Terry Mulcahy rounds up the last day of the 13th ever FrightFest, the UK’s annual horror and fantasy film festival at the Empire Cinema, Leicester Square
It’s been a more jam-packed FrightFest than ever before, as the sea of pale faces and sleepy eyes in the Empire Cinema attested. The final evening saw the UK premiere of Chained by Jennifer Chambers Lynch (yes, that Lynch family) but there was also the world premiere of British thriller Tower Block and the European premiere of Sam Raimi’s The Posession. The latter is a film whose advertising has flooded viral and mainstream channels to the point of almost turning potential fans off, so this was a golden opportunity to win back the hard core. However, before any of that, Lynch took the stage to explain that her dark thriller was “about real monsters… and how they’re made”.
If you were a filmmaker and your dad were David Lynch, that would probably be as tough as it were fortuitous. I understand that, to strike out on her own, Jennifer Lynch has had to make bold statements and that to compare her work to her father’s is unfair (and lazy). But if that’s the case, perhaps she shouldn’t have made a film that centres so squarely on overbearing paternal influence. It’s a little on the nose – but that’s exactly where she’s gone with Chained, a story about a young boy kidnapped by a serial killer and forced to become a part of his world. Eamon Farren, as the young man forced into servitude by the monstrous, lisping Bob (Vincent D’Onofrio), is compelling enough as a fragile, gentle potential killer-in-training, but the script is dire. Bobbing lazily along from aphorism to illogical twist and, save for a few swipes at the myth of the perfect American upbringing (a perverse game of baseball with stones, an “umbilical” chain), there’s almost a total lack of artistry. Chained shows none of the bitter sparkle Lynch demonstrated with Boxing Helena or Surveillance. And no, none of David’s eye for subversion is present here either, although his specter looms drearily overhead.
Calling his movie ‘The Possession’ was an audacious move on the part of director Ole Bornedal. If the suggestion is that this is the possession movie, then having Sam Raimi’s name attached to the project (as producer – don’t get too excited) was probably a good start. Unfortunately Bornedal, writer/director of 1997’s fabulously creepy Nightwatch, has dredged up a real turkey in this tale of a young girl and her dilly-dallying with a Jewish demon. After purchasing a mysterious box in a yard sale for his daughter, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, as recently divorced father Clyde, is in for one hell of a week. Kyra Sedgwick as his ex-wife frumps about and provides the requisite skepticism, whilst Morgan is fine as the beleaguered patriarch.
Unfortunately this is as bland as any demon-in-my-daughter film you’ll have seen before and essentially follows shockingly close to the plot of – you guessed it, The Exorcist. All of that might be excusable if Bornedal hadn’t skipped out on genuine scares in favour of hand-wringing, icy glares and lots and lots of screaming. If the lurid poster and sneaky viral marketing led you to believe that Raimi’s fabulous Drag Me To Hell might be a close relative, you’ll be disappointed. It plays, just as you’d expect, on fears of one’s own children and their secret world but also on the dichotomy of suburban America’s fear of/need for religion. It’s not likely to trouble your sleeping self much, either; a job which Sinister, screened yesterday, is more than happy to take on.
“This is the best screening this film will ever have” states writer James Moran before the world premiere of his suspense thriller, directed by James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson. Without any prior knowledge of what to expect, the audience were exactly the kind of virgin eyes for which his nasty little enigma of a film was intended. And it was excellent.
The top-floor residents of Serenity Towers, a tower block ready for demolition, are the final few waiting to be rehoused. But on one otherwise average morning they find themselves trapped in their homes by a mysterious sniper… and that’s just the beginning. An opening sequence involving some, unfortunately, all too familiar violence in an urban tower block is a deliberate attempt at wrong-footing expectations, and a clever setup. It would be unfair to say more but, despite its relative simplicity, Tower Block packs a punch that is best experienced fresh.
Despite not being a comedy there’s a clever, witty script full of genuine laughs from Moran that acts as a nice companion piece to his other film screened at FrightFest – Cockneys vs Zombies. However by comparison Tower Block, well, towers over the other. It’s a scary suspense-thriller with a natty slice of social commentary wedged between the unbearably tense set-pieces. Crucially it’s also very, very exciting thanks to Nunn and Thompson wisely playing up the insanity and claustrophobia of the tall, thin wedge of hell that Serenity Towers has become. Full of delicious little surprises, this was the perfect film to close the festival with: it demonstrates British filmmaking that is on a par with that generated by Hollywood, but which taps into a deep vein of homegrown anxiety. And yes, it closed the festival with a bang.