Impact Film and Television review Mayhem Film Festival, held in Nottingham, 15-18 October.
One thing to say for the tidal-waves-of-cinema-to-the-face approach which film festivals provide, beyond the smug satisfaction of endurance challenges, is the fact that by the very nature of the exhibition format the highlights of a schedule unearth themselves naturally.
Whether the films defiantly clamber to the top of the pile through sheer panache or are slowly revealed through insidious brainworms, the effort of discerning ‘quality’ from ‘dreck’ is mostly removed from the viewer’s responsibilities and thrust into the hands of the films themselves. Which is just as well, because seventeen films over four days is always something of a numbing experience, rendering even the hardened cinema-goers delirious.
Mayhem’s 11th year has kicked off with an eclectic yet relatively subdued opening night, with nary a dismembered limb in sight. Now described as a purveyor (or pusher, perhaps?) of sci-fi and cult cinema in addition to its starting genre of choice, horror. The opening slot was this year taken by US thriller Emelie, a mysterious babysitter potboiler which begins promisingly enough and dives into neatly unnerving psychosexual depths (involving kids, just to further the getting-under-the-skin effect) before one particular reveal pushes things into potentially hoary and wearily irresponsible territory. But if one can get over or at least ignore that narrative hurdle there’s at least some satisfaction to be had in the more action-oriented finale. These kinda thrillers always conclude in a quietly simmering or bloodily bombastic manner, and Emelie takes an unsure path to a muted resolution.
“Mayhem’s 11th year has kicked off with an eclectic yet relatively subdued opening night, with nary a dismembered limb in sight”
Unexpectedly the most popular film of the night (at if attendance is anything to go by) was the documentary Future Shock: The Story of 2000AD which detailed the rise, stumble and recovery of the iconic and eponymous British comic. For a relative novice (I read a single week’s issue about a decade ago) Future Shock still held plenty to interest and engage, with the history of the anti-establishment comic serving as mirror to the changing British political and cultural landscape of the last 40 years.
As is often the case with these ‘full history’ docs about niche, cult topics (one was reminded in style and tone of the Jake West Video Nasties documentaries), there is the sense that despite the ‘tell all’ assertions, there’s very little in the way of a critical stance. While not absolutely necessary, after 90 preceding minutes of “we were fucking revolutionary, man” the conclusion starts to drag as if the filmmakers can’t decide which lauding soundbite to sign off with. Nonetheless, even for those only mildly curious, it’s worth a look for 2000AD creator Pat Mills alone, whose frankness has considerable charm.
The night rounded out with what was for sure a highlight. Occupying the slot taken by last year’s Let Us Prey, a surprise favourite of mine from that festival, Rabid Dogs (Enragés) shared many traits with it. Both were stylishly photographed thrillers with a bitter heart and a bloody bite, and both had pulsing electronic scores unique for how they don’t homage John Carpenter in an era where seemingly everyone does. Rabid Dogs is a remake of the Mario Bava film of the same name, and while I haven’t seen the original, this taut version more than stands up on its own as a slick, hypnotic, brutal and surprising work of French cinema. Hopefully this won’t befall the same delayed-distribution fate of its predecessor Let Us Prey.
“The night rounded out with what was for sure a highlight. Occupying the slot taken by last year’s Let Us Prey, a surprise favourite of mine from that festival, Rabid Dogs (Enragés) shared many traits with it”
Day two of Mayhem brings the horror at last in the shape of Howl, as well as looking set to inject a healthy (and urgently required!) dose of the expected weirdness in the shape of Ethiopian sci-fi Crumbs and British hor-rom-black-com Nina Forever. Yes, that’s a genre categorisation that deserves to stick around, for sure.
Thursday (or simply, as the hardened Mayhem vets call it, the staccato ‘Day 2’) is the turning point of the festival. The screen is entered with all the bright eyed readiness of the first day, but come the final film the fatigue is setting in fast. Nevertheless, the variation only (genre) festivals can provide was all present and on fine form for four more films…
The evening began early. So early that it wasn’t really evening but late afternoon. Perfect then for the Ethiopian Crumbs. Set in a world so post the apocalypse that everyone just stopped ‘The War’ because it was too utterly pointless even for conflict. The film follows a disabled man, who believes himself to be an alien and is desperate to get aboard a mysterious craft hovering on the horizon, and the gang of strangers he meets during his self-imposed quest. Despite the ingredients possibly suggesting otherwise, Crumbs is surprisingly accessible – mostly due no doubt to its world’s surreal locations, people and events having a strong internal logical consistency, even as they cause wry laughter as a standard response.
Nina Forever, already a word of mouth favourite across various global film festivals, certainly lived up to its early reputation and conceit’s potential. That conceit is alarmingly fresh, as a young woman’s burgeoning relationship with a grieving man finds itself under the undue threat of his dead ex-girlfriend being bloodily birthed out the bed every time they try to have sex. It’s morbidly, blackly humourous, possesses a refreshingly realistic ‘ick’ factor and conducts and concludes its take on grief and relationships in a commendably honest manner.
“Taking subtlety in the other direction and dispensing with it all together is prosthetic and effects maestro Paul Hyett’s sophomore feature Howl”
Taking subtlety in the other direction and dispensing with it all together is prosthetic and effects maestro Paul Hyett’s sophomore feature Howl. Bringing the high concept format to British horror cinema with a vengeance, Howl finds an unlucky bunch of disparate souls stranded on a broken down train and besieged by certain hairy, toothy humanoid creatures. It’s reminiscent of Neil Marshall’s work (on which Hyett previously crewed) only sans more carefully considered characters and plot. However, a slight by-the-numbers issue aside, Howl is a solidly entertaining yarn, working the twin difficulties of confined location and excessive stunt-work with seemingly the greatest of ease.
After such a consistently interesting, if not always entertaining, line-up, it’s such a disappointment to have to watch and report on Mayhem’s first major misfire, the giant-wasps-attack-a-garden-party shenanigans of Stung. While the premise wouldn’t seem out of place in a SyFy channel movie (though the budget sure would, one of its few saving graces), it would have likely nonetheless worked in spite of this had the script not been desperate to get to the monster mayhem. Then desperate to get to the escape attempt. Then desperate to get to the end credits. Not even genre icon Lance Henriksen could rescue Stung from being an underwritten rush made ever so slightly more galling than it need be by the fact it could have been truly entertaining and just settled for second best.
That awkward blemish aside though, Day Two of Year Eleven of Mayhem has proved just as bewildering and unexpected as one comes to expect, and that’s before the weekend’s two mammoth endurance sessions.
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