Sunday, 28 October 2012

HIFF 2012: Horrors For Halloween

Although this wasn't the best year for genre cinema, Love & Anarchy still managed to show several films worthy of your ravenous hunger for Halloween-related films. Hell, the film's poster had a ghost in it. Woo-oo-oooo.

Grabbers (Ireland)
Director: Jon Wright

If there's something the Irish can do it's take the piss. Ahem, in more ways then one. But the occupants of the Green Island are known not only by their high alcohol consumption, but also their good-natured sense of humor and willingness to laugh at themselves. thus, it makes sense that the following high concept would stem from these people: vampiric aliens attack a small village. While they feed on human blood, they are allergic to alcohol, so everyone must start drinking to stay alive through the night. A concept can't get much better than that.

But let's look at the film a bit more closely. Having a strong affection to 80's comedic genre films such as Gremlins, An American Werewolf in London and The Evil Dead, Jon Wright's film's style heavily reminds viewers of last year's Attack The Block. In both an alien invasion makes unexpected heroes of an archetype you'd believe to be as unsuitable for the role as they come. Rather than pre-teen gangsters, however, this time our hero is the bored and alcoholic Erin island policeman Ciarán O'Shea (Richard Coyle)

As in numerous buddy cop movies before, O'Shea is on the edge and gets a new no-nonsense, by-the-book partner. This time it's Dubliner Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley). Unsurprisingly, extreme conditions make both of them smoothen the edges of their personas and they meet in the middle ground. But rather than with the leads, the film shines more brightly when concerning its bit-characters. They are also somewhat stock characters from countryside TV dramedys, but since you don't often get to see the vicar getting pissed in a pub, they work wonders here.

As for the aliens themselves, they are suitably icky creatures, a little bit like blue octopuses or starfishes with suitable grabbing tentacles. They provide a good enough threat to create some suspense into this thing, and it often seems our heroic Gardas are battling overwhelming odds. While the film can't be called a splatter by any means, the sudden bursts of violence have much more effect.

All in all, the film is silly, but doesn't overemphasize its ridiculousness. It's a bit more clearly a comedy than Attack the Block, but still not really a laugh-riot. Since that film (which I could have given more stars to, BTW) was as urban as they come, it feels apt that this one has a clear countryside vibe. All in all, it feels authentic and considering it's a quite stupid genre piece, it's quite an achievement.

★★★ 1/2

Shopping Tour (шопинг-тур, Russia)
Director: Mikhail Brashinsky

A lot of Russian tourists do short shopping trips to Finland, although I've never quite understood why. Our shops are not even near anything you'd call cheap and I'd figure most of everything we have is also available in Russia. Perhaps the shoppers are looking for some sort of status symbols, expensive luxury items to brag to their friends. Anyway, a horror film featuring a Russian shopping team coming to Finland for bargains but finding only carnage sounded like another great idea on paper.

Shopping Tour is another one of the handheld camera footage boom. A middle-aged woman (Tatyana Kolganova) takes her teenaged son (Timofei Eletsky) to a fateful one-night tour to Finland. The pair have their own quarrels, and we learn that it's not been long since the family's father has deceased. In Finland, the tourists are informed that they get to be the very first ones to shop at a brand new electronics supermarket, which is open all night. But once the Russians are packed in the store, the doors are locked. The cannibal feeding frenzy of ravenous Finns can begin.

This is quite a cheap film, and it shows. While the two lead actors are quite good in their roles, it becomes apparent (to a native Finnish speaker at least), that all the extras have been hired on a pittance. Nothing else could explain the horrendous acting in Finnish on display here. The script isn't too sharp, either. Exposition and back story is spurted at very unlikely moments when people should be fighting for their lives. Still, this is a one-joke movie and at least I find that joke funny. To delve into it deeper is to SPOIL so look away for the last chapter, sensitive ones.

There's no big reason for the Finns to start eating Russians. They aren't worshipping Satan, or secret vampires or zombies or anything. Rather, it is just a tradition, and one which we Finns hold as dear as a Sauna and a cottage on Midsummer's Eve. Some light fun is poked at the fact that Finland tends to come on top of all the lists of the best societies and best places to live, yet our people are sad and suicide-prone. Mean humor is often the best humor.


Crawl (Australia)
Director: Paul China

The dubious honor of being the only Love & Anarchy film I wished I would've skipped goes to this Australian shocker. I mean, I probably would've walked out but I had some time to pass before the next screening. As it is, Crawl is a dire attempt to capture some of the slow-building tension and macabre bloodshed of several new wave horror films (such as Ti West's House Of The Devil, and from non-horror, The Coen Brothers' No Country For Old Men). It attempts to make some sort of statement about gender politics, but comes off just misogynistic. And not in a fun way.

The sleazy bar owner Slim Walding (Paul Holmes) is tired of an accomplice that hasn't paid back a shady loan. Thus, he turns to a quiet Croatian hitman, known only as The Stranger (George Shevtsov) to finish the guy off. But The Stranger has plans of his own, and plans to turn the tables on Slim. The young waitress Marilyn (Georgina Haig), who has plans to quit working for Slim gets caught in the battle of wills. She is soon taken hostage and must fight for her life to survive.

True to its name, Crawl moves very, very slowly forward. Director Paul China, a former cinematographer, likes to keep things quiet and THEN SHOCK SCARE YOU WITH LOUD NOISES. The imagery is OK, but can't hide how cheap this has been made. The sets in particular look like they have been recovered from a failed stage play. Shevtsov's performance is a bit ominous, yet it takes a bit more than long shots of a quiet drowsy-eyed hitman to make up a good performance. As a contrast, ost of the other cast are just abysmal. The film feels like it has been dropped from teh cliché tree and hit every branch on the way down. It makes a lot more sense to just stay home and watch Blood Simple on DVD. There's nothing on display here that that movie wouldn't have done 10 times better already.

★ 1/2

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