The 19th edition of the UK’s foremost celebration of ghoulish genre cinema kicked off in riotous style last night at the glorious Empire Cinema in London’s Leicester Square. The five-day horrorthon kicked off with the UK premiere of Jenn Wexler’s punk rock slasher The Ranger - marking the first time a female-directed feature had opened FrightFest. Wexler was in attendance together with lead actress Chloe Levine, supported by an entourage of supporting players and producers.
The night’s entertainment was introduced by Sightseers stars Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, who whipped up an already enthusiastic crowd before welcoming onstage FrightFest’s Fab Four of Paul McEvoy, Alan Jones, Ian Rattray and Greg Day. After many heartfelt pleasantries, and messages from key sponsors Arrow Video, Horror Channel and Shudder, the audience was greeted to the traditional “Turn Your Bloody Phone Off” bumper from Rattray, which this year put an amusing spin on Argento’s Suspiria.
Arrow Video FrightFest 2018 promises five days of scares, screams and raucous entertainment, and what follows will be a blow by blow account of what I see and what I survive.
The Ranger (dir. Jenn Wexler, USA) - UK Premiere
A decade after witnessing her uncle’s death in a remote country park, Chelsea (Chloe Levine) has fallen in with a no-good band of punk rock reprobates, who find themselves on the run from the law after her despicable boyfriend Garth (Granit Lahu) stabs a cop. Chelsea leads the gang to her uncle’s hillside hideaway, but their presence is soon noticed by creepy Jeremy Holm’s Park Ranger, who enforces his authority in increasingly violent fashion.
In keeping with the film’s punk ethos, The Ranger has a rough, slipshod tone and aesthetic, taking its time to find its feet during a first act packed with incident and backstory. Levine proves an effortlessly sympathetic and captivating heroine, but her fellow misfits are an infuriating band of unconvincing hellraisers. It is difficult to comprehend why Chelsea keeps company with them, and when they do inevitably step into harm’s way, they are offed too quickly for it to impact the group’s already shaky dynamic. Painting Holm’s eponymous killer as a figure of fun rather than fear also proves an uncomfortable fit.
The jokes, shocks and revelations that do land promise glimmers of a better film, and certainly Wexler’s next steps will be tracked with genuine anticipation, but The Ranger ultimately gets lost in the woods.
Summer of 84 (dir. François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell, Canada/USA) - European Premiere
The team behind post-apocalyptic nostalgia trip Turbo Kid return with another 80s inflected thriller, this time tapping into the Stephen King/Spielberg style adventures recently revived in Stranger Things and It. Graham Verchere plays inquisitive suburban teen Davey, who begins to suspect that his neighbour, Wayne Mackey (Mad Men’s Rich Sommer) is actually a serial killer responsible for the disappearances of numerous kids in the area. Problem is, Mackey’s a cop, so Davey must rope his sceptical buddies in to help instead, and pull his eyes away from beautiful former babysitter Nikki (Tiera Skovbye).
Fuelled as much by unchecked adolescent hormones as rose-tinted memories of idle summers, Summer of 84 is a modest, but mostly effective little thriller. Skovbye is largely objectified, but its an honest perspective considering the film’s heroes, and Nikki is more than given the opportunity to prove herself. In the wake of Andy Muschietti’s smash hit and the Duffer Brothers phenomenon, the stakes presented by François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell feel almost quaintly timid, especially in the wake of Turbo Kid’s boundless invention. But taken on its own terms, Summer of 84 is consistently entertaining.
J Hurtado and Kurt Halfyard
contributed to this story.
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