I attended Andy Nyman’s “Quiz from Hell 2” and soon realised that this was a quiz for only true die hard horror fans. I got a few questions right but most likely I would not be winning any prizes for my effort. Andy Nyman, from Friday’s film The Glassman, was a good host and even made me chuckle a few times; notably during a “what happens next?” clip from the Omen 2 where he claimed “we know he is going to die because he is black. But how does he die?” It was funny because it was true.
The first film I watched of the day was Ti West’s The Innkeepers. The only reason I chose to watch the film is based on the brilliant looking poster (below), which got me feeling all nostalgic for the 80’s. In this case I was pretty glad that I did because ‘The Innkeepers’ is easily THE BEST FILM AT THIS YEAR’S FRIGHT FEST. I have never familiarized myself to the slow-burn horror flick and this was my first outing of a Ti West film, which prompted me to rent West’s House of the Devil from my local Hackney Library.
Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are the bored and restless employees of the soon to be closing Yankee Pedlar Inn. They are determined during its final closing weekend to uncover the truth of its dark secret and more importantly get proof that paranormal life exists. As the Inn’s final days draw to a close and as odd guests check in (Kelly McGillis from Top Gun and Witness!), the pair of amateur ghostbusters encounter increasingly more disturbing events.
It is extremely hard to find a comparison to the type of film this is, guaranteeing that West clearly has a distinctive voice within film making. You could say that it’s Clerks meets The Shining, because on the one hand it is a witty slacker-esque comedy, while on the other a sinister ghost story. But I would rather not bore you with this cross referenced hyperbole. The premise is entirely simple, the setting economic, and the actors minimal but yet it is West’s method of pushing the plot along at a snail’s pace that really breaks the mould. To do this and remain engaging while deliberately being leisurely is a fantastic achievement especially considering the genre it exists in. As a result when the shocks come, they come unexpectedly rather than a familiar beat and has you doubting whether there is anything going on at all.
Above all this is a character driven film and all the actors are more than adept at handling the material. Pat Healy plays his character with wit, verve and intelligence. Kelly McGillis’s psychic television actress is played with steel and eeriness. The true revelation is Sara Paxton as the kooky slacker Claire. She does a brilliant job as the lead, helping to carry the film with bundles of nervous energy and charm and if I were ever stuck in a haunted hotel I would definitely want to have her for company.
Later on in the day the big one was about to commence. Fright Fest went all out with the promotion of this film; massive cardboard posters were all over the gaff, plus I managed to get a “Kill List” goodie bag. Kill List postcards were also handed out I got one; at the back was a straw mask. Others had a hammer, and a gun. I managed to get mine signed by director Ben Wheatley. The cinema was packed out but I noticed a familiar face in the crowd. Simon Pegg was there to cheer on his mate “Tyres” (a Spaced In-joke, actually Michael Smiley), so I managed to grab this cheeky photo:
With all that faith and hype Kill List had better be good, and to be quite frank it actually really is. In truth it is two films rolled into one, part comedy-drama gangster flick, part horror of the occult; the film aspires to shock and ultimately disturb with equal aplomb. Not since Seven has a highbrow film went all out to gleefully fuck with the mind. Jay (Neil Maskell) a family man and ex military is lured back to work as a hit man in order to provide for his wife (MyAnna Buring) and young son. He agrees to take on the Kill List from a dodgy client and with his friend and colleague (Michael Smiley) embark on what should be an easy money straightforward series of hits.
This is as much as I can say of the plot without giving too much away, but I have also laden the last paragraph with some clues. Despite straddling genres Wheatley keeps in balance the mood and moment often expressed in an art house tone. Yet despite the bleak morals, and disturbing scenes there are many moments of humour particularly concerning Jay and Gal. If the dialogue is partly credited to the cast then Maskell and Smiley must surely reap the plaudits for their improvisation. The dinner scene in particular should be an important signifier, and the hitman-banter seems more real and authentic than say Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction. Though Wheatley does a great job in capturing mood, the actors create a convincing friendship and a commendable structure, what lets it down is the anticlimactic gear change in its final act. One can only imagine that Robin Hardy had a little discussion with Ben during the festival. Despite this minor flaw I will join the hyperbole with added quotation marks and say that “Kill List is the freshest thriller that has been made in a while and is systematically deserving of your cinema money”. In other words, I recommend it
I don’t know why I chose to watch A Night in the Woods but unfortunately I did, quite sadly all I can say is that it was a blatant Blair Witch rip off. VERDICT: E. The closing film of the festival was A Lonely Place to Die, which would be the fourth British directed film I would see at Fright Fest. Starring Melissa George, Ed Speelers and Sean Harris, I anticipated George attending the screening having been a fan of her as Angel in Home and Away but it was not to be.
ALPTD like Kill List before it is a mash up of two types of movies, part survivalist, part-thriller but is more conventionally dynamic. When five rock climbers come across a pipe in the middle of nowhere emitting distressing cries from a small Serbian girl, they do the only right thing and rescue her. Yet the mystery surrounded by her captivity is confounded when they in turn are pursued by her captors and their lives become at risk.
ALPTD excels at scaring its audience at frequent periods to its sustained sense of danger. There are some brilliant set pieces that director Julian Gilbey has brilliantly constructed and the view of Scottish landscape is completely breathtaking. Yet there is the problem that the film is trying to please everyone instead of following its own trajectory. The film seems to only gather momentum when the bad guys brilliantly and terrifyingly played by Sean Harris and Stephen McCole appear but a subplot concerning two English mercenaries fails to add anything to the story.
However though it’s no Casablanca-classic, it still is an enjoyable thrill ride that made my heart beat a couple of times. Pity elements of the film were formulaic.
FRIGHTFEST ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY:
To conclude FrightFest is a well worthy 5 day film festival and definitely one for your annual diary.