Celluloid Screams Horror Film Festival is over for another year and once again we were treated to some incredible shorts, features, specials and a closing night party that certainly left its mark. There were some heavy hitters that unfortunately didn’t do it for me and some incredible films that took me by surprise in the best way.
Before I give you my top 5 films from the festival I’d like to give a mention to the special screening of the first 6 episodes of New Zealand’s newest hit TV show: Wellington Paranormal. A packed audience was introduced to the series, which is a spin off from the 2014 hit What We Do In The Shadows, by its stars Officers Minogue and O’Leary in hilarious fashion with their safety tips on what to do when faced with the paranormal. The series itself was well written and acted with each episode following the officers on a different case involving the paranormal. From aliens and ghosts to werewolves and vampires, we laughed along as the awkward duo investigated, and cheered when the subsequent Q&A brought the news that the show had been renewed for a second series. Definitely something that I’d recommend when it makes its way UK homes.
Along with this special screening there were a few short films I think deserve a shout out: David Malcolm’s Mannequins, Astron-6’s Chowboys, Just Philippot’s Acid and Richard Powell’s Hang Up! all blew me away and I’d recommend a viewing if you get an opportunity. Now to my 5 favourite features from the festival:
I’d heard good things about this film before the festival so I took my seat with eager anticipation and I wasn’t disappointed. The film began with a barrage of seemingly endless trigger warnings and continued to check off each one in the unfolding narrative. The characters seemed to lack redeeming qualities and whilst other audience members walked out of the screen unable to summon the energy to care about their fates, I found this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the film; you don’t need to be a saint to suffer injustice and deserve to seek retribution. There was even a certain satisfaction when the so-called victims of social media hacking got their bloody and violent comeuppance in Sam Levinson’s modern-day witch hunt. The film had a point to a make and although it made it with a sledgehammer, I enjoyed myself immensely. Through the teen debauchery, the inadequacies of internet security, the impossibly plentiful supply of ammunition and finally the incredible motivations exposed in the final scenes, I found my eyes glued to the screen. A definite must see!
Tigers Are Not Afraid
This film captured the audience’s attention in a completely different way and whilst I’d struggle to say it was an enjoyable watch it was certainly captivating; this film won the audience prize for best film of the festival and it wasn’t hard to see why. Issa Lopez’s harrowing take on life for the orphans of violence caused by Mexican cartels blended a brutal fight for survival on the streets with a young girl’s supernatural experiences with her mother’s ghost. We were warned during the introduction to this film that we might need tissues before it was done and with the subject matter explored this wasn’t hard to believe. The child actors gave astonishing and believable performances as they navigated their way through each hostile and horrific day. While this isn’t a film you’d watch to kick back and relax at the end of the day, it is a beautiful contemporary fairytale that touched a place inside many a hardened horror fan over the weekend.
What Keeps You Alive
Colin Minihan’s surprising film unleashed twist after twist from very early on in a narrative that showed us pain, terror and bloody determination to survive in the face of unrelenting evil. How well do we know the people closest to us? For Jules, it turns out she doesn’t know her wife Jackie very well at all. From the outset there are signs that something isn’t quite right: the couple can’t agree on the choice for “their song” and the arrival of Jackie’s childhood friend Sarah raises suspicions in Jules. These suspicions lead Jules and Jackie to a confrontation that will change their relationship forever. Or perhaps, it only changed how prepared Jules was for the events that followed. The film contained some incredible moments and kept you guessing right to the end about who would survive this tense and cold-blooded thriller. I felt the ending was slightly too prolonged and frustrating but that didn’t impact on my enjoyment of What Keeps You Alive too much. A great film about surviving married life.
Summer of ‘84
From the Canadian filmmaking collective RKSS comes a coming of age movie about a group of friends playing backyard games, falling in love and hunting serial killers over summer break in rural North America. Reliably informed that the film’s concept and production began before the success of Stranger Things, this film is steeped in 80’s nostalgia and takes its bike riding characters in a slightly different direction. The events here are frighteningly more normal and perpetrated by someone decidedly less supernatural. As a child, we all wonder if that oddball neighbour could secretly be a serial killer (or was that just me?) and this film shows us that sometimes the only option is to catch them yourself. At times, this film had me on the edge of my seat with a knot of dread filling my stomach and the climax of the film was both devastating and horrifying; it left us with the realisation that happy endings aren’t always easy to find.
Directed by Daniel Goldhaber, this disturbing cyber thriller led us into the murky world of online pornography and the lengths that cam girls will go to in their bid to rise among the ranks of the top earners and performers of the digital sex trade. We follow one such girl, Lola, as she starts to find success with increasingly daring stunts while maintaining her self imposed code of conduct. On the brink of making it big with her site ranking she suddenly and inexplicably finds herself locked out of her account while another “Lola” takes over her performances, only she doesn’t want to follow the rules. This starts Lola’s frantic journey to reclaim her account and highlights the terrifying perils of internet privacy in a world where what you post online can fall out of your control very quickly. I really enjoyed this film but I found myself wanting more explanation of the mystery surrounding the counterfeit Lola as this is only vaguely alluded to in the film’s denouement.