Arrow Video FrightFest, the United Kingdom’s biggest horror and fantasy film festival, returned to the big screen with in-person attendance at London’s Cineworld Leicester Square from Thursday, August 26th through Monday, August 30th, 2021 and then presented an online edition from September 1st through 5th. Here is the second in a two-part series of reviews from the festival.
Director Mitch Jenkins and writer Alan Moore team up once again, after their Show Pieces short film series, to deliver a quirky odyssey through Northampton called The Show (U.K., 2021). Not surprisingly with Moore on board — both as a writer and actor, portraying half of an ill-fated comedy duo — the film has a comic book feel to it, and a strong touch of the surreal and the out of the ordinary. Hitman Fletcher Dennis (Tom Burke) wanders from one odd group of characters to another — including two young boys who run a film noir-styled detective agency, complete with self-narration; voodoo gangsters; and a musician dressed as Hitler — as he tries to locate a Rosicrucian Maltese Cross for a client, along with the man who killed his daughter (and yes, that seems to be the order of priority for the client). The wry humor and witty banter are highlights of the film, though there is much more to recommend. Jenkin helms the film well, juggling a series of wonderfully bizarre set pieces and keeping things as coherent as possible. The cast members all shine, whether playing straight-faced, bemused, camp, or scenery-chewing characters. The set decorations, costumes, and color palette are sublime. Jenkins and Moore take viewers on a surreal tour, and though there may be a few puzzling detours and minor bumps along the way, it’s a cinematic trip worth taking.
Ghost film The Maid (Thailand, 2020) finds young, cheerful housemaid Joy (Ploy Sornarin) taking on a new job in the home of upscale couple Uma (Savika Chaiyadej), her husband Nirach (Theerapat Sajakul), and their young daughter Nid (Keetapat Pongrue), who sees unusual things that others don’t, which her parents attribute to a neural condition — which does not explain why the maid that Joy is replacing also saw some things that terrified her enough to suddenly quit. Joy eventually sees the ghost of another previous maid named Ploy (Kannaporn Puangtong). As Joy tries to uncover what happened to Ploy, she is repeatedly told that the young woman just left on her own accord one day, but viewers know that classical ghost lore dictates otherwise. Director Lee Thongkham has crafted a beautiful-looking film, with crisp cinematography courtesy of Brandt Hackney capturing the lush set designs of the house and the gruesome goings-on wonderfully. The plot uses some familiar tropes but also delivers some nice scares and several surprises, though some elements in the film’s opening scenes — including a toy possibly turning into a monkey demon — are not fully fleshed out. Thongkham strikes a fine balance between the iciness of the wealthy couple and the down-to-earth scenes of tragedy and violence. Sornarin is outstanding as the new maid, getting to run through a wide assortment of emotions, with her facial expressions being priceless. The third act is sheer Grand Guignol, satisfactorily wrapping up a film that is a little heavier on style than original plot points, but more than worth a watch.
Writer/director Richard Bates Jr. steps away from the horror content of his previous features such as Tone-Deaf (U.S., 2019) and goes for pure comedy — although with an occult bent — with King Knight (2021). Married couple Thorn (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Willow (Angela Sarafyan) are the high priest and priestess of a Wiccan who also act as life and relationship counselors to their members: a gay couple Desmond (Johnny Pemberton) and Neptune (Josh Fadem) with worries that one of them might be attracted to women, seemingly ill-matched couple Percival (Andy Milonakis) and Rowena (Kate Comer), and opposite-personalities couple Angus (Nelson Franklin) and Echo (Emily Chang). Willow finds an email about Thorn’s upcoming high school reunion, which leads to him confessing that he has lied about his past, and that he was his class’s prom king, most likely to succeed, and an athlete. He confesses to the rest of the coven members, who reject him, and goes on a walkabout after accidentally ingesting an illicit substance. Barbara Crampton makes some short, quite good appearances as Thorn’s highly conservative mother. The humor ranges from running gags about Juliette Binoche and scatalogical philosophy (not at the same time, to be clear) to a well-intended member naming the pet dog Women’s Rights, and beyond, going more for lighthearted and silly rather than sharply sarcastic or skewering. The result is a fun character study of a man reconciling with his past to the point of needing to come to terms with his fear of dancing in public. The ensemble cast is top notch, the pacing is on the mark, and Bates Jr. shows a deft hand at pure comedy.
Two werewolf-hunting brothers, unsure Everett (John Black) and take-no-prisoners Connor (Stefan Chanyaem) hold the last silver bullet forged long ago to put an end to those nocturnal creatures after their father Michael (Justin Hayward) dies at the hands of one in director Seb Cox’s Are We Monsters (United Kingdom, 2021). In the forest where most of this coming-of-age fantasy takes place, teenager Maya (Charlotte Olivia) may just be the last werewolf, and she is going through an existential crisis about wanting to go on living if it means having to kill people. Awkward paranormal-researching teen Luke (Jathis Sivanesan) tries to befriend Maya, not knowing her lycanthropic secret. The four join up to ostensibly help both the hunter and the hunted. Are We Monsters addresses the classic dilemma of beast within human, but in a unique manner that drives the film well. The creature design strays far from what is expected of classic cinematic werewolves, with more of a yokai design, and the look of these special effects belies the film’s lower budget. The focus of Cox’s wonderfully directed film is much more on drama than horror, and the result is an engaging take on werewolf lore that features some cool throwback animation and a history lesson about lycanthropy that reaches back to Greek mythology.
The Show, The Maid, King Knight, and Are We Monsters screened as part of Arrow Video FrightFest 2021.
The Maid is released to download/stream in the U.K. from October 11, 2021 from Sparky Pictures.