This year at Glasgow Film Festival, the 2023 FrightFest contingent offered eleven genre-bending feature films, packed into a horror-filled weekend of scares, screams, and…suddenly realizing you happened to pack a gun in your suitcase for the girls weekend – just after your best friend has been murdered by the psycho Bear-Man! A little too late…darn.
I had the great pleasure of catching ten out of the eleven films screened over the 10th and 11th of March 2023. Here are my thoughts and recommendations for which films you should catch if you can (or avoid like the plague) once they complete their festival runs and find distribution in the big, wide world.
#CHADGETSTHEAXE USA 2022 83 mins. INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE
What happens when a group of self-involved influencers decides to raid a house that was supposedly the site of a cult sacrifice – all whilst live-streaming the entire night? Filmed and told entirely through the camera-phones of the eccentric cast of characters, #chadgetstheaxe exceeded my expectations by skillfully pulling the found-footage genre into the 2020s with imagination, humor, and just the right amount of social commentary. I loved the creative addition of the live-chat, which constantly generates comments & quips from followers of the live-stream on the side of the screen, as events continue to unfold. The unseen users and commenters made for great comedy value throughout, whilst cleverly countering the moments of jerky camerawork that may have become monotonous without the chat.
Overall rating: 4 STARS (****)
PENSIVE Lithuania 2022 87 mins. UK PREMIERE
Billed as “the first Lithuanian slasher,” this gripping and original story examines, during a night of teen partying at a remote cabin, who really becomes the villain. The film opens in quite a classic manner for a slasher, as the audience is introduced to the young cast of characters, each with their individual crushes and vices, who get plucked off one-by-one upon the introduction of the masked killer. But by the third act, things descend into a total breakdown of character and identity for the remaining survivors, ending in a very successful bait-and-switch and ultimately a more deeply affecting psychological conclusion than expected. For this reason, this was one of the scarier films from the weekend, and one that continued to play over in my mind long after the credits had finished rolling.
Overall rating: 4 STARS (****)
MOTHER SUPERIOR Austria 2022 71 mins. UK PREMIERE
In this intriguing feature film debut from writer-director Marie Alice Wolfszahn set in 1970s Austria, a nurse who is desperate to find out her true identity places herself to care for an aging Baroness who may hold some information to unlock the secrets of her unknown past. The film bears some resemblance in subject matter to Rose Glass’ 2019 film Saint Maud, and although both films are quite visually engaging, the pacing of Mother Superior admittedly did seem to drag at times. The twist ending was satisfying if a bit too heavy-handed in its execution, which is potentially an indication of less-than-confident storytelling. However, I believe a stronger film is in the works for Wolfszahn as a filmmaker, as she humbly explained at the festival’s post-screening Q&A that her experience on this production was “a lesson.”
Overall rating: 3 STARS (***)
WINNIE THE POOH: BLOOD AND HONEY UK 2023 90 mins. UK PREMIERE
Prior to the screening, titular character actor Craig David Dowsett warned the festival audience: “It’s Pooh Bear with a knife. Just try to have fun, okay?” That being said, although the film is full of outrageous moments, I didn’t have nearly as much fun as I was hoping. For a slasher that’s meant to possess a high shock value, it just wasn’t quite shocking enough: the kills were amusing, but entirely unoriginal; the acting was bad, but not hilariously so; and there were plenty of “what the heck?” moments, but not enough to place the film on par with cult classics such as The Room or Birdemic, which elicit a guilty-pleasure feeling of “this is so bad, it’s good.” I found that I was sighing and rolling my eyes more frequently than laughing out loud or gasping with horror. However, I will give props to cinematographer Vince Knight, at least, for making something this cheap look so good.
Overall rating: 2.5 STARS (** ½)
IRATI Spain/France 2022 114 mins. UK PREMIERE
After an initial issue with the visibility of the English subtitles during the festival, the screening for Irati had to be relocated to the last block of the night. However, even despite the temporary drama and the unexpected wait, Irati did not disappoint: I was absolutely blown away by this film. Eliciting near perfectly crafted storytelling with deep roots in ancient Basque legends, this is an incredibly authentic yet wholly original Sword & Sorcery genre film that can effortlessly hold its own against fantasy titans such as The Lord Of The Rings and The Green Knight. Completed by gorgeous scenery, stunning cinematography, and immaculate costume design, this is a true visual feast that adorns and enhances the story of Irati, a Pagan woman of the earth, who chooses to help a Christian prince save his kingdom despite her best interests. Although I would not consider this film to belong in the horror genre, Irati is nevertheless a true achievement in independent filmmaking. I sincerely hope that this film is granted a global release, and I am now eagerly awaiting to see how director Paul Urkijo Alijo will choose to utilize his impressive eye and talent next.
Overall rating: 5 STARS (*****)
ONYX THE FORTUITOUS AND THE TALISMAN OF SOULS USA 2023 105 mins. INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE
Although I had my reservations about whether a viral internet personality named Onyx could sustain an entire feature film, I was nothing but pleasantly surprised and thoroughly entertained by this sweet horror-comedy. Filmmaker Andrew Bowser’s lovably geeky character Marcus J. Trilbury, AKA “Onyx the Fortuitous,” embarks on an epic and hilarious adventure to become the hero no one ever thought he could be – including himself. There are delightful appearances from Re-Animator legends Jeffrey Combs as the dramatically evil Bartok the Great, and Barbara Crampton as Onyx’s oblivious mother. This film fully commits to its wackiness with wit and abandon, complete with pleasing practical effects and a surprise musical interlude which made the festival audience (including myself) noticeably indisposed with laughter. At its core, this is a heartfelt love letter addressed to the nerds, outcasts, and misfit toys of the world – and you can bet that horror fans are included.
Overall rating: 4 STARS (****)
CONSECRATION UK/USA 2023 91 mins. INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE
Director Christopher Smith of previous cult hit Creep contributes a rather tired addition to the religious horror subgenre with his latest film, Consecration. After receiving news that her brother has died under mysterious circumstances, Grace (played by Jena Malone, who has matured only marginally since her Donnie Darko days) is summoned to the scene of the incident at the Mount Savior convent in the Scottish Highlands. Instead of working with the police to help solve the case, however, she inexplicably decides to stay in the convent and hang out with the nuns who most likely murdered her brother! Full of convoluted plotlines and some un-thoughtful bloody moments, which were thrown in seemingly just for show, I left the cinema feeling numb and unfulfilled. There are so many creepy things to mine in the history and traditions of Catholicism, but this film seemed to squander such opportunities, proving Consecration to be a confused, unfocused mystery rather than the eerie supernatural horror it was probably intended to be.
Overall rating: 2 STARS (**)
LITTLE BONE LODGE UK 2023 93 mins. WORLD PREMIERE
Long-standing horror star Joely Richardson leads a very strong cast in this moody character-driven thriller about two criminal brothers who take refuge in a remote cabin, owned by a matriarch who is hiding some secrets of her own. Besides Richardson’s powerful turn as ‘Mama,’ notable performances from Harry Cadby and Neil Linpow are bolstered by rookie screenwriter Linpow‘s tightly-woven dialogue. The plot twist can’t be anticipated easily, as it twists slightly too far beyond belief, somewhat tarnishing the believability of the circumstances that had been developing so well throughout the first two acts. Not much else can be divulged without revealing this twist, so I will give the film a solid recommendation – though no standing ovation.
Overall rating: 3.5 STARS (*** ½)
HERE FOR BLOOD Canada 2022 100 mins. INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE
Asking a meaty pro-wrestler to cover a last-minute babysitting shift for a sweet little girl sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, right? Turns out on this particular night, there’s no better person for the job! This hilarious horror-comedy, clearly taking influence from masterpieces like Evil Dead II and early Stuart Gordon films, is a fast-paced, fun-filled romp, packed to the brim with colorful characters both good and evil. The laugh levels in the cinema were by far the loudest I’d heard over the entire weekend, as we were gleefully subjected to excessive blood-spattering, indulgently satisfying one-liners, and the unhinged vocal talents of Dee Snider (of 80s metal band Twisted Sister) shrieking “FEED ME!” as a ravenous, disembodied skull. This is another one I sincerely hope will get a great distribution deal, as it’s guaranteed to bring joy to any die-hard horror-comedy fan.
Overall rating: 4.5 STARS (**** ½)
13 EXORCISMS Spain 2022 98 mins. INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE
Whether or not possession & exorcism films are your cup of tea, there’s no denying that this Spanish-language film is well-executed across several departments. Heart-wrenching performances and horrifying effects impressively adorn the tightly crafted story of Laura, a young teen that begins to experience strange sensations and creepy occurrences. That said, I am generally of the opinion that – because demonic possession films have been so heavily overdone – it’s difficult to reinvent the wheel. However, I did appreciate that 13 Exorcisms portrayed an often-overlooked angle on the mental health risks for the vulnerable, real-life victims who are told to be unholy by their families and are subjected to supposed “exorcisms” by Catholic priests. This is an especially prevalent and risky practice in present-day Spain, so I was impressed that the film sought to shed light on this issue, whilst still hitting all the right marks in effects, music, and performances to form a truly disturbing horror film.
Overall rating: 4 STARS (****)
Overall, I was surprised to find that my personal favorites from the weekend were the over-the-top horror comedies, with the stunning Basque fantasy-thriller Irati as the stand-out exception – and the uncontested pinnacle of the weekend. The films that possessed a religious edge (or featured a certain storybook-character-turned-murderer…) weren’t quite sharp enough for me, and failed to cut deep.
All in all, though, I thought FrightFest Glasgow offered a diverse and carefully-selected array of films to make for a thoroughly enjoyable weekend this year. My only misgiving with the programming, if minor, would be that I would have liked to see more works featured by female directors (with Mother Superior director Marie Alice Wolfszahn being the lone woman of the group this year). Well, there’s always next year…right, guys?
Article written by Gareth Tidball
Gareth Tidball (she/her) is an award-winning actress and writer with an affinity for indie horror. As an actress, she typically finds herself playing young, tough women with a strong sense of justice and an air of quiet mystery. A proud dual citizen, Gareth has performed in theatre and film in both the United States and Great Britain. Her fiction will be published later this year in the upcoming Forbidden Psalm game book, Dread Nights. She also dabbles in screenwriting and playwriting.