FRIGHTFEST 2014 - DAY FIVE
And so the final day was upon us. Not sure whether I just had more energy than last year or if the strength of the line-up in 2014 had made a difference, but the festival had passed in what seemed like a very short space of time. Another morning interview meant I missed the opening film of the day so I would kick off Monday with the Serbian killer mermaid flick Nymph. It relies heavily on the 'kids go somewhere they shouldn't, kids get dead' scenario. The kids in this case are more like thirty-somethings and their ill-advised stomping ground is an abandoned military prison called Mamula were a fish-tailed female with a bloodlust lives. Shot on location in Montenegro, this low-budget fantasy is directed by Zone of the Dead creator Milan Todorovic. There were some grumblings around the festival about the acting, but giving the filmmaker his dues, he directed a non-English speaking cast in a language which was native for no-one and got passable performances from everyone. Cult legend Franco Nero (Django: Prepare a Coffin) pops up as a salty sea-dog whose warning not to visit the island goes unheeded. Todorvic plays it smart, utilising the scenery to make the film look much bigger budget than it is and keeping his monster under wraps until the final act. It's a bit silly, but it's fun and you can't argue that Nymph doesn't bring anything new to the table. When was the last time you saw a killer mermaid movie?
British wilderness horror Xmoor came next, pitting a couple of American documentary makers against the wilds of Exmoor (no, I don't know why they dropped the 'E' from the title either) in search of a big cat. After setting up camp and all their night vision cameras they stumble across something they didn't bargain for: a serial killer's dumping ground, littered with the decaying bodies of his victims. After being persuaded by their guide that catching the killer would be a better documentary than proving big cats roam the moors, they set about lying in wait for the killer's return. And you can probably guess it doesn't go to plan for them. It's competently made and acted, but it's a scenario that horror has seen many times before. Even at a fairly compact 80 minutes it still seemed a little slow.
V/H/S: Viral probably had the biggest potential for disappointment of the whole festival, riding on the back of two successful and brilliant predecessors. I had such hopes pinned on it being my highlight of the day, but unfortunately it lived up to its potential for disappointment. Those familiar with the series' format will know the drill; a number of short stories with a wraparound segment that's usually pretty poor. No change with Viral then. The wraparound starts, and continues, with a city-wide police chase of an ice-cream van that's speeding through the streets destroying anyone that gets in its way. There isn't much more to it than that, except when it gets to its conclusion and gives this third V/H/S movie its subtitle. Dante the Great is the first story, about a magician who gains extraordinary powers after inheriting a cape that's rumoured to have belonged to Houdini. It freely abandons the found footage conceit and goes for a much more traditional camera approach. It's also let down by the fact the biggest scare is also in the trailer.
Nacho Vigalondo's Parallel Monsters is an amusing and light-hearted story about a man who invents a door to a neighbouring dimension in his basement. When he and his dimensional opposite decide to swap sides for 15 minutes, they both begin to realise that their respective domains are not strictly mirror image as expected. Some good creature effects in this one, and a very strong stylistic nod to the film within a film in his other Frightfest title, Open Windows.
Vicious Circles is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it, pointless story that's barely more than an argument in the back of a cab. It's so short you could be forgiven for thinking it was just part of the wraparound (and in fact, my seat neighbour and I were in discussion about whether it was actaully supposed to be a standalone story).
Bonestorm gets back to the V/H/S template as a bunch of Go-Pro helmeted skater dudes head down to Mexico to shoot a video of themselves being gnarly. Whatever that means. While shredding (no idea, sorry) they inadvertently raise an army of the undead and an under-utilised monster that they have to fight against to survive. It's a fast-paced and fun segment but, although it's satisfyingly bloody, it doesn't actually go anywhere.
We were left surprised that Viral was over with so quickly and checking online it appears there is another segment, both in information on the film and in the trailer, Gorgeous Vortex that either didn't make it into this world premiere cut or has been dropped altogether. Regardless, the addition of another story would be unlikely to raise V/H/S: Viral out of disappointing territory.
And then it arrived, the final film of the weekend. After an onstage goodbye and thanks from the organisers of the festival, we were plunged into darkness for the final time as William Eubank's The Signal got underway. This understated sci-fi thriller follows a group of three on a cross-country road trip. The two guys are hackers and are constantly trying to settle a score with a rival known as Nomad. When they realise that he's based close by they take a detour to find him, only to make contact with an otherworldly race. For most of the remainder of the film they're confined to a government test facility while they work out how to escape and what might have been done to them. It's an emotionally charged journey that builds on its characters isolation to deliver a finale that is as surprising as it is impressive. Overall it felt like an odd choice to end the festival as its downbeat tempo didn't exactly do much to raise the pulse to a fist-pumping celebration of the previous days.
So there we have it. Five days in a new venue with a new approach to programming. The start of the festival felt like it might have lost its special spark, but after the first day the energy definitely seemed to be coming back to the point where Frightfest on Friday evening was pretty much business as usual. Along the way we had some previews of the Soska's See No Evil 2, which looks like a lot of fun and David Robert Mitchell's It Follows, which looks frankly terrifying. While there are other Frightfest events in the calendar beforehand (the Halloween All-Nighter, which is now an All-Dayer and Frightfest in Glasgow) it's going to seem an awfully long time before this unique experience can be repeated again in 2015.
This year has been probably my favourite festival yet, with a broad range of genres that would fit in the 'fantastic films' remit and a really strong selection of titles that have kept my interest and my spirits high. Roll on Bank Holiday 2015.
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