Posted on Friday, August 28th, 2009 by Brendon Connelly
The 10th anniversary Frightfest is underway in London, and for once I’m not in the cheap seats. Ladies and gentlemen – I think I have finally arrived. The atmosphere in the virtually packed out Empire Leicester Square has been electric – buzzing like a chainsaw, even. Weekend pass holders abound, a genuine spirit of camaraderie prevails and there’s already a good vibe passing back and forth amongst us that we’re in for the best Frightfest yet.
It’s definitely the biggest and the glitziest. Year on year the event has scaled up and now we’re dealing with not one but two screens in one of London’s biggest and busiest cinemas. The programme is packed with premieres, many of them world premieres, and there’s a heavy load of special guests, Q&As and other surprise horror bric a brac scheduled for the five-day event.
We started on a real high. A short intro film blended recut excerpts from The Twilight Zone Movie and An American Werewolf in London with new footage of beloved Frightfest brethren Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2) and Adam Green (Hatchet). They were playing a pair of hitchhikers trying to get to the festival and stopping off in The Slaughtered Lamb for a mac and cheese. It was a little warm up clip not entirely unlike, say, one of those Billy Crystal video skits from the opening moments of the Oscars. It certainly did the trick though as the audience snapped immediately into the right mood. The film gave us some good in-jokes that all of us were in on and by the time it was done, they might as well have built a wall around the auditorium and given us all new passports we so fully felt part of a coherent community.
Then the four old men of Frightfest took to the stage to rapturous applause – Paul, Ian, Alan and Greg . They’ve earned our respect over the years and for some of the audience that even seems to be turning to love. I think we can scratch that old maxim about familiarity breeding contempt.
Actually, I found even more compelling evidence for the death of that particular proverb in the way many in the audience just lapped up some of the truly clichéd moments to hit the screen tonight. Let’s discuss that film-by-film.
Triangle -dir. Chris Smith
One of a handful of valid comparisons between Chris Smith’s Triangle and The Time Traveler’s Wife is that both have had their plots publicly spoiled by their lead actresses at a crucial time. With Wife, Rachel McAdams virtually spelled out the story’s whole set of twists on The Daily Show, while with Triangle, lead actress Melissa George dropped her foot in her mouth quite fabulously when introducing the film at its world premiere here at Frightfest. Ooops!
The twist she gave away was, to be fair, something quite likely to be spilled in any pub, watercooler or messageboard discussion of the film and could even be thrown away in one of those bad trailers that try to compress the first two acts of the film into three minutes, but I still think she undermined what would have been the most interesting development in the entire movie for tonight’s audience.
People didn’t seem to mind too much, however, with everybody I spoke to feeling fairly well satisfied by the film. I asked my fellow audience members a few questions about the various plot, dialogue, camera and editing chouces that foxed me, and didn’t always get logical answers.
I think this one might unravel a little for some supporters in retrospect because, sadly, I don’t think Triangle plays fair. There seems to be a good bit of fudging going on as regards the ‘rules’ of how the film’s particular plot engine ‘quirk’ is taking place. There’s also a weird costume decision made by our lead character, simply to facilitate a plot device, and when she attempts to justify it in her dialogue, the rationale given seems anything but.
There’s also a baffling piece of deus ex machina towards the end that feels like a tremendous act of disrespect to the audience. Shame. Had Smith tied all of his loose ends together without this cheap reach for an easy fix I’d be far more inclined to recommend the film to audiences beyond the horror faithful.
But for that group, I’ll give it a nod, with reservations. While I don’t think this particular jigsaw comes with every piece you’d expect actually supplied in the box, there’s still some fun to be had putting together what pieces of the picture there are.
Here’s a funny footnote: writer-director Christopher Smith is a veteran of Eastenders, Melissa George came to fame with Aussie serial Home and Away and the film Triangle shares its name with the most notoriously awful soap opera in UK broadcast history.
The Hills Run Red – dir. David Parker
Hills has been touted as a clever-clever slasher piece that will at once pay homage to and analyse the conventions of the genre, a la Scream. I don’t buy it. Indeed, I counted far more clichés just served up cold and unaltered than those in any way tweaked, explored or interrogated. It was, overall, a rather boring trifle of a film, stifled almost immediately by a five minute run of expository dialogue and then left atrophying through scene after scene of witless and repetitive slasher staples, ho-hum gore effects and predictably barenaked ladies. Of course, there were a few brief glimmers of the cunning little movie I had been promised. One Raiders-reminiscent moment garnered spontaneous applause from the crowd and, as we neared the end, our doll-masked killer had a real humdinger of a line to deliver.
These little twinkles aside, the slasher is the only real selling point present. Babyface is probably on a par with some of the more readily identifiable pretenders to Jason and Mike Meyers’ crown, just for his mask if nothing else.
Definitely leave this film on the shelf until you’ve seen Screams 1 and 2 and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Lesley Vernon. Then, if you’re wondering if there’s any more meaningful observations to make on the genre, give Hills a spin. It might come close to convincing you there isn’t.
Infestation – dir. Kyle Rankin
The clear winner of day one’s Best Film honour is this smart and ambitious comedy-horror about a plague of giant insects. Writer-director Kyle Rankin shows great promise on both fronts with a smartly structured screenplay, some gorgeous dialogue, including the best Silence of the Lambs reference I have ever encountered, bang-on casting and a number of well executed bug-fight sequences. There’s definitely a lot of good ideas that don’t play out with quite the punch they deserve – due to their timing, staging and the score mainly, it would seem – but they at least impress quietly, and more so in retrospect.
Some of the characters get great intros, some of them great outros, but they all get at least one moment to truly shine. Rankin also has a wonderful way of drip-feeding the backstory and ‘mythology’, explaining his characters, their situations and how his giant bugs work and why with top class reveal after top class reveal.
With a bit more focus and control, this could have been a genuine masterpiece of the monster movie genre but ,as it is, Infestation still counts as a rollicking good entertainment. Why isn’t this playing in every town across the land? Something’s amiss.
Just one week after the last day of the festival, Infestation is released on UK DVD and Blu-Ray and just one day in, it’s at the top of my festival chart (the US can get their mitts on it in October). I can only imagine what somebody with the wit and spirit of invention which Rankin shows here would do with a big summer tentpole – swap these bugs for giant robots and remix accordingly and you’d have a Transformers film that would please even me.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to get three and a half hours sleep before turning around and heading back to London for the Film 4 Frightfest day 2. If you fancy joining in, there are still single tickets available for most films.