James Pemberton’s review of Grimmfest: Thursday, October 5th, 2017
Grimmfest is back for its 9th annual run of all things horror in Manchester and with the third year in a row at the printworks in the now VUE owned cinema and back in the gigantic screen 12. With genre cinema at its peak at the moment and with the runaway successes of IT and GET OUT which have scored huge at the box office this is a great chance to see lesser known and brand new up and coming flicks on a big screen and might be the only chance to see them at this level. With that I prepared and readied myself to enjoy and endure 3 ½ days of terror from all around the world and will be bringing you day by day run downs of the weekend, beginning with the opening evening……
HABIT (Dir- Simeon Halligan, UK, 2017)
Primarily set in Grimmfest’s home city of Manchester, HABIT is having its UK premiere this evening and is the festival’s opening film. Ironically the film is shot in the Northern Quarter which is only a block away from the cinema. It follows Michael (Elliot James Langridge) an unemployed down on his luck man who divides his time attending job centre appointments and going to the pub. He meets Lee (Jessica Barden) who instantly likes him and gets him a job at her Uncle Ian’s massage parlour. However its not long before Michael soon discovers a darker underside to his new job and soon finds himself embroiled in an underworld that has a forbidden nastier side that he soon becomes part of.
Admittedly there’s part of me going to immediately admire HABIT in that it shoots the darker side of Manchester in a terrifically noir esque approach and shines a light to the underside and seeder aspects of life, making fantastic use of the Northern Quarter’s dark side streets that if there not any over priced bars open there you wouldn’t want to walk down. Whilst performances especially from the lead are not fully convincing, the film is overall technically well made and paced well enough to keep us engaged with Michael’s story for its 90 minute running time and overall its Halligan’s best film after the flawed but entertaining SPLINTERED and the subversively enjoyable WHITE SETTLERS and shows as a director that he has grown in confidence. It’s ironic that after watching HABIT despite the seedier and dark aspects of the characters of the film, they live in an underworld that is close (in this case very close) to home as Manchester itself has a major homeless problem and essentially we have an underworld already living next to people who occupy overpriced city centre flats, whilst the city goes about its daily and nightly business.
RUIN ME (Dir- Preston Francis, USA, 2017)
Recovering drug addict Alex along with her boyfriend are on a trip to an extreme horror themed event called “slasher sleep out.” Along with the other participants they are left in the woods, given the usual mock scares and clues to follow through the game. But then things take a more extreme and deadlier turn and its up to Alex, who is no fan of horror, to escape and survive the game and leave with her sanity.
Taking the idea of extreme horror themed events and giving it a spin with a slasher film is a neat twist in Francis’s film and whilst it starts well, establishing the characters and twisting there reality between what is real and not real as they carry on through “slasher sleep out” the film soon starts to drag in parts, not helped by some ropey dialogue. There is also a conclusion that seems not far off from a certain 80’s slasher flick one from the latter part of that decade which if I mentioned the name would be a dead giveaway and a spoiler without me adding SPOILERS AHEAD. Yet I will give Francis credit for at least adding another twist that turns, if somewhat unpredictably, the perceptions of one of the characters that leads to a more unexpected conclusion. Despite some flaws RUIN ME is at least a decent watch and one that attempts to subvert and update slasher cliches, especially needed in a genre already over done.
STILL/BORN (Dir- Brandon Christensen, CANADA, 2017)
Mary (Christie Burke) loses one of her twins in childbirth, though with the remaining one she soon starts to believe that the child is in danger from an unknown evil entity. Though is what Mary believes is true or is this something by far more deeper troubling issues caused by post natal depression.
Tackling a tricky subject STILL/BORN takes an interesting take on the matter and doesn’t slip into an exploitative tone in its portrayal. Rather it is a slow burn that takes time to build up a sense of dread and also confound the viewer with the matter that Mary might not be seeing these things and its just a figment of a fraught and understandably fractured mind, which has had to cope with the loss of a child and bringing up a newborn as well, whilst the father of the family has to keep on being the breadwinner leaving the mother at home to slowly succumb to what she make think is a demon trying to take her baby. Whilst the obvious reference and forerunner to this film is Jennifer Kent’s superb THE BABADOOK, STILL/BORN still manages to mark itself out as another classy example of horror treating an all too familiar and uncomfortable subject but intelligently enough to warrant an interest from none genre fans as well. It also is boasted by a very good performance form Burke as the lead who carry s the film well and also another great role from Michael Ironside. Admittedly it does drag in parts and whilst some may be confounded by its lack of explanation by the end STILL/BORN shows at least some intensity and depth marks it out as an interesting entry into the genre.