FrightFest 2008 Diary Day 1

The Film4 FrightFest 2008 Diary – Day 1 

The Film4 FrightFest 2008 Diary – Day 1 first published by Little White Lies, 21 Aug 2008

Includes capsules of: Eden Lake, I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer, Scar

FrightFest. Five days, 27 features, plus sundry shorts, trailers, Q&As. So yes, it is without question Britain’s most comprehensive and exciting annual genre festival – but it is also a grueling endurance test for the hardened horror survivalist, bludgeoning viewers into desensitised, zombie-like submission with a tally of films that far outpaces the average slasher’s body count. Coping with the constant countercutural barrage of carnality, sadism and abjection on screen is one thing – staying awake for the duration is quite another. 

So on Day One the FrightFester enters Odeon West End’s pit with more than one kind of trepidation. Still looking fresh-faced, perhaps even innocent, but knowing, deep down, that it is going to be a long haul. Fortunately, we’re immediately treated to an unannounced introductory piece that makes everyone feel right at home. It is a short film, especially commissioned for the festival, by Adam and Joe – not television’s lo-fi comic duo, mind, but their equivalent in the contemporary horror world, the garrulous young directors Adam Green (Hatchet, Spiral) and Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2: Dead End) who had been popular contributors and entertaining on-stage speakers at last year’s FrightFest. The short is knowing, funny and cheap – and goes down well. Best of all, it turns out there is a different one of these Green/Lynch shorts for every night of the Festival.

First film of the evening is the World Premiere of James Watkins’ Eden Lake. Already dubbed a ‘hoodie horror’ by the press, it is essentially Deliverance, but with the rednecks replaced by a gang of British teens (with a psychopathically vicious leader) who menace a couple of bourgeois Londoners (Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender) at an idyllic campsite. Fully exploiting the fear of children that currently pervades our media and culture, it is a little more rounded and subtle than it at first sounds, expanding its initial pedophobic focus to, ahem, a fear of the working class in general and at the same time a dramtisation of the danger of kneejerk responses – but while it is more white-knuckle thriller than social realist drama (and nothing wrong with that), it does seem destined to provoke a lot of national soul-searching, not to mention more tabloid hysteria, upon its theatrical release. At the Q&A, young star Jack O’Connell stated, “I find it very truthful” – a comment which, like the film itself, is likely to divide audiences.       

Last year’s FrightFest screened a hilarious trailer for an Eighties-style, cricket-based slasher comedy called I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer. It should have stayed that way – for the title turns out to be the only funny thing about this joyless, turgid feature. Horror viewers are more tolerant than most of low production values, but the constraints of a microbudget can never excuse aimless conception, poor writing and sluggish editing. You won’t be bowled over – but at least co-directors (and partners) Stacey Edmonds and Doug Turner offered a good-humoured, slightly inebriated presence on stage before and after. 

The night ended with a shift to Shaftesbury Avenue’s Cineworld for a special digital projection of one of this year’s most anticipated offerings. No matter that Jed Weintrob’s Scar is an utterly generic slasher, no matter that it carefully builds up ambiguities in its giallo-like mystery only to fizzle out with an utterly unsurprising and unchallenging ending, no matter that even it seems jaded with the ‘torture porn’ bandwagon onto which it leaps, no matter even that ultimately it feels like WAZ for dummies. Yes, Scar is determinedly derivative and entirely average – but it is also in 3D, a perennially appealing gimmick which finds its perfect home in the tawdry sensationalism of horror. Enough said – although perhaps a few of the 3D horrors to come might offer a little more depth of ideas to match their depth of field.    

Anton Bitel