Thursday, 31 October 2013

Review of the Bram Stoker International Film Festival (Friday)

Whitby, 24-27 October 2013

This is part two of a three-part review. You can read part one here, and part three here.

We were up bright and early on Friday for Throwback (dir. Travis Bain, 2013), an Australian ‘creature feature’ that made for a great start to the day. Two men travel into the remote wilderness of Far North Queensland in search of a legendary hoard of gold. Instead they fall foul of the Yowie, Australia’s mythical hominid. Well-made and enjoyable, though the ‘fight for survival’ drags a little towards the end. The direction is done well, and the reveal of the monster is handled skilfully. The inclusion of a female character, Rhiannon the bush ranger (Melanie Serafin), gives a bit of a ‘King Kong’ moment that’s a tiny bit predictable, but this is sort of subverted at the film’s climax.

We had to duck out of the festival for a couple of hours (to buy wedding rings, in case you're interested), so missed Terence Fisher’s classic Brides of Dracula and Richard Pawelko’s black comedy Vampire Guitar. We came back for Lord of Tears (dir. Lawrie Brewster, 2013). And I suspect I’m going to be pretty unpopular with festival regulars and the denizens of the internet in my review of Brewster’s debut feature film.

Lord of Tears was, without doubt, the most talked about film at the festival. The creative team behind it introduced the film, gave a Q+A and stayed for the rest of the festival and chatted to other attendees. Though the film was privately financed by the production team, a successful Kickstarter appeal has funded the post-production and publicity. As it transpires, one of the backers was Sultan Al Darmaki, the new BSIFF president, and this has led to Al Darmaki creating his own film company – Dark Dunes Productions – with the intention of working with Brewster and his team on another project in the near future. As can be seen from the Kickstarter pitch, Lord of Tears has been marketed as a ‘Slender Man’, ‘Lovecraft’ horror, and Brewster also listed The Haunting and The Innocents as film inspirations and M.R. James, Edgar Allan Poe and generic ‘Gothic’ ghost stories as literary ones. The film tells the story of James Findlay (Euan Douglas), a schoolteacher who is haunted by his past and inherits a property in the Scottish Highlands. James travels to this house – which he had lived in once as a child – and is forced to revisit the dark secret of his past. While there, he meets a mysterious woman named Eve (Lexy Hulme) and is stalked by the Owl Man (voiced by David Schofield) – the ‘Slender Man’-esque character of the film’s PR campaign.

I’m afraid to say RS and I really did not enjoy this film. Admittedly, it is a low-budget indie film, but the production values are very low. The direction and acting are particularly bad, with some lines read so badly that it is difficult to connect with the characters. Lexy Hulme – known more as a dancer than an actor – shows some promise, but she’s given such terrible lines (“When I go to Paris, I shall waltz down the Champs-Élysées!”), and used mostly for extended and incongruous slow-motion dance sequences (including a ‘supernatural’ sequence inspired by Ringu), that her talents are wasted. The Owl Man – much anticipated by the film’s supporters – is essentially Slender Man with an owl head, and more comedic than frightening.

I think it’s only fair to say, however, that this is just our opinion of the film, and it doesn’t seem to be shared by anyone else. I believe this may be the only negative review of Lord of Tears anywhere on the internet, as every other review is glowing and effusive.

Luckily, our disappointment didn’t last long, as the next film was great! The Visitant (dir. Joe Binkowski, 2012) was an American paranormal entity chiller. Samantha (Michele Feren) performs as a ‘fortune teller’ while trying to make it as an actress, though she doesn’t believe a word of what she tells her clients. When a panicked woman appeals to her to end a ‘haunting’, Samantha is left with more than she bargained for. The Visitant was well-made and well-acted. It’s worth noting that Feren carries almost the entire film herself, with other actors appearing only at the beginning and end (or in video chat), but the film never feels like it was missing other actors. Despite her character running the horror-heroine gamut of screaming, crying, inadvisable actions and confusion, Feren’s performance never grated and we had nothing but sympathy for Samantha at the end of the film. By the end of the second day, The Visitant was definitely our favourite film of the festival so far.

Our evening ended with two short films: Cold Calling (dir. Dan Price, 2013) and The Earth Rejects Him (dir. Jared Skolnik, 2011). Cold Calling was a UK short about a market researcher who needs to knock on one more door to fill his quota… but chooses the wrong house to visit. It was reasonably well-made and intriguing, but at less than five minutes long, it’s hard to say much about this little piece. It felt like there was so much more that could have been shown. The Earth Rejects Him was a more developed piece, telling the story of Ray (Ellis Gage) a young boy who discovers a corpse while out in the woods with his friends. When Ray removes a tooth from the body, things begin to get strange. I really enjoyed this film, and found it unsettling and engaging. RS wasn’t so sure, and felt that too much was left unexplained at the end. However, we both agreed that it was a very well-made short, and showed a lot of promise. I understand that Skolnik is in the process of making a second short film, and I’m looking forward to seeing how his work develops.

The final film of the day was Thanatomorphose (dir. Éric Falardeau, 2012), but we didn’t watch this because I am a bit of a wuss when it comes to body shock stuff. Thanatomorphose is a Canadian film about a young woman who wakes up one day to find her body decomposing. By all accounts, the effects in this film are first rate… but that meant it was too rich for my blood.

Still quite a lot of films to go, so I'm going to split this review again. You can read part three here.


  1. Thanks for the positive review of my film Throwback!

    Travis Bain

  2. Hi Travis, thanks for dropping by. We really enjoyed Throwback. :-)

  3. LoT won the audience vote for best film which didn't surprise me as everyone seemed to love it (including me) Struggled a bit with Vampire Guitar and Thanatomorphose though.

  4. Personally I was really surprised Lord of Tears won the audience vote, I certainly didn't love it at all. Also struggled with Vampire Guitar but can see why it won best screenplay.

  5. Thanks for the comments. I've listed the award winners in the third part of this review. I'd just like to add here (for balance) that Thanatomorphose and Vampire Guitar also won awards this year.