FrightFest Round-Up, Part One: Preternatural Pregnancies

Fright FestChristian Robshaw reports on this year’s FrightFest…

Your dogged correspondent has just returned from five days’ watching horror films in Leicester Square, and believe me, I took no personal pleasure in it at all.* In fact, so disorienting was the whole experience that I imagine it’ll be weeks, perhaps a full year, before I can face watching another horror film**. Don’t even ask me how little pleasure I took in meeting various directors, especially when, just for asking an innocent question, I had a T-shirt forced on me with a design of The Babadook, the big hit of last year’s festival. What’s more, the label calls it a medium but I’m sure it’s more of a large. But it’s far too nice to wear as pyjamas! A bank holiday weekend wasted.

But I said I’d write the festival up for the website, and you’ll catch me dead before you catch me breaking a promise. So, in several parts, will follow a write-up of all 50 of the films I caught during the festival. Things kicked off in the early evening on Thursday with Cherry Tree, in which a girl, Faith (Naomi Battrick) foolishly trusts her friendly neighbourhood Satanists when they promise to cure her poor sick father if she agrees to carry the Devil’s baby. Cherry Tree borrows from Rosemary’s Baby not only its demon-pregnancy plot, but also its sense of urban horror. This probably goes without saying, but it isn’t nearly as good as Rosemary’s Baby. It starts slowly, but nicely, its outlandish plot kept grounded by believable characters and realistic photography, but the more it goes on the more inescapable the sense that the filmmakers are just winging it. Surreal is all well and good when it replicates the terrifying logic of nightmares, but not when it comes across as an excuse for abandoning any conception of narrative sense.  Cherry Tree just doesn’t go anywhere, and takes its sweet pretentious time getting there, too. By the time you’ve reached the finale it’s difficult to summon any sort of concern for Faith, because the world around her is as pointless and nonsensical as her own decisions. That’s a shame, because the underground finale would be exciting in a film where it made sense – Pan’s Labyrinth, I suppose – but here, it’s just preposterous.

Cherry Tree - FrightFest

Cherry Tree – FrightFest

Hellions again features a teen pregnancy, and again features characters strangely unconcerned that a two-week pregnancy is as developed as if it were six months gone, or whatever it is. Again an apparently realistic setting increasingly gives way to dream-logic, but Hellions makes a point of it, whereas in Cherry Tree it’s just bad storytelling. That’s not to say that Hellions doesn’t feature bad storytelling, though: about half of the film is taken up by a genuinely intriguing and creepy plot in which our hero Dora (Chloe Rose) is besieged in her home by tiny, malevolent, and indestructible trick-or-treaters, but this plot is entirely abandoned for a metaphysical finale in which we delve into the past of T-1000 Robert Patrick’s character, a predictably troubled local cop (ironic!) who hates Halloween. The siege plot was like a Buffy episode or something, and while it wasn’t exactly original – we might think of Children of the Corn or Halloween III: Season of the Witch – it was scary, well-acted, and not too silly. It’s part of the point of Hellions that it isn’t the film it seems to be, but I liked that film much more than the one they actually made.

The pregnant-horror trope makes another appearance in one of the segments of A Christmas Horror Story, a generally decent festive anthology that I’ll deal with more fully in another post, but I briefly include it here just as further evidence of how on-trend carrying Satan’s spawn is right now. Young mothers, be sure to get your foetus possessed, won’t you?

James Wan, serial scarer of the slightly underage kids who’ve crept into his films through the fire exit, has made so much money with apparently undistinguished horrors that he obviously knows a lot more than I do about how to stay on top in the scary-movie game. If demonic pregnancies are something in the air right now, then you can bet he’s all over it like slashers with slumber parties; and, true to form, here he is with James Wan’s DEMONIC, a film he neither wrote nor directed but which is nevertheless, apparently, his. Actually the preternatural pregnancy in this film is only incidental to the main plot, which is the exact same investigating-the-haunted-house story you’ve already seen in Insidious, The Conjuring, Insidious: Chapter 2, and Annabelle. The film was shown in the “witching hour” late-night slot, on the announcer’s logic that it’s sure to keep you up. “You won’t fall asleep during this film” as an endorsement is hardly ringing, but at least it’s true. Believe me, I tried, but Will Canon’s James Wan’s DEMONIC insists on delivering jump scares every five minutes with that irritating ultra-loud chord each time. Like a car alarm or a U2 concert, it’s only volume that’s keeping you awake, not interested.


*The events depicted in this article are true. Some statements have been falsified for the purposes of irony.

**Except my screener of Nightmare City, because it’s due for review on here. Plus I’m dead keen to watch any of the several free DVDs I was handed during the festival. Plus my girlfriend has about fifty horror films lined up for watching on Netflix. But other than that…

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