Saturday, 21 November 2015


Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Brühl
Writer: Steven Knight
Director: John Wells


Adam Jones (Cooper) is a chef who had it, lost it (thanks to a drug- and alcohol-fuelled lifestyle) and now wants it all over again, his goals being in charge of his own world-class kitchen and gaining a coveted third Michelin star. Trouble is, who's going to take a chance on him given his chequered past? Well, obviously someone is or there wouldn't be much of a movie.

Movies with anti-heroes as their main focus can work incredibly well. Imagine Escape From New York with a white knight sent in to rescue the President. Wouldn't have been a tenth as good. Personally, I don't have to love a character to be invested in them as long as they're interesting and a little unpredictable. Unfortunately, Burnt serves up an arrogant, shouty dick whose spends most of the movie being arrogant, shouty and a dick that's about it.

Even an actor of Bradley Cooper's considerable charisma couldn't make me give a toss about Adam Jones. The script makes several plays for sympathy by mentioning his troubled upbringing, how his quest for perfection is bound to rub people the wrong way blah blah blah. No, he's a monumental arse who treats people like dirt and the frequent references to the ways he's trying to make amends seem hollow when he behaves like a petulant kid to all and sundry.

He's a monumental arse to long-suffering friend Tony (Brühl, looking permanently constipated). He's a monumental arse to talented, caring sous chef Helene (Miller). He's a monumental arse to rival chef and pantomime bad guy Reece (Matthew Rhys) who, by the way, is a monumental arse himself and given to the same plate-smashing hissy fits indulged in by Adam Jones several times over the course of the film. Jones cares about the dining experience, you see, and if it isn't out of this world then plates have to be broken to show how torturous their culinary quest is. Come to my place of work and see how many PCs I break in one day. We artists are so misunderstood.

It's not as if everything about this movie fails to deliver. The food itself, created by ace chef Marcus Wareing, looks stunningly beautiful and mouthwateringly delicious. I was going to say the same about Sienna Miller but her character is a stressed-out single mother so the film makers have made her a tiny bit dowdy (but big-screen dowdy, they haven't turned her into Quasimodo). Still, it's her performance that's worth noting here and she's certainly the best thing about Burnt. Of late, Ms Miller's turned in some sterling work, she continues to grow in stature as an actress and I'm sure she'll go on to shine in movies which are many times better than this.

Elsewhere, the prep sequences in the kitchen are fairly interesting even if, arguably, there are too many of them. The shots of London - especially those at night - give the city an attractive, vibrant look. Okay, I'm running out of positives now...

I find it genuinely frustrating when there's obviously a huge amount of talent on both sides of the camera and the result is something as predictable and plodding as Burnt. I mean, look at the cast, it's chock-full of people I like to watch, people who have carried other movies effortlessly, people given zero to do here.

Alicia Vikander, amazing in Ex Machina, shows up an as ex of Adam's to absolutely no effect whatsoever. Yes, the sudden appearance of the old girlfriend is a well-worn dramatic device but it could have worked here quite well. Instead, poor old Alicia is used to a) get Miller's character to flounce off for a couple of minutes and b) conveniently tie up a plot thread. Why does Miller's character flounce off? Well, she's kind of got a thing for Adam Jones, even though he's a bit of a tool. Twist or what?

Emma Thompson gives quirky support as a doctor assigned to conduct regular blood tests on Adam in order to make sure he's still clean. I looked forward to an entertaining clash of perspectives between her medical professionalism and her client's total disregard for authority but their sequences together are brief, dull and forgettable. Her dialogue doesn't even point up her quirkiness so the movie tells you she's a bit different by having her wear dresses with wacky patterns on them. This is a movie where lots of things are POINTED OUT TO YOU. JUST. IN. CASE. YOU'RE. NOT. GETTING. IT.

Oh, and Uma Thurman's in it too but don't be tempted to pop to the loo when she appears because she'll have disappeared from the proceedings by the time you get back. Here, Uma dusts off the English accent, spits a couple of waspish lines at Cooper, turns up at Brühl's joint for lunch and then promptly vanishes from the story. I was kind of hoping that she'd come back in a yellow jump suit and take out Adam Jones with her Hattori Hanzo sword but no, Jones is left generally unharmed and gets to be a miserable, unlikeable git for the rest of the movie. Even the drug dealers to whom he owes money don't do too much damage to him because, as Brühl mentions, well, they just wouldn't. Huh?

To be fair the script does provide a couple of zingers but much of it is unintentionally hilarious and there are some glaring inconsistencies in the behaviour of some characters which are difficult to ignore. There's one particular line delivered by Jones' nemesis Reece towards the end that is both utterly ridiculous and requires him to do a swift, brief, thoroughly unconvincing 180 in terms of attitude but it's there only to service the plot so that's what he says. Plausibility's overrated anyway.

If you're expecting Burnt to provide you with a feast then you're likely to be disappointed with the reheated leftovers you're given. It could have been a tasty, spicy treat but it's bland and ultimately unsatisfying. I'll stop with the foodie descriptions now.

Want to know when my next review is published? Follow me on Twitter: @darren_gaskell

Saturday, 7 November 2015


Starring: Lucy Goldie, Nicholas Burman-Vince
Writer: Andy Stewart
Director: Andy Stewart

In the early days of this blog I waxed lyrical about Glaswegian director Andy Stewart's wonderfully disturbing trilogy of short movies - Dysmorphia, Split and Ink - each with a body horror theme. The good news is that he's back with a new short film which still gives a sizeable tip of the hat to the body horror subgenre but throws in a few new and welcome surprises.

Firstly, let's deal with the amount of gore in Remnant. If you've seen the movies mentioned above then you'll more than likely be preparing yourself to be swimming in the stuff by the time the end credits roll. Well, I can categorically state that there isn't any. Yes, that's right - it's an Andy Stewart film with no gore. Intrigued? You should be.

Although none of Stewart's previous work ever fell back on the carnage, using it instead to give a dash of extra colour (most of it blood red or pus green, it has to be said) to the proceedings, this film has none of the show-stopping grue of its predecessors which always made me a) recoil in disgust and b) think "Well, okay, you got me" immediately afterwards. Remnant's tactics are more refined but no less effective. Don't be thinking Stewart's gone all commercial and soft-pedalled the terror though - he hasn't.

So, down to the plot, which follows office worker Claire (Goldie) who is plagued with increasingly disturbing visions as she struggles initially to sleep and subsequently to hold on to her very sanity. As Claire's ability to do her job properly suffers, her boss Ian (Burman-Vince) becomes increasingly concerned about her well-being but is there anything he, or indeed Claire herself, can do?

Gorehounds take note: this is still an Andy Stewart film. Just because characters don't hack off bits of themselves or ooze gunk from every orifice doesn't mean that you won't enjoy this. There are a number of reasons why you should see this post haste. Topping the list is an utterly astonishing performance from Lucy Goldie as Claire. Never less than a hundred per cent believable as our heroine, we feel for her as she breaks down in front of her colleagues, we worry for her as she is confronted by dreadful visions, we share her confusion as she tries to separate fantasy from reality.

In a role that could have been turned into shrieking hysteria in the hands of others, Goldie gives us a marvellously rounded portrayal of an ordinary person dealing with extraordinary circumstances. And, of course, there's Hellraiser alumnus Burman-Vince giving reliably strong support in the smaller role of Ian.

Remnant is also beautifully shot, capturing the strange, otherworldly haze of Claire's visions perfectly, simultaneously enticing and sinister. Just watch for the sequence with the feathers and tell me that horror movie directors don't understand what art is. Allied to the mind-bending visual hit is spot-on sound design, the creepy audio effects adding to the general feeling of unease.

Is this another Ink? No, it isn't, and nor should it be. Remnant treads a different path and showers of gore would have been superfluous here. This is all about the atmosphere and this short film delivers it in spades, culminating in a resolution that's all the more terrifying because it plays upon a real fear (of course, I'm not going to reveal what that fear is). The combination of uncanny shocks in a commonplace setting is a winner, enhancing the claustrophobic tension as both Claire and the audience are presented with the prospect that there genuinely could be no way out of the situation. Is there? Come on, do you think I'd give that away?

So, there you have it: a goreless Andy Stewart film, which I have to admit was something of a surprise. What isn't a surprise is that it's delivered with all the deftness and panache I'd expected and it stands up well to repeat viewings (I've seen it three times now). I was taken in totally by its subtle, skin-crawling scares and in Lucy Goldie it has an acting talent to watch with some interest.

Monday, 2 November 2015


Two days down, one to go. Did the third and final day of feature films at Celluloid Screams 2015 deliver the gory, glorious, giallo-rific goods? Read on...


Day Three began with Michael Thelin's "bad babysitter" movie starring Sarah Bolger as perhaps the last person you'd want to leave in charge of your kids (although, of course, the parents have no idea what's about to go down at the beginning of the movie). What starts as an adventure for the children at being told the usual boundaries don't apply soon spirals into something rather more sinister and after a chilling bit of business involving a family pet we're left wondering exactly how unhinged Bolger's character is and how she came to be that way.

While this is not going to win any points in terms of breathtaking originality it's eminently watchable, entertaining fare with good performances from not only Bolger herself but the child actors in the cast, notably Joshua Rush as Jacob, the oldest of the kids and the one who realises that it may be up to him to save the day. It also scores points in taking a scenario that could have been an excuse for a tedious succession of contrived jump scares and instead playing up the unsettling atmosphere.


Beginning with a familiar looking countdown which graced a whole era of ITV's Schools and Colleges programming (as you can see above), Scared Safe was a collection of vintage Public Information Films curated by the Celluloid Screams team themselves. Somehow grim and shamefully funny at the same time, we were treated to such highlights as the cover-your-eyes (and ears) 70s stylings of Never Go With Strangers, complete with its game of "spot the paedophile" as various archetypes of the era were shown sitting on a park bench one after the other, including one bloke who seemed to have stolen some of the wardrobe from one of the pimp characters in a Pam Grier movie. The conclusion from this one: some people are "odd in the head". Their words, not mine.

Elsewhere, several Protect and Survive films showed just how easy it is to survive a nuclear blast with the correct preparation and dished out several handy hints on what to do with dead bodies in your fallout shelter. The compilation also featured The Finishing Line, a British Transport movie showing the dangers of playing near railway lines by means of a school sports day where the events were running across the line, walking through tunnels etc. It ended with an enormous body count and the sight of youthful corpses being lined up. You'd never get away with re-making that today.

In addition, there were electrocutions, people coming to grief on polished floors, prams falling over in a Edvard Munch-style tableau and my personal favourite The Spirit Of Dark And Lonely Water, luring unsuspecting kids to a ghastly aquatic death and promising that he'd be "back-ack-ack-ack-ack....". As if this wasn't enough, to the delight of much of the audience, a certain "scary picture" from the brilliant Look Around You (and also the hilarious Serafinowicz/Popper short Intermission) made an unexpected appearance. You know the one:


Predicted to be the Celluloid Screams screening that would see the most walkouts, this Spanish movie sets out its stall within the first few minutes - famous actress and media darling Anna Fritz (Alba Ribas) dies and is brought into the morgue where hospital orderly Pau (Albert Carbó) works. Pau's mates Ivan (Cristin Valencia) and Javi (Bernatt Samuel) convince him to allow them into the morgue where they can - let's be honest - ogle a dead celebrity. Here things take a pretty revolting turn as Ivan and Pau decide that this is an opportunity to have sex with one of the most well-known people on the planet. Well, you know, it's a horror movie...

...and this is the point at which the urge to leave the cinema was at its strongest, director Hèctor Hernández Vicens giving us a button-pushing, almost unwatchably vile opening act, its effect only slightly diminished by the clean, glossy cinematography which puts a tiny but crucial amount of distance between the audience and what's happening on the screen. It's still bloody difficult to watch though, be warned.

From here the plot takes an unexpected turn and TCOAF moves into more conventional suspense thriller territory, which should provide relief for most of its viewers (unless you were expecting it to riff on something like Nekromantik, in which case I'll tell you right now - it doesn't). Although the characters slot into particular archetypes of the horror/thriller the performances serve the story in an efficient way and Hèctor Hernández Vicens wrings every last drop of suspense out of its limited plot and locations. In the final analysis, this movie isn't what it could have been given its subject matter - whether that's a good or bad thing is up to you.


After the grim goings-on of Anna Fritz, some light relief was needed and Jason Lei Howden's Deathgasm was just the ticket. Downtrodden heavy metal fan Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) discovers a piece of music called The Black Hymn which could give him the power to solve his problems and succeed in his romantic aspirations regarding the lovely Medina (Kimberley Crossman). What he doesn't count on is the Hymn turning most of the inhabitants of his small town into demons, which he must then battle using the power of metal - and anything else that's handy as a weapon.

With its playful skewering of heavy rock culture, a clutch of smart one-liners and with classic gorefests such as Evil Dead and Braindead as its template, Deathgasm is a lot of fun and the running time is short enough to ensure that it doesn't outstay its welcome. Yes, the odd gag is somewhat laboured (did we have to see a slow-motion dildo attack so many times?) but the splattery set-pieces are mounted with so much glee that it seems churlish to be too negative. Deathgasm may not linger too long in the memory but it's an enjoyable, gruesome romp that wears his heart (and influences) on its bloody sleeve.

Death to false metal!


And so to the final movie of the festival, a screening of Dario Argento's classic 1975 giallo starring David Hemmings as Marc, a pianist who witnesses a murder and then resolves to find the killer with the help of sassy journalist Gianna, played by Daria Nicolodi. I'll fess up here, I'm totally in love with Daria Nicolodi in this movie, I love the bizarre plot, I love the prowling camerawork, I love the striking set-piece killings. I even love the running gag about Gianna's beat-up Fiat 500. How could this movie get any better?

By having Claudio Simonetti's Goblin in the cinema, performing a live rescore of the music, that's how. The wall of sound that pushed itself to the back of the cinema as the main theme music kicked in was nothing short of astounding and as an enhanced Argento-viewing experience I can't see how it could be beaten. How could the end of the festival get any better?

By having Goblin then play a set which began with the opening title music from Demons - which is one of my all-time favourites and turned me into a gibbering fanboy hearing it played live - and then gave us choice cuts from Dawn Of The Dead, Suspiria, Tenebrae and Phenomena. It was a phenomenal end to an amazing three days of mayhem and madness.

A massive thank you to Robert Nevitt (Festival Director), Polly Allen (Festival Programmer), Sarah Williamson (Festival Programmer) and all of the volunteers who make Celluloid Screams such a joy to keep coming back to year after year. If you haven't experienced this amazing weekend for yourself, Celluloid Screams will be back in 2016. Keep Friday 21st October to Sunday 23rd October free and be ready to get your tickets. Oh, and you'll need the Monday off as well. That's all I'm saying.

Follow me on Twitter: @darren_gaskell


So I got through Day One of Celluloid Screams 2015 relatively unscathed (although still unsure about what to make of Yakuza Apocalypse). How did the feature films of Day Two pan out? Read on to find out...


Day Two's opening flick was Perry Blackshear's impressive tale of claustrophobic paranoia on a microbudget. Christian (Evan Dumouchel) bumps into old friend Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews) and, even though Wyatt doesn't seem keen to put down any roots, Christian persuades him to stay for a while.

It's established early on that Christian "isn't the guy he was ten years ago" and he's keen to impress all those around him, working hard and psyching himself up by listening to a friendly, motivational voice on his media player in. Wyatt, on the other hand, is withdrawn, edgy and socially awkward. Turns out that Wyatt is receiving messages from voices too but they're on the end of a phone, telling him that people are turning into evil creatures and, as one of the chosen ones, he needs to prepare for battle. Are the voices real and, if so, can he save Christian as well as himself?

This is a fine example of how much can be achieved for a budget that was probably far less than a day's catering bill for a big studio blockbuster. It's a triumph of on-the-nose scriptwriting coupled with an eerie, unnerving atmosphere and I was gripped throughout. The dialogue between the leads is never less than convincing, whether they're having drunken, late-night conversations about any old rubbish or confronting potentially life-changing situations. The sound design is worthy of praise too, the insistent ticking of a clock or a swarm of bees used to ratchet up the tension.

The final quarter of an hour is one of the most tautly-wound I've experienced in a long while, building to a crescendo which I suspect had most of the audience holding their breath. I'll happily admit that I was genuinely, deeply scared - bravo, Mr. Blackshear. In short, TLLP combines expertly-crafted chills with an affecting storyline and I urge you to seek it out.


My favourite film of the whole festival starred Henry Rollins as Jack, a man who's been around for a long time. And I mean a long time (he missed the American Civil War but only because he was in Rome at the time). You'd think that immortality would be a blast but he's thoroughly fed up of it all, whiling away his days sleeping, watching mindless television shows, playing bingo at his local church and frequenting the nearby diner where there may be a hint of romance in the air with waitress Cara (Kate Greenhouse). Well, there might be if Jack wasn't so closed off and grumpy all of the time.

Comedy horror is notoriously difficult to get right but when the combination clicks into place you're rewarded with something as wonderful as He Never Died. The laughs are never unintentional, the horror is sufficiently nasty and one never undermines the other. Rollins is so good as Jack I was left wondering how close to the character he is in real life - okay, so the guy isn't immortal (well, as far as I know he isn't) but when Jack reels off a long, long list of the jobs he's had up to that point in his life it seems as though Rollins himself may also have had that amount of life experience.

Smart, wryly amusing, bloody fun with tons of quotable dialogue, pleasing performances across the board and a refusal to twist the plot in knots just to give everyone a happy ending (although the climax isn't nearly as grim as it might have been), He Never Died is fresh, entertaining, essential viewing with Henry Rollins' hilariously, reluctantly lethal curmudgeon staking a claim for one of the most memorable characters in recent horror cinema.


And from my favourite of the festival to the only movie in the festival I thoroughly disliked, a problematic tale of two roommates trying to make it in Los Angeles. Jennifer (Mary Loveless) is a super-thin, successful model and Jill (Bethany Orr) is not so thin and not so successful. The growing tension between the two women leads to Jill imprisoning Jennifer in their apartment in a thoroughly misguided attempt to salvage their friendship.

This reminded me, in tone at least, of Starry Eyes, which played at Celluloid Screams 2014 and which stuck the boot into the LA acting scene where Excess Flesh sets its sights on the modelling industry (again, LA-based). However, where Starry Eyes largely succeeded in its portrayal of a young actress who will stop at nothing to get what she wants, Excess Flesh trots out a bunch of tired old cliches about the idea of beauty and how women are jealous creatures who are generally horrible to each other.

Its portrayal of eating disorders, to me at least, was offensive and trivialised a very serious issue. If you want to see women forcing themselves to be sick or chewing food just to spit it out, there's an awful lot of that going on here - too much for it to be genuinely effective. There were a number of walkouts during this screening - having talked to a few of the people who did leave some said it was because of the offence caused but others were just bored by its thuddingly repetitive nature. I stuck it out to the end and I'm glad I did if only to have it confirmed that Excess Flesh improved not one jot as it lumbered along. The final moments, complete with eye-rollingly clumsy twist, were just as awkwardly wrought as anything that came before.


A 2013 screening at Cannes, this Aussie end of the world drama finally made it to Celluloid Screams and yes, it was worth the wait. A meteor is about to hit the Earth and destroy mankind but before that happens the hedonistic James (Nathan Phillips) is driving to the party that will end all parties, ready to go out in a blaze of dance music, drink and drugs. That is, until he finds himself in a situation which ends with him saving the life of a young girl called Rose (Angourie Rice) who is trying to find her father. Now he has both a passenger and a dilemma...

Although this apocalyptic drama has many of the elements you'd associate with this type of movie (murderous types roaming the streets, wrecked cars everywhere, buildings on fire and so on) it doesn't overdo it with the tropes and instead it packs an unexpected emotional wallop as James spends more time with Rose and comes to re-evaluate his priorities on his final day on the planet. Thanks, Celluloid Screams, for programming a movie which made me sob uncontrollably through its last ten minutes.


A real coup for the festival, Robert Eggers' folktale of a family banished to the wilderness in 17th century New England was certainly the subject of much pre-screening chatter and not just for the security surrounding its screening. It was also a chance to see a movie which had already generated its fair share of positive buzz and, as of this moment, isn't currently slated for a wider UK release until March 2016. Unsurprisingly the screening was sold out, but was it a mass crowd pleaser?

Considering the movie won the Audience Award for the Best Film of the Festival, I'd guess that the answer had to be yes. And yet it's another slow-burner, eschewing jump scares for an air of almost constant dread and bravely keeping its gore to a minimum. The dialogue of the period, replete with its use of "thee", "thy" and "thou", takes a little while to get used to but it adds to the overall feel of the piece, as do the olde-worlde motivations and superstitions of the various characters.

If you can banish thoughts of the numerous ads to which he lends his voice, Ralph Ineson is terrific as the father, frustrated in his efforts to build a better life for his family but possessing unshakeable faith that God will provide despite their trials and tribulations in an inhospitable environment. Kate Dickie lends fine support as his wife, her character developing more in the movie's second half as the plot attempts to unravel the tightly-knit family unit by putting them (and the audience) through the psychological wringer.

Stealing the movie for me, however, is Anya Taylor-Joy as eldest daughter Thomasin, who is blamed for the supernatural wrongdoings and whose performance is finely tuned to say the least. You feel there's always something behind her eyes but it's tantalisingly out of reach so you're left with no clue as to whether she's victim or villain. Ms Taylor-Joy is certainly a name for the future.

Robert Eggers has crafted a movie which, although bearing the Universal banner, has not been made with universal appeal in mind. He's told the story he wants to tell, in a very specific style, incredibly well, with moments of stunning imagery and a subtly nerve-jangling undercurrent of tension which runs throughout.


Every year Celluloid Screams deems one feature the "Secret Film", so you have absolutely no idea what you're going to be watching until you're in the cinema and it's about to begin. This year's Secret Film, as a filmed introduction by lead actress Lauren Ashley Carter revealed, was Mickey Keating's Darling, all about a young woman invited to house-sit a place with a haunted history.

Not for the first time in Celluloid Screams 2015, this was a movie which divided the audience and quite a few people seemed to think it was arty, pretentious cobblers with no real drive to the plot. Although I can see where people were coming from when they said it was all style and no substance, when there's this much style I'm willing to overlook the substance.

Shot in black and white with several long, dialogue-free sequences featuring only the main character exploring her spooky new digs, this is a movie that's unlikely to play well in multiplexes. If you're clamouring for a high body count, you ain't going to get it. It's a film with an atmosphere that demands to be soaked up and for me the tension dripped from the screen, horror clichés such as a slow creep down a corridor towards a closed door given a fresh and terrifying dimension.

Which brings me to the best thing about Darling, which is Lauren Ashley Carter, putting in an absolutely incredible performance as the lead. The sheer range of emotions that play across her face are amazing and she totally commands the screen. For anyone that thinks horror movies don't attract a high calibre of acting talent, point them in the direction of this. Is Lauren Ashley Carter's the horror genre's Audrey Hepburn? It's not an unjustifiable claim, especially on the evidence here.

And with that Day Two came to a close. Well, it did for those of us who couldn't face the all-nighter of four classic horror flicks but wanted to get a good night's sleep to ensure they were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for Day Three.

Okay, you got me, I stayed in the bar until 4am (5am if you count the extra hour we gained from putting the clocks back). I did try to rest my eyes though.

Follow me on Twitter: @darren_gaskell


Sheffield's very own horror movie festival, Celluloid Screams, celebrated its seventh glorious year with yet another strong, diverse line-up of films. In the first part of this special festival-focused blog, I take a look at the feature films screened on the first day...



The festival kicked off with Karyn Kusama's slow-burner of a horror/thriller, fresh from its recent win at Sitges. Will (Logan Marshall-Green) is invited to a dinner party by his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and he is naturally wary of what might happen, having not seen her for a couple of years following a family tragedy and their subsequent break-up. As the evening progresses Will becomes increasingly worried about the intentions of Eden and new husband David (Michael Huisman) and suspects their guests may be in grave danger.

Proficiently made and well acted, this turned out to be a wee bit too slow and deliberate for some but Marshall-Green is perfectly cast as the lead, a spiky, emotional mess of a guy whose paranoia could be well-founded but could equally be the product of his own damaged psyche. The film deliberately fogs the issue in a skilful way and with a neat, though not entirely unexpected, twist about an hour or so in the viewer, like Will, really doesn't know who or what to believe. The eventual pay-off just about matches the careful build-up and there's a memorable final shot but that's all I'm going to say as this is a film where spoilers need to be kept to an absolute minimum. It could have done with being around ten minutes shorter but that's a minor gripe about a movie that's well worth seeking out.


The hills are alive with the sounds of abject terror as Austrian writer/directors Severin Franz and Veronika Fiala serve up a tale of twin boys suspecting that their mother isn't the woman she used to be after she returns, face bandaged, from a cosmetic surgery procedure. If she isn't their mother, how will they go about proving it and are they putting themselves at risk by doing so?

This movie certainly divided opinion, many praising its unrelentingly tense atmosphere and its acts of genuinely disturbing violence. Others thought the twist was telegraphed way too soon in the movie and hence the climax lost any impact it might have had. As for me, I did twig what was going on quite early but this in no way ruined the experience for me. Even having anticipated the reveal towards the end, the film still worked as a battle for the very identity of its characters and the suspense is undimmed. Absolutely cracking performances too from Lukas and Elias Schwarz as the twins and the marvellous Suzanne Wuest as the Mommy of the title, able to convey a huge range of emotions even when most of her face is obscured.


The opening day closed with a movie that ranks as one of the most bizarre I've ever seen. Yakuza vampires (okay), gunslinging assassins (mm-hmm), knitting circles (what?), a garden for growing humans (huh?) and an acrobatic, ass-kicking martial arts wizard in a frog costume (I kid you not) are just some of the elements in Takeshi Miike's mind-frazzling action/horror combo. The plot dashes this way and that, the result resembling a number of barely-related films fighting for the one space featuring several ideas that you're waiting to see pay off only for them to be summarily discarded.

The good? Well, the Frog Man is amazing, his appearances on screen being mindbendingly odd, jaw-droppingly athletic and laugh-out loud hilarious. The visuals are pleasing too, with sweeping, well-edited fight scenes and great-looking, comic-book style characters. The bad? If you don't tap into Yakuza Apocalypse's rather strange rhythm during the first 20 minutes you're unlikely to get it at all, which means you either have to endure it for almost two hours or get frustrated and walk out.

It's also another Japanese movie which stops dead in its tracks at an inopportune moment, leaving a number of hanging plot threads and curtailing a mouthwatering, cataclysmic confrontation by having the credits run before so much as a blow is landed. Afterwards, I checked with Caitlyn Downs (of the Ghostface Girls) that everything I thought I'd just seen on screen actually happened. Turns out it did. Either that or we were both hallucinating. Which could also be true.

So that was Day One. What of Day Two? Read the next part of my festival blog coming soon...

Follow me on Twitter: @darren_gaskell