Perhaps the strongest day of the festival yet kicked off with The Pack, a superb little French shocker about a cafe owner who abducts her customers, force feeds them iron then drains their blood. Both tense and laced with a deliciously ghoulish sense of humour, this unmistakably French delight comes on like a nastier Delicatessen and boasts a jaw-dropping performance Amelie’s Yolande Moreau as the formidable Maman La Spack. A terrific opener, and perhaps the biggest surprise of the festival yet.
We opted to head for the pub for a few hours so we missed the quiz and the short film showcase, but we were back in for We Are What We Are, a sober portrayal of a family of inner-city cannibals struggling to come to terms with the death of their father. The story is fascinating and there’s plenty of terrific performances here, but the tone is just a little too bleak to elicit any real sympathy for the central characters which undermines the film slightly; nevertheless, it’s a very respectable piece of work.
Damned By Dawn was up next, a micro-budget Australian homage to Sam Raimi that was introduced as Evil Dead 4. Unfortunately it’s nothing of the sort; it’s hugely ambitious, but fails in pretty much every area: the design is straight out of He-Man, the lighting makes everything look like a school disco, the acting and dialogue are risible, and most ruinously of all, almost every single shot it filled with appalling cheap CGI that makes the whole endeavour look like an episode of Knightmare. The film runs to a slender 81 minutes, but feels double. A disaster.
The notorious A Serbian Film was due to be shown next; however, a last minute intervention from Westminster City Council meant that the film couldn’t be shown uncut, so rather than offer up a butchered version the organisers instead opted to pull it and screened Buried in its place, a film that’s already created an enormous buzz on the festival circuit. Told in real-time, it features Ryan Reynolds as a truck driver who wakes up in a wooden coffin buried somewhere under the Iraqi desert after an insurgent attack. The occasionally impressionistic photography means that the film never feels quite as claustrophobic as it should, but it’s still enormous fun, packed with increasingly ludicrous twists and delivering an intense ending. Despite being 90 minutes of a man in a box, it’s never dull – a terrific achievement and an inspired piece of last minute scheduling.
Australian teen horror The Loved Ones ended the night on a strong note. An inspired medley of John Hughes teen awkwardness and Saw-esque torture, this fantastically trashy confection tells the story of Lola Smart, who after being jilted by her crush before the high school dance, opts to kidnap him and stage a grotesque prom at home with the help of her doting dad. There’s plenty to like here, but the cornerstone of the film is a knockout, off-the-hook, utterly demented performance by Robin McLeavy as Lola, a future genre icon in the Kathy Bates mould. Marvellous fun.