It was the penultimate day and the build up to the event that we’d all been waiting for had arrived. The fifth day of the festival marked our trip out of the cinema and down to Ponterwyd, a few miles out of Aberystwyth to the Silver Mountain Experience to coincide with the tenth anniversary of Neil Marshall’s claustrophobic fright fest, The Descent.
Prior to that though was another UK Premiere. This time it was a chilling video game adaptation, Fatal Frame. On the whole, its often that games turned films receive negative criticism. In horror the Resident Evil franchise in particular are cash cows, churning out sequel after sequel with a marketable appeal. Fatal Frame however is a film that can be viewed without the context of the game, its a slow burning, trance endued ghostly chiller that’s absorbing from start to finish. What sets it apart is it is based on a tie-in novelization to the game (also known as Project Zero) titled Fatal Frame: A Curse Only Affecting Girls. Set in an all female boarding school, the most popular girl Aya has allegedly been locked her way in her room. An eerie photograph of Aya is sent around the school and the girls start mysteriously dying. Its now up to Michi to uncover the enigma of these tragic young deaths leading her to a grizzly secret. Fatal Frame is cleverly woven and especially spooky featuring traditional Japanese themes of the dreaded curse. There’s mesmerizing, dream like imagery and the film easily seeps under the skin. The plot is intriguing with characters that the audience can invest in. It plays out as a female centric coming of age story with an added layer of subtext. The use of music is profound as the girls continuously sing Ophelia’s Song (from Hamlet) that symbolically ties in with the narrative. Towards the end the film does take time to wrap up and relies far too much on exposition however on the whole Fatal Frame is an inventive, eerie effort that has the makings of a classic Japanese haunting film like Dark Water and Ringu.
Abertoir is full of annual fixtures and it wouldn’t be Abertoir without Nicko and Joe’s Bad Film Club. As much as scares, us horror fans are big on the laughs. Nicko and Joe provide a one of a kind movie experience where we can shout our frustrations out at the screen in terms of how terrible the movie is and rustle sweets, which are guaranteed to be better quality than the film itself! This year Nicko and Joe delighted us with a film that was also celebrating a special birthday.
Somehow twenty years ago, a group of icons got together and created a film there are just no words for, The Mangler. How could a film directed by Tobe Hooper, based on a story by Stephen King and starring Robert Englund and Ted Levine go so wrong? Luckily a bad film club screening made this dated, grainy, and terribly acted movie more bearable. There’s nothing better than enjoying a bad film with a like-minded genre audience along with a highly entertaining commentary. Nicko and Joe are too funny and encourage audience participation, their bad film club often takes place at the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, which is certainly worth going to if you have a taste for the bad B-movie.
Shifting the tone to something more serious and downright scary, next up was the critically acclaimed, hugely anticipated The Witch. Us lucky folk at Abertoir experienced the screening before its mainstream release due next year and while its a film that has been bulled up a lot its actually pretty damn excellent and consistently unnerving. Set during the 1630’s in New England, The Witch is a strong ensemble piece centring on a family who live an isolated life out in the backwoods. Based in folklore but interestingly it takes place 62 years prior to the infamous Salem Witch Trials, The Witch’s dark tone quickly gets the heart pounding. We are immersed into the family’s world which becomes blown apart by accusations and fears surrounding witchcraft and malevolent forces at play.
The performances are phenomenal featuring impressive child actors who come across as completely naturalistic, but its Anya Taylor-Joy who steals the show as eldest daughter Thomasin. Combining an essence of innocence and uncertainty, we empathize with her curious to see where her arc will lead as we view her turbulent relationship with her devout Christian parents William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Kate Dickie), who also provide powerhouse performances. From start to finish its an immensely disturbing film, its a slow burner but perfectly paced getting more intriguing by the minute. With the isolated setting, astonishing cinematography that remarkably captures the chilling tone and genuine language from the time itself makes The Witch an authentic period piece. It’s unsettling to think that hysteria of this kind actually existed and the devastating impact it had. The Witch includes some harrowing scenes that will have hairs standing on edge. Its one of those gripping films that will leave the audience speechless and haunted by its end.
In 2014 Abertoir put on a sensational event taking festival goers on a train journey to the Vale of Rheidol then treated us to a screening of the classic Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing film Horror Express. Following such a special event the tenth anniversary meant that they had to outdo themselves and that they certainly did. Originally the plan had been to watch The Descent on site at the Silver Mountain Experience in a markee however due the windy weather conditions, plans were amended however that didn’t detract from how successful the event ended up being. Not many festivals offer up a scare attraction and in Aberystwyth we’re so lucky to have a place like Silver Mountain on our doorstep. It was such a genius idea to combine Abertoir and the Aberystwyth tourist attraction. Featuring live actors, we were taken down the mine in groups of ten but first up we encountered a pitch black maze. Part of the fun is walking around in the dark, where anything can pop out at any second, unleashing a good scare. Silver Mountain went all out to create an enhanced, atmospheric experience. If we had viewed The Descent before entering the mine it would have put our nerves on edge even more! Again, the trip to the Silver Mountain Experience was a great opportunity to socialize with fellow festival attendees while honouring one of the best British horror films of the past decade. It marked how much Abertoir has grown over the past ten years, becoming stronger as a festival, going from a three day film event to a six day festival that has so much to offer.
Following the event that was brilliantly put together we returned to the warmth of the cinema to re-watch the truly frightening film. Starting things off, director Neil Marshall provided a special video introduction which was just wonderful. A caving expedition goes horribly wrong for a group of women as they become trapped; if that wasn’t horrifying enough they are stalked by some unusual creatures who rely only on their sense of sound in order to hunt their prey. The Descent is one intense piece of cinema and a harrowing fight for survival, it still holds up ten years on with well written characters and layers of suspense. Even before the creatures make their appearance its still terrifying with the claustrophobic setting. The most disturbing, gut wrenching scene remains when Sarah (played brilliantly by Shona McDonald) gets stuck as she crawls through a tight space, the scene really hits a nerve as the idea of being in that situation is too frightening to imagine. On top of all that the relationships and interactions between the characters is especially gripping as secrets and lies are constantly on the brink of tumbling out with the isolation of the cave as its backdrop. The Descent remains incredibly effective with an extremely powerful and shocking ending.
Next Up: Day Six.