The opening film seemed to be divisive with the audience. Set during the 80s (as were all three films of the night) and focusing on the punk scene, a group of friends hide out in Chelsea’s (Chloe Levine) dead uncle’s cabin in the woods when they have to go on the run. However, they come across The Ranger (Jeremy Holm), who is arguably just a bit too passionate about saving the environment from outsiders. What brought the film down for me at the beginning was how it felt like it was trying a little too hard to be punk and I didn’t find myself rooting for any of the characters. The closest I got was with Chelsea since she has the worst friends who are completely obnoxious (I couldn’t muster up any sympathy for her boyfriend played by Granit Lahu). It did improve when The Ranger became more involved and managed to add some humour as he manages to tread the line between being intimidating and over-the-top. This wasn’t the worst film of the festival, but it did leave me feeling indifferent towards it.
‘Summer of 84’ quickly became the film to beat for me and seemed overall very popular with the crowd. The film starts as a fun and nostalgic vision of the 80s but becomes darker with its subject matter as Davey (Graham Verchere) becomes increasingly convinced that his neighbour, a police officer with a great reputation, is a serial killer linked to the disappearances of children around the neighbourhood. He drags his friends into their own private investigation and Davey is convinced not everything is at it seems in the suburbs. He becomes more desperately obsessed with proving his conspiracy by the day and the great thing about it is that you don’t know which way it’s going to go – whether he’ll be proven right or if everything is a coincidence with a reasonable explanation. There are so many things to love about it; the beautiful lighting and aesthetic, the incredible performances from all the kids (they’re all amazing but Tommy played by Judah Lewis stood out for me), as well as their chemistry and comedic delivery despite the darkness of the subject matter. Rich Sommer who plays Davey’s suspect, Wayne, manages to come across as wonderfully menacing despite his friendly exterior and whilst not knowing if he’s the killer or not, you see him through Davey’s perspective. Everything he says or does becomes suspicious and has the potential to have another, darker meaning when you look at him from that angle. One criticism I’ve heard of ‘Summer of 84’ is that it changes tone at the end and after having a light-hearted, comedic side throughout the rest of the film, the ending becomes completely dark and terrifying. This might be an issue for some people, but the way I interpreted it was that it went from a nostalgic throw-back of the 80s that has become so popular in recent years, to exposing the dangerous side of the culture during this time – for example, adults assuming that their neighbourhood is safe and being blind to the potential risk of their unsupervised children being taken to the point where it’s mentioned that no one in the neighbourhood locks their doors. Overall, this was definitely one of my favourite films of the weekend. And go check out the soundtrack, it’s worth a mention because it’s so memorable.
Honestly, I did expect a bit more from ‘Mega Time Squad’, but it was still a fun watch and the Kiwi humour really landed. The humour largely comes from the incompetence of its protagonist, John (Anton Tennet), who works for crime boss Shelton (Jonny Brugh, best known as Deacon from Taika Waititi’s ‘What we do in the Shadows’) but is in his bad books when he betrays Shelton by attempting his own robbery. And, naturally, he finds an ancient Chinese time travel bracelet. While many sci-fi films involving time travel ponder the potential consequences of messing with time travel, it’s interesting to see what would happen when that power is put in the hands of complete idiot and makes for some good, farcical comedy. However, John does also grow as a character in the end as he tries to make a better life for himself and his love interest, Kelly (Hetty Gaskell-Hahn), which is rather endearing. It’s ridiculous, doesn’t take itself too seriously and is just so charming it’s impossible to hate.
Deciding on a rating for this one was hard because I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it. ‘Seeds’ is a slow-burner and its main theme is temptation, which becomes uncomfortable at times but as Edgar Allen Poe once said, the scariest monsters are the ones that lurk within our souls, and when horror films like this one address the most forbidden desires some people may feel, that’s when they become the scariest (and in this case, also quite tragic). The film follows Marcus (Trevor Long), whose deepest fears and desires are represented by a horrible creature that follows him. When his niece Lily (Andrea Chen) stays with him when her parents are separating, their desire for each other becomes more and more difficult to control and Marcus desperately fights to maintain boundaries. He is a character you wouldn’t think you should feel sympathy towards if you describe the film out of context but seeing his inner conflict and the lengths he goes to in order to do the right thing makes him an interesting and tragic character. This film might be a bit much for some people, but its ability to go to such uncomfortable places whilst allowing the audience to maintain some sympathy towards Marcus despite knowing his weirdest secrets is something to be admired and is a credit to Owen Long and Steven Weisman’s writing. The film also has a real beauty to the way it’s shot (shout out to cinematographer Eun-ah Lee) and somehow adds an extra sense of melancholy.
Again, I wasn’t sure how to rate this one. There are some parts of ‘Braid’ that I love, but I was also left extremely confused by it and I still have no idea what was going on during the last part of the film even after having some time to think about it. The basic plot is that two women go to see an old friend from their childhood, so they can break into her safe after they’re left in debt to their drug supplier. However, there are rules, as they have to play along with her game and be careful of her volatile mood swings. There’s no denying it looks amazing thanks to cinematographer Todd Banhazi and has some interesting camera shots, especially as the films gets more and more crazy. Sarah Hay (Tilda) and Imogen Waterhouse (Petula) also give strong performances, but the film becomes so confusing it just feels hollow and it can’t make it on aesthetic alone. As a result, it just becomes a mess in the final act as it attempts to blur the lines of reality far too much.
I’d never heard of the ‘Puppet Master’ franchise before, but when I saw the premise of this reboot I was intrigued since it gave the impression of a fun, ridiculous movie and it’s exactly that. Recently divorced Edgar (Thomas Lennon) puts his late brother’s creepy puppet up for auction at a convention, where all the puppets up for auction go on a killing spree. Oh, and all the puppets are Nazis. ‘Puppet Master’ doesn’t hold back on the gore and probably has the most inventive kills I saw over the course of the whole weekend, to the point where it’s in bad taste, but it’s stupidly entertaining nonetheless. If you enjoy over-the-top, gory horror films, this is the one for you. It also some pretty hilarious moments, mostly thanks to Markowitz (Nelson Franklin) and Cuddly Bear (Skeeta Jenkins) who is impossible not to fall in love with.
This film is based on the true story of a French actress called Paula Maxa, who was famous for being on stage at the Grand Guignol Theatre in horror shows where her characters would be murdered on stage every night. Although it felt a bit too long, it was interesting to see the effects this job could have on someone psychologically through her character, as well as reflecting on the reasons why people love horror. Anna Mouglalis gives a great performance as Paula; she’s mysterious but also shows glimpses of vulnerability despite the hardened persona she puts on. The noir aesthetic style adds some character to the film, but overall it unfortunately didn’t stand out as much as I’d wanted it to.
‘Boar’ is something I was looking forward to as a fan of creature features, but it ended up taking itself a little too seriously for a film about a giant boar. The pacing was strange as it went between a couple of groups of characters terrorised by the monster, but the effects can at least be appreciated and there’s one incredibly satisfying death. Nathan Jones stars as Bernie and brings likeability and someone to really root for with his role, as does John Jarratt as Ken.
‘Killing God’ is a black comedy from Spanish directors Caye Casas and Albert Pintó, whose previous work have mostly been on short films. The film follows a dysfunctional family as they have to choose two people to survive the impending apocalypse after a dwarf claiming he’s God tells them he’s going to kill the rest of the human race at sunrise. All the performances are great and while the humour comes from the characters clashing, they’re also complex and it’s easy to believe they do also love each other despite that. This film is perfect for fans of Álex de la Iglesia’s films as this very much reflects the tone of his work. I also love how tragic the ending is which had me walking out of the cinema feeling slightly dead inside, which shows just how good this film is. It’s definitely another favourite of the weekend.
‘The Devil’s Doorway’ is a found footage horror, but don’t let that put you off. It’s unique in that it’s set in 1960s Ireland, and documents Father Riley and Father Thornton as they investigate claims of miracles occurring in a home where so-called ‘fallen women’ – such as those who fall pregnant out of wedlock – are put to work doing the jobs no one else wants to do. This is director Aislinn Clarke’s first feature film after making some short films, and this film makes it obvious just how talented she is. She also introduced the screening and it was clear she had a strong vision which really shows through the aesthetic of the film, some of which is actually filmed on 16mm film to make the 60s style feel authentic – and it succeeds. This was the one film from the weekend that did manage to scare me; its use of jump scares isn’t lazy but manages to build tension and atmosphere beforehand. I also can’t go without mentioning the great performances all around, particularly from Helena Bereen as Mother Superior (she manages to pull off being shady without being completely alienating and despite her somewhat antagonistic role, it’s easy to understand where she’s coming from with her views), and Lalor Roddy as Father Thomas. Roddy is brilliant as a character who is religious but is also sceptical and gives a nuanced performance that creates intrigue around his character’s background without giving too much away. This is definitely one of the best recent found footage films, and I can’t wait to see what Clarke makes in the future.