Grimmfest 2020 Online Edition – Day 1 Feature reviews

Like so many other horror film festivals, Grimmfest has decided to go online this year with their first ever digital edition.

With countless premieres and exclusives in store, here is our roundup of the features from Day 1 –

Anonymous Animals by David Dent

At its heart Rouvere’s extraordinary debut feature using the ‘Planet of the Apes’ movies as its jumping off point, reverse evolving humans and animals so that people are the hunted and farmed, and animals are in control.
In a forest in rural France a man, shirtless and with his back covered in welts, is chained to a tree, before a passing van collects him, to be taken back to a holding area in the middle of an otherwise abandoned farm. Elsewhere a group of people are rounded up while in the wild and taken back to another part of the same farm where they are held in cattle pens. In each case the ‘farmers’ are human in form but with the heads of stags, dogs and bulls.
The lone man is fed like an animal, clearly being trained up for some forthcoming event (the reveal of that event is the awful climax of the film). The others wait in their pens, docile and frightened; one attempts escape which does not end well.
There is of course no happy end to this movie, mercifully short at just over an hour. Scenes are short and abruptly cut, and the contrast between the cruelty meted out to the humans, with the film’s beautiful and mournful French countryside setting, as well as its dialogue free approach (the ‘manimals’ grunt but the humans remain silent throughout) further unseats the viewer. Damien Maurel’s soundtrack, a mixture of drones and sympathetic strings, is also superbly eerie. ‘Anonymous Animals’s point is made pretty bluntly and relentlessly (like if PETA were to make a feature film) and although modestly budgeted it’s one of the most uncomfortable movies I’ve seen this year.

Stray aka Tvar by David Dent

Olga Gorodetskaya’s debut feature nods in the direction of ‘moppet from hell’ movies like ‘The Omen’ (1976) and the previous year’s ‘Demon Witch Child’ but this tale of grief and loss has a bigger emotional heft than both.
Polina (Elena Lyadova) and her husband Igor (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) are a broken couple; their eight year old son Vanya went missing, presumed dead, and Igor blames himself. Traumatised by the loss in their lives, made worse by the apparent lack of a body, the pair make the rather hasty decision of attempting to adopt a child at the local orphanage. Once there Polina finds the selection process too upsetting; but wandering in the grounds she spies an almost feral kid, whose keeper has just shot himself. Polina has taught traumatised children in the past and Igor is a doctor, so between them they have the coping skills. Their initial request to adopt is refused, but later they see the child walking alone along a road and take him home; they’re aware that they are breaking the law, the need to care is too strong for them to resist.
But despite his feral ways – eating meat raw from the fridge, growling at his protectors – Polina develops affection for him, and through her grief comes to believe that this is in fact her returned child; she even names him Vanya, after her little boy, and they seem to be about the same ages. Igor is less impressed and feels that the replacement Vanya is actually trying to copy their son to fit in (which is odd as the two boys have never met).
But when Polina discovers she’s pregnant (something she was sure would never happen again), her interest in Vanya wanes; in return Vanya becomes jealous; and that jealousy turns his mind to murder and revenge.
I really liked this rather convoluted and atmospheric film: it offered up way more than the standard evil child setup I was expecting, although its glacial pace won’t be for everyone. I won’t give the game away but the explanation behind the child’s behaviour is both tragic and intriguing. As ‘Vanya’ Sevastian Bugaev turns in a performance of incredible ferocity for one so young, his nightmarish outrages only marred by a couple of scenes or ropey CGI. Lyadova and Vdovichenkov are also superb as parents consumed by grief who have lost the art of consoling each other, and the Russian winter, which provides the backdrop to the events, is impressively chilly, reflecting the strange twists and turns of the narrative.

Alone

With winks and nods to films such as Duel, Deliverance and also true crime, John Hyams’ Alone is a masterclass in tension.

A recently widowed traveler is kidnapped by a cold blooded killer, only to escape into the wilderness where she is forced to battle against the elements as her pursuer closes in on her.

With stunning performances from Jules Wilcox and Marc Menchaca this is one of the scariest survival thrillers in recent memory, with bone-crunching action mixed with genuine scares.

‘Alone’ has a real atmosphere to it and pits Wilcox’s Jessica through all the stages of grief whilst being pursued by someone who may or may not have a dark side.

While it is brimming with tension early doors, Alone really cuts loose in its final third and leads to an epic finale. One of the highlights of Grimmfest.

The Horror Crowd

This heartwarming documentary focuses on a set of filmmakers coined ‘The Horror Crowd’ by director Ruben Pla.

We feature interviews with the likes of Chelsea Stardust (Satanic Panic), Ryan Turek (Halloween 2018), Lin Shaye and Jeffrey Reddick (Final Destination) to name a handful and chart a variety of subjects. The issue with The Horror Crowd is that it feels incredibly rushed and tries to cram everything into its 90 minute run time, that it doesn’t give the viewer chance to breath on topics before we skip to another anecdote or subject altogether.

Sometimes a person being interviewed will be cut off as soon as they finish their sentence and it feels quite jarring. While the subject matter and the participants all feel relatable, it feels like this could have been so much more with a little extra care taken.

12 Hour Shift

2020 feels like the comeback year of David Arquette with his turn in the excellent Spree, his own documentary You Can’t Kill David Arquette, returning as Dewie in Scream 5 plus this excellent horror comedy from Brea Grant.

12 Hour Shift seems to be the shady cousin of 2018’s 68 Kill, with a pair of cousins team up to try to sell organs from the local hospital to a gangster type trafficker. From her hilarity ensues as everything imaginable that can go wrong does.

Grant pitches the ludicrous comedy just right and makes this a stunning feature debut which could be one of the sleeper hits of 2020. While Arquette plays second fiddle as a twisted killer, the star turns come in tandem from Chloe Farnworth as the bumbling Regina alongside Angela Bettis’ Mandy who sums up working a nursing 12 hour night shift in one facial expression.

12 Hour Shift is unorthodox, funny and at times inappropriate but it revels in its rebel status which makes it one of the best horror comedy in recent memory.

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