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Festival Report: Helsinki’s NIGHT VISIONS 2014

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Helsinki’s 2014 edition of its Night Visions genre festival is the biggest yet. Following its Cultural Achievement Award from the city two years ago, the small festival has grown to encompass a program of over 40 feature films, with a roster of international guests and the odd live event or two. Top of the pile is John McNaughton, presenting both his notorious debut HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER and his newest film, THE HARVEST, starring Samantha Morton, Michael Shannon and Peter Fonda. Directors Pablo Larcuen and Randy Moore are also present with, respectively, the iPhone-shot horror HOOKED UP and the off-kilter ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW; director Simeon Halligan and his producing partner Rachel Richardson-Jones are here with their Brit-thriller WHITE SETTLERS; and Spanish actor/producer Marcos Ortiz presents the caving horror IN DARKNESS WE FALL. Its director Alfredo Montero would have joined him but became a father three days before. Ortiz says he deserves the trip anyway. 

Things get off to a shaky start on Tuesday evening with a world premiere musical event by respected Finnish musicians Jori Hulkkonen and Jimi Tenor. They’ve directed their first film, the hour-long NUNTIUS, and will only be showing it in environments where they can perform the music live. It’s intriguing if not earth shattering, surreal to the point of not really making much sense. But there’s an interesting moment of fourth wall breaking when the lead actor, ‘Mr Normall’, appears in the room in front of the screen and delivers an object that later shows up again in the film. I’ve no idea what it was all about though, and I wasn’t exactly humming the tunes afterwards. But full marks for experimentation, I guess.

Elsewhere in the festival, everything’s more confidently underway. While it’s so sociable that it can be difficult to get to any films because there’s always someone going to dinner or hanging out in a nearby rock bar, there’s certainly plenty to see, and it’s an eclectic line-up. Far from being just a horror festival – although horror is well represented and the thing takes place at Halloween – there’s plenty of action, drama and sci-fi too: Gabe Ibáñez’ slick AUTOMATA, starring a gaunt-looking Antonio Banderas; Zak Hilditch’s gnarly THESE FINAL HOURS; Abel Ferrara’s WELCOME TO NEW YORK; David Cronenberg’s MAPS TO THE STARS; Nacho Vigolondo’s OPEN WINDOWS; Brian O’Malley’s LET US PREY; Jaume Balaguero’s [REC] 4… the list goes on. The biggest crowd-pleaser and winner of the Audience Award is Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s hilarious WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS. But second place, surprisingly, went to FUTURE SHOCK!, an honest and entertaining documentary about the British comic 2000AD.

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McNaughton’s “HARVEST”

Also in the documentary strand were Japanese punk tale GET ACTION!, Richard Stanley’s curious supernatural odyssey THE OTHERWORLD, and THE GO-GO BOYS, charting the rise and fall of the infamous Cannon Films. The latter provides the glorious excuse for some of the more eccentric programming within the festival: scattered throughout the line-up are late-night screenings of the mindblowing Chuck Norris bloodbath INVASION USA; Charles Bronson slasher flick TEN TO MIDNIGHT; and Gary Goddard’s ridiculous Dolph Lundgren camp-fest MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE. I didn’t stay up until 5am on Sunday morning for He-Man, but there were plenty that did.

As ever, there’s a Halloween dinner, this year at Helsinki’s B-Smokery, and Friday night’s party at Bar Loose as usual includes Pertti Kurikka doing his weird Euroymous turn, screaming about Hell for a few minutes while a hooded figure behind him crafts terrifying soundscapes on a moog. This is followed by the ‘queencore’ band iMi getting the crowd going before the DJ starts playing anything and everything from Slayer to Belinda Carlisle. Somehow it works. Much smoking and drinking means the peaceful, secluded lakeside sauna the next day is very welcome before the home stretch of Saturday’s all-nighter.

But before the end, a word on Thursday, during which the festival’s invited guests are given a comprehensive presentation about the so-called Nordic Genre Invasion. A coalition of Finnish, Danish and Norwegian production companies, it’s been formed to promote Nordic genre cinema overseas, hoping for breakout success of the type that Nordic crime thrillers enjoyed in the wake of Stieg Larsson and THE KILLING.

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Kjetil Omberg (Norway) presents on the DEAD SNOW movies, revealing in the process that DEAD SNOW 3 is currently being written for a projected release in 2018, and that Hitler will show up on screen next time! Denmark’s Mona Skriver talks about DOULA: a cross between a redneck survival horror and a gothic ghost story pencilled in for 2016. Aleksi Hyvärinen (Finland) has a film based on the killings at Lake Bodom (BODOM) and a comedy horror about old-aged vampires (OLD BLOOD), both of which are works in progress, but both of which have effective teaser trailers to drum up financier interest. AJ Anilla (Finland) has slow-burner DON’T COME AFTER ME in the works, about a baby left to die in a forest who infiltrates her family as a babysitter 17 years later. And perhaps most intriguingly, Finnish producer Mark Lwoff (whose Coen-ish drama THE SWEDISH MOMENT plays at the festival on Saturday evening) presents on WHITE POINT: a car-chase movie envisaged as taking place entirely on ice! “We have these elements of ice and snow in the north, so we should use them!” says screenwriter Vesa Vertanen.

“I wouldn’t work on that film for a million dollars,” chuckles John McNaughton, imagining the horrifying logistics.

A great line-up and a great week then, with glimpses of projects that, if they come to fruition, we’re sure to see at future festivals, both here in Finland and internationally. I always come back from Night Visions exhausted. Looking forward to next year!

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About the author
Owen Williams
Owen Williams read English Literature at university during the '90s, but preferred the company of engineers and physicists because they liked STAR TREK and metal. A regular contributor to Empire magazine, he has also been widely published elsewhere, and lives in the South-East of England with an academic and a cat. He doesn’t really blog and very rarely tweets.
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