James Pemberton

About James Pemberton

James has been a horror fan ever since he was 6 when he used to watch hammer horror films on late night tv. He is currently living and working in Manchester, occasionally gets work on helping out with short films and music videos, and in his other spare time like to go to heavy metal gigs, cinema and horror film festivals and has attended Frightfest in London 3 years in a row, as well as Frightfest Glasgow, and Grimm up North festival. He is planning on trying to get to either Fantasia in Montreal or Sitges in Spain, some point in his life!

Grimmfest Friday 7th October 2016 – Review

GRIMMFEST 2016- Friday 7th October – AN Overview by James Pemberton

unseenTHE UNSEEN (Dir- Geoff Redknapp, Canada, 2016)

The first full day of films kick off with a screening of this interesting sci fi tinged horror film about a former hockey player Bob Langmore (Aden Young) who etches a living as a mill worker in a snow covered small Canadian town. Langmore however is suffering from a genetic disorder which was passed down by his dad and is rendering his body invisible. He wants to re-connect with his daughter before he fully disappears and along the way agrees to deliver a package for a local drug dealer. This puts him in the cross-hairs of many various criminal types as well as placing him on the hunt for his daughter when she goes missing. Redknapp is known more for his work as an effects guy on various big budget films, most recently this years DEADPOOL and the sense of visual effects is present especially in Bob’s increasingly invisibility which is superbly staged and often visually gruesome in parts but impressive none the less.

Combining a character study of broken blue collar lives along with supernatural sci-fi elements, a kidnapping plot and other sub plots the film does seem to try and cram a lot into its 104 minute running time and could do without some of the various tangents that at times seem rushed and unfulfilled. Yet it has a strong gritty style and essentially its an update of the Invisible Man story but set in the broken lives of a working class small town and even then its invisibility themes reflect Langmore’s decision to leave and isolate himself from his family and besides his job confine him to almost non-existence. The relationship between Langmore and his daughter is a central focus for the film and is one of its strong impressive traits, to a point that it could be retitled THE INVISIBLE DAD, though that would make it sound like a bad 80’s family comedy. A solid debut from Redknapp and a good start for the day.

7.5/10

SHORT FILM SHOWCASE

williebinghamNaturally there’s a chance to catch some impressive shorts and the showcase certainly has an interesting line up especially as one being screened, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF WILLIE BINGHAM, I already caught at this years Dead By Dawn and is even better on a second viewing (my review for it is here- http://www.ukhorrorscene.com/tag/the-disappearance-of-willie-bingham-review/). Other film in the showcase include HADA- A decently made if somewhat predictable shocker which relies too much on jump shocks and effects that are pretty predictable (3/10). QUENOTTES (PEARLIES) is a superb dark tale of a mouse who is the tooth fairy of your childhood who bought you your first coin, however the mouse in this tale is a more darker rodent who is obsessed about maintaining his collection of teeth. A Darkly comic and impressive adult fairytale (7/10).

ADAM PEIPER- Didn’t really know what to think of this, but from what is shown the director seems more interested in the visual style rather than the story which is something involving a man stuck in a repetitive dull job in a controlling 1984-esque society, possibly? (3/10). UNDER THE APPLE TREE- A nicely staged animation showing how its the worms who control the undead, impressive despite finding the overall narrative rhyming tone slightly annoying. (7/10).

LITTLE BOY BLUE- The final film in the showcase is a stylish and impressively staged adult fairy tale (yep, that term again) which manages to combine themes of child abuse, gender identity and repressed desires as well as throwing in a castration as well, both animal and human. It’s style does somehow slow the film down in parts but there’s no denying that the visual aesthetic of the short is strong and impressive and somehow part of me felt this could have even translated better as a full length feature. Still an impressive and pretty dark short film that handles tricky and disturbing material very well without descending into exploitation or shock tactics (7.5/10).

I didn’t watch the next feature WHAT WE BECOME as again I saw it at Dead By Dawn, but recommend it as its a decently made if slightly predictable zombie feature, so I had a break and caught a chance to see daylight before the main 3 evening features.

mfdMY FATHER DIE (Dir- Sean Brosnan, USA, 2016)

Continuing the theme of Southern Gothic set out by the previous nights feature LET ME MAKE YOU A MARTYR, comes this revenge themed noir thriller directed by the son of Pierce Brosnan. Since the age of 12 Asher has been deaf as he had his hearing knocked out by his dad who the same time killed his older brother in a drunken rage. Asher has been waiting and training for his dad’s release and to take his revenge. Though the revenge is not going to be easy and finds Asher on a collision course with his brutish and psychotic father. Stylish in parts to the point that almost relishes the drab and bleak lives of those living in poverty in the Southern USA bible belt, to a stage that I felt it was almost bordering on almost poverty porn, white trash obsession that Rob Zombie would be proud of.

The film’s visual style, straight up brutal nature and violence crossed with biblical references hold the film together and make the prevailing confrontation and mass of destruction caused by Asher’s father in his trail of his son a thunderous tour de force. The performance of Asher by Joe Anderson is handled well spending most of the film communicating in sign language and only having the neat twist of his 12 year old voice narrating the dialogue. However as his father Ivan, Gary Stretch, portrays one of the meanest and nastiest villains. A character who is perfectly described as prehistoric by one of the Sheriffs investigating his latest crime. There are some scenes that could be cut down to tighten up the pacing and one scene that seems entirely gratuitous and unnecessary as it only furthers to portray Ivan’s nasty character which we have already witnessed numerous times. Though its a confident first feature from Brosnan with a dark theme of southern Gothic tinged biblical revenge.

7/10

directorscutDIRECTORS CUT (Dir- Adam Rifkin, USA, 2016)

Herbert Blount (Penn Jillette) presents his directors cut of a film he has hijacked from original director Adam Rifkin. However Blount’s version seems to be focused more on it’s lead actress Missi Pyle, who the budding director is very much obsessed with to the point of casting her against her will in his own version of Rifkin’s film, especially since Herbert helped put money towards the film’s crowd funding it only seems fair he can make his own version, right? At first I had the impression that this film might not work as it starts with Blount making observations on the production of the film over the soundtrack and could easily run out of steam after a half hour.

Yet once it kicks into gear the film takes a decidedly dark and comic twist with Blount’s obsession with the Pyle and his insistence of re-shooting certain scenes from the film using some crap and unconvincing visual effects. Both brilliantly twisted and funny and with a clever execution in its depiction of two films being made simultaneously, its also has interesting depictions of film-making process especially in the age of digital cameras. DIRECTOR’S CUT manages to become even funnier the further it progresses as we are witness to one man’s crappy almost stalker obsessed version of a crappy serial killer thriller and as the lead and our narrator Jillette is fantastic as the unhinged and terrible Blount, whose scuppers a scene in a brief cameo where he messes up the delivery of the one line he is given, in one of the many laugh out loud moments. It might not be to everyone’s taste and some may find it a little over reaching for its own good, but those with a dark sense of humour and interest in film-making will love this twisted and inspired film.

8.5/10

ttbgfTRAIN TO BUSAN (Dir- Sang-ho Yuen, SOUTH KOREA, 2016)

Sok-Woo (Yoo Gong) and his daughter Soo-ahn (Soo-an Kim) are boarding a train to go from Seoul to Busan. However at the same time there seems to be outbreaks of random unexplained attacks happening in the city and before the train sets off a person who doesn’t look too well sneaks aboard. Once a conductor is attacked by the infected passenger its not long before it spreads to the other passengers, and our characters and a few other remaining passengers face a battle of survival against the undead. Much hyped since its premiere in Cannes, TRAIN TO BUSAN has been receiving rave reviews at its numerous festival appearances and its not hard to see why. It’s a fantastic big budget piece that contains numerous stunning set pieces, characters that you root for and hope survive and scenes of high emotion that play well and never feels sentimental especially in the films conclusion.

It manages to take a worn out simple premise of zombies on a train and breath new life into its rotten corpse and produces a highly enjoyable and thrilling 2 hours that places characters in a tight and isolated situation where the undead stand only one carriage away. It should be seen at the cinema and here’s hoping it gets a wider release as the 2 hours of this film produces more entertainment and excitement than many recent American made blockbusters. See it before the inevitable Hollywood re-imaging and the British re-make which will be no doubt be set on a rail replacement bus.

9/10

Grimmfest 2016 – Thursday 6th October reviewed

gf2016GRIMMFEST 2016- THURSDAY 6TH OCTOBER

Now in its 7th year, GRIMMFEST is slowly making pace in becoming one of the highlights of the horror festival calender. Admittedly its Frightfest that will always have the big pull, and some of the films screened in London are on show here, but at the same time GRIMM offer a chance to catch a nice and in the case of this years line up, strong selection of films and without the chance of missing some nice finds that would otherwise be on in other screens at the same time.

It’s also the third time its taking place at the Odeon after making a move away from the Dancehouse theatre and whilst the true horror might lie in the rowdy bars and clubs spewing out over dressed drunk punters, in the cinemas base in the Printworks (particularly on this weekend which saw a UFC bout at the Manchester Arena and a rugby final at Old Trafford) its comforting to be inside surrounded by like minded genre fans wanting to take in three and a half days of features and shorts. So begins my first of day by day run downs of the festival.

Opening night-

lmmyamgfLET ME MAKE YOU A MARTYR (Dirs- Corey Asraf & John Swab, USA, 2016)

An interesting and curious start to the festival with this Southern Gothic tinged revenge thriller about a man who crosses paths with various underworld degenerates and drug dealers including his adopted crime boss father, a priest with a secret, his junkie girlfriend and a missing little girl. It felt at first that the film was going down a more crime thriller based root, giving the impression that it was an interesting almost non-horror choice to begin a horror film festival.

However towards the end we start to see the genre specific elements close in and whilst it is a brave choice to start with, part of me was a bit confused as to what was going on and the numerous plot developments and character actions that occur throughout. It does seem muddled in the sense of cramming too much in, though it does have a strong visual style and grit and dirt looking sets that almost highlight the dusty, unbalanced nature of the surroundings and the characters state of mind.

Performance-wise its good to see former SONS OF ANARCHY stars, Niko Nicotera and Mark Boone Jr, in interesting central roles and also a surprisingly good turn from Marilyn Manson as a cynical reclusive hit man. An interesting if flawed start.

5.5/10

brokenBROKEN (Dir- Shaun Robert Smith, UK, 2016)

A young French women, Evie, (Morjana Alaoui) cares for a bitter former rock star, John (Mel Raido), who has become a tetraplegic after an accident. Evie is running from some past trouble in her home country while John seems to loath his current state and still hangs around with the former band mates who give him as much booze and drugs as he wants, particularly the threatening Dougie (Craig Conway). Yet Evie has some psychological problems as well and whilst she is initially caring for her patient, the stress of John’s bitter and sometimes abusive nature and the company he keeps, get to her and stirs up painful memories.

Mostly a two hander and a well played one to boot, BROKEN is a psychological horror that whilst being a strong piece also has some flaws. The character of John, whilst being well played by Raido is at times almost too hard to have any sympathy for, admittedly he try’s to project some sense of compassion in one scene that sees both characters bring up a confessional conversation, he still though soon slips into his old partying habits and again we get more scenes of partying that could be done without and the obvious sign post is dropped in that will make you predict how this film is going to end making the initial final climax not too surprising and in a certain cynical kind of way, pretty satisfying.

The two performances save it and Alaoui is very good in her portrayal of Evie and there is also good support from Conway as the slimy and nasty Dougie. It also deserves credit for portraying the tasks and difficult demands faced by carers and their patients and it doesn’t hold back on its honest depiction. Flawed in parts but a very strong piece that has two confident central performances and slow burning gradually dark portrayal of two changed and broken characters.

6.5/10

anotherevilANOTHER EVIL (Dir- Carson D Mell, USA, 2016)

Dan (Steve Zissis) is a successful painter who one night at his vacation home sees a ghost. He is recommended by his agent of a ghost hunter, Os (Mark Proskch) who at first seems friendly enough and considers ghosts enemies to be feared. However the equipment he uses seems pretty handmade and phoney and Os seems to start to consider Dan his friend to the point that he is obsessive and starts making excuses to stay and continue his ghost hunt and his mask starts to slowly slip revealing a more balanced and disturbed character that puts Dan and his family in danger.

What starts off as a supernatural horror with a decent start and effective opening jump scare soon becomes an unsettling dark comedy as Os becomes more and more unhinged. Director Mell throws in some decent scares however as the film progresses it’s Os and his mental state and Dan’s seemingly impossible and never ending task of getting rid of him that takes centre stage. It contains moments that make it a cringe worthy comedy and soon it starts to drift into darker nature which at times seem a bit jarring especially in the final scenes and impressions led me to believe that this could end up drifting into darker horror territory.

Though as a directorial début Mell has managed to make a smart horror comedy combining social awkwardness, supernatural elements and character study of a ghost hunter who seems to be doing no wrong yet has a seriously unbalanced personality possibly brought on by outside influences and his own personal life. Put it simply the first three films that have opened the festival certainly had one theme and that’s the theme of damaged individuals and the effect they have on those around them.

7/10

31 (2016) Review

31-131 (2016)

Dir – Rob Zombie

Starring- Sheri Moon Zombie, Richard Brake, Malcolm McDowell, Jeff Daniel Philips, Meg Foster, Laurence Hilton Jacobs

In Cinemas Now!

Rob Zombie has certainly made an interesting output in his work in the horror genre. Starting with HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES which was almost maybe too self referential and highlighted his obsession with white trash low life characters. This would further appear in his best film THE DEVILS REJECTS a particularly brutal western-like exploitation film which further extended the characters featured in CORPSES. However he took a misstep in his directing output with the HALLOWEEN re-makes, particularly the god awful HALLOWEEN 2 and his last film THE LORDS OF SALEM divided many critics, though I feel it was an excellent return to form and despite some flaws showed that Zombie had matured in some respects as a director and showed he could handle more narrative and atmospheric based horror that didn’t have to rely on shock and gore so to speak. Now we come to 31 his latest entry and it seems like Zombie is going back to some of the trademarks that set him up in CORPSES and DEVILS REJECTS that of backwoods locations and white trash low life characters meeting even more truly trashy and nastier characters.

31-3Set in 1976 on Halloween, the film follows carnival workers (Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Philips, Meg Foster, Laurence Hilton Jacobs) who while travelling onto their next job are captured and find themselves chained up in an abandoned location. They are then forced into a game, organised or rather hosted by Malcolm McDowell where they have to survive 10 hours against a varied group of psychotic killers in clown make up including a Nazi dwarf, two chainsaw wielding brothers and an articulate and nasty character played by Richard Brake. Its simple set up that runs fast and bloody and isn’t considered with being an in depth study of the human condition and man’s inhumanity to man. Rather it’s a straightforward game of death or as a friend who saw this at Frightfest put it, its THE RUNNING MAN meets HOUSE OF A 1000 CORPSES.

31-4After the mostly subdued more unsettling style of his previous film LORDS OF SALEM, Zombie has returned to the style of his earlier work. He lets it go full tilt to the max with blood and gore and foul mouthed almost deliberately designed to cause offence dialogue that ain’t subtle on any level. He has come back to what he knows best and that’s a grindhouse style gory horror with sleazy white trash characters, upping the shock factor and even throwing in a Nazi dwarf for good measure to tick that politically incorrect box. A showman he definitely is, particularly if you have seen him live with his band and this is reflected in his films. He knows how to deliver the goods, the meat and the spectacle to a point that this film had to be submitted to the MPAA a few times with various cuts requested to the gore to avoid the dreaded NC-17 and get the all important R rating. He orchestrates the action well and its not long before it introduces the travelling carnival workers, dispensing of the lesser known ones in the group and goes into focusing on the remaining members and their forced battle against some vicious opponents.

31-5As well as THE RUNNING MAN I was also reminded of the controversial PlayStation game MANHUNT as it too had you as a character traversing various characters intent on smashing your skull in or killing you in an brutal manner and like a computer game 31 almost has that feel of the characters going up every level and facing tougher opponents until they finally come to the big boss which in this case is Richard Brake’s Doom Head. Much has been said of Brake’s performance and its deserving of credit. Brake is an actor who has been mainly in smaller supporting roles usually playing creeps and one of those faces who you will have noticed from something you’ve seen before usually big budget (he played the killer of Bruce Wayne’s parents in BATMAN BEGINS for trivia nerds out there). Though here Zombie allows him to excel as Doom Head, a nasty, almost misogynistic piece of work who is called in by those in charge of the game as the final opponent who can bring an end to the competitors.

31-6The film is not without his flaws though and that lies mainly in some of the use of shaky camerawork during the fight sequences that when utilised can be irritating and make it impossible in parts to see what is going on. Its also not hard to see how this film will be as divisive as some of Zombie’s other flicks and will fall under those who hate it and those who like it or think its not bad at least. Suffice to say I kind of fall under the latter camp as It is entertaining enough, fast paced, relentlessly nasty to hold your attention and blessed with some excellent production and character design and on top of that he has also arranged another excellent soundtrack to accompany the action.

But like much of Zombie’s films there are flaws that can be ironed out and parts which can be taken out and a certain sense of over indulgence in some of the early scenes. Though its fair to say that he has managed to make a straightforward and simple fight to the death story that is very much his version of THE RUNNING MAN and sometimes a film does what it does well by keeping it simple.

6.5/10

Blair Witch (2016) Review

blairwitch1BLAIR WITCH (2016)

Dir- Adam Wingard

Starring- James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott, Corbon Reid, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry

In UK Cinemas NOW!

It was not long ago that Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett had been linked to a film called THE WOODS, and what seemed like a project mysteriously under wraps was soon to be revealed by distributor Lionsgate as a sequel to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT at this years San Diego Comic Con in July, and given a new title, BLAIR WITCH, to raise the hype and publicity levels to a new high for horror fans. Here now and forthcoming was a sequel to one of the most famous low budget horror films of all time, and one that might banish the memory of BLAIR WITCH 2: BOOK OF SHADOWS from 2000, which was seen as a rushed misstep thanks to the studios decision to butcher and force re-shoots to Joe Berlinger’s original idea (read up on the history of this sequel and you will be wanting a directors version to be released now!).

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was a phenomenon. Even after seeing it at the cinema when it came out, I didn’t find it all that scary, yet did find the premise and atmosphere creepy throughout, mainly the scenes where the camera wasn’t being thrown around and causing motion sickness. We were watching a film here that was drawing huge audiences yet looked low quality, very low quality on the big screen towards the end of the 90’s. Yet for a film made on a budget of around $20,000 and with a studio backing that utilised the internet for marketing the picture and creating a back story around the legend of the Blair Witch, there is no doubting that BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was a game changer both in marketing and low budget film-making.

blairwitch2Fast forward 17 years later and we have had a glut of found footage films in the horror genre, some great and some well, shit. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and its numerous sequels have also been huge hits and have utilised the found footage method to create a hugely successful franchise, that BLAIR WITCH PROJECT used 10 years prior to it. So how does a sequel to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT fair in the current genre cinema climate?

The plot focuses on James (McCune) the younger brother of Heather, one of the film-makers from the first picture who vanished. James has seen footage uploaded on you tube from a tape which was found in the Black Hills Forest, shot in the house that Heather ended up in at the end of the first film. James is convinced that she is still alive somehow and along with a friend, Lisa (Hernandez) who is a film-maker and is using this trek to document James’s quest to find his sister, venture into the forest, accompanied by James’s best friend Peter (Scott) and his girlfriend Reid (Reid). Packed with hi-tech cameras that look like those hands free phone things you attach to your ear, GPS equipment and also a drone cam they meet up with local residents Lane (Robinson) and Talia (Curry) who are going to be their guides in venturing into the woods, though at the same time might seem also out of depth and unsure of what they are getting themselves and their hosts into. Naturally camping on the first night brings out all host of weird noises and sounds outside the tents, leading to more confusion among the group, in-fighting and eventually splitting up and getting lost and landing our characters deeper and deeper into the trap of the Blair Witch that becomes all too real.

blairwitch3So as mentioned before how does this film fair after such a long absence between this and the first one? Well not that well overall and the problem lies in its execution in that as I also mentioned previously we have had such an increase of found footage flicks that for all its intents and purposes, BLAIR WITCH just ends up being another standard found footage film and if you have seen enough of that already then I would best recommend you avoid this, unless you are a masochist of some sort. Not all of it is bad. The pacing and build up into the first night is well crafted and when the noises in the forest start to happen and the action kicks in this is also approached well and engrosses the audience enough to wait or anticipate the next jump or sound to startle them.

Admittedly Wingard gets the disturbances kicking off at a quicker pace than some other found footage films, and despite it including the now appropriate group arguing and shouting at each other level acting which is grating at best, the films final part does have some neat angles such as the loss of time and constant darkness that falls upon the remaining survivors and the initial final scenes in the house are well handled including a scene in a tunnel that will definitely make those with claustrophobia squirm in their seats and also recalled the UK found footage film THE BORDERLANDS. Though even these final scenes have to end up bringing in brief shots of what might be the Blair Witch herself that recalls some of the creepy looking demons featured in GRAVE ENCOUNTERS. Much of the film does follow a standard sequel template in showing more, heightening the action and even throwing a bit of blood letting which is all well and good for follow up films but like any sequel it has more money thrown at it than anything else and with more of the same and more victims etc.

blairwitch4It also seems all too little too late and ends up being just a fancy re-tread of the original with better camera equipment and more effects. The first film had an edge too it thanks in part to it being filmed in 16mm and video and when it was released at the cinemas it stood out as a something that even though it looked amateurish had its audience gripped in that they where watching something real and deeply unsettling, that did not look staged. Whilst now everyone has access to fantastic digital camera equipment and can easily pop out into the park and film their own version of BLAIR WITCH at night.

Wingard and Barrett should be commended for at least taking on the duties of crafting a sequel of such importance and one that has arrived after such a lengthy gap and with an abundance of hype. Though it feels like their talents could have been put to better use in approaching the film in a more straightforward and original direction as they have shown themselves already with YOUR’E NEXT and THE GUEST that they have the skills to handle genre material well. For a younger audience who have not seen the original this might be a more exciting prospect and one to start with since it will no doubt kick the franchise into gear again. But for the more veteran genre viewers who were looking forward to this, its a case of the same old story followed by a feeling of deja vu from watching it, since its almost similar to many direct to home market found footage flicks.

blairwitch5Lets only hope that at least with renewed interest in the BLAIR WITCH we can finally see a directors version of BOOK OF SHADOWS 2.

Lionsgate if you are reading this, please take note!

4.5/10

“From deep space, the seed is planted.” A look at INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978)

iotbs1“From deep space, the seed is planted.” A look at INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978)

Director- Philip Kaufman

Starring- Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright

“We came here from a dying world. We drift through the universe, from planet to planet, pushed on by the solar winds. We adapt and we survive. The function of life is survival.”

Adapted from Jack Finney’s science fiction novel THE BODY SNATCHERS, Don Siegel’s 1956 INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS was a classic piece of paranoid science fiction, about a small town being taken over by an alien life form brought on from alien spores fallen from space that grow into large seed pods capable of replicating the human occupants of the town and making them devoid of all human emotion but still retaining there characteristics and memories. It was a film that had many critics lauding it as an anti McCarthy-ism piece (a reference to senator Joseph McCarthy and his house of Un-American activities senate hearings that sought out communist sympathisers in America) and even anti-communist, falling into that classic period of 50’s sci-fi that stoked paranoid fears of the red menace and aliens taking over small town America and leading a hostile take over of the USA from white lined picket fenced front garden suburbia. Your parents weren’t to be trusted and neither where your friends. A classic that has rightly earned its place as a masterpiece of genre cinema, earning a selection in 1994 into America’s National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

iotbs3As much as Siegel’s version deserves its praise for me its Kaufman’s 1978 remake, or to use the modern phrase, re-imagining that is the most effective and stunningly brilliant of the BODY SNATCHERS adaptations made, though I do highly recommend Abel Ferrera’s 1993 version entitled BODY SNATCHERS. Kaufman along with screenwriter WD Richter update the action to San Francisco and his central characters reflect various social and cultural aspects of this city with the central protagonist Matthew Bennell (Sutherland) a worker for a governmental health and food inspection agency, his colleague and possible love interest Elizabeth (Adams) whose husband is one of the first to show signs of the un-emotional body snatcher trait. Their friends who are the main supporting characters throughout the film are self help psychiatrist Dr David Kibner (Nimoy), a struggling writer Jack Bellicec (Goldblum) and his wife Nancy (Cartwright) who own a bathhouse. The plot follows the same pattern, with alien spores arriving from outer space in a fantastically constructed opening sequence that sets out the first stage of invasion, with the spores infecting plants in a public park. However the expanse of San Francisco adds a more grander tone than the small town of Siegel’s version and there is a certain irony in having the invasion in this liberal city.

What’s more ironic than aliens that feed off and take the characteristics of humans rendering them to look like human but not display any emotions, especially in a city as celebrated for being liberal and individually characteristic as San Francisco. W.D. Richter’s screenplay superbly builds up the tension in the first part of the film, adding different strands to start the unnerving aspect that something has changed in the characters loved ones. For instance its Elizabeth’s husband who seems to be the first to go and its this breakdown in his emotional state that lead Elizabeth with a possible reason to leave and go with the one man she seems to have a far better relationship with in the form of Matthew. Yet the irony in her husbands transformation is that Elizabeth brings home one of the plants that has been infected by alien spores. There are some excellent and creepy scenes that nicely pace the build up in tension throughout such as the bathhouse scene where Nancy suspects that something strange is going on with her clientele behind the changing curtains. Of course there is the initial first attempt on Matthew on his friends where they are nearly duplicated to turn into pod people and make there escape from a screaming hoard of strangers who have turned and police.

iotbs4This is a brilliant catalyst that sets off the second part of the film where Elizabeth and Matthew have to fake not having any emotions all the whilst wandering the now possibly pod people occupied streets of San Francisco and witnessing the extent of the invasion. The sense of desperation starts to set in this second half and despite the heroines best efforts it starts to seem futile and a lost cause with what they are up against, especially when Matthew sees pods being transported onto a ship to indicate that the invasion will spread over seas. This culminates in one of the best endings in any sci-fi film or any film, which I wont reveal here if you haven’t seen it (why have you not seen it?) but its an iconic image that will leave you disturbed with its ferocious loss of hope. Its bleak but in a way similar to the form of American cinema in the 70’s which took a darker more pessimistic view of society and portrayed the last gasp desperate attempt at the individual against an unstoppable form of control. Whereas Siegel’s film offered a form of hope in its characters retelling of the story, this version offers no easy way out and no chance of redemption.
As much as the 1956 film resembled or has been compared to being an anti communist film similar to other 50’s sci-fi of its type, Kaufman’s film could be read as an allegory of America at that late 70’s period. After the turbulent 60’s with its hippy movement that all but lost at the end of that decade, leading into the 70’s where Vietnam was tearing the country apart and causing casualty’s both at home and abroad, the latter part of the 70’s led into a mis-trust of the government, with the memory of crooked Richard Nixon and Watergate still fresh, many could not trust politicians and authority and with similar films such as THE CONVERSATION or THE PARRALAX VIEW, the on going feeling was that the system was out to get you and it would lie to you in any way and only you could trust you. INVASION… has an unnerving way of capturing that feeling in its portrayal of the loss of mistrust in one another and in authority and that any form of governance is watching you. That standing out from the crowd is a sign of not being normal and not staying in line and if you do this you will be caught and will be taught to remain docile, or as in this case turned into a shell of a what you once where. It’s also ironic that two years later we would enter the 80’s and the decade of excess consumerism, spending and conformity.

iotbs5Kaufman is helped by some superb effects work especially in the initial failed pod take over of Matthew and his friends which resemble a yucky re-birth. There is also superb cinematography by Michael Chapman (the genius behind TAXI DRIVER and RAGING BULL) which captures the eerie breakdown of San Francisco with a gritty atmosphere and the frantic chasing by the pod people with a nightmarish quality that makes you think and also feel that this would be the sort of mob you would run with your life and with every breath away from. There are many dark and beautifully shot moments throughout particularly the final scenes and the build up to the climactic image. Most of all Kaufman assembles a superb cast, who handle the material straight faced without branching into any theatrics or over the top methods that could have lessened the films impact and creating believable characters you emphasise with and root for. Sutherland is superb in the main role and shows why he was one of the most in demand actors at the time and he is supported by Cartwright (who went onto face more out of space beings in ALIEN the following year) and Adams who are brilliant in the two female roles.

Plus there’s also superb turns from Goldblum in an early role, and the late, great Leonard Nimoy, who wanted to escape from the shadow of Dr Spock, and does so in Dr Kibner who seems strangely inclined to be accepting of the pod people invasion and almost wills it on in some ways. Even Kibner, who is more of a self help guru is willing to console wives who believe their husbands are not their husbands any more adding a chilling possibility that Kibner even though he displays human characteristics at this point is almost part of a conspiracy and its possible is willingly one of the first to change when given the chance. There’s also nice cameo appearances from the 1956 films star Kevin McCarthy as a man who jumps onto Matthew’s car, shouting that “They’re coming, they’re coming!” echoing the original and from director Don Siegel as a cab driver who almost leads Matthew and Elizabeth to their doom. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is a fantastic film and deserves to belong in the catalogue of great 70’s cinema.

iotbs2A chilling and vivid, often nightmarish classic that is both thrilling and disturbing and could be regarded as one of the best remakes of all time.

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS screens this weekend in 35mm at AMC CINEMAS MANCHESTER at 8:50pm.

Queen of Earth (2015) DVD Review

qoe1QUEEN OF EARTH (2015)

Dir- Alex Ross Perry

Starring- Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston, Patrick Fugit, Kentucker Audley

Out Now on Dual Format Blu-ray & DVD from Eureka Entertainment as part of the Masters of Cinema Series

A stray into particularly non-horror territory for this review, though at UKHS we have taken on films that have decidedly not been classed as horror but still carry some similar and often strong connections to the genre and QUEEN OF EARTH is just that. A character driven piece of resentment, madness and grief superbly shot on 16mm, Alex Ross Perry’s film follows privileged and not so privileged characters and the inevitable confrontations between these two sets of people, that does not explode into violence but rather emotional violence and turmoil that leads to far darker consequences. Whereas his previous film, LISTEN UP PHILIP was more of a comedy drama, QUEEN OF EARTH is a lot more psychological and can be said, not that comedic in the slightest.

qoe3Opening with a shot of Catherine (Moss) crying with make up smudged across her face. She is being dumped by her boyfriend James (Audley) which is just adding to her woes and making much of her life miserable especially as her father has just passed away. She decides to go for a break to visit her friend, Virginia (Waterston) who is staying at her parents lakeside holiday home. After a break of a year since their meeting, where James co-incidentally tagged along, both friends have drifted apart and have no idea what has been happening in their lives. Catherine keeps being reminded of the previous holiday and along with her fathers recent death almost disconnects herself from Virginia and leads her to focus on the happier past times which is portrayed in flashbacks. This sets Virginia to start carrying a bit of resentment towards her friend part of which is due to her drama queen self resentment and part of which has been carried with Catherine’s previous relationship with James.

Matters are made worse when a neighbour who lives next door to Virginia Rich (Fugit) starts to become increasingly close to Catherine. Rich also displays contempt towards Catherine and her increasingly unhinged behaviour, which Virginia doesn’t really understand even though she still has a strong emphatic connection to her. It seems too late as Catherine’s erratic nature starts to unfold throughout the week and leads her to fall even closer to the demons of depression and madness.

qoe5Like I said before this is not a cheerful watch and however it is a very well made attempt to look into the breakdown of a character and the resentment and contempt that hides underneath people, whether they be long time friends or brief acquaintances, there’s a sharp look into the blunt and often nasty underside of human nature, the ugly side so to speak that hides away from view. It might be said that the breakdown of such horrible characters may not be a nice sounding or appealing idea on paper but thankfully through two brilliant central performances ends up being an interesting and often intense watch. Waterston is excellent as Virginia, a friend who is the only one allowed to be called ‘Ginny’ by Catherine, who leads a subtle performance that veers from contempt to often mournful sympathy towards her friend but at the same time realises she might be too late in finding any semblance of the Catherine she used to know. However, its Moss who is on form as Catherine veering from various scenes of mental and emotional breakdown and convincingly portraying her character without being overly showy or dramatic.

Is her characters breakdown and depression due to losing two men in her life, her father who passed on and her boyfriend who has left her leaving her with nothing when in many respects she already has everything? The best scene, which should become a future piece to use as a showcase of acting, is her bitter and spiteful monologue towards Rich, which starts with her saying “You fucking animal, you un-repentant piece of shit…” and carries on with a vicious spiel on what is wrong with people who make judgements of others.

qoe2Its a brutal and if slightly darkly comic speech of straight forward stark opinion which plays as a centrepiece to the films study of the dynamics of human relationships and silent contempt that people can have for one another. Perry’s film is paced in a well made break up of narrative between past and present which acts as fractured memory’s in Catherine’s psyche. He doesn’t let his film slip into melodrama, rather its played in a neat and even tempo that allows our central characters mind to slowly fall apart. This is enhanced by the intense handheld cinematography by Sean Price Williams, that intimately captures moments between characters as well as framing Catherine’s state of mind.

The scene where she is moving around in a house party encountering strangers is both uncomfortable and one of the films stark moments of visual horror. On watching Perry’s psychodrama there is certainly the influence of and many critics have rightly pointed out the work of Ingmar Bergman’s PERSONA and also Roman Polanski’s REPULSION, in which both films tackled female characters and psychological torment. Certainly added to that list would be Bergman’s HOUR OF THE WOLF, which tackled an artists descent into madness as he lives in isolation. If anything this further emphasises that Perry’s film even if it is set in the present feels like a piece of cinema that would have been made in the 70’s and has an entirely retro feel to it.

qoe4At times its slow burning and yes it does have some open ended moments that will frustrate the viewer and it will probably require another or maybe more viewings to untangle some of the films hidden meaning. Yet in retrospect Perry’s film is a brilliant piece of psychological character drama held by two stunning and convincing central performances that sheer with resentment, envy, sympathy and ultimately madness.

8/10

Death Walks (2016) Review

deathwalks1DEATH WALKS (2016)

Dir- Spencer Hawken

Starring- Lucinda Rhodes, Francesca Ciardi, Jessie Williams, Jon Guerriero, Jordan Grehs

For a zero budget film that has been made with a dedicated low budget spirit from the participation of a crew that would have been working for free, Spencer Hawken’s DEATH WALKS has surprisingly achieved some feat in managing to benefit from the use of a shopping centre and also casting CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST’s Francesca Ciardi in her first role (albeit pretty much a brief cameo) in 25 years. The location is the main area of action for the film and whilst I have got to give him credit for getting much of his sets and crew for free (a title card explains this at the start of the film) there are still certain parts of it that suffer from low budget cinema that is stifled from uneven pacing and wooden acting.

Set around bonfire night in Romford (already sounding a terrifying prospect in itself) the film focuses on a collection of characters who work at a shopping mall. Cleaners, security guards and other left over shop workers going about their business whilst the firework celebrations go on outside the mall. Whilst trying to get rid of the remaining stragglers, the security and mall manager encounter a strange Italian speaking women (Ciardi) writing symbols on the floor and warning the staff that evil is coming. It’s not long before even more weirder people start turning up displaying scarred facial marks. Then one of these strangers catches the eye of a security guard who realises its a girl (Williams) who has been missing and has been reported so in the local media. More of the strangers turn up and invade the local mall DAWN OF THE DEAD style, with the remaining staff and security having to figure out what’s going and how to escape.

deathwalks3When I mention DAWN OF THE DEAD, that is certainly the first thing that will spring to mind in any horror fans mind when watching DEATH WALKS. Hawken’s is knowingly wearing is horror credentials on his sleeve with the use of the mall as the primary setting and even having one of his characters carry around a DVD copy of ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS. But knowing winks in horror films and references are always welcome and will always be around, and it was going to be hard not to think of Romero’s film since its set in the vicinity of a shopping complex. Credit should be given to Hawken for managing to get the mall as a setting. Many low budget films struggle to get a setting of this size and sometimes an isolated/almost one area location is the choice and can either benefit or even hamper a production, not allowing the story to stretch out in some cases.

However DEATH WALKS has an entire shopping mall to use and Hawken’s uses it to its full advantage and manages to even throw in an urbex type of feel in exploring the unexplored and disused areas and the persistently winding corridors that are off to the general public. Yet even with the fantastic use of one location the film still struggles from flaws that hamper some low budget productions. The acting for instance is ropey and wooden at best. Some of the characters actions are also a bit contrived and often un-realistic. For instance why are there so many shop workers hanging around the mall after closing time, when clearly anyone knows if you have worked or work in retail, once your shift finishes you want to get the hell out of the place you work in. Also the inclusion of consistently horny shop manager who likes to shag her way through the staff, and well anyone she meets seems like bad or clumsy attempt at humour that doesn’t work.

deathwalks4The addition of a girl who seems to spend most of her time on screen walking around the corridors of the mall on her mobile phone explaining that she’s lost is also an unnecessary inclusion that could have been done without. Then there a few WTF (what the fuck, moments to use the modern/internet terminology) that leave you just feeling like that, in terms of WTF has just happened. For instance one of the security managers comes back and realises the mall is being overrun by these disfigured strangers (possible zombies?). Thinking his staff have buggered off and finds then useless anyway he calls up some friends/heavy’s to sort the mess out. I was thinking we would get a scene of some big bald looking blokes or wannabe gangsters in leather jackets who turn up to take on any job of breaking heads for a decent price. Instead we have 3 people turn up in camouflage outfits, looking like commandos with assault rifles.

Yet they are still outwitted by the disfigured mall invaders/zombies, somehow! Then there is the essential twist which I will give credit to Hawken for coming up with as I didn’t see it coming and that’s not the first twist, there is a second one, of course I will leave it for you to see and wont reveal it of course, as it will be interesting to see the reactions from those who see the film and how the twist will go down. It felt in all essence another WTF moment but again one I found slightly decent if again a bit sort of well how would that have happened and why would that have happened. So it might just leave viewers with a bit of head scratching once the credits role, or a sense of “fuck that, that was shite!”

deathwalks5Admittedly flawed in its execution and essentially suffering from some setbacks that can be persistent in many low budget genre films, I will still give credit to Hawken for achieving his picture on essentially no-budget, managing to get a cult star from one of the most infamous films in the Cannibal genre and essentially having at hand a giant set to use (just hope he mopped up the fake blood spilt on the shopping mall floor). Its not perfect and might draw some unintentional giggles, but you can admire that the cast and crew have put their effort into making this film.

4/10

Classroom 6 (2015) DVD Review

classroom1CLASSROOM 6 (USA/GERMANY/BRAZIL, 2015)

Dir- Jonas Odenheimer

Starring- Valentina Kolaric, Vince Major, Wesley Rice, Victor Manso

Out Now on UK DVD from LEFT Films

It’s hard and in many ways wrong for me to lambaste independent film-makers as I can understand and appreciate their effort into making a film, the time, the money, the limited amount of shooting time you can have in various locations and loss of actors who have to go away to get paid gigs elsewhere rather than give up their time for no money to help with an up and coming directors project. At the end of the day I’m a critic and I’m not the director maybe sometimes we can have our opinion but in the long scheme things it doesn’t matter cause we didn’t make it. That said when it came to watching CLASSROOM 6, a film I didn’t mind taking up the offer to review as its found footage and I don’t mind this sub genre (as explained in previous reviews of this type) I came away feeling, well bored and often frustrated with a film that seems steep in unoriginality and especially with some obvious blatant special/visual effects trickery that, er, doesn’t really work (we’ll get into that later).

classroom3Plot synopsis briefly- The film is a documentation of when a reporter, (Kolaric) leads her cameraman, freelance sound bloke, two unpaid film school helpers and a psychic into a school building, supposedly haunted and recently the location of the disappearance of a teacher and a pupil, who many at the school suspect were having an affair. Admittedly a title card states that this footage has been obtained by an undisclosed source. We get the usual talking head interviews, with pupils and staff, cameras recording stuff when it should be turned off and setting up the cameras before the night begins. Naturally after much fooling around, people arguing, strange noises being heard, the film kicks off into gear when the crew soon realise they are in over their heads and soon start to be picked off one at a time by the demons or spirits in the high school which could have been unleashed by the missing teacher and pupil performing some occult ceremony and opening a portal between this world and the other world.

classroom2CLASSROOM 6 follows that standard found footage scenario and this in lies the problem of the film. It doesn’t offer anything unique and is almost like a greatest hits of found footage films compilation. We have the bickering characters (the sound guy especially is the most miserable humourless dick of the lot), the initial running around filming everything with shaky cam vision, characters being taken away in mysterious circumstances by demonic entity’s and even a BLAIR WITCH style to-camera apology for our central characters decisions that have led her crew to have their careers cut short. Never mind the unoriginality of the plot, it’s the fact that there’s ideas in here that could be utilised and expanded upon, such as the portals, the missing teacher and pupil.

Material that could be drawn upon and not lead into “lets run around screaming and slowly wait to be taken out whilst filming it all of course” which is now so unoriginal in the genre that even fans of found footage must surely be bored of it. Even one of the film’s original release promotional material (thankfully not used on this DVD release) is almost a carbon copy of the posters for the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY series. Similar font and similar shot of CCTV picture from the film.

classroom4Yes budget is of course constrained on a small production, but something with a little bit of thinking, simple effective solutions could lend the film a bit more originality rather than what we have on offer here. It also commits the crime of giving away a special effect or visual effect and this is in one scene in particular where the magicians hand is revealed. When the token psychic is outside one of the classrooms where he suspects there are paranormal goings on a-happening, he has his trusty psychic detection tool at hand, a compass, yet we can clearly see a fishing wire attached to said compass that looks like its leading into the classroom. Then all of a sudden (shock!) the compass is snatched out of his hands by the supernatural forces/fishing wire. This is the sort of thing that can make a film seem laughable, just look at PLAN 9’s flying saucers on fishing wires effect (though that film is far better and more fun) and in the age of digital film-making and editing surely trying to hide the wire with some visual effect trickery would have disguised this faux pas.

classroom5Its a shame to see that even on the special features on this DVD there is short film from Odenheimer called THE INTERVIEW, which at 12 minutes is far more interesting and attention grabbing than the 72 minutes of the main feature. Odenheimer displays some confident direction in his short and learns to craft a brief and interesting story within the means of his budget. It’s just a shame that he didn’t apply this for CLASSROOM 6 and instead goes for the easy but entirely unoriginal found footage angle and the end result is nothing remarkable at all.

2/10

i-Lived (2015) DVD Review

ilived1i-Lived (2015)

Dir- Franck Khalfoun

Starring- Jeremiah Watkins, Nic D’Avirro, Jan Broberg, Sarah Power

UK DVD release July 1th 2016 – Second Sight

Apps are pretty much the commonplace standard available on smartphone and modern technology and whilst we already have mobile phones not working in isolated areas where characters are being stalked by someone or something in horror films it wasn’t long before the genre would utilise the app as a centrepiece for a characters misfortunes or in the case of I-LIVED both fortune and miss-fortune. Whilst it is both clever in using this motif and smartly attacking the control mobile phones have over our lives in general, Khalfoun has also managed to update a pretty much Faustian pact with the devil story told through the ages for the iPhone generation.

Internet video blogger Josh (Watkins) is down on his luck or in many respects hitting rock bottom. His girlfriend has left him, he has no job, his Mum (Broberg) is battling cancer whilst this also affects his Dad (D’Avirro) as well, and to top it off he is months behind his rent and dodging his landlords knocks at the front door. He make video blogs reviewing apps, some of which we see done in nice if often slightly irritating straight to camera you tube vids. He has the chance to review an app called iLived where it requires the user to set out a goal and upload videos of certain tasks he is told by the app to complete. Whilst dismissing it at first, on one night out in a bar the app tracks his location and tells him to take a picture of a girl who he likes the look of.

ilived2This puts him with Greta (Power) and soon its not long before he is dating her. Things start to turn up, his videos start to attain more subscribers, his mum is getting better and he is offered a nice job where he can get paid work for his video blogs. However, thinking that the change in luck is down to him and not the app, he decides to delete it from his phone, which is when things go back to the shit. He catches Greta with another man, the job offer is pulled, the landlord has put an eviction notice on the door and worst of all his mum’s cancer has come back. Taking heed that this might be due to the loss of the app he reinstates it on his mobile, yet this time the tasks he is given become far more sinister and force Josh to start questioning his own sanity and how far he will go to succeed as well as protect his own family.

Khalfoun has utilised a traditional story idea and matching it with new technology in the modern world. Much like last years UNFRIENDED (which I still think is better than many made it out to be) where much of the action took place on a laptop screen, we initially see Josh’s videos and are also treated to some clever utilisation of a CCTV app which allows Josh to see on his phone the video of cameras he’s placed around his house. Which naturally comes into play in the films latter parts where our characters paranoia and fear starts to affect him. However, unlike UNFRIENDED it does break away from focusing the action on the perspective of technology and instead breaks into normal narrative flick for most of its running time. Unfortunately as mentioned before whilst there is some slight nice attacks on the form of modern technology and mobile phones being such a benefit and adherence in our lives, this at times does not come out sharper than expected and it would make the film much stronger in form to have seen a fantastic chance to attack this very current and commonplace tool of our lives and how it holds us in its graps.

ilived4Yet it does play nicely or riffs in a slightly satirical manner in our central characters reliance on becoming an internet star or top video blogger. This is most clearly played out in Josh’s initial decision to get rid of the app results in a loss of subscribers to his channel. Though installing it back and being forced to commit more darker tasks starts to bring more subscribers back to him and the allure of fame and women, making Josh become almost like a will do anything for fame type of internet celebrity wannabe. This latter part of the film is also well orchestrated as we get a sense that as well as Josh sliding into more darker tasks, his sanity is also sliding away from him as the narrative starts to take breaks from structure, even using some first person perspective shots that Khalfoun used to brilliant effect in his fantastic MANIAC remake.

The let down in the film comes in the initial reveal of the company behind the app and its company address that almost works like a too obvious sign post (you’ll know when you see it), almost bringing to mind the name of Robert De Niro’s character, Louis Cyphre, from ANGEL HEART. Also read the title of this film backwards and you already have an idea of why I mentioned Faustian pact at the start of the review. The films conclusion is also flawed and is in need of much more playing out or expansion in explaining our central characters actions and without giving too much away, the reasons for his decision at the end of the film, which does provide a fantastic final shot. But sadly it seems like certain points in this film are flawed, rushed and missing out on an opportunity to do something better, stronger with the smart material on offer.

ilived3Credit should be given to Watkins who puts in a decent performance as Josh and delivers a likeable and believable dorky character who at the start you root for as he is in the shit and you want to see him come out on top, but by the end despite him growing in confidence becomes someone forced into a corner and one partly of his own naivety and greed. Despite some flaws and a messy rushed conclusion there is something still to like in I-LIVED and there is no doubt that Khalfoun has shown he is a confident genre director. There’s just part of me that feels that unlike MANIAC, he seems to have missed it by a slight, slight margin this time round and with maybe a tightening of script and direction there could have been an excellent film on hand here rather than the good one which is on offer. Lets hope he hits his stride in his next film, the long awaited and much delayed AMYTVILLE: THE AWAKENING.

6/10

The Neon Demon (2016) Review

neon1THE NEON DEMON (Dir- Nicolas Winding Refn, FRANCE/USA/DENMARK, 2016)

Starring- Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Karl Glusman

UK Cinema Release July 8th

After making a big impression with his 2011 ultra stylish violent crime thriller DRIVE (which also ushered in a resurgence of electronic synthesised film scores now pretty common in soundtracks) Nicolas Winding Refn could have probably had the pick of doing some bigger budget, probably more mainstream studio orientated films. But instead he hit Cannes two years after DRIVE with the ultra stylish and even more ultra violent surreal crime drama ONLY GOD FORGIVES. It would be amusing to think that anyone who went into this film expecting DRIVE mark 2 would be instead hit with something that contained brutal torture, a neon drenched Bangkok hell populated by ruthless drug dealers and even more ruthless Karaoke singing police captains. It divided audiences entirely and even had some booing at Cannes, a concept I find ridiculous. Booing a film? Its not WWE or pantomime, its a film! Again crowds at the French festival booed his latest flick THE NEON DEMON after its screening though there were some who praised it as well.

neon2But like his previous film, its going to be a dividing experience. Its interesting to note that in the screening I attended at HOME cinema in Manchester recently with Refn doing a Q and A he mentioned that he makes films that he likes and this might go some way to explain how he at once derives or frustrates expectations yet at the same time produces cinema that can be singularly interesting and original designed to confront and shock and with a nod to genre exploitation as well.

Set in the fashion world of Los Angeles, the film follows young hopeful Jesse (Fanning) who is desperate to enter the industry. She is on the lowest rung when we first see her, trying to find an agent and living in a scuzzy motel, ran by a lecherous manager (Reeves). She meets and flirts with aspiring photographer Dean (Glusman) who offers the only respite from her time in the city. At one shoot she also encounters professional make up artist Ruby (Malone) who brings her into a clique with two other supermodels Gigi (Heathcote) and Sarah (Lee) who offer bitchy remarks about the new member of the group. A meeting with an agent (Hendricks) who tells her to lie about her age and say that she’s 19, as 18 is a “bit too on the nose” (even though Jesse is actually 16) lands her a photo shoot. This soon leads to more jobs including a fashion show that eventually sets her on the course for fame in the industry. Yet her clique of friends have other ideas and slowly their true intentions and jealously starts to manifest itself in much more darker ways as they realise Jesse is on the up and up and they slowly start to fade away.

neon4This is the first time Refn has a film where his main characters are primarily women. However, despite their gender they are pitched as being just as ruthless and vicious as the male characters in his previous films. The supermodel clique are a bitchy trio who eye up Jesse and even the steely eyed Sarah comments that “Who wants sour milk when you can get fresh meat.” A statement that is both ironic in its intentions in the latter part of the movie and in the first part where the group look at Jesse and that its not just her youth that is attractive but something deeper and someone they more than crave to be or to take.

It’s only Ruby who seems to be the only sympathetic, big sister type member of the group who comforts and emphasises with her, yet this even hides her own sinister intentions. Jesse also transforms throughout the film with her naivety at the start slowly succumbing to be a more aggressive and confident character. The scene where she starts to enter a more adult predatory waters that sticks out is in a fashion shoot, where a sleazy almost threatening photographer propositions her to strip naked and cover her in body paint. She seems un-phased with the proposition despite the photographers elusive almost misogynistic male gaze and control over his subjects.

neon5But its her confidence and naivety that strike her further and further into this world and leads her into more darker regions where those in the industry figuratively and literally feed off her. Refn places the male characters in the background and for the few that do appear they seem almost predatory, such as the previously mentioned fashion photographer and Hank, the sleazy motel owner (an excellent against type turn from Reeves). Its only Jesse’s one time on/off fiancé, Dean, who seems to be the only decent almost sympathetic male in the film, yet even he seems almost weak and too innocent compared to the nature of the fashion industry and is eventually disowned by her in one scene which marks Jesse’s arrogance and eventual transformation.

Fanning is fantastic in the lead role and as is at the centre for most of the film going for broke in her performance that highlights her characters vulnerability, arrogance and naivety. The same can be said for Malone who is excellent as Ruby and appears in some scenes that certainly are eye opening and in casting the two models, Sarah and Gigi, Refn manages to elicit two very good support performances from Heathcote and Lee (who have been models themselves) as the couple of jealous cold as ice villains of the piece.

neon7Visually the film is beautiful, acting almost like a fashion shoot or commercial in parts, heavily focusing on models beauty and figure to an almost visually leering gaze. Combined with a hypnotic, viscerally neon drenched look that is both surreal in its execution to the point of making Los Angeles look almost unworldly. Refn loves to shoot strong visuals, highly stylised apartments with kooky designs that add to a distinctive European way of looking at the city of angels, maybe even a sly dig or attack on the City’s artificiality and the fashion industry itself? There are even visual moments of surreal horror, splendour and irony throughout most notably in a scene where a mountain lion sneaks into Jesse’s motel room, which acts as a slight reference to Jacques Tourner’s CAT PEOPLE both in its execution and in an ironic nod to that particular films story of jealous predatory females.

While its art house aesthetic is visually on show, thematically the film has a certain surreal horror quality that whilst not being entirely a straightforward genre film still contains tips of the hat to Giallo cinema, such as SUSPIRIA and other entry’s into genre and exploitation cinema and even some of the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky (who Refn dedicated ONLY GOD FORGIVES to). Even body horror could be cited as an influence if not directly but in the films critique of the obsession of the body and characters willing to devour beauty, gaze at it and objectify it for its own dark intentions.

neon3However it still comes out as being remarkably a Refn film in that he strikes beautiful visuals along with a surreal hypnotic quality throughout with a dash of some remarkably violent scenes and deliberately shocking scenes (lesbian necrophilia anyone?) to throw off and appal viewers sensibility’s and that certainly highlights the almost exploitation showman attitude that he displays. It wont appeal to many and most likely will frustrate many as well, and admittedly I will be seeing this again at some point as even after one viewing I came away still feeling like there is much on display here that might become clearer on a repeat viewing.

Yet at the same time as a piece of cinema THE NEON DEMON is both remarkable and original and confirms Refn as a director who most likely enjoys the noise and hype that develops around his films, but would not care what people think of them because as the man said, he makes films he likes.

9/10

THE NEON DEMON is out in cinemas on July 8th.