Most mainstream film festivals ignore horror cinema.
So do the majority of mainstream critics, in fact. They angrily decry horror’s ugly one per cent –the glossy, inane remakes of ‘80s splatter hits – while ignoring the extraordinary vision and inventiveness of the genre’s majority. Movies like The Babadook and It Follows get lumped into the same category as Platinum Dunes’ endless Friday The 13threboots – a sad case of pigeonholing that denies truly creative films the accolades they deserve.
Such mistreatment only makes Sydney Film Festival’s Freak Me Out section all the more worth championing. SFF has never once ignored the power of genre film, and its dedicated section for all things wild and weird is one of the true pleasures afforded to Australian horror fans throughout the year.
Better yet, 2016’s Freak Me Out section is even more exciting than previous instalments – it’s a bumper collection of distinctly goopy delights that will have any unashamed, loud and proud horror fan champing at the bit. So read on, and start saving those dates.
Patchwork (dir. Tyler MacIntyre)
Tyler MacIntyre’s Patchwork is that rare beast – a throwback film that never feels like a mere carbon copy of past successes. Though the gleeful exercise in Bad Taste-style bad taste nods its head to everything from John Carpenter’s The Thing to Re-Animator, the movie’s odd tonal shifts ensure that it never lands squarely in dangerous rip-off territory. It’s a horror film with heart, and its strange diversions into rom-com territory pay off in droves.
Catch this one – it’s more fun that any film about bodily dismemberment deserves to be.
High-Rise (dir. Ben Wheatley)
Filmmakers have been trying and failing to adapt J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise to the big screen for decades now. Yet in light of Ben Wheatley’s delightfully deranged take on the novel, it seems fortuitous that those earlier efforts were abandoned. After all, Wheatley and Ballard are a match made in heaven – both share an anarchist’s sense of glee and a never-ending desire to surprise.
The plot sees Tom Hiddleston’s Robert Laing navigate a treacherous tower block of the future, in which buildings house not only dwellings, but the entirety of modern society’s trappings.
High-Rise might have been slaughtered by some particularly sniffy critics upon its release, but make no mistake – this gauche slice of retro sci-fi madness is a winner.
The Devil’s Candy (dir. Sean Byrne)
It’s been six long years since Sean Byrne’s warped and wacky The Loved Ones played with the conventions of slasher films like a toddler playing with a chainsaw at a hardware store. Six… long… years.
Thankfully, Byrne has broken his silence with a remarkably assured second feature. The Devil’s Candy might not be as funny as Byrne’s debut, but it’s frightfully well-directed – a chilling take on the haunted house genre that mixes human and supernatural antagonists with alarming end results. In that way, its pleasures are akin to those of films like Bill Lustig’s Maniac Cop and Maniac: stripped back, deliberately degenerate shots in the arm.
Under The Shadow(dir.Babak Anvari)
David Cronenberg once described the horror genre as the most literary of all film types, given that it can offer up “visual metaphors” in a way that few other art forms can. Frankenstein’s monster isn’t just some shuddering beast – he’s a walking, grunting stand-in for everything we fear.
Similarly, the vicious force at the centre of Under The Shadow, a creeper set in 1988 Tehran, isn’t your run-of-the-mill movie antagonist – it’s a shocking substitute for a whole host of darker, hard-to-explore issues. Such heavy thematic weight has led some to compare the movie to The Babadook, but believe us: this one stands on its own.
The Eyes Of My Mother (dir.Nicolas Pesce)
Easily Freak Me Out’s most elegiac offering, The Eyes Of My Mother is a stately, unremittingly eerie mood piece. The black-and-white chiller centres around young Francisca, an isolated, ever-so-slightly unhinged young girl, and her fraught relationship with her mother.
In tone it’s probably closest to Goodnight Mommy, the horrifying slice of dark art similarly concerned with parental fears that practically won Sydney Film Festival last year without even being nominated for the main prize.
Red Christmas (dir. Craig Anderson)
Dee Wallace is to horror as Angelina Jolie is to mainstream movies. She’s a genre stalwart, a veteran actor whose turn in Cujo stands as one of horror cinema’s very finest performances. Any opportunity to see the legend is one that shouldn’t be passed up, so make sure you check out Red Christmas, a vicious, unrepentant evocation of ‘80s mayhem and gore. It might not be as good as Black Christmas, one of its obvious inspirations, but very few things in life are as good as Black Christmas, so don’t let that stop you.
What would the Freak Me Out section be without a good old jolt of body horror? Representing that particularly subgenre is Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s Evolution, a bizarre film set in an alternate reality in which men are responsible for child-bearing.
It’s a Freudian fever dream of a film, a movie that sets unsettling anxieties and horrors against a picturesque background, all shot with Hadzihalilovic’s startlingly steady hand. Word to the wise, though – it’s worth preparing yourself beforehand, so soak up the director’s outstanding Innocence before you brave Evolution.
To buy tickets for any of theFreak Me Outfilms, head to the Sydney Film Festival website, here.