Dead by Dawn

It’s fair to say I was very disappointed with this year’s DbD festival. It’s quite usual to come away remembering some awful movies, that’s just the way it goes when you spend three days in the cinema, but the choices for 2009 seemed to lack much in the way of imagination or entertainment. As ever there were some films I already knew so I’ll only list the ones I hadn’t seen before and I’ll skip the shorts as well.

Blood River

This sounded like it was going to be a decent piece of psychological horror. Instead, it sacrificed logic and storytelling for the cheap get-out of “leaving it up to the viewer to decide”. What this means in reality is that you get all setup and little payoff. The last act seemed to consist of nothing but characters yelling at each other, demanding to know what they’d done without any answers. Character motivations seemed to swing around wildly without any regard for cohesion.

That said, the film looks wonderful, completely throwing off any accusations of looking like its budget. Still, an inauspicious start to the weekend and not recommended.

From Inside

Apparently the creator of this spent several years animating his own graphic novel and frankly, he shouldn’t have bothered. This is really tired, dull, post-apocalyptic fiction with nothing to recommend it apart from, again, it looks quite nice in places. Even then, that’s not enough to save it. I’m sure I wrote similar “everyone dies” stories when I was doing Higher English. Avoid.

The Forbidden Door

The first film that I could see myself recommending to people but it would be a very cautious recommendation. It’s likely to appeal to people who still salivate over J/K-horror in all its forms. It’s certainly an ambitious story and the creators do well to keep it almost together for the duration and they certainly kept my attention. They do, however, completely drop the initial storyline about halfway through and by the end it’s descended into something of an incoherent mind-fuck, but it is interesting. Everyone I was with was impressed by this to varying degrees and we all agreed that there was a coherent film in there somewhere just trying to get out.

Cold Storage

Best in show. Damn, they’ve been hawking this around for three years? That’s really surprising given how much of a solid film this is. This is a film that’s made by the performances, there isn’t a weak link in the chain even though there are many stereotypical roles. I would have preferred a more outlandish film to have taken my fancy this year, but I have zero qualms giving this two thumbs up. I also scored two DVDs of the director’s other films so I’ll report back on those when I’ve had a chance to rip them (note to self; buy a region free player). Also if you do watch this film know this; they made it for $800k. Now consider how many locations they used and how none of it looked cheap in the slightest.

Tamami – The Baby’s Curse

Scott enjoyed this a lot more than I did. I’ll admit I’d already largely dismissed it when I read that it was a J-horror about a creepy child. Whoop-de-friggin-do. That said, it was reasonably entertaining but I felt it fell down when it continually tried to flip-flop between borderline slapstick humour and heavy handed pathos. The creepy child in question is a hideously deformed creatures that lives in the vents of a large house. The idea works quite well until we start seeing it clearly over and over again. At which point the rubber puppet is exposed for the stiff effect that it is. The jars with the Yoda-like acrobatics it occasionally dabbles in. There are much worse films out there, but I wouldn’t choose to watch this again.

Night of the Hunter

A classic with a well deserved status. There’s nothing substantial I can say to fault this film. Get it watched.

Sauna

On reflection, I think this is a case of “nice video, shame about the song”. This is a really well made, well acted, well written film…until the final act at which point it goes a bit metaphysical from what I could tell and gives us no answers, easy or otherwise. I would watch it again though, hopefully with some director’s commentary to explain the conclusion. Before I work it out I’d find it hard to recommend watching without that pretty major caveat.

Night of the Creeps

A film I’d heard mentioned a fair bit but due to its lack of DVD release I’d never watched it. It’s great. A fantastic slice of 80s horror pastiche before we got to the point of outright piss-take. Interestingly we’d be the last people to ever see the film in that form on the big screen as the upcoming DVD release will reinstate the director’s original ending and any subsequent prints will be the same.

Last of the Living

Just avoid it, ignore the inevitable comparisons to Shaun of the Dead which will be made on the basis that this is a comedy with zombies. This plays out like a student comedy troupe decided to make a film after graduating. It’s weak in almost every sense; story, acting, dialogue. The effects aren’t that bad but then you don’t see a lot of zombie films where they can’t at least get that right.

The story has holes you could fit a freight train though, sideways. At the end of the film, the self indulgent twats who made the film play out over the soundtrack in some kind of awful rock video. Sadly, I suspect this is likely to show up as a “cult classic” before too long, hailed as an independant smash. It’s not.

Dead Space : Downfall

And here’s where I really lost it with this year’s fest. A game tie-in that’s already retailing for chump change in Fopp. The animation in this is sub-Scooby Doo and seems to have about six frames per second. The voice acting is stilted, the storyline bland and again, equipped with large holes. This screening has the dubious honour of being the only film I’ve ever seen in a festival surrounding that got absolutely no applause.

Dawning

I think the most interesting thing about this film is that it’s the second version. Apparently they shot the whole thing, ditched it and reshot the whole lot for ~$40k. It’s certainly no blockbuster and looks low budget but not to a debilitating degree. Instead, the makers concenrated on squeezing every last drop of atmosphere out of the cliched setting they opted for. For the most part, it works well. I think it helps that they don’t try and drag the story out (see Blood River) and instead opt to scare us with an unexplained horror but leave us guessing rather than gasping for information. Chances of this seeing the light of day outside of festivals? Slim, but if you see it on the bill somewhere then I hope you enjoy it.

Home Movie

Destined for cult status, if only because it stars someone from Heroes. A cult status would be well deserved though as this is a tight piece of found footage horror. That said, I would like it if horror writers would leave behind the extremely well trodden path of scary kids. It’s been done so many times it’s not scary, we just watch to see what they’ll have them do.

Vampire Party/Les dents de la nuit/Teeth of the Night

I walked out. The last film of the festival and I walked out. It’s been several years since I’ve walked out of a film before the end and this piece of French shit has reset the clock. Imagine Scary Movie with fewer jokes and in French. Then take the jokes you have left and replace with even more obvious jokes and cliched vampiric crap. Really fucking terrible.

And that was it. I think the only recommendation of a new film I would give whole heartedly would be for Cold Storage. Adele announced that DbD will be taking a break as she’s a bit burnt out. An understandable situation and part of me is glad she’s doing it. I really didn’t enjoy this year’s fest anywhere near as much as I have every other time I’ve attended. That’s the way of festivals though and expecting every film to be a cracker would be foolish, I’m just used to a much higher hit ratio.