Three very promising new talents from the land of horror

FEBRUARY 18 — One of the main reasons I get an extra kick from exploring the often unchartered depths of independent and B-grade horror and genre flicks is the genre’s ability to surprise me with pure talent. 

There’s something to be said about a film-maker’s ability to not only work within what’s more often than not a pretty pitiful budget, but also craft something entertaining and maybe even fresh out of formulas that fans have seen thousands of times before.

The biggest proof of the value of this talent is in Marvel Studios’ strategy of employing genre directors, often with only one or two low budget credits to their name, to handle most of their upcoming movies, which are of course big budget affairs costing at least north of US$150 million (RM668 million) per film. 

To illustrate an example, James Gunn got to make the much beloved Guardians Of The Galaxy after making only two independent genre efforts, Slither and SUPER.

The upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming is helmed by Jon Watts, whose previous credits have only been two low budget genre efforts — Clown and Cop Car

Thor: Ragnarok is helmed by Taika Waititi, of What We Do In The Shadows fame, another low-budget horror flick.

I can probably safely say that, outside of hardcore genre fans, nobody’s even heard of, let alone watched, their previous films. Yet here they are, directing big, special effects laden extravaganzas which cost hundreds of millions of dollars, all after making barely respectable small genre films that most of the general audience and even film critics have chosen to ignore. 

Why are they here? It’s that pure talent I mentioned before, that’s why. And this week I think I’ve discovered a few more of these potential pure talents, which you can read about below.

‘Stray Bullets’

I wanted to see this movie just because I saw the name Jack Fessenden on its poster as I had a hunch that this Jack might be the son of Larry Fessenden, one of US indie horror’s most important figures since the 1990s. 

It was only after I watched the film (and being totally impressed by it) that I searched the Internet for more information about its director, and I can’t even begin to tell you how shocked I was when I found out that Jack was only 16 years old when he made this movie! 

Not only did he write and direct it, but he also starred in it (in a pretty important secondary role), edited it, wrote the score, and even played some of the instruments himself. 

Clearly a homemade passion project, with dad Larry acting as cinematographer, there’s a lyrical and poetic quality to this crime film, about two  kids stuck with a group of professional thieves who are being hunted after a robbery gone wrong, that gives you a different sensory experience, despite its archetypal ingredients. 

It’s what some people might call “elevated genre”, something in the vein of Blue Ruin, and to be able to pull that off at age 16 is quite simply remarkable. I now eagerly await what Jack has got up his sleeve next!

‘Scare Campaign’

What seemed like an Aussie horror flick with a generic and unpromising title has happily turned out to be a fun, smart and energetic thrill ride, filled with quite a few twists and turns that will delight even the most seasoned horror fans. 

The premise is simple enough — it’s about the production team behind a popular prank show called Scare Campaign, on the days leading up to and during the shooting process of the finale of their latest season, which has become a make-or-break one due to an ultimatum given by their boss to up the ante, in order to compete with the more underground online shows that are slowly eating up their TV audience. 

And so begins a series of smart and very believable reversals, making the audience guess who’s pranking who, and who’s actually getting pranked as the deaths and body count start to pile up and all you can do is enjoy the ride and try to predict what the next twist is. 

Very, very well executed by the writing-directing team of Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes; I have a feeling that a Blumhouse phone call is a dead certainty for this very talented pair of Australian hotshots. 

So take the plunge and give this sweet little horror flick a watch, before these guys become famous!

‘Don’t Hang Up’

Easily the weakest out of the three movies here, but more due to the over-familiarity of its concept rather than its surprisingly highly polished execution, Don’t Hang Up is one of those horror flicks that are supposed to make us wary of the Internet and modern technology. 

These stories are a dime a dozen by now — Open Windows, Unfriended, Friend RequestCam2cam and so many more that I can just go on and on and on. 

The twist here is that the movie concentrates on a pair of friends who love to do prank calls, film themselves doing it and of course upload the results on the net afterwards for a little bit of Internet fame. 

So now the film-makers can weave in bits and bobs from Phone Booth, Cellular and Compliance to set up a tense situation where the pair of merry pranksters get a pretty welcome taste of their own medicine. 

If you’ve seen your fair share of horror movies then surely you’ll see where the film is going from miles ahead, but the movie’s trump card is debuting directors Damien Mace and Alexis Wajsbrot’s quite impressive technical skills. 

The movie really moves, and is incredibly energetic thanks to the way they stage things, shoot them and edit them together. If ever a movie’s a Hollywood calling card, then this one is it.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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