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FrightFest 2014 Diary – The Tour

As well as seeing the likes of The Guest and Truth or Dare at FrightFest 2014, Mike also found time to take in a short film or two, including Damon Rickard’s The Tour.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)

the tourAlongside all the main films, FrightFest also runs a short film competition, usually sponsored by the Horror Channel.When I watched the shorts during my first year, the quality ranged from very good to downright terrible. The next year, I didn’t bother. It wasn’t until the second year at the Empire, when I didn’t fancy anything in the discovery screen and it was raining, I reluctantly stayed for the shorts. Well, I wasn’t expecting what I saw; the quality was outstanding. The majority of them were brilliant. Even the worst ones were above average and since then I’ve made a point of seeing the short showcase.

The shorts used to play in the main screen and the competition winner was announced at the end of the presentation. This year, the shorts were split into two sessions and were moved into the discovery screen. I had originally planned to watch both sessions, as I was interested in seeing both She and The Tour. However, She was up against Starry Eyes, and The Tour against V/H/S Viral, two major films I really wanted to see. As it turned out, I wish I had gone to see the shorts instead now!

I have been lucky enough to see The Tour since the close of the festival. Damon Rickard is a FrightFest audience member and he has co-written and co-directed this piece with Alex Mathieson. It stars Jessica Cameron and Heather Dorff both from Truth or Dare (which also played the festival), and Tom Gordon.

A small village relies on a local haunted house, Darkmoor Manor, to bring in tourism revenue to a local community; they claim it is England’s most haunted house, although its doors are closed to the public. Tom (Tom Gordon) is the tour guide and the film opens as he is concluding a tour. Two female American tourists have been on the tour and Tom is out to impress the women, inviting them for a drink. Cassie (Heather Dorff) and Morgan (Jessica Cameron) accept the offer and the conversation turns to the house. Cassie and Morgan aren’t impressed with the claims of the house and Tom promises to get them inside and give them the real tour of Darkmoor Manor!

This is an excellent short film and I really did enjoy it – I’m even more annoyed now I missed it on the big screen. The cast are extremely good. Tom Gordon delivers a great performance; he’s charismatic, cheeky and very confident in his role and hopefully we will see more of him in the future. Heather Dorff and Jessica Cameron are also excellent. Dorff plays the sassy Cassie with considerable ease, while Cameron plays the more timid character (maybe a departure from her usual roles) but she does it very well. Having these two actresses in the film is a major coup for Rickard, especially considering it’s his first production. He has done very well with the casting of this short.

The cast are backed up by a solid script. It was very well written throughout, allowing for some decent twists along the way and a couple of solid scares as well. Visually the film looked great, especially the interior house scenes that were very impressive. You can see Rickard’s knowledge of the genre coming through in this production. He knows the beats to hit, he knows timing is essential in a horror film, and in a short you have far less time to make those beats work. Rickard and Mathieson have crafted a very fine short here. There is potential to turn this into a feature – maybe one day they will? I would pay money to see that!

For more information on The Tour, you can check out their Facebook page or find them on Twitter. Mike’s FrightFest Diary reviews will continue soon with a look at the more amusing side to FrightFest.

FrightFest 2014 Diary – The Guest

Mike’s FrightFest diary reviews continue with this latest entry, a review of the opening night of the horror film festival and its first screening of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s latest movie, The Guest (released in UK cinemas today).

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)

the guest 2The opening night of Frightfest on the Thursday (21 August 2014) is just main screen films; no discovery screens, no decisions to make, I just have to take my weekend pass seat and enjoy. Well, hopefully enjoy. The three films on show were The Guest, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and Zombeavers. With Sin City 2 going on general release on the following Monday nationwide, I had made plans to see The Congress starring Robin Wright at Cineworld and then return for Zombeavers. As with all my films at FrightFest, I refrain from watching trailers and reading reviews, just using the synopsis from the FrightFest website as my only guide. Except on Thursday, I don’t need any help so just sit back and enjoy.

The Guest is directed by Adam Wingard and written by long time collaborative partner Simon Barrett. The cast feature familiar actors such as Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey – ITV), Maika Monroe (The Bling Ring), Leland Orser (Faults – which also played the festival), Sheila Kelley (Lost – TV) and Brendan Meyer (Tooth Fairy). The plot revolves around a young soldier who appears on the door step of the Peterson family, claiming to have served in the army with their son. Mrs Peterson (Kelley) welcomes David (Stevens) into the house and he is invited to stay with the family while he is in town. David is charming and as he soon gets to know the Peterson’s and their problems, a number of deaths occur. David takes the son, Luke (Meyer), under his wing and teaches him to fight back against the kids bullying him at school. Yet the daughter, Anna (Monroe), is a little more reluctant to accept David and as she starts to uncover the truth it soon becomes clear David isn’t who they think he is.

An interesting opening film for FrightFest. In my book, it’s a thriller – a dark one at that – yet Stevens’s character is never really sinister enough to push it into the horror genre. However, it is extremely entertaining and I really did enjoy it. While it may be dark, there were some very nice comic touches, usually coming from Stevens and his ultra-dry and extremely cool performance. He really did impress me here, as I can’t even recall his performance in The Fifth State (and I don’t watch Downton Abbey). The action sequences were very well done and he coped with them with ease. A new action star in the making or even a new James Bond? I think he might just be on the young side for that role, but I’d be happy to see him do it.

Maika Monroe also turns in a solid performance and is a young actress on the up, soon to be seen at the London Film Festival in It Follows; definitely an actress to watch out for. Monroe’s character Anna is streetwise, she has an older boyfriend, parties and enjoys life, even with her father trying to keep her under control. She is a rebel, but she’s not out of control, and is always a little wary of David. The rest of the cast are all very good, they are all aided by the punchy screenplay. It starts on the run (literally) and doesn’t really slow down. It’s to the point, doesn’t rely on building the character back stories, but does a really good job of giving you enough detail to allow the story to flow. I got a really good idea of the family dynamics as the film progressed and why it was fairly easy for Stevens’s character to gain the confidence of most of them. Then comes the story of David and it’s a little out of left field, something I wasn’t expecting and just adds a new dimension to the film. I’ll leave this one for you to find out about yourselves.

The final third of the film zips along with the added twist and the final confrontation being very well put together, it’s tense and quite bloody at times and a solid ending to the film. The music from the film was also very good. Composed by Steve Moore, the score is electric, a typical 80’s synth sound; much like Drive or recently Cold In July.

Adam Wingard (You’re Next, V/H/S and V/H/S 2) and Simon Barratt have crafted a tense, solid thriller here, with some decent action sequences and quite a bit of blood – although not enough to make it a true horror film in my eyes, but some may think differently. Wingard continues to impress me and I really did enjoy You’re Next, along with the V/H/S 2 segment, ‘Phase I Clinical Trials’, which I really liked. I’ve not seen A Horrible Way to Die yet so think I’ll check that out now.

In the end it was a super film to open the festival with, and one I’ll be going back to see with my mates when it opens nationwide on the 5th of September.

Mike will be back to review some of the other films he checked out at this year’s FrightFest soon.

FrightFest 2014 Diary – Part 1: Challenges and changes

By Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)

New VenueEight years ago I first came to FrightFest, back when it was still in the Odeon at the bottom of Leicester Square, where I did 2 years before it moved venue to The Empire at the top of the square. Here the festival stayed for 5 years; each year it grew in audience and also the amount of films being shown at the event. I really enjoyed the festival during its run at the Empire. Their screen 1 was superb and with 1000 plus horror fans sometimes the atmosphere was astonishing. Due to Empire’s move to an IMAX screen after last year’s festival closed, we were the last people ever to see a film in that screen 1.

This year the Vue cinema, still at the top of the square, became home for FrightFest and, with it, the festival’s biggest changes and challenges. Over 600 passes are for the full weekend and the biggest screens at Vue hold just over 400 seats; the solution was to have 3 main screens, Horror, Film4 and Arrow. My pass was for the Horror screen though I had wanted the Film4 screen, but I’m not sure if that made too much difference in the end, aside from being with the regular FrightFesters. Films would rotate round each screen except for the opening film, The Guest, and closing film The Signal; both would start at the same time while the rest of the screenings would have staggered start times, which actually worked really well. It kept the flow of people moving around the cinema quite nicely. Another reason was to allow guests of the film to be able to do Intro’s and Q & A’s for each showing. Maybe this did have an impact on the number of guests attending the festival as they could be at the event for 5 or 6 hours instead of a few hours for 1 screening; or maybe I just missed a lot of the guests. I don’t seem to have as many pictures with people as I normally end up with, that’s for sure.

Alongside the main screens were 2 discovery screens, both holding double the amount of seats that these screens in the Empire would have. At first I thought that this was possibly the festival’s biggest problem. You could potentially lose over half of the screen’s audience to discovery screens or not wanting to see a film and sometimes by just missing them like I did twice by talking to people in the bar! On the Friday I was just missing that great atmosphere that 1 screen gave the festival. By the first evening showing of Dead Snow 2 on the Friday – funnily enough not in my screen but the Arrow screen – the FrightFest vibe was starting to take hold and I began to really start enjoying myself. The weekend just kept getting better and better.

There were some hiccups. To get discovery screen tickets I had been issued a bar code and the idea was to scan in the bar code at the tills and pick your discovery tickets. These became available after the first film and I got to the till pretty quickly. I am in a group of 6 and we had organised ourselves before the festival so we knew which films we needed tickets for and how many. The problem when they tried to scan in the bar-code, it had faded and it was over a perforated fold, it was extremely difficult to get the scanner to read any of our 6 tickets. It would eventually pick it up, but it took 40 minutes to do 2 films. In the end the manger re issued the bar codes with no perforated paper and we ended doing 6 more films in 20 minutes. Having held up the queue long enough we bailed and went back the next day to pick up the rest of the tickets. Once over that initial problem the new system worked a lot better than having to queue up at 8am every morning and actually only a few showings fully sold out. A lesson learned for next year, print the bar codes at the festival and don’t panic over screens selling out!

Really though I have to say that the Vue worked better than the Empire for a number of reasons. The biggest fault at the Empire was that the foyer contained the media wall, the merchandise shop, the bar area and confectionery stand, it became quite claustrophobic at times. Stopping to talk, get a signature or photo just added to the confusion. While the Vue being on numerous levels meant that the media wall was in the foyer with the confectionery tills, the merchandise stall was next to the bar on the first floor, the bar area was a decent size and a great place to socialise where you never felt you were getting in the way of anyone. I also feel the actual screens gave me a better experience. I usually sat in row D at the Empire and on many occasions struggled with subtitled films as I couldn’t read the subs due to people’s heads. Not a problem at the Vue, even from row D. Empire’s main discovery screen was tiny (around 100 seats) and sometimes didn’t sound very good at all. Vue’s Discovery screen 1 was superb, much bigger screen, and boy was it loud, which is what I like.

So the venue change, the format change and the discovery screen ticket allocation all improvements on last year for me. While discussing these topics with one of the main organisers we suggested only have discovery screen films on during the day programmes, allowing the main screens to be nearly full during the evening; something to think about.

As for the films? Well, you’ll just have to wait for Part 2 when we’ll give a brief summary of what was seen and what was worth seeing.

GFF13: Diary of a Failed Critic 17/02/13

Bike Polo - exactly as you'd imagine
Bike Polo – exactly as you’d imagine

After a relaxing start to the day spent watching my brother-in-law play Bike Polo (exactly as it sounds, and at the same time unlike any sport I’ve ever seen before), I made my way back into central Glasgow to catch more of this brilliant festival.

After a stop off at the Glasgow Film Theatre press office (and I’ll never tire of being referred to as a “lovely journalist”) to pick up a few more DVD screeners, I made my way to the 6th floor of Glasgow’s Cineworld. Apparently this used to be the tallest cinema in the world. Now, I’ve not got the time or inclination to check such facts, but I couldn’t help being both impressed and utterly underwhelmed by this nugget of information. Glasgow does look rather lovely all lit up at night though.

I was at the cinema to see Stoker. Not just my pick of the day for Failed Critics, but one of my picks of the year for potential greatness. So it was with a heavy heart that I left the cinema to record a review with Steven Neish and Amy Taylor. It turned out I wasn’t alone in my disappointment, and we spent a good part of the recording laying into a film we had all wanted to love.

The podcast will be out next week, and my review will be up tomorrow, but in short the biggest problem with the film was that very little happened, and anything that did happen was both telegraphed and confused. It was a visually striking film, and I was particularly impressed with its use of sound. It’s just that the plot felt like a first draft from an early-nineties erotic thriller, and the actors had very little to do.

Luckily Steven and I then got to wax lyrical over the merits of Cloud Atlas, while Amy described her joy at seeing Sunset Boulevard on the big screen for the first time. I’d just like to thank them both once more for their time and company over this weekend.

After that I retired to the Brewdog Bar, via a fraught bus journey after discovering that Glasgow must have the only mass transportation system in the world that closes at 6pm on a Sunday. Luckily our wonderful sponsors looked after me via the medium of great beer and food, and I was even able to ‘call in’ a report for the Failed Critics Podcast from the bar. The second time that day I’d felt like a proper journalist.

Pick for today: Simon Munnery: Fylm-Makker

Stewart Lee’s favourite comedian is bringing his new show to the Glasgow Film Festival. I’ve no idea what to expect, except that it will be brilliant.

Simon Munnery’s show starts at 9.15pm, at GFT2

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The Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.