FrightFest 2022: Quick Read Reviews – Who Invited Them, The Eyes Below, Raven’s Hollow, Everyone Forgot, Mean Spirited and Do Not Disturb.
Table of contents
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 those who have will understand that the memory stays with us for weeks, months and even years. In many ways, French director Alexis Bruchon’s The Eye’s 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 artistic and devilishly clever film places us in the position of a silent witness to the darkness of an inescapable dream that engulfs a lawyer named Eugene (Vinicius Coelho).
Eugene has been working on a significant 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 is all that illuminates Eugene’s bedroom, but that soft, comforting glow will soon resemble the gates of hell as a mysterious dark figure coated in a thick black goo stalks him in a nightmare of no escape. 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 firmly rooted in atmosphere, sound and vision. Here we are bathed in inescapable darkness as Bruchon plays with us and our sense of security. The result is a living, breathing nightmare as we watch Eugene suffer.
The Eyes Below is an assured second feature from Bruchon, following the equally artistic The Woman with Leopard Shoes in 2020. At times it loses the audience, with the terrifying set pieces, stunning cinematography and sound lacking some breathing space. However, at its core, The Eyes Below is an intriguing and creative slice of horror that defies the limitations of its small budget to offer us something many big-budget films fail to deliver—psychological terror.
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 undoubtedly have experienced the party squatter. These people never leave, cementing themselves to your sofa and ignoring the signs that the party’s over as they pour another drink. During my life, I have had several party squatters ruin what was generally a good night, and in one case, I wondered whether the individual in question had, in fact, moved in by stealth. Adam (Ryan Hansen) and Margo (Melissa Tang) are about to experience this very situation as a young couple from next door, Tom (Timothy Granaderos) and Sasha (Perry Mattfeld) make themselves at home in Adam and Margo’s new Hollywood Hills home following a housewarming party.
Tom and Sasha are intriguing, energetic and ready to party; the trouble is neither Margo nor Adam invited them. As the night wears on and some casual drug use joins the whiskey sours, the tensions in Margo and Adam’s relationship come to the fore amid some devilish psychological gameplay from Tom and Sasha. But as the clock ticks toward morning, events are about to take a far more sinister turn.
With his debut feature, director Duncan Birmingham combines sharp comedy with a spiralling sense of unease as Tom and Sasha make themselves comfy in a home they weren’t invited to enter. Here Birmingham plays with his audience’s expectations as he encourages us to guess the mysterious couple’s motives while constantly throwing in curve balls. The result is a delightful mix of the classic home invasion thriller and the comedic discomfort of Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party. Like in 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.
Who Invited Them is a smart comedy-thriller that isn’t afraid to slowly build tension by allowing the actors to take the lead through their performances. However, like many modern psychological thrillers, it sadly opts for a rather conventional conclusion that doesn’t match the brilliance of the screenplay and performances. But putting that minor criticism aside, Who Invited Them holds moments of sheer brilliance as the night begins to take a far darker turn. Birmingham’s feature debut is an exciting, humorous and enjoyable take on the home invasion thriller that equally attempts to explore the fractures of a relationship under pressure. While it may not quite manage to deliver a finale worthy of its premise, 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.
Anyone hoping Christopher Hatton’s new period horror Raven’s Hollow would match the atmosphere and imagination of last year’s The Last Thing Mary Saw is bound to leave disappointed. While Hatton’s movie has moments of brilliance, especially in the opening thirty minutes, it quickly loses its way despite some genuinely engaging performances and delightful period detail.
The year is 1830, and five army cadets on exercise come across a disembowelled man strung up in a field. One of those young cadets is Edgar Allen Poe (William Moseley), who quickly dismounts his horse to investigate the bloodied body, only to realise the man is still alive. 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 have a duty to 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. Here, Poe is reinvented as an American 19th Century Sherlock Holmes, with Moseley offering us an assured and understated performance. Clearly, this fictional story wished to provide us with links to the poetry and writing of Poe, and in part, it achieves this. But Raven’s Hollow quickly gets bogged down in playing it safe rather than fully 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 birthday, and today she is 40 years old. 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 that she is yet to unpack. Even worse, her social media pages are void of any ‘happy birthday’ messages, no matter how often she checks her phone. For Lily, life sucks, and her friends have majorly let her down. Still, at least Lily has her mum to talk to on the phone, but even she seems distant and eager to hang up.
As Lily walks around her new home, which still has protective film sheets on the carpets, she has an idea to provide her with the company she longs for. Lily phones a local handyman service, pretending she has jobs that need attention in the house. Of course, it’s a long shot, but maybe, just maybe, the person who comes over will spend some time with her and get her birthday back on track. The doorbell rings shortly after, and Lily quickly and enthusiastically invites Ben inside. Blonde bombshell 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’s beer and cake on tap. So Ben takes off his work gear, settles in, and enjoys the break.
In the space of just eighteen minutes, Theo Kai Marlow’s delightfully dark short film lulls us into a false sense of security as Lily and Ben get to know each other over drinks, and Lily finally gets to celebrate her birthday with a random guy who genuinely seems interested in her. But we all know there is something far more sinister at hand, and Theo Kai Marlow makes us wait until the end for the killer twist. It’s a twist that mirrors the final act of Marc Cartwright’s brilliant short film We Die Alone (2019). But I have no intention of spoiling that killer twist here.
Like, Cartwright’s We Die Alone, what makes Everyone Forgot work is the clever screenplay and outstanding performances at its heart. Theo Kai Marlow’s screenplay is laced with dark humour and devilish charm, and when placed in the hands of Anwen Bull (Lilly) and James Knapp (Ben), it truly comes alive. Bull and Knapp bounce off one another throughout, creating a brief relationship that goes from caution to conversation, companionship and momentary sexual tension. But when the penny finally drops, the atmosphere suddenly shifts to one of fear and control. The result is an eighteen-minute short film 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 the influencer/vlogger horror. Last year offered us Followers, a delightful tongue-in-cheek supernatural vlogger horror that skirted the pitfalls of the sub-genre by focusing on the ghost story at its heart. This year we have Mean Spirited, a simple story of two childhood friends who went their separate ways following an incident in their youth. The intensely irritating Andy (Will Madden) became the host of a self-built online channel of childish pranks, while Bryce (Jeff Ryan) became a big Hollywood star. Andy has never understood why their friendship died but 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 in an attempt to uncover the real Bryce, he is unaware that his old friend is playing his own deadly game. The result is a highly dull vlogger horror/comedy that offers practically nothing of interest. Director Jeff Ryan attempts to build a sense of impending doom throughout but fails because the characters are so irritating that it’s hard to care about their fate. Mean Spirited may have worked better as a 30-minute short. But in opting to stretch out a relatively thin story and even thinner characters, 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.
Your honeymoon is supposed to be a time of love, desire and memory-building. But what if your relationship was already on rocky ground 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 probably 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, two gold rings aren’t going to save, and deep down, they both know it.
This is one film where it’s best to go in cold, and apart from my brief introduction above, I do not intend to go into the film’s main plot points. But I will discuss the overarching themes in John Ainslie’s cutting and gory exploration of toxic relationships and entrapment. Here Ainslie plays with his audience as he chips away at the foundations of the couple’s relationship through a drug-fuelled haze, where time erratically moves around them and us. In the claustrophobic confines of the couple’s small hotel room, their relationship is dissected as they bite chunks out of each other due to years of unspoken frustration and anger.
In exploring isolation, containment and simmering dissatisfaction, it could be argued Ainslie’s film is a brilliant exploration of all those relationships that failed during the COVID lockdowns we endured – couples who found themselves on the ropes due to individualistic relationship foundations or emotional dishonesty. However, I could equally argue that Do Not Disturb is a chilling exploration of a controlling and manipulative relationship suddenly uncovered in a Miami hotel room.
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 an overarching feeling of voyeurism as we peer into their lives and the unfolding honeymoon horror. As a result, Do Not Disturb ventures into areas that some may find disturbing and triggering as it explores toxicity, sex, escape and control before entering a world of horror that is not for the squeamish among you. But for all those willing to check in and hang the Do Not Disturb sign on the door, Ainslie’s relationship horror is one of the best of the year.
READ MORE: HONEYMOOD