Day 3 of Arrow Video FrightFest marked the halfway point, and positively groaned with gruesome delights. As the weekend arrived in earnest, so did the crowds, who were treated to world premieres of British nightclubbing/germ attack shocker Ravers, as well as medieval nun chiller Heretiks. Animated trash spectacular Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires boggled the minds of the afternoon crowds, as the evening ramped up for a special preview screening of Leigh Whannell’s riotously entertaining sci-fi action flick Upgrade.
But that’s not all. Saturday night was also time for The Duke Mitchell Party, an anarchic deep dive into the world of WTF PSAs, never-seen schlock spectaculars and forgotten masterpieces of confounding culture. Emcee Evrim Ersoy, together with Alex McKidd and the Duke’s loyal team of minions, led a trusting crowd of diehard trash lovers into the bowels of the Prince Charles Cinema, from whence nobody emerged unscathed, and those who survived dare not speak of the cinematic horrors they witnessed.
Heretiks (dir. Paul Hyett, UK) - World Premiere
Hyett, one of the UK’s leading prosthetic makeup artists, unveiled his directorial debut The Seasoning House as the opening film of FrightFest 2012 - coincidentally the last time I attended the festival. Six years later and his latest offering again premieres at London’s foremost genre event. Set in 17th Century Britain, Heretiks follows young peasant girl Persephone (Hannah Arterton, younger sister of Gemma), as she is saved from execution on charges of witchcraft by Clare Higgins’ Reverend Mother. Whisked away from the clutches of Michael Ironside’s secular magistrate, Persephone believes she has found sanctuary amid the nuns, but soon discovers the remote, shadowy priory hosts evil forces far more threatening than the law.
Sadly, Heretiks can't deliver on its intriguing premise. Persephone’s troubled past proves pretty simplistic, while the gaggle of wimpled women scampering through the poorly lit priory corridors are frustratingly interchangeable. As the horrors slowly reveal themselves, Hyett struggles to build tension or palpable fear, and the film’s climax is overly reliant on poorly realised effects work. The performances are fine, save for Ironside’s bafflingly brief and ultimately wasteful cameo, but Heretiks simply fails to draw us in.
What Keeps You Alive (dir. Colin Minihan, Canada) - UK Premiere
Minihan’s follow-up to It Stains The Sands Red follows a lesbian couple celebrating their first anniversary, who venture into the mountains for a weekend getaway at Jackie’s (Hannah Emily Anderson) family retreat. However, things begin to unravel when Jules (Brittany Allen) meets her wife’s childhood friend, and it quickly becomes apparent that Jackie has been keeping secrets from her partner.
To reveal any more about What Keeps You Alive would spoil the many surprises and twists in this slickly executed and frequently shocking thriller. Minihan revealed that it was a last-minute decision to change Jackie's gender, and thus the sexuality of both characters. It was a wise decision. Allen and Anderson are gifted plenty of opportunities to out-act each other in their wildly contrasting roles, while their relationship adds a whole new dimension to a set-up that is otherwise uncannily similar to many other films in this year’s lineup.
However, the film is far from perfect. Despite the strong performances and stylish direction, the script becomes increasingly preposterous and implausible as it goes along. Much like A Quiet Place, the central premise buckles under even the slightest scrutiny, but if you are willing to surrender to its visceral, rather than cerebral, charms, What Keeps You Alive has plenty to offer.
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