Frightfest 2020: Day 1 and 2 round-up
Dmitriy Tomashpolskiy’s Stranger, Christopher Smith's The Banishing and the world premiere of Sacrifice starring Barbara Crampton
Written by Jonathan Hatfull
Our Top Pick
Dmitriy Tomashpolskiy’s beautifully shot Ukrainian mystery is a strong early contender for the weirdest film of the festival but it’s certainly going to be one of the best things we see this weekend. Beginning with a synchronised swimming team vanishing from the pool mid-performance, the film picks up with brilliant Inspector Gluhovsky going undercover at a water treatment clinic where a patient has mysteriously disappeared. There’s discussion of numerical values, physics, philosophy and Lovecraft, talking frog-men, a sinister doll, and “pine and bubble baths”, and while the deliberately confounding plot may test viewers’ patience, it all comes together in a surprisingly moving and simple finale. Gorgeous, affecting, and truly odd, this one is something special.
Chris Smith (Triangle, Severance) returns with period ghost story The Banishing. As the build-up to World War II begins, an anxious reverend, his new wife and her young daughter move into the extremely haunted Borley Rectory. The traditional British ghost story atmosphere sits in striking contrast with the parallels to current events and Smith’s experienced hand helps steady a frequently messy script. Jessica Brown Findlay is on excellent form, but Sean Harris steals the show with a flamboyant turn as John Constantine-esque occultist Harry Price, livening up the more familiar elements.
FrightFest’s first lady Barbara Crampton returns to Lovecraftian territory in Sacrifice, playing the sheriff of the idyllic Norwegian island where Americans Isaac and Emma return to sell the house where he was born. Isaac is smitten with the place but the heavily pregnant Emma senses something sinister going on beneath the waters… Based on a Lovecraftian Paul Kane story, directors Andy Collier and Toor Mian make the most of their dazzling setting but the visuals and soundscape are more impressive than the story which leans too heavily on familiar tropes before ending with an effective but abrupt twisty jolt.
Affable stoner/ghost hunter Marbles is strong-armed into solving moustachioed cop Tagg’s murder by his trouser-less, restless spirit in amiably low-key slacker comedy Dead. It’s likeable for the most part, with good performances and a winning line in odd wordplay, and its big daft heart keeps it afloat when it threatens to run out of steam. The humour derived from throwing Marbles into gay culture occasionally threatens to spoil the fun, but it feels like its heart is in the right place and the relationship between the two leads is quietly affecting.
Courtney Paige’s The Sinners is a messy but confident blend of 90s dark teen movie throwback and Riverdale-esque melodrama, as a mean girl clique at a religious high school find themselves facing their sins after trying to teach our narrator a lesson. There’s some fun to be had but it’s too much of a jumble for the mystery’s twists and turns to land.
The Gallows 1 and 2 directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing fare better with someone else’s screenplay in Held, as writer Jill Awbrey plays one half of a struggling married couple held captive in their holiday home by an unseen aggressor who forces them to play their parts. The over-familiarity of the first two acts means that the patriarchy-aiming twists (at least one of which is a little too clearly inspired by another film) have to work twice as hard, but with a strong ending and good performances, it offers some satisfying final kicks.
Writer-director David Simpson’s Dangerous to Know follows a young woman (Bridget Graham) who heads to a remote cabin after a suicide attempt. Obsessed with her ex (Andrew Robert Wilson), she’s planning to return to the world sooner rather than later, but is she alone in the mountains? It’s very stylish and packs some clever twists, but at three hours it suffers from being overburdened with exposition as we are shown, then told, exactly what is happening. It’s meticulous and often engaging, but it’s just too drawn out.
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