• Through the Trees

Frightfest 2020: Day 3 round-up

Takeshi Kushida’s Woman of the Photographs, Dutch thriller Tailgate, Laura Casabé’s The Returned and the directorial debut of Final Destination writer Jeffrey Reddick

Written by Jonathan Hatfull

Our Top Picks

Possibly the best film of the day was the first out of the gate, as Takeshi Kushida’s Woman of the Photographs offered a subdued and strange look at the contrast between how we see ourselves and how we present ourselves. When a silent solitary photographer meets a social media influencer reaching the end of her usefulness to her clients, their mutual interest in shaping images takes them on a journey of self-exploration. There are body horror elements but Kushida moves things along at his own delicate pace, preferring a meditative exploration over anything too grisly. It’s ultimately interested in loneliness and human connection, a softly uncanny drama with praying mantises and scab peeling.

Dutch thriller Tailgate pitches a stressed dad and his family against an unstoppable white van man. Writer-director Lodewijk Crijns does an excellent job building tension as petty actions and impulsive threats lead to violent confrontations. It’s well scripted with good performances from the adults and kids, and at 82 minutes there’s very little time to draw breath. Inevitably, our villain’s increased screen-time towards the end of the film diminishes his impact and the slight shift into more hallucinatory territory in the finale may not be for everyone, but this is a strong effort. (Tailgate is available from Signature Entertainment on 26 October)

We were also impressed by Laura Casabé’s The Returned, and you can read our full review here.

Also showing

Final Destination writer Jeffrey Reddick steps behind the camera for his feature directorial debut Don’t Look Back. Caitlin (the excellent Kourtney Bell) is still reeling from a home invasion which took her father’s life when she witnesses a murder in broad daylight. When the other bystanders start being picked off one by one, she realises that she may have only a short time left to put things right. There’s some pointed criticism of voyeurism, and Reddick is an old hand at creating an air of impending “who’s next?” dread, but viewers should expect a more spiritually inclined mystery rather than a gory schlock-fest. It’s clunky but not without its charms.

Screen veterans Sylvester McCoy and Rita Tushingham are having a brilliant time in home invasion horror The Owners, where they return home early to find a band of mouthy thieves and Maisie Williams’ reluctant tagalong waiting for the combination to their safe. It shows its cards a little too early and there’s not really enough pay off to justify the build-up, but there’s some fun to be had with the table turning as McCoy and Tushingham sink their teeth into the grisly material. (The Owners is available on 15 February 2021 from Signature Entertainment)

An all-female punk band find themselves fighting for their lives in a bloodsport arena in Andrew Thomas Hunt’s Spare Parts, a B-movie throwback that leans heavily on the full-blooded performances and regular bursts of splatter. You’ll know from the synopsis whether it’s the kind of thing you’re into, but once the rules are established it sticks pretty rigidly to formula. The action set-pieces are nicely done and it hits the expected notes with satisfying relish, but if it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea then it won’t convert you.

A similarly energetic spirit is found in horror western The Pale Door, presented by the king of weird Southern fiction Joe R. Lansdale. A gang’s train robbery leaves them with a mysterious young girl rather than cash, but when she offers to take them back to her town for medical attention, they end up on the wrong side of a coven of witches. The film’s ambition can’t really overcome its limitations in budget and execution but there’s something charming about its dogged determination to just go for it. The shots taken at America’s history of cruelty to women feel a little less convincing once the bullets start flying, but some full-blooded, full-drawlin’ turns from the cast (which includes Melora Waters, Bill Sage, Pat Healy, Stan Shaw and Noah Segan) help matters.

There are a few different flavours of home invasion movie swirling around in Kohl Glass’ Babysitter Must Die (also known as Josie Jane: Kill the Babysitter), as our mustard scout heroine fights off armed occultists who break in looking for a mysterious box. It’s funny, but not a comedy, it’s pretty vicious but knowingly goofy, and pacey without ever being frantic. It could perhaps have done with picking one tone and sticking with it, but there are some good laughs, nice visual gags and good performances, particularly from Riley Scott as the amiable titular character who’s more comfortable babysitting than partying and who finds skull-cracking new uses for her old skill-set.

Significantly less amiable was Neil Marshall’s The Reckoning, which received its UK premiere. Set in 1665, it follows Charlotte Kirk’s Grace Haverstock, a recently widowed mother who is accused of witchcraft when she refuses to submit to her landowner’s sexual demands. She’s promptly imprisoned and tortured by Sean Pertwee’s moustachioed witchfinder, but will Grace submit to his violent methods, or indeed the hornier advances of Satan himself? Will she heck.

Everything is brightly lit, Grace is always perfectly appointed, and the whole thing feels oddly like a videogame’s vision of what medieval England looked like. There’s also nowhere near enough actual plot to justify the near-two hour running time, just a succession of scenes of Grace being tortured by petty, violent men before spitting her defiance back in their faces. It’s too silly to convince and too cruel to be entertaining, and Kirk’s performance and the way the film presents Grace make it hard to buy into her plight.

For more information on Frightfest and to purchase tickets visit their website here.

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