FrightFest 2021: Four More Genre Gems

Dawn Breaks Behind The Eyes (Kevin Kopacka, Germany)

Anna Platen as Eva in Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes

One of the shortest films of this year’s FrightFest, but also one of the richest; in terms of content, visual style, and meaning. Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes is a multi-layered gothic horror film about the fading relationship of a couple exploring a run-down castle, and it is also about the myriad relationships of those making the film. Power dynamics and comeuppance are examined (in a very adult way), and those themes are much stronger than the story itself; interesting to note that a film about unbalanced relationships was written by Kevin Kopacka with his partner Lili Villányi.

I’m sure Kopacka would be pleased to hear I thought of Mario Bava very early on when watching this film. It is a beautiful tribute or homage to early seventies horror cinema; indeed the closest I’ve seen to a seventies film from contemporary filmmakers, except for maybe Antrum or Death Ranch. The characters, costumes, cinematography, color palates, and music all add to that retro-yet-now mood. I wondered where the story was going at first, it was definitely rewarding by the end, branching out into nightmares, chaos, and allegory.

The world theatrical premiere of Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes took place at Arrow Video FrightFest on August 28th.

King Knight (Richard Bates Jr., USA)

Matthew Gray Gubler as Thorn in King Knight

After Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes, this next one couldn’t be more of a contrast. King Knight is a comedy; not of a raucous style like Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse or anything, but rather a laid back and deadpan satire. It’s the story of Thorn (Matthew Gray Gubler) who leads a Wiccan coven with his lovely Willow (Angela Sarafyan) in sunny, suburban California. They and their little group are contented, living under Thorn’s guidance and some high expectations of each other, eschewing the judgment of regular folk until they find some random cause to judge each other. And then the life that Thorn led before joining the Wicca way is uncovered and he finds himself taking a journey of discovery. Not very far, mind you.

The dialogue and character writing are sharp and witty all around, with sincere rather than sarcastic delivery from all. Almost everyone is adorable, somehow; and there are some rather imaginative cameos, including Ray Wise as Merlin and Aubrey Plaza as a pine cone! Yet somehow, King Knight felt just a little too pretentious to me: sure, Dawn Breaks was artsy to the max and looked pretentious, but I could feel it in this one like an annoying itch. Still, to each their own, and there is indeed something for everyone in a festival like FrightFest.

The UK premiere of King Knight took place on August 29th at Arrow Video FrightFest.

Come in cielo, così in terra AKA As In Heaven, So On Earth (Francesco Erba, Italy)

The alchemist and his experiment in As In Heaven So On Earth

Tricky to know where to begin with this one, which is also an issue raised in the film by Leonardo Constantini (Paolo Ricci), police chief inspector. As In Heaven, So On Earth comprises three strands that weave together, and only towards the end is the link apparent. I look forward to the opportunity to watch it again, now that I have the knowledge. There’s a key theme, too: knowledge; it’s not power in this case, but a mortal risk factor.

As In Heaven, So On Earth observes an interview in progress, ostensibly for a documentary: Francesco (Daniele Di Matteo) is recording Constantini’s testimony of an investigation that was suspiciously closed down, and Constantini provides him with documentary evidence to support it. The next strand is video footage found on an SD card amongst that evidence showing teen couple Cris (Federico Cesari) and Jessy (Sara Paudano) just before they disappeared. The third—and most impressive—strand is a medieval story of a young woman held in a monastery for alchemical experiments, and this one is exquisitely produced with puppets. At first, this was an intriguing and rather beautiful tale, an impression enhanced by the storybook feel of the animation; as the film goes on, it is revealed whose tale this is and that understanding adds potency and humanity to the puppet world. Overall, As In Heaven, So On Earth is a very impressive film, for both the varied production styles and the precisely constructed story, which is all the more sinister when one looks back at the whole after reaching the end.

The UK premiere of As In Heaven, So On Earth was held on August 29th at Arrow Video FrightFest.

Killer Concept (Glenn Payne, USA)

Casey Dillard as Holly and Coley Bryant as Seth in Killer Concept, presenting how a killer might imagine the event would look on screen

Well, that was an odd little film, but full of astute writing. Killer Concept is part slasher, part thriller about a slasher: Mark (Glenn Payne, also the director), Holly (Casey Dillard, also the script-writer), and Seth (Coley Bryant) are meeting regularly to collaborate on a slasher script based on real-life events. The real killer is still out there, mind you, but what they (or at least two of them) don’t realize is that the killer is also one of their group…and therefore coming to this exercise with more insight than the others would guess. These people look and feel real and I understand a good deal of the dialogue was improvised, so it’s no surprise: they really are real filmmakers thrashing out a Killer Concept.

The writing is especially tight, comprising as it does the development of ideas for a film, the killer’s panic about how close to reality the others get in their brainstorming, continuing stalk-and-kill activities of the killer (when not engaged in the brainstorming), and the rise and fall of doomed crushes. All of these strands flow together very neatly, though I do wish we got to find out a little more about the killer’s motivations. What’s odd about Killer Concept though is the overall tone: we see inside the killer’s mind now and then, showing us a brightly-tinted version of events as the killer would prefer to interpret, and these look like the kind of scenes that would be right at home in a horror-comedy. Yet there is nothing funny here at all unless you would count very dry wit and irony; most scenes are played quite seriously. That said, the processes these filmmakers go through to find common ground despite wildly different expertise and personalities is both engaging and entertaining; and when you consider Killer Concept was made on a minuscule budget, it’s all around an impressive result.

The European premiere of Killer Concept took place on August 30th at Arrow Video FrightFest.

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Written by Alix Turner

Alix discovered both David Lynch and Hardware in 1990, and has been seeking out weird and nasty films ever since (though their tastes have become broader and more cosmopolitan). A few years ago, Alix discovered a fondness for genre festivals and a knack for writing about films, and now cannot seem to stop. They especially appreciate wit and representation on screen, and introducing old favourites to their teenage daughter.

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