I’m nearly finished now with the FrightFest reviews, and what’s most certainly finished is my ability to collect movies into convenient sections according to genre. My apologies, then, for this last odds-and-sods review; the main focus, though, will be the arthouse.
That brings me directly to Scherzo Diabolico, a Mexican psychological suspense film with a heavy debt to the plots of Dario Argento and the style of Park Chan-Wook, or maybe vice versa. In it, a put-upon everyman with a fondness for classical piano begins to stalk a schoolgirl, eventually kidnapping her and bringing her to a warehouse full of unconvincing rats. But there is much more going on, and the plot is parcelled out so effectively in scenes of normality – highly stylised reality at that, but recognisably real nonetheless – that it is trivially easy to live in its world, one which seems real and consistent, even if, perhaps, it is not quite ours, in a way that so few other films bother with. Charming, funny, sexy and shocking, even an underdeveloped final act couldn’t prevent Scherzo being my pick of the festival this year.
While we’re getting artsy, from the UK comes the Blaine Brothers’ Nina Forever, in which weird and dark Holly falls for weird and dark Rob, but finds that he has baggage. Not only is he still trying to cope with the loss of his girlfriend Nina in an auto accident, her corpse is prone to materialising on the bed next to them each time they have sex, so she may deliver sarcastic barbs. Holly does her very best with the insufferable Nina, and is even prepared to share Rob with her in a bisexual undead ménage à trois, bless her heart. But Nina is unreceptive, wanting no part of anything except constantly taunting Holly, trying to convince her that she will never be able to stack up with her perfection in death. “I’m not your ex”, she insists to Rob, “we never broke up”. The film is clever without being clever-clever, tender without being mawkish, and funny without wacky. I strongly recommend that you watch it, and I strongly recommend myself to re-watch it, as I had to miss the ending in order to catch Last Girl Standing. It’s my greatest regret of the festival.
Also arty is Bernard Rose’s new version of Frankenstein, taking place in modern-day Los Angeles. After an extremely iffy first act – monster created via 3D printer – the film gets really good, being an adaptation, basically, of the traditionally skipped-over portion of the novel in which the monster grows and learns, eventually coming to a hard understanding of the cruelty of life and his status as an outsider to humanity. Film history is littered with Frankensteins, but most of them are, at best, concerned only with the themes of man vs. nature. If not that, they’re probably just quicky horrors which focus on the gruesome creation. Rose’s version locates a theme in the novel rarely discussed – an existential allegory, the tale of each and every life – and neither overstretches itself nor underperforms. Instead it spends its runtime, like the monster itself, trying desperately to articulate some painful but essential truth which is difficult to say, but instinctively understood. It’s a remarkable Frankenstein, and an effortlessly fresh one, even if you have to forgive it its occasional sillinesses: “It’s alive!”, the creator cries in an unnecessary nod to Whale’s version and its goofy pop-cultural legacy.
Landmine Goes Click almost has a fascinating premise: while hiking in Georgia with his best friend and his best friend’s fiancée, American tourist Chris steps on a landmine. With Chris unable to move lest the mine go off, the film should be effortlessly set up for a study in psychological terror. Instead, it shoos Chris’ best friend right out of the picture and introduces a sadistic local. In no time at all it’s pretty much your standard torture picture, Chris watching as Alicia is raped and humiliated. Far too well-made to be called a bad film, Landmine is nevertheless too misanthropic and narcissistic to be called a good one either, and one can’t help but feel the fake premise would have been far preferable to the actual premise.
Travelling abroad is such a nightmare. First the Georgians warned of the dangers of Georgian rapists, now the Israelis are urging us not to visit Jerusalem – I’m sorry, Jeruzalem – lest we get munched up by maggoty demons in this new apocalyptic found footage. Actually found footage is not, apparently, entirely accurate, since it’s Google Glass that was used, but nevertheless the effect is similar enough. I’ve never been a fan of the genre and I’m still not, but this is one of the better efforts, with enough plus points coming from its unshowily believable cast and utterly unappealing insider views of the Holy City to offset its weaknesses in the way of plausibility and effects (“It’s a videogame. I’m playing a fucking videogame”, our panicked lead tells herself, and she might as well be).
Potential American tourists put off by their low survival rate in horror might not be any safer at home, either. From Deliverance on, a rich seam of survivalist and slasher films have portrayed the rural areas of the Deep South, Midwest, and Appalachians as the most cannibalistic environment on Earth. Curve very much takes up with that theme, trapping an amazingly good Julianne Hough in her car after an encounter with a mysterious and sadistic local. Hanging upside-down in a creek in the middle of nowhere, she drinks piss and eats rats and displays the most astonishing, yet understated, will to survive that I think I’ve seen in one of these films. There is much else to admire here, including Teddy Sears as the villain, and the practical, low-budget approach taken by Hackers director Iain Softley, but I really can’t get over Hough’s performance in what is easily the best film churned out by Paranormal Activity/Sinister/Purge franchise factory Blumhouse.