Pages Navigation Menu

"No matter where you go, there you are."


Live for Films at FrightFest Day 3: Reviewing the second short film showcase, a Kazakh horror-comedy, a slice of Southern Gothic and the new Nic Cage

Hey, gang. I sprang out of bed on Day 3 of Arrow Video FrightFest screaming “GIVE ME MORE SHORTS!” And, then, down the phone to the lovely desk clerk who just called to say there had been complaints, “IT’S NIC CAGE DAY!”

Because, yes, as well as another Short Film Showcase (Day 2’s one was soooo good), today was the day that Nicolas Cage came to FrightFest. Not in real life that would be head-exploding, but with his new film, Prisoners of the Ghostland, which he proclaims on the trailer and poster is his craziest yet!

Elsewhere, there was the intriguing ‘Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes’, the first FrightFest film from Kazakhstan: ‘Sweetie you Won’t Believe It’, and another I had had my eye on for a little while, ‘Offseason’, which starred three of my favourite indie horror actors: Jocelin Donahue, Joe Swanberg and Jeremy Gardner.

Check out the reviews of all of the above below, and keep an eye on Live for Films for further reviews of everything the UK’s biggest and best genre film festival has to offer.

Check out all of our FrightFest coverage


‘Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes’ is a German experimental meta Gothic horror written directed by Kevin Kopacka (‘Hager’). Starting in a creepy, but creaky-feeling B-movie where Margot (Luisa Taraz – ‘Tatort’) is showing her domineering arsehole of a husband, Dieter (Frederik von Lüttichau – ‘Gender Crisis’), around the family castle she has just inherited and is clearly haunted. Impotent and leeching off Margot’s rich family, Dieter has issues and as the house exerts its influence on the pair, Margot becomes more independent and Dieter angrier and violent leading to a brutal showdown.

However, what seemed like a half-decent throwback horror with delicious production design is soon revealed to be merely fabrication – a film that a small crew is shooting in the house. What follows is nowhere near as interesting as the beginning, pivoting into being a self satisfied and self-referential piece about the dysfunctional crew fucking and falling out while off their faces on LSD.

In spite of some flashes of cool imagery, this hour is all quite tiresome and unfulfilling, ‘Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes’ is happy to tread water and throw enough various nothings around to give the illusion that it is doing and saying something, but you need to figure out what that actually is for yourself and search for a deeper meaning and answers on a postcard, please. It’s just a lazy navel-gazer that is having a whale of a time patting itself on the back while disappearing up itself.


Short Film Showcase Two was another banging collection of fleeting features programmed for the festival by the sharp-eyed taste-maker Shelagh Rowan-Legg.

First up was ‘Room 217’, an Iraqui short directed by Srwsht Abarash and starring Zheer Faraidoon and Abdul Muhammad as a man in need of a room on a rainy night and the manager of a big spooky one respectively. Faraidoon earns plenty of sympathy as a man slowly realising just what an awful predicament he is in as he begins to notice other, slightly behind, versions of himself repeating his actions, while we try and put our finger on the exact motive of Muhammad’s owner. Abarash handles this looping purgatory clearly and confidently.

They Called Me David’ is a black and white film about the titular boy finding himself suddenly quarantined and experimented upon. BUT, as David also happens to be a very powerful psychic and psychokinetic, the scientists poking, prodding and imprisoning him are in for a nasty surprise. Shot economically during lockdown and making smart use of stock footage, Lindsay Hallam’s clever film builds to a terrifying climax.

One of my favourites of this session was ‘Itch’, Susannah Farrugia’s British-Maltese co-production that took inspiration from the director’s eczema. Shot crisply and beautifully in black and white, ‘Itch’ follows the fortunes of Sister Jude, a young nun who scratches her leg during prayers one day and accidentally flashes a thigh in the process. Told off by a strict abbess for the supposed indiscretion only makes things worse with the Sister unable to stop scratching herself day and night until she is literally scratching herself to pieces. Monochrome body horror with wince-inducing make-up effects, Farragia’s film is excellent and will put you off using your cheese grater for a while…

Arm’ was a favourite too. A lot of fun and highlighting how bonkers we all felt during lockdown, as well as all the yoga attempts, the film focuses on a woman (Katharine Markwick) living alone and desperately in need of a hug. She orders one of those body pillows that’s like an arm and half a man’s chest so you can put your head on the chest with the arm around you for some comfort and reassurance. This one needs sending back to Amazon though as it is intent on killing its owner once it comes to life. Highly cathartic and very funny Jill Worsley’s film went down an absolute storm.

More short films
Ashlea Wessel’s Canadian short ‘Weirdo’ was about a bullied boy (Spencer Hanson) who is a lot more than he seems. An excellent teenage cast with Hanson clearly something special will keep you riveted until the final gross-out revelatory moments.

I liked Syd Heather’s ‘On Air’ a lot too. A film that I’m now realising has a lot in common with ‘Sound of Violence’, which we’ll talk more about in the Day 4 report, and would have played really well in front of it. With echoes of ‘Toast of London’’s “Yes, I can hear you, Clem Fandango”, ‘On Air’ sees a sound recordist (Mandip Gill) trying to extract a better performance from the voice artist (Marnie Baxter) in the recording booth. It’s not going well until the woman behind the mixing desk realises that she can use the buttons in front of her to inflict various performance-enhancing pains on the bored actress on the other side of the glass. Unexpected and unpredictable with a fascinating fluctuating central power struggle.

Henrietta and Jessica Ashworth’s ‘Night Bus’ stars the always-brilliant Susan Wokoma (‘Enola Holmes’) as a bus driver trying to not celebrate her 30th birthday and survive the attentions of a ghoul which is lurking on her double-decker. The cool and easy laughs Wokoma invokes pairs wonderfully with the spine-chilling spooky moments in a short that makes the night bus unappealing in a whole new way.

Canadian short ‘Otherwise’ is directed by Ali Mashayekhi and named after the Morcheeba song of the same name. Jade Hassoune and Farid Yazdani are boyfriends suspicious of each other’s supposed infidelities in a funny and sparky film with a nightmarish culmination.

David Mikalson’s ‘Stuck’ was a truly triumphant standout that sees a gymnastics coach (Nicola Lambo) take matters into her own hands when the police will not come to run off a creep (Davey Johnson) who is lurking around her gym perving on the young girls. When coach spots him hiding inside a crash mat she changes the day’s practice to ensure maximum impact and retribution. This one will have you standing up and cheering at the same time as trying not to puke at the excellent hideous gore effects makeup.

Wrapping up the second short film showcase was Christopher Poole’s techno-horror that stars Natasia Demetriou as the smart home A.I. system ‘Aria’. Smashing together Google’s Ring and Amazon’s Alexa into one all-powerful residential security system, a young couple soon find that ceding that much control to mysterious tech can be more dangerous than accidentally ordering a tin of beans from your virtual assistant. Lead Daniel Lawrence Taylor’s mounting paranoia is palpable and Demetriou’s cheerful demeanour is a perfect disguise for an insidious system capable of much more than it says on the website in this unnerving smart home shocker.



The first film from Kazakhstan to play FrightFest, ‘Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It’ sees a young man by the name of Dastan (Daniar Alshinov – ‘Infiniti’) sneak away from his nagging pregnant wife for a weekend in the countryside fishing and drinking with his boys.

Dastan and his crew aren’t the only ones out in the wilderness, a group of gangsters are there too, and our heroes have the misfortune to float past in a dinghy just as the criminals execute an informant. The baddies give relentless chase, but themselves are being pursued and picked off one-by-one by a mysterious stranger whose dog they hit with their car on the way in.

As the three parties cross paths and get hurt or killed in all manner of original and disgusting ways there are also plenty of laughs to take the edge off. Director Yernar Nurgaliyev (‘Klasstastar’) juggles all his elements masterfully, always seeming to know when he next needs to make you laugh, wince or look away in disgust. 

The humour is mostly physical, so, in spite of a not currently very well translated subtitles stream, still crosses the language barrier. The laughs combined with energetic camerawork and a soundtrack of Kazakh rap means that ‘Sweetie’ will frequently leave you breathless, and the occasional appearance of psycho locals keeps you on your toes too. The only time ‘Sweetie’ actually slows down is also one of the best scenes. A set-piece with two of our heroes trapped in the mysterious stranger’s cabin sneaking around him, hiding and attempting to silently sneak out.

Bloody, sweaty and funny, ‘Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It’ is a sweet and gory three-way bromance and one heck of a Kazakh smack in the chops.


Written and directed by Mickey Keating (‘Carnage Park’), stars Jocelin Donahue (‘The House of the Devil’), Joe Swanberg (‘You’re Next’), Jeremy Gardner (‘After Midnight’) and Richard Brake (‘13’).

Marie (Donahue) is the child of a deceased movie star mother who was recently buried on an island in the Florida Keys. One day, she receives a letter from the graveyard’s caretaker informing her that her mum’s tombstone has been vandalised and it is urgent she comes down to sort everything out. Lassoing in her ex George (Swanberg) for moral support the two sweet-talk a strange bridgekeeper (Brake) to allow them access to the island during a big storm. They would have been better just turning around.

The cemetery is deserted apart from a lot of mist and weeping willows, oh, and white-eyed islanders standing motionless. Dismissing what they’ve seen, the pair head for a local bar in the hope of either getting back out or finding the caretaker. What they do find is a community of terrifying residents that may have done a deal with a deep-sea demon to ensure their island’s prosperity.

As she explores and George vanishes, Marie finds herself trapped and terrified, running for her life from one spooky situation to another, picking her way through the smothering sea mist, soulless islanders and worse. The closer she gets to some hope of ever leaving the more danger she finds herself in as she unravels the mysteries and horrors of this cursed ancient archipelago.

With elements of Carpenter, Fulci, Lovecraft and Stephen King’s ‘Duma Key’, Keating’s ‘Offseason’ is atmospheric nightmare logic Southern Gothic. Anchored by Donahue’s excellent anti-damsel performance,  it is a moody and mysterious film with a palpable atmosphere that will keep you anxious and engrossed throughout. Jeremy Gardner really impresses in his scenes, a seemingly helpful but at the same time utterly untrustworthy seaman and Richard Brake provides a great performance too, although with this and ‘31’ he does seem to have a contract clause insisting on him always getting x1 (one) straight-to-camera monologue.



Japanese director Sion Sono (‘Tokyo Tribe’) attempts to keep the legendary Nicolas Cage (‘Mandy’) under control in ‘Prisoners of the Ghostland’, which also stars Sofia Boutella (‘Atomic Blonde’) and Bill Moseley (‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’).

“BANZAI!” Cage’s Hero (honestly his actual character name) screams as he bursts into a bank and you immediately know it’s going to be one of those Nic Cage films where he will do or say something in a mad way every ten or so minutes. And so it is. In a world that is a cross between a western and a samurai film, the plot sees Hero, imprisoned after that robbery goes bad, released by The Governor (Moseley) to go and rescue his daughter Bernice (Boutella), but zipped into an explosive jumpsuit (with bombs sewn into the wrists and crotch) first to ensure he doesn’t touch or have any impure thoughts about her in the process.

This leads to another Cage and film highlight where he is so pleased to see her with a mouthful of water that he sets off a charge in his balls leading to the immortal line delivery “TESTICLLLLLLES!!!”.

Anyway, yeah, they put him in the suit and give him a car and send him on his way, but after doing a couple of donuts in it, Hero leaps out and steals a kids bike to ride into the Ghostland instead. Classic. After this, Sono’s film almost instantly runs out of steam. The actual Ghostland itself is interesting to look at, an enormous set with hundreds of extras wearing a lot of big and intricate shoulder pads. But beneath the visuals, nothing is really happening. The plot is that basic get in, get girl, get out, the shoulder pads can only get you so far and Nic can only deliver a line in an unexpected way or add a “HA!” on the end of it so many times. 

With a handful of good “HAI FUCKING YA!” Cage rage moments, ‘Prisoners of the Ghostland’ makes for a good trailer and a decent YouTube ‘Nic Cage Being Nuts’ video, but aside from the opening and a sword fight ending where it’s fun to figure out how much of the fighting is being done by a stunt-double, there’s an hour that needs something doing with besides endless shot of multi-coloured gumballs exploding. This feels like an empty sweetie wrapper and a missed opportunity.

Previous PostNext Post


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.