FESTIVAL FORMULA

CELLULOID SCREAMS DAY ONE: GOODNIGHT MOMMY AND YAKUZA APOCALYPSE


Craig Furniss, one of our Ambassadors, is covering the horror filled festival that is Celluloid Screams this weekend that happens at The Showroom Cinema in Sheffield. Kicking off last night it runs till 25th October and is a strong favourite amongst the horror fans in the UK – and we’ve given Craig free reign to see what they have in store this year. His thoughts on day one go like this…
 

The Showroom – Sheffield

What is great cinema? To me it is when a film rises above the need to just entertain or inform, and elicits a genuine emotional response; when it taps into something primal, something base, unexpected and sometimes unwanted. When done well I don’t think you can beat great horror (or great comedy for that matter). Perhaps it says more about my own still slightly juvenile outlook than anything else, but I find really being made to laugh or, more importantly given my role as Festival Formula’s ambassador for Celluloid Screams, to feel genuine, unbridled fear while watching a film to be one of the most acute joys that cinema can offer. So it was with great expectation then that I settled into my seat for the UK premier of Goodnight Mommy, Severin and Veronika Franz’s itching, sweating, nightmare of a film.

The evening began with Remnant, a delirious short introduced by director Andy Stewart, which probed questions about mental health and addiction, how we deal with it, how it divides us internally and separates us from those around us. Cracking little flick, I’ll certainly be looking out for more of Andy’s work in the future.

The feature presentation, Goodnight Mommy, or Ich Seh, Ich Seh (I see, I see) in the original German, is a real fever-dream of a film. Building slowly with an air of not quite dread but certainly unease, and offering glimpses of a damaged familial dynamic, a recent grievance, and an undercurrent of distrust. Goodnight Mommy brings to mind the foreboding, clinical anxiety of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games during its first two acts and the fitful mania of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby as it crescendos towards its devastating ending.

Goodnight Mommy

The cinematography of Martin Gschlacht is at times dreamlike and at others much more detached, rising into a vivid, nightmarish palette as the film climaxes, and is married to an equally diverting soundtrack by Olga Neuwirth. The overall impression is very impressive – every aspect of the film from script, to edit, to look and sound reinforces its vision, delivering a really uncomfortable and shocking experience by the time you get to the final act. 

The pervading sense of mistrust has the viewer’s mind working overtime, buzzing with questions during the first act, the bristling doubt and suspicion draping itself oppressively over the otherwise bucolic setting. As we get drawn into the story the questions subside and we are dragged along by the two young male leads, Lukas and Elias Schwarz (both excellent), only to have the rug pulled out at the last minute by something much more real and more horrifying that we’d expected.

Perhaps my only qualm with Goodnight Mommy is that it is very slow through the first two thirds of the film. Many will see this as a virtue, and it is for maybe fifty percent of its running time, but it perhaps lingers just a little too long while ramping up to its admittedly brilliant ending. Make no mistake though, this is a fantastic film (anchored by a clever, nuanced turn by Susanne Wuest as the titular Mommy) and my issue with pacing is a minor one.

Goodnight Mommy really does seep and creak with underlying discomfort before screaming into a ghastly last twenty minutes that will give parents nightmares for weeks. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

You cannot imagine a film more stylistically opposed to Goodnight Mommy than Takashi Miike’s Yakuza Apocalypse. It is not a thing of subtlety. At. All.

First up was Surgery, a ten minute short directed by George and Samuel Clemens, sons of the late Brian Clemens (writer, director and producer of several Hammer Horror films, most notably Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter). Based on the elder Clemens’ final idea prior to his death Surgery is a tight little tale of a kidnapped man at the whim of a psychotic surgeon, that twists upon itself to reveal a surprise ending. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of this short is the hint of camp in the overall tone that acts as a nod to the Hammer studio and to the directors’ late father.

Yakuza Apocalypse

Hot on the heels of Surgery was the frankly bonkers The Chickening. More of a You Tube oddity than a short film The Chickening takes shots and scenes from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and pours a big bucket of crude, comedic After Effects nonsense over it to make a weird parody in which people are turning into chickens. Or something. Err… it’s an odd one but not wholly unsuccessful, the audience were howling with laughter throughout and there was a certain charm to the slapstick visuals on display. Actually, it lead quite well into the feature presentation.

I’m going to come out and say it – I consider myself a fan of Takashi Miike’s work. For better or worse I have always found his pointed lack of subtlety to be a virtue and find his singular, uncompromising approach to film making to be a joy in a word of identikit action franchises. However, I really feel he has missed the mark with Yakuza Apocalypse. We’ve seen him do overtly crude and violent before with 2001’s Ichi the Killer, and for me that film is a triumph of antagonistic filmmaking; an extended but brilliant guitar solo of a film. With Yakuza Apocalypse the solo is phoned in and you get the feeling that the guitarist would rather be at the bar with his groupies.

Slightly ropey analogies aside it seems that Yakuza Apocalypse is a real marmite movie and some in the crowd were clearly revelling in the absurdity and shallowness of the thing, and I suspect that a nineteen year old me would have been equally so, but I just couldn’t get on board with it. That thing I mentioned about eliciting a genuine emotional response – Yakuza Apocalypse is a film that pointedly decides not to do that and, for me, that’s not enough, especially from the man that made Audition.

For fans of Ichi the Killer, Riki-Oh: The Story of Riki, or Tetsuo: The Iron Man, you probably won’t be disappointed. If you’re having a few mates over with a few beers and want something to howl at and offer your best Japanese bad guy grunt then you definitely won’t be disappointed. Just don’t invite me.

Craig Furniss – October 2015

Craig Furniss is based in Sheffield and can often be seen eyeing up cinema screening times for *all* of the films.

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