It's Getting Weird In Here [1 of 4]/ FRIGHTFEST 2015 [Review of THE UNFOLDING]
PLOT SPOILERS ARE IN THIS REVIEW - ONLY READ IF YOU HAVE SEEN THE MOVIE @ FRIGHTFEST 2015!!
Mad Friday at London's Film4 FrightFest 2015 at VUE Cinema in Leicester Square, and I tried to find the strangest few films that I could . .
And I did. THE UNFOLDING was one of two films that I saw which did something genuinely different with the genre (the other being the even more 'oh my god' horror - THE ROTTEN LINK, that was unforgettably earthy and brilliantly wretched).
THE UNFOLDING is directed by first-timer Eugene McGing, and was apparently 5 years in the making - which could explain why the cinema was full of so many of those who had helped make those 5 years fly by; chattering away about how much work the film had been and finding out who knew who and why they were there in the audience as well. One man simply said "Because I liked the idea of a haunted house on Dartmoor" and someone from the production company replied: "Well, that's a good sign!"
Hey - we all like the idea of a haunted house up on Dartmoor!
For a movie centred around loss and remembrance, a prime member of the cast had, rather poignantly and very sadly, died prior to the film's release (Emmerdale's Kitty McGeever who plays kindly but kooky Yorkshire medium - Muriel) following a long illness (there is a touching dedication to the actress on Twitter on the day of her funeral, just a week after the FrightFest screening).
Critic and horror author Kim Newman was at the back of the cinema watching this movie too. Personally, I wanted to be at the screening because of the 'Dartmoor connection'. I've got another Dartmoor horror film premier coming up soon (this one actually being screened up on the moor) so my taste buds were already tickled. I reckon Kim was there too partly through association, and assume that, being Somerset raised - the moors are part of his life blood. He's also a Sherlock Holmes fan and obsessive. People like us can't help being attracted to films about that place.
I love being on Dartmoor and have explored the area to the point where I think I know every wild pony up there on first name terms (Hound of the Baskervilles being my main motive in needing moor). And we certainly get some wonderful Dartmoor shots up and around the famous Hound Tor in this film; an eerie location that I have also gone clambering up many times in recent years (but you knew I was going to say that!) as well as back when I was a (quicker to climb up those jagged rocks and jump off them a bit higher) young boy, occasionally living in Devon.
Plot Spoilers - Watch Before Reading!
(But keywords: ghost, Dartmoor and haunting may already have given much of the game away . . )
The lush and lonely Dartmoor landscape shots come mainly at the start and end of THE UNFOLDING - as a kind of scenic bookend. The in-between action is mainly found footage of a creepy cottage as nuclear war approaches. An orphaned girl has been abused by an evil (of course!) guardian and can now be found (after death) in her little flower garden (well - at least that's a first for horror films, I think) on the moor. The evil (and also long since dead) old man is also around in the house and has a voice - heard once - that's a bit like that chap who announces acts on the X-Factor. (Do you know what creeps me out most about Dartmoor though? It's those little jars with notes in from rock climbers saying they've just been there - so you better not be there too!)
The director of THE UNFOLDING - our man Eugene McGing (who seemed a nice enough chap up on stage) comments at the film's post-screening Q&A that he was inspired for the film's script by the threat of nuclear war getting increasingly more likely and all-encompassing.
As a boy, I once found myself walking around a quiet Devon coastal town when a nearby Naval base siren went off. Thinking that Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Two Tribes (that the siren sounded like) was coming true, I was certain that I had less than three minutes to live. I rushed inside a nearby sweet shop and bought myself some candy teeth (the kind that I hate, and can't figure out why I didn't buy a packet of salt and vinegar Bones at the very least as my last supper).
Uh-huh, I've suspected World War III being imminent since about the age of 10. However, at least Germany (mentioned in the many radio broadcasts in The Unfolding) has opted out of the major conflict about to go ape in late October, 2015 (according to the date on the camcorders) and war for them at least, is out of the question (seemingly the only country to think so - yay!). Britain apparently has its finger well and truly on the button here though. Help - I need more candy teeth . .
The actual cottage that the crew filmed at was, according to the cast on stage, properly haunted - they all felt genuinely like running away and sometimes went too fast for the camera to catch up with them. The rustling plastic sheets over all the furniture apparently didn't help calm their nerves.
The film's central and Quatermass-like theme of nuclear threat enhancing supernatural activity like a chemical reaction, is fascinating and lingers in the mind. Also, an idea I love - do spirits fear the places they haunt being obliterated and reduced to ash? The two aspects of the threat: increased paranormal activity and the approach and rushing to the brink of nuclear war, appear linked - to the point of a perhaps slightly hurried finale where it's deliberately hard to define the best way to die.
The most chilling line of the movie comes from familiar face of actor Robert Daws as Professor Chessman (and not the line at the Q&A that he's about to go off and do an episode of even scarier living dead sitcom Still Open All Hours!) who tells the young couple (a paranormal investigating team of just two; holed up in a living hell all on their own - or at least until another Most Haunted type, played by Nick Julian, joins them and risks a potentially horrific end in the cupboard under the stairs in the process) that being in a haunted cottage full of violent poltergeists may be safer than being in the outside world right now. He's not wrong. And excuse me, but that one idea is kind of genius - it makes the rest of the movie worth watching just by being there!
I thought that raven-haired actress Lisa Kerr was terrific as the terrified but deeply plucky paranormal investigator Rose Ellis. At first, with the usual rather impersonal nature of found footage - a symptom of this genre - framing her in unloving light, Kerr struggled to stay distinctive before eventually making sure the CCTV cameras, wherever they were placed around the house, all knew she was there! There was a precise moment in fact, mid-film, where Rose is framed in deep close-up, looking directly at camera, and her character suddenly felt like the real star of this film; like she was now ready to kick some evil ghost ass!
Rose's puppy dog-enthusiastic, but not overly brave, boyfriend - Tam (played by Lachlan Nieboer) has less to do, but there's still a quirky and sulky screen presence simmering away here that goes against the usual grain and could, in future roles, see the actor projected into ever meatier stuff. The film's two leads have a pleasingly raw edge that found footage format can't always fully showcase, but tries its best. Maybe here, in the middle of lots of screaming and clattering, spooning (no - don't get too excited; I'm talking real spoons!) and bumps in the night, it doesn't really need to . .
THE UNFOLDING battles the familiarity of the found footage genre (and a low budget that can't convey the potential horrors of World War III, even when up on Dartmoor; and again, maybe doesn't really need to) but it does have a rather unique take on the paranormal and gives a well-oiled theme a plucky and vaguely modernised twist. It also has some unusual scenes of playfully paranormal activity (I've seen knives stuck in walls before, but spoons - never!) and a storyline that bravely extends to beyond just the four walls of a haunted derelict cottage (and avoiding tourist board wallowing in what is unfairly an already perfect location).
It's a threat that stretches to the entire planet - a tepid toe dip into the plight of restless spooks influenced by politics and the stability of the planet we live on. There's also a sense of space - the starry kind, with our resident ectoplasm expert Professor Chessman also, it seems, something of an astronomer! The metaphysical themes don't always get fully explored, but they do linger and sometimes threaten to ignite around a central core of otherwise quite traditional horror. A fascinating experiment would be for a sequel (give them a bigger budget people!) to explore the existence of ghosts in a post-apocalyptic landscape.
I jumped about four times during the course of the movie too, along with many others in the aisles around me. The FrightFest introduction was that this was one terrifying movie. Ok, there may have been some cheap, loud shots employed to do this, but it did provide enough surprises to be fun and that's probably why I love horror - I like the darker and weightier stuff, but I also sometimes just like being made to jump!
The Unfolding deserves to be picked up for a commercial home video release and I hope it does - it's odd and different often enough to matter, with a good cast, confident direction and a killer hook: the end of the world (which comes across as more of an afterthought in the end - but as a way to get the ghosts jigging, remains a pretty neat idea).
The title of the film - THE UNFOLDING, I guess relates to layers of investigation revealing more about the paranormal within, being peeled away. Or just the stability of this planet we live on (and chaos) unfolding around us. This haunted house of horror we find ourselves in has a wickedly fun, playful streak and updates poltergeist activity for the doom generation of Dartmoor.
I was scared as a boy when I heard that air attack siren in Devon, and Frankie Goes To Hollywood may have almost killed me off quicker than any detonated bomb ever did (so far). Watching The Unfolding, I ate a whole pack of mint tic-tacs, which I never do (I don't even like them much - but I still bought them in a shop outside the FrightFest cinema on a last minute, maybe subliminal, whim).
Frankie always said "Relax" . .
Yeah, - right.
~ mark gordon palmer
Seat at the Back - Cinema Magazine
Taking place over the Bank Holiday weekend, August 27th - 31st 2015
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