Grimmfest 2012, Day 2: DEVOURED Will Swallow Your Soul
Round two of Grimmfest was another half day - the festival is packing everything into the weekend. As the day began, the Grimmfest crew was riding high off the first day reviews in the UK mainstream press for the launch of Some Guy Who Kills People, which their new venture Grimm Up North Entertainment is distributing (am I shilling that film too much? No, I don't think I am). I screwed up my schedule, so had no chance to catch Nightbreed: the Cabal Cut - that'll have to wait until Sheffield's Celluloid Screams festival later this month - but there were still a couple more screenings to squeeze into.
Greg Oliver picked a strange film with which to start making features. Devoured is a pretty drastic about-face for a man who's probably best known for a documentary on legendary Motorhead frontman Lemmy. It's a psychological thriller, the kind of movie that makes critics strain for new ways to compare it to Roman Polanski, about a young El Salvadorean mother (a striking performance from Marta Milans) who moves to New York to raise money for a life-saving operation for her son. She finds a menial job at an upscale gourmet restaurant, but before long the strain begins to take its toll - long, thankless hours, hours, racist, skeezy customers hitting on her, and staff who treat her more like an animal than a human being. And then the visions kick in.
Devoured is a fantastic exercise in style, with an icy, formal colour palette and impassive camera putting us into Milans' world as she watches the clientele wolf down over-priced meals and tip almost as much as she gets paid for a day's work. The problem is that although Oliver cranks up the tension with laudable skill once his heroine's psyche starts to crumble, it never feels like it's in service of anything very substantial. The plot is pretty easy to second-guess, and many of the scares just end up feeling somewhat hollow as a result - if you know precisely what the shadowy figure floating through the middle distance represents, it's suddenly a lot less frightening. Nonetheless, in spite of its flaws, Devoured still stuck with me. Solid acting all round and fairly sharp characterisation infuse even the most obvious plot twists with a lasting melancholy that's much more than many directors ever manage. Full review to come.
(Full disclosure - I suspect Devoured suffered somewhat given I'd literally come straight out of a screening of bugfuck-crazy masterpiece Holy Motors at the arthouse cinema up the road, after which almost anything would seem boring and conventional. Another reason to give Devoured a proper review once my thoughts have settled down a tad.)
After Cockneys vs. Zombies' shameless pandering I wasn't expecting too much from Jon Wright's Grabbers, but while this comedy alien invasion flick does slap the cliches on with a trowel, it remembers to stick an actual film under all the dear old Oireland gags and drunk joke cliches. In the film, a tiny island off the Irish coast is visited by a rapacious aquatic lifeform from outer space, where the only sure defence against its vampiric tentacles is to crank your blood alcohol up to levels even freshman students would cringe at. See, it's funny! Because they're drunk! Wright goes full tilt for every slurred "Ah, feck off, ye fecker" he can cram into ninety minutes and the cast are straight out of The Big Book of Hoary Drunken Cliches, not least the worldweary boozehound and his eager young lady sidekick as the two policemen leading the charge.
But the slick production values - especially some gorgeous widescreen camerawork - and a solid cast do a lot to make up for these flaws, and while people staggering around hammered isn't that funny unless the viewer's almost as far gone, people staggering around hammered and trying to fight for their lives is considerably more entertaining. Once the threat is obvious and the heroes formulate a desperate, half-cocked plan to get the whole island pissed, Grabbers abruptly comes to life. The terrific creature effects (some very, very good CG here) help sell it, but the cast handle the drunken shenanigans in the third act superbly, with some fantastic slapstick action that's part BBC comedy, part Joe Dante circa Gremlins. Grabbers is still shameless bait for a festival crowd - the audience was going wild - and doesn't boast much depth, but there's enough of a human touch to make it something genuinely memorable rather than just a one-night stand.
Next up: Saturday 6th is the first big day - potential highlights for me include a retro screening of the classic Hammer The Devil Rides Out, the new lo-fi Brit zombie flick Before Dawn, Wesley Snipes' ill-fated horror Western Gallowwalker, the Aussie sci-fi movie Crawlspace and more. Impressions as soon as I can draft them, full reviews for anything we don't have in the Twitch archives not long afterward.
Grimmfest 2012 runs from 3rd-8th October in Manchester, the UK, at the Dancehouse theatre.