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Mayhem 2015: Day Two

18 October 15 words: Harry Wilding, Ashley Carter, Penny Reeve
Crumbs, Nina Forever, Howl, and Stung were the evening treats for Friday
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“All your dreams of wealth and unlimited power, all your dreams of disproportionate ambition; the satisfaction of feeling analogous to the gods, all your sexual impulses which you deem infinite; all these pharaonic dreams will be reduced to a series of cheap plastic figurines floating in the stratosphere once everything has finally exploded.” Not my words, Professor Seifu Yohannes’ - Ethiopia’s first graduate of nuclear engineering. These words were the initial inspiration for writer/director Miguel Llansó when making this barmy but brilliant post-apocalyptic sci-fi, Crumbs.

The Spanish filmmaker’s first feature film, after some shorts also shot in Ethiopia, follows Candy and Birdy who are in love and trying to hitch a ride back to their home planet on the spaceship that has hovered in the sky for years, seemingly inactive, after a much talked about but long finished war.

The previously mentioned barmy-ness comes from things like the fact that one of the characters is Santa Claus, that our protagonists pray to a shrine of Michael Jordan, and that old cheap toys from present day pop culture are used as currency and weapons. However, laying underneath all this, which could seem just like randomness to get laughs from the audience, are strikingly strong allegories for the death of the American dream and of the superman/supermensch; as well as the way in which society is so celebrity obsessed, putting so much faith and worship in these famous people and the pop culture that surrounds them.

There is a great central performance from the physically disabled Daniel Tadesse, who Llansó has used several times previously in his short films, as the optimistic and disillusioned Candy. There are some beautiful shots too, and great locations for this post-apocalyptic world, from old rusted playgrounds, collapsed railway tracks, and stark desert (not to be confused with ‘dessert’, as one of the subtitles did).

Crumbs will certainly not be for everyone, but this post apocalyptic science fiction fairy tale has a lot of heart and originality and definitely won me over. Harry Wilding.

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Nina Forever

One of the breakout films of Mayhem was charming UK flick Nina Forever, the feature length debut from Chris and Ben Blaine.

After the death of his girlfriend Nina (Utopia’s Fiona O’Shaughnessy) in a car accident, Rob (Cian Barry) sheds his old life and takes up a job stocking shelves in a crappy supermarket. There he meets Holly (Abigail Hardingham), a part-time student, who seems to think she can save him from his depressing new life and suicidal tendencies. Rob falls for her charms, and they start dating. One problem: when Holly and Rob get down to it, Nina turns up - complete with a whole tonne of blood and gore - and she’s not well impressed that her man has found someone new.   

This doesn’t deter Holly, who tries to win Nina over in a variety of ways, including getting her involved with the sexy times (in a necrophilic threesome, which is strangely hot), that only seems to confuse the poor dead girl. Not for long though. As Holly and Rob’s relationship develops, Nina gets more and more possessive, trying to force the new couple apart. But is Nina the enduring problem here, or something else, besides?

Part horror, part black rom-com, Nina Forever manages to disassociate itself with the kind of hipster indie film you’d imagine it to be and instead offers something thought-provoking and well-paced, with a sharp, witty script and excellent acting from our three main characters, especially O’Shaughnessy who steals the show as sexy and slightly psychotic Nina.                  

The Blaines take a lot of care over the technical effects of the film, with amazing sound engineering that enables the audience to hear every crunch of bone, each breath and every squeak of leather, which really lends atmosphere to the film. This is echoed with the SFX, which is equally excellent and gross; the blood on its own looks horribly realistic, and lets not get started on the various things Nina has protruding from her body. These elements, rather than distracting from the story actually add something to it, giving the storyline that extra horror element that might otherwise be lacking from the script.

A hit with the majority of the Mayhem audience, this is definitely a film to hunt down. If you like your comedy dark, your romance a bit necrophilic and your horror a little deep, then you definitely won’t regret it. Penny Reeve.

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Paul Hyett, the special effects artist behind films like The Descent, Doomsday and The Woman in Black, was present at Mayhem to introduce his second feature film as director: Howl. The British werewolf film tells the story of a broken down train full of passengers under attack from unknown creatures which, as keen-eyed readers of this sentence will have realised, turn out to be werewolves. The mismatched posse, led by discontented conductor Joe (Ed Speelers), battle their way through the night, desperately trying to survive the onslaught until morning. 

I feel that I should preface my following comments with the confession that I know very little about horror films, least of all those of a lupine nature. Where Howl sits in the great oeuvre of Werewolfian cinema is unknown to me, but judging it strictly as a film in and of itself: it’s as goofy as its synopsis would suggest. 

It suffers from showing its hand too early in terms of exposing the werewolves to the audience. In his post screening Q&A, Hyett explained that the creatures were unlike previous incarnations in that the conversion from human to werewolf occurs over a period of years, even decades. Thus Howl presents an array of beasts running the spectrum from full werewolf to more human-looking, mongrel hybrids. 

The motley crew charged with surviving the creatures has had significantly less thought put into them. There’s the old, burdensome couple; the misogynistic, macho businessman; the bumbling fat idiot; the book smart nerd; the shrewish, driven businesswoman; the gum-chewing, attitude-giving teen girl; the love interest; and Sean Pertwee. After the screening I heard someone comment about how disappointing it was that the female characters conformed to gender stereotypes. Whilst that did cross my mind during the film, I decided that, where Howl was concerned, it really didn’t matter. It’s like taking umbridge with Mohamed Atta for not storing his overheard luggage properly: there are just bigger issues at hand. No character emerged unscathed by cliché, as Howl follows every A to B to C plot point that even a horror novice like me grew very weary very quickly.

It isn’t redeemed by its unimpressive cinematography, nor its fairly crummy looking CG work. In truth, it isn’t really redeemed by much at all. But at a festival like Mayhem it certainly served a purpose, as the crowd reaction showed. Sandwiched between two films, it was a perfect buffer, providing 90 minutes of cheesy action that required little to no concentration.  Hyett’s Q&A with host Steven Sheil was comfortably the highlight of the screening, as the special effects stalwart comes across as a genuinely interesting guy, providing a context for the film – and the etymology of the Werewolves in particular – that made the film more enjoyable in hindsight. But Howl isn’t always going to be shown as part of a festival like Mayhem, or saved by a director Q&A, and standing on its own two feet in a general cinema release, I can’t see much other than a good slamming coming its way. Ash Carter.

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Stung was an excellent BEE-movie to round of Friday night, though the ending did have me feeling a little waspish (I am so sorry for those puns. It's out of my system now, I promise).

When Julia (Jessica Cook) and Paul (Matt O’Leary) are employed to work at a fancy garden party for the crème de la crème of the local town, Julia is adamant that everything must go well so she can give a boost to her ailing catering business. Sadly, Julia didn’t bank on giant, mutated wasps joining in with the festivities.

Even worse, the wasps’ venom is pretty lethal – once stung, a huge wasp erupts from the victims innards, ready to cause more havoc. The hapless guests of the party are unprepared for the swarm, being way more equipped with fancy wine than they are with industrial sized cans of insect repellant. Those that survive take cover in the stately home they’re visiting but SHOCK, the wasps can actually enter the house, too. It’s up to Julia and Paul to save the day, and find out what is causing these huge beasties to appear. And what’s with the owner of the house’s creepy son?

With good all-round performances from the main cast, and some decent techincal work, Stung is definitely a fun film. What really grated on me is that, in true B-movie style, despite the explosions, crashes and stabbings people can still wander around with minimal wounds. I'm quite used to this happening in film but Stung seemed to take it to the extreme, which moved the plot past ridiculous and into annoying towards the end.

Although Stung might not be remembered as a classic, it’s definitely was well placed as Mayhem's final Friday night film. Romance, wasps, mother issues; what more could you possibly want from a late night showing? Check it out, but be prepared to scream at the screen for the ridiculous ending. Penny Reeve.

Crumbs, Nina Forever, Howl, and Stung showed at Broadway Cinema as part of Mayhem Film Festival on Friday 16 October 2015.

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