Grimmfest Easter 2022: A Pure Place

Surface political allegory meets interpersonal tension in this textured story.

Synopsis: A tale of dirt, soap, and magic set in a cult on a remote Greek island.

Irina (Greta Bohacek) and her younger brother Paul (Claude Heinrich) are members of a cult led by Fust (Sam Louwyck). Fust leads with a mythology and ethos that intersects with daily life, aided by rumours of his own otherworldliness. The cult is divided into two distinct areas. The upper area is a wealthy, pristine space, funded by a lower area engaged in making soap, raising pigs and being deprived of light and cleanliness. When Irina is handpicked by Fust to move to the upper level, Paul is left to come to terms with life without her.

The locating of the central cult on a Greek island with strange, often offputting rituals designed to discuss societal and cultural issues will obviously call to mind the label of Greek Weird Wave. A Pure Place lacks some of that characteristic bluntness, instead devoting time to the grounding of the cult’s mythology and the interpersonal relations. A few standout moments of oddness stick in the memory, but A Pure Place has to balance those with the sibling relationship at its heart. This does mean that it is more possible to overlook the obvious central allegory which lacks any kind of subtlety and invest in their connection.

The casual cruelty of the upper levels and the obsession with the story pushed by Fust dominates. The performances suit the heightened world they inhabit and while this is not a place for much nuance, there is a delicateness to the portrayals that prevent them from becoming only caricatures of the concepts they are required to embody. Still, it is difficult to assess if the film has anything particularly new to say, or even if it has to. The clear disparities in wealth are secondary to the more insidious white supremacy thread that runs throughout it with an emphasis on supposed purity that operates only on the suppression and abuse of others.

The attention to detail on the way the cult operates and the depth with which their mythology is imbedded into every action and the surroundings. The production design is well-observed with the decadence coming to further the obviously sinister ideological implications of Fust’s teachings. The messaging, although surface-level for the most part, is troubling in that in our current times we still need a reminder of how damaging that kind of belief is. The seduction of the vulnerable into the cult under the belief of a better life is captured in simple, but no less effective terms.

The impressive visuals make this an absorbing watch, although some of the strangness may hold some viewers at arms-length. It is a shame that the storytelling and impact cannot keep pace with the way the film looks.

3 out of 5 stars

3 out 5 stars

A Pure Place played as part of Grimmfest Easter. For more information on Grimmfest please see their webpage.

Grimmfest Easter 2022: The Family

Competent but too familiar cult-based horror fails to leave much of an impression, despite some decent ideas.

Synopsis: A young family, living in isolation and forced into hard labor out of fear of dishonoring their Father and Mother, fight to free themselves from their religious cult.

The Family contains a line of dialogue in which a character reflects that what she remembered most of her indoctrination was ‘the mercy’. It is a line that perfectly encapsulates why troubled people may stay within the confines of a cult, even when the initial safety and comfort of the situation are long gone. The Family, as a film, understands and lays bare those dynamics. Unfortunately, this comes packaged as far too familiar, with too little to truly set it apart.

Caleb (Benjamin Charles Watson) belongs to a hyper-religious and strict community in which exhausting work in the fields is used as a method of control. After Elijah (Onyx Spark) falls ill due to his workload, Caleb starts to further question his own role within the group, along with the motivations of Father (Nigel Bennett) and Mother (Toni Ellwand). An arranged marriage to newcomer Mary (Keana Lyn) proves to be a further disruption for Caleb, prompting him to further question his situation.

The film’s period setting presents some challenges, mainly in terms of dialogue. This is furthered by the film’s frequent dips into high melodrama. The sober language and the sudden escalations are a slippery contrast that makes the performer’s roles that much more difficult to fulfil. This, along with a narrative that reveals itself far too early into the run time, hampers the film’s ability to sustain itself.

However, there are technical elements that become enjoyable in their own right. On one level, this is mildly frustrating as you can see the real potential of this film to be something more if it wasn’t attached to and embedded within the wider narrative. An excellent string score provides panic to high-energy scenes, some sections invoking the memory of The Blood on Satan’s Claw. Mary’s singing, seeping through walls turns her into a siren figure, effective in furthering her impact on the group. The relationship between Mother and Father, too, offers a departure, not offering pure patriarchal rule governed by Father, but an exploration of slightly more complex dynamics.

While The Family does make efforts to craft an engaging narrative, weaving effective technical elements into the film, it can’t overcome that its themes and execution have often been overused and this similarity impacts it.

2.5 out of 5 stars

2.5 out of 5 stars

The Family played as part of Grimmfest Easter. For more information on Grimmfest please see their webpage.

Grimmfest Easter 2022: Post Mortem

A tendency to draw out the narrative for too long, coupled with some questionable effects undermine an otherwise very effective ghost story.

Synopsis: A post mortem photographer and a little girl confront ghosts in a haunted village after the First World War.

Starting by throwing the viewer immediately into the chaos and destruction of war, Post Mortem is a film consumed by its impact and the long-lasting hold it has on those involved, either directly or indirectly. After he suffers an injury during the war Tomás (Viktor Klem) is involved in post mortem photography. Sent to a village inundated by the war dead and flu victims, there is no shortage of work, but the spirits are not to be confined to their photographs, with the growing threat surrounding him.

Post Mortem has something of an identity crisis. On one level, it operates as a sober, even sombre exploration of communal grief, but on another, it wants to indulge in short, sharp bursts of more conventional jump-scare horror. This results in a film with a very solid creep factor that is sometimes undermined by an inability of the effects to match the overriding tone. Jerky movements in the background initially offer the kind of pleasing jolt that will stay with you, but overuse and making them too prominent shows the cracks in occasionally sub-par CGI.

Viktor Klem’s performance underpins everything, always striking the right tone for the scene. Tomás’ own brush with death gives him a sensitivity to the loss in the village and a unique relationship with Anna (Fruzsina Hais), a young girl who has also had a near-death experience. Their interactions offer sensitivity and personal touch to the wider, more anonymous nature of the village.

With the pair offering an anchor for the supernatural elements, it allows the supernatural elements to run wild. Levitations and increasingly chaotic scenes in the village are initially refreshing inclusions, offering something different. However, these are inclined to outstay their welcome, with intense movement and wailing suddenly disrupting the film’s focus. This inability to know when to end a scene hampers the film, right up until the conclusion. Each fade to black operates as a reminder that the film could end there, only to add an extra scene to diminishing returns.

The film is at its best when it balances the disquieting stillness of the bodies in the photographs against the tense threat of sudden movement. Drawing out that tension for as long as possible is where the film exercises a real understanding of our discomfort with the deceased and the ways death was commemorated in the past. The difficulty of processing such immense loss permeates the film and even if you find yourself worn out by the reliance on loud noises at certain parts of the film, that very human need to grieve sits at the heart of it.

Flawed in execution but effective in terms of scares, Post Mortem is definitely worth your time.

3.5 out of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5 stars

Post Mortem plays as part of Grimmfest Easter on Friday April 15th at 10.15pm. Please see the Grimmfest schedule for more information and tickets.

Grimmfest Easter 2022: Woodland Grey

Atmosphere and indulgent imagery makes this an interesting, if not altogether successful woodlands horror.

Synopsis: When a man living alone in the woods saves the life of a young woman, they are forced to coexist. Chaos ensues when the woman makes a terrifying discovery in the woods behind the man’s home and unleashes something truly haunting.

We initially meet William (Ryan Blakely) in the woods, far from other people and carrying out what amounts to his day-to-day life. That quiet is soon disrupted by the arrival of Emily (Jenny Raven), a woman he finds injured in the area. Their initial interactions are tense, with William having adjusted to not speaking to other people and Emily keen to probe the situation. That probing leads to further issues between them when she discovers that William may have a dark secret.

The real strength of Woodland Grey is in director Adam Reider’s handling of the swirling confusion that punctuates much of the film’s action. This is a film that is not in a rush and certainly has even less urgency to provide answers to the many questions it offers. Instead, there is confidence in the repeated phrases, images and other motifs, including an ominous whisper that holds it all in place. While not all of these images come to something entirely satisfying, the opportunity it affords to extend that well-realised imagery is welcome. From an initially slow pace, it picks up and starts to pick at the state of mind of the characters, creatively weaving these increasingly unsettling images into the narrative.

William and Emily are forced into a situation where they alternate between trust and intense mistrust. Both Blakely and Raven manage their roles well, especially when they are called upon to produce a lot of tension within a short space of time. With the other elements all competing for attention, the performances still have to provide a base for the other, more abstract elements to be successful. Each new piece of information forces you to look at previous actions differently, leading you into a cyclical viewing experience. Their initial interactions seem slightly stilted, but this soon plays into both the characters and also the wider sense of the film being rather more surreal and unnatural, despite the very natural location. That sense of being unable to hide is at the film’s heart, forcing confrontation to the fore.

The film is beautiful, leaning into the enclosed setting of the wooded area, isolating the characters from the outside world and really adding a lot to the nightmarish feel. The trees looming over and the separation from the ‘normal’ world allows for the characters to become unmoored rather more quickly as all the competing tensions soon add up. For those looking for a straightforward experience, this is likely to frustrate and even with my enjoyment of it, the film doesn’t quite satisfy, lacking a little power in some sections.

This is also a very difficult film to review, as the central discovery is best kept a mystery until watching the film itself. Emily’s reaction to her discovery is one of panic and disgust, but her situation forces her to engage further. Blakely’s performance, veering from forcefulness to terror does much to wrongfoot the viewer at every turn.

Woodland Grey is an ambitious horror that uses everything at its disposal to create a mood-heavy film that indulges in both emotional and physical horror.

3.5 out of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5 stars

Woodland Grey plays as part of Grimmfest Easter on Friday April 15th at 8.20pm. Please see the Grimmfest schedule for more information and tickets.

Grimmfest Easter 2022: Cross The Line

An energetic and tense thriller with a real-time feel that keeps you absorbed.

Synopsis: Dani has dedicated the last few years of his life to taking care of his sick father. After his father passes away, he decides it’s time to get his own life back on track and buys a round-the-world ticket. But before his journey can get underway, he meets Mila, a young girl who is as attractive and sensual as she is disturbed and unstable. What starts out as a night of adventure quickly turns into a living nightmare, taking Dani to extremes he could never have imagined…

Cross The Line (also released as No Matarás) is a film focused on how quickly things can undergo near-seismic changes. From the first moments, we see Dani (Mario Casas) leave his ailing father’s bedside to buy cigarettes. The camera sticks right by him, taking that journey as he remains absorbed in the music in his earphones. By the time his short errand is complete, he returns to the room and finds his father has passed away. The event functions as both the start of a grieving process and an end to the long-standing responsibility. As part of the freedom from that responsibility he books a trip, but the journey he is about to take is far more eventful than any travel.

When Dani first encounters Mila (Milena Smit) she asks him to pay for two burgers, having been stood up and now under pressure to pay the bill. He obliges, thinking the encounter is strange, but certainly a one-off and writes it off as a good deed. Mila, however, has other ideas and is waiting outside to apologise and offer repayment. Their meeting kickstarts a series of events that escalate over the course of the film.

Casas’ performance is the glue that holds this energetic but occasionally thin thriller together. Any time the narrative flags a little, the camera closing in on his expressions is capable of snapping you back into it. It is a powerful advantage that the film sensibly exploits throughout the runtime. Sometimes, there really is nothing better than allowing a performer to demand the full attention of the audience and offer complex emotions, filling the space. Melina Smit as Mila also offers a captivating presence and their early chemistry also keeps you invested as the pair interact and she seems to guide Dani into his new life, free of duty and care.

As in the first scene, music plays a key role throughout the film, sometimes even becoming too intrusive and turning scenes into snippets from music videos to some extent. As the very dark farce continues, this dissipates somewhat, allowing the energy to increase and settle into the physicality as much as the early soul-searching and flirtations. The film knows exactly when to pause for breath, confronting the viewer as to what options Dani has available at each turn before sending him into another tense sequence. These pauses become all the more important as Dani’s choices become less palatable and more extreme.

On a technical and performance level, this is solid, but there are times where the events of the film feel a little thin. The focus on one key event that other issues spring from keeps everything cohesive, but also limits it to some degree. From my perspective, the inciting event doesn’t quite gel convincingly so the following chaos fell a little flat as it seems such a departure from the way the character is initially set out. The film has to rely on this life-changing incident for the rest of the film’s stakes but doesn’t quite earn it. This is offset somewhat by the pace of the film, escalating in terms of action and threat in what feels close to real-time. It allows you to see the toll everything takes on Dani and captures that sense of transformation.

A thriller that has a compelling lead and a good grasp of action, even if it is lacking in some depth.

3 out of 5 stars

3 out of 5 stars

Cross The Line plays as part of Grimmfest Easter on Friday April 15th at 6.10pm. Please see the Grimmfest schedule for more information and tickets.

Grimmfest Easter 2022: The Cellar

A strong, spooky idea that can’t quite make the leap to feature-length.

Synopsis: Keira Woods’ daughter mysteriously vanishes in the cellar of their new house. She soon discovers there is an ancient and powerful entity controlling their home that she will have to face or risk losing her family’s souls forever.

Writer-director Brendan Muldowney returns to the idea behind his excellent short film The Ten Steps to expand the story, to limited success. Viewers of the original (and brilliantly executed) short will be familiar with the concept – some busy parents head out to a work dinner, leaving their children at home. When the lights go out their teenage daughter has to go into the cellar to fix the issue, guided over the phone to walk the ten steps. The short packs a powerfully creepy punch, so a continuation of that idea may make sense, although the feature-length production highlights that the short’s power lies in both its brevity and lack of explanation.

Focused around the Woods family, The Cellar‘s opening moments play out in much the same way as the short, with sullen teenager Ellie (Abby Fitz) at odds with her parents, Keira (Elisha Cuthbert) and Brian (Eoin Macken) as well as younger brother Steven (Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady) as they move into their new, suspiciously cheap house. On the first night of the move, Brian and Keira are at a meeting, leaving Ellie to look after Steven. Creepy goings-on in the house ensue and soon Ellie is having to make the scary trip into the cellar, resulting in a disappearance that Keira has to take exceptional measures to resolve.

While Muldowney very clearly has a great sense of what makes something scary and a good grasp on how to bring that to the screen this cannot overcome the fact that this is an 80 minute film built around an idea that makes for a very strong short film punchline. Outside of that punchline, the film is forced into recreating the usual ‘haunted house’ tropes. Internet symbolism research and expositional historians make appearances almost like clockwork. The addition of a mathematically-focused expert does add something not seen as often, but the delivery is just as undynamic and stalls momentum. The Woods parents’ social media company meeting is full of vague references to previous campaigns and ‘going viral’ but fails to establish sufficiently high stakes for them leaving the children alone in a new, unknown house.

The use of light and shadow is very impressive, providing some standout moments of tension and horror. Even as the film often lurches into scenes you have seen previously, they are, undoubtedly well-realised. However, as the film needs to expand further toward its conclusion there is some straining at the seams as the images can’t quite live up to the film’s ambitions, resulting in the mood and atmosphere from all those well-earned scares sadly escaping at the conclusion. This leads to the film ending on a whimper, rather than the bang of the original short.

Elisha Cuthbert’s performance provides the main focus here, solidly selling the concept of a worried, yet determined mother trying to come to terms with her loss and the desire to keep searching into an entirely unknown world. The film affords a few starring segments for Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady’s Steven, under threat from the house perhaps more than anyone. Eoin Macken is just as solid, although he appears more sparingly, allowing Cuthbert to take centre stage as the driving force. This does lead to the family feeling rather more fractured as the film moves on, fitting, given the strain placed upon them.

Some pleasing horror moments and the undeniable shudder that the film’s borrowed set piece brings can’t quite elevate this to the heights of the short it is based on.

2.5 out of 5 stars

2.5 out of 5 stars

The Cellar plays as part of Grimmfest Easter on Friday April 15th at 4pm. Please see the Grimmfest schedule for more information and tickets. The Cellar will also begin streaming on Shudder from April 15th.

Grimmfest Christmas Horror Nights: Black Friday!

Great casting choices and the time afforded to a focus on those characters pays off in this comic retail satire.

Synopsis: A group of toy store employees must protect each other from a horde of parasite infected shoppers.

The concept of Black Friday still feels like a relatively new development in the UK and although the first few instances seemed to bring videos of people scrapping in ASDA at midnight over televisions, it feels like the phenomenon never really reached the heights of the American origins. Given the events often resemble chaotic horror scenes, it is unsurprising that Black Friday uses the occasion as a jumping-off point.

Chris (Ryan Lee) leaves a frosty family Thanksgiving dinner to get to his retail job at We Love Toys. He is nervy and has an issue with germs (although everything he reacts to is understandable, especially given recent events) and finds himself struggling to overcome his quirks. In contrast, Ken (Devon Sawa) is far more relaxed, taking the extra work to cash in his bonus for his kids. A potential relationship with colleague Marnie (Ivana Baquero) is also providing an incentive, but soon the shoppers take on an even more sinister edge as the store falls victim to a parasite infection.

With a concept that relies so heavily on the idea of hordes attacking, Black Friday is somewhat sedate in this regard. There is a sense that there are limited means when it comes to creating the big set pieces (some VFX work lacks a little too, although fulfils its function well enough) but what it handles well is introducing these elements in stages. This allows for the development of design, allowing the infected to disappear for a while, emerging with progressed features that provide extra jolts of energy.

Pushing the overall chaos outside the building allows for the focus to narrow onto the characters and this is where Black Friday excels, thanks to its very capable cast. Within the ensemble everyone is given at least one moment to shine and each one steps up. It is impossible not to single out Stephen Peck as Brian – an employee whose dedication to the job and love of power as one of the film’s most engaging performances. It is in the sections where everything slows and the cast are given the time to bounce off one another that the film really finds its footing. Bruce Campbell clearly relishes playing against type and while the film can’t initially resist introducing him via the Chin, he’s given room to embody weasly manager Jonathan Wexler to great effect.

Despite the ensemble, it does feel like co-leads Devon Sawa and Ryan Lee are given the most to do, in terms of action and evolving as characters. Ken’s initial coolness begins to give way and Sawa’s gift for physical comedy in a horror setting is gradually dialled up. The pair work well together with their very different personalities adding a spark to proceedings. While the chaos of the wider situation is sidelined there is still plenty of forward momentum, including background gags that hint at the persistent threat. Recurring jokes offer a space to fall back on during lulls, but are given wider meaning too, including the year’s ‘it’ toy Dour Dennis (voiced by Seth Green) making several appearances to some solid laughs.

Black Friday is a fun, festive offering that hides some of its shortcomings in the wrapping of a charming cast.

3.5 out of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5 stars

Black Friday plays Grimmfest’s Christmas Horror Nights on December 10th. You can buy tickets here and read more about the event here.

Grimmfest Christmas Horror Nights: See For Me

A tense, well-paced thriller that makes the most of an interesting central character.

Synopsis: Sophie, a young blind woman, house-sitting at a secluded mansion, finds herself in danger from a gang of thieves seeking a hidden safe. Her only means of defence: a phone app called “See for Me”, which connects her to a volunteer across the country who helps her by “seeing” on her behalf. Sophie is linked up with Kelly, a military veteran who spends her days playing first-person shooters.

While festival favourite Midnight has (rightfully) received acclaim for its cat-and-mouse thrills, the fact that the film concerns the experiences of two deaf women without using deaf performers has sat at least a little uncomfortably. See For Me centres its blind protagonist Sophie and the character is played by visually impaired performer Skyler Davenport. Refreshingly, Sophie as a character is presented in layers, openly frustrated by the way people treat her, but equally open to exploiting that for her own gain while also working through inner turmoil.

Sophie’s desire to house-sit for wealthy clients is largely motivated by a need to make ends meet now that a promising skiing career has been cut short. The clients tip well, mostly out of sympathy, Sophie decides, for her condition, and their homes present opportunities to take extras like expensive bottles of wine to resell without fear of reprisal. These extras take their toll on the friendship between Cam (Keaton Kaplan) and Sophie, with Cam refusing to continue helping, leaving Sophie further isolated in the latest mansion. Davenport is excellent as Sophie, allowing the character to maintain strength and even abrasiveness in the face of adversity. This is far more preferable to the simplistic representation of disabled characters as purely sympathetic victims and lifts the film considerably.

The idea of being in an unfamiliar, secluded house while under attack is a scary concept for anyone, but when a visual impairment is involved, the stakes are raised considerably. Despite Sophie’s reluctance to try an app called See For Me, an incident that sees her locked out of the house forces her to relent, bringing her into the company of Kelly (Jessica Parker Kennedy). The chemistry between the pair is instantaneous, with Kelly quickly understanding Sophie’s need to feel capable and in control. Conversely, while a segment is given over to establishing Kelly’s past and reasons for assisting, there is relatively little depth or development to be had as the film progresses. Much of the focus is understandably trained on Sophie’s experience in the house as the thieves enter, with the need to navigate not only an unknown house but the motivations of unknown, potentially desperate criminals.

The action within the house is set apart from your usual home invasion thriller by Sophie’s unique condition – not her disability, but her personality. Sophie is resourceful and morally grey enough to negotiate with the men invading the property, using their perceptions against them. The segments involving the app do take on a video-game, first-person style shooting which certainly lends it a dynamic feel. Other than this, the actual movements around the house will feel familiar to many, although the elements hang together well. The pacing is excellent, practically zipping along and while at one point I was yearning for a slightly darker progression (you’ll likely know it when it comes) this is certainly an entertaining watch. When this played at the recent Abertoir Horror Festival, it stood out as one of the films with the most mainstream appeal – a technically proficient and absorbing take on an often densely-populated subgenre.

A home invasion thriller that foregrounds a layered protagonist with enough visual and storytelling flair to stay engaging throughout – See For Me is definitely worth checking out.

3.5 out of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5 stars

See For Me plays Grimmfest’s Christmas Horror Nights on December 11th. You can buy tickets here and read more about the event here.

Grimmfest: We’re All Going To The World’s Fair

Jane Schoenbrun’s portrait of a life lived online is an occasionally challenging watch that will hold some at arm’s length.

Synopsis: “I want to go to the World’s Fair. I want to go to the World’s Fair. I want to go to the World’s Fair.” Say it three times into your computer camera. Prick your finger, draw some blood and smear it on the screen. Now press play on the video. They say that once you’ve seen it, the changes begin… In a small town, a shy and isolated teenage girl becomes immersed in an online role-playing game.

The internet and more specifically social media has never been more present in our lives, allowing connection across vast spaces and time zones. Many films seek to imbed this sensation of being online into the very fabric of the narrative, resulting in ‘screen life’ efforts that spin off from found footage films in many ways. Turning a laptop screen into a storytelling device presents obstacles, which World’s Fair alternates between embracing these restrictions and removing itself from them entirely. The result is an immersive, disquieting experience that truly echoes the ebb and flow of being online, indulging in the kind of myth building that comes from only showing glimpses of the truth.

Casey (Anna Cobb) lives a solitary existence and one that revolves around her device and an online world that removes her from her place at home. Becoming involved with an online game that appears to hold the key to a fascinating transformation, Casey indulges in the challenge, but there is something more sinister under the surface.

The film’s flirtation with screen life storytelling produces something far more ethereal, with the physical and digital worlds constantly intersecting and overlapping with one another. The first time we meet Casey, she is taking part in the challenge – a muted but intricately detailed sequence of events that involves watching a video. However, that ritual soon spills into reality as she has to contribute blood, traversing the gap between digital and physical, new and old forms.

As I approach my mid-thirties, I’m keenly aware that the effect of this film on me may not be as potent as it will be for younger viewers, more attuned to the consumption of online media and the forms it presents. A sequence in which Casey attempts to settle herself to sleep using an ASMR video plays out across a projector becomes a portrayal of a craving for distant intimacy. Using the video as a source of comfort and as a coping mechanism draws Casey out of her room, but into a different, secluded space.

Anna Cobb occupies a huge amount of the screen time and it is to her credit that she delivers such a demanding performance when Casey herself can be such a slippery character. She is sensitive, yet petulant at times, vulnerable but forthright and Cobb manages to portray all of these nuances incredibly well. Her command of the screen is something that is sure to draw in those who may feel alienated by the very online, somewhat obscure direction the film takes at times. Her interactions with JLB (Michael J Rogers) as he implores her to ‘keep making videos so I know you’re still OK’ add a sinister thread, but also highlight how malleable and fleeting internet interactions can be – a deleted account and someone is entirely erased.

As Casey’s journey to the World’s Fair continues, the film manages to expertly evoke the near-constant stream of content that the internet has to offer, lacing sections with menace and a concern about what is about to be witnessed. This is a film that so infrequently turns up the volume or makes anything fully flesh, such is its careful ambiguity, that when it does, it hits far stronger. Schoenbrun allows things to play out almost in real-time, refusing to be rushed or play by the usual rules. As the tension builds, she is content to allow it to play out, constantly denying the viewer an ‘out’ or full understanding.

While some will ultimately feel too alienated from this to really appreciate it, the moments of ritual, emphasis on communication and well-articulated uncanny moments, We’re All Going To The World’s Fair feels like a very special film.

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars

We’re All Going To The World’s Fair plays as part of Grimmfest 2021. See the Grimmfest page for more information.

Grimmfest 2021: Night Drive

An absorbing watch that relies on tight scripting and the interplay between its core performers.

Synopsis: A ride share driver’s life is turned upside down after an unexpected series of misfortunes.

Seeing a film set at Christmas time and starring both AJ Bowen and Scott Poythress definitely attracted my attention, calling to mind the casting and setup for the excellent I Trapped The Devil. Night Drive is a very different film, although does share some of the same sensibilities, putting a lot on the performers to carry the story, but also complicates things by the narrative involving a car journey, isolating the characters and forcing them to bridge the generational (and later, moral) gap as they journey.

Russell (AJ Bowen) is a ride-share driver whose expensive car hints at his previous experience as an app developer. Unfortunately, a decision to sell too early meant that his buyout was minimal, setting in motion a chain of events that has cost him his marriage and previous lifestyle. He settles into the drudgery of his new role until his pattern is interrupted by Charlotte (Sophie Dalah) a troubled woman who quickly throws his night into chaos.

Night Drive feels like a careful blend of genre elements, fusing together the kind of ‘hangout horror’ that keeps locations minimal and dialogue punchy, but doesn’t stray away from darkly comic elements and lashings of gore where necessary. To say any more about the direction this takes would head too far into spoiler territory, but there is something that offers a dramatic departure that is very well handled while still under some clear budget restrictions. Bowen and Dalah feel almost effortless in their roles, shifting from an unusual, concerned relationship into a more spiky negotiation.

Meghan Leon takes on co-directing and writing here, sharing directing duties with Brad Baruh, both contributing to a film that will keep the viewer guessing all the while. Cleverly peppered phrases and actions will reward multiple viewings, threading everything so while some will find the film’s trajectory surprising, it does all manage to hang together convincingly. There are moments where it feels like the film treads water somewhat, as if it is almost too worried about pulling the trigger on its more left-field moves. Once it overcomes that hesitation, it heads back on track with renewed energy, but that lull is noticeable.

An appealing, darkly comic thriller with two first-rate performances make this a drive worth settling in for.

3.5 out of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5 stars

Night Drive plays as part of Grimmfest 2021. See the Grimmfest page for more information.