Despite the uncertain times and ever-changing practical conditions brought to the film industry over the last year, Grimmfest has carried on. As well as the main festival in October 2020, which brought 23 feature films and 28 shorts to a bigger audience than ever before, there have also been three shorter events to keep us going. Now, it’s time for their May Madness event, which is hoped to be the last virtual Grimmfest.
May Madness comprises three genre double bills (along with extras such as Q&A screenings) all available to watch over the last three days of May in the UK. As ever, they’ve delivered a broad range of quality premieres. Here’s my perspective on a few of those films.
A Perfect Enemy (UK premiere)
Directed by Kike Maíllo, written also by Maíllo along with two others, and based on Amélie Nothomb’s novel, A Perfect Enemy is one of those psychological thrillers that builds up so slowly that it doesn’t even look like a thriller at first. Texel Textor (Athena Strates), a vivacious young woman, latches on to architect Jeremiasz Angust (Tomasz Kot) when both are running late for a plane. She gives him no choice but to listen to her wild stories; is she a stalker, a nightmare, or just someone looking for a friendly ear?
The two central performances are spot on, with Kot perfectly portraying Angust’s gradual shift from frustration to panic and Strates teetering on the line between adorable and manic. Her character isn’t entirely believable, mind you, though as her presence and purpose are steadily uncovered, the viewer is made to wonder whether to believe anything we see.
The majority of A Perfect Enemy is set within the airport, where Angust and Textor are in limbo, waiting for their next flight, and this is a perfect setting for such a meeting: neither party have anywhere else to go, but they have plenty of time to kill. The other device which worked particularly well for me was the way Textor’s stories were presented: she was both in them and telling them at the same time, reminding me of Mr. Orange’s commode story in Reservoir Dogs.
The Nest (world premiere)
This is a story of a small-town American family trying not to fall apart (again) and a parasitic infestation which takes advantage of their fragile state. I’m not saying any more about it, not that it’s a complex tale. There may not be plot twists to spoil, but I wouldn’t want to lessen its tension. And very effective that tension is too, with a long slow creep up to a truly chilling ending.
What makes The Nest really work is the believable set of characters. Kevin Patrick Murphy and Sarah Navratil play Jack and Beth, parents to the young Meg (Maple Suttles in her impressive first starring role). They’ve clearly had some tough times before and in front of them, and—like any family—they alternately support each other and snap at each other. At times, the compact nature of the family feels a little claustrophobic, but this just adds to the sense that they are tightly bound together, and not always in a comfortable way. The small cast is given extra breadth and support by Drez Ryan as the school counsellor, Mr. Ashe, and the legendary Dee Wallace as family friend Marissa. I must say Wallace is truly memorable in this role: I have never seen her play anything as sinister as she does here.
Although The Nest is set firmly in the real world, it’s a version of our world that has tipped its evolution somewhat in the favour of creatures that tend to be thought of as pests. It kind of takes you back to eco-horror films from three or four decades ago, but there is nothing exaggerated or tongue-in-cheek here: these bugs are neither mutant nor drawn to cleavage. When special effects are called for, they are terrific: palpable and gruesome, and somehow grounded in real biology.
The Nest was written by Jennifer Trudrung and directed by James Suttles, who both spent time with me last week talking about its influences and its creation. As I listened to them, it sounded like a true collaboration and a labour of love for them both, and I must say that does come across in the watching. It’s not perfect, mind you: The Nest felt a little too long to me at first, but looking back, I cannot see what could have been reduced.
Max Reload and the Nether Blasters (European premiere)
The kind of story that might feature in Stranger Things, if it were set in a nostalgic present day, Max Reload and the Nether Blasters combines geeky gamer affection with generation gap digs and demon-fighting adventure. The appearance of a long-lost game strikes Max as lucky rather than suspicious, but when he unleashes evil by playing it, he has to pool his team with the pair who originally created the ominous game.
The three gamer friends, Max (Tom Plumley), Liz (Hassie Harrison), and Reggie (Joey Morgan), are a strong team despite differences of opinion. If that sounds like a standard teen adventure model, then yes. These three perform their tropes like a homage to fantasy horror films from before they were born while speaking the tech-nerd language of the modern day (my fourteen-year-old son called the dialogue “relatable”). This central group is ably supported by Greg Grunberg as a (reluctantly) aging game developer and rather flippantly supported by Kevin Smith (yes, him) as the proprietor of the game store.
Written and directed by Scott Conditt and Jeremy Tremp, Max Reload and the Nether Blasters is a fun watch with plenty of action, sharp dialogue, and shiny animation. Maybe it’s just because I’m too old, but it did feel that there was too much emphasis on the references and in-jokes. Granted, the film wouldn’t have been the same without them, but they were laid on so heavy as to get in the way of the humour at times.
Over the last few years, I’ve grown to love indie films and the festivals that work so hard to share them with us. Grimmfest particularly is cherished by filmmakers and audiences alike for the connections they make between people through their community approach. I’m very pleased to have been able to support them over this difficult period and can’t wait to get to Manchester in person for Grimmfest 2021 from 7 to 10 October.