The following films screened at Arrow Video FrightFest, held in London from 22–26 August, 2019.
Dark Encounter (U.K., 2019) is an alien abduction film unlike pretty much any other that has come before. It’s an odd beast, in the best way, with three acts that feel decidedly different from one another but that form a cohesive story with an ending that should be unexpected for most viewers. One year after the disappearance of an eight-year-old girl, her grieving extended family returns to her parents’ home in rural Pittsburgh state after a memorial service for her. The first act consists mainly of heated family drama as viewers are introduced to each relative, and shown the various tensions between them. Father Ray (Mel Raido of Broken and The Disappointments Room [both 2016]) is deep in grief, and has built a wall between him, his brothers, and his teenage son Noah (Spike White). Mother Olivia (Laura Fraser of Tales from the Lodge  and I Am Not a Serial Killer ) is still grieving, too, but is trying to hold the family together. This first act sometimes feels close to a staged play, and the dialogue is reminiscent of the styles of Howard Hawks and David Mamet, with characters talking over each other in a realistic manner. The second act goes into science fiction/horror territory, as the men go into the woods at night and then return in a panic to join the women at home, as the house is besieged by what seems to be alien invaders. The third act goes to unforeseen territory that once again changes the tone, and takes the story to a whole different level. The ensemble cast, which also includes Sid Phoenix (Solis  and Beyond ), Grant Masters (Await Further Instructions ) and Alice Lowe (Prevenge  and Sightseers , among others, is superb, and writer/director Carl Strathie (Solis) shows a gifted hand in directing each of the differing styles in Dark Encounter, and successfully making them work together. Highly recommended for its strong cast, suspenseful premise, and original take on why close encounters of the third kind might happen, Dark Encounter is fine genre film fare.
Spanish/U.S. thriller Feedback (2019) explores moral ambiguity and how far people will go to protect themselves and their loved ones, and to try to right past wrongs. Eddie Marsan — splendid, as usual — portrays Jarvis Dolan, a famous controversial radio host in the U.K. who has just recently been freed from a kidnapping that took place because of his strong political views. He is forced by executives to allow his co-host from earlier days Andrew Wilde (Paul Anderson) to rejoin his show. After reluctantly agreeing, Dolan’s studio and show are hijacked by masked assailants who aren’t afraid to resort to violence to have their demands met. The mystery of who the perpetrators are and why they have grievances is revealed slowly and, without getting into spoilers, suffice it to say that their motivations are personal rather than political in the governmental sense — although gender politics certainly are a major factor. Director Pedro C. Alonso, working from a screenplay that he cowrote with Alberto Marini, serves up a solid suspenser highlighted by the performances of its quality cast, which besides Marsan and Anderson includes Ivana Baquero as studio assistant Claire and Richard Brake and Oliver Coopersmith as the assailants. Viewers will have to suspend disbelief for such matters as no one else in the radio station building knowing what is going on in Dolan’s studio and alerting authorities, but Feedback makes up for that by giving viewers plenty to chew on regarding moral questions, while delivering a good share of nail-biting tension.
Extracurricular (Canada, 2019) recalls such recent teenage-killer efforts as Tragedy Girls (2018) that often have a darkly comic side to them, but opts instead for a rather straight approach. The story revolves around a quartet of high school friends who spend as much of their spare time at and after school devising what they hope to be foolproof plans to invade homes and savagely murder victims. These four teenagers are not the misunderstood outcasts or loners viewers might expect, but rather intelligent and talented students who seem to fit in well with others. They just also happen to psychopaths. Moody, broody Ian (Spencer Macpherson), his older athlete brother Derek (Keenan Tracey), Derek’s girlfriend Jenny (Brittany Teo), and dancing major hopeful Miriam (Brittany Raymond) form a private little killing club that gets along well until things start to unravel when Miriam becomes involved in a romantic situation and starts showing some compassion toward certain victims. Another complication, brought up early on in the film, is the fact that the Gordon boys’ father (Luke Goss of Hellboy II: The Golden Army  and Blade II ) is the town sheriff. Extracurricular follows some recent horror tropes, such as the murderers wearing masks and terrorizing victims before finally doing away with them, and also adds the chestnut of the villains being well-schooled in horror movie knowledge. Director Ray Xue shows a strong flair for helming thrilling action sequences and gets solid performances out of his game cast, but Extracurricular is hampered by a thin screenplay from Matthew Abrams and Padgett Arango that offers little in the way of original material or angles, and even less in giving much more than token background information regarding its four main characters, and therefore little reason to care about what they do and why. Recommended for slasher movie and current-teen-horror completists.
In the U.K., Signature Entertainment releases Feedback on Digital HD 26th August 2019, and Dark Encounter and Extracurricular on DVD & Digital HD 21st October 2019.