Day three of Grimmfest 2012 and the crowds were still turning up in force, even with a full 12 hours of screenings to get through.
Saying Wake Up And Die is "Groundhog Day with murder" might be a smartass synopsis if you were pitching the movie, but it isn't exactly wrong; a woman (Andrea Montenegro) wakes up in a stranger's apartment after a night of passion, only he quickly moves from aggressively amorous to strangling her in cold blood. Then she comes to in exactly the same situation, where her terror and confusion prompt him to kill her again. And again. And again. So what the hell is going on, and how can the poor woman break free from the loop? Frustratingly, director Miguel Urrutia can't really deliver on a fantastic premise, but he gives it a damn good try.
While the ultimate denouement is disappointingly straightforward, and the third act begins to spin pretty far off the rails, for a film about a woman being brutally murdered over and over - a film with only two main characters who spend most of the running time naked - Wake Up And Die is surprisingly restrained, mature, even subtle. Both leads do a lot with a fairly workmanlike script, and despite some shaky production values (not least a score that's all over the map) Urrutia manages some seriously unsettling moments as Montenegro pieces together the rules of her ordeal little by little. It may not live up to the initial promise, but Wake Up And Die still deserves more attention than it got last year. Full review to come.
It's rare that a short film can make for a great standalone piece and a calling card and, well, the Santoro Brothers' The Other Side doesn't really manage both. A grab-bag of classic rural horror tropes - a suspiciously evil-looking babysitter, oblivious cops, a killer stalking people through the rain - the production values are impressively slick for the limited budget and the cast sell the scares fairly well. But it never really comes together into much of a coherent story, not helped by the desire to leave everything open to interpretation -- the better to spin it out into a full feature at some point? Still, as a calling card it makes a great case for the skills of the brothers and their crew; it's doubtful a casual audience would want to watch The Other Side more than once but it promises good things for whenever the Santoros get to do a full feature. Fingers crossed that's sooner rather than later.
The first retro screening this year was the new transfer of Hammer's adaptation of the Dennis Wheatley novel The Devil Rides Out -- this was a gorgeous remaster, looking fantastic for the most part on a big screen, and special guest Patrick Mower was a gentleman through and through (the man does a mean Christopher Lee impression). Decades later one of the iconic star's rare appearances as a good guy doesn't date too well, though. What was once a chilling tale of saving innocents from the clutches of degenerates worshipping the prince of darkness now feels hilariously overwrought. Every other line seems to be a portentous declaration of the patently bloody obvious and characterisation is so wilfully blase the film comes off as a mockery of itself. Lee still has his natural presence, but he can't save nonsense like this; howlers like "Thank God!" "Yes. That is exactly who we should be thanking" would tumble leaden to the floor out of anyone's mouth.
It feels doubly painful to want to give Dominic Brunt's Before Dawn a kicking; one, because the UK TV actor's debut behind the camera wasn't all bad and two, because the things that sunk it feel like they could be blamed at least in part on someone else. The story -- a couple try and repair their troubled marriage as the zombie apocalypse creeps up on them -- touches on a couple of decent narrative ideas, and the director and Joanne Mitchell (who came up with the original pitch) are solid in the lead roles. Brunt proves to have a decent eye for the English countryside, and his film is technically far more polished than countless other first-timers making A Film With Zombies In It. But it never takes the emotional dynamics between the lead couple anywhere interesting and simply cannot nail an effective tone.Marc Price -- of Colin, the "£45 zombie movie" fame -- executive produced, and Before Dawn suffers from the same fatal flaws that did in Price's debut in my eyes. Trying to avoid spoilers here, but it can't make good enough use of a low budget (one main action sequence is particularly laughable) and it relies heavily on emotional symbolism that's never explored in enough depth to be effective. And it's yet another film that can't quite overcome the nagging suspicion that some of these people really ought to know what a zombie is, and what to expect from them before it happens. There are a few moments in Before Dawn that hint at a more nuanced, affecting story, but overall there's no way I'd recommend this one.
After knocking Before Dawn, praising The Wrong House feels bizarre. Let's be brutally honest; Eric Hurt's first film is almost laughably bad in places, from the largely mediocre dialogue, to the cast who don't know how to liven it up, to the amateur hour set pieces, especially early on. Yet give it a fair chance and you start to realise Hurt is actually looking to deliver something far deeper and more thoughtful than the opening setup suggests - spinning out the different plot threads into some genuinely dramatic narrative development. For all the dreck weighing it down this is still a fantastic little chamber piece, gripping and haunting and honest-to-God actually terrifying by turns.
Two different families, each looking for a new house, encounter the same stranger who says he wants to unload his remote property for a knockdown price. When they make the trip into the woods to view the place, they run into a mute, dishevelled young woman who's clearly fleeing something but where there's no sign what it might be. When they try and leave, the road refuses to take them back out of the forest. Marooned in the house with no hope of rescue, as days turn to weeks and then months their respective domestic difficulties start to mount up, threatening any chance they'll ever discover a way out of the house's grip. Rarely has any film struck me as so awful yet so utterly compulsory at the same time.
You can get the general idea behind Crawlspace inside about five minutes. This lo-fi action flick is a little bit Aliens, a little bit Fortress and a little bit Castlemaine, as in gung-ho marines hunting their quarry through the air ducts in a secure facility where everything's gone horribly wrong -- and everyone speaks with a thick Aussie accent. None of which is necessarily a bad thing, of course, and Crawlspace is both largely unpretentious and solid popcorn viewing. But it does hint at becoming something deeper, yet never really develops any of its more thoughtful story threads into anything emotive. Crawlspace is a fun way to kill 90 minutes but it's more an entertaining genre throwback than anything that really leaves an impression.
And this is a shame, as the film sports what seems like an interesting hook; when the top-secret research centre buried under the Outback goes to hell, one of the mercenaries dispatched to clean up realises he recognises one particular face on his list of targets. The outrage from his squad when they twig their commander means to risk their lives to drag a total stranger out of the hot zone promises to have emotions boiling over -- but nothing like that really happens, with director Justin Dix settling for fairly obvious twists and a distinctly unsatisfying conclusion. Crawlspace is decent entertainment, but neither smart nor dumb enough to demand repeat viewings.
The roundup for the final day will have brief impressions for UK zombie epic on a shoestring budget The Eschatrilogy, lo-fi US home invasion shocker Hate Crime, stripped-down Aussie noir in Crawl and a couple more on top of that. Grimmfest 2012 is all done and dusted as I type - it's been a pleasure to be here again, and if you couldn't make it along you missed a treat. Full reviews are on their way, but hopefully these little snippets have provided some entertainment beforehand.