FrightFest Bites 2022: Quick Read Reviews – Who Invited Them, The Eyes Below, Raven’s Hollow, Everyone Forgot, Mean Spirited and Do Not Disturb.
The Eyes Below
FrightFest Bites 2022: The Eyes Below.
Have you ever had a nightmare so vivid and terrifying that you were paralysed with fear even as you woke from your slumber? Some of us have never experienced a disturbing dream, but all of us who have will understand that the memory often stays with us for weeks, months and even years. In many ways, French director Alexis Bruchon’s The Eyes Below feels like one of those dreams – a terrifying mosaic of images and sounds that could only come from the depths of a sleeping mind. Bruchon’s devilishly clever film places us as a silent witness to the darkness of an inescapable dream that engulfs a lawyer named Eugene (Vinicius Coelho).
Eugene has been working on a corporate lawsuit and plans to deliver a crucial letter as evidence the following day, but will he make it to the morning? As the snow falls outside, inside, a log fire illuminates Eugene’s bedroom, but that soft, comforting glow will soon morph into the gates of hell as a mysterious dark figure coated in a thick black goo enters the room. Bruchon never allows us to define whether Eugene is asleep, suffering from sleep paralysis or the victim of a genuine supernatural intruder. However, the reality of the situation doesn’t matter as The Eyes Below is rooted in atmosphere, sound and vision. The Eyes Below is an assured second feature from Bruchon, following the equally artistic The Woman with Leopard Shoes in 2020, and while, at times, it loses the audience, the terrifying cinematography and sound leave an indelible mark.
READ MORE: TINY CINEMA
Who Invited Them
FrightFest Bites 2022 – Who Invited Them arrives on Shudder on the 1st of September.
Anyone who has ever held a house party will have experienced the horror of the party squatter. These people never leave, glueing themselves to your sofa while ignoring all the signs that the party is well and truly over. During my life, I have had to tolerate more than a few of these socially ambivalent creatures, but thankfully I have never had an experience like Adam (Ryan Hansen) and Margo (Melissa Tang). Their housewarming party is going well, some might say it’s electric, and the young couple from next door, Tom (Timothy Granaderos) and Sasha (Perry Mattfeld), seem lovely as they make themselves at home. Tom and Sasha are intriguing, energetic and ready to party until the sun comes up, but strangely this enigmatic young duo were not invited by either Margo or Adam.
Director Duncan Birmingham combines sharp comedy with a spiralling sense of unease in an assured feature directorial debut. Birmingham delights in playing with audience expectations as he slowly builds his cat-and-mouse game, resulting in a delightful mix of home invasion horror and Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party. Like Leigh’s play, themes of class conflict, rocky relationships and social standing sit at the heart of Adam, Margo, Tom and Sasha’s conversations as the night spirals out of control, but unlike Abigail’s fractured night in the suburbs, Adam and Margo’s evening is about to sink into abject horror.
Who Invited Them is a smart comedy-thriller that builds a delightful sense of tension; it is, therefore, sad that it opts for a rather conventional conclusion. But putting that minor criticism aside, this is a film that holds moments of brilliance as a housewarming becomes a housesitting before taking a far more deadly turn. It may not quite deliver a finale worthy of its premise, but Who Invited Them is devilishly entertaining.
READ MORE: WRECK (FIRST LOOK)
FrightFest Bites 2022: Raven’s Hollow arrives on Shudder on the 22nd of September.
The year is 1830, and five army cadets on exercise deep in rural America are about to discover a disembowelled man strung up in a field. One of these cadets is Edgar Allen Poe (William Moseley), and intrigued by the apparent corpse before him, he dismounts his horse to investigate the body. But the gutted man is still alive, and as Poe examines his devastating wounds, the man utters a single word before dying, ‘raven’. Poe’s fellow cadets are eager to ride on and leave the man where he hangs, but Poe believes they must return his body to the local village, unaware that Raven’s Hollow holds a deadly and dark secret.
Filmed in Latvia, Hatton’s horror starts from an interesting premise by exploring Edgar Allen Poe’s young life in the United States Army through a fictional lens. But this fictional reinvention of Poe as an American 19th Century Sherlock Holmes soon falters despite Moseley’s assured and understated performance. Here Raven’s Hollow quickly gets bogged down in playing it safe rather than diving into the candlelit scares we expect from the gothic horror genre. As a result, Raven’s Hollow, for all its style, lacks the one thing it so desperately needed, fear.
READ MORE: LOLA
Everyone Forgot (Short Film)
FrightFest Bites 2022: Everyone Forgot.
It’s Lily’s 40th birthday; for most of us, this would be a celebration, but for Lily, there’s no party, just a large cake and an empty new home of unpacked boxes. Her social media pages are void of any ‘happy birthday’ messages, no matter how often she checks her phone, and even her mum seems eager to hang up during a stilted phone conversation. As Lily walks around her new home, which still has protective sheets on the carpets, she has an idea. Lily decides to phone a local handyman service, pretending she has jobs that need attention, hoping that someone will come over and get her birthday back on track. Shortly after her call, the doorbell rings, and the attractive young Ben waits for his instructions. Ben is ready to solve whatever problem needs his attention, but he wasn’t expecting loneliness to be one of them. However, he is being paid, and Lily seems nice; plus, there is beer and cake on tap, so he takes off his work gear, settles in, and enjoys the break.
In just eighteen minutes, Theo Kai Marlow’s delightfully dark film lulls you into a false sense of security as Lily and Ben get to know each other over cake and drinks. Little do we know that there is something far more sinister at hand, and Marlow makes us wait until the end for a twist that mirrors the final act of Marc Cartwright’s brilliant short film We Die Alone (2019). Like, Cartwright’s We Die Alone, what makes Everyone Forgot work is an incredibly clever screenplay and outstanding performances. Anwen Bull (Lilly) and James Knapp (Ben) offer performances full of charm, biting humour and tension as their relationship goes from caution to conversation to companionship and sexual tension before falling apart. The result is a short film that you don’t want to end, as the truth finds release and you realise you were party to a mere snapshot of a much bigger story. There’s a hell of a lot to love in this deliciously dark short film.
READ MORE: WE DIE ALONE
FrightFest Bites 2022: Mean Spirited.
It wouldn’t be FrightFest without an influencer/vlogger horror. Last year offered us Followers, a delightful, tongue-in-cheek supernatural vlogger horror that skirted around the genre’s usual pitfalls by focusing on a delightfully different ghost story. This year we are offered Mean Spirited, a simple story of two childhood friends who went their separate ways following an incident in their youth. Since that incident, the intensely irritating Andy (Will Madden) has become the host of an online channel for childish pranks, while Bryce (Jeff Ryan) has become a big Hollywood star. Andy has never understood why their friendship faltered all those years ago, but he is determined to find out over a weekend filming at Bryce’s luxury pad with his friends Joey (Maria DeCotis), Dew (Will Martin), Tom (Daniel Rashid) and Nikki (Michelle Veintimilla). However, as Andy starts filming, he is unaware that his old friend is playing his own deadly game.
Unlike Followers, Mean Spirited is an intensely dull vlogger horror/comedy that offers nothing new in a sub-genre of horror that steadily feels more tedious. Director Jeff Ryan’s attempts to build a sense of impending doom ultimately fail due to his irritating characters – by the time I reached the twenty-minute mark, I already wished they were dead! Mean Spirited may have worked better as a short, but by trying to stretch out a paper-thin story, Ryan’s movie becomes a highly irritating experience that fails as both a comedy and a horror.
READ MORE: FOLLOWERS
Do Not Disturb
FrightFest Bites 2022: Do Not Disturb.
For any couple, their honeymoon is supposed to be a time of love, desire and memory-building. But what if your relationship was rocky before you said, “I do.” For newlyweds, Chloe (Kimberly Laferriere) and Jack (Rogan Christopher), their honeymoon in Miami may look ideal, but scratch the surface, and you will find a miserable couple who should have separated long ago. Jack has an alcohol problem he has yet to accept or deal with, while Chloe desperately seeks emotional attachment and physical desire, something Jack cannot offer her. All in all, it’s a relationship that two gold rings were never going to save, and deep down, they both know it.
Do Not Disturb is best experienced without prior knowledge of the story, and, therefore, apart from my brief introduction above, I do not intend to go into the film’s main plot points. John Ainslie’s cutting and gory exploration of toxic relationships and entrapment plays with the audience like a cat with a mouse as he chips away at the very foundations of the couple’s relationship through a drug-fuelled haze. In the claustrophobic confines of the couple’s small hotel room, their relationship is duly dissected as they bite chunks out of each other due to years of unspoken frustration and anger.
From the start, there is a sense that we are spying on Jack and Chloe, which is only enhanced by an ultra-wide ratio and voyeuristic style that unnerves from the outset. Do Not Disturb ventures into themes that many may find disturbing as it explores toxicity, sex, escape and control before entering a world of horror that is not for the squeamish. But Ainslie’s horror is one of the best of the year for all those willing to check in and hang the Do Not Disturb sign on the door.