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FrightFest 2014 Diary – Truth or Dare

In his FrightFest Diary: Part 2 entry for Failed Critics, Mike Shawcross described the Jessica Cameron directorial debut Truth or Dare as “the nastiest piece of work I saw” and that “Jessica Cameron is one sick woman!” Find out why in our full review of the movie.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)

truth or dare 2Sometimes looking through the list of discovery films showing at the Film4 FrightFest Festival is a little daunting. Some films have very little feedback and I’m never really sure what I’m letting myself in for. However, Truth or Dare didn’t have that problem. Having followed the film’s festival run on Twitter and Facebook, I had decided if this film made it into the festival then I had to get a ticket. Obviously by writing this review the film did make it and I did manage to get myself a ticket!

Truth or Dare is the directorial debut from actress Jessica Cameron and made its UK premiere at FrightFest in the main discovery screen on the final day of the festival. Cameron also co-wrote and starred in the film alongside Ryan Kiser (Potpourri), Heather Dorff (Hand of Glory), Shelby Stehlin (Exit 727), Devanny Pinn (The Devil’s Nightmare), Brandon Van Vliet (Potpourri) and Jesse Wilson (7 Lives Exposed on TV). A group of young people known as the Truth and Daredevil’s take the old party game ‘truth or dare’ and add a much more dangerous twist to the proceedings; or do they? Derik (Kiser), a viewer of the YouTube videos, isn’t impressed and feels he could be a great addition to the team. Turned down and laughed at on TV by the Daredevils, Derik takes his revenge. Ambushing the groups next stunt, he brings his vision of the game to the online viewers – a much more twisted and dangerous vision than they could have ever imagined.

After the first 10 minutes, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this film; it was obviously low budget and with a shaky opening as the cast seemed to be finding their feet, plus an audio sync issue, wasn’t helping the situation. I really was wondering if I should have seen something else. However, once the sync issue was fixed and Kiser made his appearance things took a turn for the better. The film kicked into gear and I found myself really enjoying it. Now I say enjoying it, let’s put this into context; Truth or Dare is a nasty little film made for the horror community. It’s made to be enjoyed in a cinema with like-minded fans and FrightFest (as with all the other festivals the film has played) was the perfect place to see this film. And possibly the only place to see it on a big screen.

I do know that the film has already been banned in some areas and nearly didn’t play FrightFest; the BBFC were actually present for this screening. It will be interesting to read their verdict. I would say if you are offended easily then maybe this isn’t the film for you, but if you like your torture porn, this is the film for you!truth or dare

How nasty is this film? Pretty nasty at times, though the French and definitely the Asian horror scene has pushed similar boundaries in recent years, it’s the US mainstream horror scene Cameron is really challenging here. Over the last few years, horror fans have been turning to the US indie horror scene where the films and filmmakers are breaking the mould of safe and restrained horror. Not governed by big studio politics they are making films they would want to see as a horror fan. Sometimes they do manage to get to a mainstream audience, You’re Next a prime example, but in general you’ll need to visit the festivals or hope they make it to DVD to see a real horror film or a film as twisted as this one. This is why Cameron has stepped out of the role of scream queen and into the role of filmmaker, writing and directing films she would want to see as a horror fan.

Cameron and her co-writer Jonathan Scott Higgins’s choice of characters is also very interesting. People may initially think they are just adding to the shock value of the film – and yes they are in some respects – but they are actually employed to great effect for the storyline. When secrets are revealed in the game, it provokes disdain and increases the tension between the group. This actually adds a more psychological layer to the film. Derik (Kiser) is not the only villain anymore. This was an intelligent piece of writing and added more depth to an idea which in lesser hands could have become quite mundane as the film progressed.

I’m not going into details about the truths or dares used in the film, except to say that some are pretty gruesome and I really wouldn’t want to spoil them for you! Let’s just say a couple even made me squirm, and it takes a lot to do that.

The script also gains its stride once the game is underway, balancing menace, drama and comedy very well throughout the rest of the film. Though Kiser does have a lot of dialogue, he deals with it extremely well and gives a super performance; his on-edge boundless energy adds an element of danger to the game as he always seems on the verge of snapping. I am looking forward to seeing what he brings to his next film House of Manson. The rest of the cast are all very good, though I wasn’t impressed with Van Vliet at the start but as the film went on his performance grew on me. With the film being shot in chronological order, I do wonder if everyone was just getting warmed up or if the technical error was clouding my judgement.

As I said in my FrightFest Diary, I really enjoyed Truth or Dare. At last, some balls-out torture porn at the festival, with lots of gore and buckets of blood. This is why I come to FrightFest. This is what I want to watch. Jessica Cameron’s first film may be rough around the edges, but here her statement of intent is clear to see; she is bringing the horror back to the fans and if no one else will do it, she will step up and do it herself. I really am looking forward to seeing what she does next. Whatever it might be, I can guarantee it won’t be dull or safe!

Mike will return shortly with more reviews of the films he watched at this year’s FrightFest, plus our interview with both Jessica Cameron and Ryan Kiser!

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Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

“Nancy: Looks like trouble..

Marv: Looks like Christmas.”

By Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

sin city 2 2Back in 2005, the world finally got an adaptation of the Frank Miller story that it didn’t even realise it was craving. Alas, it wasn’t a live action version of The Dark Knight Returns or Batman: Year One, but was instead the pulp noir crime thriller, Sin City. After his RoboCop sequel scripts were butchered back in the 1980’s, it seemed Miller was destined to remain known as a successful comic book writer (albeit one of the most important and influential of our time) and not a successful script writer.

Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of Sin City came at a time when only five short years before, comic book movies received a successful revival; thanks in no small part to Bryan Singer’s PG-13 X-Men. Two years later, Sam Raimi got in on the act as he turned Marvel’s biggest property, one friendly neighbourhood web-swinging wall crawler Spider-Man, into a PG-13 movie. As ground-breaking, box-office record smashing and popular as they were, fans knew that the market for more mature offerings was lagging behind somewhat. Why did they have to all be PG-13? The promise of Batman-to-come (allegedly based on Frank Miller’s seminal Year One) never truly broke that cycle. Batman Begins, also released in 2005, may have been darker and seedier than your average superhero flick, dealing with crime families, murder and that long wispy moustache of Liam Neeson’s, but it too found itself restricted to a PG-13 audience. In the 5 years between X-Men and Batman Begins, the only two major R-rated comic-book movies to come out of America were Blade II and The Punisher. That’s pretty much it.

To say Sin City was a gamble would be an understatement. Hiring a director to make an R-rated, somewhat arthouse thriller, who at the time had seemingly moved on from his over-the-top action movies (the brilliant Mexico Trilogy) and bloody sci-fi horrors (From Dusk Til Dawn, The Faculty etc) to create the family-oriented Spy Kids trilogy, it was a risk. Yet it paid off in more ways than one. It may not have topped the box-office charts in 2005 ahead of the likes of Star Wars Episode III, King Kong and another bloody Harry Potter sequel, but it still earned praise from critics and fans alike whilst being relatively commercially successful. It may not have been the catalyst in turning studios on to a wave of adult comic book movies, but it was seen as a triumph on its own merits.

Quite why it took Rodriguez and Miller nearly 10 years to allow us to return to the filthy stinkhole that is Basin City seems almost unfair. With its saloon bars every ten feet full of drunk criminal louts, sleazy prostitutes on every corner and corrupt officials turning a blind eye to every crook looming in a shadowy doorway ready to take every dime you own and leave you for dead, perhaps it was a place of mind that Rodriguez and Miller weren’t keen to frequent too often! Nevertheless, I, for one, am glad to have had the privilege of another peak into the loathsome lives of Sin City’s inhabitants.

The four stories that comprise the run time are equally as entertaining as each other. Beginning with a tale from Marv (Mickey Rourke) as he comes to after a brutal accident, hunting down some despicable youths, the tone of highly-stylised ultra-violence is set very quickly. This is continued as Johnny (played by the always impressive Joseph Gordon-Levitt) introduces himself as the cocky young gambler taking on a game of poker that will only end one way, with his story intertwining with that of Jessica Alba exacting revenge for her lover’s (Bruce Willis) death. The atmosphere is continued in the next sequence, upon which Sin City 2 titles itself. Dwight (previously played by Clive Owen, now re-cast with Josh Brolin) sets out on a mission to save his nearly always naked femme fatale ex-wife (Eva Green) who is oppressed by her cruel husband. Feeling sorry for her, he agrees to help but as with everything in Sin City, it appears someone is manipulating the situation beyond his control.

Short snappy sentences that Billy Wilder would’ve been proud of litter the script, just as a classic crime-noir should. It’s immensely enjoyable, trashy and disturbingly fun. Shot entirely in black and white with colour only occasionally piercing the dreary shades of grey like a strike of lightning, it is a film with an abundance of style. Is it perhaps a case of too much style and too little substance? Debatable. There’s a chance that the co-directors may have papered over a few cracks in the plot with some pretty pictures – although, they are very pretty pictures. The cast and their performances are a step up from 2005’s effort, with returning faces Rourke, Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson and particularly Powers Boothe all revelling in their roles, as do the new additions. Eva Green especially steals the show as a siren-like Ava.

Whilst A Dame to Kill For has not followed suit with its predecessor, stuttering at the box office and picking up mixed reviews along the way, it still has plenty to enjoy for returning fans and new ones alike. You do not need to know everything that happens in the previous movie – in fact, some people seem confused by the chronology of both. Approaching it as a stand alone movie about some stuff that happens in this crime-ridden city may be the best method.

If Frank Miller’s stories have any message to tell, it’s probably a not very pleasant one. Everyone is corruptible, it’s just that some people are better at taking advantage of it than others. Yes the film’s morals and ethics are as questionable as the characters who entertain us; is vigilantism justified in a city like this? Is murder ever acceptable? Can you honestly have your strongest independent female character’s motivations bent around her love for a man? These are questions the film raises and leaves unanswered. But I’ll tell you what, it doesn’t half look cool as it poses them.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is in cinemas nationwide right now in both 3D (not worth it) and 2D (totally worth it).

Hercules

It could have been stupid. Actually, it probably is a bit daft. But nevertheless, it all comes together evenly and most importantly, it’s actually entertaining in that popcorn munching, Coke slurping way you’d hope for.

by Owen Hughes

herculesThere’s a certain type of nerd out there in the real world that can’t help but coil in disgust at the mere mention of Brett Ratner. Unforgiven is he, and so shall he remain, for the legacy he left the X-Men movie franchise in following his effort with The Last Stand. He will never get over the reputation held by many as “that guy who ruined Bryan Singer’s franchise”.

Not me personally. Growing up on a diet of kung-fu films, I still see him mainly as that guy who made Rush Hour, one of the better western Jackie Chan movies. Also, whisper it quietly, but I don’t think X-Men: The Last Stand is the worst thing to come out of the comic-book adaptation revival of the 2000’s; or even the X-Men franchise for that matter. In fact, it has some pretty great action sequences made in an old school “high wires and real explosives” kind of way, as opposed to being totally CGI. It’s the way he captures these impressive action scenes that, once again, is what he most successfully achieves with his latest flick, Hercules.

For anybody who has seen the trailer, a word of warning should probably go out that it is incredibly misleading. Forget it. Pretend that you’ve never seen it. Do you still have burnt into your mind the lingering memory of the woeful, tedious and entirely disappointing Clash of the Titans remake, therefore are expecting yet another snooze-inducing, monster-bashing, mythological sword and sandals affair? I am happy to be the one to inform you that this is far from it.

This is hardly a remake of the Disney animated classic. Dispensing with the monsters and mythical beasts within the first 5 minutes during a dramatic and exaggerated narration sequence, the movie we are presented with instead revolves around an older, more world-weary, mercenary-for-hire Hercules character. Together with his band of brothers (and one sister) he enters into one final contract to earn that last bag of gold. Just one more pay packet, enough for him to retire on and live out his days in solitude, away from the pressures that being a celebrity in ancient Greece holds. Wouldn’t you know it, not quite all the facts of this contract have been revealed to our scantily clad hero and his merry chums.

The ensemble cast (including a performance from the gargantuan Dwayne Johnson as the titular protagonist that is somewhat less charismatic than we have become accustomed to) does at least have an element of genuinely believable camaraderie between them. Ian McShane raises more eyebrows than our lead actor with his performance as the profit who sees only what the frequently annoying God’s want him to see, which as legend goes even includes his own death. A Spartan and best friend of Hercules, played by Rufus Sewell, provides us with most of the banter within the group and often at the expense of the invaluable storyteller (Reece Ritchie). I say invaluable, I mean he often provides exposition and insight into the groups history. The Norwegian actress Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, playing a skilled archer, and a mute crazy warrior scarred by his past (also played by a Norweigan, Aksel Hennie) make up the remaining members. They appear to riff off each other well enough, albeit in a rather scripted way. Together, they help Lord Cotys (John Hurt) reclaim the land that once belonged to him.

With a plot not as straightforward as may have been apparent, the twists and turns along the path are delivered at an unwavering and consistent pace. It could have been stupid. Actually, it probably is a bit daft. But nevertheless, it all comes together evenly and most importantly, it’s actually entertaining in that popcorn munching, Coke slurping way you’d hope for. It also has a touch of the Spartacus about it. There’s clearly a socialist (or, at least, democratic) message buried underneath the mounds of baby oil and loin cloths. To say any more may be to spoil some of the second half of the film, but it definitely tries to have some deeper meaning tucked away in there.

Back on the podcast earlier this year when reviewing Pompeii, I accused Paul WS Anderson of being a director who “doesn’t make films badly, he just makes bad films”. Similar in some respects as these two films may be, it would be unfair of me to level that same accusation at Ratner’s version of Hercules. It’s not a bad movie at all. The story may be a tad lightweight, relying on some montage sequences and an audience either too young or wilfully ignorant enough to overlook some rather polarised set pieces. However, like Pompeii, it is also surprisingly watchable. Teenage boys who aren’t quite old enough to watch the superior 15-rated 300, or of the wrong generation to have seen 1982’s Conan the Barbarian, seem to be this 12A’s target audience. Which is fine. They will most certainly be the people who get the most out of it. It’s not a film to challenge your preconceptions of anyone or anything, but it will provide a couple of cheap thrills and who knows, maybe it will even help to ease the monkey off of Ratner’s back a little.

Owen Hughes will challenge your preconceptions of everyone and everything over on Twitter or on the weekly podcast.