FrightFest 2016, in the Age of Anxiety

These are troubled times. A decidedly disunited Britannia is struggling to remake herself in the image of a past that is both long dead and not quite as rosy as some like to remember. Xenophobia and other national uglinesses are rising once again from the grave. A deeply uncertain future holds out promise for a return of the repressed, as economic turmoil, social division and even war all haunt the not-so-distant horizons of our so-called progress – while the purveyors of terror (local or global) are never far away.

Yet what is bad for humanity can be good for genre. Not only does horror thrive on anxiety, but it also offers a fantasy route for processing real fears. Horror projects all our worries, discomforts and dreads on screen in reified form, as well as all the darkest aspects of our psyche – and its fictions enable us, through a glass darkly, to negotiate who we are, where we stand, and whether we align ourselves more with victims or killers, with ‘normal’ people or marginalised monsters, with the forces of order or of anarchy and chaos. So, far from merely offering asylum and escape from the political madness, rapacity and viciousness of the present day, this year’s FrightFest will throw the unpleasant realities of life right back at us, and leave as to reassemble these postmodern fragments into a way of thinking about and facing the actual world (in all its horror). Or, of course, if that doesn’t appeal, there will also always be laughs and gore and (the) stuff…

Mirroring upheavals outside (and there are always upheavals), FrightFest has once again had to relocate, this time shifting away from London’s dead centre to Shepherds Bush Green, where it will be occupying all 12 screens of the VUE Cinema in West 12 Shopping and Leisure Centre – so if the apocalypse should hit over the extended weekend of 25th to 29th August, attending FrightFesters can quickly decamp to the nearby Westfield mall, blockade themselves within, and wait it out, Dawn of the Dead-style, while surviving on popcorn and home furnishings.

The full line-up of FrightFest’s seventeenth edition has just been announced. There are 62 new features screening, including 19 world premières and 35 UK and European premières. Twelve of the world premières are UK productions (including Broken. Offensive, Egomaniac, The Chamber, Hostage to the Devil, Ibiza Undead, The Unkindness of Ravens), four of which are also directorial debuts (Cruel Summer, House of Salem, Hallow’s Eve, The Creature Below), showing the festival’s continued commitment to rising local talent. Yet FrightFest, ever outward-looking, welcomes horror from across six continents: Korea’s Karaoke Crazies and festival closer Train to Busan), Italy’s Monolith, South Africa’s From a House on Willow Street, Holland’s The Windmill Massacre, Australia’s Red Christmas, Central and South America’s White Coffin, Through the Shadows, The Similars, Francesca, Benavidez’s Case, We Are the Flesh and Downhill. There are of course many imports from across the Atlantic, beginning with first-time director Sean Brosnan’s festival opener My Father Die. There are films made by FrightFest’s regulars Adam Wingard (The Woods), Simon Rumley (Johnny Frank Garrett’s Last Word) and even a Zombie (31).) And then, of course, there is the extensive Discovery Programme, where genre oddities and outriders, the weird and the wild, come into their own and out to play.

Just remember, though, before trying to reassure yourself with the mantra “It’s only a movie, it’s only a movie”, that everything here comes from the human mind, heart and gut.

Weekend and Day passes will be on sale from midday tomorrow (i.e. Saturday 2 July), and single tickets from 23 July. Full details of how to obtain them are here.

© Anton Bitel