Archive for Joanne Mitchell

Bait (AKA. The Taking) (2015) Review.

Posted in Horror Festivals, Women in Horror Recognition Month with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 16, 2015 by Hayley's Horror Reviews

The struggles of post-recession Britain is the subject matter for Dominic Brunt’s brand new hard-hitting feature, Bait (AKA. The Taking). Bait is the second full-length genre film from collaborative husband and wife team Mitchell-Brunt Films following 2012’s zombie drama Before Dawn. Much like Before Dawn, Bait is a bleak, gritty and powerful piece of British cinema however packs an even harder punch with its all too realistic subject matter and no holds barred violence.

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Adapted from a story by Writer/Actress/Producer Joanne Mitchell; Paul Roundell’s screenplay is intensely compelling as it focuses on two close friends who endure a terrifying ordeal at the hands of a dangerous loan shark in a sleepy Yorkshire village. Bex (Victoria Smurfit) and Dawn (Mitchell) attempt to make their dream of running their own café a reality after years of hard yet unrewarding work selling cakes at their local market hall. Their luck seemingly begins to change once they meet the charming and charismatic Jeremy (Jonathan Slinger); an independent businessman who is more than willing to help them get their new business up and running. But is there more to Jeremy than meets the eye? Have Bex and Dawn got more than they ever bargained for?

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Bait proves to be a gripping edge of the seat horror/thriller, with plenty of twists and turns around every corner. The characters are layered, dynamic and flawed which brings in a sense of realism that the situation at hand could happen to anyone; they reflect everyday people in everyday life. Bait’s main strength is its strong performances from the entire cast. Mitchell and Smurfit are flawless as the two friends, determined to improve their lives. Both actresses work extremely well together, with believable chemistry. Smurfit brings a certain feistiness to Bex while Mitchell plays Dawn with a timid nature. The two characters opposing traits complement each other, allowing the audience to empathize with both and get a sense of their individual motivations.

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Jonathan Slinger is outstanding as the menacing Jeremy in an unforgettable performance. His ability to frighten and intimidate is a horrifying watch. He makes it incredibly easy to root for our heroines once the stakes are raised. The film also stars Rula Lenska (Coronation Street) and film and television actor Adam Fogerty, both bring in strong screen presences playing characters with vital roles within the story.

Bait is interesting in what it does. It’s an exceptionally difficult film to watch in several ways containing both disturbing and some upsetting moments. It’s highly intense throughout and unrelenting. However a sense of humour is not completely obliterated from the film as Brunt throws in some light relief amongst the tension. Fans of Inbred will get a kick out of a cameo from everyone’s favourite ferret fondler Mark Rathbone!

The use of sound is incredibly effective allowing the audience to get a sense of what the characters are experiencing. The bleak cinematography captures a chilling tone with lingering shots that create extreme dread in the more distressing moments.

Bait not only operates as a disturbing thriller, it highlights important issues within British society. The focal point is of course financial struggle in our desolate economic climate; and the vulnerability of the elderly, the very young and autism is also explored through this. Bait also looks at the flaws within the system, the failings of the authorities and sexual abuse.

An intelligent, well-acted thriller with an all too very realistic theme, it’s a story of survival, endurance and friendship in the hardest of times.

Bait premiers at this year’s London’s Film4FrightFest on August 29th and will be released on DVD in the UK on September 7th.

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Hayley Alice Roberts.

Hayley’s Horror Reviews

Zombies in the Countryside, An Interview with Dominic Brunt (Before Dawn)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2013 by Hayley's Horror Reviews

Back in October I was fortunate enough to catch a screening and Q&A of Before Dawn, a refreshing take on the Zombie sub-genre at one of my favorite horror festivals Celluloid Screams  in Sheffield. Set in the picturesque Yorkshire countryside, Before Dawn focuses on the relationship breakdown of a married couple determined to solve their differences, the film uses the idea of zombies as a backdrop, giving the film a stronger sense of depth than your average splatter, zombie flick! In my top horror movies of 2012, Before Dawn ranked at a well-deserved #4 due to its well-written characters, its commentary on issues people face in our society today, the stunning cinematography and of course its scare-tastic zombie make-up! In this interview, director and leading man Dominic Brunt discusses the making of the film, the positive response the film has gained since its Frightfest debut, Emmerdale, future projects and of course I couldn’t resist asking him about that OTHER Yorkshire based horror film in which he has a very memorable, chainsaw wielding cameo!

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1. When did your interest in the horror genre begin?

My friend’s dad owned Accrington Video in the early eighties, before there was certification for home video hire. We used to watch loads of horror films at the weekend and spent our time laughing our arses off and cheering at the special effects and gore. This was pre-CGI and very often their efforts were better than todays more sterile attempts. I probably know every word of dialogue from Evil Dead and Dawn of the Dead. I’m not sure if all this affected my fragile young mind but I don’t think so.

2.  Who would you say are your main influences in the genre?

Romero without a doubt but I was lucky enough to have a small part in an Alex Chandon film (Inbred) which was a dream come true. I loved his earlier films, particularly “Cradle of Fear” and I think “Inbred” is a modern classic. I can’t wait to see what he does next. The man is a horror genius and one of the kindest, most supportive human beings you could wish to meet.

3.  Your new film Before Dawn had its world premiere at FrightFest last year, what inspired the ideas behind the film?
The ideas behind Before Dawn came from my wife’s dislike for the zombie films I watch. I do seem to get through quite a lot of them in preparation for The Leeds Zombie Film Festival and It annoyed her greatly that there was no characterisation for the most part. There were other elements which bugged her like guns being pulled out left, right and centre even in British zombie flicks and ropey actors wandering around in badly fitting army/police uniforms. She just expanded on a supposition of what would happen if an outbreak were to be experienced by a normal couple like ourselves with normal lives and problems of their own to deal with. This grew into a hypothetical story which we just kept adding to with more and more “ooohh what if’s”. It was important to make their story as intriguing as possible while we set up their characters. Then all hell breaks loose and we throw the undead at this very British couple who are struggling to keep their marriage and family together. All the gore and violence had to be up to scratch and as repulsive as we could make it so most of the budget was spent on the effects and the make up.
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4.   As well as directing Before Dawn, you also have the lead role, what challenges and what benefits did that present with combining the roles of actor and director?
Well I wouldn’t necessarily work in that way again because it was very time consuming and problematic at times. I would love to just direct next time but with Before Dawn I was Producer, Actor, Director and Editor which to be honest, has left me totally exhausted. I’m over the moon with the results and with where the film has gone and what we’ve achieved but It would be easier to get more hands involved with the next project and concentrate on directing and editing. I’ve learned so much but it’s taken time to get things right. The ideal situation would be to have a film out every two or three years providing the story and ideas are strong enough. We are a good, strong gang of film nerds now and we just want to make films.
5.  Your mostly well known to the public through your role of Paddy Kirk in the long-running soap Emmerdale, what would you say are the major differences transitioning between film and television?
My first love is Emmerdale and everything else work wise has to come second to my day job which I still love to pieces. I suppose the main differences are in the dialogue which there is less of in film and also in the framing and pacing and music of course. Working on Emmerdale has taught me that scheduling is so important and sticking to that schedule is even more important. Also, the best directors can keep the mood happy and vibrant on set and always know what’s happening one step ahead of everyone else. I tried to emulate the working conditions of a tv set and tried to stay focused under stress. We also planned the Before Dawn shoot to within an inch of its life.
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6. You star alongside your wife Joanne Mitchell in Before Dawn, did you feel casting yourselves in the lead roles created a sense of authenticity for the film rather than bringing in other actors to play the parts?

The characters have their differences as do we. We are total opposites and i think that is what attracted us to each other in the first place but those very differences can be conflicting, which we used. Casting ourselves meant more funds were available to put on the screen and I’d have been gutted to have given over the part of Alex to someone else. We rehearsed in the evenings and obviously we were both available at the same time in the same place. It was our project so we were always going to play the parts.

7. The response to Before Dawn at Frightfest was very positive, what was it like for yourself and the cast and crew when attending the screening?
I was too nervous to watch it through with a paying audience for the first time. It’s one thing showing it to friends and family who are only going to encourage you and another giving it over to cinema goers with no links to you or the film.  We were delighted with the response and it made it all worth while. The support which we received from the FrightFest team lead on to so many other fantastic opportunities for Before Dawn and ultimately a cinema and DVD release through Metrodome in February.
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8.   You also worked on another horror film recently, Alex Chandon’s INBRED, which is rapidly becoming a cult classic, tell us about your experience working on the film?
I would happily work for Alex any time he wanted me to. In fact I’d give an arm in exchange for a part in his next film. I was very lucky to be involved in such a great film. It’s absolutely insane and works brilliantly.
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9.  Would you say there are any similarities between INBRED and Before Dawn in terms of style and influence?

I would say they are very different films apart from both looking and feeling British and in fact wearing their Britishness on their sleeves. I suppose they are both violent but with different intentions behind them.

10.   So what’s next? Have you got any more genre related projects lined up?
We shot two shorts last year (After Three and Grace’s Story in post-production) which we’re very proud of and we’re in pre-prouction with our next feature which will be an ultra-violent revenge drama.
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Keep your eyes peeled for a Before Dawn DVD release this February!
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Interviewer: Hayley Alice Roberts
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Celluloid Screams 2012: Day Three Coverage

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 1, 2012 by Hayley's Horror Reviews

Day Three proved to be the most spook-tastic day at Celluloid Screams with strong contenders in both genre features and shorts. Unfortunately Celluloid were unable to screen the UK premiere of Memory of the Dead due to a technical difficulty which could not have been rectified at the time. I missed Entity also due to taking a break, but I really hope I can view it soon as I’ve heard very good things. Sunday had so much to offer in terms of films and guests and was full of surprises!

Leyenda (2011) (UK Premiere) (Short)

This short from Spain plays out as a warped post-modern fairytale, reminiscent of the style and tone of the Brothers Grimm. A ten-year-old girl named Claudia reads her fairytale about a “big bad wolf” type creature much to her mother’s dismay on a car journey. When the family make a stop at the gas station, a mysterious woman appears and creates carnage and bloodshed. Leyenda is dark and brutal and holds no barriers, its a terrifying watch and requires a strong stomach, however the violence is done very well and leaves the heart racing.

Before Dawn (2012) + Q&A with Director/Actor Dominic Brunt and Producer/Actress Joanne Mitchell

With their marriage on the rocks Alex (Played by Dominic Brunt) and Meg (Played by Joanne Mitchell) retreat to the Yorkshire countryside in an attempt to fix their troubled relationship, but little do they know a zombie epidemic has spread across the area. As they attempt to fix their problems in a tense atmosphere, Meg soon falls victim to the virus after being attacked and bitten by a zombie, now Alex must do all he can and figure out what lengths he will go to in order to save his wife, will they be able to salvage what they have before its too late? Before Dawn incorporates stunning cinematography of the Yorkshire landscapes, and a sense of gritty British drama as it hybrids a social realist style with edge-of-the-seat, gory horror. The film is most definitely a refreshing take on the Zombie sub-genre. Joanne Mitchell proves that there are more avenues available to go down as a writer when it comes to the zombie concept rather than churning out a repetitive formula that’s been done over and over again. Along with Dominic Brunt’s direction, they really pull it off and the result is a relate-able story with identifiable characters.

Its every day life with a horror metaphor as a backdrop, Meg is very career driven while Alex is out of a job, the social and economical frustrations that affect many relationships in today’s society is therefore played out. Brunt and Mitchell ensure that the audience gains a sense of understanding and empathy with Alex and Meg and are compelled into their story. The whole scenario feels very naturalistic due to Dominic and Joanne’s existing chemistry and a lot of authenticity is brought into their performances. Nicky Evans is brilliant in a small role, his character Stephen’s scenes with Alex are great to watch with the right balance of humor and intensity. Apart from the performances, the FX used were outstanding and are some of the most detailed zombie make-up effects that have been featured in a recent horror film, Meg is barely recognizable when she turns. The FX team have achieved special effects of an impressive standard. Before Dawn is a must see and holds a wider appeal even beyond only genre fans. If you enjoy Horror, British realism or even Emmerdale and Shameless then this is the film for you!

Resolution (2012) (UK Premiere) + Q&A with Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

An unexpected and unconventional entry into the Horror circuit, Resolution is psychologically creepy while at the same time has an endearing commentary on what it truly means to be friends and what we do for those we care about. After seeing directors Aaron and Justin’s dynamic during their introduction and Q&A it is clear where the heart of this story really comes from, not only that but they are hilariously funny guys and stole the show at this year’s festival! Their collaboration has resulted in a genuinely interesting, heart-warming and sinister film. Resolution begins when Michael (played by peter Cilella) is sent a video of his best friend Chris (played by Vinny Curran) passed out in an abandoned cabin high on drugs, he then makes the decision to intervene. Chris is apathetic about the situation and has accepted that he is nothing more than a junkie, Michael handcuffs him to a pipe and forces him to go cold turkey in an attempt to help his friend sort his life out. The tension between the two friends is played out well with very sincere performances from the lead actors. Michael soon realizes that Chris never sent the video and from then on the two find themselves caught up in a series of odd events as they try to investigate who or what is manipulating them. Resolution is cleverly written, it takes genre fans out of expected cliches and does something different, the idea of the unknown and the mystery surrounding the events that unfold for Michael and Chris gives out an unsettling feeling for the viewer but keeps the audience gripped throughout. With likeable characters and a strong narrative Resolution shines as a genre piece, however there are so many layers to it than first imagined.

Him Indoors (2012) (Short)

An agoraphobic serial killer on the brink of eviction falls into disastrous consequences when his nosy neighbor/potential date unexpectedly visits! This is one of the funniest, comedy/horror shorts that’s emerged recently. The humor is laugh out loud funny and the dynamic between Reece Shearamith and The Woman’s Pollyanna McIntosh is just brilliant. Gregory Brewster is a modern day, bumbling version of Norman Bates, notions from Hitchcock’s Psycho are loosely referenced as well as Rear Window in terms of how no one really knows what goes on behind closed doors. It has a bit of a kitchen sink feel to it as well however it exaggerates an every day occurrence and uses it to its advantage. Him Indoors is without a doubt a highlight!

Excision (2012)

Take Tod Solondz and mix in some Lucky McGee with a hint of Ginger Snaps and the result is Excision! Visually, Excision is intriguing and mesmerizing to look at with its disturbing fantasy sequences. Its a twisted coming-of-age tale with some truly squeamish moments, Excision depicts the dark side of suburbia and how appearances can be deceiving. Pauline (played by Annalynne McCord) is a severely cynical and socially awkward teenager with a morbid and eventually dangerous obsession for surgery, she lives with her controlling mother (Played by Traci Lords), reserved father (Played by Roger Bart) and her long-suffering sister Grace (played by Ariel Winter) who has cystic fibrosis. Her family fail to understand her and the film portrays a breakdown in family communication as Pauline struggles to make sense of the world around her.  She goes as far as convincing herself that she can perform a surgical procedure to “cure” Grace resulting in horrific and devastating consequences. There are some wonderful cameos from the likes of John Waters and Malcolm McDowell which adds to its promising cult feel. Its a fairly satisfying film that pays off well, leaving the audience unsettled. Annalynne McCord is mostly known for her part in TV’s 90210, an American teenage-based drama, therefore the fact she plunged into this unconventional role as a repulsive and disturbed teenager is an interesting move. She proves herself as an exceptional young actress, and makes the character difficult to achieve empathy with for the majority of the film. Even if the main character is unlikeable, her psychological state keeps the audience drawn in and questions whether she will redeem herself by the film’s end. Excision is beautifully shot and edited and was the perfect way to close Celluloid Screams 2012.

And now for the fun…Short Film and Feature Winners + Closing Ceremony…I also encountered some INBREDS!

Final Thoughts (and a summary of my festival highlights):

Hayley Alice Roberts