Frightfest 2015 Round Up (I only saw four films, but whatever)

The Hallow (Taylor, 2015)

The credits of Corin Taylor’s The Hallow roll over a stylish tracking shot of its forest setting being torn down by developers, slowly drifting through its scene of lorries and chainsaws and felled trees to rest upon the foreboding darkness of the remaining woodland that has been terrorising its characters throughout the prior film. It’s a striking, flawlessly executed scene, indicating a sophisticated eye and sensitivity to its subject matter that was absent from the rest of the film.

The issue with The Hallow doesn’t lie in its ideas, most of which are clever twists on Irish folklore and goblin horror, but in its execution. The young married parents that incur the wrath of the faery people (here referred to as The Hallow) are smartly developed and realistically deal with their circumstances as they slowly realise that they aren’t dealing with crazed locals but supernatural forces, but their aggressors are disappointingly generic, particularly when their diversity and threat is stressed so carefully in the films exposition when a local policeman warns them of banshees and baby-snatchers and a host of other folkloric monsters. Instead, what we’re given are bland, vaguely wooden demon creatures – spooky when in the shadows but silly when they come closer.

There are some inventive and scary set pieces, particularly early on, and the film’s central threat against the baby has the gravity it needs to commit to such a risky concept. But there is a pervasive visual flatness to the film, never truly exploiting its woodland setting to full effect. There is a good film somewhere in here, and a promising director, but in the end The Hallow is a disappointing not-quite.

inner demon

Inner Demon (Dabrowsky, 2014)

Even less successful is Ursula Dabrowsky’s Australian outback abduction thriller Inner Demon, a film that tries so hard to do something new with its premise but has none of the necessary smarts to pull it off. Sarah Jeavons does her best with her undercooked role as a teenage girl who is abducted by a couple of hicks and needs to survive in order to rescue her sister, and the early scenes are promising. She is resourceful and feisty but never unrealistically capable in her situation, and for a while the film seems to be headed in the right direction.

Then it locks her in a cupboard and she just sits there watching the couple have a boring (albeit somewhat bloody) conversation and loses all its momentum. None of the character’s motivations are particularly clear, nor do they seem intentionally ambiguous, and as soon as its protoganist is in hiding, the film digs itself into a rut that it cannot escape. A twist appears in the form of a supernatural deus ex machina, but whilst this initially seems as though it’s going to reinvigorate proceedings, it just send the film into a further downward spiral. With a little more care and some smarter writing, an interesting film could have been made out of its central premise, but really nothing works here.

they look like people

They Look Like People (Blackshear, 2015)

With a budget so tiny that it could have been made ten times over if for the price of the last two films, They Look Like People is a film of ideas and mood by necessity. Returning to New York and reconnecting with an old friend after his relationship implodes, Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews) is a man who is falling apart at the seams. He is receiving strange phone calls at night telling him to prepare for an oncoming war, believes that the people around him have become “infected” by malevolent beings, and is losing his grip on reality. Is there truly an apocalypse on the horizon, or is he going crazy? Remarkably, They Look Like People keeps you guessing right until the end and still remains satisfying.

Part of what makes it so successful is the natural, mumblecore feel of its central friendship. Even as dread is creeping in, their scenes have the feel of an indie buddy movie, loose and improvistational even as the screw gets turned tighter and tighter. It’s a balancing act that more experienced hands would likely fail to pull off, and marks director Perry Blackshear as a talent to watch.

tales of halloween

Tales of Halloween (Bousman/Carolyn/Gierasch/Kasch/Marshall/McKee/Mendez/Parker/Schifrin/Skipp/Solet, 2015)

Ten of horror’s finest contributed to this horror anthology, and almost every one of them turns in a strong effort. Portmanteau films like this are notoriously a mix bag, but there are only a couple of weaker segments in Tales of Halloween, which seems to have been taken by many of the chosen directors as an excuse to let their hair down and indulge their more comedic impulse. It’s hammy, it’s over the top, and it’s one of the most joyful expressions of the horror genre in recent memory.

MVPs of the whole affair must be Lucky McKee and Mike Mendez, both of whom turn in the most gloriously silly segments of the bunch – Pollyanna McIntosh is at her scenery-chewing best as a fatally broody witch in McKee’s “Ding Dong”. Special mention must also be given for Axelle Carolyn for overseeing the whole production as well as turning in the film’s only truly scary segment. But really the whole film has the feel of a cast and crew who were fully committed to the project. It’s a big, glossy production that still seems to have been made with love and passion.

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