With 2020 being as it is (*gestures around*) we have a slimline, partially virtual London Film Festival this October. But it still features a Cult Strand of horror movies, albeit one with just three films. But what good selection they are! I’m currently under embargo for one of them, but with that in mind and having seen the other two earlier this year, here’s a preview of what’s waiting for you in the darkest corners of the LFF lineup this year…
(Dir: Brandon Cronenberg; Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott)
A great movie about losing yourself in the most psychotic way imaginable.
An aside: While he’s mostly associated with body horror, Cronenberg Senior’s films frequently explored the notion of a persona entering someone’s mind and colonising it over from within, as in (deep breath) Transfer, Stereo, Crimes of the Future, Shivers, Scanners, The Fly, M Butterfly, and arguably more. (See our roundup here.) One can’t help but wonder if he was drawn to Hitchcock’s Psycho as a young boy, with its coda scene where a psychiatrist explains that Mrs Bates’ persona had been reconstructed within Norman’s mind, and taken it over.
It’s this baton that his son, Brandon Cronenberg, has picked up, and run wild with in his second feature, Possessor. Andrea Riseborough plays Tasya Voss, a shadowy agent whose consciousness can be transferred, via a special machine, into the body of an unsuspecting target. While Riseborough lies in a trance, she controls her puppet as an avatar, using them to gain access to VIPs, and assassinate them. But the process has a corrupting effect on the mind, and sometimes the target host can fight back. In the biggest job of her career, can she remain the dominant personality in her chosen body (Christopher Abbott) long enough to kill one of the world’s richest men (the famously killable Sean Bean)?
It’s no surprise that things don’t go according to plan, and Cronenberg relishes the opportunity to heap on the viscera – for both the real world violence and the hallucinatory meltdowns that start to derail Vos’s mind.
This is a fantastic film, and must see for fans of Riseborough and of trippy, bloody, psychosis horror. It plays at the LFF virtually on October 16th; tickets are available here.
(Dir: Natalie Erika James; Starring: Robyn Nevin, Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcoate)
A combo-punch of ‘evil house’ horror and Alzheimer’s horror.
Relic follows mum Emily Mortimer and daughter Bella Heathcote (so memorable in The Neon Demon) as they return to their isolated family home to check in on their reclusive grandmother, played by Robyn Nevin. Panic rises when she’s nowhere to be found. Where could she have gone, and why does the cabin set apart in the house grounds start to haunt their dreams?
Relic delivers ominous dread with enormous effectiveness, punctuated with just the right frequency of startling jumps… In fact this is probably the most purely terrifying thing I’ve seen in a few years. Only the slightly on-the-nose “inter-generational trauma” imagery of the final scene takes the edge off, but it’s still a masterclass in watch-through-your-fingers scares.
Hugely recommended for fans of House of Leaves. Some houses just ain’t right! It plays at the LFF virtually on October 9th; tickets are available here.
ROSE: A LOVE STORY
(Dir: Jennifer Sheridan; Starring: Sophie Rundle, Matt Stokoe)
UPDATE: Now the embargo has passed, I can discuss this little corker…
Rose: A Love Story is one of at least four (!) horror films this year where two or three people live in an isolated homestead because one of them is “ill”: e.g. they have an unsettling taste for blood that must be managed. Of the four, though, this is hands down the best.
It’s bound to be divisive – it reminded me in tone & setting of It Comes At Night, and I know that split audiences – but I thought this tender slow-burn tale of romance and monstrousness hit the spot. A feature debut from the UK’s own Jennifer Sheridan, surely a talent to watch.
Rose: A Love Story also features a certain amount of mask-wearing (topical, in these plague times) and some lovely subtle nods to classic gothic horror cinema. A gem.
This one I’m under embargo for, as the LFF has managed to score the world premiere – but check back here for my review on October 13th. In the meantime, here’s the official synopsis, courtesy of the BFI: In the remote woodland outskirts of a quiet town, Rose and Sam live a back to basics existence, sheltered away from the prying eyes of society. Although entirely devoted to each other, they have to contend every day with the mysterious and deadly illness that plagues Rose’s life. But when the couple are forced to take in an uninvited guest, their solitude is unexpectedly interrupted, threatening to unleash the violent horror of Rose’s condition. In this inspired twist on the [spoiler redacted], debut UK director Jennifer Sheridan has crafted a darkly claustrophobic horror experience, which relies on heady atmosphere rather than immediate scares. But underneath all the dread and foreboding lies a subtly devastating portrayal of commitment and the lengths we will go to protect the ones we love. I’m itching to discuss this one – in the meantime, it plays at the LFF virtually on October 13th, and tickets are available here.
The London Film Festival runs from 7th to 18th October. Find out more at their website, here.