Last November we attended the Mayhem Film Festival hosted by Broadway Cinema here in Nottingham. Over the course of four days we saw some of the best horror flicks currently making the festival circuit (and some select classics too). Day four saw screenings of three upcoming releases, In Fear, Painless and Big Bad Wolves. Also screened was the once lost Australian nightmare Wake in Fright, and Tod Browning’s absurd 1927 drama The Unknown.
Wake in Fright
Sunday began with the surreal, Australian Outback set Wake in the Fright. Made in 1971, the film was lost for many years, until the original negative was discovered back in 2004. A small-town school teacher travels to Sydney during the Christmas vacation, but when passing through the mining town known as ‘the Yabba’ he gets caught up in the local’s revelry and excess. He embarks on a month long bender of drinking, gambling and Kangaroo hunting.
Perhaps best described as a surreal nightmare, Wake in Fright certainly isn’t for everyone. It revels in its grimy atmosphere and gritty realism – at the very least you’ll feel like you want to take a shower. The hunting sequences are particularly brutal, the crew went along on a real-life Kangaroo hunt to capture the footage, so everything you see is very real and very disturbing.
That being said, it’s a beautiful film, the contrast of wide panoramas with tight-closeups is reminiscent Sergio Leone. If you can bear the grubby tone and the animal cruelty, Wake in Fright is an engaging and endlessly fascinating piece of work. Just don’t watch it with a hangover.
Juan Carlos Medina’s Painless is set in 1930s Catalonia, in the midst of one of the largest Spanish Civil wars in history. The film’s opening may lead one to believe that Director Carlos Medina is going to drag us down the familiar clichéd lane of playing on the peadophobia that transcends most modern horror. However, the story takes another turn entirely. The children of a small Spanish Town are inflicted with an incurable disease that disables them from feeling anything at all. It is immediately decided that these children are a danger to themselves and others around them and must be incarcerated for further experimentation.
One has to question whether these children are an allegory for the numbness of this war time generation, to inflict so much pain on one another and pleasure in violence with no thought for the consequences. The well-used theme of the moral complexities of torture and its nature and connection to wartime blame rears its head throughout. The metaphor extends when one of the children is utilised as a torture weapon to interrogate freedom fighters on the orders of Fascist soldiers. Mirroring the historical events of Nazis using Spanish fascists to carry out their orders in Spain.
The well-used theme of the moral complexities of torture and its nature and connection to wartime blame rears its head throughout
The narrative flashes forward to the present day, where the events surrounding the ‘unfeeling’ children have indirectly effected the next generation. A man, who has crashed his car, killing his wife finds that he has a previously undetected inherited disease and must find his biological parents to find the cure. Juan Carlos Medina creates a character wrought with longing to understand the past, despite knowing that the secrets it holds may be better left untouched. The moral here is that only with confrontation of the past can memories be laid to rest.
Medina explores ground already trodden by the director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), who investigated themes of war through the innocence of children. As the plot unfolds you will find yourself thankful for the comfort of your cinema seat as you try to detach yourself from the events on screen. Medina gives nothing away until like the central character, the audience too beg for the truth.
The ending somewhat spoils the sincerity and tension built by the rest of the film. Expect something surreal and predictable. Although, it does not match up to the sincerity of the rest of the film, the frankly absurd ending somehow completes and highlights the central allegory in a way that another ending could not.
Having dated for only three weeks, a young couple whimsically decide to travel to Ireland together. After an incident in the pub, strange events follow as they try to navigate through the meandering Irish country roads, only to find that they are stuck in a repetitive maze. Tension builds as the relationship between the pair is tested by frustration and fears of the dark and imminent entrapment ensue. The plot takes unexpected turns when the final member of the three-person cast enters, Irish local Max, Downton Abbey’s Allen Leech. However, Max immediately gives us reason to question his seemingly innocent intentions, although this is perhaps a failing of acting style, rather then a creative tool.
Director, Jeremy Lovering emphasized that he wanted the cast to feel real fear, rather than act it. For this reason he held the script back from the cast members so that they did not know the outcome of their characters. This had the effect of actors guessing their characters fates and acting towards it. One positive aspect was that the screams were primal, a welcome sound after years of melodramatic and practiced ones. Pace is slow to begin with, but once it accelerates you may feel yourself belted into a moving rollercoaster that you wish to get off. Unfortunately, the plot was a well-used concept in the genre, so not too many surprises. Lovering, has however, showcased the Irish countryside as an unexplored horror setting with much potential.
Let me introduce The Unknown as my favourite screening. As one of the most influential horrors ever made it captures everything that is missing in film today. Created in 1927, The Unknown is about the beautiful daughter of a Circus ringmaster who is pursued simultaneously by a covert murderer on the run and the strongest man.
There is something about the silent nature of the production that takes on a whole other art form, exploring the relationships of characters rather than the performance style of the actors. The story is so bizarre and so apart from any film plot today that it is enthralling to watch and it’s completely impossible to draw yourself away from it. Lon Chaney stars as the love-crazed, armless-but-not-armless knife thrower, in a performance that is wrought with pain and scheming madness. Everything about his irrational love for the female lead played by Joan Crawford is so passionate that it is difficult to feel a disdain towards him.
An original score, live from the 8MM Orchestra, accompanied The Unknown. This had the positively catastrophic effect of heightening the audience’s senses, the music communicated better then any voice could. It changed the entire viewing, and violently shook off the dust that covered the film.
Big Bad Wolves
Big Bad Wolves is the latest offering from the makers of Israel’s first horror film, the cult masterpiece, Rabies. You may think from the beginning that you have seen films of the same premise before. You have. But, it has never been done like this before. After young girls are brutally tortured and killed a crazed father of the most recent victim teams up with a comical and shamed cop to find the resting place of his daughters head. Both have the same suspect in mind, but neither any proof that he is the right guy.
By all accounts directors Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado give nothing away and we are forced to think for ourselves whether the utilitarian torture of a seemingly benevolent schoolteacher is right. The violence will make you squeem, but not as much as the curveball thrown by the directors, to include grim humour that you will feel guilty laughing at. This film is such a mixture of emotions that you will have you questioning where you stand on the grating themes of the film. At its core is the debate of torture as a weapon in the Israeli-Arab conflict, with the message that at the end of it all torture is futile to meeting reasonable conclusion.