James Pemberton’s review of Grimmfest: Saturday, October 7th, 2017
– By James Pemberton
KILLING GROUND (Dir- Damien Power, Australia, 2017)
Another trip to the brutal backwoods of the outback with Damien Power’s study of suburban city dwellers encountering violent thuggish psychos who like to hunt humans instead of pigs. KILLING GROUND follows a couple who set up a tent in an isolated area of the countryside only to find another tent already there with no one inside. Through a series of events that unfold with this young couple and through flashback we soon discover the fate of the owners of the unoccupied tent and the two local backwoods dwelling hunters who are directly involved with what has happened to them.
Brimming with tension from the scenes of confrontation and the build up to the initial reveal KILLING GROUND is a surprisingly effective and nasty experience. Rather than play the film in real straightforward narrative Power effectively breaks it up with an uneven structure that flips between the young couple arriving, the family who previously occupied the now unoccupied tent and the two hunters leading to a dramatic and powerful build up that deftly avoids becoming exploitative leading much of the nastier carnage off screen. However there are a couple of scenes which certainly are uncomfortable to watch even mean spirited and push the film to the hard 15 certificate this has received (a 15 certificate for this film certainly surprised me). Power obviously nods to the Aussie classics of yesteryear such as LONG WEEKEND, WAKE IN FRIGHT and various other Ozsploitation classics that feature nasty outback bully’s. KILLING GROUND takes a pretty standard story and gives it a unique twist that deftly grips the viewer into watching the unfolding and often uncomfortable events. It’s not pretty but its certainly well made.
Before KILLING GROUND was the short film SOUND FROM THE DEEP (Dirs- Joonas Allonen & Antti Laakso, FINLAND) a very well made short in which scientific research team in the Arctic Ocean pick up radio signals emanating from far North and soon discover something terrible lurking beneath. Impressively directed overall and showing a decent production throughout its no surprise to hear that this short won an award for best short and audience award at the H.P Lovecraft Festival recently. The only setback I see from the short itself is that its got such a decent production and enough story to at least set out for decent 80 to 90 minute feature. Other than that its impressive stuff.
REPLACE (Dir- Norbert Keil, USA, 2017)
A young and beautiful women, Kira (Rebecca Forsythe) has a strange disease that makes her skin rapidly age and flake away. Discovering that other peoples skin can replace hers and at least halt the disease she soon starts to make dark choices as well as seeking help from a shadowy private medical clinic that may or may not be able to offer a way out for Kira.
Body horror is certainly the influence in this stylish flick directed by Norbert Keil with a script co-written by Richard Stanley. The beauty of youth and the dread of ageing is also a topic woven into the films narrative. Whilst it takes time to get going and often marred by some irritating overly stylish visual flourishes REPLACE soon starts to get into interesting territory with the introduction of Barbara Crampton’s Dr Rafaela Crober and her unique interest in Kira. Crober’s medical clinic even has the look of something out of a Cronenberg film where medical science has taken a turn of the worse and conducts shadowy experiments behind closed doors. Certainly the great Canadian auteurs influence can be felt throughout the film, though Keil invests enough of his own style and story to at least make REPLACE a well made and often queasy experience (anyone with skin irritation or problems might find scenes of Kira picking at crumbling skin uncomfortable), Special mention should go to Crampton who is excellent in her role as Crober.
GAME OF DEATH (Dirs- Sebastian Landry, Laurence Morais-Lagace, CANADA/USA, 2017)
A group of partying drunk and drugged up teens end up playing a mysterious board game but stupidly (un-surprisingly) don’t read the rules properly. They soon find themselves in a literal do or die situation where they have to kill 23 other people otherwise the young participants heads will explode and the clock is ticking down pushing the teens to desperation.
Admittedly GAME OF DEATH starts well as it sets up the eventual premise. Yet whilst watching it and admittedly admiring the effects work which is fantastically and gruesomely over the top, I start to felt my interest slowly slip away. Part of the lack of interest is mainly down to the characters and whilst the mostly young cast play them well, they are decidedly uninteresting and annoying and you slowly start to feel yourself wanting that board game timer to count down quicker to see their heads explode. Even when some of them do eventually die off we cut to mobile phone shot footage of them from the partying scenes as if to show them when they where alive or maybe to make the audience remember who has just now become headless cause we don’t really care. Whilst it clocks in at 72 minutes there is just not enough in GAME OF DEATH to get me connected with its story and find it almost revels in a bitter cynical nature, that if done properly can work, but in this case fails.
Before GAME OF DEATH was animated short FIERCE (Dir- Izu Troin) which was an interesting if somewhat flawed short where a young corporate executive is abducted by and forced to survive against a mysterious hunter. Certainly looked good but didn’t seem a lot there to make it exceptionally memorable.
DOUBLE DATE (Dir- Benjamin Barfoot, UK, 2017)
About to turn 30 Jim (Danny Morgan) wants to lose his virginity and along with his not so subtle best mate Alex (Michael Socha) set out to prove his manhood. They think they’ve scored when two sisters, Kitty (Kelly Wenham) and Lulu (Georgina Groome) take them up on an offer to go out for the night. However the sisters have more darker intentions for the lads and it doesn’t involve Jim losing his virginity.
DOUBLE DATE is an enjoyable and hard not to like flick that recalls the spirit of SHAUN OF THE DEAD. Opening with a particularly strong and violent scene the film then proceeds to deliver some great comedic scenes between our two central characters who remain likeable throughout despite there obvious flaws and ignorance. The women characters are also particularly strong if a bit cliched in terms of there eventual arc and importance to the films final scenes. We know Lulu is going to be the shy innocent one who eventually falls for Jim and Kitty is the strong and more ruthless of the two and the more sexier in terms of leading men astray. Despite this DOUBLE DATE is great fun and manages to merge horror and comedy efficiently and whilst delivering a great knockout ride throughout.
LEATHERFACE (Dirs- Alexandre Bustillo, & Julien Maury, USA, 2017)
The chainsaw of the Sawyer family clan is revved up once again in this prequel of sorts (if im not mistaken TEXAS CHAINSAW: THE BEGINNING from 2006 was another sort of prequel) which looks at the origins of Leatherface. It follows the titular horror icon before he dons the skins of his victims as a teenager in a mental institution. One night he and some fellow inmates make an escape during a riot and take a nurse hostage. At the same time they are hunted down by a vengeful and equally vicious Sheriff who is willing to go beyond the law to get results.
First of all the one thing I can say about LEATHERFACE is that its a vast improvement on 2013’s CHAINSAW 3D, which is not hard in the long run. However whilst its an efficient and well made horror with obvious influence from INSIDE directors Bustillo and Maury in terms of brutal death scenes, LEATHERFACE is not going to be anything ground breaking and lets face it there is no point in comparing this film with Hooper’s original as this film is delivering the grue and gore for a modern audience and it might be a downside for some TCM afficanados who might not like the films aim and for regular genre fans who might be put off by the films more extreme moments. But then when you have two directors who where at the forefront of the French extreme horror revivial then there going to deliver something a bit more harder edged than your usual genre fare. Overall this is a decent horror flick and maintains a mean spirited edge throughout. It also boasts two fine performances from Lili Taylor as the mother of the Sawyer clan who is equally ruthless without having to succumb to murderous bloodlust and also Stephen Dorff as the deranged lawman. It’s interesting to note that the film whilst set in the dusty landscape of Texas is actually shot in Bulgaria and it is also the last screen credit for Hooper, who is one of the executive producers, who sadly passed away in August.
FAKE BLOOD (Dir- Rob Grant, CANADA, 2017)
Director and actor, Rob Grant and Mike Kovac receive a fan video inspired by there feature MON AMI. Spurred on by this semi tribute/semi unusual and unnerving fan homage they set out to investigate the portrayal of screen violence and how much this falls on the responsibility of film-makers in depicting this. There investigation leads them to an encounter with a man who claims he has been part of some serious criminal underworld activity and which opens up the duo further and further into a darker real life world that the guys soon start to regret.
This was an interesting choice in terms of a selection into a horror festival however it was also one of the more unique pictures of the weekend and one which will demand a second viewing as whilst the events unfold you cannot help but wonder how real is this and is this audience manipulation? Just like some films which unrealistically depict screen violence you cant help but wonder how much of what you see going on here is mockumentary rather than documentary. It’s telling that in the Q and A the question was asked for the audience to put there hands up to say whether what they had just seen was real or not real. More hands went up for the latter answer, myself included. It is a skilfully made and intriguing documentary that interestingly recreates in graphic detail crimes that the supposed underworld figure, Grant and Kovac encounter, took part in. They then break the fourth wall by showing behind the scenes of the actors involved all chatting and being jolly on set. This method further throws the viewer to ask about how what we have witnessed is a recreation, albeit graphic one, of something that has happened in real life therefore making us unsure of how the violence that’s fake can be compared to the violence that exists in the real world. It’s telling to say that Grant has made a documentary that pushes the viewer to start to figure how much of the violence we see in a film on screen is devoid from reality and how much of what we see unfolding in this documentary starts to blur our perceptions on what is real and not real and that at the end of the day we cannot fully comprehend the true impact a violent act has on everyone around them from perpetrator to victims family’s. Something made all the more shocking in the final part of this film.
THE BRIDE (Dir- Svyatoslav Podgayevskiy, RUSSIA, 2017)
A recently married bride Nastya travels with her husband to his ancestral home. However the creaky old house is far removed from the big city world she is used to and soon she discovers a late 19th century practice of photographing the dead. That this practice was used to capture the human soul is only the start of Nastya discovering that this is still very much being carried out and that she might also be set up for a dark and twisted fate that will befall her.
Starting with a strong and well made intro set in the past, THE BRIDE is beautifully made and looks fantastic visually. It also has elements of old dark haunted house horror thanks in part to the gothic looking house with its creaking floor boards and hidden behind the wall passages and there are some expertly and well made unusual scenes that lend an unnerving edge as to whether the house itself has a form of supernatural power over its occupants. Whilst its an entertaining story there doesn’t really seem to be any new ground covered here as THE BRIDE certainly shows influences from J-horror, with a centuries old curse passed down and even has the scare and shock jumps of films such as INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING. This is a decent supernatural horror bolstered by an interesting back story set up, it just feels a bit like a Russian retread of many things we have already seen and whilst there is nothing wrong with a film wearing some its influences on it’s sleeve, at times you feel that the director could maybe branch off into something that would lend a more unique twist on an otherwise predictable story.