FrightFest 2007 took place between the 23rd and 27th August 2007 at the Odeon West End cinema in Leicester Square. Read the review of Day Five below or click on the other links to see reviews for the other days.
David Hall: The now infamous zombie walk dominated Monday morning’s proceedings, with a very healthy 650 plus turnout giving the official world record a run for its money. Personally I felt like a bit of a fraud, as I had turned up with my FF viewing partner and fiancée Sophie in very minimal make up, yet we still made the Daily Mail website later that day!
Film4 FrightFest Zombie Walk for The Zombie Diaries David Hall and fiancée Sophie top centre
Film4 FrightFest Zombie Walk for The Zombie Diaries Steve Blackwell and Soulmining (Phil Newton)
Big shouts out to the eatmybrains boys who sported some hideous prosthetics (at least I think they did) and my co-reviewer Soulmining and his buddy Steve for their brilliant Return of the Living Dead-inspired zombie paramedic get-ups. A tremendous effort all round - and kudos to EMB kingpin Mike Hewitt for galvanising traditionally reticent Londoners to get up at such an ungodly hour in support for The Zombie Diaries.
The Zombie Diaries (2007)
David Hall Michael Bartett and Kevin Gates' feature debut is essentially three vignettes (the diaries of the title) chronicling the aftermath of a bird flu-like virus that has ravaged the UK.
This wears a Blair Witch influence very strongly, although there are some inexplicable decisions made throughout each story (from both the filmmakers and the characters themselves) in order to keep up the ‘reality TV’ angle. The first episode, involving a London news crew heading into the country is easily the strongest, so much so that when we switch to the second (the weakest overall) where a trio of scavengers are looking for supplies, much of the tension generated in the build up dissipates. The final segment, dealing with a rag tag group of survivors equates shouting loudly with high drama, but picks up in a frenzied, bleak finale when one of the group is infected.
I have much admiration for the enterprise behind The Zombie Diaries. The budget was low, seriously low (think Stephen Dorff’s mini-bar tab for Botched low) and much of the film is technically competent and often well performed. Shot over weekends, it is a genuine attempt to draw flesh blood form the undead mythos. I just wished I had enjoyed it more. Actually watching the film is a frustrating and at times mildly boring experience. The film strives hard for cohesion between the stories but in the end there’s not enough to sustain interest. Romero can rest easy then, but Bartett and Gates deserve credit for pipping him to the post with their own Diary of the Dead.
Soulmining Eat My Brains has been championing The Zombie Diaries for some time now so after the madcap antics of the zombie walk it was great to finally experience this no-budget British zombie film on the big screen to accompany its DVD release.
Whilst it never quite delivers the hordes of the undead suggested by the poster art, it's still an engaging watch as we follow video footage from a number of different survivors as they deal with the zombie outbreak. There are a number of atmospheric scenes including a night time chase illuminated by torchlight, and there's so many shots of the English countryside that
David dubbed it 'The Countryside Diaries'. Nonetheless a welcome contrast to the other films in the festival. Right, can I remove my zombie make up now?
Director Kevin Gates and Michael Bartlett
Cast Russell Jones
KM 31 (2006)
David Hall Boring Mexican set J-horror influenced snooze fest.
Soulmining I knew very little about KM 31 prior to the screening but in the introduction we were reliably informed that it had been a massive hit in its native Mexico. All I can say to this is that they obviously haven't been distributing any Asian ghost movies there, because this is just a total rehash of those ideas - it's as if the whole J-Horror scene has upped and taken a holiday to Mexico.
A spooky kid in the middle of the road causes numerous accidents and... frankly, I lost interest very quickly and decided that the outside world was a better place to be. Normally I'm a huge fan of Asian horrors but even with the change in location there was nothing original here to command my attention.
Director Rigoberto Casteneda
Cast Iliana Fox
David Hall The Hatchet man was worried about how this would fare with the FF crowd and for the first 15 minutes I completely understood why. I wasn’t feeling this at all. But I was wrong (it happens) and after a shaky start, Spiral begins to find its groove with a compelling Hitchcockian second half that proves Green has a future as a real filmmaker of quality and distinction.
Jittery artist Mason is having problems. A social recluse who can’t sleep, he’s failing his sales job and struggling to keep it together. But when he meets Amber at work his life takes a positive turn. She is drawn to Mason and when she finds out he’s a talented painter agrees to pose for him. But Mason is haunted by awful visions, seems obsessed with a waitress in his local diner and there’s a room in his apartment he can’t even bring himself to open…
The main problem with Spiral is Mason himself. Or at least Joel David Moore’s performance, which is all over the shop – switching from sweating neurotic loon to sweetly tortured loner in a heartbeat, he makes it hard to connect with Mason or understand why any girl would even want to hang out with him, let alone pose naked in his apartment! Amber Tamblyn is great in one of those thankless roles that male directors feel compelled to give to striking young actresses; the beautiful ingénue who immediately falls for an alienated geek.
An interesting and well mounted thriller with some minor flaws, there's more than enough here to indicate that the talented Green won't need to be knocking out Hatchet 7 in order to sustain a film career.
Soulmining Adam Green's second FrightFest film came as a total contrast to Hatchet, about as different as you can get within the genre boundaries. Spiral is a languid Hitchcockian thriller dominated by a live jazz score. Mason is an outsider who likes to paint. When he meets a girl at work she becomes his muse, and later his lover, yet his portraits conceal a dark secret...
It's a slow burner this one, but it's worth sticking with because the pay off is revealed extremely well and makes you re-evaluate everything you've just seen. Amber Tamblyn (The Grudge 2) gives an endearing performance in addition to Green's directorial cohort and scribe, Joel David Moore.
Director Adam Green and Joel David Moore
Cast Joel David Moore
Day Watch (2006)
David Hall For chalk's sake. Harder, faster, stronger but not actually any better, Day Watch relies on much noise and fury but little sense. Back in 2005 I wrote that Timur Bekmambetov’s Night Watch left me “feeling simultaneously exhilarated and exhausted”. His sequel just left me exhausted.
Day follows Night (of course) and a short prologue indicates just how stultifyingly simplistic this good versus evil/light versus dark epic really is. What follows is pretty much Night Watch redux, only with scale replacing charm
Anton's body swap with cohort Olga makes for an amusing comedic detour but there are even less opportunities for nuance or character this time around as it becomes clear Bekmambetov’s intention is to wrap the story in as explosive a fashion as possible. There's no denying the bravura nature of some of these set pieces but the final dance sequence serves as a visual metaphor for a film that simply goes on hurling stuff at the screen for far too long. Ultimately it’s hard to get worked up over a quest for a piece of chalk.
Soulmining I'd already seen Day Watch back in April, so was contemplating skipping this screening. I'm glad I stayed, as on second viewing it totally rocked my world. Whether it was the addition of the snazzy new subtitles, or just the fact that I didn't need to use my brain to keep track of the myriad of characters, but Day Watch is bigger and better than its predecessor in every way.
Continuing directly on from Night Watch the battle between the light and dark forces propels towards a climax as the two 'Great Others' are destined to cross paths, yet the mysterious Chalk Of Fate could change everything – if Anton can only find where it's hidden. Day Watch throws everything at the screen in an action-packed extravaganza that will have you grinning from ear to ear.
Director Timur Bekmambetov
Cast Konstantin Khabensky
The Orphanage (2007)
David Hall Another resonantly spooky tale from the Del Toro stable, this is a haunted house frightener whose spiritual forebears are The Innocents, The Haunting and The Others. Filtering in elements of Barrie's Peter Pan, as a devastated grieving mother searches for her lost son in a house that holds many secrets from her own childhood, this has a lyrical richness and formal elegance that placed it above the rest of the FF pack.
Lensed with confidence and filled with the jolt tactics of a seasoned master, Juan Antonio Bayona's film contains some standout scare scenes, including one involving a medium played by Geraldine Chaplin that is frankly, shit scary. The sound design and cinematography during this sequence are so spookily impressive I spent the duration gnawing my hand off in abject terror. Overall there are at least three paramedic bothering scares in this flick and Bayona proves he is more than capable of following in master Del Toro's footsteps.
That said, I felt slightly bemused by the overwhelming rush to bestow 'classic' status on The Orphanage. I suspect that in hindsight, this might fade. The film lacks the hard earned emotional impact of Pan's Labyrinth with a coda that felt more than a little syrupy. The logistics of the final third (no spoilers here) don’t quite hang together either. Overall though, the clear film of the weekend and a high note to end on after a draining fest.
Soulmining They saved the best until last. Produced by Guillermo Del Toro, the Spanish maestro's influence is all over The Orphanage, but director Juan Antonio Bayona delivers a film every bit as classy as his compatriot. The story of a haunted orphanage is not the most original, with some subtle nods to Peter Pan, but it's the manner in which it is told that captivates the audience.
The direction is assured throughout and Bayona utilises little music, the sparse sound design helping to rack up the tension. It's not a gory film but there are shocks aplenty and I defy you not to jump at least twice while the drama unfolds. Boasting a powerhouse performance from Belen Rueda as the desperate mother looking for her missing son, The Orphanage is a classic in the making and is destined to be in all the important must-see lists at the year end. Awards surely beckon.
Director Juan Antonio Bayona
Cast Belen Rueda
Country Mex / Sp
David Hall summary: As we filed out of the Odeon and emerged blinking into the late evening to head off to various pubs, parties or just to make the journey home, it was time to reflect on another intense festival. What had been the best film, the worst, the scariest? And more importantly, how was I going to get the fake blood off my nails?
This year proved to be very consistent in that most of the films were around the three star mark. There were a few stinkers, but strangely, no real standouts; although The Orphanage was certainly the closest thing to a classic and Teeth had real bite.
My top five highlights were;
1. as always, the post-film discussions outside and in the pub with familiar friends and new acquaintances
2. meeting Adam Green and Jonathan King, two guys who are both very genuine individuals with undoubted love for what they do. Green in particular is an absolute legend and his commentary for Hatchet was a real highlight. As for his Dee Snyder story, one word - inspirational.
3. the surprise of Teeth, which turned out to be one of the best of the fest.
4. Uwe Boll for a) surprising the naysayers, myself included b) providing a genuine talking point with THAT scene from Seed, and c) having balls of steel in a post Q and A that proved easily the most entertaining ever held at Fright Fest.
5. the hugely amusing sight of zombies in Leicester square on Bank Holiday Monday, with the undead invading Betfair, hijacking a tourist bus and overrunning McDonalds.
I haven’t even mentioned Neil Marshall’s fabulous footage form Doomsday and the brilliant In the Wall - an EC comics inspired short film that is better than any Masters Of Horror episode I’ve seen and at least half 40 minutes shorter. Track it down online, it was one of the best things I saw all weekend.
Huge thanks of course to the Fright Fest organisers. The extraordinary atmosphere and goodwill that this festival has is down to their enormous effort and enthusiasm. They are a team to be cherished. Cheers also to Soulmining, who I would like to have seen more of throughout the fest, only there was usually about 15 minutes between flicks and a man has got to eat, not to mention visit the bathroom from time to time.
Finally, big up to my girl Sophie, who took her first FrightFest in her stride and managed to not fall asleep all weekend, unlike me (KM31 was the culprit).
Until the ICA all nighter then, keep it frightful.