The main lesson one took away from the films shown in the first half reviewed below is that it continues to be unwise and definitely unsafe to go into the woods! From the remaining movies we appear to be advised that it is best to avoid mirrors and killers that look exactly like yourself -- since this was a recurring theme:
From Within (2008): This American effort was a fairly proficient scarer of how a town's collective guilt from an earlier incident can be turned against itself, as its inhabitants are confronted with their own murderous doppelgangers. The first victim was one Rumer Willis (daughter of Bruce and Demi) in histrionic mode which gives this some curiosity value. Nice downbeat surprise ending too.
Let the Right One In (2008): This Swedish film named after the Morrissey song was the most pre-hyped movie of the fest and lived up to its publicity. Set in a snowy and beautifully photographed Swedish winter, it tells of the growing friendship between a bullied 12-year old boy and the vampire girl next door (who has been 12 for a very long time!). How she is able to satisfy her blood lust while helping to protect him from his tormentors forms the basis for this gory yet very satisfying tale played out by two amazing child actors.
The Broken (2008): Broken here refers to mirrors like the one that breaks during a family birthday celebration and how the shattered glass causes each of the family to face being replaced by their mirror image. Stylishly filmed by a former fashion photographer and featuring Lena Heady and Richard Jenkins amongst the small cast, it in fact made little sense and was in the end more puzzling than scary. And you thought that seven years bad luck was the only consequence...
Autopsy (2008): As it says in its tagline, the horror only starts after the ambulance arrives. Five friends suffer a car crash in the middle of nowhere after running down an unknown man and are swiftly transported to a nearly deserted hospital. Here they meet a demented doctor played by ex-Robocop Robert Patrick, who in good horror movie tradition is seeking a formula to save his dying wife and needs young bodies on which to experiment. This he and his three demented colleagues continue to do with only one feisty female (again) out to save her doomed pals from the red splatter.
Martyrs (2008): This relentless French film is a nasty shocker of twisted revenge turning into sadistic torture as a young girl is systematically abused to discover the nature of martyrdom. One needs a very strong stomach not to be repelled by the scenario and cruelty on display and I somehow feel that this calculatingly disturbing film lacks any moral authority. It's definitely one to divide the audience.
The Dead Outside (2008): I nearly skipped the world premiere of this Scottish movie and no harm if I had. It's still another story of a singularly small group of survivors (two and then a third) banding together at an isolated farmhouse as a strange virus decimates the population and turns everyone into bloodthirsty stalkers. (This is another theme that is being increasingly overdone). Quickly shot on a low budget, this one has some unusual character development but failed to engage this viewer with its underlying emotional charge.
The Disappeared (2008): This British would-be shocker is set in the dingy setting of a council estate where a young man blames himself for the earlier disappearance of his younger brother, not helped by the fact that Dad (Greg Wise) blames him as well. As he appears to be receiving whispers from the grave, he attempts to discover the boy's actual fate and is abetted by various characters who may or may not really exist. This was an ambitious film with an unexpected denouement but murkily shot and in the end not as involving as it could have been.
Mirrors (2008): This is a "reimagining" for Hollywood of the superior Korean horror "Into the Mirror" which I reviewed a few years back. French director Alex Aja who made a huge splash with "Switchblade Romance" a few years ago has accepted the big American budgets with a vengeance and managed to turn a truly scary original into a bloated mishmash. Kiefer Sutherland is a suspended cop who takes a night watchman's job at a burned-out architecturally grand department store filled with (you guessed it) murderous mirrors. There are a few very effective visual shocks at the start of the film, but as the terror escapes its setting and starts to threaten Kiefer's family, things just become more and more unbelievable and simply an excusefor supernatural fireworks. The film is also 'blessed' with some of the clunkiest dialogue I've heard for an age and the ending designed for our hero is a good example of the director trying to be just too clever for words. A big big disappointment.
After the above I decided to skip the closing film which was the UK premiere of "Death Race" a remake of the Corman classic "Deathrace 2000" and starring that wooden lunk Jason Statham. Having seen the poisonous U.S. reviews for this recent release (only the New York Times admitted that it was some fun on a moronic level), I felt that I could wait until this movie comes my way in the normal course of events.
So that's FrightFest for another year -- the fourth fest that I've reported since starting this blog. Roll on the new frights for 2009...