FrightFest 2015: 'We Are Still Here' review

★★★★☆
Ted Geoghegan's We Are Still Here (2015) is a fittingly gruesome tribute to the halcyon days of 1980s splatter movies and the cosmic horror mythos of H.P. Lovecraft. It specifically channels and mimics the visual palette and tones of Lucio Fulci, the director who earned his stripes in the Italian genre filmmaking boom of the 1960s and 1970s, making all sorts of pictures, before establishing a talent for extremely violent imagery. For his efforts, he became known as the 'Godfather of Gore'. Fulci, today, is an established figure in the 'Masters of Horror' pantheon. His phantasmagorical blood feasts, especially the 'Gates of Hell' trilogy, are rightfully celebrated as classics of their kind.
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FrightFest 2015: 'Tales of Halloween' review

★★★★☆
Tales of Halloween (2015) is the latest stab by well-regarded horror directors at the anthology format. Created by Axelle Carolyn, the intent is to replace the V/H/S series as a showcase for filmmakers whose names will be very familiar to genre fans. Avoiding found-footage like the plague, Tales of Halloween is a slickly presented and often correctly ultra-violent homage to the one night of the year when all things supernatural and horror-themed are celebrated. If it lacks genuine chills and frights, this collection of ten terror yarns makes amends by providing a wealth of laughs, jubilant enthusiasm for all things horror cinema and spirited interpretations of old tropes and traditions.
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FrightFest 2015: 'Sun Choke' review

★★★★★
Ben Cresciman's intense psychological horror film, Sun Choke (2015), is the story of a woman staring into the abyss of nothingness and liking what she sees: absolute nothing, a retreat from the chaos of the light. It's been likened to grand auteurs such as Bergman, Lynch and Polanski, and those debts are easily enough to pull out. However, the director's approach and 'treatment' of his protagonist, Janie (the astoundingly good Sarah Hagan), and the depiction of her mental illness and form of disassociation is perhaps more informed and closer in spirit to the 1981 German production, No Mercy, No Future, by Helma Sanders-Brahms.
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FrightFest 2015: 'Pod' review

★★★☆☆
In the varied annals of horror cinema history, attics and basements operate as spaces ripe for psychoanalysis. When not serving as metaphors for ills of the human mind, they function as focal points for demonic manifestations, and sometimes portals to other dimensions. Kitchens aren't scary, right? Parlours are only creepy if the house is grandly built and furnished and there is a piano going all Jerry-Lee Lewis of its own accord. Dining areas, pantries and garden sheds are rarely, if at all, used to stage sequences drenched in supernatural terror. It Came from the Pantry! (an invented title, admittedly) doesn't boast the same attention-grabbing promise as Cellar Dweller (1988) or The Attic (2007).
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FrightFest 2015: 'Nina Forever' review

★★★★★
It's as rare as rocking horse shit for horror movies to exhibit emotional depths not related to the visceral thrills of the jump scare and the insidious, bone- chilling fright. So invested in the art of the slay and sending the audience into paroxysms of fear, the genre and its practitioners have either forgotten or disregarded the idea that it's capable of doing other stuff. Like making the audience have a good cry. The aim of Nina Forever (2015), by débutantes Ben and Chris Blaine, is not to get the heart pumping and nerves going with ghost train jolts, but to pull at the heart strings and demonstrate that films of this nature are entirely capable of provoking our tear ducts to do impersonations of Niagara Falls.
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FrightFest 2015: 'Landmine Goes Click'

★★★★☆
Levan Bakhia's Landmine Goes Click (2015) is the kind of genre flick that comes along sometimes - where a director's intentions can be misinterpreted. The brutalisation of three female characters is horrific, but it would be a presumptuous leap to suggest the film itself flexes a misogynistic creed. Such assertions would woefully misconstrue Bakhia's thematic subtext, which is an examination and comment on the male mind warped by patriarchal thinking and a manipulative form of self-exculpation/cowardice. Its spiritual relation is perhaps Gaspar Noé's Irréversible (2002), a violent fantasy saga about two men filled with blind rage doling out vile retribution, after one's partner is raped in a Parisian subway.
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FrightFest 2015: 'Emelie' review

★★★★☆
Despite a third act change of tone, that plays out like a hybrid of Home Alone (1990) and The Shining (1980), there is still plenty to admire in Michael Thelin's debut movie. For much of its brisk eighty-two minutes running time, Emelie (2015) is a devilishly good thriller of notably transgressive bent, giving the slasher and home invasion formats a rare matriarchal focus. However, once it has to commit to the familiar trope of the plucky protagonist fighting back against the unwelcome intruder, it loses something vital; the edge and suspense evaporates into a formulaic duke out, and certain generic obligations are dutifully fulfilled.

Sarah Bolger plays the titular character, a demented babysitter spurred into criminality by tragic events, and it's the kind of performance that crops up and wows only once in a while. Her star-making, nuanced portrayal of a young mother driven to recreating the past, while wrecking the lives of others, is partly why the third act feels a little bit of a let-down. Surely there was a more inspired way to deal with the character? As Emelie openly flirts with the father, enchants (and then repels) the oldest son on the cusp of puberty and torments the little ones with cruel and manipulative acts, her scheming becomes not only malicious – she feeds a pet hamster to a snake and makes them watch – but downright perverse (showing her charges a sex tape made by their parents). Not only does Bolger impress, the littlest cast members have a naturalism so often lacking in American cinema, where kids come across as jaded industry professionals by the time they're gumming rusks.

For the more adult scenes clever editing is involved, but there is a welcome lack of trained theatre-school polish evident. Such performances, too, help deliver the required mood of dread, as well as emotional engagement. The general tone harks back to the heyday of the slasher movie, its classical style highly reminiscent of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), as well as the more recent work of Ti West or Adam Wingard. Take for instance the bravura opener, capturing, as it does, in one masterful single take, the abduction of a teenager on an ordinary suburban avenue. It's the kind of 'horror in plain sight' ambience that Halloween masterfully exuded, and the playful transgression is more in line with Messrs. West and Wingard, current kings of the US indie horror scene. (Do not call it 'mumblegore.') The scene mentioned makes excellent use of the location, composition and deep-focus cinematography and marks out Thelin as an assured craftsman. If only the ending hadn't succumbed to genre conformity.

Film4 FrightFest 2015 runs from 27-31 August. Programming, ticket details and all information can be found at www.frightfest.co.uk. You can keep up with our coverage here.

Martyn Conterio | @Cinemartyn
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FrightFest 2015: 'Deathgasm' review

★★★★☆
With What We Do in the Shadows, Housebound and now Deathgasm (2015), New Zealand is fast becoming the go-to place for crowd-pleasing horror comedies. Jason Lei Howden's directorial debut is primed for unalloyed genre thrills, making you laugh until your sides hurt and subverting the rom-zom-com format. If fears going in hinged on the suspicion that Deathgasm was an attention-grabbing title and nothing much else, worries dissipate soon enough, as a laugh-out-loud banquet of blood, made in the spirit of Evil Dead II (1988) and Peter Jackson's Braindead (1992), plays out on the screen. Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) is a heavy metal fan spinning the black circle for Satan.
At least, that's what his God-bothering aunt and uncle think. As with many kids who find solace in extreme music and subcultures, it's got nothing to do with religion or devil-worshipping. Brodie's only friends in the world (apart from his beloved record collection) are two RPG nerdlingers, Dion and Gilles. Then, one day, at a local record store, he meets Zakk (James Blake) and these two bros fall head over heels for each other. They bond over their love for metal gods Haxansword (the sort of pun that sums up the movie's tone perfectly), become bezzie mates and start a band (the titular DEATHGASM. Spelled all uppercase because Zakk believes that "lowercase is for pussies.")

The narrative plotting treads the well-worn path and trajectory of many romantic comedies: meeting, spending time together, the bliss of new found companionship, the subsequent falling out and traditional third act reconciling. The focus, however, is two misfit teenage boys. Brodie and Zakk were meant to be life-long pals, only a fit of jealousy (a rival, female love interest) and a zombie apocalypse mess things up a bit. As a take on the ubiquitous cultural phenomenon that is the 'bromance', Deathgasm is up there with Shaun of the Dead (2004), perhaps its number one inspiration, but is decidedly more homoerotic. Given how arch, ironic and sex-fuelled the comedy is (Zakk thinks making fourth base is 'anal sex' and in one scene, the pair attack two demons with anal beads and a couple of two-way dildos they find in a Christian couple's closet. The box is marked 'Church stuff'), it can’t possibly be an unconscious product of the script and, therefore, is very much part of Howden's bromance deconstruction.

Film4 FrightFest 2015 runs from 27-31 August. Programming, ticket details and all information can be found at www.frightfest.co.uk. You can keep up with our coverage here.

Martyn Conterio | @Cinemartyn

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FrightFest 2015: 'Cherry Tree' review

★☆☆☆☆
David Keating's silly and unsuccessful folklore horror film, Cherry Tree (2015), suffers from a list of ailments no old crone in a woodland cottage, with her library of esoteric books, magic spells and potions, could ever save or transform into a superior version. She'd look the film straight in the eye and wish it the best of luck. The issues and problems cripple what could have been a gnarly genre piece. Because everybody loves sexy witches being evil, right? Among many, one of the most peculiar creative decisions is to pretend it wasn't filmed in Ireland, with the cast suppressing their Irish lilts in favour of, sometimes, strained attempts at RP or Thames Valley intonations.
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FrightFest 2015: 'Aaaaaaaah!' review

★★★★☆
Steve Oram's directorial debut Aaaaaaaah! (2015) comes on like a collaboration between Dogme '95 and Chris Morris. It's hard to think of another film closely like it in British cinema. It really is that out-there and singular. You can bet your bottom dollar on Aaaaaaaah! becoming a cult oddity in years to come, but it's equally fair to say that the general cinema-going audience would be left nonplussed. It's an experimental work for the arthouse crowd, certainly, but it's also one of the funniest and most poignant movies of the year. The lives of gorillas and other primates, their hierarchies, interactions and rituals, serve as chief inspirations for Oram's anthropological social satire/horror-comedy.
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Film Review: 'Straight Outta Compton'

★★★★☆
This visceral hip-hop biopic documenting NWA's meteoric rise to fame at times struggles to avoid stumbling into Hollywood cliché. Still, Straight Outta Compton (2015) proves as infectiously entertaining as it is educational thanks to F. Gary Gray's richly textured direction and a thumping soundtrack that confirms rap as the protest music of its time. Although gangster rap is now the stuff of legend, Straight Outta Compton reminds the viewer that for some it was - and still is - a way of life. The opening sequence reveals Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) stomping his way out of the grilled window of a dope house, after a police military tank, without warning, rams its way right through the front door.
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Film Review: 'L'Eclisse'

★★★★☆
There are some films that are defined, or at least deeply coloured by the power and poetry of their final scenes. Christian Petzold's Phoenix (2014) is a fine film in its own right, but is elevated by the emotional upper-cut of its conclusion. So too Pablo Larrain's Post Mortem (2010) conjures great effect from its chilling last shot. It may not be a given that Michelangelo Antonioni is emphasising what has come before in the incredible closing minutes of L'Eclisse (1962), but a case can be made that in it he unsettlingly distils his entire trilogy of alienation - begun in L'Avventura (1960) and continued in La Notte (1961) - into one poetic and wordless sequence.
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Film Review: Hitman Agent 47

★☆☆☆☆
The second adaptation of the successful video game series, Hitman: Agent 47 (2015) is no good whatsoever. Everything about it feels tired and half-hearted, as if it exists purely for the studio to hold onto the rights and make as much money as possible with minimal effort. Living on the fringes of society, Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) is a hired assassin - a killing machine with no moral compass. His latest assignment is to track down Dr Litvenko (Ciaran Hinds), the man responsible for engineering the program that bore him. With the CIA and shady organisation 'The Syndicate' on his tail with plans to militarise the tech, he's forced to rely on Dr Litvenko's daughter Katia van Dees (Hannah Ware) for help.
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Film Review: 'Barely Lethal'

★★★☆☆
All genres go through cycles and phases. The High School movie is currently deep into a self-referential phase, in thrall to the classics of yesteryear. Barely Lethal (2015) is part of this trend, loudly winking at Mean Girls (2004), Clueless (1995), and even quoting a monologue from The Breakfast Club (1985). If only this lineage were more deeply embedded in its DNA, Barely Lethal it might have been more satisfying than the window-dressing that it is. The premise gives it a leg up on some of its competition. Raised in a secret military programme for training spies, Agent 83 (Hailee Steinfeld, MVP of this year's Pitch Perfect 2) fakes her own death and escapes, determined to live an ordinary teenage life.
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Film Review: '45 Years'

★★★★☆
Tender, heartbreaking and endlessly engaging, the third feature by the hand of one of England's most intriguing directors is one of the must-see films of the year. Andrew Haigh's 45 Years (2015) is a quiet study of a seemingly comfortable marriage torn apart by the slow unravelling of a shelved moment. With a spotlight on the superlative performances of Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, what Haigh crafts for the screen is something akin to near perfection. There is never a wasted moment, never a spare second left to boredom. Haigh has taken David Constantine's short story - a mere twelve pages in print - and expanded the world while managing to distil every beat to crystalline clarity.
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FrightFest 2015: Our picks of the lineup

Returning to Leicester Square for its sixteenth year as the UK's leading celebration of horror and fantasy cinema, Film4 FrightFest 2015 is also set to be the biggest yet. With 19 world premières, along with 16 European and 24 UK ones, a wide and varied programme made up of a whopping 76 titles will screen across five glorious and ghoulish days. Barbara Crampton, star of Lovecraftian gore feasts Re-Animator and From Beyond, is the festival's guest of honour. As well as making an on-stage appearance to discuss her career in horror, Crampton can also be seen in four films: Road Games, Sun Choke, Tales of Halloween and We Are Still Here. Kicking things off on Thursday 27 August is David Keating's eagerly anticipated Cherry Tree.
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Blu-ray Review: 'Vivre Sa Vie'

★★★★★
Named by Susan Sontag as "the perfect film", Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre Sa Vie (1962), rereleased on Blu-ray this week by the BFI, is an unsentimental billet-doux to Anna Karina, the director's former wife and muse. Combining the aesthetics of cinéma vérité with an abundance of innovative techniques he would become renowned for pioneering, Godard's French New Wave classic remains as significant now as it did 50 years ago. A tragic portrait of a life told in twelve scenes, Vivre Sa Vie is a film of quiet confrontation. Karina plays Nana, a young Parisian struggling to make ends meet whilst working in a record store - quelle chic.
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DVD Review: 'Iris'

★★★★☆
Having featured in a variety of documentaries that explore the fashion scene in and around New York City, the unique and irrepressible fashionista Iris Apfel now takes centre stage in one of her very own. The final feature from the dearly departed Albert Maysles, who alongside his brother made some of the best exemplars of the genre (Gimme Shelter and Salesman are but a mere tip of the iceberg), Iris (2014) is a heartfelt and enlightening swansong that focuses on one the fashion industry's, nay the world's, most distinctive - and distinctively dressed - icons. A beacon of individuality, Apfel wasn't publicly recognised for her vivacious wardrobe until she was well in her eighties.
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DVD Review Queen & Country

★★★☆☆
Queen & Country (2014), which screened in the Director's Fortnight sidebar at Cannes last year, is the second part of John Boorman's filmic memoir, following on directly from his 1987 Best Picture Oscar nominee Hope & Glory. It's 1952: ten years on since the Nazis dropped a bomb on a school causing the kids to celebrate in the streets - "Thank you, Adolf" - but post-War Britain is a place of stiff tradition, austerity and, worse still, National Service. The War might be over, but war in Korea means there is no escaping the military and Bill Rohan (a charismatic Callum Turner) is called up away from his idyllic island on the Thames and family life to go through basic training.
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DVD Review: 'The Falling'

★★★★☆
In a nameless girls' school, somewhere in wet, rural England, girls are falling - in both senses. The year is 1969, and it starts with the 16-year-old Abbie (Florence Pugh). Her dusky voice is beyond her years and she's the first of her friends to lose her virginity, tangled in the back of a car. This shrouds her with mystique, putting an unknowable distance between her and Lydia (Maisie Williams), her best friend. The rest of the girls are in awe of her worldliness. The French, as Abbie tells them, call the orgasm "a little death". Imitating her, celebrating her, deliberately or not, the other girls begin to faint. It starts with Lydia, but then it spreads - first to the other girls, then even a young teacher.
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Interview: Carol Morley talks 'The Falling'

Carol Morley was in high spirits on the breezy spring morning CineVue met her (she likens press junkets to speed dating). The wind rustled in the air outside, but not with the sense of foreboding mysticism of her remarkable new feature, The Falling (2014). They are the winds of change, of a Britain embracing counter-culture as it rebels from its stuffy past in the late 1960s. Maisie Williams (Arya Stark in HBO's Game of Thrones) plays schoolgirl Lydia, whose fainting spells spark into an all-out outbreak of hysteria in a countryside girls' school still grieving the loss of a star pupil (breakout actress Florence Pugh). It marks a significant change from her previous film, Dreams of a Life (2011), the docudrama about Joyce Vincent, a Londoner whose body was left undisturbed by friends and family for three years.
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DVD Review: 'Eyes Without a Face'

★★★★☆
If you only know Eyes Without a Face (1960) from the Billy Idol rock ballad, then you are in for a treat. Georges Franju's Gallic body horror is a complex atmospheric chiller which balances graphic shocks with subtle characterisation. A woman Louise (Alida Valli) drives through the French countryside at night. In the backseat, a passenger sways unconscious. Parking by a river, the woman drags the passenger down the muddy bank and drops her in the water. The celebrated Dr. Génessier (Pierre Brasseur) is called to the morgue to identify a body which might be his missing daughter. He does so and a funeral follows but all is not as it seems as his assistant Louise stands by his side.
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DVD Review: 'Dragon's Return'

★★★★☆
"Heaven forbid if he ever comes back," intones a village elder as Martin Lepiš, otherwise known as 'Dragon' (Radovan Lukavský), is led, restrained, into exile. This sequence is told in flashback to give context to the thick atmosphere of Eduard Grečner's Dragon's Return (1968). A brooding and mythic drama, it tells a simple folktale of a hamlet in the Tatra Mountains and uses modernist techniques to explore themes of community, exclusion and lost love. It's most notable innovation is the use of a particular telephoto lens that flattens and blurs the landscapes of Vincent Rosinec's arresting cinematography, placing emphasis on the characters set against an almost elemental backdrop.
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Blu-ray Review: 'The Charlie Chaplin Collection: Vol. 2'

★★★★★
City Lights (1931) begins with a scene of splendour as the gathered dignitaries and the jubilant crowd attend the unveiling of a new monument, a group of statues personifying valour, industry and justice. As the nattering speeches finish and the veil is finally drawn a slumbering figure is revealed: Charlie Chaplin's Tramp, using the civic statuary as a hammock of sorts. His awkward attempt to extricate himself produce a series of rude gestures at the attendant powers-that-be and do-gooders, who are forced to pause in their fury at him when the national anthem is played. The scene could stand as emblematic of Chaplin's use of comedy to attack the po-faced guardians of morality.
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DVD Review: 'The Ang Lee Trilogy'

★★★☆☆
Commonly referred to as the 'Father Knows Best Trilogy', Ang Lee's first three films are notable primarily as an introduction to key themes and his devotion to nuanced emotional drama. They also staved off the retirement of famous Taiwanese actor Sihung Lung. Almost a decade before his appearance as Sir Te in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) he was convinced to shed his tough-guy image in favour of the serenely charming Mr. Chu in Lee's debut feature, Pushing Hands (1992). Altitude Distribution are now bringing that film and subsequent Lee/Lung collaborations The Wedding Banquet (1993) and Eat Drink Man Woman (1993) to UK DVD in The Ang Lee Trilogy box set.
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DVD Review: 'A Little Chaos'

★★☆☆☆
Alan Rickman's second stint as director yields mixed results wrapped up in a stylish French bow, A Little Chaos (2014). It's a beautiful effort but completely sophomoric in all its trappings. There is something inherently off-kilter while watching, the feeling that - despite an intriguing cast, gorgeous sets and an appropriately saccharine and somewhat devious plot - there's something quite hollow here. Set within the royal strata of the court of Louis XIV (Rickman), the story follows Sabine de Barra (Kate Winslet), a widowed landscape architect who finds a renewed sense of purpose when she is hired to construct a new feature for the king's garden at Versailles.
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Film Review: 'The Wolfpack'

★★★★☆
This Sundance award-winning documentary recalls English poet Philip Larkin's This Be the Verse: "They fuck you up, your mum and dad..." Then again, Larkin probably didn't have parents as paranoid as Oscar Angulo who, with ex-hippie Susanne, raised their six sons and one daughter in near-isolated lockdown. Like Grey Gardens, The Wolfpack (2015) blurs the traditional border between documentary filmmaker and subject, as director Crystelle Moselle captures the quotidian details of family dysfunction with intimacy, but also discretion. Sporting long hair and Sanskrit names, the Angulo brothers, aged 16-23, were forbidden by their father to leave their cramped public housing flat in Manhattan's Lower East Side.
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