SITGES INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2015
Written by Sarah Tyler Shaw
October in Sitges is one of our favourite times of year, why? Because during October Sitges plays host to the number one fantasy film festival in the world: SITGES Festival Internacional de Cinema Fantàstic de Catalunya.
“Born in 1968 as the 1st International Week of Fantasy and Horror Movies, today the Festival is an essential rendezvous for movie lovers and audiences eager to come into contact with new tendencies and technologies applied to film and the audio-visual world.” – sitgesfilmfestival.com
The 48th annual Sitges Film Festival took place from 9-18 October with many stars in attendance, such as regular attendee Eli Roth, Takashi Miike, Gaspar Noé and Oliver Stone, who received the Sitges Grand Honorary Award. 169 films were screened over 10 days on 9 screens this year, 37 of which were competing in the Official Selection.
During the festival the beautiful seaside town of Sitges is buzzing with horror and fantasy fanatics from all over the world, but it’s not just about the movies; many fun experiences and events are on offer too. One of the biggest highlights each year has to be the annual Sitges Zombie Walk. This year hundreds of blood splattered, flesh-hungry, groaning zombies took to the streets of Sitges to take part. It was none other than legendary special makeup effects artist Rick Baker who kicked off the walk with an inspiring speech to all zombies present, commending everyone for their fantastic efforts and even commenting that he wanted to move to Sitges after seeing this! Baker was presented with the Time Machine Award, in recognition of his masterful lifetime achievements. During a press conference at the festival, Baker commented that “the work that I feel most satisfied with is what I did in Harry and the Hendersons”, but “I’m really critical with all of my work and when I finish something, I always see things that I think I could have done better”.
This year we too decided to get all bloodied up and joined the disturbed, grotesque masses to harass and terrify the awaiting public and I have to say it was really fun. I highly recommend getting involved if you ever plan on visiting!
Now back to the movies, we had the opportunity to see a small collection of films that were on offer this year and here’s what we thought...
When a devoted husband and father is left home alone for the weekend, two stranded young women unexpectedly knock on his door for help. What starts out as a kind gesture results in a dangerous seduction and a deadly game of cat and mouse.
OK, so you need to take this movie for what it is, it’s not a horror movie. It’s nothing like Roth’s usual stomach-churning gore fests such as Hostel, Cabin Fever or The Green Inferno. When introducing his movie at the Retiro Cinema during the festival, Roth himself put Knock Knock in the thriller genre. We could call it a comedy thriller, although we would stick with just thriller if it wasn’t for the horrific performance by Keanu Reeves (horrific is being kind to him) which subsequently made the film quite funny. That is the first hurdle you need to get over, as long as you are not expecting an Oscar winning performance from Reeves and simply take his “acting” with a pinch of salt you may enjoy this film. The highlight of the movie are the performances by Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas who capture the two crazy psychopaths Genesis & Bel brilliantly. Their convincing brash and unpredictable behaviour often left me often thinking “How the hell would you get these crazy bitches out of your house?” There are some great moments of awkwardness and tension, which will almost always be broken with a fantastically corny one-liner. Do not watch this movie if you’re in search of some Roth gore but if you looking for an easy watch with some laughs and some tits and ass throw in then take a peek.
|The Devil's Candy
Written & directed by Sean Byrne
Starring Ethan Embry, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Kiara Glasco & Shiri Appleby
Struggling painter Jesse Hellman is possessed by satanic forces after he and his young family move into their dream home in rural Texas.
It’s been 6 years since Sean Byrne graced us with his first feature The Loved Ones (if you haven’t seen it why not?) On Friday 16th October the wait was finally over. Byrne himself introduced his long awaited second feature The Devil’s Candy, stating it was his first visit to the festival and that he could not believe he hadn’t attended sooner. Byrne commented that he didn’t want to say much about the film only this “I hope there are some heavy metal fans in the audience” and for good reason.
After seeing quite a few poor attempts at movie making this year, we had pinned a lot of hope on The Devil’s Candy, being huge fans of The Loved Ones, we were longing for an original horror move that would revive our spirits and faith in the horror genre. The Devil’s Candy did not let us down. Congratulations Mr Byrne you knock the ball well and truly out of the park.
Moral premise, check, story structure, check, amazing sound track (I refer back to the heavy metal comment earlier), check, engaging and effective performances, check (special shout out to Ethan Embry, Kiara Glasco, and Pruitt Taylor Vince) amazing cinematography, check, visual effects, check, everything else check, check, check!
The movie had us gripped from the opening title sequence. Throughout the movie are great moments of nail biting tension which had us on the edge of our seats gripping the arm rest terrified of what was coming next. Priutt Taylor Vince plays the perfect villain in this story his unnerving looming presence mixed with an unstable naivety and brute violence is enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine. The biggest plus for the movie is that you really do root for the victims, so many film makers feel the need to plunge straight into the action, they do not allow the audience time to get to know the characters and thus we struggle to feel empathy and the effect of the story as we should. Byrne has a talent for character development within his movies. I cannot recommend this film enough and truly hope we do not have to wait another 6 years for the next Sean Byrne masterpiece!
Written & Directed by Ben & Chris Blaine
Staring Fiona O’Shaughnessy, Abigail Hardingham & Cian Barry
After his girlfriend Nina dies in a car crash, Rob unsuccessfully attempts suicide. As he begins to overcome his grief, he falls in love with a coworker, Holly. Their relationship is complicated when Nina, unable to find rest in the afterlife, comes back to life to sarcastically torment them whenever they have sex.
This is a quirky little British film, which in the beginning seemed like a promising comedy horror. We really liked this film up until around the 40 minute mark. It was quite original, different from any of the other movies we had seen so far and it had some great comedic moments and one-liners. Fiona O'Shaughnessy does a great job as the jealous yet witty corpse Nina, while Abigail Hardingham and Cian Barry create a fantastic comedy twosome with their reactions and solutions to their copulation problem. However once Nina interrupts the new couple a few times the film becomes quite flat and loses its spark. You could take this movie as a metaphor; the ghosts of ex-partners having their effect on new relationships, however I felt the final resolution of the film doesn’t really back this metaphor up. It instead left me feeling quite confused. This could have been the perfect short film but as a feature is just a little too drawn out.
Directed by Bruce McDonald
Starring Chloe Rose
A teenager must survive a Halloween night from Hell when malevolent trick-or-treaters come knocking at her door.
Yep that’s all the synopsis says and that’s all you really find out about these malevolent trick-or-treaters apart from the fact they want teenager Dora’s unborn child. I have heard a few people say this is a good film up until the third act, I have to disagree with this due to the fact we have no idea who these pints size trick-or-treaters are or why they want the baby, so instead of feeling anxiously fearful of the possibilities that lie ahead, we found ourselves utterly confused as to who these little characters are and WHY THEY WANT THE BABY?
We think "OK maybe eventually all will be revealed; something could happen here it’s getting kind of creepy; they’re building up the film nicely". The build up of curiosity and tension is enhanced by a great soundtrack (the one big positive of this movie. Then, as we lead into the second act, all of a sudden the area outside of the house turns a quirky unsaturated colour, which evokes a strange daylight atmosphere but in an eerie dream-like way. Now some people have called this great cinematography but it’s predominantly done in the editing room and as visually interesting and unusual it may be, it is one of my biggest problems with this movie as for some reason none of the characters seem to react to the fact that it's light at midnight. So if you're going to do ‘cool cinematography’ make sure there’s a darn good reason to do it and that the characters react to it.
The closest we ever come to some sort of revelation in the story is in the second act when local police officer Corman, played by Robert Patrick, arrives at the house. He reveals a connection between the trick-or-treaters and a terrible incident that took place many years ago which caused him to loose his wife and unborn baby. Patrick takes us deeper into the story to the point where we believe all is about to be revealed but then we never find out WHY THEY WANT THE BABY!
By the third act I’ve almost given up, everything goes funky we find ourselves completely lost in between dream state and reality. The acting on the whole isn’t too bad. Had there been higher level of consistency from our leading actress Chloe Rose, she would have given a really good performance. On the whole it is a bit too far off the mark, it was nice to see someone try and do something different with a Halloween story, but unfortunately this falls short. What I could gather from the final resolution of the story is that this movie is some sort of metaphor for either pregnancy or abortion, so if you like films that are one big metaphor then this is the film for you.
Directed by Henry Hobson
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin & Joely Richardson
A teenage girl in the Midwest becomes infected by an outbreak of a disease that slowly turns the infected into cannibalistic zombies. During her transformation, her loving father stays by her side.
What you read is what you get. Maggie is an interesting and original take on a zombie film. The title character Maggie, played by Breslin, is a young girl who ran away to the city during the outbreak of a vicious disease that effectively turns humans into zombies. Unfortunately she gets bitten and the audience is shown the moment when she is infected through Maggie’s terrifying flashbacks.
She is then found by police and taken to a hospital, where here father Wade (Schwarzenegger) finds her and is given permission to take her home for a week with the promise to quarantine her as the disease takes hold. It’s a story of love and how much you are willing to sacrifice for your loved ones. With some absolutely stunning cinematography and understated, truthful performances from the entire cast (yes that does included Mr Schwarzenegger whose stillness shows a great depth of character), this film holds up very nicely and is really quite moving.
Unfortunately Maggie is lacking a bit of action. There are rare moments showing the extent of the disease which I feel could have been taken further. For example we often hear the characters discussing how awful quarantine is and how terrified the infected are to be sent there, however we never see it. Due to the lack of seeing, but rather witnessing a lot of stillness and talking I found that it’s very much a film that is on one level at all times and is missing an injection of pace here and there. Overall it is a good film with some very nice moments, wonderfully shot and great performances, I never thought a zombie movie could almost bring me to tears, but it’s not a film that will have you on the edge of your seats.
|The Dead Room
Directed by Jason Stutter
Starring Jed Brophy, Jeffery Thomas & Laura Peterson
When a terrified family flees a desolate southern New Zealand farmhouse, two cynical scientists and a young psychic are sent to investigate their claims of a haunting. There they encounter a powerful spirit that will protect the house's secrets at all costs.
Oh dear. If you like poltergeist activity this film is filled with it, most of it predictable and often repetitive, however some moments are quite impressive. That’s about it for my positive criticism of The Dead Room.
Now hear come the negatives: there is no real story line to this movie, some ‘ghost hunters’ are sent to a house to investigate the paranormal activity which caused a family to flee their home, and... that’s about it. We never find out who the spirits are or why they are here and there are some less than adequate performances. The ending leaves you completely baffled as the secret of the house is never truly revealed. There is no final resolution rather a sequence of jumps, scares and nifty poltergeist-like effects with a conclusion that leaves you thinking "What the...? If you're looking for a film that has a few neat tricks this could be for you, otherwise avoid it like the plague.
Directed by Stephen Fingleton winner of the Citizen Kane Award for Best Up-and-Coming Director
Starring Martin McCann, Mia Goth & Olwen Fouere
In a time of starvation, a survivalist lives off a small plot of land hidden deep in forest. When two women seeking food and shelter discover his farm, he finds his existence threatened.
Admittedly this isn’t a horror movie, but I’m glad I saw it. Stephen Fingleton presented his first feature with a politically motivated speech about his home country of Northern Ireland, commenting on how the government keep making mistakes at the cost of the public and comparing this to the Spanish government, much to the disapproval of a few audience members who decided to leave the auditorium at that moment.
But his speech was intriguing, he spoke of population growth and famine which lead me into a thought provoking mindset that would allow me to become really quite affected by the film I was about to see.
This isn’t your typical post-apocalyptic movie, the entire film takes place on a small plot of land deep in the Irish woodland. The movie flows at a slow but tense pace. Martin McCann does well at portraying the desolate and isolated lead character, he is almost animal-like in his reactions and physicality, providing the audience with a very convincing performance of how the human race would regress back to acting with pure animal instinct and impulse should we ever experience the ‘apocalypse’.
When mother and daughter Kathryn and Milja intrude on our protagonist’s territory the dynamics of the movie quickly change, we finally hear speech for the first time which wasn’t actually missed, the use of silence greatly enhancing the solitary atmosphere of the film. All three actors do a good job at creating tension and unpredictability in their interaction.
The themes displayed in this movie are both gut-wrenching yet sobering, the movie almost serves as a warning to the human race of the imminent dangers that lie ahead of us if we continue to waste our resources. Kudos to writer and director Stephen Fingleton who in my opinion is a well deserved winner of the Best Up-and-Coming Director award.
If you’re a lover of all things horror, fantasy and sci-fi then Sitges is most definitely the festival for you. This festival is filled to the brim with stars, events, master classes, great movies and so much more whilst being set in one of the most beautiful coastal towns in Europe. So start planning your trip now, you wont be sorry.
Winners of the main awards at this year's festival included:
Best Feature Length Film: The Invitation by Karyn Kusama
Special Jury Award: The Final Girls by Todd Strauss-Schulson
Best Director S. Craig Zahler for Bone Tomahawk
Best Actress: Pili Grogne for Le tout nouveau testament
Best Actor: Joel Edgerton for The Gift
Best Screenplay: M. A. Fortin, Joshua John Miller for The Final Girls by Todd Strauss-Schulson
Best Special Effects: Makoto Kamiya for I Am a Hero by Shinsuke Sato
Best Cinematography: Pawel Flis for Demon by Marcin Wrona
Best Music: Jean-Philippe Bernier, Jean-Nicolas Leupi, Le Matos for Turbo Kid by Anouk Whissell, François Simard, Yoann-Karl Whissell
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