It’s the weekend at the Film Festival and the films are coming thick and fast. With no more than 45 minutes between each film, trying to do individual write-ups is probably a doomed gesture. So here’s the Day of the Dead 11 round-up, just dipping into each film as it whizzes past.
First up was Veronica from [REC] director Paco Plaza. Given that [REC] was a zombie series with a serious leaning towards demonic possession, Plaza’s already demonstrated his skills in this area. Here, though, he goes full on and really ramps up the demonic elements. We get ouija, blind nuns, shattering glasses, occult symbols, shadowy figures and all the fun and games you’d expect. This is definitely a solid and creepy possession film but… it’s probably not much more than that. Plaza sticks to the tropes and imagery you’d expect and doesn’t really challenge the genre too much. This is fine, and it means this is a tight, efficient thrill ride – lots of foreboding, lots of jump-scares, lots of tension – but at the end of it all I’m left feeling a little bit like I’d seen it before. The focus on children was pretty neat though, and certainly helped to ramp up the scares.
Next up was a strangers-trapped-in-a-small-place thriller, de la Iglesia’s The Bar. It started tense – snipers are picking off everyone who leaves a Madrid bar, a disparate bunch of strangers have to band together to survive – and just keeps on turning it up a notch. There are a few missteps – the amazingly tight, fast-paced narrative loosens a bit towards the end and it loses focus a little – but its a genuinely thrilling ride. The characters are almost all rich and well-developed, far better than the simple types you often get in these kind of films, each with their own complexities, weaknesses etc. And how is it possible that a film about a bunch of strangers dying one by one actually makes me miss living in Madrid? No idea. Great stuff.
The shorts were a very mixed bunch. Some Kafka-esque weirdness (Gone), some plot-scrawled-on-the-back-of-an-envelope-and-probably-should-have-stayed-there disappointments (Sons of Bitches), some why even bother making that (Strays), some decent-zombie-film-but-way-overlong-at-more-than-30-minutes (Lau and Laudrup) and some others (Witches Milk). The star of the show was undoubtedly Clankerman. So very British in its bonkers belief in a hidden bureaucracy carrying out petty annoyances. It’s also available online. You should go and watch it now.
Penultimate feature was Cold Skin. It was… OK. Some blue scampering merman-fishmen-sort-of-like-Avatar people attack a British weatherman, stationed on the island for 12 months to record the wind. He spends most of the rest of the film fighting them as they attack the lighthouse he’s holed up in. And it’s about as much fun as that sounds. There are definitely some colonialism overtones (whose island is it anyway?) to unpick but I can’t really be bothered. This felt ever so much like a short that someone had accidentally made into a feature film.
The day was rounded out with The Endless, in which we follow two brothers who got escaped an “alien death cult” a decade ago… back to the cult they left. I was flagging a bit by this point so perhaps it didn’t really get the attention it deserved, but it never really quite got going. The premise was interesting, the characters were well-developed and intriguing and – without giving too much of the plot away – the scifi/fantasy elements were intriguing and well presented but something was off. Enjoyable, but largely forgettable.
Really, the surprise of Day of the Dead this year was quite how light on horror it was. Veronica was the only one of the day with real horror credentials. As much as I loved The Bar, enjoyed the shorts and The Endless, none of it was really scoring high on the horror notes. Great fun. Needed more scares and/or splatter.