Editor’s Notes: The following capsule reviews are part of our coverage of the 2014 FILM4 FrightFest. For more information on the festival visit http://www.frightfest.co.uk/ and follow FrightFest on Twitter at @Film4FrightFest.
Dir. Matthew A. Brown
Advertised on IMDb as a neon-noir revenge thriller-horror is misleading. A femme fatale and night-time cityscapes do not make it a neon-noir. Aside from the mislabelling, this is a twisted revenge thriller for the most part. It belongs to the rape revenge subgenre, which can be uncomfortable for those to watch. Revenge through violence is stooping to the same violent levels that they did which - for most films of the subgenre - makes the arcs a destructive one, rather than a satisfying one. Watching a character like Julia, played subtly by the talented Ashley C. Williams, get destroyed then delve further into her own violent ambitions as revenge is not as satisfying as the filmmaker thinks. When the news erupts of certain atrocities, many people ask for violence as the justice but when it is served, it is lacking in closure even in its finality. That is because one cannot change the past, the atrocity happened, acting as they did is more destructive than constructive. That dissatisfaction is present with Julia.
Beautiful cinematography uplifts Julia but even that is stilted by awkward shots which, though interesting, do not work. There is a shot, looking up, that spins while she runs down the stairs. Its placement is too panicked for the moment and the movement itself is jerky and dizzying. There’s a sense that this is a film about female empowerment, a camaraderie through banding together to strike down sinful men in the seedy world created. Instead, it feels like a man’s vision of female empowerment. Though for all its stylistic flourishes, the film is mostly devoid of tension or interesting characters. Ashley C. Williams’s portrayal of the eponymous character is impressive, she rarely uses words yet we know what she’s always thinking or feeling, being the main highlight of the film along with its visuals. Much else is tedium masking itself as sophistication through a false sense of empowerment. Julia may have good intentions, but it’s too threadbare elsewhere to have any tension or real entertainment value.
Dir. Lowell Dean
If someone approaches you with a film like Sharknado or Giant Shark vs. Mega Octopus as a ‘so bad it’s good’ movie then slap them in the face and show them this masterpiece of exploitive cinema. Lowell Dean needs to teach the folks at SyFy and Asylum how do an exploitation film because WolfCop is the perfect blend of absurdity and fun, to make this one of the funniest and most fun films of the entire year. B-movies have always existed, but recently there is a trend to make these films again, revelling in their inherent silliness. The problem is that they don’t respect cinema as a medium, never conforming to the grammar, or using the power of it to completely mock it inherent self. Sharknado, for example, adds random moments to be nothing but absurd. Unearned insulting silliness that does not make you laugh. This is more like Black Dynamite, a film that respects cinematic grammar while pointing out uninformed errors in films of that subgenre - like the car chase as the driver doesn’t touch the steering wheel while the background shows rallying around corner after corner, then the same explosion over and over.
The power comes from its writing and direction by Lowell Dean, who truly believes in the wonderful madness of the film. Most directors don’t bother trying with these films, as if the lack of effort is somehow endearing. Lowell Dean says hell no to that, putting in maximum amounts of effort to make sure that this film is more fun than anything you have ever seen in the B-movie catalogue. Everything in it is wonderfully righteous that roaring with laughter is constant. Then there’s the brilliant make-up effects, that goes back to the glory gory days of The Thing and the like. It has the most original (read: mental) werewolf transformation you will see, alongside a sex scene that rivals the likes of Team America: World Police and The Naked Gun. WolfCop could have easily been another addition to the B-movie catalogue that has more fun in the name than the actual feature, but due to the belief in its hilarious premise, it goes all the way to make this oddly brilliant. A masterpiece and masterclass in exploitation cinema.
Dir. Ben Wagner
Tackling the stagnant zombie genre takes a bold director and writer with an innovative premise. Dead Within isn’t really that film. Its premise can be admired for its ambition as well as slight invigoration of the undead infection, but it hits all the similar beats of the post-apocalyptic survival story that The Walking Dead already has and even a similar subplot that the Dawn of the Dead remake tackled. Essentially, it is a story of a surviving couple who have been isolated in a cabin for over 6 months, still vying for survival. Mike (played by Dean Chekvala) goes out every day to gather supplies and attempt to wipe out any potential night-time threats, leaving Kim (Amy Cale Peterson) at home alone to wait for him while she loses her sanity from the isolation. Cabin fever then.
The performances from the duo is great - probably stemming from their involvement in the screenwriting process with Matthew Bradford and director-writer Ben Wagner. Before stepping in front of the camera, they were their characters, elevating the material to its highest order. That, unfortunately, isn’t the biggest compliment. Dead Within is a film devoid of any tension or illusion, using Dutch tilt so often that it is obvious to the audience what way the narrative is heading. Leading you along a well-dredged path but expecting a different result. Among the beaten narrative, lie flashes of creativity and innovation, but too rare to ever uplift the story above forgettable mediocrity - in the least offensive way possible.
Dir. Simeon Halligan
If Emmerdale was to ever make a horror episode, this would be it. The poor colour grading in the daytime scenes speak volumes of the overall film’s quality that tries nothing new with the home invasion horror. In fact, it lacks more than most. No suspense, no clever or interesting characters and serious lack in gore for those horror hounds. Criticising it for not having gore is criticising it for not being something else, which isn’t fair on it. In fact, kudos to it for attempting to be a home invasion film without the gore that usually accompanies it. If you are to do that, though, you are going to need some serious tension or intelligence to get past the usual, the one that audiences are bored with. White Settlers does not have either of those. Lee Williams’s character is neither likeable nor interesting, playing the part like a run of the mill soap opera actor. Pollyanna McIntosh is average at best in hers, never really provoking any sympathy from the audience.
The main problem with White Settlers is either in the writing or direction. That is because characters do not hear or see characters when they are in plain view. It’s hard to know without seeing the script itself but the blame can be passed onto both. For example, Sarah (Pollyanna McIntosh) walks along a gravel path while someone stands nearby but apparently does not hear a thing. In a loud city, maybe, but considering the entire point of this film is that it’s away from civilisation, in pure silence and bliss, any footsteps on gravel would be instantly audible which would lead to her capture. Then, there are moments where you can see the actor is looking in the direction yet apparently does not the character. That’s silly - possibly even lazy. Again, another example, a character supposedly hides within this room where there is nowhere to hide, only to jump out seconds later without the other character knowing. That is simply insultingly impossible. White Settlers asks for a lot and deserves none of it. It is a boring, standard home invasion horror-thriller that never ever piques any interest from the audience and has zero creativity to even elevate the material to mediocre. An insulting, poor, boring, trite film that is no thriller, all tedious filler.