For the third year running, your correspondent has braved FrightFest, a festival of horror films taking place over five days in Central London. This year it was particularly brave of me as, instead of the familiar Leicester Square of previous fests, it was held in the Shepherd’s Bush Vue, which meant my journey required changing Tubes, and also meant I had to spend time in Shepherd’s Bush. But actually, the cinema, on the top floor of a small shopping centre opposite the Tube station, made for a fine venue, easier to navigate than the multi-storey Leicester Square location, and my only complaint in the end is that I saw far less fresh air than I’d become accustomed to. But, as ever, the festival offered a diverse array of horrors, thrillers, science-fiction, suspense, slashers, and even a couple of comedy-horrors to lighten the mood, and as ever it was an invigorating programme with many surprise favourites and few disappointments, and as ever I left exhausted yet also excited for this time next year. Here’s what the Thursday night offered:
My Father Die
As with last year, the organisers chose to kick off with a weird and vaguely unsatisfying little movie. In this artsy revenge thriller, a deaf young man prepares to exact retribution on his brother’s killer; the only snag here is that the killer is his father, hence the oddly-syntaxed title. Unlike last year’s festival opener Cherry Tree, however, the filmmakers get a lot right here, including the Southern Gothic ambience, the atmosphere of grit and nastiness, and the unexpected, yet welcome, use of a deaf character as protagonist (but see also Saturday’s “Dawn of the Deaf”). With that said, however, its virtues are somewhat buried in an oft-directionless plot, and the consciously arty cinematography at times becomes frustrating. On one of the festival’s Discovery Screens, this might have felt like a buried treasure; as the first film of the first day, however, it saps the energy of audiences coming in.
An adaptation of one Stephen King’s lesser successes, Cell is simultaneously ambitious and unambitious with its zombie/disaster/post-apocalyptic/techno-satire narrative. One day an unexplained “pulse” turns everybody using their cell phone (or “mobile” to us Brits) into a rabid bastard. Comic-book author John Cusack sees this happen at an airport in an impressive scene reminiscent of Kingsman: The Secret Service’s celebrated church massacre. Soon he’s banded together with a group of survivors including working Joe Samuel L. Jackson and talented young actress Isabelle Fuhrman (Orphan). While scenes depicting the zombie-like “phoners” as a human mass are effectively horrifying – in one particularly retch-worthy scene a van is driven over literally hundreds of them in a sports field – the narrative is too rushed, too disjointed, and finally too unsatisfying for this one to stick in the memory as it should. It’s a shame, because early on in the project’s life Eli Roth was eager to milk the novel for the scenes of chaos that make for its most memorable moments. I don’t say this often, but this one could really have benefitted from Roth at the helm.
Let Her Out
Probably the most effective of the first night’s films, Let Her Out boasts a strong central performance by unknown Alanna LeVierge, also in attendance, as a young bicycle courier suffering from frequent blackouts and creepy unexplained events. In a predictable but well-made narrative, she discovers the reason for this: she was meant to be born as conjoined twins, and her other half (which is, of course, evil) is still alive inside her. As a premise it’s nice and disgusting, and scenes in which her other self struggles to literally rip out of her provide some good scares in a festival which, this year, was surprisingly short on them. Ultimately too unoriginal to be really memorable, Let Her Out ought at the least to provide a springboard for its talented lead.
Did you attend this year’s FirghtFest? What were your thoughts on these three films? Let us know in the comment box below!