With FrightFest proper cramming in 11 films across two days, it was a gloriously off-kilter experience. With many different genres and styles across the two days, there was an ebb and flow of energy and tension that was like bobbing on choppy waters. As with all festivals, some movies fared better than others.
Following the exuberant Let the Wrong One In would have been a tall order for many films. Unfortunately, serial killer drama A Cloud So High (Christopher Lee Parson/ USA/ 2022/ 104 mins) sucked all the energy from the room within 15 minutes. A collage of styles – documentary, drama, arthouse – are all incorporated to an effect that would be baffling if one was ever engaged enough to be confused. Based on the Golden State Killer case, A Cloud So High follows 22-year-old army veteran Paul (Aaron Perilo), who moves in with his estranged father Gene (John Savage), a disgraced former cop. As reports of a prolific home invader proliferate Gene begins to suspect his troubled son may have something to do with it. Then the spate of ransacking escalates to murder, but some see the killings as the work of a heroic vigilante.
A Cloud So High could have been an interesting exercise in getting under the skin of a small town infected by a crimewave. However, everything is presented in the most oblique, needlessly obfuscatory way possible. With a little more restraint, it could have been a serial killer take on the Lake Mungo format. Instead, the atmosphere is one of crippling tedium. The narrative is so fragmented in terms of style, presentation, linearity, and pace that there’s never a sense of momentum or dramatic tension about any of it. The performances are universally bland with the only vaguely interesting thing to be said about Aaron Perilo is that there are moments where he startling resemble a young Steve McQueen. Tragically, the final five minutes started getting into interesting territory about the afterlife of serial killers, copycats, fanboys, and the incel movement. Just way too little, and far, far too late. There may be an extremely niche audience for this kind of approach, but as a festival experience as much as a satisfying film in its own right, it was dismal stuff indeed. The ear-splitting silence that followed it may have been as loud as the applause that greeted the greatest crowd-pleaser. Painful. 1/5
Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014) is one of the more interesting low-budget zombie films of recent years. Steeped in Mad Max style imagery and with an intriguing spin on undead lore, it offered a fair amount of bang for not a lot of bucks. Eight years on the Roache-Turner brothers have finally returned with the sequel we didn’t know we needed. Wyrmwood: Apocalypse (Kiah Roache-Turner/ Australia/ 2021/ 90 mins) is deranged nonsense of the highest order. Throwing the audience right, it makes no concessions to newcomers and simply steamrollers through 90 minutes of inventive carnage. None of it makes a lick of sense. None of that matters.
Okay, plot. Rhys (Luke McKenzie) is a self-sufficient loner who’s been making use of the Wyrmwood‘s zombie’s unique feature: it breathes a kind of natural gas that can be used as fuel. He’s been rounding up survivors and delivering them to the sinister ‘Surgeon’ (Nicholas Boshier) in the belief that he’s working on a cure to the virus. Instead he’s been subjecting them to all manner of torture. Rhys grudgingly teams up with Maxi (Shantae Barnes-Cowan) to rescue her half-zombie sister Grace (Tasia Zalar) who’s in the Surgeon’s clutches.
While it doesn’t score highly in terms of coherence and originality, Wyrmwood: Apocalypse is a winner in terms of sheer momentum and outright carnage. It’s also great to see Indigenous actors front-and-centre in genre films, and both Barnes-Cowan and Zalar are compelling action heroines, with their own arcs and distinct characters, archetypal though they are. Blessed with a higher budget this time around, the Roache-Turners make it stick. And bounce. And explode. And splatter. It’s dizzying, bonkers stuff. Just the thing for the late-night slot – the last-minute slug of caffeine to ensure uneasy dreams. Pure fun. No more, no less. 3/5
Director Howard J. Ford was apparently slightly nonplussed at the gales of laughter that greeted the ludicrous thriller The Ledge (UK/ 2022/ 86 mins). He perhaps shouldn’t have been, as The Ledge is a passable, literally high-concept, chase movie completely undermined by terrible dialogue, hammy acting, and a woefully-conceived flashback romantic narrative. Two ace climbers Sophie (Anaïs Parello) and Kelly (Brittany Ashworth) are planning an ascent up a lethal slope in the Dolomites. That is until a Chelsea tractor-full of the most toxic dude-bros a hack writer could conjure rock up. Things escalate, and after being the victim of an attempted rape, Sophie is pushed off a cliff and killed. Kelly captures this on camera and is chased to the base of the Mount Anteleo, where she begins to free climb out of the clutches of the pack. The men work their way to the ledge above Kelly, where they prepare to wait for her to give up, to freeze, or to fall.
In fairness to Ford, and to Ashworth, the climbing sections are well-handled and shot, and Kelly is a believably athletic and capable heroine. It’s really the antagonists that are the problem. They’re led by Josh (Ben Lamb), one of the most obnoxiously loathsome and terribly-rendered characters in recent memory. He’s so comically evil that it actually saps any tension, instead drawing laughter from the next hateful, racist, misogynistic and homophobic invective he spits. He’s matched only by the pitiful weakness of his three lackeys, to the point where he’s far more of a threat to them than the threat of their complicity being revealed. The most laughable aspect is the hilariously saccharine flashbacks to Kelly’s romance with a blandly buff climbing tutor who fell to his death while proposing to her on that very mountain. She’s motivated to persevere through hearing his voice Obi-Wan-style in her head; a device that even by the execrable standards of the rest of the film is a real nadir.
Definitely FrightFest 2022’s version of The Room, there is a real guilty pleasure to this one, with the presence of the director himself pushing the schadenfreude towards Cenobite levels of exquisite/ agonising. The Ledge is terrible for sure; but there was a genuine pantomime engagement from the crowd, and it was impossible not to get caught up in it. And fair play to Mr. Ford, who seemed to be a good sport about it all. 2/5