So it’s the start of Grimmfest 2014 and firstly it’s off to a new venue for the early day ‘fringe’ showings. Gorilla is a bar/venue on Whitworth Street West in Manchester and is where many might remember The Green Room and it was the first time I have been there. The bar is nice and open with a great range of beers (at city prices) and the screening room is just to the rear where they hold gigs. Much more positive than last years fringe venue with only a couple of minor issues with sound that was too much bass and a bit of reverb as it is built into a (still working) railway arch.
But can’t argue with it for a venue to watch a couple of films, but no more as we were sat on folding chairs and by the time the second film finished my arse was totally numb. But I waffle so on with the films.
Firstly I missed the first 2 films of the day The House at The End of Time and Truth or Dare but as I arrived at the venue it was good to see someone walking out of Truth or Dare saying “That is just too much for me” . That’s what Grimmfest fringe is all about, watching extreme, interesting and underground films on the big screen.
Julia is a brutal rape/revenge film. Following a horrific gang rape nurse Julia Shames (Ashley Williams) is introduced to a new radical form of therapy which sees her attempt to rebuild her life through fighting back and empowering her. Julia is told however that she must not seek out those who abused her , this however could be difficult as she encounters one of her attackers at her place of work leading to thoughts of revenge.
Beautifully shot, Julia harks back to 1970s exploitation thrillers and think of MS.45 and I Spit On Your Grave. A wonderful performance from Ashley Williams is sadly overshadowed by a clunky script , one dimensional characters and an awful ending. A visually stunning film that lacks any substance which is a real shame and you can clearly see director Matthew A Brown is a huge talent. 6/10
The Well is the feature directorial debut for Thomas S Hammock, who is better known as production designer for films such as The Guest, You’re Next, All The Boys Love Many Lane and many more. The Well is a post-apocalyptic western where water has become everything and rain is a thing of the past. Kendal (Richardson) is living in an abandoned farmhouse with her gravely ill friend Dean. A greedy water baron starts to ‘evict’ farm tenants one at a time in a brutal manner but Kendal is intent on fending of the brutal thugs.
Hailey Lu Richardson is superb as 17 year-old Kendal and the barren landscapes and harsh environment add to a truly stark and bleak story of survival. But the story just cannot justify the 95 minutes run time and is painfully slow in places. It is all very well having a beautifully shot feature , but when it plods at a snails pace you start to lose empathy with the main characters and their situation. Again you can see the talent from Hammock , he just needs the right, well paced vehicle. 6/10
From Gorilla it was on to Grimmfest’s home for the last 4 years The Dancehouse on Oxford Road in Manchester. A stunning art-deco dance school that is a wonderful (if at times frustrating) venue for a film festival.
The Herd is from director Melanie Light, and by god it packs a punch. A group of women are locked in cells in a squalid outbuilding. They are being kept and artificially inseminated to keep them in a perpetual state of pregnancy for the sole reason of harvesting their milk. The place is run by an evil ‘nurse’ (McIntosh) and overseen by two incredibly brutal male guards (Barnes & Campling).
An in your face confrontational film that places females in the role of dairy cows and revokes the most basic human rights one would allow the most vile war criminal. Dark, disturbing and as hard hitting as a heavyweight , The Herd will have you thinking long after the most heart-breaking end credits have finished. Melanie Light wanted to get across a message and she certainly did that . 9/10
The big film of the night was Let Us Prey, a UK big screen film starring Game of Thrones heavyweight Liam Cunningham.
New police officer Rachel Heggie is on her first night shift at an old run-down Scottish police station. On her way to work she witnesses a young boy racer hit a mysterious man (Cunningham) who was stood in the middle of the road. She rushes over to find the man has disappeared but the windscreen is smashed and there is blood splattered on the headlights. She arrests the young lad and enters the station for her first shift with him in tow.
Thus begins a night of strange and increasingly violent events as more of the locals are arrested and locked up in the station for various hideous crimes, including Cunningham himself. But why is he there and what are his motives? An old good vs evil tale with an Assault on Precinct 13 twist.
Sadly Let Us Prey was a real let down, it was disjointed, the script lacked any direction and the story grew more laughable and predictable as the film progressed. I adore religion in my horror but this was just not for me at all. Liam Cunningham broods , Pollyanna McIntosh kicks ass and I sat tapping my feet waiting for the end credits. I so wanted to like this (and it has been getting rave reviews, so maybe it is just me?)as it is a UK horror with UK actors but all it ended up as was bad horror by numbers. 3/10
So onto the last film of the evening and a complete change of pace with Suburban Gothic. Director Richard Bates Jr has a lot to follow his directorial debut Excision, and he has gone for it big style.
Suburban Gothic sees Raymond (Gubler) return to live with his parents after gaining a business degree but failing to find employment, he has a quick wit, a quicker tongue and a flamboyant dress sense. His mother is overbearing, his father (Wise) is a college football coach and finds Raymond a huge disappointment , so Raymond hooks up with his old school friend Becca (Dennings) . But some Mexican landscapers discover a girls body buried in his parents garden and Raymond believes the house is now haunted and his life takes a series of twists.
A fantastic look a surburban American life, a dark and satirical story that is just hilarious. This will definitely split horror fans, those looking for action, blood or gore will be disappointed but those looking for a fun quirky story far detached from the norm will be pleasantly surprised.
The casting is what makes this film work, Gubler is great and Kat Dennings is stunning but the star is Ray Wise who is just so well Ray Wise. He had me in stitches with just a string of completely inappropriate things a father should never say. There are also some wonderful cameos from The Soska twins, John Waters and a great piece of casting with Jeffrey Combs as the local doctor.
The only negative was the ending that felt a little tacked on, but that aside it was a triumph.
A brilliant way to finish DAY 1 of Grimmfest, and I urge you to check out Suburban Gothic but leave your horror preconceptions at the cinema door. 8/10
So five films today, two great two good and one turkey. So onto Friday 3rd October which is Head Fuck day at the fringe and GOBLIN scoring live to Suspiria in the evening. Oh my!!