Grimmfest 2021: Day Four Highlights

It’s 10 October, day four of Grimmfest 2021, and there are still four premieres left, though there is more of the thriller genre to be found in these than the horror. Still, these are some gripping thrillers, and Grimmfest surely knows what its audience will enjoy.

Shot in the Dark (Keene McRae, USA)

Kristoffer McMillan as Will Langston, screaming, in Shot in the Dark

It’s a very bold endeavour to blend a tragically romantic drama with a serial killer thriller for a directorial debut, but that’s what Keene McRae has done here. The story (written by Kristoffer McMillan in partnership with McRae and their mutual friend Lane Thomas) focuses on William (Kristoffer McMillan) and his return home a couple of years after leaving the small town when his life changed. Events take place that oblige him to look back at his friends and his history in the town, as well as his life as it is right now. The film alternates from a sensitively moving tone to a bloody tension, and I can’t help but look forward to more from this team.

There’s a lot to admire about Shot in the Dark, and it really merits more attention than I can give it here. Firstly, the way that the team (all producers and actors as well as writers) learned how to produce the best result they could while on the job and at the same time make the best use of their resources is admirable. This is a low-budget film, but not once did it look like any corners were cut. The unhurried nature of the project also gave them the time to really build the little community with beautifully written characters constructed from many assembled moments. Several of the scenes are going to haunt me, and if you didn’t attend the world premiere in Manchester, I’d urge UK film lovers to book for the virtual edition.

Llanto Maldito AKA Tarumama (Andrés Beltrán, Colombia)

Jerónimo Barón as Tomás in Tarumama

Broadening the range of horror films coming out of South America (there haven’t been many from Colombia to date), Tarumama is all trees and atmosphere. Beltrán, inspired by a regional folk tale about a crying woman but keen to make a story that could resonate anywhere, gives us a family working hard to bond. Unfortunately, the country cabin where they take their break is situated near the site of someone else’s family tragedy, and it seems echoes of the past cannot be avoided.

Tarumama may sound like a La Llorona clone at first, but I’m pleased to tell you that familiar clichés such as jump scares and ghostly special effects are avoided. In fact, a very interesting decision to keep the crying woman’s appearance to an absolute minimum means that a good deal of the film is open to interpretation: for example, is Sara (Paula Castaño) simply sensitive to what she hears or did she really see something? Countering this avoidance of clichés, the “cabin in the woods” setting feels like one at times, but this provides some familiarity for the viewer, meaning there is little beyond the characters that needs to be established (and that family dynamic is perfectly realised). The setting is very well used, after all, especially the mist amongst the trees, making some of the scenes a little disorienting. The only flaw (for me, at least) was in the ending, which made it a little more neatly resolved than I felt necessary.

La Stanza AKA The Guest Room (Stefano Lodovichi, Italy)

Stella (Camilla Filippi) and Sandro (Edoardo Pesce) being tested by Giulio (Guido Caprino) in The Guest Room

I’m very hesitant to describe this one, and know I need to tread carefully. It touched every parental nerve I have, so was painful to watch, and yet I can’t help but recognise the quality. Here goes.

Resigned to postpone suicide a little longer because a too-charming-to-turn-away guest turns up (for the room she hasn’t rented out for years), Stella (Camilla Filippi) finds herself obliged to reconsider her life and where she places her trust and her loyalty. Funny: the model now looks a little like that of Shot in the Dark, in retrospect, but I don’t think it would seem that way while watching either of them. The characters, the setting, and the ultimate resolutions are utterly different. In this film, the guest, Giullio (Guido Caprino), appears almost like the friend Stella didn’t realise she needed, at first, but becomes a little too familiar and then rapidly downright sinister. Caprino plays him perfectly, somewhere between Arno Frisch in Funny Games and Jack Nicholson in Witches of Eastwick. There is so much to his character and the impact he has on Stella (and to a lesser degree on Stella’s husband) that I’m tempted to get carried away in analysing the film, but that would give far too much away.

But to step back a little…Italian horror has a rich heritage, and The Guest Room has the beautifully grand sets and the melodrama in honour. It’s full of tension, and it’s fun to puzzle out what’s going on. It does hammer home the message—think of the child!—a little heavily though, aided by rain and dramatic music, but if you don’t get as personally invested in a story as I do, it could be quite a ride.

Déflagrations AKA Blast (Vanya Peirani-Vignes, France)

Pierre Kiwitt as Fred (Sonia's partner), taking a first look at their problem in Blast

The final film of the weekend, another world premiere no less, couldn’t have been more different from the others (oh, how I love the variety!). Indeed the set is the polar opposite to a cabin in the woods: it’s a car in a car park. This car belongs to Sonia (Nora Arnezeder), a bomb disposal specialist who discovers there is an anti-tank mine attached beneath it, just when she’s got inside with the kids. I thought at first that it was kind of convenient because she had the expertise and the colleagues to assist, but fortunately, this is no coincidence. There is a reason her car is targeted. Arnezeder and the other central cast (including the children) are excellent, but the film does suffer from some rather two-dimensional secondary characters. I was able to mentally clock a sneak baddie and someone who wore a metaphorical “red jersey” pretty much as soon as they appeared.

The tone of Blast is a real success, though. Interestingly, although there is a surprising amount of detail to the seemingly simple plot and a lot to squeeze into ninety minutes, it is not an “action-packed” film. The central characters are sitting on top of a bomb, after all, so they move as little as possible and talk very calmly. Those outside the car (investigators, other bomb experts, and Sonia’s partner) consult technical manuals, confer with colleagues, and snip wires—this isn’t exactly a shoot-outs-and-car-chases kind of film. Despite all that, it is extremely tense to the extent that I was ready to weep at one point when the two kids reached for each other’s hands. It’s not just about this daring rescue, of course: Blast lets the viewer see some of the people behind the news stories you might read about and consider their motivations and their conflicts. So for a film that combines low- and high-brow very effectively, this one is worth watching out for, especially if you find modern thrillers a little over-the-top.


As well as the above, Grimmfest also screened

  • We’re All Going To The World’s Fair (Jane Schoenbrun, USA), previously reviewed as part of Fantasia International Film Festival.
  • The Righteous (Mark O’Brien, Canada), one of this year’s Fantasia films I admired the most.

Looking for more on Grimmfest 2021? We’ve got you:

“Grimmfest 2021: Day One Round-up”

“Grimmfest Announces 2021 Dates, Special Guests, and More”

“Festival Round-Up: Grimmfest May Madness”

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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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