Glasgow Film Festival’s Frightfest 2021 is a strange one. Instead of all being crammed together in a cinema, I’m logging into a website and watching them by myself at home. For sure that dampens the experience of a lot of them. An audience whooping and shrieking would have absolutely made some of these films be an absolute riot. In the cold light of day though some were poor and some I enjoyed a lot. I may have judged some too harshly but not this first one:
The Woman With The Leopard Shoes
Guest Mary J Blige review: “No drama.”
This was really quite dreadful so I don’t want to be too harsh on it. It’s a first time feature, which at best reminds me of my days in film school back in 2000. Shot entirely in black and white with one cast member the plot is simply: man breaks into home, gets trapped in a room, sends a lot of texts, leaves room and posts a letter. It’s not even horror by accident so was really surprised this had been certified 18, Star Wars has more blood in it than this. Passable for a first time student film maybe but against the other films on the roster it was very poor indeed.
The Old Ways
This is effectively your standard exorcism film but by the end I really was into it. A young woman is held hostage as the community believe she has a demon inside her and attempt to get it out of her. Cue a lot of abuse and gore. Against this she has a heroin addiction so often manages to get her fix which also cues lots of weird terrifying visions.
I’m in two minds with this one as I feel it’s been edited specifically for a Film Festival crowd which is why it opens with a flashback to a previous exorcism which uses a cheap jump scare to confirm that demons exist. Good for a Fright Fest crowd but not good for a film where we’re supposed to be on the young woman who has been kidnapped’s side. I was like “yeah, if demon’s exist you better do all these rituals to get it out then” with what ever they did to her. The film could have played a lot harder with the dynamic of “Is she possessed or is she just seeing stuff because she’s on drugs?” Instead we are told demons exist so just enjoy the chaos.
On the flip side, I miss being in a film crowd. This film would have been wonderful to see with an audience. Nasty gory and squishy practical effects, fun jump scares, loads of screaming. It’s a great little rollercoaster with a slightly weak third act that I would watching with a group.
Run. Hide. Fight.
This was probably one of the best films I saw at FrightFest 2021 however there is no doubt it was also one of the most problematic. In a nutshell, this film is essential a female led remake of Die Hard… except set during a school shooting.
I have to say it though, that it managed to win me over. In the wrong hands this could have turned out unwatchable but the tone managed to stay safely within horror, action and dark comedy. What really helped it land was the contrast between the school shooters and our protagonist Joey. All were outsiders at school but where the killers were all grandstanding about how poorly the world has treated them and how much better they were than everyone around them, our hero was only concerned with saving people even though she’d had an even rougher time. Overlaid with this was a remarkably well executed sub plot between Joey dealing with the loss of her mother (played by Radha Mitchell) who turned up as a vision to help guide her in many scenes.
So while the premise sounds sick on paper I found it to be a fantastic, well made, thriller where I was genuinely engaged in the outcome.
I very much enjoyed seeing a woman kill mansplaining manchilds.
We begin in a familiar territory: 80s synth retrowave soundtrack, lots of neon and at that point I was on board.
I’m sorry to say it was downhill from there. What follows is a mostly forgettable story of a nobody stumbling across a group therapy session for serial killers. While I enjoyed the set up the film gets overexcited and fails to spend enough time mining that concept and instead blazes through it to take us on a Men In Black / Dusk From Dawn but with serial killers Z-movie. The scene where our lead tries to fit in with a bunch of serial killers by pretending he’s the character in a plot of a film he’s writing about a mass murdering taxi driver felt like it should have been the pivotal moment but it was glossed over too soon. I felt the story itself was poorly scripted and often it felt like it was being made up on the spot.
The film is hindered by two poor performances from the two male leads that are at once both scene chewing and pantomime. In my own personal view there is nothing worse than bad comedy and that’s the central issue we have here. I didn’t laugh once and failed to find any relatability in our main protagonist and wished instead the film had focused on Carrie who was more interesting and better acted than everyone else combined. Maybe with an audience this would have been a lot more fun but it missed the mark.
American Badger tells the tale of a hitman who falls in love with a woman he is supposed to kill. Unfortunately it aims for serious but manages to be almost comedic in how cheesy and unengaging it is. The majority first act is entirely voice over with relatively poor sound recording. In some ways it echoes the great and gritty Bad Lieutenant but without the enthralling central performance of Harvey Keitel so it just ends up being Bland Lieutenant.
Nothing scares me more about a film where the lead actor, director and writer are the same person. This is that film and Kirk Caouette really should have cast someone other than himself. He has the on screen presence and charisma of a small cabbage.
All that said, where the film picks up is in the choreography of the fight scenes which are complex one take shots that are quite impressive. These echo the gunplay and fighting in the John Wick series and likely what the director was going for. Unfortunately, John Wick has a (albeit light) backstory and character motivation which American Badger does not.
Out of this World
We open on a man living out of his car. He composes music on a laptop and synth. He cleans his car. Finally he mops blood from his brow. In a call back to Vicious Fun it’s about a serial killing Taxi Driver.
We watch as he drives his fares around. Sometimes he plays his music to them on the radio for feedback. If they hate it does he kill them? If they like it does he kill them? It’s never really made clear.
It’s not until he meets a deaf girl and becomes hypnotised by her that Out of this World really gets going. It finally gave me that gritty psychological horror I love. Almost dialogueless for thirty minutes our lead killer doesn’t say much and is almost mute. His difficulty communicating to anyone other than another version of himself echoes Gollum from Lord of the Rings. His inability to speak syncs with her inability to hear.
I’d say I enjoyed Out of this World but really felt disappointed by the final act. Where it falls down is not letting the victims breathe. It gets a bit American Psycho but without the black comedy and we just end up being witness to him doing awful, pointless things. The focus is on the killer and, as with many killers, he is boring. Who cares why he’s doing what he’s doing, he’s just another psychopath dickhead.
I’m all for downer films but I need some substance and this was mostly empty. Well-made, cruel but empty.
Overall it went uphill from The Woman With The Leopard Shoes but oh boy can I not wait for this pandemic to be over to watch films like The Old Ways and Run. Hide. Fight. with an audience in a cinema!