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Live for Films at FrightFest: Day 2 – Demons, superheroes, kidnappings and more

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Phew. I started the second day of FrightFest barely making it into the Horror Channel screen for the first film, but had spent the night before, and that morning, still thinking about My Father Die. I really like that film more and more hourly and am looking forward to seeing it again. But focussing on today, there were ghosts, small spaces, home invasion, Italian superheroes, and Hobbits to see – so I needed to get my head in the game.

FROM A HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET

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Day 2 began with From a House on Willow Street. This was on my anticipated list due to it starring modern scream queen Sharni Vinson. Vinson was great in one of my favourite recent horror movies You’re Next, and was the only element that kept the remake of Patrick on the right side of watchable.

A group of criminals led by Hazel (Sharni) plan to kidnap a rich guy’s daughter, Katherine (Carlyn Burchell), and then ransom her back to him in exchange for lots and lots of his lovely diamonds. The actual kidnapping itself goes oddly easily with the door already open and the alarm disabled. Odd. After the abduction they then try to contact the parents with their demands, but no one is answering. Odder still. It is only when they return to the house for answers that they discover mum and dad dead upstairs and a bunch of dead priests in the basement, who had been in the middle of an exorcism. Turns out our group of anti-heroes have gone and kidnapped a possessed young girl who is now using her demonic powers to steal her captors souls and escape.

Katherine’s powers are strange. She can manipulate people and conjure up some truly gruesome visions to terrify people with, she can also levitate and stop bullets in mid-air – yet cannot pop the lock on her own handcuffs or collar, which rings very silly. Vinson works her Aussie socks off over a ridiculous script with some truly dreadful lines, and some awfully wooden co-stars, but From the House on Willow Street is still a dull affair, with little internal logic and plenty of clichéd dialogue.

2-out-of-5

From a House on Willow Street does not currently have a UK release date.

THE CHAMBER

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The Chamber was another of my picks up front, as it sounded like a sort of deep sea Descent. Written and directed by Ben Parker, who has been coming to FrightFest for 8 years (yikes, that reminds me – this is year 10 for me), it stars Charlotte Salt (The Musketeers) and Johannes Kuhnke (Force Majeure).

A mysterious gaggle of British supposed-to-be-American maybe-Marines take a mini submarine down to the bottom of the ocean. A top secret drone has crashed and they need to retrieve it before the north Koreans get their hands on it. The sub’s driver, Mats Kuhnke), is a Norwegian everyman who just wants answers and honesty, and clashes with the sinister cabal constantly, yet with the sole female, Red (Salt), sparks start to fly, as the mission goes to hell and the water starts to rise.

The promised claustrophobia is largely absent, and all of the action is frustratingly off-screen, as The Chamber turns out to be an intensely talky chamber piece. This makes it completely reliant on it’s actors and dialogue, and while Salt and Kuhnke are both good and unwavering, the constant barrage of natter that goes over the same plot points repeatedly is tough – especially with nothing else to offset it or break it up.

The Chamber was not the deep sea Descent I wanted. It comes close to be a submerged Martian at times, but is really more of a stranded-on-the-sea-bed romance with likeable leads and one big scare.

2-out-of-5

The Chamber does not currently have a UK release date.

MERCY

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Four brothers and their father become trapped in an isolated farmhouse, beset by masked raiders in Mercy. So far, so home-invasion-by-the-numbers. But what makes Mercy stand out is a twist on its central conceit: the family are protecting their sick near-comatose bedridden mother from the violent invaders.

There are some great male dynamics played upon in Mercy – with the tension between dad and his sons, and his step sons from his ill wife’s previous marriage wonderfully played on, subtly explored and ever-changing as we learn more and more about the family and its history.

Halfway through, the film stops and leaps back to the beginning to replay events from other characters. It’s an exhilarating and wholly unexpected ploy, and completely changes your opinions of all the characters and all the events that have played out thus far.

This timeline gets a little too wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey just before the final act, leaving you unsure where you are geographically and chronologically. A final couple of twists and two great reveals go a long way to erasing this though, giving Mercy a satisfying and revelatory finale.

4-out-of-5

Mercy does not currently have a UK release date.

THEY CALL ME JEEG ROBOT

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Or Lo chiamavano Jeeg Robot is an Italian film about a petty thief who receives super power. Enzo (Claudio Santamaria) is running from the police one day when he hides on the docks and falls in the water. Submerged and scrambling, he accidentally knocks the lid off some dumped toxic waste barrels and gets a face full of ominous looking black ooze.

Enzo stumbles home to sleep it, but awakens the next day feeling odd… The next morning he helps his downstairs neighbour in a drug mule pick up that goes bad. Sergio dies and Enzo gets shoved off a building – falling nine stories. He awakens unharmed and dashes home to test out his new powers.

This is probably the best stretch of the film – there are many laughs to be had seeing Enzo try to discover and harness what he can do, clumsily tripping and mis-judging his strength and speed, quite unlike we are very used to seeing our Marvel, and now DC, heroes do quite easily.

The gangster, Gypsy, who is now missing two stomachs full of drugs comes calling at Sergio’s flat and Enzo intervenes – rescuing Sergio’s daughter, Alessia (Ilenia Pastorelli). Alessia has developed mental health problems following the death of her mother and is now completely obsessed with a cancelled anime show “Jeeg Robot”. Enzo takes her in and while guiltily lying about his knowledge of her father’s death – falls in love with her. Meanwhile, Gypsy is becoming ever more vicious and dangerous – obsessed with gaining super powers for himself.

The relationship between Enzo and Alessia – portrayed as childlike, yet her boobs constantly fall out, and Enzo merrily roughly fucks her in a princess dress he buys her in a toy shop changing room – is extremely problematic, and highlights some of the film’s problems in terms of tone and attitude. They Call Me Jeeg Robot’s portrayal and treatment of the mentally ill, and views on women and sex are pretty disgusting, and the antics of Gypsy also show that it’s feelings toward the LGBT community are equally worrisome.

Bizarre and uncomfortable, They Call Me Jeeg Robot has it’s moments, but the sheer volume of un-PC offences makes watching it an unpleasant, dirty experience, punctuated with a couple of laughs and gasps.

2-out-of-5

They Call Me Jeeg Robot does not currently have a UK release date.

PET

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I knew nothing about this one going in, aside from the fact that it stars Dominic Monaghan of Lord of the Rings fame.

Seth (Monaghan) works in an animal control centre in LA. He clears out the unwanted dogs’ cages, feeds them, and assists in their “destruction” when their time runs out. On the bus home one night, he spies Holly (Ksenia Solo) – an ex-schoolmate from the year below. Seth attempts to chat her up but it simply doesn’t register, and he trudges home to cyber-stalk her facebook and instagram profiles.

The online following soon bleeds into real life after Seth has built up a database of all of Holly’s haunts and likes and dislikes. When he visits her restaurant, she waitresses upon him and simply does not recognise him. Seth next turns up at her favourite bar to try his luck again, but Holly is angry now, and after a brief scuffle calls on the bartender, her ex-boyfriend, to eject Seth – after giving him a bit of a kicking for good measure.

Livid, Seth decides to build a cage in the abandoned basement of the dogs home, kidnaps Claire and aims to keep her in the cage until she falls in love with him. Seth’s attempts to keep his “pet” a secret, and the psychological power plays between himself and Holly are masterful and the writing throughout by Jeremy Slater is superb.

Director Carles Torrens also does sterling work keeping stunning narrative twists and turns under wraps until we’re ready, and juggling a very dark and unhealthy relationship drama with some brilliant black comedy body disposal laughs. Twisted and awesome, with a killer turn of the tables, Pet is my film of the festival so far.

5-out-of-5

Pet will be released in the US in December and the UK next February.

So Day 2 turned out to be a typical FrightFest day for me – the film’s I was looking forward to disappointed, and two I knew nothing about were excellent: that’s the ol’ FrightFest magic, and I’m psyched for some more tomorrow.

Day 3 sees Dougray Scott in The Rezort – a film that sounds like Jurassic Park with zombies, my first dose of short film in Short Film Showcase 1, as well as Beyond the Walls, and either Barbara Crampton in Beyond the Gates or The Love Witch.

Check out our FrightFest coverage.

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