FrightFest Diary Day Four – Under The Skin, Missionary, In Fear, The Conspiracy, The Last Days And Willow Creek

willow creek still

Sunday morning at Frightfest – what better way to start than a film about a dangerous Mormon missionary?


Brendon: The obvious paradigm here are the wave of "obsession" movies that followed Fatal Attraction, but Missionary looks, feels and behaves as though a more serious, and textured drama than most of those ever managed. That's for the most part – once the obsessed Mormon missionary properly goes over the edge and starts to make truly unreasonable, violent threats against the mother and son he's wanting to make into his family, this film suddenly felt a lot more in step with a fairly typical horror movie. There's enough substance here, at least for the first couple of acts, to make the film worth a chew, though.

Under the Skin teaser

Craig: Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin is set to open Venice very soon but FrightFest attendees were lucky enough to get a sneak peek at the film on Sunday. Playing before In Fear was a teaser of sorts – it felt more like a short sizzle reel than a trailer – for the film. The teaser began with a short sequence in which Scarlett Johansson, who plays the central role in the film, picked up a hitchhiker before taking him back to an apartment or house. It was an incredibly ominous sequence, with loping and oppressive synths dominating the soundtrack, and it was clear that it's not going to end well for that hitchhiker. There was also a predatory way in which Johansson's character was portrayed and the way the sequence played out was actually rather reminiscent of the opening of the recent Maniac remake. The teaser then went into a montage of shots from the film. These were numerous and all very brief but they gave us a look at some incredibly striking imagery, some of which was far removed from the real world. As a tease it really was highly effective; I now can't wait to see how Glazer uses all of the varied and expressive imagery in the story he's telling.

In Fear

Craig: A smart and highly effective debut film from writer director Jeremy Lovering that unsettles you no end in its early scenes. As a couple drive around country lanes, unable to find their way, loose threads begin to appear on their relationship and these are tugged on by the growing menace that surrounds them. Lovering seems to lose the courage that he displays in these early scenes as the film progresses but there's enough strong establishing of the central characters and chilling moments to just about sustain the threat and discomfort to the final credits.

Brendon: I'm afraid that In Fear really does feel like a film of two halves. While its suspense mechanic worked to fuel a tense, raw relationship drama, I was pretty much totally on its side, but once the film spins on a pivot in the middle and a third key character is introduced, too much of what follows is paint-by-numbers for me to feel really enthusiastic. The performances by Alice Englert and Iain Decaestecker might provide enough meat for many viewers, though, because they're often very, very strong indeed.

The Conspiracy

Craig: A flimsy and rather silly film that recreates the look and feel of a real documentary very well in its early stages but fails to actually do or say anything. Most disappointing is that little in the finale actually adds up, even with the benefit of the director attempting to explain it in the post-film Q&A. While the film is compelling and very engaging at times it quickly becomes clear that, as with most conspiracy theories, looking too closely at it is simply a waste of time.

Brendon: I can see how one clear reading of this film's conclusion almost adds up but I'm still not convinced that it means anything if it does. When this film goes from scrutinising the conspiracy theorists into acting out some of their fantasies it lunges from  film with possible real world resonance to a rather rote thriller, a retread of tropes from a number of well-known, well seen horror pictures that I just can't name without spoiling everything.

The Last Days

Craig: There's interesting social commentary in this science fiction tale of a "panic" that stops people from going outside, effectively bringing the world as we know it to an end, but it's relatively surface level. It's there though, and it's woven into a film that is for the most part compelling and occasionally tense. Some stronger commentary, more thrilling action or deeper emotional resonance could have made this a real winner but even still it's a solid and imaginative entry into a genre that often feels a little cluttered with mediocre efforts.

Brendon: A lot fantastic film craft went into creating the world of Lost Days, and in imbuing its sets, costumes, lighting and shot designs with character and value. This is a slightly smarter film than it might first appear, and while it's not using its thriller mechanics to really tell us anything about the world, it is at least using observations on the world to power its thrills. Sadly, everything is capped off with misjudged coda that felt more like a Spielberg movie – Rufio! Rufio! – than what had preceded it.

Willow Creek

Craig: Easily my film of the festival so far. Bobcat Goldthwait once again – after the magnificent Sleeping Dogs – taps into the humour and awkwardness that can exist between couples to wonderful effect. He then spirals the film off in more of a horror direction with apparent ease. In these later scenes Goldthwait really knows when to hold back and when to make an audience jump. There is an element to the film that would be so much fun to talk about but it's a substantial spoiler. Try and avoid it before you go in as discovering it in the room really is an absolute joy.

Brendon: Definitively a found footage film rather than a faux documentary, Willow Creek is pared down, no-fuss and pretty much faultless. Two big surprises happen towards the end of the movie, each of them putting a significant spin on something we'd seen earlier in the film, but I defy any viewer to predict them both. It might take an audience a bit of effort to get the most out of Willow Creek – you'll want to think about the silent implications of pretty much every scene if you really want to understand what Goldthwait is talking about – but its scare mechanics will work on even the most casual viewer. At least just as long as they're actually watching… and listening.

We've spoken about several of the films again in the days after their screenings, but none so much as Willow Creek and none with such enthusiasm. I hope we find out about the film's distribution soon.