Diary of a Geek Week at the Glasgow Film Festival 2015

Now in its 11th year, for the second year running the Glasgow Film Festival topped 40,000 admissions to its programme of 174 events including eleven world premieres in addition to the Scottish premieres of Monsters: Dark Continent, Jodorowsky’s Dune, It Follows, The Town that Dreaded Sundown, Eliza Graves and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, with actors and directors attending to discuss their work. The northern home of Fright Fest, that strand was housed in the Glasgow Film Theatre with a series of exclusive screenings, some of which Geek Chocolate were fortunate enough to witness.

The Atticus Institute – Friday 27th February – Glasgow Film Theatre

GFFAtticus1From director Chris Sparling – who also appears as an unfortunate test subject late in the film – comes this “mockumentary,” though it is a disservice to term it as such, for certainly there are no laughs. Rather it is a more intelligent approach to the “found footage” genre, a fake documentary purporting to tell the tale of the Atticus Institute, a research foundation operating in the mid 1970s investigating psychic phenomena under the guidance of Doctor Henry West (William Mapother).

Told through modern interviews with the surviving members of the team and authentically grainy archive footage and casual period snapshots of the team, the illusion is maintained by the period fashions which are accurate rather than the cheesy retro-pastiche of many films which try to “do the seventies.”

GFFAtticus3The man Henry West is remembered by his children Steven and Cathleen (Gerald McCullouch and Suzanne Jamieson) and his widow Patricia (Shannon Wilcox), Steven recalling how he “tried to trick him into thinking I had ESP… he’d play along and then he’d leave for work,” while the work of the Institute is described by former researchers Susan Gorman and Laurence Henault (Sharon Maughan and Harry Groener).

“Our goal was to conduct unbiased empirical research on exceptional human abilities: psychokinesis, ESP, precognition, things that are typically considered fringe science,” Henault explains.

GFFAtticus4“Doctor West and the rest of us all believed there was real science to be discovered in these areas.” Boasting that they published over thirty journal articles in their first few years of operation, he states they studied some exceptional cases.

Having previously put Ryan Reynolds in a coffin in Buried, Sparling is accustomed to working with minimal resources and claustrophobic sets and his documentary style is accomplished, mimicking that of the Discovery Channel in the pacing and the structure, with the contemporary interviews edited to build a narrative around the events of 1976 when Judith Winstead (Rya Kihlstedt) was brought in and abandoned by her sister Margaret who could no longer cope with her.

GFFAtticus5Judith immediately becomes the focus of the research, displaying powers which are at first remarkable but quickly become intimidating. “We should have been scared. We were too excited to be scared.” Treated like a specimen, Judith becomes uncontrollable, and echoing the documented experiments of the US Defence Intelligence Agency on “remote viewing” of the same period, it is not long until senior authorities step in and attempt to weaponise the increasingly malevolent Judith.

The Atticus Institute is not groundbreaking, unique or even particularly innovative, but it is well done from the creeping dread of the opening title montage of the deserted facility under Victor Reyes’ sombre score to the performances of Mapother, Groener and Maughan, all reliable and experienced character actors well suited to Sparling’s slow burn script, though stretched to over eighty minutes it becomes bogged down. With the finale signposted from the opening frames, it is a one-trick pony which doesn’t advance or develop sufficiently to justify feature length and ironically it would be much more effective recut to the traditional hour long documentary format.

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead – Friday 27th February – Glasgow Film Theatre

GFF15 Wyrm 1How much, environmental impact and subsequent economic impact aside, does a zombie apocalypse cost? According to brothers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner, in addition to the $48,396 they raised via two IndieGoGo campaigns it cost them three years of all their lives, all of their life savings and the peace of mind of their mother who had consented to let her garage be “turned into a bloodbath,” but not to them drilling fake bullet holes in the door. The result, however, was well worth the price.

Like the forthright people of that nation, Australian cinema has a raw honesty, a simplicity without pretension, and Wyrmwood is far from a traditional zombie film, refreshingly direct and infectiously enjoyable. With director Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner describing in the pitch video that the idea was “to meld Mad Max with Dawn of the Dead,” it doesn’t play by the expected zombie rules but instead plays hard and fast by its own and anybody not keeping up is liable to be caught under the spinning wheels.

Wyrm4It starts with a spectacular display of shooting stars; camping in the outback with his brother and a friend, Benny (Leon Burchill) sees them, unaware of the darkness they herald. At home with his wife Annie, Barry (Jay Gallagher) is none the wiser until his young daughter Meganne walks into their bedroom and says there is a stranger in the kitchen; Barry ventures downstairs and there, with its face in the fridge, is a zombie.

When anything can be a weapon cordless power tools are a man’s best friend; the undead monstrosity swiftly dispatched, Barry bundles his family into the car wearing gasmasks lest the infection be contagious, heading to Bulla Bulla where his sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey) lives.

Wyrm1A new take on the hell of a road trip with a restless ankle-biter tied up in the back seat and straining to snap at her despairing parents, the screams of infected Meganne confirm she’s less human and more zombie and Barry is forced to end first her torment then Annie’s. Found on the road by another survivor who encourages him to talk about what’s happened to lift him out of his mood, Barry barks “This morning I shot my wife and child with a nail gun. I don’t know how to make that into a story.”

Photographer Brooke has her own problems: all prepped for a zombie-themed photo shoot when the infection hit, she was left hiding in the rafters of her garage-cum-studio when both her model and assistant turned all hissy and spitty and started trying to chew her flesh for real. Having survived the night, the next morning what she thinks is rescue takes a turn for the worse when the men in hazard suits turn out to be as brutal as the zombies, drugging her and chaining her in the back of their disturbingly well-equipped van along with other subjects for their tests.

Wyrm2Filmed with often horribly intimate camerawork in a laidback style which can only be described as Antipodean apocalyptic (or, as the advertising for the film boasted, the Ozpocalypse), there is as much laughter from the viewer as there is blood on screen, which is to say rather a lot. With the most zombies in a single day that had ever been attempted in Australia and the greatest number of prosthetics used on an Australian feature film, both are proud boasts for a crowd-funded independent picture.

Fortunately even in a zombie apocalypse there is time for burgers and beer, the latter to be found in the freezer along with the body of a former mate whose conversion gives the survivors an advantage in one of the more preposterous developments of the story, but when the whole neighbourhood is clawing at the walls who cares whether it makes sense or not?

Wyrm3Gloriously and unrepentantly determined to present itself as the maddest zombie film ever, Wyrmwood gives itself a running head start on the crowded field of shambling hordes in that it is not only original and features competent talent behind and in front of the camera but that all concerned embrace the conceit without a shred of self-consciousness, throwing themselves into the melee without reservation.

With unexpected but well deserved success in its homeland and a great response at the Glasgow Fright Fest screening, Wyrmwood is scheduled for release on DVD and Blu-ray on 11th May and the Roache-Turner brothers have already announced plans to reunite the surviving members of their cast for a sequel which has a lot to live up to.

Clown – Saturday 28th February – Glasgow Film Theatre

Clown0“Who double books a clown?” asks Meg McCoy (The 4,400‘s Laura Allen), harassed mother of Jack, seven years old and with his party in full swing but about to go downhill unless his father Kent (Andy Powers of prison drama Oz). Passing the buck to her real estate agent husband, he promises to make it right as he rummages through drawers in the attic of the house he is trying to sell, and astonishingly in a chest he finds the perfect traditional clown costume. A little dusty perhaps, a little worn, maybe with a touch of mildew, but in the circumstances better than Kent could have hoped for, and Jack’s party is saved.

Exhausted having worked the morning then entertained children gorged on cake and ice cream in the afternoon, Kent falls asleep on the couch without even removing the costume. “There better not be clown marks on the couch,” Meg cautions when she wakes him, and he dutifully goes upstairs to try to remove the nose, wig and billowing folds of the costume, which stubbornly refuse to cooperate. With little option, he breaks the news to Jack: “The clown is driving you to school today.”

Clown1A stubborn and rational man, refusing to comprehend or consider the unusual, there is little setup or introduction to the McCoy family, and with the film targeted directly at the horror audience eager to witness the first kill and with no intention of breaking out of that market, the descent into disorder occurs with minimal context or explanation. The suit bonding to his body, Kent first begins suffering urges and cravings then begins to metamorphose.

Investigating the history of the house and its contents he manages to contact Martin Karlsson (Arrow‘s Peter Stormare, predictably brilliant), estranged brother of the deceased owner who offers some explanation for what is happening, claiming that the costume is in fact the skin and hair of a demon. “It lived up in the mountains, the skin white as snow, the red nose burnt by the cold. It lured children out of their homes to its cave.”

Clown2With the absurdity framed in scenes of normality as the increasingly desperate Meg tries to remain calm and rational for the sake of Jack, in contrast to expectation Clown plays it largely straight, the laughs coming from the irony of the situation and juxtapositions of editing (a shot of fingers bitten off cutting to the red hand print of a child fingerpainting) rather than the carnival antics and slapstick of Killer Klowns from Outer Space, the only exception being Kent’s first colourful suicide attempt.

Directed by Jon Watts from a script co-written with Christopher D Ford and produced by horror maven Eli Roth who also has a brief cameo role, there is little in the way of a rationally developed plot but the film can be enjoyed as a whimsy, the “what if?” of a demon clown trying to pass itself off as human, Kent’s hunger for childflesh made harder by their insistence on offering themselves to him, enticed by his festive appearance.

Clown3The soundtrack alternating between eerie near silence and atonal noises to punctuate the scenes with little in the way of actual melody, Clown is neither as creative nor imaginative as Rare Exports, and with the premise feeling like a castoff from the television series of Friday the 13th or more recently Warehouse 13 another scene recreates the notorious buzzsaw death from Superstition.

Nothing says “party!” like screaming children running for their lives, but while it effectively recreates the claustrophobia and tension of the descent into the service tunnels of the Nostromo in the tunnels of Chuck E Cheese’s play area, a child-unfriendly version of Alien, the film drags in the later scenes and would benefit from at minimum ten minutes cut from the near hundred minute running time but remains sufficiently entertaining to warrant recommendation, especially for those who might be afflicted by coulrophobia.

The Treatment (De Behandeling) – Saturday 28th February – Glasgow Film Theatre

TreatmentDVDIt was never going to be an easy case for Chief Inspector Nick Cafmeyer (Geert Van Rampelberg); a child abducted, his parents found upstairs in separate rooms, gagged, handcuffed to the hot water pipes, unable to escape or call for help, the walls painted in a mixture of blood and urine, strange symbols and the words “female toxin.” Refusing to return to the briefing, Nick stays in the forest, and it is he who eventually finds the body.

A difficult case for any officer, but for Nick it reflects his own childhood, his brother Bjorn who vanished and was never found, a past that won’t ever leave him alone. Still living in the same house in which he grew up, the prime suspect Ivan Plettinckx (Johan van Assch) against whom no charges were ever brought still taunts Nick with notes suggesting different fates for his brother, “he was sold to a club in Amsterdam,” “he starved to death,” never knowing if one might be the truth.

Treatment3Interviewing the other families who overlook the forest, a comment of the child of a family recently moved into the area strikes him as unusual, “the troll” he sees from his bedroom window at night, looking down from above; searching the records, Nick finds a cold case dating to 1997 with the same phrase, the same timespan as Bjorn was taken.

Based on Mo Hayder’s 2001 novel, director Hans Herbots explained to the Fright Fest audience that although written and set in South London with English protagonists, no British company was willing to touch the subject matter which is why it fell to him to relocate the action to his native Belgium, and The Treatment is uncomfortable even beyond the brief scene of the post mortem of an abused and murdered child and should not be considered light viewing.

Treatment1Translating a narrative from one medium to another is not always a straightforward task, and while Carl Joos’ script too often feels like multiple stories sandwiched together, perhaps as a consequence of having to compress almost four hundred pages into just over two hours, some leaps are handed to the investigation too easily, most egregious a stash of illicit porn videos where the camera conveniently pans just as an open door frames the licence plate of a car parked outside which belongs to a known child abuser.

Modelled on the current wave of Nordic Noir, the heavy drama has a tendency to become overwrought, Cafmeyer haunted by his past to such a degree that it effects the execution of his duties, failing to inform his superiors of his actions or declare evidence and with a demonstrable lack of skill in subterfuge and hand to hand combat, his tardy backup officers possibly having been delayed by stopping off at a Belgian patisserie.




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