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Review: Mayhem Film Festival 2018

22 October 18 words: Ashley Carter, Penny Reeve, Gemma Finch

We look back on four amazing days at Nottingham's biggest and best film festival... 

Another Mayhem Festival has flown by in a blur of mystery posters, Nicolas Cage masks and quality films.  Doubtlessly up there with their best years ever, co-curators Steven Sheil and Chris Cooke continue to show why their loyal audience continue to come in huge numbers year after year, striking the perfect balance of horror, sci-fi and cult cinema.  Here's what we thought of some of this year's films:

Day One - Thursday 11 October

Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)

Director: John McPhail

Starring: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire

Running time: 92 mins

John McPhail’s Christmas zombie musical was a perfect choice to kick things off at Mayhem 2018.  Straddling several genres with adroit dexterity, it hit the sweet spot between fun, originality and emotion, proving a massive hit with a huge opening night audience. As Anna, Ella Hunt gives a stellar lead performance, and director McPhail bagged himself a textbook pantomime villain in Paul Kaye.  Far more compelling than the trailer might have you believe, Anna and the Apocalypse is about as much fun as you can have whilst watching teenagers fight for their lives against a hoard of festive zombies.  Ashley Carter

Nightmare Cinema (2018)

Directors: Joe Dante, Mick Garris, Alejandro Brugués, Ryûhei Kitamura, David Slade

Starring: Mickey Rourke, Richard Chamberlain, Adam Godley

Running time: 119 mins`

Nightmare Cinema is a horror anthology with an intriguing hook - structured similarly to classic horror anthology Tales from the Crypt, each protagonist is focused on and lured to a cinema one by one, after noticing their name illuminated on the marquee outside. Each pays their grisly due, as they take a seat and watch a film - the short films we see - with themselves as the ill-fated star. Each short is a chance to see genre stalwarts direct with free creative reign. The only weak short, Mashit, directed by Japanese cult director Ryuhei Kitamura, features a ludicrously gory sword fight between possessed children and a priest, and lacks substance. A highlight is David Slade’s surreal black and white offering, This Way to Egress - a hideously realised Silent Hill-esque metaphor for mental health. Unshackled from the thematic limits of mainstream horror cinema, it is a treat for the seasoned horror fan. Gemma Finch

Day Two - Friday 12 October

The White Reindeer (1952)

Director: Erik Blomberg

Starring: Mirjami Kuosmanen, Kalervo Nissilä, Åke Lindman

Running time: 74 mins

A treat for the film historian and cinephile, this Finnish film was made in 1952 and tells the story of a morally questionable newlywed woman who is turned into a vampiric white reindeer - the cost of using a shaman to pursue witchcraft. With the film taking place in a harsh Lapland setting, and little dialogue, White Reindeer worked as a temporary balm for the Mayhem audience's senses after the onslaught of horror. Disturbing and bewildering with memorable and haunting opening music, this is one of a kind, and has a firm place in film history. Gemma Finch

Piercing (2018)

Director: Nicolas Pesce

Starring: Christopher Abbott, Olivia Bond, Laia Costa

Running time: 81 mins

Directed by Nicolas Pesce, Piercing is a stylishly deranged love-story, with Mia Wasikowska, as prostitute Jackie, taking the manic pixie dream girl trope to sadistic heights. The film centres on a disturbed man, Reed (Christopher Abbott) who plans to kill a prostitute in a hotel room with an ice pick, to satiate his lust for violent murder. His plans are soon derailed however when the woman who arrives proves to be just as twisted as him. Not too occupied with weaving a story of much complexity and scope, the action is restricted to a hotel room and then an apartment - this simplicity makes the film seem almost like a sketch with a drawn-out punchline. Piercing nevertheless is an entertaining affair, with horrific and salacious imagery and dark humour. Gemma Finch

Nightshooters (2018)

Director: Marc Price

Starring: Jean-Paul Ly, Doug Allen, Rosanna Hoult

Running time: 100 mins

Doubtlessly one of the surprise hits of the festival. On paper, Marc Price’s film might scream convention, but it quickly establishes itself as an unusual, unpredictable and brutal thriller that packs several moments of genuine wonder – one of which garnered a well-deserved applause break. Tonally, Price strikes a great balance of humour and action in his story of a group of independent filmmakers attempting to escape a mob of gangsters who they have witnessed commit a grizzly murder, only to find themselves trapped in a tower block destined for detonation the following morning. Some excellent casting choices certainly help what is an already strong script, but it’s in Price’s kinetic direction that Nightshooters really earns its money. A British film well worthy of a wide cinematic release. Ashley Carter

Mandy (2018)

Director: Panos Cosmatos

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache

Running time: 121 mins

Mandy was so good, we decided to give it its own review - you can read it here

Day Three - Saturday 13 October

One Cut of the Dead (2017)

Director: Shin’ichirô Ueda

Starring: Takayuki Hamatsu, Yuzuki Akiyama, Harumi Shuhama

Running time: 96 mins

Sticking to Mayhem's long tradition of hilarious and somewhat mad Asian horror, on Saturday morning we were treated to Takayuki Hamatsu's One Cut of the Dead. It's hard to talk about this Japanese box office sensation without giving the meta-plot away, but let us assure you it was a firm fan favourite at Mayhem. Penny Reeve

Number 37 (2018)

Director: Nosipho Dumisa

Starring: Irshaad Ally, Ephram Gordon, Amrain Ismail-Essop

Running time: 100 mins

Number 37 centres on a man named Randall who is living in Cape Town's crime-ridden Cape Flats. Temporarily wheelchair bound and broke after an ill-advised run in with gangsters, he witnesses a murder and cash exchange through his window using binoculars, and perceives this as an opportunity to pay back a violent loan shark. Inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Number 37 uses this adaptable story to tell its own distinct and memorable tale. The film is well-paced, with empathetic performances from the lead, Irshaad Ally, who plays Randall, and Amrain Ismail-Essop, who plays his girlfriend Alicia. Both successfully convey a sweet yet realistically multifaceted relationship which solidified my investment in the film. While being easy to follow, the plot demonstrates clever flair when necessary, and features an appropriate amount of tension and grim grit to make it a serviceable thriller. There are a few stylish cinematography flourishes such as the camera zooming through keyholes - a nod perhaps to Hitchcock's desire to break the cinematography boundaries of his time. This screening was the UK premiere, and it was a festival highlight. Gemma Finch

The Devil’s Doorway (2018)

Director: Aislinn Clarke

Starring: Lalor Roddy, Ciaran Flynn, Helena Bereen

Running time: 76 mins

Although found footage films have been done to death, Aislinn Clarke's The Devil's Doorway offers a fresh twist on the subgenre with a 35mm offering shot in a convent, touching upon Ireland's history of Magdalene Laundries. The effects and jump scares were interestingly done, though by the end of the film it felt as though Clarke just threw in every horror trope she could think of to ramp up the tension. All in all a decent indie offering that provides enough tension to make for an enjoyable, if ultimately forgettable, couple of hours. Penny Reeve

Day Four - Sunday 14 October

The Field Guide to Evil (2018)

Director: Ashim Ahluwalia, Can Evrenol, Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz, Katrin Gebbe, Calvin Reeder, Agnieszka Smoczynska, Peter Strickland, Yannis Veslemes

Starring: Birgit Minichmayr, Claude Duhamel, Jilon VanOver

Running time: 117 mins

As another anthology film from the makers of The ABCs of Death, The Field Guide to Evil focuses on tales of folklore in its presentation of eight short films from around the world. Ashim Ahluwalia’s Palace of Horrors and Agnieszka Smoczynska’s The Kindler and the Virgin in particular impressed, with the overall project providing an interesting insight into the commonality in themes that dominate folklore in different cultures. In otherwise visually interesting and compelling company, the presence of Calvin Reeder’s The Melon Heads, an unbalanced and tonally bizarre short, felt like a hastily constructed speed bump in an otherwise smooth road, an obstacle that the film never really recovers from. Dragging at almost two hours in length, The Field Guide to Evil would have benefitted enormously from cutting his lackluster effort out altogether. Ashley Carter

The Witch in the Window (2018)

Director: Andy Mitton

Starring: Arija Bareikis, Alex Draper, Zach Jette

Running time: 77 mins

One of the standout films from the entire festival. Andy Mitton’s brilliant story of a separated father and his estranged son who discover that the house they are renovating in Vermont is haunted by the spirit of a previous owner puts storytelling at the heart of everything it is trying to achieve. Their relationship, like the plot, develops with patience and depth, ensuring that when the scares start to come, they feel well deserved and incredibly impactful. Packed full of poignancy, beautifully shot and with the focus firmly on character development, The Witch in the Window does a magnificent job in breathing new life into a well-trodden horror path, crafting an emotionally rich, poignant film that still maintains its ability to make you jump. Ashley Carter

What Keeps You Alive (2018)

Director: Colin Minihan

Starring: Hannah Emily Anderson, Brittany Allen, Martha MacIsaac

Running time: 98 mins

As the closing film of Mayhem 2018, Colin Minihan’s What Keeps You Alive was a nerve-shredding thriller that made the most out of a brilliant chemistry between its two lead actors, Hannah Emily Anderson and Brittany Allen. They portrayed Jackie and Jules, a couple celebrating their one-year anniversary at a cabin in the woods belonging to Jackie’s family. A dark secret from Jackie’s past hints at a more nefarious side to her character, which soon explodes into the revelation that she isn’t who she says she is, and is actually there to murder Jules. A second act that drags on for a little longer than it should, and one too many instances of expecting the audience to suspend disbelief in understanding character motivations damage what is an otherwise eerie and effective story of vengeance and betrayal. Arguably fifteen minutes and at least two endings too long, What Keeps You Alive is nevertheless an entertaining, blood-soaked and ultimately fun genre piece. Ashley Carter

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