Glasgow FrightFest 2020 ran over 2 and a bit days from Thursday 5th March until Saturday 7th March at the wonderful Glasgow Film Theatre. This was only my second time (of many I hope!) attending the festival, and this year I went all in and bought not only a weekend ticket for the main program on Friday and Saturday, but also for the ‘amuse bouche’ of 2 films on the Thursday night. I also went to see the UK premiere of the B&W version of Parasite, which was shown immediately prior on Thursday afternoon. With these, that meant I watched 14 films starting at 1730 on Thursday and finishing at 0030 on the Sunday morning!
Movies covered in Part 1
- Death of a Vlogger
- The Cleansing Hour
- In The Quarry
- Sea Fever
- A Ghost Waits
- The Mortuary Collection
Part 2 (coming soon)
- A Night of Horror – Nightmare Radio
- Zombie For Sale
- Saint Maud
- Butt Boy
- Anderson Falls
I gave instant reviews / reactions to each of these on my private Facebook, but I thought that I would give a shot at writing a longform blog about the whole experience as well as diving a little bit deeper into some of the films themselves, and perhaps trying to identify some common themes that appeared throughout. Not sure who this is aimed at, probably just myself, but if you’re still reading at this point then maybe it’s aimed at you too 🙂
I will try my hardest to not give away any spoilers, but sometimes I may allude to scenes or actions that are later on in the movies, so if you are the kind of person who really doesn’t want to know too much before watching a movie or that can deduce plot twists from obtuse references AND you think you’ll want to see any of the films in the above list then maybe stop now and return once you have seen it/them. I won’t mind – I am one of those people – in fact, I didn’t read anything about any of the movies on at FF20 before seeing them, so each was a complete surprise to me. And this meant I got a couple of REAL surprises!
So where to start – maybe an overview of what FrightFest is, and what to expect there? It’s a curated programme of new, unreleased horror and horror-adjacent movies from around the world. These are selected by the Frightfest team, who run annual events in both London and Glasgow. The crucial difference between them is that Glasgow is a single screen event, whereas London is multi-screen. I think I like the idea of the single-screen concept best, as then there’s no clashes and no choices to be made – you’re locked in for everything. As I mentioned above, this also means I don’t need to read up on the films first in order to decide what to watch. I will make the trip for the London one in the next couple of years though, as I do want to experience the scale of it.
Let’s skip over Parasite here as it wasn’t part of FrightFest, suffice to say I think it’s a masterpiece.
Arriving for the first movie, Synchronic, which stars Jamie Dornan and Anthony Mackie (who is apparently pretty famous for playing Falcon in the Marvel movies, but as I haven’t seen many of them, I didn’t realise this!) the sold-out cinema is treated to an introduction from the directors Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead. It is immediately obvious that this movie is a big deal for them – it’s not their first film but it is their first with such big stars. Once it gets going you realise quite quickly that you are in safe hands – the characterisations and the emotional heft that are present allow the high-concept nonsense of a designer drug that is causing teenagers to disappear without a trace to feel almost believable. The movie has a slow pace compared to most in the same sort of subgenre, and this allows the themes of family, friendship, love and sacrifice to breathe. There’s a few laughs and a couple of WTF moments, and for the most part I enjoyed both the story and the company of the main characters. In the post-show interview, the directors discussed how this was the second edit of the movie, and that the backers had allowed them to fully re-cut it, and that this resulted in the slower pace, which for me worked – I can’t imagine this movie without the scenes that allowed the emotional heart to be shown – it would probably just be far too much of ‘the nonsense’!
Synchronic scores a solid 7 on the Skelpometer.
Death of a Vlogger
After a short break, enough time to grab something to eat and get a drink from the on-site bar then we move on to the first late-night film of the festival, and this one is a home-grown mockumentary, made in Maryhill, Glasgow. Death of a Vlogger tells the story of Graham, a successful Vlogger (played by writer and director Graham Hughes) whose live haunting video goes viral, prompting a large-scale following, then a backlash, then a backlash against the backlash. It explores the concept of fakery and authenticity whilst also providing a fair few scares. I really enjoyed the way in which this was constructed and it really did make me think about the way in which social media can both build up and destroy a person. I particularly loved the character of Steve, the aggressive online ghost hunter, played with glee by Paddy Kondracki whose motives and methods are constantly in question. I initially gave Death of a Vlogger 7 points, but on reflection I think that was too low, so have reassessed it to a well deserved 8.
Just as I was writing this review, it was announced that Death of a Vlogger will be getting a full VOD release on 6th July 2020 – once it is available I will add a link to it here. I’m sure you can find it by yourself too, but it’s nice to be nice!
The Cleansing Hour
We move on to Saturday now, kicking off with The Cleansing Hour – this was a fairly run of the mill, entertaining and well put together ‘possession in the digital age’ flick. Not sure there’s much more to it than what you see on the surface, but that’s sometimes no bad thing. A few laughs, a couple of twists – you get the drift. Worth watching if it’s on, but not really one to search out. 6 on the Skelpometer.
Prior to The Cleansing Hour a couple of very good short films were shown – Cubicle directed by Chloe Wicks and Live Forever directed by Gustav Egerstedt – I liked them both, but Live Forever was a particular treat, and it can be viewed below (it has been labelled here as an advert for a Swedish festival, but it’s the same video) – well worth 3 minutes of your day!
In The Quarry
There’s time between the films to stretch my legs, grab a coffee and a pastry from a local cafe and back we go for the second film of the day. In The Quarry is a Uruguayan thriller that starts with a fumbling, steamy sex scene in a car, in the bright South American sunshine. We find out quite quickly that this couple, Alicia (Paula Silva) and Tincho (Rafael Beltrán), are not officially together and are out for a day of beer and barbecue with two others who are waiting for them about 15 minutes walk away from the car park – Tola (Luis Pazos), who is Tincho’s best friend and Bruno (Augusto Gordillo), who is Alicia’s current boyfriend. What follows is a taut 80 minute thriller that examines toxic masculinity, elitism and gender violence. It’s no real spoiler to say that there will be blood in this movie – the tension is there from the first 5 minutes, and it’s really a case of when and what form the violence will take, rather than whether it will happen.
I found this a difficult watch at points, but the setup and payoff are handled really well, and we have 4 strong performances by the main characters. I really like films that build tension throughout, as long as it’s believable within the internal logic of the world in which it exists, and this does it well. The way in which it exposes and handles the themes already mentioned and the acting on display take this into an 8 out of 10 category for me.
A much-needed walk in the fresh air and a drink to steady the nerves after the previous film and we move on to the 3rd offering, this time an Irish seafaring ‘creature feature’, with a couple of well-known leads in Connie Nielsen and Dougray Scott, who play the married owner-operators (Freya and Gerard) of a small fishing vessel on the west coast of Ireland. On a trip that has to be successful to save their business and the livelihoods of their small but loyal crew, they have agreed to allow a marine scientist aboard to do some studies. When the student Siobhan, played by Hermione Corfield arrives, the crew are upset that she is a redhead, as this is deemed to bring bad luck to the trip. We are at a horror festival so everyone knows that this is your classic ‘portent of doom’ – when Freya and Gerard find out, they consider removing Siobhan from the vessel, but can’t do so as they have spent the fee they have received – now we have reached ‘point of no return’. As the movie progresses there are a few more classic tropes pulled into play, but none of them feel forced, and the characters all behave as you would expect them to. Things indeed do take a bad turn, and we get a very interesting take on not only a creature feature, but also an isolation theme that seems very prescient as I write this, in early May 2020. I enjoyed this film quite a bit, and have rated it as a 7 on the Skelpometer.
Prior to the screening of Sea Fever, there was supposed to be a chat with the famous composer Simon Boswell, however for some reason he couldn’t attend, so instead we had a charmingly shambolic competition to win a signed copy of his Sante Sangre soundtrack album – this sort of thing happens a lot during the festival and for me it really adds to the experience, especially as I was there alone. I think after the movie there may also have been a Q&A with the writer / director of Sea Fever Neasa Hardiman, but I didn’t hang around as I was hungry by then, and wanted to take advantage of the break to get something substantial to eat – I learned from my first year at FrightFest that you have to prioritise meals, otherwise you end up just snacking – there’s only so far you can go on crisps, popcorn and nuts!
A Ghost Waits
Suitably refreshed, drink in hand, I take my seat again (if you buy a festival pass you have the same seat for both days) for the penultimate film of Friday, and it’s a cracker! Introduced by the director Adam Stovall, A Ghost Waits is a micro-budget black and white comedy horror that pushes all of my buttons – it is genuinely funny, has a solid emotional core and, for a while at least, has a fair amount of creepiness. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot so all I’ll say is it turns the haunted house genre on its head while working through some personal demons of the filmmaker. The performances by the two leads (MacLeod Andrews as Jack and Natalie Walker playing Muriel) are nothing short of mesmerising, and there is an improvised section that is comedy gold. This movie is a great example of a personal project brought to life with passion and determination. I loved it. A solid 9 on the Skelpometer.
After the screening there was a Q&A with Adam Stovall, and he spoke honestly and passionately about how this project ‘saved his life’, how it was realised and also gave some great insights into how certain stylistic decisions were forced on him – in this video he touches on these as well.
The Mortuary Collection
Another short break, and it’s time for the final film of the first day, and it is introduced by the director Ryan Spindell and this is when my heart sank a bit as he explained that it was an anthology movie. I have nothing against them as a concept, but in a cinema I prefer a full-length story, something that has a defined arc and at least some character progression. With an anthology, even those that have an underlying story connecting them then this is difficult to achieve. Also it is unusual for every one of the stories to be grade-a material. It turns out that The Mortuary Collection has a reasonably strong connecting story, with a very good lead character played by Clancy Brown, revelling in the role as the creepy undertaker and teller of tales. I would love to watch a feature film with him as the main character without it being broken up with some variable quality short films.
In the plus column this film looks great and it has a consistent visual style throughout as well as being technically well put together. There are some great visual FX and some great acting. In the negatives it just felt too long, the ending seems to go on forever and it kinda left me cold, and not in a good way.
Biggest budget film of the day. Also most likely to be a hit with a wider audience. Not for me though – 5 Skelpometer points
All in, apart from the final movie, the Thursday and Friday of FrightFest 2020 were highly enjoyable. The 6 films shown were all different, they all had something to offer and were interspersed with good interviews and introductions. With a packed Saturday in store, and the first film due to start at 11am, it was straight home to bed for me! I will upload the Day 2 reviews in a few days, so check back soon.