Grimmfest Easter Horror Nights – Day 2 reviews

Here is our roundup of the second day of features screening as part of Grimmfest’s Easter Horror Nights –

Sleepless Beauty

There is always one film you watch as part of a film festival that can truly shock you and make you feel like having multiple showers afterwards. That film looks to be the harrowing Sleepless Beauty.

When a girl is kidnapped during the early scenes she cannot expect the torture she will be subjected to, as unseen forces try to keep her awake for as long as possible.

There is clearly a deprived craving for this so it is broadcast on the dark web for people to watch. Sleepless Beauty feels like a mashup of David Lynch surrealism with Martyrs and Saw for company. For this reviewer the most stress-inducing ‘challenge’ she was given was being locked in a coffin with three live rats, which can’t be fully described but demands your attention.

Despite going to these dark places you have to admire the craft of Sleepless Beauty and its bold and unique vision that will live long in the memory.

Rendez-Vous (review by David Dent)

A lot of films claiming to be ‘one shot’ movies – ie those filmed in one continuous take – are in fact carefully edited to look as if they were shot continuously. ‘Redez-vous’, the feature debut of Mexican director Pablo Olmos Arrayales, claims to be the real deal, and who am I to argue, even though there a couple of shots which looked like they could be ‘joins.’

A young man and woman meet on an internet date; he, Eduardo (Antonio Alcantra), claims that he was mugged for money and phone on the way to meet Lili (Helena Puig), thus explaining away his lateness for their meeting. After this extended meet cute opening, in which we get to know a little about each of the couple, Lili ends up at Eduardo’s swish apartment, where she quickly learns that he was fibbing about the mugging (after the supposedly stolen phone turns up in his jacket). Giving him the benefit of the doubt, things soon turn sour, when Lili is wine drugged and tied up, while Eduardo tells her of his plans for the rest of the evening, which unsurprisingly don’t look good for Lili.

Arrayales realises that the visual constraints of his movie – essentially a cat and mouse two hander between Eduardo and Lili – need some narrative lifts, so ‘Rendez-vous’ includes some additional characters who sadly show up the plot’s inconsistencies. Running at a hefty hour and three quarters, the movie reaches a dramatic peak at the halfway point and squanders it afterwards, which is a shame because Alcantra and Puig are an interesting pair, and probably could have sustained a better – and shorter – movie with less interruptions.

Threshold (review by David Dent)

This part improvised film, shot on two iPhones with a crew of 3, is, despite that description, a deeply affecting movie.

Virginia (Madison West) is in trouble. Her history of drug abuse has made her vulnerable, and her brother Leo (Joey Millin) makes the drive across state to her home. Virginia tells her brother that she’s clean, as a result of participating in a programme organised by a cult, in which a strange body transference has taken place between her and another male cult member. Virginia quit the group but inexplicably she can now feel everything the other member can feel and vice versa. She begs Leo to drive across country to find the guy so she can get her life back.

Leo remains unconvinced but agrees to help Virginia with the proviso that if it’s all hogwash she’ll check herself into rehab. ‘Threshold’ follows the pair across America, in Leo’s beaten-up car, on a bizarre journey to rescue his sister’s soul.

‘Threshold’ is, a few strange scenes aside, essentially a sibling road trip. West and Millin do a superb job of convincing the audience that they are related, and the movie’s success lies in the re-connection that occurs onscreen between the formerly estranged pair; it helps that both are ‘unknown’ actors. The film is not without issues; scenes shot at a layover in an Air BnB with a Ouija board and an unwelcome guest feel intrusive and irrelevant, but that’s largely because we’re having so much fun watching Virginia and Leo riff off each other than anything else feels like interference.

Fear not, fright fans, weirdness arrives by the end of the movie, and is all the more effective because it’s applied sparingly. ‘Threshold’ is a winning film that I’ve seen twice now, and could happily sit through twice more.

Clapboard Jungle

Besides the excellent Lifechanger I must admit to not being fully aware of the back catalogue of work for director Justin McConnell. This documentary documents his journey across a number of years as he struggles to get projects off the ground, deal with rejections and become accustomed to the inner workings of the filmmaking system on the independent circuit.

McConnell has also got some well known faces involved with contributions from Dean Cundey, Tom Holland, Barbara Crampton, George Romero, Lloyd Kaufman and Mick Garris to name a few.

We also get to explore the festival circuit and understand more about how to get a film distributed as McConnell takes trips to Cannes plus festivals all over the world. His commitment to his craft cannot be denied and makes him even more of an endearing character plus the fact he is very genuinely honest about his own struggles.

This is a must-see for anyone who appreciates the craft of filmmaking or wants to break into the industry.

Sweet River

Sweet River has a slow burn quality to it, as a mother (Hanna) returns to her hometown where her son Joey went missing (presumed dead) and looks to start up the investigation once again.

From the outset this town feels very Twin Peaks, with some people potentially carrying a dark secret that begins to weigh them down with the appearance of Hanna. The man who was believed to have killed her son plus a number of other local children killed himself before justice could be served, which also oddly motivates Hanna to carry on with her trail to the truth.

Sweet River asks the question; does re-opening old wounds provide closure or does it prolong the suffering?

The performance of Lisa Kay is truly fantastic, giving Hanna layers, as you can clearly see the burden of losing her child weighs so much on her. When the pieces finally do come together Sweet River has a truly crushing finale and will certainly affect even the sturdiest of viewers.

Final Days (review by David Dent)

When Aidan wakes up with a girl in his bed and little memory of the night before, that shortly becomes the least of his problems as an unspecified pandemic wreaks zombie havoc in the surrounding apartment blocks.

Abiding by TV advice to remain isolated Aidan is at first stoical, then increasingly stir crazy as his food and supply of quality scotch runs out. Mounting raids on nearby apartments proves to be a hazardous business, and a daily vlog only reminds him of the number of days it’s been without him talking to another human. Finally in despair he decides to take his own life, but just as he slips his head into a makeshift noose, he catches a glimpse of an uninfected human in an apartment window of the block opposite – a rather attractive woman, to boot.

I really wasn’t sure what to make of stuntman turned director Johnny Martin’s zombie outbreak romp. Lead character Aidan is a fairly unlikeable and self-absorbed chap, and we spend a lot of time in his company. But, and the movie’s publicity didn’t really prepare me for this, ‘Final Days’ is actually a very dry comedy which clearly uses the present pandemic as a jumping off point for a Ballard-ian survey of what humans are capable of, both good and bad. I particularly liked the undead’s shtick of repeating the last words they uttered while still human, so we have zombies shambling around, moaning things like “get off me”, “stay away” and, in a moment that made me laugh out loud, “fuck me that hurts.”

In keeping with his stunt background, the zombies here achieve ‘Train to Busan’ levels of balletic manoeuvrability, and there are some spectacular set pieces, given the relatively slim budget. Martin even manages to afford an afternoon’s work for now 85-year-old Donald Sutherland, who gets to extemporise about what it is to be human before subjecting Aidan to further indignities. Uneven it may be, but I ended up enjoying this one enormously.

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