Day Two of FrightFest kicked off, for me at least, with The Chamber, an entry in the “trapped” subgenre that also includes Open Water, Adrift, Frozen, and Landmine Goes Click. In all of these films, a small group of people begin to turn on each other as their nerves become frayed by the extreme situation in which they find themselves. The Chamber is no different, with a Norwegian sub-mariner hired by Americans to take his dated, leaky boat into North Korean waters for a top-secret mission. Once there, of course, the sub becomes damaged and sinks to the bottom of the ocean, trapping our small group for ninety minutes of bickering, claustrophobia, and expert sound design. Aside from the odd moment of misjudged comedy, the film is a success in sustaining tension throughout, and benefits from a great final shot.
The thriller Road Games was screened at last year’s FrightFest but this year it was a special commentary event in the Discovery screen, with director Abner Pastoll and star Andrew Simpson talking to commentary veteran Alan Jones. I hadn’t previously attended a live commentary event, but it was very enjoyable event for such an unremarkable picture – I’d love to see a future FrightFest event hosting a live commentary for a classic such as Hellraiser or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Hostage to the Devil
Screening as a Discovery film, Hostage to the Devil is a documentary about Malachi Martin, a bestselling author, former priest, and a huge figure in the Catholic scene. In between his adventuring, womanising, and occasionally being caught lying he engaged in a many-years’ war against the Devil, though it mostly took the form of making high-profile appearances criticising rival author William Blatty of Exorcist fame. Martin is a compelling figure, the sort of real-life action hero who seems to be fictional (down to his ridiculously cool, demon-hunter name). But he was also a bit of a cad, and the film suffers for being overly partial to him, giving only token consideration to his many critics and buying into his notion that steadily increasing violence is preparing the way for Satan to return to Earth – in fact we live in an unprecedentedly peaceful period in world history. Those with a belief in demons or an interest in Catholic affairs are recommended this one, but for the rest of us it feels incomplete and vaguely unsatisfying.
The first true stand-out of the festival for me, Pet takes an old horror concept – a lonely, creepy dog pound worker abducts his high school crush in an attempt to force her to love him – and reworks it with one simple twist too absolutely brilliant for me to spoil here. This makes discussing the film a little difficult for me, so I’ll just leave you with the assurance that Pet works, with solid cinematography, an interesting score, excellent sound design, some truly horrific scenes of gore, and two compelling performances from Ksenia Solo (Lost Girl, Orphan Black) and Dominic Monaghan (The Lord of the Rings, Lost), who was in attendance for the festival, drinking beers, watching movies, and seeming like an all-around good bloke.
When I did my FrightFest round-up last year, I arranged the films by theme rather than by day, because there happened to be a number of similar movies screening (i.e. deconstructive slashers, preternatural pregnancies, “wanna-“B”s”). It wasn’t like that this year; one Twitter user noted several films in which a character gets a shard of glass embedded in their bare foot, and there were no less than three film industry satires revolving around deranged amateurs (Egomaniac, Director’s Cut, Found Footage 3D), but I only saw one of those. Something else that there seemed to be a lot of were the films that were simply hard to describe, ones whose synopses would talk about the buzz surrounding the film or what its influences were. White Coffin was one of those, an Argentine genre homage described as “Duel meets The Wicker Man”, which is as good a way of putting it as any. The plot concerns a mother whose daughter is abducted, who dies, and who is then told that she is to be offered the chance to save her daughter by living one more day. But things are more fiendish than that in a fast-paced, constantly twisting, Hell of a ride of a movie that has to be seen to be believed. For many, it was the number one stand-out of the festival.
They Call Me Jeeg Robot
An Italian superhero film that is at once a retro throwback and a fearless look forward to the future of the genre, They Call Me Jeeg Robot has found spectacular success in its native country, breaking out of the ghetto of genre films to win major awards such as the Italian Golden Globes, the Nastri d’Argento, and the David di Donatello. It concerns a Roman petty crook who, during an unplanned dip in the Tiber, is exposed to some strange chemicals and finds that he is now super-strong and almost indestructible. At first, he uses this power to become the “supercriminal” of Rome but later finds redemption in a relationship with a developmentally challenged girl, who introduces him to the anime character Steel Jeeg. A 1970s super robot show, Steel Jeeg has never been broadcast in English-speaking countries, but was a major hit in Italy. That’s about the only bit of crucial cultural knowledge that you’ll need to enjoy a heartwarming, exciting, and occasionally very violent film that at first resembles the sarcastic Super but ends up closer to the sincere Kick-Ass.
Did you attend this year’s FirghtFest? What were your thoughts on these three films? Let us know in the comment box below!