IFI Horrorthon 2012: Day Four

Editor’s Note: The following dispatch is part of Ronan’s coverage of the Irish Film Institute’s annual Horrorthon

The penultimate day of Horrorthon 2012 got started with a nod to the past in the form of 1987’s The Monster Squad, an affectionately rendered mash-up of the classic Universal horrors with a Goonies-esque band of misfit kids. Co-scripted by Shane Black, the film flows with almost as many hilarious gags as it does loving references to the films of the ‘30s and ‘40s, Dracula and co. running rampant on a small town in an effort to overrule the world with evil. Seeing it for the first time with a packed audience of obvious fans was a great treat to start the day, the cheers and whoops that filled the cinema with every fresh appearance of a beloved character making all the more enjoyable a terrifically fun testament to horror fandom.

Hot off presenting her directorial debut Among Friends last night, guest of honour Danielle Harris was back in the building to introduce one of her more recent films: Shiver. That she cited it as a perfect example of how the lack of material control involved in acting pushed her to get behind the camera was not the best of signs, the audience nervously chuckling as she as good as called the film a heap of crap. And rightly so: Shiver is a dreadful mess of by-the-book serial killer thriller clichés enveloped in an utterly nonsensical narrative. Its characters behave without logic, its murderer’s motivations are questionable at best, its visual style is drab and lifeless… the problems wind on and on, as too did the film, sucking up all the life imbued by the prior feature.

Those unmistakable crimson elevator doors that suddenly filled the screen as the lights went down for the surprise film screening elicited as many gasps of frustration as excitement: sure, The Shining might be the horror movie par excellence, but is it much of a treat for an audience of genre fans sure to have seen it a dozen times already? The relief was audible when it turned out to be merely a trailer for the theatrical release of the film’s US cut (never before seen in cinemas in the UK and Ireland). No, the surprise film was very much a newer product: Jennifer Lynch’s Chained, featuring Vincent D’Onofrio as a serial killer who keeps captive the son of one of the women he murders. Three quarters a very fine film, its ending detracts seriously from the foreboding of the atmosphere until then maintained, created primarily through two excellent central performances and a strong undercurrent of moral complexity. Further, fuller thoughts to be found in my review, soon to come.

Before it came time to watch what, for me at least, was perhaps the single most appealing movie of the festival, we were treated to the world premiere of Out There, a zombie short from Irish writer/director Randal Plunkett. A very effective, impressive little piece, it thrives on putting you in precisely the position of confusion as its protagonist, a bloodied man who awakens in the woods and struggles to figure out how he came to be there. The audience at large seemed to take it perhaps a little more humorously than intended, glossing over the darker implications of its final reveal with their—admittedly justified—mass laughter. Making nice use of its rural locales and boasting some very fine zombie make-up, Out There is a strong indicator of Plunkett’s future potential.

One of the most acclaimed horror films of the year, Excision’s reputation certainly precedes it, making its primetime screening tonight the defining event of the festival for this genre fan. Not only did it meet expectations; it exceeded them by light years, its extreme gore and sharp comedy masking a gradually more and more heart-wrenching dramatic undertone. It’s an extraordinary film, consistently hilarious, and horrifying not in the graphic nature of its dreamscape imagery, but in the sad sense of truth to its darkness; this is a ferociously relevant piece of work, its aggressively accusatory tone bursting forth from the lighter veneer to reveal the sadistic nature of societal expectations. I’ll save the bulk of my thoughts—and oh my they are bulky—for my forthcoming review; it’s enough for now to say that Excision is without question the highlight of this festival, and indeed of horror cinema this year.

It’s almost cruel for poor After to have been made to follow so tough an act; the low-budget apocalyptic drama rounded out the night, telling the story of neighbours who meet for the first time on a bus before finding themselves totally alone in the world with an encroaching fog slowly threatening to engulf them. It’s to the credit of writer/director Ryan Smith that he plays his hand relatively early, evidently having enough trust in his talented leads to let them carry the film rather than any tantalising mystery. Their chemistry is impressive, hampered though it is at times by the conformity of the plot to the expected order of things, the inevitable blossoming romance well carried in their likeable interaction. Well-used minimal CGI adds to the horror factor, but it’s psychological themes that After is most concerned with. It might not manage quite as much as it aims for, but this is a film with the confidence to hold the attention through its rockier moments, a suitably intriguing closer to another fine day at Horrorthon 2012.

Coming up tomorrow: short film showcase; Nightmare Factory; The Burning Moon; and Sleep Tight.

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Ronan Doyle

Director of Movies On Demand & Sr. Staff Film Critic at Next Projection
Having spent the vast majority of my life sharing in the all too prevalent belief than cinema is merely dumbed-down weekend escapism for the masses, I was lucky enough to turn on a television at the exact right moment to have my perspectives on the medium completely transformed. Those first two and a half hours marked the beginning of a new life revolving around—maybe even depending upon—the screen and the depth of artistry, intellectual stimulation, and emotional exhilaration it can provide.