Friday, October 23

FRIGHTFEST 2011: Day 2 Report – From Faye Coulman

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Picking up where Thursday’s nerve-shredding scares left off, mid-morning marks a violent, if somewhat predictable opener in the form of Rogue River. Hinged on an overused plot formula in which a stranded victim accepts a lift from an apparently helpful passer-by, the movie is the latest in a long line of Texas Chainsaw Massacre copycats. A seasoned pro in this much-imitated field, horror legend Bill Moseley is instantly at home in the role of sadistic torturer Jon, with newcomer Michelle Page turning in a convincingly distressed performance as hapless victim Mara. But despite a couple of plot twists thrown in almost as an afterthought, Rogue River inevitably meanders into deeply unoriginal territory.

'Rogue River' One-Sheet

Awash with gloomily atmospheric scenery, brutal acts of animal slaughter and suspense, The Holding positively reeks of savagery from the off, proving a strong debut from director Susan Jacobson. Re-imagining the thriller genre within very female terms, this strikingly original British title follows one woman’s struggle for survival in every sense of the word. Facing financial ruin after the mysterious disappearance of her husband, Cassie Naylor (Kierston Wareing) finds herself cluelessly attempting to run the family farm, with troubled daughters Amy and Hannah in tow. On the brink of selling up to sinister neighbouring farmer Karsten, Cassie encounters a helpful stranger who claims to have been a friend of her now-absent husband. As lonely Cassie’s attachment to Aden deepens, she quickly comes to regret the involvement when her new lover begins to show increasingly obsessive and unpredictable tendencies. While Jacobson toys intelligently with slow-burning tension, it’s her fast and frantic camerawork that makes for gripping, adrenalin-fuelled entertainment. From quiet desperation to outright hysteria, leading lady Kierston Wareing captures Cassie’s inner turmoil with instinctive talent and emotional depth. Oscillating between serene malevolence and aggressive outbursts, Aden (Vincent Regan) proves a supreme psycho, offering up plenty of high drama throughout the movie. A perfect fit with The Holding’s remote location and gory agricultural scenes, horror has found a new home in the realistic and oftentimes brutal backdrop of “life and death on the farm.”

Immediately weakened by a title that wouldn’t look amiss on a children’s television network, Urban Explorers follows far too closely in the subterranean footsteps of The Ruins, The Descent, Creep and suchlike. But besides piggybacking off a sub-genre trend that expired a number of years ago, the movie features a scene blatantly lifted from The Ruins, in which local guide Kris suffers a paralysing fall. The copycatting continues still further as our intrepid band of explorers construct a makeshift pulley in a desperate bid to lift the evidently doomed youth to safety. But by far Urban Explorers’ greatest shortcoming is the utter absence of subtitles from the German portion of the script, in addition to obnoxious overacting from damsel-in-distress Nathalie Kelley.

New Crazed 'Urban Explorer' One-Sheet

Despite actor Andy Nyman’s stellar reputation in underground horror circles, few could have anticipated the tortured brilliance he brings to The Glass Man’s starring role. Intelligently framed in  today’s tough economic times, this gritty English masterpiece plays out something of a worst case scenario in which ill-fated Martin Pyrite loses everything he once held dear. A sensitive soul by nature, Martin resorts to increasingly desperate measures following a deal with an unsavoury debt collector who promises to remedy his financial strife in exchange for an unspeakably evil favour. On getting a handle on Pyrite’s inner turmoil, Nyman observes, “I am happily married and love my wife so much so it was very easy to ask myself those intriguing ‘what ifs.’ What would happen if we lost all those things we so often take for granted?”

Refusing to admit his ever-mounting troubles even to himself, it’s not long before Martin embarks on a terrifying downward spiral that’s painfully humiliating and frightening to witness. As his increasingly distant wife, scream queen Neve Campbell plays an inevitably minor role with an English accent that comes off a tad too clipped alongside the native actors she’s surrounded by.   Putting on a bumbling, softly-spoken show, Andy Nyman is superb as the fragile and helplessly passive Martin. It’s a further triumph for visionary director Cristian Solimeno who documents Martin’s every disastrous move in intimate detail, leaving us deeply attached to his very likeable lead. Accompanied by eerily prophetic shots of shattering glass and ghostly reflections depicting a man quite literally reduced to a shadow of his former self, The Glass Man is a hauntingly poignant cult classic in the making.  

With gore and gags galore, it’s no surprise that Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil is scoring major kudos among horror fanatics and hard-nosed critics alike. Teaming gory slapstick with a sharp, almost encyclopaedic knowledge of slasher flicks, director Eli Craig brings a fresh angle to the genre that sees cool, serial killer menace replaced by blundering stupidity. Having been enjoying a lazy summer vacation at their remote woodland home, best buds Tucker and Dale find themselves mistaken for murderous hillbillies by a group of trendy college kids. The initial misunderstanding quickly spirals into chaos, triggering accidental bloodshed and belly laughs by the bucket-load. 

Tony Moore's Version Of 'Tucker and Dale Versus Evil'

Hopping shamelessly aboard today’s thriving torture porn bandwagon, Vile will doubtless prove a surefire hit with sub-genre junkies who revelled in the gratuitous likes of Saw and Hostel. In predictable keeping with the trademarks of such sadistic titles, a random selection of victims are held hostage and subjected to a host of eye-watering torture tactics. And despite being sketchily modelled on a sinister social experiment that famously explored obedience in human beings, this intriguing idea is quickly overshadowed by the gore that’ll doubtless make Vile a box office smash.

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