It’s time for another FrightFest Halloween and, this time, the all-day event features a supernatural tale of a sleep demon, an alternate reality nightmare and a terrifying quasi-disaster film from Sweden. But, which ones are worth checking out? Read our thoughts below.
Reborn was a tale of two stories. One where a baby thought to be stillborn is not quite so and is taken by a member of staff from the hospital and raised in supposed captivity. It cuts to sixteen years later and the now-named baby Tess demands to learn who her real mother is. Things get ugly, but Tess has electrokinesis so makes easy work of killing her captor by manipulating his hearing aid. Now her journey for the truth can begin.
The second story follows a washed-up actress called Lena O`Neil, played by horror regular Barbara Crampton, who is carrying a sort of guilt for something she did around sixteen years ago. The elements of Reborn are as subtle as bricks, where it is criminally easy to see how everything is going to pan out. There is also a side-story involving Officer Fox who is tasked with investigating the electrically charged crimes that follow poor Lena around. A standout moment involves him scrolling a wiki-type web page on electrokinesis; without any mention of it outside this moment. He’s a smart guy, this one.
Tess may not have telekinesis, but it is impossible not to draw comparisons between this and Brian DePalma‘s Carrie. The latter is a great of example of a horror film that combines adolescent terror with pure horror, but Reborn can never strike that balance. Kayleigh Gilbert isn’t bad in her role as Tess and she does put her all into the character, but the exaggerated facial expressions and continued wide-eyed stare were just too much, sealing Reborn’s fate to be dead on arrival.
There are all the components of a strong psychological horror here, including the appropriate themes of misplaced grief, guilt and repression. However, the execution is laughably bad, with clunky dialogue and unnecessary melodrama. This film would have a happy home in a daytime slot on TV, but for those of us who like our serious horror to be just that, will find more to laugh at than scream at with Reborn.
From director Isaac Ezban, the mind behind mind-bending genre-breakers The Incident and The Similars, Parallel was the smart and sophisticated time-travel flick I was hoping for. The glitch in Ezban`s matrix is another big one, clearing the way for another creative and unique viewing experience. I love this film and Isaac Ezban is fast becoming one of the most unique and exciting directors working today.
The film follows a group of four friends who discover a mirror that is the doorway to alternate realities. Each time they step through they are greeted with another reality just waiting to be messed with.
The most common problem with these types of films is that they can become over-complicated and, in the end, predictable. Although we know that Parallel is not going to treat us to a happy ending, the journey we take to get there is mostly unpredictable. There is a welcome avoidance of over-complication and although I’m not one to enjoy a director holding my hand throughout their films, I was glad of a blur effect that teased when something was not quite right. The film’s pace was also fitting for the peculiarity, where dizzying, topsy-turvy camera movements mimicked the world being turned upside down, but also nicely created the effect of a non-stop roller-coaster ride.
The characters aren’t presented as idiots who don’t think before they act, jumping into the alternate realms to cause mayhem. They try to work out differences between the timelines and understand the importance of not meeting their other selves. Although it would perhaps have been interesting and fun for the audience to see more mistakes, leading the characters to “fix” what they’ve done, it was commendable to see the film side-step this cliche.
Don’t get me wrong things get dark and mistakes are made, but Parallel is very much concerned with the first set of characters and their decisions; how they develop and use the “unfair advantage” they have at their disposal. Some use it better than others, but the overriding message is clearly “don’t go through the damn mirror“ and so it should be.
After the entertaining Parallel, the day took a darker turn with director Clive Tonge’s feature debut Mara. Clearly inspired by J-horror ghost stories like Ringu and Ju-On: The Grudge, as well as most obviously, A Nightmare on Elm Street, the film focused on a demon who torments its victims while they sleep. Don’t expect any witty one-liners from Mara though, because she takes her terrorising very seriously.
Played by the sought-after body-contorting Javier Botet, Mara herself (itself?) is a bone-cracking nightmare who gets plenty of screen time. Mara doesn’t hide its monster in the shadows or shy away from displaying it for the audience to see, so be ready for more than a few creepy moments when the nightmarish demon graces the screen. Mara may be bold and jumpy, but its formula is a simple one with very few surprises.
With Olga Kurylenko playing the role of psychologist Dr Kate Fuller, Mara explores a familiar battle between the natural and the supernatural. Kate must fight to prove a woman’s innocence, by showing that Mara killed her husband during an episode of sleep paralysis. Obviously, everyone thinks she’s crazy as she rambles about a demon that twisted her husband’s head round, so she’s soon locked up and the key thrown away. When Kate experiences similar onsets sleep paralysis, she starts to believe in the demonic Mara, but how does it choose its victims?
Mara is a simple, mostly effective story of good vs. evil and sometimes that’s all you want from your horror. It wears its welcome J-horror inspirations on its sleeve and, in a way, it’s refreshing to watch a no-frills scary story that also touches upon ideas of guilt and responsibility.
Peripheral is the latest genre effort from Paul Hyett and it’s certainly his best film since 2015’s monster flick Howl. This one sees Hyett steer into the world of horror sci-fi in a film that follows struggling author Bobby write her latest novel. To help her out, her agent delivers her a state-of-the-art computer, but it’s not long before she becomes manipulated by the artificially intelligent software that is determined to write her novel for her.
The film taps into fears of technology and the loss of control, but also explore the difficulty of the creative writing process. They’re interesting themes, but not ones we’ve not seen before. The familiarity and over-preachiness combine to make the film ooze with a self-importance that becomes difficult to swallow, which is a shame because the film looks and sounds great.
Although it doesn’t bring anything particularly unseen or new to the visual table, the stark brightness of Bobbi’s new computer provides a significant contrast that works to emphasise the clash between her traditional views – she loves to write on a typewriter, for example – and the domineering presence and threat of new technology.
As Bobbi, Hannah Arterton (Burn Burn Burn, Heretiks) gives a credible performance as a young woman trying to make it big, but without the fame. An intriguing sub-plot follows an obsessive fan who thinks Bobbi owes her something for writing her politically-driven previous novel. The young woman leaves VHS tapes – classic – at her home, hoping to gauge a reaction from Bobbi, who already has enough on her plate with the terrifying computer that’s taking over her life.
Peripheral is enjoyable, if a little dated with its ideas, but there is always something appealing about mad technology.
The UnthinkableThe Unthinkable was the penultimate feature and, without a doubt, the film of the day. When someone tells me they can’t (or won’t) watch films with subtitles, it’s films like this that prove they’re missing out on some of the best film can offer.In order to refrain from spoiling, as this is a film that is best going in knowing the absolute minimum, I’ll just say that the story follows the events the unfold after Sweden is hit by a tragedy of unknown scale.
The film features excellently choreographed action set pieces and a powerful performance from Christoffer Nordenrot, who plays a young man trying struggling to reconnect with his estranged father, while trying to rekindle a past relationship. The Unthinkable bursts with emotive moments that are touching and heart-breaking, adding a layer to this film’s other preoccupation with what ensues after an unknown disaster. The two sides clash and make for an experience that will have you on the edge of tears, before you’re put on the edge of your seat.
The score is exquisite and beautiful, working to heighten the suspense and place an emphasis on the mystery of what’s occurring. The elusiveness works wonders, effortlessly creating a sense of horrifying wonder that is both unnerving and dramatic. The Unthinkable is terrifying for its grounding in reality, but also heart-breaking in its concern with the significance of memories and the importance of making every moment count. It’s about survival, what you’ll do to protect the ones you love and how real horror is in the everyday, in the decisions you make and how one choice can shape your entire future.
Large in thematic scope and in pure spectacle, The Unthinkable is a profound cinematic achievement. The film manages to blend both horror – although it’s not traditionally scary; there are no monsters under the bed, ghosts or aliens here – and emotional depth, to craft something unforgettable and tragic. An absolute must-see.