EIFF - Day 3: "If it bleeds, we can review it..."

Submitted by Al Innes on Sun, 19 Jun '11 6.59pm

On Day three I decided to catch up with the actual films of the festival and try to leave the critical theory behind me for a day. So I went to catch a couple of movies on a horror theme, achieving my primary goal, but I didn’t really leave the critical theory behind me. There is a common misconception that film festivals are where the budget movies always trump the big boys. I found out that in the world of horror at least, that isn’t always the case.

Rabies (Kalevet) is an Israeli psycho-in-the-woods outing and I followed it up with The Divide starring Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Aliens). In a video shop I’d always stump for the budget movie. Apparently Rabies cost $500,000 to make, but gone are the days when that price-tag means a few cheap thrills could be expected alongside card-board sets and screaming blonde girls. The Blair Witch Project, love it or hate it, marked a sea-change all those years ago.

Recently we’ve had the grimly detailed REC coming out of Spain and the now-established Sam Raimi returning to his roots with Drag Me to Hell, we've had British classics like Dog Soldiers and The Descent: modern horror is cool again. It has marked itself with a pinache for story-telling, suspense and subtlety. Modern horror is Benicio del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, it’s Peter Jackson’s Braindead team making multi-million dollar blockbusters. But it’s also the likes of SAW, and the influence of the torture-porn slasher flick on modern horror filmmakers can’t be underestimated.

Rabies is a fairly standard affair plotwise, setting you up for a clash-of-characters scenario in the woods. Although being shot in the sunshine of Israeli parkland it doesn’t come across quite the same way as a moody Evil Dead-alike sets the scene. Most of the conflict here comes from the torture scenes that substitute for suspense. It’s a basic kind of gore-fest that has all the hallmarks any SAW audience will enjoy. If we’d got to understand the reasons behind any of the mishaps here then maybe it would have been easier to relate to, but sadly we never really come to care for the characters that maliciously abandon each other over the 90 minutes. It’s not a bad movie it’s just not my cup of tea. I suspect it will do well though, and on a small budget they’ve done a good job.

The Divide however, is a different sort of beast. It’s got the budget and the stars to take the edge but it doesn’t fall into the same turgid plot traps you’d expect from a film of that type. It’s the apocalypse and there’s this bunker and a bunch of people end up in it… you’ve seen that before. Where The Divide succeeds, and it is definitely not a movie for the squeamish, is in displaying how relationships break down. There are few heroes after the end of the world; and hunger, claustrophobia and disease have a larger role to play than in most disaster movies. It’s grim, even a little extreme, but it doesn’t fall into shocks-for-the-sake-of-it and it get its point across. Think The Hole, but made into an American TV series, and you're close. It’s unapologetically bleak and a few folk in the screening couldn’t watch till the end, but while the SAW franchise can often feel cold and sadistic, this feels far more instinctive.

Rabies (Kalevet) is on the 20th at 18:00 and 22nd at 22:15 in Filmhouse 3

The Divide is on the 21st at 22:30 in the George Square Theatre and the 22nd at 22:05 in Filmhouse 1.