Brea(d)th taken

Brea(d)th taken: six eclectic titles from the Arrow FrightFest 2022

Brea(d)th taken: six eclectic titles from The Arrow FrightFest 2022 includes mop-up capsules of the following titles: Scare Package II: Rad Chad’s Revenge, Candy Land, Mastemah, Family Dinner, The Price We Pay, Huesera

For genre fans, the August Bank Holiday weekend is all about FrightFest, where freaks from all over congregate in Leicester Square for Britain’s biggest horror, sci-fi and fantasy film festival. To outsiders, horror can seem a narrow bandwidth, but here is a selection of six of the weekend’s titles that together demonstrate the genre’s breadth.

Scare Package II: Rad Chad’s Revenge (2022)

  This sequel to Aaron B. Koontz’s original Scare Package (2019) is again an anthology whose frame story is the very heart and soul of the film, as Chad Buckley (Jeremy King), the now deceased owner of a video emporium, sets a series of absurdly posthumous Saw-like challenges to those at his funeral, calling upon his horror savvy to ensure that these trials go beyond the ultra meta. 

The short films shown to the captive contestants are similarly deconstructive: Alexandra Barreto’s post-feminist slasher upgrade Welcome to the 90s, Antony Cousins’ sequel (to his short from the first anthology) The Night He Came Back Again Part VI – The Night She Came Back, Jed Shepherd’s killer video story Special Edition and Rachele Wiggins’ monster (movie) mash-up We’re So Dead. It is a chaotic, super gory, near nonsensical postmodern parody of multiple genre titles from the last five decades – and also super smart and relentlessly funny.

Candy Land (2022)

Set at an isolated road stop on Route 66 in 1996, writer/director John Swab’s film starts with a bang in a truck’s cabin, and initially directs its unflinching gaze on the work and play of prostitutes who live in the adjacent motel and service the passing trade. Yet in fact this is a tale of two marginal communities, and a misfit passing between them. For, cast out of a local Christian doomsday cult, Remy (Olivia Luccardi) drifts towards the ‘lot lizards’, even though she is clearly just as ill-suited to sex work as to proselytising the End Times. 

As these two groups – both ‘families’ on the margins who look after their own and seek meaning in transient lives – circle each other to claim Remy for their own, a spate of vicious murders grips the lot. Though ironised by pastel pink credits and unexpectedly upbeat needle drops, this paints a bleak portrait (in blood red) of alienation and irredeemability. 

Mastemah (2022)

After a demonstration of her hypnotherapeutic skills leads to a colleague’s leap of death, psychiatrist Louise (Camille Razat), her career now under a cloud, leaves the city for a provincial post. Even as she tries to guide new patients through their traumas, she finds the disturbed goatherd Théo (Olivier Bathélémy) triggering some of her own, and is soon turning not only to co-workers but to a local priest (Féodor Atkine) for help as suicide and murder beset her caseload. 

Starting with a man’s rapid descent from a hospital’s upper floor, Didier D. Daarwin’s feature debut continues to preoccupy itself with mental collapse and Biblical Fall. For operating at the cliff edge where dreams meet reality, science meets religion, and schizophrenia meet possession, it is a hallucinatory trip into one woman’s fragmenting psyche  – or is it into demonic apocalypse? This ambiguity, reinforced by an arresting panoply of visual stylisations and frenzied cross-cutting, remains unresolved in a labyrinth of projection and transference.

Family Dinner (2022)

Teenaged Simi (Nina Katlein) heads to Austria’s hinterlands in the build-up to Easter, hoping to get dietary tips from her aunt Claudia (Pia Hierzegger), a published chef. Claudia puts Simi on the same Lent fast that she and her second husband Stefan (Michael Pink) are observing, while continuing to feed her son Filipp (Alexander Sladek), who has a tense relationship with both mother and stepfather.

Something is clearly cooking for Easter Sunday’s dinner in Peter Hengl’s slow-burn feature debut, building its sense of dread from the outset but only gradually putting all the pieces on the table. Part fraught, food-focused domestic drama, part folk horror, it allows us to second-guess its narrative direction, while leaving open the question how much second-guessing its heroine has done, and how willingly, in her need for Claudia’s approval, she has swallowed her complicity in what is happening.

The Price We Pay (2022)

A trio of low-rent armed robbers (Stephen Dorff, Emile Hirsch, Tanner Zagarino) takes a woman (Gigi Zumbado) hostage, and holes up at a remote farmhouse whose residents (Tyler Sanders, Vernon Wells, Erika Ervin) have their own operation going, so that two deeply (if differently) dysfunctional groups must face each other, and recognise their respective monstrousness.

Criminals on the run seek refuge in an off-road place with its own murderous history, engendering a clash of genres – it is a trope as old as Psycho, and can be as wild as From Dusk Til Dawn. Yet if this film’s opening scene frontloads a little too obviously the notion that there will be a ‘twist’ along the way, rest assured that the sure hand of director Ryuhei Kitamura (The Midnight Meat Train, No One Lives) frames everything here with mythic stylisation, and delivers deliriously baroque TCSM-style grand guignol in the end.  

Huesera (2022)

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When Valeria (Natalia Solián) falls pregnant, the joy that she initially shares with her middle-class husband Raúl (Alfonso Dosal) soon turns to doubt as she reencounters her former lover Octavia (Mayra Batalla) and recollections of a wilder, punkier old life, as she is repeatedly told by family that she is ill-suited to being a mother, as she wistfully converts her beloved workshop into a baby room – and as the nightmarish visions that she starts having suggest a spidery devil has entered her home.  

Michelle Garza Cervera’s feature debut allows one woman’s inner conflicts to gestate before being born as a living embodiment of her anxiety and unhappiness. In facing her fears and demons through the pagan rituals of her beloved aunt (a childless ‘spinster’), Valeria is shown deciding who she wants to be, as well as realising aspects of womanhood that patriarchal, Christian society rejects. 

© Anton Bitel