Saturday, August 26, 2017

Frightfest ’17: Real Gods Require Blood (short)

Imagine an episode of EastEnders directed by early-period Wes Craven and you will have an idea of this short’s film’s vibe. Technically, it is set in Manchester, but the milieu is not radically dissimilar. As if the conventional crime, poverty, and addiction were not scary enough, something very sinister might be going on behind the closed doors of the estate flat Alice is forced to visit in Moin Hussain’s short film Real Gods Require Blood (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Frightfest in the UK.

Blame the local authorities. In 1990, Manchester was about the only spot in England mired in economic doldrums. Unfortunately, Alice is usually too stoned to notice the moribund job market. This is like any other morning for her, but because she is so slow witted, she cannot conjure up an excuse (aside from the obvious fact she is an irresponsible junkie) when her neighbor strong-arms her into minding her children: a boy and girl of elementary school age, who certainly look like they have different fathers.

As Alice tries to make nice with her charges, she finds herself confused by the assorted photos and references to their “uncles.” It doesn’t exactly add up for us the viewers either and we’re sober as judges, or so we’ll assume. There is obviously something very wrong about their domestic environment, starting with the fact the TV only seems to pick up torture porn horror movies. The kids themselves seem nice enough, but as soon as Alice arrives around midday, they start pressuring her to leave before nightfall. Of course, she does not want to be there in the first place, but she feels duty-bound to stay until their mother returns.

Real Gods works rather insidiously as a chamber-style horror piece, because the socio-economic setting and the actual genre business reinforce and amplify each other. It is always hard to tell whether the greater evils are inside or outside the flat. Manchester crime novelist Tom Benn’s screenplay also obliquely hints at a deeply troubled backstory that could become a feature in its own right. Anna Berentzen convincingly portrays the drug-befogged Alice’s gradually mounting but still rather hazy suspicion that something is profoundly off about the kids and their situation. Thanks to Mick Cooke’s feverish cinematography, the viewers share her wooziness and sense of unease.

Usually, when horror movies make literary allusions, they fall back on heavy-sounding but cliched passages from The Bible or Pardise Lost, so Real Gods earns bonus point for Zora Neale Hurston. It is the sort of film Ben Wheatley fans should eat up that would also pair-up nicely with Michael O’Shea’s The Transfiguration, but viewers should take heed—some of the accents are so challenging, the entire short really ought to be subtitled. Recommended for fans of gritty, urban-centered horror films, Real Gods Require Blood screens tomorrow (8/27) as part of Short Film Showcase II, at this year’s Frightfest UK.