Friday 24 August 2018

FRIGHTFEST 2018 - DAY ONE: THE RANGER (2018), SUMMER OF 84 ( 2018), MEGATIME SQUAD (2018)

THE RANGER (2018)
Director: Jenn Wexler. With: Chloe Levine, Jeremy Holm, Granit Lahu, Jeremy Pope, Larry Fessenden. USA 2018. 77 mins. UK PREMIERE.

Set in an alternative - 'just to the left of reality' - '80's Dreamland' (director Jenn Wexler's own words), a group of punks selling drugs at a gig are caught on the hop by a police raid. In the ensuing escape a police officer is fatally wounded, forcing Chelsea (Chloe Levine) to reluctantly suggest the group hide out at her deceased uncle’s cabin in a nearby national park. Unfortunately there they run into a psycho park ranger (Jeremy Pope) - think an eco- MANIAC COP - who shares an ominous back story with Chelsea, and who doesn't take kindly to anyone breaking the national park's rules and regulations...

Wexler's debut feature boasts a finely nuanced central lead in Chloe Levin (THE TRANSFIGURATION). It is however let down by her supporting group of punks who are excruciatingly unlikeable and I for one couldn't wait for the ranger to evoke his extreme methods of park law enforcement with some (admirable) practical gore. Bonus points however for a bizarre but brilliantly effective use of Charlie Rich's 1973 song 'The Most Beautiful Girl' in the midst of a punchy punk soundtrack. Overall a predictable, slightly muted curtain-raiser on FrightFest 2018.
  
**1/2 (out of 5*)


SUMMER OF 84 (2018)
Directors: Fran├žois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell. With: Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Gruter-Andrew, Tiera Skovbye. Canada 2018. 105 mins.EUROPEAN PREMIERE.

The trio behind the quirky retro surprise hit TURBO KID offer up more retro goodies with this STRANGER THINGS meets STAND BY ME 80's trip. However, beware, for lurking at the end of this sweet and thoroughly engaging sugar coated nostalgic suburban BMX ride is a dark heart which caught this reviewer by complete surprise and left him somewhat devastated as the end credits rolled.  

Davey (Graham Verchere - excellent) thinks his police officer neighbour Mr. Mackey is the  serial killer known as the Cape May Slayer. Eventually enlisting his three sceptical friends, Davey starts to investigate Mackey, placing him under walkie-talkie surveillance. There's a vibe not unlike Joe Dante's THE BURBS about this one, is the (admittedly) suspicious neighbour really a serial killer? It's a beautifully played piece with IT-like banter between the 4 young teens (and the hot blonde neighbour Nikki (Tiera Skovbye)  - the object of their affections - refreshingly scripted with a poignancy of her own. The is he or isn't he narrative generates a well-earned gently incremental build up of suspense, the pay-off for creating likable characters we are encouraged to emotional invest in. All of which is accompanied by a terrifically evocative synth score that almost had my 80's-tuned ears drooling (that sounds a bit disgusting I know - but it's meant to read like a compliment)  And then comes that kicker of a finale which is a hammer blow to the heart. Left me both shaken and stirred. It's only the 2nd film of FrightFest 2018 but I'll already be surprised if I like any of the other films more.  
*****(out of 5*)

MEGA TIME SQUAD (2018)
Director: Tim van Dammen. With: Anton Tennet, Jonny Brugh, Milo Cawthorne, Josh McKenzie, Yoson An. New Zealand 2018. 81 mins. EUROPEAN PREMIERE 

A Kiwi TWIN TOWN (1997) with time-travel thrown into the pot. A petty criminal from a small town (Thames) in New Zealand steals an ancient Chinese time-travel bracelet that he hopes will helps him pull off a previously bungled heist and start a new life with the sister of the local crime lord. But messing with time has consequences, as well as creating multiple versions of himself, there's also the not so small matter of an ancient demon being summoned.   
This rude, crude and giggly quirky BACK TO THE FUTURE send-up derives much of it's humour from the mundane way the characters react when faced with something as extraordinary as teleportation time-travel. A running gag about a misaligned rifle hits the target several times, and the occasional but generous splatter is used effectively. A nicely amusing, entertaining and untaxing way to end day one of FrightFest. 
***(out of 5*) 

Paul Worts

Saturday 11 August 2018

IT LIVES (AKA TWENTY TWENTY-FOUR) 2016


Directed by: Richard Mundy, Starring: Andrew Kinsler.Sci-Fi/horror, UK 2016, 88mins, Cert 15.

“But you are not alone”.

In the year 2024, the doomsday clock is mere seconds from midnight. In response, multinational conglomerates create twelve secret underground bunkers to be inhabited by a carefully selected group known as ‘Priority One’ once the nukes start flying. Each bunker is maintained by a lone scientist known as an ‘Undertaker’. Roy (Andrew Kinsler) is one such caretaker of subterranean bunker ‘Plethura’. His only companion is a (non-vocalised) HAL-9000ish computer named ‘Arthur’ who tries to cheer him up with screen messages such as, “Would you like a hug Roy?” Then the bunker seals itself in an apparent reaction to nuclear fallout up above. Roy’s sanity is put to the ultimate test as he questions the reality of his situation, and the feeling that he is not alone down there...

Writer/director/producer/editor/production designer Richard Mundy’s 2016 debut feature, aka TWENTY TWENTY-FOUR, plays like an incredibly drawn out pre-opening credit sequence from an episode of ‘Doctor Who’. Unfortunately, at no point does Peter Capaldi burst through the hatch to explain what is actually going on.

Echoes of Duncan Jones’ MOON (2009) reverberate through the sterile underground sets in this micro-budgeted exercise in claustrophobia. Visually, the thrifty production design, lighting and cinematography admirably manage to squeeze every last drop of atmosphere and tension they can muster – even if those corridors look at times to be far too flimsy to withstand a nuclear holocaust. And I did like the motion tracking computer graphics consisting of 2 white dots careening around a maze as if about to be swallowed up by Pac-Man.

Andrew Kinsler essays the increasingly paranoid scientist ‘Roy’ with a fully committed performance. It’s not however a sympathetic or particularly convincing role. He’s not helped by having to deliver some pretty stilted dialogue whilst being gifted with nothing to do as a supposed scientist except vigorously pump leavers up and down.

Director Mundy works hard to achieve a creeping sense of dread and for a time it kind of works. However, this was accompanied incrementally by my own increasing sense of dread that the film was heading towards a thoroughly underwhelming climax. My fears proved justified. IT LIVES doesn’t live up to its initial promise and ends up hermetically sealing itself in.

**(out of 5*)

Paul Worts

This review was first published by FrightFest.