Day of the Dead 11

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.

Dark Owl Fantasy Shorts

More shorts! This time with a fantasy edge, some of which were pretty dark!

All of these were decent, but some made a lot more impact than others. Roadside Assistance (dir: Bears Fonte) is the most slight of the lot. It’s a bit dark and gently funny but that’s about it. The Midnight Shift (IMDB) is dark tale of a robber’s night posing as a taxi driver. It’s neat, but nothing very surprising. The Call is more inventive – a policeman discovers his long-missing wife’s body on the beach and undergoes some curious transformations. Trailer here.

Here’s where it starts to get really good. The Man Who Caught a Mermaid is a good and disturbing story of an old fisherman obsessed with finding a mermaid. It beginning to tear at his marriage and his sanity. Excellent stuff. Even better is the super-creepy Pearlies about a ferocious tooth-fairy mouse terrorising a father and son as they clear out grandma’s old house.

Best of the lost though was The Frozen Eye. Bernard discovers a peephole from his flat into the room below. What starts as curiosity develops into obsession which develops into… well… let’s just say it had one of the most difficult to watch scenes of the festival. Ouch.

The Void

Time for some proper horror! The Void has a lot of very neat touches – some familiar and some original – as it dances between a whole bunch of horror genres. Ultimately, in my opinion, it goes the wrong way and turns into a kind of silly that I’m less a fan of. I don’t want to go into any specifics as it’d really spoil the plot but after having thrown a lot of genres in there I feel like it chose the wrong one to finally stick with.

Disappointment around the last third or so notwithstanding, the journey to get there was a rollercoaster ride of fun. We get touches of revenge killer violence (someone’s been burnt alive outside a remote farmhouse before the opening credits have even rolled!), a dash of cult (who are the figures dressed in sheets with black triangles drawn on the front?), isolationism (barricaded inside a mostly closed hospital), hints of zombie and some physical monster effects to make John Carpenter proud. And it escalates fast. There’s heaps of bloodshed, shouting, axe-waving and stabbing within the first 30 minutes and it never really lets up.

As I said before, this doesn’t turn into my kind horror film. Despite that, I can’t fault it at all for its style and wholehearted embrace of horror genres. Great fun.

Drinks
Maisel Weisse. Another discovery in the Hyde Park Picture House bar. Saw someone order this the other day and made a mental note to try it next time I was there. Well worth it.

Train to Busan

The film I was most looking forward to of the Day of the Dead, if not the whole festival, is Korean breakout success Train to Busan. How could I not be interested in seeing a film billed as having breathed new life into the zombie genre? I was not disappointed. Train to Busan is a storming success of a film. Zombie films of recent years have tended to divide between the cheesy and funny, or the drama-set-against-a-backdrop-of-zombie snoozefest of the Walking Dead. So Train is refreshing in its simplicity.

Though there are plenty of laughs, there is thankfully little that is outright silly or slapstick. Instead we follow Seok Woo and his daughter onto a high speed train across the country. This is a neat touch – zombie films always have to create a sense of isolation, of being cut off from all the other people that might help and a train makes as good a scenario as a house, a pub or a plane (don’t judge me – I loved Zombies on a Plane).

Outside the world is collapsing. It seems the infection (more 28 Days Later than Dawn of the Dead) has spread like a… uh… plague of ferocious, incredibly fast zombies and engulfed several cities. On the train, things are little better. A single member of the infected has (obviously) found their way aboard and havoc ensues. We get all the usual classic zombie traits – suspicion and hate amongst the survivors as the humans turn on each other, relationships torn apart by zombie infection, false hopes of governmental intervention and smears of blood across the window. It doesn’t really break new ground but it ticks all the zombie movie requirements with such glee that it’s hard to fault it.

Top class zombie action – best new film of its kind I’ve seen in a while.

Drink
Five Points Pale. As before. Tasty enough and available from the bar under the town hall.

I Am Not A Serial Killer

Day of the Dead continues in small-town Minnesota, where blood is being spilled on snow. Whilst this is perhaps a more serious horror film than The Master Cleanse before it, it’s not the kind of film I’m instinctively drawn to. Pitched somewhere between slasher-horror (some is killing people and ripping out their organs!), murder-mystery (sleepy town, candle-light vigils for the slain, an increasing feeling of fear of their own streets) and psychological thriller (Max Records’ John goes to counselling for his tendencies towards violence) it cracks along at a fair pace. Bodies mount up as our clearly unreliable teenage lead investigates the killings that are gripping his town.

It’s a bit silly and perhaps doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny as a slasher flick but as a psychological thriller it keeps us guessing. You’re never quite sure if you really believe anything you’ve seen through John’s eyes or not and the snowy, small-town environment lends a tight, claustrophobic atmosphere. A solid little horror film.

Drinks
Saltaire Belgian Red. Clocking in at 7.2% this is a powerful little beer. Rich and tasty and deceptively drinkable.

The Master Cleanse

It’s the Day of the Dead. I’ve long been a fan of LIFF’s infamous Night of the Dead’s younger sibling. Whilst NotD welcomes the seriously committed – for an evening of midnight to 9am horror endurance – DotD has a steadily growing pedigree of being a pleasant boozy afternoon of film viewing. Past highlights have included Tusk, What We Do in the Shadows and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (probably my favourite LIFF showing ever).

The Master Cleanse kicked off this year’s DotD and, in my opinion, did so in great style. Starring Johnny Galecki of Big Bang Theory fame, it’s an odd one. It never really goes full out horror – and I’ve seen some complain that it wasn’t really a fit for the DotD bill – but it’s got a proper body-horror / monster horror pedigree. You can tell they had great fun making it.

It was expanded from a short into a feature length film and – being brutally honest – you can sort of tell: it’s far from being a complex story and could probably be told as a long TV episode, or half-length film. But if it had been I probably wouldn’t have seen it… As it is, I really don’t want to give too much away about it, suffice to say that the very physical special effects are great fun.

A worthy, if relatively light-hearted opener to Day of the Dead.

Drinks
Five Points Pale. It’s perhaps not the most exciting beer (although Five Points’ Railway Porter is one to go for!) but a very pleasant pale ale that fit the bill for the first-film-of-the-day. Fittingly, we also rated the film as five points!