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Mayhem Film Festival - Day One

28 October 11 words: Penny Reeve and Harry Wilding
A muted colour palette and tricks with framing lends to the desolate feeling of the film, highlighting the emptiness that is a central theme

The first night of the 2011 Mayhem Film Festival started with a big one – and a British big one at that.  The Awakening got its premiere outside of the recent London Film Festival meaning us lucky people of Nottingham not only got an advance screening of the film, but a Q&A with the director afterwards to boot.  Following after was the b-movie anthology from a host of genre directors, Theatre Bizarre.

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Rebecca Hall as Florence Cathcart in The Awakening

Between 1914 and 1919 over a million people died as a result of both the Great War and the influenza epidemic. We are treated to this bit of information at opening of The Awakening, along with the byline ‘It was a time for ghosts.’ So, furnished with a clue of the enormous volume of dearly departed and those searching for an answer to their loved ones’ demise, we are led into our dark and mysterious tale of intrigue.

Set in 1921, Florence Cathcart is an author and disprover of séances and the supernatural – a fact that causes her to be both loved and hated in the field. Our story begins after a successful day of fraudster-catching; Florence is approached by Robert Mallory, a gent whose arrival is solely to plead with Florence to visit his boarding school to extract the truth behind sightings of a little boy ghost who is terrifying the pupils – some, to death. At first Florence rejects the idea, however when Robert dregs up part of her own parentless past we soon see her resolve waiver and then fail altogether. Upon arrival at the school, Florence sets up an abundance of equipment and gets to work proving that the ghost is a fallacy, however, things - of course - aren’t all that simple and sometimes events just can’t be explained.

The Awakening does stick closely to the traditional ghost story formula and the plot relies heavily on psychological thrills. Although the usual narrative is applied, there are some very good twists and luckily there isn’t too heavy a reliance on showing the ghost; the few times that we are treated to a peek, it is used to garner maximum shock effect – there were definitely a few jumps from the audience. The penultimate scene was a little cheesy but thankfully, as cheese had been absent from the rest of the film, it wasn’t too overarching.

Stylistically, The Awakening is excellent. A muted colour palette lends to the desolate feeling of the film and tricks with scaling and framing are used to highlight the emptiness that is a central theme. Director Nick Murphy has a background in documentary making and this shows in the overall shooting and composition of the film. An excellent casting sees Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) in role as our protagonist and Dominic West (recently in Fred West in ITV’s Appropriate Adult) as the war hero returned. Brit favourite Imelda Staunton (Alice in Wonderland) gives a stellar performance as housekeeper Maud and Joseph Mawle is brilliant as the creepy groundskeeper Judd.

The icing on the ghostly cake was the Q&A with Nick Murphy who was engaging and humourous. It is a shame that Murphy missed out on the Best British Newcomer award that he was nominated for by the British Film Institute but with more projects up and running, hopefully we’ll be seeing more great things from him soon.

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Mayhem’s second showing of the extended weekend was not one but seven films. The Theatre Bizarre, an anthology film, begins with its titular film in which a young woman, Enola, enters the long abandoned theatre across the road from her flat. She takes a pew and a freaky humanesque puppet, Peg Poett (Udo Kier; Ace Ventura, Blade), shows her six ghastly tales.

The first short of the anthology was The Mother of Toads. The lead, Martin, is – to cut a short story shorter – tricked into seeing an obviously insane old woman, in the pursuit of the necronomicon.  She seduces him and, well, toads end up been involved. Appallingly acted and completely ridiculous – and not in a good way.

I Love You isn’t really within the horror genre but still has plenty of blood. It sees an adulteress wife confess her sins to her husband, played by Andre Hennicke, in a performance which was most definitely based on Tommy Wiseau’s legendary turn in The Room. However, it never reaches the awesomely atrocious appeal of latter: it was badly written, rather boring and seemingly pointless.

Wet Dreams, directed by Tom Savini who also stars, certainly starts pleasantly enough with an attractive, naked (bar a very small thong) woman running around in slow motion. It does have some humourous moments and may well be the best of the anthology, however, it still remained a bit too outlandish and confusing.

The Accident, even less of a horror than I Love You, was pretty decent compared with most its anthology team mates. A little girl is asking her mum about death and, particularly, why people have to die in the aftermath of seeing someone do so. A nice idea and not terribly executed but was over stretched and the acting wasn’t great.

Vision Stains presented an interesting concept. Our disturbed lead has found that if she extracts the eye fluid from a person’s eye as they die and then injects it into her own eye, she will see the life that flashed in front of their eyes; obviously creating some cringeworthy moments. It was clearly attempting to be clever and philosophical but the conclusions gathered by the end were just weird, confusing and downright ludicrous.

Sweets definitely lived up to the ‘bizarre’ part of the anthology’s title. In a dingy lounge, covered in sweets, a young man, similarly covered in sweets, begs for his girlfriend to stay with him. In hindsight, he probably should have let her leave him. A little frustrating to watch and, like most of the collection, it was bloody boring.

We return to Enola and the theatre between each of the tales, and it becomes apparent that she really should not have been so nosey. Especially considering how bad the stories were that she – and us! - had to sit through.

The Awakening and Theatre Bizarre were shown at Broadway on Thursday 27 October as part of Mayhem Film Festival.

Mayhem Film Festival - lisitngs


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