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Arrow Video FrightFest 2020: Day 3 – online trolls, ghosts, a masked slasher and the best horror anthology in years

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Day 3! After checking out the short film showcases on Thursday and vampires and explosions on Day 2, Day 3 was the first four-film day and we were excited.

There were eight films to choose from playing on the Arrow Video Screen and the Horror Channel Screen and after lots of debates and google doc editing we had our four and it turned out we were back and forth between the virtual cinemas all day.

Check out all of our FrightFest coverage

First, we were checking out Arrow for The Columnist, then Horror for Playhouse – which is also part of the First Blood initiative (we’ll get to that in a bit) – back to Arrow for Blind, then settling back into Horror for the last pick of the day: Dark Place. Just as well this is a virtual edition this year or we’d be knackered from all the running up and down the stairs and between screens!

BTW, if you like the sound of FrightFest and are just hearing about it now – Greetings! We are so glad you’re here! If there’s one thing we like more than anything else at FrightFest it’s fresh blood! – unlike usual years when it sells out in seconds, tickets and passes are still available here and there are horrid heaps of histrionics inducing hits to check out every single day until next Monday. So go click on things and enjoy.

Anyhoo, Hi! I’m Alan and I will be Live for Films’ brave adventurer into the demonic delights of daily death and destruction for the next five days and IF I SURVIVE jumping on here to let you know what sights I witnessed and what I thought. If you want an early sniff or just like your hot takes a little fresher and more instantaneous, I will also be tweeting reactions over on the Live for Films twitter: @Live_for_Films.

 

THE COLUMNIST

Directed by Ivo van Aart (Ik Hartje Oost) and written by Daan Windhorst (Suspicious Minds), The Columnist (original title: De kuthoer) stars Katja Herbers (Westworld).

Femke Boot is a newspaper columnist well-known for a piece about the ‘Shewee’, but following an appearance on a TV talk show where she decries online hatred suffers from torrents of online abuse attacking her appearance and politics and threatening her with everything from murder to rape to AIDS infection.

At psychological breaking point from the constant horrible harassment and her feelings of helplessness against it, she decides to take matters into her own hands and begins to track them down and take them out.

Femke’s offing of the online bullies is extremely therapeutic for her and us and as she continues to slay she finds her writing comes easier and our dark comedy induced smiles get wider. Van Aart has a really glossy eye for composition and camera moves, which makes for something really special when coupled with slick editing, a killer topical script and a fantastic performance as online Amsterdam’s avenging angel from Katja Herbers.The Columnist is a terrific troll offing wish-fulfilment film that posits that we should all just not be dickheads online but also provides plenty of satisfying comeuppance to those that do. We’ll see what the next nine films of the festival bring, but this one is a real gem that is certainly an early contender for one of the best films of the festival.

 

PLAYHOUSE

Written and directed by brothers Fionn and Toby Watts, Playhouse stars William Holstead (The Burying Party) and Grace Courtney (Holby City) as a father and daughter who move to a remote windswept Scottish castle with a dark past.

Jack Travis (Holstead) is a tortured playwright who has just had a West End smash that scared the pants off of London and his daughter Bee (Courtney) is a moody teen with a chip on her shoulder. One night, Bee and some friends awake the spirits of the previous tenants – an evil baron and the bastard son he bricked up in the dungeon – and Jack begins to be consumed by the villainous nobleman.

Playhouse is a slow-burning spook show that drains every drop of production value from its gorgeous Scottish castle location. The Watts’ wisely focus their energies and first two acts on building the atmosphere through great use of flickering candles, dank walls and blustery beaches to an extent that the oppressive gothic mood is almost physically manifested.

When things start to kick-off, there is a blood-freezing staircase scare and very creepy and carefully utilised spectral CGI topped off by a glorious gothic villain performance from Holstead who channels darkness expertly and has a magnificent moment of madness crawling on the carpet maniacally tonguing broken crockery he has just swept off the mantle.

Films like this are why FrightFest’s ‘First Blood’ strand is so important – it provides a platform to first-time UK filmmakers to show off their hard work and a chance for us to see their otherwise maybe under the radar excellent efforts.

Hopefully, the Watts’ get the exposure from this screening to boost their next project/s into life as I am now really looking forward to seeing whatever they do next as well as keeping an eye on their wonderful star William Holstead.

 

BLIND

Written by Joe Knetter (Strip Club Slasher), directed by Marcel Walz (Blood Feast) and starring Sarah French (Root Wood) and Caroline Williams (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2)

Faye (French) is a recently blinded Hollywood starlet who after losing her sight to botched laser surgery is now self-isolated in her home in the hills. Her also visually impaired friend Sophia (Williams) tries to help and get her out and about – pushing her to participate in group therapy and to hike and to perhaps date again – but what neither of them knows is that an obsessed fan has been lurking beneath Faye’s house and now decided it’s time to pay her a visit.

Blind is shot immaculately with beautiful colours and compositions to the point that it sometimes looks like a lifestyle magazine photoshoot, but is extremely slow. Scenes and awkward monologues feel like they are going on forever and nothing really happens for almost an hour.

The lack of attention to how a blind person acts or what their living arrangements would be is staggering and not helped by an oddly frozen in place performance from French. Things light up when genre stalwart Williams injects energy and life into proceedings and the killer’s mask is cool, but this is a languid anti-slasher with too few moments of menace.

 

DARK PLACE

An Amicus of horror stories, minus the wraparound element, Dark Place is five shorts all united by being from and about Aboriginal Australians and the Aboriginal Australian experience and features telekinesis, sleepwalking shenanigans, vampires, a revenge rampage and coloniser comeuppance.

Scout is a dark and gritty tale of women kidnapped and sold into brutal sex slavery; Foe is a chiller that sees a woman having trouble sleeping video herself only to find something worse than lost rest; Vale Light is a Stephen King-esque story of a little telekinetic girl moving in next door to a witch; the monochrome and flashback-y The Shore flips vampire mythology on its head; while Killer Native is a horrific period piece about imperialists getting their just desserts for stealing land with big early Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi energy.

An all killer, no filler collection of terror’s Dark Place is the best horror anthology since V/H/S 2. A unique, unflinching and uniformly excellent, nail-biting, eye-opening and teeth-gritting arrangement that gleefully embraces and sometimes subverts horror tropes and trappings while raising awareness and heart rate in equal measure.

 

Sunday is another full four films day, and another lineup featuring things I’m super excited to check out including Two Heads Creek and the amazing-sounding booby-tapped waterpark film: AQUASLASH! (caps and excited exclamation mark are the writer’s own).

Arrow Video FrightFest: Digital Edition runs until Monday and tickets are still available here.

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