Frightfest 2020: Day 5 round-up
Jill Gevargizian’s The Stylist, Devereux Milburn’s Honeydew, Elza Kephart’s Slaxx and Natasha Kermani's Lucky starring Brea Grant
Written by Jonathan Hatfull
Our Top Picks
Short films don’t always make great features but Jill Gevargizian’s feature length adaptation of her short film The Stylist proved to be one of the highlights of the festival. It follows Claire (Najarra Townsend), a lonely hair stylist with a penchant for getting too involved in her clients’ lives and taking a piece of them with her. When frantic bride to be Olivia (Brea Grant), begs her for help getting ready for her big day, Claire agrees and begins to lose herself in her new client/best friend. While the film’s striking visual style is worthy of high praise, The Stylist is also emotionally complex with well-written characters and excellent performances (Townsend is fantastic). Claire’s lonely, tragic journey is carefully handled, nodding to character-driven horrors films like May as well as stylistic touchstones like the Maniac remake, and Gevargizian delivers empathy as well as gory shocks.
Just when you think you couldn’t stomach another story about a couple pitching up at a farmhouse to find something is very wrong, along comes a film like Devereux Milburn’s Honeydew. Graduate student Rylie and her struggling actor boyfriend Sam are driving through somewhere in New England and find the eccentric Karen to be very hospital when they need to use her phone, but after being served a rich meaty dinner they have a very, very strange night. With an uncanny score and self-conscious edits, the off-kilter style is almost reminiscent of Dennis Kelly’s Utopia, and there’s a wonderful air of dazed detachment to the proceedings as if neither the characters nor the film can really believe that this happening. Very funny, very weird and truly unusual. (Honeydew will be released by Signature Entertainment in 2021)
The idea of a film about a pair of sentient killer jeans attacking the staff of a trendy store is frankly charming enough, but Elza Kephart’s Slaxx has more going on than a killer concept. The script (co-written with Kephart by Patricia Gomez) takes aim at the exploitation of the fashion industry and our willingness to ignore where our cheap goods come from, and takes a few pops at self-obsessed social media stars and asshole bosses for good measure. The script is funny, there are plenty of fun gore gags and great effects, and the film’s glee at its own silliness means some biting late developments work beautifully.
We were also big fans of the inventive and emotional Argentinian ghost story The Funeral Home, in which a family struggles to come to terms with each other’s issues while living in a house they know is haunted. You can read our full review here. Damian Mc Carthy’s haunted house debut Caveat was another top pick, and our review is here.
Our final pick of the day was Natasha Kermani’s Lucky, starring and written by Brea Grant. She plays a self-help author who discovers that she’s being attacked in her home by the same man every night…but why is everyone so calm about it? Grant’s script plays with genre expectations in sharp and witty fashion, but the looping concept quickly reveals a ferocious and angry message that is perfectly delivered by the clever script and confident direction. It’s fantastic, and you can read our full review here.
Rigoberto Castañeda’s Origin Unknown finds a drug kingpin on the verge of breaking away from the cartel and starting a new life when the appearance of a mysterious young girl on his compound is promptly followed by the arrival of a team of deadly supernatural assassins. It’s pacey, well-made and endearingly committed to its mad premise, but the twists are telegraphed far too early and the fun of the concept doesn’t quite stretch to the full run-time.
It’s certainly more enjoyable than Eric Fleitas and Luciana Garraza’s Scavenger, a post-apocalyptic tale in which a bounty hunter/organ assassin seeks vengeance on the cannibal cartel who killed her family. The excellent use of location and great soundtrack get things off to a good start, but it soon dives head first into grim, grotty torture and rape territory to compensate for the lack of story. It’s one to avoid.
We had much more fun with Liam O’Donnell’s Skylin3s, the third in his unlikely trilogy, which admittedly gets off to a dispiritingly slow, self-serious start after the giddy outrageousness of the previous instalment. Half-alien Rose is sent with a small team to a distant planet to retrieve a drive that could save the world, but it’s never going to be that easy…It’s far too long at nearly two hours, but those who wait out the first hour or so are rewarded with a drastic gear shift in the final act with some well-executed action.