Tag Archives: The Den

Failed Critics Podcast: Using 10% of our brain’s capacity

run for your wifeThe King is dead retired, long live the King, King and Queen!

With the James-era officially ending with our previous podcast, we begin anew with two new release reviews. We did consider making you wait nine years for us to get back together, inspired by Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, but we just couldn’t wait that long to tell you about it. We also found time to review Luc Besson’s latest sci-fi thriller Lucy – and we didn’t need to reach 100% brain capacity in order to do it either.

The team also find time to talk about a selection of films shown at last weekend’s FrightFest (including The Den, All Cheerleaders Die and Doc of the Dead), Icelandic penis museum documentary The Final Member, utterly terrible Disney movie Condorman and the, er, dire Danny Dyer movie Run For Your Wife.

Join us next week for more reviews and less Danny Dyer chat (probably?)

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The Den

Fresh from its screening at this year’s FrightFest, The Den is a home invasion movie that avoids tropes and spins a new interpretation on what it means to have your privacy invaded by a mysterious foe. 

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

the den 2Home invasion films have gone through many incarnations in their decade-spanning history. From perhaps the most famous instance of which, when Alex tore through a family’s home in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, to Wes Craven’s sickening, gut punching 1972 exploitation-horror The Last House on the Left, right the way through to Michael Haneke’s deconstruction of the genre and the people that watch (and enjoy) these movies in Funny Games and even last years straight-faced action-packed gore-fest You’re Next bringing things full circle. Not a stone has been left unturned in what is arguably an over-populated area of the horror genre.

At least, that’s what I thought until I watched The Den, Zachary Donohue’s feature-length directorial debut, which brings a whole new creative and modern interpretation to the home invasion sub-genre. Is it possible to have your home and your privacy invaded when there’s nobody actually physically there? Apparently, the answer is most definitely “yes”.

Using nothing but her webcam and software inspired by Chat-Roulette, our protagonist Elizabeth (Melanie Papalia) is undertaking academic research into the habits of chat-room users and records all of her social interactions with hundreds of strangers. Encountering everything from your run of the mill willy-wobbling perverts to elaborate ghoul-in-the-closet pranks, eventually she stumbles upon the only account online worse than Piers Morgan’s Twitter feed. What starts out initially as relatively ordinary trolling soon escalates far beyond that as every aspect of Elizabeth’s private life is violated by this user. Elizabeth’s relationships with her partner and friends (David Schlachtenhaufen, Adam Shapiro, Victoria Hanlin etc) are strained due to her increasingly reclusive lifestyle, with each ones safety put at risk by her project. As the anonymous assailant begins to destroy Elizabeth’s personal and professional life, the film serves less as an opinion on snuff films or the genre as a whole, and more as a social commentary on the fact that internet bullying is a serious crime which is still not treated as seriously as it should be by authorities.

One thing that home invasion films have always been able to rely on to make you squirm in your seat is subjecting you to the uncomfortable truth that this is something that could really happen to you. There’s no invisible poltergeist throwing saucepans around your kitchen. There’s no UFO’s landing in the middle of Surrey, no woman dressed all in black floating around a graveyard 600 miles away. It’s a well organised murderer (or murderers) with a motive. Transferring the setting to an online situation takes a bit of skill and guile, which Donohue apparently has in spades.

Partly how home-invasion films as a whole differentiate themselves from the typical slasher-genre is the fact that it’s just you and a nutjob with a plan to kill you; but it’s happening in your safe place. A holiday resort, a cabin in the woods, somebody else’s house where you’ve turned up to babysit. These are all foreign places and you can avoid that axe-wielding maniac by simply staying home. Easy. But in home invasion movies..? That isn’t an option. The axe-wielding maniac has checked out your property on Google Street-view and knows exactly where the best entry point is going to be to get to you and your loved ones. It’s unavoidable.

Indeed, home-invasion films are borne out of some kind of truth. It has happened to people in the past in famous cases such as the barbaric Manson Family murders. It can come out of nowhere for reasons completely unknown to you. One minute you’re eating your dinner at the table, the next your sister’s documentary-making boyfriend from New York who wears a scarf indoors has an arrow in his eye (deserved it for that scarf). By inflicting these very physical visual reminders on your viewers, it’s a sure fire way to increase the tension and fear levels.

It’s also an automatic instinctive reaction to feel fear for yourself, never mind the characters in a fictional film. But in The Den, there are very few instances of physical threats during the build – but when they do arrive, they are as intense as anything else in the genre. It’s mainly a construction with foundations built on atmosphere generated by the cynical acknowledgement that people on the internet, hidden behind their anonymity – or even knowing that there’s a lack of repercussions for their actions – will be utter dicks to strangers. In some cases, those trolls could potentially harbour more sinister intentions than just being a pain in the arse. Whilst maybe Elizabeth is ignorant of this, it’s the viewers curiosity to see more that fuels the film and keeps you interested right until the end.

With your view of proceedings taking place from behind the webcam, you in turn are as voyeuristic as the scumbag torturing poor ol’ Lizzie only safe in the knowledge that it’s not real. All that’s lacking is Arno Frisch breaking the fourth wall and asking “is this what you want?”, something acknowledged later on in the movie itself. The ending descends somewhat into a farce as slightly contrived scenarios occur, yet the intimidating atmosphere never shifts. The message remains the same and the performances are consistent and believable. In its final scenes, Donohue puts a big bold metaphorical exclamation mark at the end of the movie rather than a whimpering dot-dot-dot. It’s a strong debut piece showing intelligence, awareness, spirit and creativity in an often derided genre, with plenty of potential for the director to go on to make even better things.

As at today’s date, there are currently no further screenings listed for when The Den is showing in the UK. However, if you happen to be taking a trip to the USA in the near future, you could watch it on their version of Netflix.

Frightfest 2014 Preview Part 1: Change and sleepy queues

FrightfestBy Mike Shawcross (@shawky1969)

Frightfest, now in its 15th year will go through its most radical change yet; moving from the Empire to the Vue in Leicester Square has meant more change than just a venue! At the Empire; Frightfest has been able to grow, not just in ticket sales but also in size by offering many more films by having multiple screens. These were called the Discovery Screens and last year they even managed to have three of them.  While the Empire boasts an impressive 1300 plus seats in screen 1; this was the home to the main programme for the festival. The Vue’s biggest screen is 413 seats; this alone would not accommodate the weekend passes and herein lies the biggest challenge for the festivals organisers.

Their answer was to show the main programme over three screens; giving each screen its own sponsor name and rotating the films at staggered times in a day and evening session. Screen 5 (413) is the Film 4 screen; 6 (264) is the Arrow screen and 7 (411) is the Horror screen.  Then there are two discovery screens which will play a film in this same period; if you want to watch a discovery film you will only miss your screen’s film in that time slot.  Unlike the previous years the discovery films will only play once; this means that some planning is actually required to give you the optimum set of films you would want to see in the discovery and main screen.  Within my group of friends we ended up debating this for a good few hours; a good way to pass the time in the sleepy queue. We were leaning towards the Horror screen, when under further discussion we came round to the Film 4 screen. Once at the till and needing 3 isle seats we actually ended up back in the Horror screen!

Talking of the sleepy queue, this has become as famous as the festival itself, usually starting on the Friday; this year the first person was in the queue at midnight on the Thursday! At the end of the day people camp out for tickets or for a place at the front of a stage all the time, so I don’t really see it being that ridiculous. However passersby enquiring what we are queuing for had a slightly different view to me! Over the last 2 years I’ve joined the queue around 6.30 am on the Saturday; being in the same place both years about 100 people from the front. This year after a couple of films, a hearty meal and some late night coffee we joined at 2am; about 40th in the line. With chairs, no rain and a good sense of humour it’s actually a great night!

The Vue cleared the longest sleepy Q in record time, just over an hour, however it soon fell apart. The online booking system crashed in spectacular fashion and frustration and anger was vented at both the Frightfest organisers and the Vue cinema on social media. While not really the fault of Alan, Ian and Paul they were involved in organising the recovery of the booking system with Vue. Lessons will be learned from this year’s event, there will be hick ups and issues, there always are. Both the London and Glasgow film festivals suffer online problems every year; the internet is good, it’s just not that good!

On the Friday at 2pm the films are announced and this year I have to admit the line up is rather strong; opening the festival is the British film The Guest, starring Dan Stevens. The closing film is the Brenton Thwaites (Oculus), Lawrence Fishburne-starring sci-fi thriller The Signal.  These two films will play in all three screens at the same time!

Two more films play on the Thursday evening after The Guest. Housebound from New Zealand, directed by Gerard Johnstone and billed along the lines of if you liked The Loved Ones this is for you. I really enjoyed The Loved Ones. Ending the first night is the crazy sounding Zombeavers, directed by Jordan Rubin at a brief 80 minutes I can see this being fun late night movie, hopefully!

Friday; the main screen’s day films are Shockwave Darkside 3D, Green Inferno and Late PhasesShockwave Darkside is directed by Jay Weisman in his first feature and from the producers of The Banshee Chapter which wasn’t too bad. Personally I will be looking at a discovery film for this one. Green Inferno is Eli Roth’s first film as Director in 6 years, some may argue that’s not a bad thing, I don’t mind his films, though hearing feedback on Inferno I’ll be trying for a discovery film! There seem to be a few werewolf films in the line up and here’s the first one; Late Phases directed by Adrian Garcia Bogliano (Cold Sweat/Here comes the Devil). Neither of these I have seen, boasting a decent cast I would not be too unhappy if I ended up in this; though the discovery films look better.

The opening two discovery screen films are Honeymoon (D1) and Wolf Creek 2 (D2), I saw Wolf Creek 2 at the Glasgow Frightfest and can see why they’ve brought it down to the main event; it’s great fun. Honeymoon stars Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) and Harry Treadaway and my choice for this slot. Directed by Leigh Janiak in her first feature, the film has gained some critical acclaim while playing the festival circuit.

Next in the discovery screens are Preservation directed by actor Christopher Denham in his 2nd full feature; his first was Home Movie which I haven’t seen. Hunting trip goes wrong, they become the hunted by local hunters with extra relationship issues thrown in as well; sounds a well worn path. Though with Wrong Turn 6; really? This is in Discovery 2 I might end up back in Inferno here. Having seen all 5 and wondering how they got 4 and 5 even made I’ll be steering clear of this one.

The last two discovery films are Julia directed by Matthew A. Brown, his first feature film. Starring Ashley C. Williams from The Human Centipede, this is one I do fancy with its neon-noir label and what looks like a brutal revenge thriller. While R100 sounds like a typical off the scale Asian film, which is a draw to me as I’m a big fan of Asian cinema.

The evening session on Friday boasts Dead Snow 2, The Last Showing and a T.B.C. film. Dead Snow 2; Directed by Tommy Wirkola (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) and by all accounts better than the original sounds a blast, with Russian zombies fighting Nazi zombies, but it plays against 2 films I’d really like to see in the Discovery screens (oh the decisions!).  Robert Englund has a film at the festival (well two actually as Elm Street 1 is playing), in The Last Showing directed by Phil Hawkins; sounds like a found footage with a difference. A UK production also starring Keith Allen this would be a draw if Englund is on the guest list.

Over in the discovery screen The Forgotton is a UK film directed by Oliver Frampton and from the producers of the Boederlands comes this tensely plotted, gritty urban supernatural horror.  In discovery 2 Exists is showing. Another found footage film, which will not be high on my agenda. (Not a fan of FF films) From the director of The Blair Witch Project; Eduardo Sanchez comes a “in the woods” survival film against a fearsome female creature, sounds far too much shaky cam for me!

Then in the Discovery screens are The Canal and The Den. The Canal is an Irish film from director Ivan Kavanagh and stars Rupert Evans (Hellboy) and Steve Oram (Sightseers), along the lines of Don’t Look Now and Suspiria this ghost story is dark and disturbing. A midnight hit at the Tribeca festival it may be worth a visit. The Den directed by Zachary Donohue is his first feature. A modern day Rear Window using the computer as the window; sounds an interesting idea, but one I might catch another time.

Finally comes 2 discovery films that will draw a lot of attention. WolfCop and The Drownsman and I’m torn which one to see; as well as them being up against Dead Snow 2! Wolf Cop sounds the mad sort of film which Frightfest late night viewers will lap up. With strong sales at cannes, WolfCop has already secured a sequel; I can see this being one hot ticket on Friday night! While The Drownsman also looks a pretty strong film; directed by Chad Archibald (Kill / Neverlost) neither I have seen. But I like the idea of this film; as Madison (Michelle Mylett) has hydrophobia her friends try to break her fear but only unleash The Drownsman!

The rest of the line up will appear in part 2.