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Grimmfest 2021 Day 3 Features Reviews

It’s Day 3 of Grimmfest 2021 at the Odeon, Great Northern in Manchester, so here’s our verdict on some of the features screening today –

Seagull

By David Dent

It’s rather pushing it to see this first time feature by Danish born director Peter Blach, shot in the gloomy environs of Folkestone, as anything but a domestic drama, despite its rather tenuous fantastic elements.

Centring around two grandparents, Jeff (Adam Radcliffe) and his disabled, alcoholic wife Janet (Jessica Hynes), their daughter, feisty Violet (Rosie Steel) and granddaughter Lily (Miranda Beinart-Smith), disruption to an already unhappy family unit comes in the form of Jeff and Janet’s long lost daughter Rose (Gabrielle Sheppard). For the last eight years Rose has been living on a beach, her home a makeshift tent which finally catches fire and is destroyed; so, with a masked folk-horror figure in tow, she decides to return to her former home and reconnect with Violet, who in reality is her daughter. But Rose has revenge on her mind too, courtesy of an event that occurred eight years earlier.

Even with the presence of the usually great Jessica Hynes this is thin stuff. Populated with actors whose inexperience makes the film appear hesitant where it should be emotionally powerful, its biggest crime is that it makes no sense either as a drama or a more abstract piece. None of the characters are developed and the whole project feels under-rehearsed and, well, unfinished. Not very good at all, although shots of the Kent coastline are very atmospheric.

When the Screaming Starts

By David Dent

Conor Boru’s spirited first comedy feature, a cheeky titular riff on the 1973 movie ‘And Now the Screaming Starts!’ (but with no narrative connection to that film) finds Norman Graysmith (Jared Rogers), a Louis Theroux type video journalist, shadowing serial killer wannabe Aidan Mendle (Ed Hartland) as he prepares to perpetrate mass murder across London.
Mendle takes his craft seriously; he has a collection of knives and guns, reads Poe aloud while wearing a raven’s head, and has it in for the neighbour’s cat, Richard, who he accidentally shoots.

Mendle decides to take the Charles Manson route to deadly mayhem, all lovingly recorded by Graysmith; with his serial killer loving partner Claire (Kaitlynn Reynell) (whom he met attending the aftermath of a hit and run accident), he interviews and assembles a ‘family’ of would be maniacs, including a restaurant critic desperate to taste human flesh; she doesn’t make the shortlist. Aidan houses the motley crew he’s put together in a disused warehouse, and trains them in preparation for their first slaughter, the target unexpectedly turning out to be the wealthy family of one of his disciples, posh Amy (Octavia Gilmore).

But Aidan lacks Charlie’s charisma; before long there’s infighting among the group, leadership challenges, and the wheels come off his plans for notoriety. Can he regain control and get his murderous scheme back on track?
For the first half of the film, ‘When the Screaming Starts’ is an amiable and occasionally funny movie very much in the observational mode of a lot of contemporary TV comedy (favourite line: “Too IRA?” Aidan asks as he models one of the ‘looks’ he’s planning to wear on his murder sprees, a balaclava and combat jacket outfit).

So the first slaughter, when it arrives, is somewhat jarring and authentically nasty; sadly from here on in the movie loses its focus, as if, having set up its shtick, Boru doesn’t really know what to do with it. There are some interestingly satirical observations on power and leadership, and a fine turn from Gilmore as the mean as a snake Amy, but interest quickly faded for me after a promising start.

Motherly

By David Dent

Here’s a compact, tense little thriller that Canadians seems to do so well; you may spot the twist at the end coming, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.

Kate (another tough performance from Lora Burke, so good in ‘For the Sake of Vicious’) is mum to Beth (Tessa Kozma), a little girl whose life is in ruins following the incarceration of her father Brad following his murder of Beth’s friend Courtney during a game of hide and seek. They’ve been relocated under a Witness Protection scheme; Mum’s trying the best she can, including home schooling her daughter, but is struggling to make ends meet, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, remains fiercely protective of Beth.

Her on off relationship with the local cop Hal (Colin Paradine) places additional pressure on Kate and Beth’s. As if this wasn’t bad enough she receives news that Brad has killed himself in prison. Matters come to a head when their home is invaded by a man and woman who turn out to be Courtney’s parents; apparently Hal’s been running his mouth off in town and has disclosed the whereabouts of supposedly hidden mother and daughter. Grief stricken and at the end of their tether, Courtney’s parents want to find out the truth about who killed their offspring, and they don’t believe Kate’s testimony which put Brad in prison.

Into this fairly simple and perhaps familiar setup is introduced a gradual ratcheting up of tension; everyone involved is keyed up and ready to blow, and violence can only be a matter of minutes away. The performances are everything here, and the shifting narrative does its fair share of rug pulling. Extremely well acted and with a stripped down production design, this is excellent work.

The Spore

By David Dent

Across America people are dying, thanks to an organic, flesh-eating contagion which causes victims’ bodies to mutate as they die, their body covered in fungus like lesions and, more often than not, organic protrusions. As the film progresses, ten characters, linked only by the transmission of the virus, succumb and/or fight the infection as it lays waste to the country.

Dedicated to ‘Wes, George and Tobe’, ‘The Spore’ comes on like a creature feature version of Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 movie ‘Contagion’. For those who remember that film, the director took a rather cool, almost antiseptic look at the spread of a deadly virus and the random way in which it was transmitted. DM Cunningham, who wrote, directed, produced and edited his feature debut, plays out the fates of his characters, some related, others not, utilising a similar detachment as we watch the fungus do its work, killing its victims slowly and agonisingly after exposure. But what could have been an exercise in fetishizing the practical FX monster movies of the past is, in Cunningham’s hands, something far more sombre.

The characters in ‘The Spore’ are only given names courtesy of title cards; they don’t really last long, so their back stories feel inconsequential. Some of the victims die quickly, others become murderous as their infection advances. An atmospheric, oppressive score from Michigan’s ‘Dreaming in Neon’ duo (one half of which is Cunningham – this guy is busy!) shrouds the whole thing in a moody, sonic cloak. The pace rarely changes; there’s no big fiery finale, just more and more infection (ok there is a chest – actually back – buster scene that you kind of hoped would be included, but that’s it for set pieces).

Is ‘The Spore’ a good film? It’s certainly an intriguing one, which never does what you think it might do. Clearly part or all of it was filmed in lockdown. “This is not a hoax; we’re going to need more than a vaccine to fight this” says a voice on the radio, sounding, like most of the characters in the movie, hopeless and broken.

The Pizzagate Massacre

Based around the conspiracy theory regarding a lizard aluminati who hang out in pizza parlours in part of America, this film attempts to give a balanced view of a truly bizarre story.

The follow a former member of a news channel who teams up with an unlikely ally whose answer to questions can be found at the end of his gun.

When their attempts to infiltrate one of the Pizzeria’s housing these cults and lizard people things really start to shift gear. Director John Valley toys with the audience at times by giving us perspective scenes which at times paint things in a slightly different light.

Valley is also not impartial to some bloodshed which becomes unrelenting once the first body hits the floor. Its chaotic and bombastic and definitely plays by its own rules with a striking commentary on how news is reported and interpreted. In a time of rife misinformation The Pizzagate Massacre feels oddly timely.

While its whacky and bloody fun from the offset this really does pack a punch for its final reel which will certainly stay with you as the credits roll.

The Night Belongs to Monsters

While wrapped up in a domestic drama angle, The Night Belongs to Monsters is very much about otherness invading small town suburbia.

We follow Sol, a bullied teenager who after moving to a new town with her mother and her new boyfriend starts to establish a symbiotic relationship with a local dog.

Routed in teen drama, The Night Belongs to Monsters is another feature with a commentary around bullying. Even though we are given clues to their connection throughout the film does well to keep the mystery from fully enravelling until the finale.

Entertaining enough but not wholly compelling.

Happy Times

It’s quite difficult to describe the whacky and balls-to-the-wall Happy Times without spoiling some plot strands.

Think of this as the ultimate work dinner party gone wrong. I suppose you never really know your colleagues until you drink with them.

We get offbeat commentaries on anti-semitism, a wannabe Chuck Norris and potentially drug poisoning – and that’s just for starters.

Director Michael Mayer cleverly interweaves multiple plots in what becomes a fight for survival which is sidesplittingly funny at times.

One of the best off-kilter genre comedies of the year easily.

The Deep House review coming soon.

Look out for our coverage of the final day of Grimmfest 2021 tomorrow.

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