FrightFest 2019 - reviews in brief


A Good Woman Is Hard To Find 

Director Abner Pastoll, plowing a tight script from Ronan Blaney, has cultivated a fine noir-esque tale of an Irish single mother’s inexorable entanglement with the local gangster stronghold. Sarah (Sarah Bolger) is a recently widowed young mother to two children, one of whom is an elective mute since witnessing his father’s brutal slaying. A lowlife drug dealer, Tito (Andrew Simpson), on the run with stolen drugs and cash, invades her home, which in turn forces Sarah to seize the opportunity and seek bloody retribution. 

Superbly written and directed, with stand-out performances from Bolger and Simpson, A Good Woman is Hard to Find doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, instead playing the tropes with consummate skill and still bringing a fresh edge. With Scorsese-calibre violence, and a taut level of suspense, there hasn’t been a crime drama/thriller flick this confident, resonant, and dark since Dead Man’s Shoes

It’s one of those small, character-driven films that within minutes of watching you can confidently sign off on. Definitely one of my faves for the year. 


Cut Off

When forensic pathologist Paul Herzfeld (Moritz Bleibtrau) discovers a capsule in the head of a heavily mutilated corpse, containing a tiny scroll with a phone number and single word: the name of his daughter, he is thrust into a nerve-racking quest to track clues and rescue his daughter who is being held prisoner as part of an elaborately masterminded act of revenge. Along for the ride is a hapless student and a gormless sycophant, both of which could jeopardise his daughter’s safety.

A slick German crime thriller with a strong horror streak (the original title, Abgeschnitten, translates as “Isolated”), this gruesome dance macabre plays like a European Mystery of the Week, but with added shock factor. It’s the cast and direction that really carries this movie, and the high production values give it serious chutzpah, along with swift pacing, exciting set-pieces, and a dark sense of humour. 

I can smell an English-language version already being given the green light in Hollywood. It’s the new Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Make sure you see the original first! 



A clutch of good-looking Canadian high school students, Miriam (Brittany Raymond), Derek (Keenan Tracy), Ian (Spencer MacPherson), and Jenny (Brittany Teo), are more than a little ambitious. They have their hands full with academic work, but find time to kill total strangers, getting their kicks from the elaborate planning and execution. It’s dirty work, but these high achievers like getting their mitts grubby, then washing them clean and admiring their handiwork. It’s all filthy fun, until a plan goes pear-shaped.

Like a cross between The Strangers and The Craft this murderous thriller does a great job at taking a far-fetched premise and running with it, providing solid, believable performances, and some genuinely suspenseful scenes, with a third act that ups the crazy ante, and pushes the thriller factor into horror territory, spiralling into a surprisingly nihilistic ending. 

These kinds of teenagers-run-amuck thrillers are a dime a dozen, but Extracurricular is a cut well-above. No doubt we’ll be seeing more of these actors, and especially this director. 


The Wretched  

Teenager Ben (John-Paul Howard) is trying to adjust to a broken arm and a summer living with dad (Jamison Jones), who has recently split from his mum and is now dating another woman. Meanwhile there’s romantic interest and embarrassment involving Ben’s work colleague Mallory (Piper Curda). But the serious distraction is courtesy the weird behaviour from the next door neighbours, especially rock chick wifey Abbie (Zarah Mahler) who’d been messing around with a dead deer she’d felled at the start of the movie. 

This is an old school style of witch from the woods creature feature. Imagine Fright Night meets Rear Window. The directing duo, Pierce Brothers, have fashioned an affectionate nod to the classic horror movies of the 80s, without the corniness. It’s a lean, entertaining ride, with some great practical effects and seriously creepy witchiness (all wide crazy eyes and creaking contorted limbs), especially as the witch itself hides within the “shell” of its victims and uses the body as it’s own. 

The Wretched could’ve fallen prey to the pitfalls that hound so many previous movies of similar ilk, it’s a testament to the directors who’ve balanced all the elements, with plenty of nods, but still keeping an original vibe. 


Bullets of Justice

There’s crazy and wild, and then there’s just plain fucking nuts. This post-apocalyptic action horror hybrid from the depths of Eastern Europe is deep trash like nothing you’ve seen before. Bulgarian director Valeri Milev helmed the last of the cheap straight-to-video instalments of the Wrong Turn franchise, and is working here with a budget half that size, and he makes every last cent count. It’s all in the mix; sex and violence with awesome practical effects and ropey-as-fuck CGI, but it works a sleazy treat, once you’ve climatized.

The premise and backstory is as fried as eggs. During WWIII the US government’s secret genetic project “Army Bacon” created human-pig super soldiers. Now these “Muzzles” are farming humans as fodder. Rob Justice (Timur Turisbekov, who co-wrote the batshit insane script with Milev), ex-bounty hunter, is a guerrilla soldier working for the underground resistance. His combat partner is great in bed, but he fantasizes of another, sexier butt. And then there’s his moustachioed sister, Raksha (Doroteya Toleva) who constantly demands his attention. 

Ultra-violent, stupendously silly, outrageously lurid, Bullets of Justice demands your attention, grabs you by the short and curlies, and slaps your hard ass into the middle of next week, perfect grindhouse cartoon fuel for the late night beer and blunts crowd. 


The Dark Red

Director Dan Bush is best known as one of the two directors who made the excellent apocalyptic-horror The Signal from 2007 (not to be confused with the science fiction mystery movie of the same name from 2014). Bush has co-written, with Conal Byrne (one of the co-stars), a kind of chamber nightmare piece about a woman, Sybil (April Billingsley), committed to a psychiatric ward, who insists her newborn child was stolen by an evil sect to harvest the baby’s supernatural blood. Sybil is being questioned by Dr. Deluce (Kelsey Scott), and the narrative alternates between their sessions and Sybil’s apparent flashbacks, as she relates how she met David (Byrne) and became pregnant. 

The Dark Red has a premise that reminds me of the early Stephen King novels. It unfolds like a mystery thriller disguised as a drama, with a spine of horror that bubbles beneath the surface, but never fully erupts. Budgetary limitations are evident, but Bush elicits a strong, solid performance from Billinsgley, and she carries the movie.

This is the kind of story that could have worked well as a pilot to a TV series; following the mother’s ongoing plight as she hunts those responsible, grapples with the supernatural, and tries to unearth the dark (red) truth. 


Kindred Spirits

Sadie (Caitlin Stasey) has turned up at her sister Chloe’s place and immediately bonds with moody teenage daughter Nicole (Sasha Frolova, who is surely Scarlett Johansson’s long lost sister!). Sadie’s befriending of Nicole has such a pronounced effect that the aunt begins to behave like a petulant teenager herself. Chloe (Thora Birch) realises there is something very wrong, but, of course, she realises this too late.

Working from a lacklustre script by Chris Sivertson, director Lucky McKee has fashioned a Single White Female in a small town, and does his best with the material, but the movie’s darkest most horrifying scene feels like it’s been played for laughs, which really damages the movie. Ex-pat Aussie Stasey has great screen charisma, and it’s essentially her movie, which she relishes, but cult fave Birch isn’t really given much to chew on, and neither is indie darling Macon Blair, who plays Chloe’s lover, Alex. 

I really wanted to like Kindred Spirits more. There was a lot of potential for a truly terrifying tale. McKee has yet to make another movie as strong as his debut, May, nearly twenty years ago. 


The Furies

Kayla (Airlie Dodds) and her friend Maddie (Ebony Vagulans) are chewing the fat and spraying graffiti when they are kidnapped by unknown assailants. They awake from a druggy haze, lying in coffin-like boxes in a vast, but thin forest, separated from each other. Like various other poor girls, they are being hunted by grunting men in animal masks, brandishing deadly weapons. Each girl has had a camera surgically implanted, and each killer has a camera in their mask. This is a hi-tech VR game for the rich and twisted.

Aussie writer/director Tony D’Aquino’s debut feature is a loose re-imagining of The Most Dangerous Game, first filmed in 1932 and remade numerous times. It’s a modern take, (Hostel is another big influence), but it’s also deliberately retro-styled so that it feels like an 80s stalk and slash flick, complete with overbearing score. Watching the movie feels like one long deja vu. It’s a swift, stretched-out ride, slickly shot and edited, wearing its visceral thrills as flare. Gore gags are the star of this beast (there’s an axe-to-face doozy worth the price of admission), but as a scare fest it’s hollow and anaemic.

Dodds, who has mostly shorts and TV credits, deserves big things, and no doubt D’Aquino will make a name for himself, but for us hardened horrorphiles The Furies is all just blood and thunder. A cool, title-as-logo, and fancy practical effects just doesn’t cut the mustard.