Manchester’s horror film festival Grimmfest returns, with a brand new event set over the long Easter weekend. With 34 items on the calendar, mixing full length films and shorts, there’s sure to be something to please everyone.
Kicking things off we have Final Days. Or is it called Pandemic? Or maybe it’s called Alone? It’s often a red flag when a movie has multiple titles, as well as sharing a near identical plot with another film, in this case the Korean flick #Alive (seriously, the stories are almost identical).
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Final Days follows the story of Aidan (Tyler Posey – Truth or Dare, Men of Honor) who is left barricaded inside his apartment when the 28 Days Later-like fast zombie apocalypse hits. As the world collapses he’s left to try and fend for himself and ration out his dwindling supplies of food and water (Though I do struggle a bit to believe that somehow this surfer dude had enough food and water stashed away to last over a month).
This isn’t a bad film all in all. It’s fairly well acted, with Aidan a relatable and sympathetic protagonist. It’s got some decent zombie-bashing action and a nicely disturbing little cameo from veteran actor Donald Sutherland (Virus, The Puppet Masters). While the attempt to shoehorn in a badly developed romance really don’t entirely ring true it’s still a decent way to spend 90 minutes or so.
Sweet River is an Australian film that I am reluctant to really describe as a horror film. It’s the story of Hanna (Lisa Kay – Neighbours, Heartbeat), who returns to the small town of Billins where her son was murdered, renting a room from farmer John Drake (Martin Sacks – Wentworth Prison, A Place to Call Home) next to a huge cane field.
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Her son’s body was never found and she is determined not to leave until she locates where he was buried. What she finds is a town locked in grief, paralysed and unable to move on as the story of her son’s murder blends with a tragic school bus accident where a number of children drowned. The film offers up a number of questions for the audience to consider, to ponder how they might deal with grief and the loss of a loved one, what they might be willing to endure to see them again.
The performances from Lisa Kay and Martin Sacks are just a joy to watch, so it’s a shame that they’re let down by a ponderous, meandering plot that spends a little too much time navel gazing and pondering on how we deal with grief than it does with its revelation about the children who died. As well as simply not being particularly scary, so many things are left frustratingly unexplained, leaving the audience to make up their own explanations.
Threshold is technically rather impressive. Filmed with two iPhones and shot by a crew of three over twelve days, it is, essentially, a road trip movie. We follow the tale of Leo (Joey Millin – Misdirection, Parker and the Crew) and his sister Virginia (Madison West – Jurassic Galaxy, Hornet). Leo is going through a messy divorce and Virginia is apparently possessed after what she thought was a group out to help her get clean and kick the drugs instead turned out to be… devil worshippers? Sorcerers? Satanists? LARPers?
What follows is 78 minutes of sibling bickering with occasional moments where something actually related to the possession happens. This is the problem with this kind of film, where so much of it is being improvised by your cast. While their dialogue is genuinely funny in places, the story is so thin as to almost not be there.
The other problem is that when you film your entire movie with a mobile phone, you are at the mercy of that phone’s microphone and sometimes the dialogue in this film is very difficult to make out from the background noise. I swear Christopher Nolan has a lot to answer for that filmmakers think having muddy audio is now somehow acceptable. Who cares if your audience can hear what your characters are saying? While it is genuinely impressive to see a film entirely shot using two mobile phones and truly a showcase of what can be done with very little kit nowadays, the plot of this film could have been done and dusted in half an hour.
The Barcelona Vampiress
The Barcelona Vampiress is a movie that is set in Barcelona, but doesn’t specifically feature any bloodsucking creatures of the night. This is an achingly beautiful film, exquisitely staged, that tells a fictionalised account of the true story of Enriqueta Martí (played here by Nora Navas – Black Bread, Pain and Glory), a woman believed to be a serial killer who abducted, prostituted and murdered children during the early part of the 20th century.
The story is told through the eyes of reporter Sebastià Comas (Roger Casamajor – Pan’s Labyrinth, The Chosen), a man haunted by his own loss, addicted to morphine to help him sleep, struggling to tell the truth when it seems all around him have already made up their minds about how this tragic story will end.
This is a tale of murder, witchcraft and authorities who were only galvanised into action when a child from a rich family was taken. It’s a lavishly gothic tale of class division, murder and corruption told mostly in black and white that touches on themes of bigotry, classism and poverty. It is also one of the more stylish films I’ve seen in quite some time, the scenery shifting from monochrome to intense colour to shadow puppetry to stylised, hand-drawn backgrounds. The whole thing feels like a stage production in the way it’s shot and presented.
Grimmfest Easter Horror Nights runs from 3rd-5th April 2021.