Another week, and another win for FrightFest Presents' latest
batch of DVD releases. Curtain is
weird, wonderful and a breezy 74-minutes long.
You know you’re in for something a bit different from the
premise: a whale activist, Danni (Danni Smith), moves into a New York apartment
with an invisible shower curtain-sucking portal in the bathroom. After losing a
number of perfectly good drapes, she recruits fellow whale-saver, Tim (Tim
Leuke), to investigate. But, a creepy recurring, and ever expanding, The Ring-like montage doesn’t exactly
offer us peace of mind.
Director, co-writer (with Carys Edwards) and cinematographer, Jaron Henrie-McCrea, pins
down the surface genre elements with some
welcome world building. Despite the brisk running time, he takes his time to
develop strong relationships between his characters, as well as offering
rewarding hints at their backstories. The events of the film seem like just the
latest obstacle in a long line of them for many of these characters and that’s
an interesting, and gratifying, approach to the cult-y set-up. The emotion
extends beyond the snapshot captured for our viewing pleasure.
It’s something that has impressed me about so many of these
FrightFest Presents titles (especially given their minimal resources), but Henrie-McCrea
once again displays real flare with the camera. Curtain’s visuals are more openly experimental than many of FFP’s
other releases, however, and Henrie-McCrea use of space is particularly
interesting. He finds visually dynamic angles in every corner of this tiny
apartment and its cramped bathroom, giving us multiple variations of the central location to keep us on our toes.
This visual flare extends beyond the interiors, to the point
that it comes across as slightly uneven early on. Certain camera tricks and
left-field shot choices seem included just for the hell of it, but it does
become a more streamlined viewing experience as things progress. Adam Skerritt’s
synthy score catches the ear, just as Henrie-McCrea’s visuals catch the eye.
Again, it never settles into much of a groove, but it’s a fun 80s
Cartpenter-esque throwback and its sheer strangeness sets it apart from any
Curtain is the
kind of film FrightFest Presents was made for. It’s a low-budget genre oddity
that may never have found a home anywhere else, but Alan Jones, Paul McEvoy and
co. embrace the strange and, more often than not, strike gold with their picks.
And this one’s 24 Carat.
Nicolas Cage is an absolute treat in The Trust, the heist movie two-hander fromfirst-time directors Alex and Ben Brewer. Cage plays David Stone, a
senior cop on the Las Vegas PD who smells something fishy when he finds out
about the high stakes bail of a local drug dealer. Suspecting that there might
be something in it for him, he recruits the help of fellow cop David (Elijah
Wood). Together they uncover a mysterious high security safe hidden beneath an
apartment building and decide to keep whatever treasure they may find for
For every creaky narrative development in the script (co-written by Ben,
and Adam Hirsch), there are a number of really interesting ideas at play.
Firstly, there’s the surface sheen. While much of the middle section takes
place in a single location, the Brewers manage to shine a light on the
oft-forgotten areas of urban deprivation beneath Las Vegas’ unique glitzy
veneer: a side of Sin City that’s rarely seen on film.
That’s not to say they don’t indulge in the neon funk on
occasion, and Sean Porter (cinematographer of Green Room) shoots it well. The Brewers also orchestrate a handful
of Paul Thomas Anderson-esque long takes, often impressively achieved within
really tight spaces. Another PTA-like feature is the use of music. Some may
draw sonic comparisons with Tarantino, but I was reminded more of Anderson,
particularly by the use of The Knights’ song
Tipping Strings. The witty jukebox soundtrack is held together well by
Reza Safina’s effective original score.
But, all this ultimately becomes secondary to the Cage
factor. Whether you enjoy Nicolas Cage’s whack job shtick, or find it
infuriating, is the million-dollar question. I’m far from a devotee, but I do
enjoy him more often than not, even in his bargain bin roles, so this was a
treat for me. Cage is an unhinged delight. With a constant feed of quirky
lines, he totally owns this character and delivers one of his best performances
this side of Kick-Ass.
out the twofer, and they make for a fun pairing. Wood is undoubtedly the
straight man, and he instils a real sincerity to the role, as David drifts
between empathy, confusion and paranoia. It’s that paranoia that drives the
third act and introduces an interesting American Dream pirates’ lust element.
However, for all the thoughtful depth the Brewers inject
into the third act and the effectively ratcheted tension, The Trust plays best as a stylishly made oddball comedy… but only
if you can handle the Cage.
After last week’s FrightFest Presents DVD release offered a character-focused
twist on the slasher subgenre (Last Girl Standing), The Lesson takes a
similarly thoughtful approach to the torture film.
Flustered schoolteacher, Mr Gale (Robert Hands), has reached
the end of his tether and kidnaps two of his students, Fin (Evan Bendall) and
Joel (Rory Coltart), to give them a lesson they’ll never forget. Mr Gale is an
English teacher, but his new methods are straight up Skinnerian: learn or face
the nail gun.
That’s a strong concept to work with, but you’ll soon forget
it’s coming. The opening half an hour couldn’t feel further from the titular set
piece. We see Fin roll out of bed only to be greeted by Jake, his thuggish
older brother, and Jake’s mistreated girlfriend, Mia. His parents, glimpsed in
artful black and white flashbacks, are nowhere to be seen. It’s no wonder, then,
that Fin’s attention is rarely focused on his education and, instead, he spends
his time screwing around with his friends.
This extended section is really well handled by Ruth Platt,
the film’s writer-director (making her feature debut), and she and Bendall
craft a genuinely sympathetic character stuck in a genuinely unfortunate
situation. The same can’t be said for Joel, who is just a bit of a knob, but,
fortunately, his character never threatens to draw the attention away from Fin.
The surprise of the kidnapping is further heightened by the
fact that we barely get to meet Mr Gale before he’s brandishing a bloodied
hammer and yammering on about Milton and Hobbes. It seems an unusual choice, as
there’s little tension developed between Fin and Mr Gale before he’s chained
him to a chair. But, thankfully, Hands plays Mr Gale with such ferocious
three-dimensionality that any lack of character development is soon more than
made up for.
He really is very, very good and he spouts off Platt’s
authentic philosophical tirades with spittle-flying menace. It’s his twisted
drive to educate, whatever the costs, that makes him such a terrifying
antagonist and his threats frequently left me flinching. The shock of the
situation does wear off somewhat, but Platt effectively escalates the stakes
and makes sure you’re never sitting quite as comfortably as you’d like. The final
crescendo of brutal gore effects and increasingly hazy visuals plays bigger
than anything preceding it, but the insanity works. Although, I could’ve have
done without the final scene and it’s weird subtext.
With The Lesson, Platt
shows a real knack for sculpting well-rounded, truthful characters and, while
she could have spread some of the depth around the ensemble, the lean structure
still packs a real punch. She makes heavy use of mirrors throughout the film,
as if toying with us to take a long, hard look at ourselves, and, I must admit,
it becomes awfully difficult not to.
Benjamin R. Moody’s Last
Girl Standing opens where any normal slasher movie would end. Camryn (Akasha
Villalobos), the so-called “Final Girl”, is stumbling around a wood pursued by
a masked killer. Her friends are all dead and she must finally face her
terroriser. She manages to slay her foe and makes it out to the nearest road to
find help, only to see an apparition of the killer in the seat of the pickup
truck that comes to her rescue.
These visions never really leave Camryn and “The Hunter”
still torments her nightmares, but the spectre of the killer seems to be
drawing ever closer. Meanwhile, Nick (Brian Villalobos) starts a new job at the
laundrette Camryn’s been working at for the last four years. Nick takes a
liking to Camryn and introduces her to his friendship group, when her latest
vision leaves her really spooked.
After the unmistakable slasher movie opening, Last Girl Standing settles into more of
a social realism groove, a far cry from the film’s “horror” label. The
distinctly unglamorous workplace and Camryn’s struggling central character
reminded me (bizarrely) of the Dardenne brothers’ Two Days, One Night, and much of Moody’s film plays in a similarly
reserved, and well observed, sand pit.
Likewise, Moody writes his characters with far more depth
than one usually finds in this subgenre. Even Nick’s friends, who could have
simply been written off as hipster side characters, are well drawn. Danielle (Danielle
Evon Ploeger), in particular, gets a lovely moment with Camryn in which she
shares her own personal trauma.
It’s a shame then that the requisite slasher movie finale,
which for so long felt like Moody might dare avoid, sidelines the complexity
displayed up until that point. It satisfies the genre requirements, but
diminishes some of the good work that came before it and, as is so often the
case, the threat of impending horror is more disturbing than its ultimate
manifestation. That being said, and without wanting to spoil anything, the
finale does complete the victim cycle in a satisfying manner. So, in the end,
the bloodletting is used to say something interesting about the very nature of
Elsewhere, I did like the booby trap element, but I would
have still appreciated a more distinctive killer, although that’s a problem with
so many current slasher offerings. Something that really does stand out,
however, is Espectrostatic’s pulsing musical work. His tracks are Carpenter-esque, but never slavish, and provide a purposeful driving force
somewhat lacking from Linus Lau’s original score.
Last Girl Standing offers
a welcome new perspective on the slasher film. If only it had offered a finale
in keeping with the thoughtful build-up.
We’re now halfway through 2016, so join me, if you will, in
a look back over my ten favourite films released in the UK between 1st
January and 31st June.
I can’t help but be slightly disappointed with this
cinematic year. Yes, I’ve watched loads of great films but, seeing as though
I’ve seen more films at this stage than ever before, I’m somewhat surprised
that there haven’t been more to truly take my breath away.
Then again a
year that gifts the world with a film as brilliant as my #1 is worth savouring…
At ten we have a film that I imagine will feature on a good
many lists such as this. László Nemes’ Son
of Saul is an overwhelming Holocaust drama. I’ve still only seen it the
once – at Cannes last year – and it may have ended up higher had I managed to
squeeze in a rewatch.
This was a real surprise. I enjoyed Ip Man enough when I saw it a few years ago on Film4, but this
second sequel is an absolute joy. An invigorating tonic to this year’s penchant
for mindless smash-em-ups, Wilson Yip’s Ip
Man 3 is a glorious blend of touching melodrama and deft action scenes.
Cloverfield grew on me with repeat viewings, and so did Dan Trachtenberg’s contained character-driven
thriller “blood relative” to that original film. It plays better when you’re
not trying to anticipate every twist and turn and just go along for the ride.
It took me two viewing to truly appreciate Tom McCarthy’s
deserving Best Picture winner. First time out, the reviews I’d read had left me
with questions – Was the seeming absence of style an issue? Was the film too restrained?
Etc. – and I spent much of that initial viewing asking those exact same questions.
They were answered – no and no – but my focus on them distracted from the quiet
brilliance of this devastating film.
Watch a man cleaved in two with the titular weapon and feel every thudding
blow. Bone Tomahawk is one of the
most visceral cinematic experiences I’ve had this year, but the alarming final
act is made all the more satisfying by the long, measured journey that precedes
I’d heard good things out of FrightFest, but Nina Forever still managed to catch me
totally off-guard. Equal parts kinky, darkly funny and truly touching, Nina Forever is brilliantly directed by
the Blaine Brothers and a real British treat.
John Carney coming-of-age musical? I was always going to love this one, and it
didn’t disappoint. It may not soar to quite the same heights as Once, but the songs are good, the
characters charming and the soul tangible. Great work by Jack Reynor, too.
With the help of his stellar leading man, Michael B. Jordan, Ryan Coogler
has reinvigorated the Rocky franchise and delivered one of the most triumphant
movies of the year. A crowd-pleaser with a social conscience: if only that were
I only caught up on the first Conjuring film days prior to seeing this
sequel. But, I had a blast at home in front of the TV. So, the opportunity to
see The Conjuring 2 in a darkened
cinema, even at a midday screening with just a handful of people in the
audience, was an absolute treat. Not
many people have ever directed scares as well as James Wan.
is the one. It’ll take a lot to top this beguiling sci-fi inflected portrait of
a young boys sexual awakening. Lucile Hadžihalilovic’s chilling ideas and
masterful use of imagery and symbolism made me squirm, as her film wormed its
way into my psyche. It’s stayed with me more than any other 2016 release and I
expect it’ll stay that way.