December 2007

Freak Out

Merv Doody (James Heathcote) knows his horror films and fits very easily into the movie-geek stereotype. Living with his gran, in an attic room plastered with horror film posters, his rather monotonous life is broken only by regular trips to the local video store where he is subjected to the amorous attentions of Abby (Nicola Connell) who works there. Mervs best friend is Onkey (Dan Palmer), a self-centred slacker who works at the local bowling alley and wishes that he was a lot cooler than he actually is.

The inevitable – and slightly over-long – prologue informs us that thirteen years previously, the school dork had been bullied to the point that he promised to return to wreak revenge. When he does escape from his mental institution, however, he discovers that the school has been closed and demolished.

Ultimately, this frankly hopeless serial killer manages to find his way into Mervs home, the two friends decide to help him reach his full potential. They come up with a costume for him - an orange jumpsuit and hockey mask - and try to teach him to use a chainsaw.

All goes swimmingly until this gently unhinged vegetarian finally finds his inner serial killer and goes on the rampage, leaving Merve and Onkey to try and clean up the mess they have created.

Billed as a horror-comedy, Freak Out leans much more towards being a comedy than being a horror film and the central joke is that, for most of the film, the serial killer is not only utterly useless, but a bit wet as well. Unfortunately, this is a joke that really doesnt stretch to an hour and a half.

To be fair, the film certainly doesnt drag and writers Christian James and Dan Palmer have packed the film with references to a whole slew of horror films from Psycho to Scream. While it is initially mildly entertaining to play spot the film, the jokes themselves become a bit leaden after a while – more Scary Movie than Scream – and you find yourself wanting a bit of narrative to hold it all together.

It doesnt help, either, that neither of the main characters are particularly likeable. Onkey is a dickhead rather than the loveable rogue he would like to be and Merv is just a bit bland. Consequently, when things do go wrong for them, they havent earned enough sympathy for anyone to really care.

Freak Out does represent a tremendous achievement. The people behind this film have come from nowhere to produce something that made it onto an Anchor Bay two disk set. The film very rarely betrays its low-budget origins and both the performances and the comic timing of the actors is pretty solid throughout.

However, it is a collection of jokes – some of which are better than others – rather than a funny film. That said, many horror fans will find much to enjoy in the films referencing of genre classics – predominantly from the 1980s – and if you enjoy a bit of juvenile humour with your gore then this is the film for you.

For the rest of us, though, I think Christian James next film will be well worth seeing. There is a huge amount of potential here, as well as the determination to make it happen, and sooner or later these people are going to come up with something truly amazing.

Look

There are, according to Looks opening credits, approximately 30 million surveillance cameras in the US generating more than 4 billion hours of footage every week. And there are even more in the UK. These cameras are often intrusive and of very little, if any, practical value.

Adam Rifkins film attempts to explore the extent to which our privacy has been eroded by the escalating numbers of CCTV cameras and to ask whether we really are alone when we think we are. And he attempts to do this by way of several interweaving storylines, all of which are shot from the point of view of security cameras.

We have a couple of kewl chix, Sherri (Spencer Redford) and Holly (Heather Hogan), who are first seen in a department store changing room as Sherri plots to seduce her teacher, Mr. Krebbs (Jamie McShane). In the same store we have predatory manager, Tony (Hayes MacArthur) who appears to be determined to work his way through his entire female staff.

Then we have Marty (Ben Weber), the nerdy insurance claims clerk, and butt of everyones jokes in the office, who harbours a dark secret which is rather suddenly revealed late in the film. More believably, we have an affair between two male lawyers (Paul Schackman and Chris Williams), one of whom has a family on the side. And the ensemble is rounded off by a shop assistant in an all night petrol station (Giuseppe Andrews) who dreams of a musical career.

The acting is very solid throughout and the use of less well-known faces does help maintain the CCTV conceit. Also, to give the impression that it is all being shot with hidden cameras, Rifkind limits himself to locations where such cameras can realistically be expected to be found – and there are many of them – and uses high angles with very little movement. Most of the time.

This brings me to the first problem I had with the film. The conceit is that everything is shot on security cameras, but this is quite clearly not the case. The the locations are too conveniently well lit, image quality is too good, we have sound, and the cameras do occasionally zoom in when the director wants to bring our attention to something. All of this hints – unintentionally, I think – at the question of who is watching and why, a question that really isnt addressed at all. And by attempting to maintain the conceit in the face of its obvious artificiality, Rifkin makes it more difficult for the audience to maintain a suspension of disbelief than is really necessary.

My difficulty in maintaining a suspension of disbelief was not helped by the fact that, although the various vignettes are intertwined – but not very deeply - the various encounters between the characters tended to feel a little forced and more driven by a desire to progress the plot rather than a willingness to allow a human tapestry to emerge. And, unfortunately, this made it surprisingly difficult to engage with the characters so that when the film does start to take a darker turn I simply wasnt buying into it any more.

On a technical level, there is a lot to commend in this film and, if nothing else, Rifkin does an excellent job of cataloguing the countless ways in which we are monitored every day. Its a shame, therefore, that his approach came across as gimmicky and a little forced rather than genuinely insightful.

The rapid expansion of the use of hidden cameras is a serious issue and one that has a range of repercussions for both privacy and civil liberties and is an issue that does need to be both highlighted and discussed. Unfortunately, Look falls a long way short of achieving this.