Horrorthon 2019

So I went to IFI Horrorthon 2019! I saw 12 screenings, the short screening and 11 features. the shorts were mixed but mostly good (shout out to Unholy ‘Mole for being a massive highlight of the fest), and I’ll be focusing on the features here. As there are only 11, I thought I’d do something fun by listing them from my least favourite to favourite. Without further adieu:

Kindred Spirits

Oh man, this was a fucking trainwreck! Right from the opening shot in that terrible flashback filter I knew I was in trouble. This plot is nonsensical, none of the characters are well defined to have anything feel coherent or earned once the ball drops and the terror part begins. And it’s a three-way relationship; we spend a lot of time with this mother/daughter/sister pairing, you’d think we’d get a better idea of their history, but nope. Awkwardly edited, weak establishing of major plot elements, most of the characters are either annoying or supremely dumb. It has that kind of sleazy 90s melodrama vibe if that does it for you (this is kind of my trash, ngl), and a really great gory scene near the end of the second act. Thora Birch and an absolutely thankless Macon Blair give it their all, as well. So cheesy and ridiculous, it could be a Lifetime Movie OH WAIT! 2/10

Antrum: The Deadliest Movie Ever Made

This had a really fun hook-kind of like Blair Witch, but with the “lost movie” phenomenon built up by the idea that this film kills people. They even have a mockumentary framing device with people talking about it’s impact. Then you watch it, and it’s really lame. Two kids decide to try to dig to Hell to save their dog’s soul after their mother inadvertently said he didn’t end up in Heaven. It’s a kooky little premise, and it’s shot in this kind of grindhouse style, which is why it’s a miracle that it turned out as dull as it is. The two kids are not great actors, and we spend most of the run time on them, it’s a really generic run-around with stupid “scary” footage spliced in to add to the movie’s intertextual narrative. I get that the hook is not the film itself, but for the deadliest movie ever made, maybe don’t make the danger that you’ll slip into a coma watching it. 3/10

The Wretched

This was the Surprise Film, and it was kind of a letdown. I think the base idea of the monster is really cool, it’s got a nice eerie pagan woodsy bent to it. It’s a shame we spend a lot of our time with some pretty thinly-written teen boy trying to escape the horrors of an 80s coming-of-age summer flick. Unlike the other two, I can’t think of any real faults with the production, it’s probably a bit too well lit for the story being told but it’s decently edited and paced and the twist is  effective. It’s just saddled with some pretty tepid storytelling where stuff happens really arbitrarily. It has a prologue that goes absolutely nowhere and the protagonist’s backstory never really comes up. A very disappointing effort. 4/10

1BR

A woman moves into her new apartment of a gated community, but something seems a bit off with her building. I like the beginning and the ending of this (though a lot of the ending is hampered by a tad amount of idiocy). The lead is very likeable, in fact all the cast works well here for the most part. Honestly my biggest problem is that there’s a very jarring tonal shift that doesn’t feel well earned. I get that the idea is to make it feel very rapid and unexpected but building into that a little could help wonders. It muddles up the story’s intentions and it has some rather sluggish pacing and not entirely thought out plot points and revelations. Killer final scene, but overall a pretty average and forgettable romp. 5/10

Here Comes Hell

This was a really fun throwback to old 40s haunted house flicks. The setting and presentation is clever, they really go all out to capture that mood and pace before pulling the rug out from under you. There is some awesome effects and the cast are really game for the material. It doesn’t really strive to be much more, and it does take a bit too long to get to the punch. Not helped that none of the characters are that interesting to follow until the haunting factor finally does kick in. Still, an enjoyable watch if you’re into that kind of film and a really charming outing. 6/10

The Magnificent Obsession of Michael Reeves

This is one of two documentaries that I saw and they’re listed one on top of the other. Just how it rolled. Anyway, this looks into the tragically short career of Michael Reeves, best known for Witchfinder General which was considered a pioneer in the folk horror genre. I really liked the production of this, using scattered pictures and film around a desk really gets across the idea of what a film geek Reeves was. I wish they had gone more into his mental health issues as that felt a tad rushed near the end, but it’s a really interesting piece about a director who could have gone on to be a legend had he not died so young. It’s certainly made me want to cross Witchfinder General off my list. 7/10

Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street

The other documentary takes a look at the life of Mark Patton, best known as the star of Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. It’s an excellent study of how the film’s homoerotic subtext and the backlash to that affected Patton, who was a young gay man at the time and fell out of the public spotlight for decades afterwards. It really goes into the toll this took on him, moreso due to the AIDS epidemic at the time. He’s an interesting, affable guy and it’s wonderful to see his reclamation of the film and its status as a gay icon. It’s a bit schmaltzy for my own taste, but it earns it with some daring confrontations and a really clear portrait of this man’s life and the lives of those who went through such a tragedy trying to gain their power back by whatever means. Well worth checking out-Nightmare 2 is pretty fun as well! 7/10

Why Don’t You Just Die?

This was the final film I saw in Horrorthon, and I absolutely left on a treat. A man goes to his girlfriend’s father’s house with the intent to murder him, and things go downhill from there. The set pieces they mile from this scenario are hilarious and impressive, especially when you consider they spend most of the time in the one apartment. Every reveal hits gold and the way the plot unravels is compelling and really funny. I don’t want to say too much, it’s one of those you gotta see unfurl for yourself to really get the impact. Just trust my word on it and check it out! 8/10

The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil

What an absolute thrill ride! This story sees a cat-and-mouse game between a morally righteous police officer and a local gangster who makes money off illicit slot machines get more complicated after a serial killer forces them to team up. It’s a great buddy cop movie with a twist, slickly produced with a great sense of murkiness and moral ambiguity. This has some of the best chase sequences I’ve seen in years, the level of physicality and use of location really puts this apart from Hollywood action flicks. There’s a great sense of hyperreal that is blends so well, like it’s a live-action anime, and has some wonderfully satisfying pay-offs. Shout out to The Gangster Ma Don-Seok, who’s set to be in an MCU movie apparently! Really great crowd pleaser, I’d recommend it to pretty much anyone if you can deal with the gore. 8/10

Bliss

This really is one of those films where its strengths really, really overtook the issues I had with it on a personal level. The plot is told in a really pedestrian, repetitive way and the characters are incredibly annoying. I described the movie as obnoxiously engaging, but goddamn how engaging it is! It tells the story of a young artist who uses the titular drug to break out of a block, only for it to have some rather intense side effects. The framing and editing is frantic and disorienting, you’re really in the main character’s head as everything around her begins to collapse. The use of real film stock adds a sense of roughness and personality that helps elevate the experience, and it’s just a dizzying ,breathtaking mess of a thing. One of the most distinctive releases I’ve seen all year, worth checking out unless you can’t handle too much obnoxious art heads and the liberal use of the word “fuck”. 9/10

Colours Out of Space

After the disaster that was The Island of Doctor Moreau, Richard Stanley had seemed to leave narrative filmmaking behind and mostly made short works or documentaries about his interests. Yet, 27 years after the release of his last narrative feature, here we are again, this time an adaptation of a Lovecraft story. I will say there’s a little shakiness in the presentation that probably comes with his decades-long excursion from these kinds of films, but that’s it, that’s all I have to complain about. This film is a fucking trip and I adored it. The characters are so well written and you genuinely feel for them when shit hits the fan, it’s got excellent sound design and visual effects to really capture the sense that this is alien. Adapting Lovecraft for film is not an easy feat, but they get around this excursion brilliantly, with dodgy CG made to give that uncanny valley effect of something from another plane of existence. The pacing’s great, there’s always something hitting you where you don’t expect it yet the effects feel consistent with the mythos built here while still remaining surprising. One of my favourite movies of the years and a welcome return from a fascinating filmmaker, here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another 20+ years for a follow up. Oh, and Nic Cage Cages like he never Nic Caged before if that perks your interest. 9/10

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