in the machine.

It's a low budget production but with excellent special effects (black moth creatures from the gloop, skin-eating virus - yay!) and a brilliantly kinky 'love' triangle at its heart. This also comes with not just one, but two great human/ technology hybrids: a gadgetpunk zombie called Tinkerbell and a terminally corrupted computer stack called Daisy (with a god complex, possibly on the edge of a global viral fever rage-up).

Buzzing with a fresh and original purpose of intent and refusing to calm a modern, refreshing and edgy film-making style (scenes get clipped without lingering to create pace and vision) CTRL bins unnecessary exposition and conventional styling, and has a more naturalistic realisation of its characters to form a clip-like browse through a nightmarish, but also worryingly familiar, high tech suburban landscape.


Frankenstein Created Malware! 

High Tech Horror That's Totally Wired  

A Monster In The Machine Mash-Up For Gadgetpunk Fans 

Cold War Hacktivism Is Nothing Compared To "Daisy"  





FRIGHTFEST - 2018: 'SEEDS' // "How Uncle Marcus' Garden Grows: Pretty girls, sea shells, and monsters all in a row . ."


// Contains *SPOILERS* in the hide and seek cupboard . . 
Watch before reading!! //

SEEDS (the film's director - Owen Long - tells us in his FRIGHTFEST intro) was a family affair. Produced by his wife and starring his brother and featuring his son, it was also a work of love - over many years. Having his wife on board was - he says - a way to make the often near the knuckle themes on screen more palatable, in that the scenario is not seen solely through a male gaze. (We are also assured that female journalists have been especially praising the movie out loud - so don't panic!) This politically correctionalising build up clearly something of a forewarning - to those of delicate sensibilities (like a hardened horror crowd!) that things aren't going to get pretty.

To be honest, it wasn't that shocking what followed in terms of on-screen deed (bad enough in thought more). But it was still pretty authentically weird and unsettling stuff. And nowhere close to mainstream. Nuh-huh.

A teenage girl (Lily, played by Andrea Chen - not teenage) and her brother (Garr Long as Spencer) have to stay with their creepy Uncle Marcus (Trevor Long) for a few weeks after their mother flees the family nest and Daddy needs to sort stuff out. Enter a whole new kind of family nest: there's something nasty in the house (yeah - and in the cellar) and it has a whole lot of tentacles going on . . And up . . And down . . And stick-legs that click around naked flesh as you sleep at night.

So keep your PJs on. 

And a bottle of Cthulhu repellent by your side . .

You never really know, or find out, whether the creature really exists or represents the uncle's descent into shame, regret and worsening psychosis at what he may have once done. A weird friend or acquaintance of his lingers around the house - supplying drugs. Possibly controlling the whole situation. Or is he just a shrink coming round, being kind? A dealer in illegal uppers? You decide!

A coda to the movie sees a young boy swimming with his mother in a sun-glittering sea - he picks up the shell with a creepy crawly thing inside it, from the bottom of the sea bed. Just like Lily had done at the start of the movie, back when she had visited her uncle at - it seems - an earlier place and time. But possibly the same place. Err - and time (if I had been watching this on disc I'd have checked the rewind). That initial point in time though, could have been when the horrific abuse - if that is what happened - took place. The thing in the shell her weapon. Grown up. Protecting . .

Now the little girl is older. In her late teens. And she tempts and teases her uncle almost like a cruel joke. He refuses to act on his clear desires and you start to wonder if he ever even did. Is he just being possessed and seduced by a creature from the deep? He certainly doesn't act on the girl's obsessive teasing - not even when trapped up close in a cupboard with her, when playing sardines - her little brother out of the way. Or when she wriggles around on the sofa in next to nothing beside him.

A flashback features a nude girl on a bed cavorting with a man, but she wears an animal mask and we are unsure who she is with - but it's probably Marcus. And Lily. That creepy unknown stranger with the handful of pills then appears to Marcus in another room, straight after the sex - a hush hush deal. Is money changing hands/ is this man some kind of pimp/ a trader in young girls - or a keeper of monsters come to collect?

Garr Long, as the mysterious girl's younger brother also staying at the house of horror, is wary-eyed and quietly detached. It's a nicely understated turn from this young actor. He also gets - and gives - the best line/ moment in the movie when (entirely unexpectedly, as you previously think only his sister is aware of the dangers that lurk down the corridors) the boy calmly tells Marcus, as he's saying goodnight, that he's: "A monster . .".

Andrea Chen as Lily is fabulous: part knowing tease, part terrifying creature haunting the house - or traumatised victim of cruel obsession. She effortlessly flits between all of the above in a bewildering, beguiling, rotation.

But the acting honours must go to Trevor (Ozark) Long as Uncle Marcus with a demeanour that reminded of Harry Dean Stanton in WILD AT HEART: entirely aware of the unnatural horrors he finds himself surrounded by (whether through his own fault or not) but also entirely resigned to the things that go slither in the dark. His already nearly complete decay, captured up close on grainy, dirty film - as gritty as the hollowed-out look in his eyes - is a stark contrast to the ocean setting and brightness outside that starts and ends the movie.

Uncle Marcus is the coolest of cats - if only he wasn't so tainted and corrupt. I kind of hoped that by the end of the movie he'd be cleared of all those things we suspect he may have done and be fighting the monster out back. That really didn't happen.

Director Owen Long handles the horror well: a tentacled beast in the cellar could just as equally be a faulty set of wiring on the wall, and the thing glimpsed up a tree could equally be gnarled stumps or phallic monstrosity. Maybe it's all of the above - a place become living evil 'thing'; a place seething with old haunted house gloom and clouds of dusty depravity.

Much like the girl on the bed in a mask, the disguises in this movie remain on, and there is no easy final reveal. We are always left wondering whose gaze to believe.

Rings of truth appear towards the end of the movie and the death count stacks up: One incident involving a wired-up front door and a young boy’s demise in front of his parents is extremely depressing to witness. Another shock electrocution claims another good guy - an old man - just visiting (for good). Or was he taken by something more visceral than a bunch of faulty wiring? Certainly here in this house be monsters of some kind, even if the true nature of that horror is kept from clear sight - like a sea creature withdrawing into a shell.

SEEDS is a stylishly directed, slithery-footed, thinking fan's monster movie full of gloomy gothic style and modern edge. It's fairly cautious in overindulging in exploitation (probably best with such a sensitive theme at its heart) but isn't shy in pushing the ickiness right up to the surface. Although my first thoughts upon leaving the FRIGHTFEST screening were of describing the movie as Lyne's LOLITA meets Zulawski's POSSESSION, I think it's more subtle than that. I think it has its own identity that I can't really pigeonhole.

This has been a FRIGHTFEST full of unexpected subtlety in the choice of films on offer, from the teen angst of the dead hush of THE DARK to the pulsing rise and fall of CLIMAX (that triggered all those demanding more blood and body fluid in a Gaspar Noé movie being hilariously, cruelly, denied).

I can't get those films, or this one - SEEDS - out of my head. And I can't get the wide tortured eyes of Uncle Marcus out of my head. I can't let go. The horror has been passed on now - to us. Will always be inside us. Wherever we go.

All slippery and wet.



A Creepy Crawly Monster Movie - About A Creepy Crawly Man  

The Thinking Fan's Creature Feature!  

A Housebound Horror Fable That Aims To tease  

How Uncle Marcus' Garden Grows: Pretty Girls, Sea Shells - And Monsters, All In A Row 




FRIGHTFEST - 2018: 'CLIMAX' // "This is not cinema. This is a weapon."


// Contains *SPOILERS* in the spiked punch . .


A wild delirious ride through a throbbing, locked in, landscape

A dance studio more like an abattoir's decor for an audition

Isolation and claustrophobia in a room too ready for sacrifice

Contorted shapes and silhouettes of dancers deranged

Spiked cocktails take the young crowd into violent disorder

Lycra clad bodies twist and weave beautifully into tainted hate

Illicit sex, pack violence, self-harm on the dance floor

(You better not lose control - DJ)

CLIMAX @ FRIGHTFEST opened with dancer's auditions being watched by Noé

In his room a VHS tape pile includes SUSPIRIA and POSSESSION

One of the dancers has a grudge and is about to create chaos

End credits appear at the start and opened up in the middle

It's more like being in a club or a gig than sitting in a cinema

Soundtrack Includes:
Aphex Twin: "Windolicker" 
Soft Cell: "Tainted Love/ Where Did Our Love Go" (Extended)
Gary Numan: "Trois Gymnopedies (First Movement)" 
Dopplereffekt: "Superior Race & Technic 1200" 
Giorgio Moroder: "Utopia - Me Giorgio" 
The Rolling Stones: "Angie" - to come down slowly & horribly! 

Dialogue is mainly improvised and violence is extreme

Actions are captured on a camcorder that spins and upends

And stays upside down

Disorientation is absolute

Some walkouts ensue

One watcher next to me covers their face with a coat when the little boy trapped in a room on a really bad trip starts to scream and beat at the door

Authentically upsetting and horrifying

Sofia Boutella as Selva was captivating, endearing, tough, but Noé's camera switches loyalty along the way - always focusing on those most at risk

The dancers were lithe with effortless eroticism and oozing kink - never to be forgotten

You wonder whether - had full sex ensued, or actual harm begun - Noé's camera would have stopped running

You wonder - whether actual harm or sex had begun

You think - was Noé disappointed that some of the dancers DIDN'T go far enough?

The soundtrack took the place of plot and progression

Noé didn't want a film that went through the traditional movie making process - with difficult contracts to be signed and the same old auditions to be held

Most of those auditioning were dancers, not actors

The auditions became the film

The bloody crawl through snow at the start of the film wasn't planned

The sudden fall of snow looked so good that Noé asked a dancer to go outside and start crawling

The primary colour-lit corridors - were like the witch's warrens in Argento's SUSPIRIA on a really bad trip: the dance of chaos turned up too loud

(One of the VHS tapes being shown that Noé still owns . .)

The SUSPIRIA remake could be more like this

But the wicked witch spiked the punch

Gore effects limited, but a slow bleeding cut arm and face stunned - how did Noé do that?

Sex unexpectedly restrained but sexuality still oozed in pores

(She should have used the bathroom!)

First half, as panic sets in, more terrifying than the comedown

This is how it ought to feel and as the room slips towards sleep

This is not a fault

Waking up feels almost guilty: "we didn't do anything" - did we

Did - we?

This is a cinematic masterpiece in identification with terror and chaos

An antidote to LOVE

This is not cinema - this is a weapon.

Welcome to the room GASPAR

And come back to us soon

Credit to the FRIGHTFEST team for getting you here

The BFI "preview" this film in two weeks time

GASPAR chose HORROR to take the trip first

I couldn't stop grinning when I left the screening - spiked out by cinema

I was grinning so much when I walked past Noé that he did a double take - and smiled back

Satisfied customer

Sometimes there are no words needed

Just the pulse and thud of the baseness within us all

Exposed by this man

As we sit strapped to our seats

Beneath a cinema screen

One last thing

But in the middle section I swear I spotted a forbidden image and maybe a clue to the identity of who spiked the drink

Spoiler free moment

I won't say who did it

And if you saw it too - don't you dare!

This is not cinema.

This is a weapon.



XAMILC . . .

C  L  I  M  X  


"SEX" in CLIMAX was more of an audience threat for the director and enfant terrible to do the expected thing. Rather like Argento himself of late, Noé smashes expectations in the face and did what I kind of hoped he would do: take us up way too high. And then - what I didn't expect - he dragged us right back down, before things went too far. Or any further. Than they already had - which was very far. The comedown wasn't pleasant - a terrifying vortex of sound and piss and puke and blood and perversion (and a little boy screaming for his mother - oh . . my . . god!). 

By the end - I think we all needed a group hug. I was thrillingly disorientated throughout and weaving fingers around other fingers (hopefully my own "other fingers") and quite worried for my sanity as I stepped outside into the nightmare night tripping of Leicester Square.

Expectation was intense but the film had less actual sex in it than maybe (from the director of LOVE - a cinematic cumshot) it was expected to have, but this was still a viewing experience more extreme in idea and threat than anything more explicitly shown at this year's FRIGHTFEST. The fact it didn't kick off into that expected Orgy From Hell was kind of a masterstroke from Noé I thought, and a proper kick to convention . . Almost a coming down from deviant anticipation - like the aftersting from a slapping hand that exposes the watcher as much as it does the participant. We really had partaken of Noé's spiked punch!


Stuck in a car crash of a place with people you would rather avoid but are forced into watching disintegrate quickly and violently in front of you as the music gets turned up too loud - THIS IS CINEMA YOU CAN'T GET OUT OF!

You don't 'watch' CLIMAX - YOU'RE IN IT!  

Getting off your head in CLIMAX is the easy bit. Wait until you see what happens on the way back down. 

This is not cinema. This is a weapon.




FRIGHTFEST - 2018: 'LUCIFERINA' // "OTT, oversexed, drugged-up, demonic, deranged - tick, tick, tick, tick, TICK!"


// Contains *BIG SPOILERS* in the hallucinogenic herbs . . 


This was the film at this year's FRIGHTFEST that I most wanted to see. Well, OK - second only to CLIMAX  - but that's a given. It's a shame that the director (Gonzalo Calzada) couldn't make the premiere as his movie was an absolute scream.

Horror cinema can often be irritating, provoking, long-winded or deranged - but that's what keeps it fresh and exciting, and ambitious. LUCIFERINA was, at times, all of this.

It could be irritating: the climax had about 5 false starts that were all fairly lengthy, and similar. But I soon gave in. As the delirious runtime extended, and the climaxes kept coming (this Devil just wouldn't die) - I was only having a deliciously good time in there and didn't care about lunch anymore! And later, as I walked out of the cinema, I realised that - why should horror movies follow established expected formats and time schedules? It was fair play that the demon kid in LUCIFERINA (most likely the Devil himself) takes a really long time to deal with. I mean, come on - he's the Devil! He hasn't been defeated yet, ever (not even in OMEN III: THE FINAL CONFLICT, which got kinda close).

The final conflict in LUCIFERINA may have felt a little long-winded with lots of talk about how to isolate the beast and the nature of virginity as a weapon of mass destruction (yes - really!) but at least it was never boring - never less than authentically deranged. Deranged, but addictive. And relentlessly crossing those safe, protective salt lines or circles in the sand that other entries in demonic nun horror cinema are so often happy to do. Was this Argentinean director, who seems to have a Rob Zombie divisive reputation back home, actually the Gaspar 
Noé of satanic ritual flicks? You don't need to cast any runes to know my answer to that. LUCIFERINA was an absolute filthy, dirty blast to the senses and a revolting rip to the heart of restraint: this is what horror is.

The satanic ritual is thus: A young novice nun returns to her twisted family in the lush countryside after her mother's mysterious death and finds her father traumatised, painting demonic images on his bedroom walls and spending most of his time wrapped in bandages and on a ventilator. Her sister (they were both adopted) has gone all Siouxsie Sioux and has a new boyfriend with a personality bypass and knife fetish (when not trying to sexually assault his girlfriend's virginal younger sister in the family cupboard).

All the young nun's friends want to do is mock her virginity or take mystic herbs in the forest to identify the truth of what happened to these two crazy sisters when they were little girls. Clue: Think - a big bloody chunk of TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER and half a dozen plucked hairs of THE EXORCIST and you'll be getting close (without the need to take herbal hallucinogenics).

It's easy to be silly with a film such as LUCIFERINA
, despite the film's mirroring of the current trend for the partaking of the ayahuasca vine, or the chacruna shrub - for tourism ritualis in South America (partaken by those in search of the exposure of death). But it's a kind of nervous giggle that rises inside watching LUCIFERINA uncurl - the kind you find in a trauma unit, as a way of cleansing the air.

The film is beautifully directed, with a roaming, frantic, stylish gaze (like a hunter, with a camera) across a lush visual landscape full of hidden churches, abandoned mystics and weird statues loitering in the dense undergrowth. Nifty effects abound: gore is used sparingly and targets the eyes - but this is not a gore fest. Characters interact thanks to the film's refusal to just die and be done in the name of horror film formatting - you may even find yourself rooting for the weirdos and psychos along the way.

There's a terrific central performance from Sofia Del Tuffo as the battling young novice nun (a role with shades of Jess Franco's classic but super sleazy LOVE LETTERS OF A PORTUGUESE NUN) with supernatural sight under threat from demonic intent - full of passion and fight - and you stay on her side to the end. Also fabulous is Malena Sanchez as the twisted sister and Pedro Merlo as the boy possessed, who has to growl and spit and chant and never once come across as laughable or OTT: a cleverly quite restrained and sympathetic turn.

Demonic horrors often come across as stupid and full of boring, seen it all before, religious or demonic imagery and black mass overload, that never feels all that authentic - more of a horror by numbers for less gifted filmmakers to hide under.

Not so with LUCIFERINA. I felt the evil grow. If you love horror you should absolutely fall in love with this movie and demand it's on your Amazon wish list (other wish lists are available) right now!

Highlights of the film include a disgusting, disgraceful, demonic birth (it's all gone a bit To The Devil A Daughter again!) and a Nun Vs Devil Vs Novice threeway battle within salty candlelit circles and ruined stone walls. We also get bodies levitating or flying through the air (the demonic equivalent of a boy scout badge) and the herbal magick ritual trip in an old abandoned church comes across like THE CRAFT as directed by Fulci.

Scenes back at the family home are awash with slightly lesser - but no less depraved - wanton sexuality and ritual, orchestrated by a sinister, controlling patriarch. But the 'quietly innocent, fight-primed, second sight-loaded - and quite a bit cute - girl' Vs 'possessed, red-eyed, deep growling, spitting - and quite a bit cute - demonic boy' finale (when suddenly disrobed) is worthy of the legendary Jess Franco himself - turned up to 616. Basically, if you love cult, crazy, off-kilter, wild occult horror, you'll absolutely want to propose your love, get married and consummate to this one - all on the same night!

Probably deeply politically incorrect and morally questionable and certainly ready to offend from the start, the film is also blessed with a gorgeous soundtrack full of sombre orchestral languishing. Strange sounds come pulsing, rumbling, grumbling and lots of Latin chanting creates a sense of ominous pace and worsening restlessness. It never tires or lets up and the FRIGHTFEST 
 audience were dead quiet throughout - none of that sarcastic tittering or shuffling in seats: we sat there transfixed/ in a trance/ possessed. What we were watching felt authentically depraved, horrific and oh so wrong!

The ambitious two hour runtime never dragged and just when we thought it was all over and hadn't exploited its young leads with too much sexually depraved occult degeneration just yet - because we all knew this was a given, the finale truly went for the jugular and ended it all on a stone altar in the middle of nowhere without any clothes on - Gaspar Noé eat your heart out! Clearly virginity can - in horror cinema - be the only weapon against evil that always seems to work.

Don't see this movie unless you want to be assaulted with an overdose of the occult and the perverted, unless you want to find yourself wallowing in a luxurious landscape full of ancient abandoned ruins, unless you want to be surrounded by the stench of burning hallucinogens as you go crawling through strangling vines full of demonic birthing rituals, and unless you want to be plunged into the heart of a tropical sex magick battle to the death in a secret, and ancient, and forbidden place.

FRIGHTFEST screening hasn't been this much fun and feather ruffling since HIDDEN IN THE WOODS or THE ROTTEN LINK. This is wild demonic horror as you always thought it could be. I loved it. And the shocked, head penetrated by horror stagger outside of the smaller (but packed out) Discovery Screen crowd when it was all over, looked way too good for a screen this small.


OTT, Oversexed, Drugged-Up, Demonic, Deranged - Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, TICK!  

Has So Much Fun With The Genre That It Drags All Other Demonically Possessed Horror Flicks Featuring Satanic Nuns Into Urgent Confession  




Sunday, 30 September 2018

FRIGHTFEST - 2018: 'THE DARK' // "A zombie emo love story - it will bite, suck, rip and then melt your heart . . "


// Contains *BIG SPOILERS* hidden in the boot of the car . .   

A zombie teenage girl living alone in a patch of much-feared and avoided (by locals at least) haunted woods meets an abducted/ abused boy blinded by hate. They hide and scurry through the trees together - occasionally venturing into the darkness, but mostly staying invisible in the daylight. For they exist in an emotional dark, not in an existence that cares about light or shade, sleep or wake - or family (the worst). Snatches of music played in a decayed old bedroom in a house of horrors ravaged by years (we don't really know how many) in the middle of nowhere, or handfuls of sugary cereal spat out in disgust from the bitter taste of a zombie's taste buds, offer few moments of brief normality, and ridiculousness, to a life led on the bloodied, abandoned edge of nowhere.

One of the strangest, damn coolest, FRIGHTFEST movies ever. Featuring outstanding casting in Nadia Alexander as Mina and Toby Nichols as Alex, this is no ordinary horror movie.

Alex's ordeal at the hands of his cruel human tormentor (who we see at the start of the film driving him deeper into the woods to do, well - who knows what else to, probably for one last time) is never fully revealed. His captor forever anonymous. Possibly a stranger, maybe a family member. The calm acceptance of circumstance from this young actor is a central pin of the movie's heart-dissolving agenda. We never once have this trauma shattered with hysteria. Only when Alex faces losing his new found friend and guide - Mina - does the primal scream rise.

Mina watches the abandoned and broken boy's arrival from behind dusty windows in the house where she used to live. To survive the curse - or blessing - of returning to life, she can only exist on eating human flesh. Will Alex be next?

Nadia Alexander plays this survivor of death, abuse and improvised burial with hunched resignation and perma-poised threat; this lost and abandoned wild feral thing, tree-climbing or shadow dwelling in an abandoned home - a zombie emo with facial scars hidden under hoodie and jet black straggly hair.

As the movie progresses, Mina's wounds start to heal and the girl she once was returns from the dead and back to life for real - no longer in that state of limbo and fucked-up flux she had previously only been able to sulk and skulk and slay in. Is this the only way for a newly turned zombie to return to the living - through slow healing from a bestial state on finding a reason to live? Or is her friendship - and love - for Alex a catalyst for the scars (an allegory for self-harm?) to be faded and rid of for good?

Sound - or lack of it - is everything in THE DARK. Even the woodland is hushed. There is little dialogue. Wildlife is silent and hiding from the creature that stalks this forbidden stretch (Mina - scaring away a loudly growling police dog at one point; a challenger to the landscape of submissive quiet - enforces the idea that even the animals now fear her).

There is no birdsong, and only a little rustling of leaves. The only sound that penetrates this enclosure of monsters and ghosts - a place that creates such fear throughout the locals and all those who step within Mina's domain - is the arrival of those seeking thrills; in the most haunted of places. Or those looking to find the missing boy and the monster that took him. And is that human monster a local man (but not that local, as he still needs a map)? And is the abduction, if not the scarring, still fresh (word seems to have spread to a few workers in the woods who seem to know who the boy is)?

The truth behind the Alex's abduction is kept shrouded in mystery, but calls between Mina and someone we assume to be Alex's mother on his mobile phone - still fully charged - suggest the snatch wasn't that recent. Or does the calm, if tormented, nature of the voice at the end of the phone suggest some knowledge, resignation and even acceptance of the boy's fate? We never find out. The only backstory we follow will be Mina's.

This reveal of how Mina came to be the way she is, gets slowly uncovered to us - in thick, occasional doses of flashback. The sound escalates as she becomes a victim of her mother's violent boyfriend's desires and panic - her demise a blast of true horror (and - in contrast to much of the rest of the film - taking place off screen: sound effects carrying the weight of the shock). The girl's subsequent attacks on the mostly innocent are less bashful and she is OK to axe and bite in broad daylight - to survive or protect as required. It's not long before Alex has also tasted first blood, and even Mina finds she can be shocked by what he does.

The film comes armed with occasional quiet humour amid the isolation and life-scarring fixing of these two young friends. When Mina first discovers Alex, he gets dressed (in the clothes she brings him) in the car boot and he asks her to look away, which she does - for a moment. The sequence with the ferocious police dog being scared off by Mina's growling back is another lighter moment, as is the sequence where she her tries out the marshmallow cereal meant for Alex - if only to briefly feel like a normal teenage girl again. But there is no laughter in the cinema at all. The Discovery Screen is as hushed as the woods.

There is nothing much to laugh about - even when something potentially funny happens. We have become as isolated watching all this as the two teenagers have become in the woods. Even when alone, their past is never allowed to be forgotten, and it is (for both Mina and Alex) always with them - tightening like a noose around the neck; a loudness in the silence. Even in times when the sulkiness cracks, and some playfulness creeps in, there is always a sense of abandonment and hopelessness to bring them both back down. Their biggest - and only - hope of survival, becomes friendship.

And a rapid friendship does develop between these two - a cautious optimism allowed to creep in. At one point Mina even says to Alex that maybe, if they stay together, he could get his - "eyes fixed". Does he even know how badly his face - or Mina's - is destroyed, most likely for good? Wounds that can never be healed . .

The irony is: Mina's face is eventually 'fixed', and fixed first - her 'revival' begins when these two first meet, and is completed when they are lost to each other again. But despite being forced apart, both of them now have that chance of a better life, and you hope - perhaps need to know - that these two are never going to be apart for too long, and that even, surely, there are more adventures to be had.

I fell in love the youthful desolation and awkwardness of THE DARK. Celebrated the heart of the darkness and this meditation on friendship out of isolation that it brought. Focusing mainly on situations that seem already unfaceable - or resolutely desperate - the transformations and survival at the heart of this movie are truly inspiring (despite the use of that axe - or the eating of human flesh!). Which could be the whole point: the horror is always secondary to matters of the heart. This is not a horror film in traditional format. But like all good horror, it's also not afraid to unnerve; shock; haunt - or bite down where it hurts. When - or if - it wants to.

Within the barely rustling woodland shadows, or in the filtering through the leaves sunlight and sheltering gloom, there is a force of love, friendship and light returning to a world where the unhealable can sometimes be stitched. It's a sombre, life-affirming movie - framed by cinematography and sound design that has a life of its own (but is still generous enough to accept second billing to the ballad of Mina and Alex).

We almost feel as voyeur to witness this journey of two young outsiders finding strength in their own space within, and outside of, the boundaries of their own secretive, woodland domain. You fear for them both as they head out into the real world again - a place where bad things still happen. But it's also a step that should, in the end, make them stronger.

That idyllic life they briefly had on their own - left to their own devices - eventually seems an impossible dream (because 'others' will always eventually come, and there may be no such thing as 'absolute isolation' - even when hidden in the woods). And even more so, now they are together - death still spreads like a curse; the killings in the wood no longer just for food. Now they also both need to kill - to protect their friendship and to defend each other. But without that way of life (and by the end of the film, that way of life is all over) what else is there?

We do need another film to find out . .

One defining sequence in THE DARK comes as the two friends step beyond the trees into the world outside and there is a sudden rising of natural sound and bright light that shatters and smears the hushed, silvery and shadowy landscape they are used to - a louder and more hostile place to be in, and a bold stroke on the canvas from directors Justin P. Lange and Klemens Hufnagl. Even when ultimately left to go it alone, the strength between Mina and Alex remains. Mina's final scenes show her being picked up in a car, driven by a middle aged woman concerned that the teenage girl is out walking by herself, alone, in the middle of nowhere. Mina gets in. It's the last we see of her. The final shot of the movie . .

There's no real hint that this unknown woman's life is now at risk from the zombie girl sitting in her passenger seat. It feels more as if Mina actually now wants to be found - no longer needs to exist skulking in the shadows. Now that her face is fully returned to that of the girl she once was - no longer zombie (in appearance) - can she live a normal life again? Will she try and find her friend and help him (we have no real idea of Alex's fate)? It's an uncertain closure to the film for sure. But in a pin drop of an auditorium, and for a fully subdued FRIGHTFEST crowd, it was the closest we were going to get to a happy ending.

THE DARK comes loaded with two outstanding leads: Nadia Alexander as Mina grabs both heart and throat strings and never lets go - balancing crouching, predatory, scurrying, almost playful threat with overwhelming sadness, depression and isolation. And Toby Nichols, as Alex, elicits an eerily resigned and haunted acceptance of fate with a friendly, stoic demeanour (that occasionally slips its defences - the wetting of his jeans more symbolic of actual terror than an often outward calm suggests). Direction, sound (James Lazarenko - sound mixer) and cinematography (from co-director Klemens Hufnagl) - and yes: screenplay too (from director Lange) - is elegiac, naturalistic and quietly breathless.

THE DARK was a standout at this year's FRIGHTFEST: an ultra dark and super moody tale of an emo zombie in love. That fantasy, angsty, teenage tree-climbing zombie in the woods graphic novel that you always wanted to see made as a movie - just got done.

The lack of fanfare compared to some other movies on the main screen this year was admitted in the film's introduction from the FRIGHTFEST team. But the sleeper hit potential and word of mouth the film has been getting, was also acknowledged. No cast or crew attended the screening, which was a shame. The gathering aura surrounding this movie and its quirky and defiantly individual existence in the midst of other movies making far more noise and chaos (not least Noé's closing whack to the head of CLIMAX) was a hushed breath of freshly dead girl's air in the auditorium, and just a little bit awesome.


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