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Live for Films at FrightFest 2016: Day 1

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It’s that time of year again: horror geek nirvana. What Guillermo del Toro called the Woodstock of gore: FrightFest. This year the five, well four and a half, day horror movie marathon has upped sticks from London’s glamorous Leicester Square and out Westfield’s way to gritty Shepherds Bush. I’ve heard a few grumbles regarding the new locale, but I like it. I have a great seat in the best screen – Horror Channel is the best – and have already caught up with old friends from previous events, and made some new ones. That’s what will never change no matter where the event moves to: the spirit and the camaraderie. FrightFest til I die.

I must admit to being a little non-plussed initially by the line up for this year when it as announced last month. There were only a few films I had already heard of and one of them, The Woods, later revealed as Blair Witch, was later pulled from the schedule. Don’t worry though, I saw it a few weeks ago and will tell you all about it as soon as the embargo is lifted in mid September.

Thursday night kicked off with an intro from the FrightFest organisers Paul, Ian, Greg and Alan. These guys work their socks to the bone every year to sort a million screens, a billion films and a zillion hungry horror fans out, and they are all stone cold legends in my book. The boys let us know that the new sponsor was the Horror Channel taking over from Film4 and to have fun and turn our bloody phones off, and then friend of the festival Andy Nyman also wisely warned us to stay off Shepherds Bush green after midnight. Then it was on with the show.

MY FATHER DIE

my father die

First up My Father Die. Written and directed by Sean (son of Pierce) Brosnan and starring ex boxer slash model Gary Stretch. The film is a dark revenge thriller set on the banks of the Mississippi. Ten years ago Ivan (Stretch) caught his eldest son, Chester (Chester Rushing), slipping it to his girlfriend Nana (Candace Smith) while his youngest son, Asher (Joe Anderson), watched. Furious, he beat son number one to death with his bare hands and clouted son number two so hard he went deaf. Then got carted off to prison. Now word reaches grown up deaf son Asher that dad is out. Rather than go into hiding or seek protection though, Archer goes on the offensive. Blue Ruin style. Donning his dead bro’s wolf skin and some sunglasses, he tools up to track down and kill his dad. Things obviously do not quite go to plan and Asher takes refuge with Nana and her young son. With a livid Ivan on the loose it will take all their cunning to stay alive and put Ivan down for good.

Sticky and sweaty, My Father Die is southern fried through and through. The sense of place and heat and danger is palpable throughout, and Brosnan is always ratcheting things up with long takes that suit the environments laid back attitude. The cast is quality across the board with Joe Anderson playing Asher with a likeable aplomb, and Nana being a literal tough mother who is not just happy to get her hands dirty but very keen to get stuck in and bloody – Candace Smith is great value here, providing much-needed high ampere female voltage.

Stretch is very clearly the star though. Terrifyingly tough and with arms bigger than most people’s waists, his physical threat is massive, but it is his crocodile-like manner that is scariest. Patient and savage, Ivan is not just an ex boxer, but a Vietnam veteran too, so Asher and Nana are up against a psycho version of Rocky AND Rambo..

The violence is sudden and brutal, and there is a particularly nasty, yet oddly satisfying, torture scene where Asher blows off a scumbags feet. One of the subtle things that is the most memorable are some strange elements that often punctuate normal events: such as a very odd preacher and his assistant, and the bizarrest workout video instructor ever.

A great opener to FrightFest 2016, My Father Die is a weird and dirty, mean and nasty, deep South revenge tale that revolves around a powerhouse performance from Gary Stretch.

4-out-of-5

My Father Die does not currently have a UK release date.

CELL

cell 4

Next up was Cell. John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson pairing up for another Stephen King adaptation following their work together on 1408. Cell is one of the modern great King novels, and I have been looking forward to seeing it up on the screen since way back when Eli Roth was attached after Hostel 2. Tod Williams (Paranormal Activity 2) has since picked up the directorial reins.

Clay (Cusack) is at an airport when a mysterious signal is broadcast across everyone’s mobile phones and turns them into zombies. After quickly beating one to death, Clay tries to get on the tube where he meets the train’s driver, Tom (Jackson). The pair escape through the tunnels to Clay’s house where their ranks are swollen by goth girl from upstairs: Alice (Isabelle Fuhrman). The three walk the Boston back roads getting in scrapes with groups of the zombies and meeting new characters, before deciding to try and fix things once and for all.

Clearly made for quite little, Cusack and Jackson, and their chemistry, go a long way to holding Cell together. At least for the first hour. Clay is a graphic novelist with boot polish hair and eye liner – which is hilarious – as are his frequent, snide one liners that often seem aimed at the ridiculousness of the film itself, not just the events unfurling. Unusually, for Jackson in a genre picture, he plays it completely straight here, and is a downplayed and loveable dude, the heart of the film.

It’s Fuhrman who steals though. You may recognise her as the terrifying Esther from Orphan, or the bloodthisty Clove from The Hunger Games, and here is she is wonderful. Her wounded and tough, but still a girl at her core, performance is the most natural and likeable thing about Cell.

When she leaves the group after an hour though the fun runs short. The dynamics are robbed of their spark, myth building gets confusing and a confuddling ending is set in motion that makes little sense and is filmed so dark to make up for the quality of the CGI that is almost impossible to make out what actually happened.

3-out-of-5

Cell is released in the UK on the 26th of August.

So #FF2016 was off to a good start, and I left the new venue with an old feeling: anticipation. That addictive FrightFest feeling of getting a days worth of horror with a cinema full of fellow horror fans, and wanting more, and knowing you can have it too.

Check out our FrightFest coverage.

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