I love discovering great films; I love telling people about what I’ve seen, what they should look out for. And what better way than on the big screen, at a festival, surrounded by other people with the same passion.
There are countless film festivals around the country and around the world, both general and niche. I’d only attended some small ones before (the UK Festival of Zombie Culture in Leicester and Triple Six Film Festival in Manchester, both now no more), but felt thoroughly in my element. So now that I’ve been writing about films for nearly a year, it was about time I picked one of the bigger events to cover on behalf of Ready Steady Cut. So I picked Mayhem in Nottingham, which “showcases the best features and short films in horror, sci-fi and cult cinema, through premieres, previews, and guested screenings each year.”
Mayhem Film Festival has developed significantly over the years, having been founded in 2005 by filmmakers Steven Sheil and Chris Cooke. Chris tells me that “the festival started out as Mayhem Short Film Festival focusing on the best new horror shorts from around the world and the region. Over the next few years, Mayhem started to introduce feature films and see the audience grow. The decision to add features meant the chance to build the festival across four days and introduce horror fans to new work, previews and premieres from around the world. Now we screen the best in contemporary horror, science-ﬁction cinema. Featuring premieres, previews, masterclasses, international special guest ﬁlmmakers, and unique live cinema events, the festival has developed a reputation as one of the strongest and most innovative genre festivals in the country. Over the years, guests have included Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Star Wars: Rogue One), Nic Roeg (Don’t Look Now) and many more. We continue to grow and reflect the best in international genre cinema, with more premieres and work from more countries than ever before.”
I got there ten minutes before the films were due to start on Thursday night, and Meli the event coordinator met me with a smile and a pass with my name on. The atmosphere was extremely welcoming, both in the lobby and the auditorium alike; and the bar just got noisier and busier as the weekend went on, especially during the time of the Mandy showing! Steven and Chris are still hosting the event, introducing each film and taking turns interviewing guests.
The event took place from Thursday evening until late Sunday, and I was fortunate enough to attend for three days (travelling home Sunday morning). In an ideal world, I might visit a different festival or two each year, but Mayhem was friendly and easy to get to, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a regular fixture for me, especially considering the breadth of variety screened, not to mention the quality.
Anna and the Apocalypse (2018, UK, dir John McPhail) opened the festival and put everyone in a terrific frame of mind. And I loved it. There was an excellent mix of entertaining with poignant, and it was thoroughly – but not depressingly – British. One to watch out for when it hits the cinemas nearer to Christmas.
John McPhail was there at the screening and took questions after the film. He was thrilled with Anna’s reception so far and told us he especially appreciated those of us who attended film festivals. McPhail called us the “champions of cinema” because we watch films on faith before they are officially released; and our enthusiasm keeps filmmakers going. Kudos all around… (See Morgan’s Grimmfest review to find out more about the film.)
Nightmare Cinema (2018, USA, directed by Alejandro Brugués, Joe Dante, Mick Garris, Ryûhei Kitamura, and David Slade) followed, contrasting the poignant and gritty energy of the first film with big budget shock and awe. Fabulous anthology: not a single dud amongst them, but I really loved both the variety and the scares. Some of it was surreal, some violent, but nearly all of it full of unexpected twists and turns. Richard Chamberlain as a plastic surgeon baddie!
Not so sure about the projectionist (Mickey Rourke) who linked them, or indeed whether any link was necessary… in terms of links, my other/previous favourite anthology, Southbound, did it much better. I’ll definitely be recommending this when it becomes more widely available, though. (Morgan reviewed this one too.)
Day two: Friday 12 October
The White Reindeer (1952, Finland, directed by Erik Blomberg) was a very unusual film to open the first full day, and I had the impression there were some mixed feelings. It was based on a folktale from Lapland and was apparently the winner of the “Best Fairytale” category at Cannes. I enjoyed it a great deal; see why in my full review.
The next film, Piercing (2018, USA, directed by Nicolas Pesce) spun the audience around again; already, what I loved most about Mayhem was the huge variety of style and genre.
Piercing starred some familiar faces (Christopher Abbott from The Sinner, Laia Costa from Duck Butter and Mia Wasikowska from Alice in Wonderland, etc.); and it was based on a book by Ryû Murakami, so I was expecting something tough but quality. But it was riveting and stylish and tense, full of bright colours and atmospheric music. I’ll almost certainly watch it again, and pleased I got to see it on the big screen first. (See Morgan’s Grimmfest review for more.)
Nightshooters (2018, UK, directed by Marc Price) is by the same director as Colin, but utterly, utterly different… more swearing, for a start! It’s a British black comedy action film about an indie film crew who accidentally capture a gangland execution and need to use all their ingenuity – and martial arts skills – to survive the night. Low budget, but not low quality; see my full review for more.
I have to confess: Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (2018, UK/USA, directed by Sonny Laguna & Tommy Wiklund) was the one film at Mayhem I didn’t watch all of… not because it offended me, but because it bored me. Having watched the first film recently, and read Jonathon’s review of this one, just watching puppets killing people in new and/or different ways felt kind of pointless. But hey, there’s something in this festival for everyone! And anyway, I needed to bank a little energy before Mandy…
The second day concluded with Mandy (2018, USA/Belgium/UK, directed by Panos Costamos), which was absolutely glorious. It is a film about love and grief and madness; and if it were not for its length, I would say Mandy was more like a psychedelic rock video than a feature film. (When introducing the film the hosts of Mayhem described Mandy thus: imagine if David Lynch got stoned, listened to lots of prog rock, and then tried to make John Wick.)
Mandy is the story of – guess who – Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) and her partner Red (Nick Cage), whose shared life is idyllic and full of mutual pleasure until Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) catches sight of Mandy one day and is bewitched. Sand is the leader of a small and somewhat lunatic cult, and he does not take kindly to rejection… The background score and the rich colours in Mandy are virtually constant and they are mesmerising, to say the least. I may have to get this on disc when it is available, just to find out how much of it really happened, how much of it Nick Cage’s character dreamed, and how much I dreamed. It’s an immense, intense film and I loved it… perhaps more than Marc who reviewed it in full for Ready Steady Cut when it became available in the USA (significantly earlier than here in the UK).
Day three: Saturday 13 October
Saturday opened with One Cut Of The Dead AKA Kamera o tomeru na! (2017, Japan, directed by Shin’ichirô Ueda), which I’ve already reviewed in full since seeing it at Mayhem… and so I’ll just recap some key points: This is now my favourite zombie comedy, overtaking Fist of Jesus. And try to avoid reviews that tell you what happens in the film: go in blind, and you will get so much more entertainment out of it.
I haven’t laughed that much at the cinema for years; it’s not just funny, but incredibly clever too. I’ll be the first in line when it is available on DVD over here.
Prospect (2018, USA, directed by Chris Caldwell & Zeek Earl) had its UK premiere at Mayhem. It was a slow, intelligent and beautifully made sci-fi western, about a man commissioned to find and harvest a precious gem-like substance from a toxic moon, accompanied by his daughter… or rather, about what and who they find when they get there.
I was gripped throughout, equally due to the writing, direction and acting. Read more about why I loved it in my full review.
Number 37 (2018, South Africa, directed by Nosipho Dumisa) was another UK premiere, and probably the film which surprised me the most. I had known there was going to be an African homage to Hitchcock’s Rear Window, but that sounded kind of dry… instead, it was full of well-drawn characters, colourful settings and a truly engaging story.
Number 37 adds extra depth to both plot and characters that Rear Window didn’t have, and the African setting really worked well. I was on the edge of my seat at times, the edge of tears at times. And here’s the full review.
The Short Film Showcase came next; thirteen short films of varying lengths across a couple of hours. I’m not going to recap the lot, but just the three which stood out as highlights to me:
Dick And Stewart: I Spy With My Little Eye (2018, UK, directed by Richard Littler) was one of the most memorable pieces of short animation I have ever seen. Bloody creepy: the plot and images alike both haunt my thoughts now, two weeks later. It was about a version of the surveillance society we live in, with children included in 1984-style duties. Apparently, it is the pilot for a TV show, and Littler’s intention is that it will be available to view online soon. Oh, you might recognise his name if you follow Scarfolk on Twitter. Dick and Stewart was narrated by Julian Barratt (The Mighty Boosh) and had a terrific score by Concretism.
The Blue Door (2018, UK, directed by Paul Taylor) was a sharp, tense film that told a story in just nine minutes and without a single word of dialogue. Sure, that means it’s suitable for people from all over the world, but trust me, this one is not suitable for viewers with a “nervous disposition”…
The Blue Door is about a nurse (Gemma Whelan), who is visiting a new patient for the first time. She familiarises herself with the house, doing a bit of picking up along the way, and goes to check in with her client; but right from the start, the house itself is creepy, and I won’t tell you what happens when she spots this curious-looking door on her travels around the house… and sounds emerge. This little film is atmospheric, with a perfect set that really creates an excellent sense of place (and all made up of recycled and repurposed components, apparently); and the end is really shocking: I can still see it now…
Milk (2018, Canada, directed by Santiago Menghini) was a deceptively slow and simple short film, about a boy (Cameron Brodeur) and his mother (Anana Rydvald); and it is one of the three that most stayed with me for two reasons:
I can imagine being that boy; his part is written and acted so well. I’m sure any one of us can relate to the fear he feels in this situation.
I feel like I am that mother; I’m a step-mum myself, to a kid with the same name as the one in this film. I’m not his real Mum, and Milk touched me with a very delicate blade.
Milk is pretty much flawless.
I feel like I should apologise here: The Devil’s Doorway (2018, Ireland, directed by Aislinn Clarke) is the one film I saw at Mayhem that I really did not like. I went in expecting to admire it, as I’d heard great things, and Ireland’s first big horror film by a female director is to be applauded, after all. But I was firmly turned off the film by about halfway through, and that feeling only grew as it went on from there.
The Devil’s Doorway is set in a Magdalene Laundry in Ireland in 1960, where two priests (Lalor Roddy and Ciaran Flynn) have been sent to investigate a reported “miracle” (a statue of the Virgin Mary weeping blood). They find evil residing at the Laundry, which I think is intended as analogous to the real Magdalene Laundries themselves being homes to unsavoury people; and indeed the very concept of such places is downright distasteful. There are a number of positive points about The Devil’s Doorway: the sublime acting, for example; the sense of time and place; the quality of cinematography with 16mm film authentic to the period. These were all covered in Morgan’s Grimmfest review. You can read more of what’s behind my (contrasting) views in my full review; but be warned, it has significant spoilers.
Demons (1985, Italy, directed by Lamberto Bava) + Chowboys was not a premiere of a new film called Demons + Chowboys, as I first thought from the programme, but the eighties classic, preceded by a brand new short. I’d seen Demons before, many years ago, and considered getting some sleep rather than sticking around; but very surprised to find just how much I enjoyed it on the big screen, especially watching an apocalyptic story which starts in a cinema.
Demons is the epitome of eighties horror, with costumes that would have fitted right in Dynasty, and a soundtrack from Go West, Billy Idol and other music acts I grew up with. Everything is thoroughly over-the-top; the gore, the acting, the weapons, the lot. Not a brilliant film, but an absolute riot, and great to watch in a crowd.
Chowboys is allegedly the last film from Astron-6, who made The Void, and a bunch of genre comedy shorts. It’s a very entertaining – and gory – Christmas western, about a group of hungry cowboys telling tales around the campfire; and it made for a sound little appetiser for Demons that followed.