Celluloid Screams 2012, Day 3: Promise Me You'll Check Out RESOLUTION

Round three of Celluloid Screams and the final day was unfortunately marred by a technical hitch that saw Memory of the Dead pulled due to a sound system that gave up the ghost at the last minute. Which meant I suddenly had a lot of time to kill, as I'd already caught Dominic Brunt's Before Dawn at Grimmfest and didn't like it much, but the festival-goers took this in stride for the most part - I saw more annoyance from regular members of the public being told re-organising the remaining screenings meant a handful of non-festival films had been cancelled for the morning. Despite these disappointments Celluloid Screams still wound up in style, with some of the strongest films I've seen all year. I even managed not to bore the audience to tears as the member of the jury who got to announce the best short films on stage (at least I couldn't see anyone crying).

celluloid screams_resolution still_detail.jpgTribeca smash and current US indie horror darling Resolution, from Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, had a lot of hype to live up to. Michael (Peter Cillela) hasn't seen his old friend Chris (Vinny Curran) in years when he receives a mysterious video that looks like a cry for help, indicating Chris has slid all the way down into the depths of addiction and that he's in danger of doing something awful without an intervention. So off Mike goes, into the boondocks on a mission of mercy. Yet what starts out as a straightforward psychological two-hander slowly morphs into a tightly scripted and deeply, deeply strange meditation on perception and how we make sense of the world, as reality starts to warp around the two friends and they realise there's far more dangerous things out there than angry drug dealers.

The pacing gets a little awkward at times (not least one lengthy conversation that almost brings the film to a grinding halt) and Resolution can't quite stick the landing (the ending is part haunting ambiguity, part too many threads left untied) but otherwise this is a great, great début - Moorhead and Benson shot their movie on a pittance, yet it looks anything but cheap, and the widescreen cinematography is a thing of scuffed and pitted beauty, gorgeously weathered Americana. Actors Cilella and Curran deserve to break out for their work here, too; the two directors confirmed in their Q&A that no, the dialogue wasn't spontaneous, but the back-and-forth between both leads frequently sings as loudly as if it were. I've got little more to add to the existing coverage on Twitch for this one (you can read Kurt's Fantasia review of Resolution here, or Peter Guiterrez's Tribeca review here) - quite possibly one of the year's best films for me.

celluloid screams_entity still_detail.jpgSteve Stone's Entity tiptoes cautiously onto the festival circuit at a time when the found footage genre has been done to death, dug up and bludgeoned senseless all over again, but while this low-budget British chiller does very little radically new with the basic conceit it's earnest and artful enough with it that it still manages to impress. A reality TV crew who use a psychic to investigate unsolved mysteries travel to a deserted facility in Siberia to investigate the mass grave discovered nearby, and end up waking something awful slumbering several floors beneath the ground. Cue dark corridors, torch beams flickering nervously back and forth and then objects flung around by an invisible hand, visions, screaming, everyone running for their lives - you know the drill.

But the cast prove convincing, even if they tend towards a spirit of let's-put-on-a-show (in their defense the script is fairly workmanlike), there's some terrific sound design and Stone proves a pretty solid director, swapping deftly between conventional cinematic techniques and point-of-view footage to build up enough atmosphere to unsettle even hardened cynics. The main set piece where the titular entity attacks is a cliché on paper, but in execution it's tremendously effective - making thunderous layers of feedback, jittery editing and half-glimpsed terrors seem like genuine artistic choices, not merely jumping on the bandwagon. Entity can't quite live up to that level of dread throughout - the ending in particular is far too drawn out and overly literal - but it's a pleasingly unpretentious little movie that deserves to be seen on a big screen (it's landed a cinema release for 2013).

celluloid screams_rosalind leigh still_detail.jpgRodrigo Gudiño's religious-themed shocker The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh initially feels possessed of a fervour pitched so hysterical it's practically camp, but while the bizarrely kitsch production design and strident soundtrack never quite let up it becomes apparent there's a much more subtle story under the sturm und drang. Leon Leigh returns to his mother's house after several years away to take stock of her possessions now she's gone, but it turns out that maybe her fanatical religious beliefs (which drove him away in the first place) weren't all the symptoms of an unsound mind. But Rosalind Leigh isn't just about the things that go bump in the night, or the orchestral stabs as horrible things come vaulting out of the shadows - it's a desperately sad, haunting meditation on faith, belief, and who we are versus who others would like us to be.

Aaron Poole has to carry virtually the entire film as Leon (veteran actress Vanessa Redgrave as his mother barely appears on screen), and he rises to the challenge admirably. The slow realisation that he's wrestling with something deeply profound beneath the surface scares makes this a joy to watch, as well as jacking up the tension to deeply, deeply unnerving levels - a sequence where Leon calls his ex in the middle of hiding from the Big Bad and she attempts to talk him down, not realising what's going on, is a marvel both for the skill behind the jump scares and the things it wordlessly reveals about the characters. And for a film about faith, the ending is surprisingly brave, to say nothing of being both upbeat yet heartbreaking at the same time.

celluloid screams_excision still_detail.jpgDay three's one dud was Richard Bates Jr.'s bewildering Excision - while I've never seen the director's original short he was working from, on the strength of the feature-length version I doubt I'm missing much. An obsessive, reclusive teenager Pauline (Annalynn McCord) nurses ambitions of becoming a surgeon, consumed by erotically-charged dreams of radical medical procedures and blood, blood, so much blood - McCord's heroine shuns her peers and gets shunned in turn, and adults treat her with weary disdain, but she's determined to prove she can save her little sister from the ravages of cystic fibrosis. Technically Bates handles full-length filmmaking just fine; Excision looks great, especially McCord's dreams saturated in a greasy, hyper-real colour palette, pacing and editing are fine and the cast throw themselves into the story.

The problem is it's obvious a mile off none of this is going to end well, so when everyone gives Pauline's psychosis the same weight as a joke you just fished out of a Christmas cracker the effect isn't mounting horror, more groaning tedium. McCord is plainly talented but Pauline isn't remotely believable - she's the kind of ridiculous makeup job that belongs in The Hottie and the Nottie et al, and it's telling we never see anyone else at her school who looks anything like her. The throwaway celebrity cameos and sub-par John Hughes-esque wisecracks just add to the sensation all of this is simply marking time, and while the ending briefly manages to convey the requisite sense of horror most of the running time is neither scary, nor that disturbing nor particularly interesting. The praise this is picking up baffles me.

And that was it, bar a spirited session of handing out free promotional tat (if you've noticed a sudden increase of Dexter teeshirts on the streets of the Midlands, you know who to blame) and one last round of drinks at the bar. Celluloid Screams is still a pretty small festival, in the grand scheme of things, but on the strength of these three days - the lineup, the professionalism, the sense of community, the fun - I've got no hesitation in recommending it to anyone in this neighbourhood of the UK come Autumn next year.

Celluloid Screams 2012 ran from 26th-28th October at the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield, in the UK. 
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  • Joe Field

    Resolution deserves the praise, but I think you're wrong about Excision - it's incredibly well acted and I found it to be an interesting rumination on American society. Also, Sheffield's not in the Midlands.

  • Josie

    Another day, another Twitch article praising Resolution.

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