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FrightFest 2022 Highlights

Film Festival Feature by Alasdair MacRae

The UK’s biggest genre film festival resumed as an in-person event this year with a bumper offering of 70+ films across five screens. The packed schedule meant that this first-time festival attendee could only see just over 20 of the films available. With that in mind, don’t be discouraged if your favourite is absent from this list, after word-of-mouth recommendations my own personal watchlist has now expanded too. Nonetheless, there was plenty of great cinema to go around, so here are ten of the best films to look out for in the coming months.

1. New Religion Dir: Keishi Kondo

After the tragic death of her young daughter, Miyabi (Kaho Sato) takes on work as a call girl. As her life spirals she begins visiting an unusual client who wishes to photograph every part of her body individually.

Director Keishi Kondo’s feature film debut has already drawn comparisons to Cronenberg and Lynch, with plenty more to make including Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Godard, Von Trier, and Tarkovsky. One thing for sure this is a cinematic treat! An emotive visual poem that transcribes the peril of submitting to one’s own extreme subjective reality.

2. Something in the Dirt Dir: Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson

New neighbours, John (Aaron Moorhead) and Levi (Justin Benson), discover something paranormal in their L.A. apartment building and decide the best way to profit off it is to make a documentary.

A comical and at times tragic folie à deux, for anyone who has turned on the TV late at night to have a giggle at someone recounting their ‘unexplainable’ experience. Written, directed, shot, acted, and edited by Benson and Moorhead (and whichever spare pair of hands they could find) during COVID, the pair perfectly portray the mind-melting chaos of entertaining conspiracy theories. As their characters desperately search for answers in books, youtube videos, podcasts, geo-caches etc, they capture the boom of widespread misinformation thanks to the internet’s ability to make anyone’s voice heard.

3. Piggy Dir: Carlota Pereda

Teenager Sara (Laura Galán) is bullied by her peers in a remote Spanish village. One day following a particularly vicious event, Sara witnesses her tormentors being kidnapped. She makes a conscious choice to keep the information to herself but as bodies begin to turn up and the local community turn on her Sara’s decision becomes harder to endure.

A beautifully twisted tale of the torture of adolescence, Piggy is a heartfelt European drama with a healthy dose of brutally indulgent violence mixed in. Think Water Lilies meets Wolf Creek. A soon-to-be classic coming-of-age tale, discussing issues from isolation to body image, with testing parents, Sara has a difficult relationship with her well-meaning but impatient and bullish mother (Carmen Machi), and to cap it all off, unhealthy romance. Finally, it would be remiss not to mention the stunning colouring, especially the use of pink.

4. A Wounded Fawn Dir: Travis Stevens

When Meredith (Sarah Lind) agrees to go away with her new boyfriend (Josh Ruben) to his remote cabin for the weekend, she didn’t know that she had agreed to be his latest victim.

A Wounded Fawn starts out as a 70s/80s style slasher, giallo-inspired even, before descending into psychotropic mythological chaos. Director Travis Stevens crafts a transcendentally textured experience, shot on film it feels like a personally curated visual mixtape, the pattern of a forest canopy, seductively crimson paint, the coiling of a snake, the whip of silks in the wind, and squelchy, crunchy gore. Arguably the most luxuriously crafted and stylish film on show.

5. The Harbinger Dir: Andy Mitton

Despite the protests of her frail father and concerned brother, Monique (Gabby Beans), travels to New York City during a Covid lockdown to help out an ailing friend. Little did she know the recurring nightmares her friend suffers from are contagious.

Admittedly many will find it too soon to watch a film about Covid, but The Harbinger deftly captures a snapshot of the ongoing global pandemic. Throughout there is a rightful everyday fear, and time and space collapse like dreams and nightmares. It really gets to the heart of the experience and asks the big questions: what happens to those who are already vulnerable? What happens when those who are supposed to take care of us get sick? And what happens to those who pass away under the curtain of the Covid years? Altogether an accomplished work packaged with genuine scares and a particularly haunting soundscape.

6. Incredible But True Dir: Quentin Dupieux

More madcap fun from the French director who apparently doesn’t want the premise of the film shared. As per usual it stars a small group of dysfunctional characters situated in a bizarre and hyper-specific scenario, and comedy ensues. Not as standout as the excellent Deerskin, but a welcome treat from the prolific director who seems to be providing at least a film a year as of late.

7. The Visitor From The Future Dir: François Descraques

Following (?) a nuclear disaster in the future, environmental activist, Alice (Enya Baroux) and her political leader father (Arnaud Ducret), are brought into a time-hopping game of cat and mouse as they try to prevent the future disaster.

An entertaining slapstick sci-fi comedy that rattles off jokes at an incredible rate. Based on the director’s own webcomic, the film preserves the fun, quippy comic strip feel and manages to successfully balance the epic scale of world-ending destruction with an intimate emotionally charged father-daughter relationship. In a world of endless franchise forming and sequelisation this is one of the rare experiences I would actually want more of!

8. Dark Glasses Dir: Dario Argento

Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli), a prostitute, is stalked by a serial killer. When the killer causes a car crash, Diana is permanently blinded and left with an unusual sense of responsibility for Chin (Andrea Zhang), a young Chinese boy orphaned by the same crash.

Based off of a script written over 20 years ago, Dark Glasses feels apiece with the director’s earlier Giallo work. A stylish and taut thriller, to slide onto the shelf next to The Bird with the Crystal

Plumage and Tenebrae. However, the elements of Argento’s latest that could be conceived as sexist feel harder to stomach knowing that it has been made in a modern context. Nonetheless, it is still a welcome return to form from one of horror’s greatest filmmakers.

9. Candy Land Dir: John Swab

Things go south quickly for a group of rest-stop sex workers after they take in a member of the local cult seeking refuge.

Candy Land is likely to be one of the more divisive films on offer. Most of the film is dedicated to characterisation, we grow into the young makeshift family as they go through the rhythms of their daily life. And then we watch as they are picked off and brutally murdered, as to be expected in any slasher film, but here it feels particularly ruthless. For better or worse, one cannot deny that it is an intriguing decision made by director John Swab, to kill off the characters he has so lovingly created in such a manner. Moreover, there will likely be debate over the depiction of sex work, whilst the characters feel far from cliché, the presentation of sex work as a dangerous profession most definitely is, not to mention the distinct presence of the male gaze.

10. Barbarian Dir: Zach Cregger

When Tess (Georgina Campbell) arrives at her Airbnb to find it already rented out, to the awkward Keith (Bill Skarsgård) no less, she decides to take caution before accepting his kind invitation to join him inside.

Barbarian is an entertaining, twisty hundred minutes packed with both laughs and shrieks as characters see all of the red flags and wilfully ignore them anyway. It boasts a charismatic core cast, with Campbell, Skarsgård, and longer-term friend of horror, Justin Long. The only disappointment is that, without saying too much, the antagonistic presence feels somewhat lacking and ultimately uninspired.


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