Following the late night of Japanese splattery fun on day two I was somewhat grateful I’d already seen the first film on the schedule: Housebound. The super fun and oft-creepy New Zealand film proved a hit in Sheffield and I thought it would do similarly here too. Housebound at the moment feels slightly one of a kind in its ability to hit both funny and scary notes, sometimes within seconds of one another. It really is a triumph and it was only stubborn tiredness that prevented me from taking a second look.
Now Day Three was interesting because it showed that sometimes at film festivals things can go wrong, but it also showed the class and experience of the Abertoir organisers in that even though one film was unable to be shown, they had an option waiting in the wings that I’m sure is better than some programmed at other festivals. Instead of Fires on the Plain we were treated to Venezuelan ghost story The House at the End of Time, which Abertoir had programmed for Halloween night at Chapter, but happily was seen at Abertoir itself too.
The House at the End of Time is fantastic. Really it is, even with my slight complaint that it relies a little too much on loud noises. The concept is well thought-out and executed with its various twists and turns present from the outset so it never feels like events are being pulled out of someone’s arse late into the runtime. What is wonderful about HATEOT is that it gives you all that information and leaves you to do what you want with it. What it does conceal is usually for good reason, combining scares with a few incredibly touching moments that hold it up over other mainstream ghost story films. As a side note, it is also incredibly refreshing to see a horror film where most of the screentime is occupied by an elderly lady. It is to Abertoir’s credit that a film this strong was a back up plan.
At this stage it almost feels like I should slate something given how nice I’ve been but while I wasn’t a fan of this next one, I don’t even feel the need to slate it. However, The Forgotten is the closest thing to a social-realist ghost story we have…and it is possibly for good reason. Everyone who knows me knows I’m a fan of a slow-burning ghost story, but for me The Forgotten didn’t quite work, largely because I failed to connect with the characters. At times I felt like a lot had been cut from the film as there seemed to be large chunks of characterisation and events removed or unexplained when they could have been without detracting from the central mystery of the film. While there are a few creepy moments toward the climax of the film, nothing has really stayed with me.
The Q&A session with director Oliver Frampton and writer James Hall after the screening was actually far more interesting as they covered facts about the locations, the benefit of shooting with mostly handheld equipment and what their collective experience in television had taught them. What is also interesting about these Q&A sessions is that someone will often bring up an element of the film that you didn’t see, which is always interesting to discuss.
Martin Barker’s highly anticipated talk was next. Some of you may know Barker from the Video Nasties documentary by Jake West, who spends a lot of his time almost inadvertantly sticking up for the nasties and becoming embroiled in many public television discussions on the subject. Hearing about that era from the man himself (and his wife, who was in the audience and had also dealt with her fair share of trouble during the period) was illuminating, particularly in reference to the duelling groups attempting to ban films during this time. During the talk, Barker maintained that he was now going to study something more ‘safe’ and spoke about his new project – The World Hobbit Project, which if you’ve seen The Hobbit films you can go to http://www.worldhobbitproject.org and fill out a survey to be part of the largest research of its kind.
The UK Premiere of Takeshi Miike’s new film Over Your Dead Body proved to be a fitting film to follow Barker’s talk, given its emphasis on art imitating life and life imitating art as a danger throughout. This one did not score as highly with the Abertoir audience as I’d expected, but I think many probably felt slightly off-kilter by not knowing the source material of the play within the film and therefore lost the thread of what was happening. I have no prior knowledge of the source material either, but was simply absorbed into the film’s stunning visuals and inventive set design so much that I forgot to care that I didn’t really know what was going on….
Last for the night was the pre-cert VHS screening of A Bay of Blood, which I’m ashamed to say I didn’t stay for, instead choosing a slightly earlier night. I did, however, sneak a peak at the quality of the VHS and was very impressed.