TRCH Classic Thriller Season

Mayhem Film Festival 2013 - Day Four (Part One)

6 November 13 words: Mayhem
Wake in Fright, Painless, and In Fear were the treats for the last day of the festival
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Wake in Fright

Wake in Fright: Bleary eyed from three days of film fun, there was no less bounce in our step as we entered the foyer of Broadway for the final day of Mayhem. With a post-Saturday night friendly screening time of midday, Wake In Fright was first up.  

Made in 1971, it was lost to the vaults and unavailable on any format. Saved at the last minute by the film’s original editor from a shipping container with its contents marked for destruction, it was restored to the glory that we were about to see on the big screen. 

Telling the tale of a middle class teacher, John Grant, forced by the government to pay a bond and work at a little school in the back end of beyond. As he breaks up for his Christmas six-week holidays, his plans are to go visit his lovely lady in Sydney and escape the oppressive small town for a short time. Stopping overnight on his journey at a small town called Bundanyabba – lovingly referred to by locals as “The Yabba” – he is befriended by a local policeman at the local bar. And then the drinking starts, and boy oh boy do they sink some pints in this film. 

A good few pints later and a little merry, he’s introduced to the locals’ favourite gambling game, Two Up. Basically, tossing coins and betting on whether they’re heads or tails. Seeing it as a way of buying himself out of his job, he starts to eagerly lay down his cash. What follows is more drinking, more gambling, more drinking, some more drinking, a rather brutal – and controversial - kangaroo hunt, more drinking… more drinking, some brawling, more drinking, and more drinking. Seriously, there is so much drinking in this film that I started to wonder how sadistic Chris and Steve were for showing this first thing on a Sunday morning when I’m sure there was more than one fuzzy head in the crowd.  

And don’t be fooled, just because it has ‘fright’ in the title and was shown at Mayhem, this is in no way a horror. I can only imagine that the guys just loved the film and couldn’t resist an opportunity to screen it, regardless of its genre. It’s mind-boggling to think that this film was almost lost forever, it’s an astounding piece of drama that takes a good look at the human condition with its character driven story. Donald Pleasance is hypnotic as an alcoholic doctor that lives to drink, and the character of John is brilliantly portrayed by Gary Bond. I might not have sold the film with all the drinking and a very dull sounding gambling game, but Wake In Fright is worth hunting down, grabbing by the tail and watching. Ali Emm.

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Painless

Painless is a film highly informed by the work of Guillermo Del Toro. It has the same meticulous period detail touched with dark bouts of magical realism; the same interest in the brutality of Fascist regimes, particularly that of Franco's Spain; and it continues the rich Spanish cinematic tradition of a fascination with children and the ghosts of the past.

 

Working backward and forward through time, the film begins in 1931 and returns periodically to the present day. Its central idea revolves around the discovery of a group of young children who appear to be completely impervious to physical pain. However, because the children have become dangerous to those around them, replete with horrific burns and broken bones, they are taken from their parents, straitjacketed, and put indefinitely into solitary confinement in a godforsaken asylum. A medical team are there to learn more about these children, particularly one young boy who shows a capacity for both serene tenderness and shocking violence. Deeply involving, the film intertwines the past and present with a well-paced dual structure, connecting the desperate search of a modern Spanish doctor, David, to the events of recent history. He is told of the war years: 'Forgetting is what matters today' and he is advised repeatedly against digging into the past.

Of course, the children's 'unknown affliction' has both wonderful and terrifying capacities; under the darkening fog of the late 1930's, the concept of an Ubermensch soldier is close to the surface of our thoughts. There is no overt suggestion that the children's powers are to be exploited, but had the experiments gone uninterrupted by the breakout of the Spanish Civil War, one can only guess at the dark purposes they may have been used for. Over the course of Franco's regime and the occupation of the Nazis, the asylum's increasingly wretched conditions and litany of cruelty sees an innocent child make a terrifying transformation. It may seem that the character Berkano's inability to feel – or understand – pain is supernatural, but the true horror lies in a very human complicity with violence and oppression. The past haunts and informs the present day - the perverted genesis of David's family history coming to bear on his life in hideous ways. The corrupted ideologies of Fascism and Nazism breed monstrosity in many forms, and forgetting does not excuse or erase it.

As it transpires, the brooding atmospherics of the opening descend into something of an unfortunate and overwrought conclusion that feels at odds with the subtlety and mood of most of the film. Be that as it may, it is a truly engaging story; an impressive homage to the tradition of European horror. Painless is alive with political allegory that may not be novel, but is still prescient and intensely watchable. Christina Newland.

 

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In Fear

In Fear, BAFTA’s offering of Mayhem weekend was presented to us on Sunday afternoon. One of the things that had me most interested in the film was the fact that, like with Tippi Hedren in The Birds, the actors weren’t too sure of the film’s plot and weren’t even shown much of the script before filming.

The fact that I knew of this before watching In Fear really helped to whet my appetite of the film. I waited with baited breath as I watched Tom (Iain De Caestecker) and Lucy (Alice Englert) get together to travel to a festival after dating for just two weeks. What should have been a lovely surprise on Tom’s part, a night in a remote countryside hotel, takes a turn for the terrifying as the couple get lost trying to find their way to their destination. As confusing road signs turn up at every corner the couple come to realise that they seem to be trapped in a maze and that they’re being toyed with. As the petrol gauge runs lower and the frisson starts to show between the two, we are left to wonder if the couple will make it out of this elaborate game.

With strong performances from all actors, especially Tom, watching In Fear provides an almost palpable sense of fear. Some of the plot twists are a little awkward and hard to believe but in the main the plotline is as absorbing as it is terrifying.

Interestingly falling between genres - not found footage but not a neutral narrative either - In Fear makes for an oppressive mind-shag of a film, with twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. Penny Reeve.

Wake in Fright and In Fear were shown at Boradway Cinema as part of Mayhem Film Festival on Sunday 3 November 2013.

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