Sunday (AKA. 'The Darkness Grows in Strength, and All is Lost')
Time isn't really a thing any more. Geography is a simple equation of the spaces between my hotel, the FrightFest screens, and the pub around the corner. This is all there is, and this is all I need. I am fully ensconced within the FrightFest bubble, with no thought for the outside world before, during, or after this place and time. There is only the constant, joyous cycle of eat, sleep, horror films, repeat. All of these realisations hit me this morning, at the same moment that I realise we're only just hitting the halfway point. This is it. I am living my best, truest life, and there's no way back.
I actually thought I'd be getting horror fatigue by this point. I thought the killings would all be blurring into one, and that by now I'd be having trouble remembering which evisceration any particular monster, murderer, or apparition was even responsible for. But this year's FrightFest bill is so well curated - so well paced in terms of tonal and creative shifts and contrasts - that every film is standing out, and I've seen very little that doesn't still burn bright in my mind. I do, however, have quite a lot to catch up on telling you about now, so I'll keep these entries a little briefer. Do know though, that everything I'm about to talk about is 100% worth your time without a fraction of a moment of hesitation.
I've just come out of a screening of The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot. It was high on my excitement list beforehand (because that title, right?), but it's actually a very different film to the one its name might put you in mind of, and a much, much better one. An intimate, detailed character portrait dedicated to deconstructing the myth of the great, American pulp hero, it stars Sam Elliott and Aidan Turner as the man who did in fact do both of those things during different periods of his life. Dodging any kind of goofiness for heartfelt, heartbreaking character arcs and much discussion of the incompatibility of simplistic, Big Damn Hero archetypes and real humanity (and the greater importance of the latter), it's really just one of the loveliest and most beautifully crafted things I've seen in a while.
Before that, I started the day with The Night Eats the World, on the recommendation of a friend. It was a Good Recommendation. The best serious zombie film you're likely to see this year, the Paris-set production is a refreshingly stripped back treatment of the human side of a long, drawn-out apocalypse after the usual noise of outbreaks, collapse, and tense partnerships with strangers has fallen silent. A beautiful, poetic, affecting, hopeful, and even funny story of isolated survival, it's almost entirely dialogue-free, and at times evokes Richard Matheson's classic novel I Am Legend far better than any dedicated adaptation has ever come close to. It's just a wonderful piece of storytelling.
Also worthy of note in the earlier part of today's bill was White Chamber. A zero-budget, British sci-fi horror thriller with the ingenuity and economy to stand up to anything on the programme, it's a barnstorming and precisely honed debut from director Paul Raschid. Starting with a woman awakening in the brilliant white light of a stark, near-future torture chamber, White Chamber then goes to all kind of places, emotional, psychological, and unapologetically political. Set in a post-Brexit, civil war torn UK, and dealing with themes of self-imposed isolation, division, and dehumanisation, it also has a lot to say about the constructive and destructive nature of strong ideology, as well as a lack of it. Oh, and the small cast is headed up by The Descent's Brilliant Shauna Macdonald. Yeah. You should see it.
Jumping back to last night, we hit the the film I will put real money down on being FrightFest 2018's big breakout movie. Upgrade, from Leigh Whannell (director of Insidious 3, and writer/producer of a whole lot of that series, and Saw), sees its creator break free and clear from the slick haunted house movies and spiralling torture porn soap opera that have so far paved his path. A fresh, punchy, cyberpunk action movie with a clear and deep love of '80s and '90s sci-fi blockbusters, it evokes that era's chunky, bold, brash and grimy world-building without missing a detail, but makes that environment entirely its own.
Following quadriplegic mechanic Grey as he works to solve the mystery of the attack that paralysed him, with the help of mobility-restoring, spine-mounted supercomputer STEM, it's a movie with Matrix-level ideas and choreography, and MCU-level charisma. It also does some really, really clever things in regard to the audience/protagonist relationship. Upgrade is going to come out of nowhere to blindside its way on to a lot of people's end-of-year lists. I can pretty much guarantee it already has a spot on mine.
And you should also keep an eye out for What Keeps You Alive. A tightrope-tense woodland thriller, it tells the tale of Jules and Jackie's first wedding anniversary trip to Jackie's old family cabin, and I can alas tell you little more than that, because the spoilers start raining down pretty hard and fast in this one. Needless to say, there are shocks and reveals with machine-gun ferocity, things get pretty damn bloody, and the two women find themselves with one hell of a taught battle on their hands. Though little of it is probably what you expect. For all the tension, What Keeps You Alive is also often a majestically beautiful film to look at, and also, at times, rather darkly, charismatically funny. Maybe a tad overlong, but ultimately you won't regret a minute of it.
As for later on today? My chief targets are the highly intriguing and apparently very scary Terrified, from Argentina, and the irresistably conceived and apparently very warmhearted Anna and the Apocalypse, a Scottish zombie musical set near high school graduation. Truly, FrightFest is fulfilling all my deepest and most profound needs.