James Pemberton’s review of Grimmfest: Friday, October 6th, 2017
POOR AGNES (Dir- Navin Ramaswaran, Canada, 2017)
The first full day of Grimmfest kicks off with a tale of a serial killer Agnes (Lora Burke), who lives in a small rural Canadian town and regularly indulges in her hobby of kidnap and murder until a private detective arrives (Will Conlon) whom she seduces but then traps him in her basement. This leads to a game of control from Agnes over her captive as she soon manipulates the man into a partner of some sort to relieve the loneliness in her life.
A twisted study of manipulation, coercion and the need for people to connect no matter how disturbed they are, POOR AGNES is bolstered by a superb performance from Burke. Whilst her voice over narration does at times become slightly annoying and almost cliched in terms of serial killer talk or thinking, she has a brilliant attractive presence that lends her character an icy cool presence and confidence that hides her twisted intentions and keeps viewers unable to predict her next move. A strong start for the day and a nicely paced and often darkly comic film to kick us off.
SHORT FILM SHOWCASE
As well as shorts being screened with features throughout the weekend we also get the usual short film showcase that allows a small number of films from around the world to get a big screen showing. FISSURE (Dir- Paul Wright, UK) was an interesting combination of gritty drama and science fiction where a women suffering from a self destructive drug habit after the disappearance of her daughter 10 years ago sees visions that push to her believe she is still alive. 7/10. REAL GODS REQUIRE BLOOD (Dir- Moin Hussain, UK) is an interesting little short in which a young heroin addict is forced to look after the neighbour’s kids slowly realising there is something wrong and possibly some thing upstairs. Gritty and disorientating this short has a lot of unnerving edges to it that makes it stand out. 8/10. BIRTHDAY (Dir- Alberto Viavatene, ITALY) in which an abusive nurse in an elderly residential home gets her comeuppance in a unique way, looks good but doesn’t really produce anything to make it memorable. 5/10. 2 A.M. (Dir- Hussayin Hassan, AUSTRALIA) has an interesting story and a unique visual perspective, in which a man wakes up in a room only to travel through various areas/different dimensions(?) to startling effect. But alas it doesn’t necessarily has a lot throughout to make it memorable as well, and reminded me very much of an FMV sequence from a RESIDENT EVIL or SILENT HILL video game. 5/10. BORN AGAIN (Dir- Jason Tostevin, USA) is a funny short where five Satanists summoning ceremony goes drastically wrong. It has a daft and enjoyable comic edge along side the skewering of satanic imagery and some funny scenes involving the Satanists trying to pronounce the god they choose to follow delivered with an absurdist touch. 8/10. LIZ DRIVES (Dir- Mia’kate Russell, AUSTRALIA) takes an interesting approach to a familiar Urban myth story and lends it a sharp and devastating twist all delivered with a confident approach.7/10. THEY MAKE YOU GROW A BEARD (Dir- Anthony Kinsella, UK) a funny almost comic like sketch show skit take off of the BODY SNATCHERS story where men are being taken over by an unknown group who are turning them into chatty know it all hipster bores with beards. A brilliantly daft concept delivered with a funny satirical approach.
TRENCH 11 (Dir- Leo Scherman, Canada, 2017)
A group of soldiers in World War 1 are on a mission in no man’s lands deep in the trenches to stop a German Experiment hidden in an underground complex. It turns out the experiment is out of hand with even the Germans wanting to erase any trace of it and with both sides of troops stuck in the subterranean hell hole they soon realise that none of them are safe.
Admittedly at first when reading the synopsis of this film, I wasn’t really expecting much from TRENCH 11 as war and horror is a tricky combination to pull off and sometimes just doesn’t work, since war is essentially horrific in itself. However, once the film gets going this is a highly entertaining mish mash of men on a mission movie and viral horror. Modest budget aside the film is surprisingly well designed and is paced nicely to keep the viewer rolling along with the action. Despite some cliches that seem to be pulled straight from the heroic war hero movie/action playbook (enemies from either side realising they have more in common, joining forces and eventual heroic sacrifices), TRENCH 11 is efficient, if predictable, but entertaining.
FREEHOLD (Dir- Dominic Bridges, UK, 2017)
Estate agent Hussein (Mim Shaikh) is successful at his well paid job, has a beautiful girlfriend and a decent flat in London. What he doesn’t know is that there is a hidden guest in his house, played by Javier Botet, who has a grudge against Hussein and means him harm and intends to slowly unravel and ruin his life bit by bit. Bridges claustrophobic thriller is a brilliant study in closed quarters paranoia and a socially relevant attack on the housing crisis in its depiction of the vain and self centred Hussein who has made a living out of pushing the price up for houses and flats within the already over priced housing market. It doesn’t shift into psycho killer dynamic, which from reading the festival synopsis had me thinking it would, but rather slowly shifts into often darkly funny and queasy scenes of Botet’s unwanted house guest physically disrupting the day to day life of the flats owner. Both actors are superb in their respective roles and consistently shift your empathy throughout leading to a brilliant conclusion in which we fully understand the reasoning behind Hussein’s torment. A darkly comic revenge horror and an inversion of the home invasion thriller of some sorts, this is expertly handled, well placed with its use of one location and remaining taut and uncomfortable throughout.
Before FREEHOLD was the short film CREEPER (Dir- Drew Macdonald, AUSTRALIA) where a ride share driver follows his most recent customer into her home, leading to a unnerving and tense short that is stylishly directed.
68 KILL (Dir- Trent Haaga, USA, 2017)
Sanitation worker Chip Taylor (Matthew Gray Gubler) goes along with his girlfriend Lisa’s (AnnaLynn McCord) plan to rob her sugar daddy for a sweet $68,000. However he didn’t expect Lisa to brutally murder her sugar daddy and his wife, leading him into a night of further madness and mayhem encountering various white trash junkies and Lisa’s lunatic brother.
Haaga’s previous feature before this was the darkly funny and mean spirited CHOP and he continues on in similar style with his latest film. A trashy, fast paced and wickedly dark comedy thriller Haaga embodies the film with the influences from his previous directorial feature and his work with with TROMA as this contains the same sort of reckless dirty scum that would easily fit in in Tromaville. However he develops a brilliant and sympathetic central character to root for in the way of Chip and this is helped by Gubler’s excellent performance. Embodying a loser who at the same time ends up being the one character in a whole sorry bunch of reprehensible deadbeats you hope gets out of his situation alive, he adds a great comic performance to the film and certainly cements some genre star credentials. The same can be said for McCord, who is perfect as the deranged and sexy Lisa and again shows a surprising depth that this actress can show. See her previous roles in Richard Bates Jr’s TRASH FIRE and EXCISION for examples of her talent. A glorious and grotesque movie with a rich vein of pitch black humour throughout.
BETTER WATCH OUT (Dir- Chris Peckover, Australia/USA, 2016)
Christmas horror in October? Okay why not it wont be long before where being hammered to death with ads telling us to go out and by crap for one day in December anyway. Peckover’s film follows a babysitter Ashley (Olivia De Jonge) as she is in charge of 12 year old Luke Lerner (Levi Miller), who isn’t bothered by the fact that he has a babysitter in fact he fancies Ashley a lot, however awkward his behaviour is. But some uninvited guests turn up to ruin Luke’s chance of making it with her and promptly attack the house. But that’s only the start of the night as other unexpected incidents occur that set about a startling chain of events that makes Ashley’s last night in town an eventful one to say the least.
It’s best not to say any more about BETTER WATCH OUT as it starts really well with a nice comedic interplay between characters (Virginia Madsen is particular funny as Luke’s mother) and with the initial home invasion. Though after this the film takes a unique and even darker turn, whilst still retaining some of the humour from the opening part. Peckover has crafted a nice and twisty home based horror and crafts some superb and tense scenes throughout, particularly one scene which is a nasty inversion of the paint can in the face gag from HOME ALONE. Put it this way it doesn’t end well. He also boasts some superb central performances from his young cast, De Jonge and also Ed Oxenbould as Luke’s best friend who becomes integral to the second part of the film. However its Miller who has a brilliant time playing Luke, portraying a youngster who is wise beyond his years and who at the same time uses this intelligence to greater and more negative effect in the films second part.
TAG (Dir- Sion Sono, JAPAN, 2015)
A young women has to navigate a series of violent circumstances that go from one scenario to the next traversing different points in time and also passing her through different identity’s. She has to go through these points to find out what her real identity is and whether what she is being put through is being controlled by someone or something else.
Starting with a brilliant gob smacking sequence of a load of schoolgirls being chopped in half by an unknown being/force on a coach, TAG pushes along at a weird breakneck pace in its opening 15 minutes. However soon after this the film drags and slowly starts to lose momentum with a sequence involving characters discussing whether their destiny is predetermined. Though it does fall back into more bizarre madness and the film eventually picks up where it started, Sono’s film is uneven in parts and whilst it contains some superb surreal and off kilter scenes (the opening included) that only Japanese cinema can pull off with great aplomb, it doesn’t necessarily pull off what it sets out to achieve. An interesting if flawed oddity, part of me felt that this might have been better as an opening morning or even afternoon film, as by the time it was coming to the midnight hour, tiredness was setting in quickly and whilst TAG has an interesting conclusion reaching that point did take some time to fully appreciate.