FrightFest Glasgow, part of the Glasgow Film Festival, keeps growing, and this year it presented no less than 11 features, as well as shorts, exclusive teasers and special guests from all over the world.
Among the features I saw, Penumbra (2011), from Argentine directors Adrián and Ramiro García Bogliano, was a morality tale about greed. On the day of a solar eclipse, a money-loving, promiscuous businesswoman, Marga (Cristina Brondo), makes a lucrative property letting deal with a mysterious stranger, Jorge (Berta Muñiz), who is acting on behalf of a wealthy client. But to get the cash payment, Marga has to wait as Jorge’s various shady associates arrive at the apartment. Wittily choreographed ensemble scenes, together with Marga’s dealings with a hapless neighbour lean towards a farcical comedy of manners, and Jorge steals the show with a camply hysterical anticipation of his client’s arrival. The film is at its most sinister immediately after the deal between Marga and Jorge is done: in a paranoia-inducing sequence, a tramp covertly directs a stream of vicious verbal abuse; when she retaliates, she appears to overreact and is censured and shunned by the locals. A classic horror trope, this is played with dark comedy, and the comic moments are the saving grace of the film throughout. Sadly, the humour is absent from the final part, and the punchline – that the darkest forces come from within – lacks weight.
The Manetti brothers’ L’arrivo di Wang (Wang’s Arrival, 2011), largely centres on an interrogation between a gruff, increasingly aggressive secret service agent (Ennio Fantastichini) and Mr Wang (Li Yong), a Chinese-speaking extra-terrestrial who claims to come in peace but nevertheless is bound and eventually tortured for information. Gaia (Francesca Cuttica) is interpreter, witness and, ultimately, fellow captive. A film about culture, communication and prejudice, this is no District 9, but it is thought-provoking in its own way, for example managing to make an emergency call to Amnesty International absurdly comic, and generating a compelling tension mostly from the three-way conversation between the engaging leads.
Anthony DiBlasi’s Cassadaga (2011) packs in a plethora of horror devices, including a cross-dressing serial killer in a frumpy dress and a sensorially impaired (deaf) heroine who has a connection to a murder victim. It’s popcorn fun with a variety of references and genuinely spooky ghost appearances, the best moments of suspense deriving from the heroine’s Nancy Drew-like sleuthing exercises.
Extras around the billed features included The Other Side, directed by Bethanie Martin, a well-executed and atmospheric short reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, pitting the grey, factory-like lines of uniformed school pupils/office workers against visceral impulses and raw red meat. Federico Zampaglione presented seven minutes from the opening of his new film, Tulpa, in which a beautiful woman in bondage witnesses the brutal stabbing and castration of her lover – warm applause and cheers peaked as Zampaglione announced, ‘It’s a giallo!’ The Manetti brothers showed a FrightFest exclusive teaser for L’ombra dell’orco (Shadow of the Bogeyman), which they are currently editing. There was much enthusiasm from these filmmakers and FrightFest organisers about the idea that these films mark the beginning of an anticipated imminent resurgence of Italian horror. Fans should look out for these films at London’s FrightFest in August.
After the screening, I asked the Manetti brothers if genre or story comes first. There was no hesitation: for them, the story takes precedence. Marco explained: ‘Genre is a mechanism to get deep – that’s the strength of it. People think genre is superficial but it allows you to get deeper into a problem. Horror amplifies the problem. Comedy and horror are the most difficult genres because they must touch the stomach.’
A savvy audience, waiting for its stomach to be stirred, and reciprocally generous relationships between them, the festival and the filmmakers: FrightFest provides the ideal conditions for a fun exploration of genre filmmaking.