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Grimm Screenings: Contemporary British Thrillers

Rachel Winterbottom on the monthly goings on at Grimm Up North

Written by . Published on January 29th 2013.


Grimm Screenings: Contemporary British Thrillers

FROM the Dancehouse Theatre to the gilded glory of the Stockport Plaza, when it comes to horror the Grimm Up North folk know the setting is all part of the fun. The people who provide Manchester with its annual international horror and cult film festival, Grimmfest, are now hosting events throughout the year that are an absolute necessity for genre buffs, film students and new filmmakers alike.

With such a unique opportunity to speak to experienced professionals in a laidback environment that’s right on our doorstep, it’s a mystery why the place wasn’t filled up to the rafters. It would be a genuine shame if dwindling numbers resulted in this passionate platform for British and international film slashing its screenings.

The people who provide Manchester with its annual international horror and cult film festival, Grimmfest, are now hosting events throughout the year that are an absolute necessity for genre buffs, film students and new filmmakers alike.

The slight attendance figures didn’t dim organiser Simeon Halligan’s enthusiasm in the Q&A session with the writers of the films that made up the night’s double feature, James Moran, Tower Block, and Mancunian Matthew Holt, Hollow.

Moran proved himself to be funny and endearingly (though needlessly) self-effacing as we were treated to a comprehensive insight into the life of a scriptwriter (apparently “Writing is just a way for bitter, insecure people to feel loved – and to take revenge on people in their past”). Over the hour we heard about how Moran started in the business, from him winning a Sci-Fi channel competition with a terrible (in his words) script to finally getting his first feature film Severance made (alcohol played a large factor).

Tower Block opens with a teenager getting beaten to death in a hallway and escalates from there. Becky (Sheridan Smith, Mrs Biggs) is the only one of the tower block residents who leaves her flat and tries to help but even she won’t talk to the police after getting beaten for her troubles. Then one morning a sniper begins to kill the residents off one by one. They’re the only ones left in the building as it’s due to be demolished, there’s traps at every exit and no one is coming to help them. The ‘neighbours’ have to become good friends in order to get out alive.

Tower Block

Unfortunately, when you live next door to drunks (the excellent Russell Tovey), drug dealers and a thug who charges monthly ‘protection’ money (Jack O’Connell back in Skins mode), facing the sniper becomes a viable option.

Tower-BlockTower Block is not like Moran’s usual light and humorous fare. Whenever the humour does appear it’s dark as sin and much-needed. It stars a great British cast – the key to achieving this, Moran explained, is to give every actor something interesting to do, even if it’s dying spectacularly after one scene (which in this case is most of them). This film is brutal, violent and wracks up the tension to near-unbearable heights. Moran is outstanding at very quickly giving you a false sense of security, and just as quickly tearing you out of it.

Hollow is the first feature film by writer/director team Holt and Michael Axelgaard. Holt introduced Hollow to us as ‘the British Blair Witch’, a seminal film in the found footage genre but one that had its day in 1999. Thanks to the Q&A we weren’t left wondering why the writer and director chose to use this much-abused genre – it was the best way to create such an intimacy between the audience and the four characters on the screen that they would feel like a fifth character. In what other context could you receive such an eerie introduction before the film has even begun?

In Hollow four twenty-somethings with a camcorder go to the Suffolk countryside to stay in an old cottage for the weekend and celebrate Emma and Scott’s (Matt Stokoe, Misfits) recent engagement. The cottage belonged to Emma’s granddad, a vicar who died the year before. She discovers that over the years he’d held funerals for more than one couple who had hanged themselves from the creepy old oak tree in the nearby field.

Hollow

As Emma investigates the deaths she uncovers a local mythology around a hooded monk and the cursed tree that dates back centuries. Relationships between the four become strained, not helped by the drug-fuelled paranoia that something is out there in the countryside with them.  

The tension in Hollow isn’t as tightly wound as Tower Block, particularly as the film reveals in its opening moments that all four characters die. A found footage film needs a strong cast, but the performances were mixed and not helped by the unlikeable characters they were playing. Still, this was an enjoyable film.

HollowThe sense of voyeurism is neatly and uncomfortably increased as it emerges that the owner of the camcorder, James, is a voyeur himself. While there aren’t quite enough scares to satisfy the creepy premise that the tree is cursed, the final scene is as breathless and tightly wrought as Holt intended it to be, and, like the characters, you can’t escape either.

All in all this was a terrific evening that showcased some enviable British talent - all of which you can debate hotly in the pub afterwards.

If you’re after an evening with a difference, you’ll find information about upcoming screenings on the Grimm Up North website: grimmfest.com/grimmupnorth.

Hollow is already available on DVD and Tower Block will be available next month.

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