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FrightFest Day Four – Short Film Showcase Two, Wolfkin, H4Z4RD, Torn Hearts and The Price We Pay

With Day Three having featured the best film of the festival so far, Something in the Dirt, I wasn’t sad that we’d reached the penultimate day already so much as just excited for some more.

As well as the Main Screen, FrightFest also has films programmed across two smaller Discovery Screens and both screens in the Prince Charles, so if you don’t fancy the Main Screen’s offering there is plenty to tempt you to get out of your usual seat and to be a bit more adventurous.

Check out all of our FrightFest coverage
To that end, Live for Films took a seat in the Prince Charles three times on the Sunday, for more shorts, a Belgian werewolf movie and the new film from Brea Grant, and had an absolute blast each time. So never be afraid to branch out from the big screen – the gamble pays off richly a lot of the time.

SHORT FILM SHOWCASE TWO

The first incredible Short Film Showcase was the ‘International’ edition with shorts from all over the globe, but this second selection was the UK edition – and was packed to bursting with mini homegrown horrors featuring lashings of laughs, scares and goo.

The programme kicked off with Theo Kai Marlow’s EVERYONE FORGOT, which saw a lonely woman, Lily (Anwen Bull), attempting to make the most of her fortieth birthday, despite the fact that not a single person she knows seems to have remembered it, or her. Desperate for some celebratory company she calls a handyman service and when the workman arrives on her doorstep, Lily soon has him partying with her – until the reason she’s been Sixteen Candles’d becomes dangerously clear… With a great twist and even greater chemistry between the leads, Everyone Forgot is a cheeky and charismatic chamber piece.

In Tiago Teixeira’s MOLAR, Tadeu Batista plays a man exploring an abandoned house who finds something deeply disturbed buried in the dirt. Ouch! Not one for anybody with a fear of teeth pulling, Molar is a cool and conceptual piece featuring some excellent sound design.

SUCKER is directed by Alix Austin and sees a young woman paying her sister, who has been uncontactable recently, a visit, only to discover she has become host to a terrifying creature that has latched onto her shoulder and is not only controlling her but draining her dry. Leads Sophia Capasso and Annie Knox are both really good – making us believe in them being siblings in an extremely short amount of time and also managing to make us fear and dread the Sucker, which is a cool bit of parasitic practical effects

Christopher Ian Smith’s UNREAL stars Nicole Joseph as a young projectionist. One day she projects a mysterious reel of film, featuring ‘Der Verdunkler’, and soon finds herself becoming far more of the film than she could have ever feared. With a memorable baddie and an original spin on this sort of story, Unreal is a cracking corrupted file terror.

Arachnophobes beware, but everybody else do anything you can to get a look at LEGS, Celine Cotran’s swallowed-a-spider stunner starring Laura Carmichael and Amit Shah. Funny and horrid in equal measure, this one sees a young woman struggling to conceive discover that a spider she has swallowed in her sleep has taken up residence within her. She is happy to finally have something growing inside her, but the taste for flies she’s developing may be an issue!

CATCH YOUR BREATH is a Blumhousian high-concept supernatural horror from Matt Sears that sees two friends summon a demon that can only see you until you hold your breath – but you exhale and you expire! With great creepy creature effects and a genius core concept, Catch Your Breath is a multiplex friendly thriller in a teeny terrifying package that will leave you gasping for air and a feature-length version asap.

Remember the name Joe Zalias. The director of A KILLER OUTSIDE is definitely one to watch and someone sure to be helming a big screen horror soon if there’s any justice in the world. With an incredibly assured style, Zalias walks a fine line between reality and all-in-your-head horror with A Killer Outside. A troubled young woman, impeccably played by Erin Shanagher, is convinced she is being stalked by an alien entity in this conspiratorial sanity-loosener that will put you off ever going outside.

Small in duration, but not in scope, Lovecraftian horror THE MICROSCOPE is directed by Elliot Vick and Reuben Vick. Johnny Vivash stars as a scientist who is examining a strange box full of slides beneath his microscope – but these long-dead-looking samples still have a little life left in them and events quickly escalate in a horrifying manner that will make him wish he had worn his safety goggles. The Microscope will have you wincing and peeking from between your fingers, as well as dreading a simple bowl of cereal sitting on the desk, in this masterful short that is perfectly formed and perfectly cast.

Events came to a close with BLEEP, and it is fair to say that this supernatural aural crowd-pleaser brought not just the curtain but the house down. A long-term couple played by Paul F. Taylor and Rebecca Shorrocks investigate strange noises in the night but get more than just their end away in Ben S. Hyland’s hilarious horror with a twist that is so good that the audience erupted in applause two-thirds of the way through the film!


WOLFKIN

Writer-director Jacques Molitor’s Wolfkin sees a single mother take her tweenage boy, who is on the cusp of becoming a werewolf, to their bourgeoisie lycanthropic in-laws castle for guidance, in this Belgian class-horror that never goes quite where you think.

Having had a fling with a werewolf some years before, working-class Elaine (Louise Manteau – Black Spot) is unsurprised when her pubescent son, Martin, played by first-timer Victor Dieu, starts biting and scratching when he’s bullied and is definitely starting to sprout more hair in more new places than is standard.

Elaine and Martin travel to the Belgian countryside and the chateau of her in-laws, a wealthy upper-class family who wear ties to breakfast and own everything within sight including the town and surrounding vineyards. After a little fish-out-of-water adjustment, Martin is taken under the wing by his grandfather and tutored in what it means to be not only a man, but a wolf. But, as much as she tries, Elaine cannot continue to pretend to be something she’s not and also suspects that the in-laws may not have her or her son’s best interests at heart.

Wolfkin is a terrific twist on the werewolf film, injecting class clashes and addressing the topic of immigration to add flavour and bite, but never feeling preachy, just fresh and vital. Manteau and Dieue give astounding performances, often feeling like a genuine mother and son, warts and all.

Molitor also has a keen eye for shot composition, pleasingly and interestingly playing with shapes and blocking and light and dark. An improvised scene between Elaine and Victor as their relationship begins to fracture is even shot off the cuff in a beautiful and surprising way that also perfectly encapsulates the burgeoning riff. Jacques Molitor is really something and his embracing of horror tropes but blending with contemporary issues makes him a fascinating breaking-through filmmaker for the future.

Any werewolf movie will always be boiled down to how good its transformations are and Wolfkin doesn’t betray its feel by keeping things grounded rather than fantastic, but still highly impressive and impossible to tear your eyes away.

Terrific and transgressive, Wolfkin is an atmospheric and gothic werewolf flick with plenty of bark and bite and meat to chew on.

Wolfkin does not currently have a release date.


H4Z4RD

In the Sweetie You Won’t Believe It action-exploitation-not-horror spot this year was H4Z4RD, directed by Jonas Govaerts – who also made the excellent Cub.

Like The Transporter in a tracksuit, it sees a young father obsessed with his sporty car get dragged into criminal shenanigans by his younger, dumber ex-con brother. Thrown into a race against time, he must try to get his kidnapped daughter back before his girlfriend finds out and/or his car gets totally totalled from the continual abuse it takes during the adventure.

Soundtracked by late 90s dance anthems and shot (almost) entirely from within the car itself, H4Z4RD has a bit of style, but no panache. Its leads are unlikeable and it’s never as cool or as clever as it thinks it is. An amusingly shocking scene where the occupants of the car must allow a security guard to lick, fondle and ultimately fuck the automobile they’re sat in gets a few laughs, but it’s all ultimately charmless and tired.


TORN HEARTS

Directed by Brea Grant (12 Hour Shift) from a script by Rachel Koller Croft (Lady Bits), Torn Hearts stars Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy), Abby Quinn (I’m Thinking of Ending Things) and Alexxis Lemire (Truth or Dare).

Torn Hearts are a country and western two-piece with the line-up of guitarist and songwriter Jordan (Quinn) and front-woman vocalist Leigh (Lemire). They’ve played lots of gigs and been well-received so far but are itching to break through to the big time. That opportunity seems to present itself when Jordan discovers the address of the legendary Harper Dutch (Sagal) who has disappeared off the map and become a recluse. A song with Harper would be a big deal, so Torn Hearts decide to go and doorstep her and try and manifest their own big break.

Pulling up to Harper’s hidden-away dilapidated Dollywood mansion and grounds, the young wannabe starlets manage to get a foot in the door and even into Harper’s good books, but this faded star is hiding a lot of dark secrets and festering unresolved issues with her always-outshining her sister that lead her to make Torn Hearts jump through increasingly bizarre and deranged hoops in order to get their shot. As events become increasingly sinister and out of control, can Torn Hearts survive their hero’s ministrations long enough to become musical megastars?

Feeling a lot like a country and western take on Eli Katz’s Cheap Thrills – in a very good way – Torn Hearts is a perfectly pitched psychological horror, escalating into terror, that will keep you right on the edge of your seat throughout. Grant builds the suspense with care, never rushing through the mind-games and making Torn Hearts and us squirm for as long as possible.

Katey Sagal is clearly having a blast as the super confident and loony Norma Desmond in rhinestones and tassels and, as villainous as she gets, we still can’t help but like her. As Jordan and Leigh’s relationship is picked apart by Harper, Quinn and Lemire and our opinions of them twist and change and Grant’s assured direction of Croft’s engaging and ingenious script always keeps us and Torn Hearts hooked.

A toe-tapping boot-scootin’ psycho-thriller with a streak of gloriously dark humour two lanes wide and a trio of top performances, Torn Hearts is a catchy and well-crafted chiller not to be missed.

Torn Hearts is available to buy and rent digitally.


THE PRICE WE PAY

A gang of robbers on the run hole up in the wrong ranch in the horror-thriller from Ryûhei Kitamura (Versus, Midnight Meat Train), starring Emile ‘Speedracer’ Hirsch and Stephen ‘Blade’ Dorff, The Price We Pay.

Hirsch is the Richie to Dorff’s Seth in this From Dusk Till Dawn aping caper. Unfortunately, events and truths unravel at a snail’s pace and up until the last ten minutes there is nary a whiff or Kitamura’s trademark hyper-visuals to keep you going in the meantime.

If you can manage to make it to the end, there is a splash of decent action and nasty gore, but for the majority this is a dull watch that you will struggle to believe a director as kinetic and cool as Kitahura was actually behind the camera – let alone conscious – for.

The Price We Pay does not currently have a release date.

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