Irish Film Review: Torment

Stephen Porzio unearths Jason Figgis’ latest slice of horror, Torment, in which a man is buried alive in punishment for a heinous crime while a couple struggle to come to terms with a dreadful loss.

Jason Figgis has become a staple of the Irish independent film festival circuit. I admire his prolific nature (he makes about two or three movies as year, as well as contributing to various anthology films) and his passion for cinema. However, sometimes in the past I’ve found that his creativity has occasionally been stymied by the low-budget parameters in which he works. His output, like Urban Traffik and Don’t You Recognise Me?, is often ingeniously plotted and his themes regarding familial dysfunction, revenge and violence are consistently interesting. Yet sometimes a dodgy special effect or an amateurish performance from a supporting actor can take the viewer out of the fictional world Figgis otherwise creates very well.

In this respect Torment – his latest playing at IFI’s Horrorthon on October 29th – is a step-up from his previous work. The film focuses on two interlocking stories. Bill Fellows (Lady Macbeth) plays a man who is buried alive and taunted by a sinister disembodied voice over an intercom. Meanwhile, a married couple (played by Cora Fenton and Bryan Murray) attempt to cope with grief and loss. Over the course of the film, we come to realise how these three characters are connected.

Torment is a film which narratively plays to Figgis’ strength. It combines the high-concept plot of Don’t You Recognise Me? (a film about a documentarian who gets more than he bargained for when hired to film a young wannabe gangster’s daily activity) with the character-driven intense family drama of Urban Traffik. The result: a blend of the claustrophobia of Ryan Reynolds’ vehicle Buried with the bleak horror of Lars von Trier’s Antichrist.

The low-budget nature of the film (it’s almost all gloomy interiors and shots from inside the coffin) feels like a benefit to Figgis this time around. Not only does the plot not demand the type of special effects used in his other output but the less polished style adds a real rawness to Torment. This sensation is vital since it’s a film, without getting into spoiler territory, about the horrors of grief and violence.

The performances here are the most consistently good of Figgis’ filmography with Fenton (The Young Offenders) delivering a tour de force as a mother who has lost everything and is failing to cope with the situation. She is so good that at times it’s almost a difficult to watch because her wails of sadness feel very authentic.

This brings me to my warnings about the film. As its title suggests, it’s an incredibly bleak, often uncomfortable movie to sit through. It tackles dark, transgressive issues and their effects on people in a very serious manner – more seriously than the typical campy or genre-based Horrorthon entry. If one is looking for something light and enjoyable, I’d suggest giving Torment a miss. However, those looking for something that will stay with them and if a haunting evocation of emotional suffering sounds compelling to you, Figgis’ latest is a must.

 

Torment screens on Sunday,  29th October 2017 at 23.00 as part of IFI Horrorthon, October 26th to 30th 2017. 

Tickets here

 

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Horrorthon Podcast with Directors Jason Figgis & Mark Sheridan

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Horrorthon Podcast with Directors Jason Figgis & Mark Sheridan

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In this podcast, Paul Farren talks to directors Jason Figgis and Mark Sheridan about their films, Don’t You Recognise Me? and Crone Wood, which are screening as part of the IFI Horrorthon.

 

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Don’t You Recognise Me?

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Events spiral dangerously out of control when a documentary maker takes a self-styled Dublin gangster as the subject of his latest film.

Don’t You Recognise Me? screens at the IFI on Thursday, 27th October 2016 @ 23.10

The screening will be introduced by director Jason Figgis.

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Screening as part of IFI Horrorthon 2016.

 

Crone Wood

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A young couple in the early stages of their romance find themselves in potentially lethal danger when they decide to camp in a remote area.

Crone Wood screens at the IFI on Sunday, 30th October 2016 @ 23.20

The screening will be introduced by director Mark Sheridan.

Book Tickets

Screening as part of IFI Horrorthon 2016.

 

 

 

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Irish Film Review Urban Traffik

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Clare Murray & Damien Guiden

Stephen Porzio looks at Jason Figgis’ feature Urban Traffik. A seemingly homeless man with a dark intent, faces tough choices in Dublin’s underbelly when a free-spirited, intended victim forces him to revaluate his life.

 

Urban Traffik is an interesting movie that, for the most part, rises above its low-budget conception. Set in Dublin, it centres upon Adam (Damien Guiden) and Annie (Claire Blennerhasset), two siblings who become embroiled in illegal activity. Adam works as a “runner” for brothel owner, Dan (Anthony Kirwan). His job is to seduce women on the fringes of society into sex work. Meanwhile, Annie, in between taking care of her and Adam’s now paralysed but previously abusive father, begins a relationship with Dan. However, it’s unclear whether she is aware of her lover’s dodgy dealings.

The movie features an unusually murky but peculiarly striking cinematography. There is an emphasis throughout on the graffiti-strewn backstreets of Dublin, which succeeds in conveying how grim post-recession Ireland can be in certain areas of the city. Yet, despite this, the movie manages to catch the viewer off-guard with a handful of eye-catching images, such as these recurring, dream-like tracking shots of the women Adam “recruits” walking through Dublin’s city centre. Also, the scenes of Ireland’s capital at night, where even huge buildings become obscured by the blackness of the night sky, create a real gloomy atmosphere, mirroring the darkness of its central characters’ lives.

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Damien Guiden as Adam

There is also a pro-women undercurrent to the movie which unexpectedly sneaks up on the viewer. Despite its story’s focus on women being exchanged like currency, Urban Traffik’s female characters are its most interesting. For a large portion of the drama, one thinks writer-director Jason Figgis is setting up his male protagonist as a potential hero. Adam becomes romantically involved with Amy (Clare Murray) who he had originally planned to sell to his employers, putting him in conflict with Dan. However, although one would think Adam would be the person to make a stand against his boss, he instead falters. It is actually Annie who becomes the heroic figure, taking the step her brother would not. Also, at a time where movies such as Noel Clarke’s Brotherhood still get criticised for the gratuitous nakedness of its female characters, it’s refreshing to see a movie dealing with prostitution to feature little to no nudity and not sexualise the portrayal of its victimised women.

In its final moments, the film’s low-budget roots rare their ugly head. Figgis ends on a climactic moment, evoking memories of the finales of Taxi Driver or even the recent Dheepan. However, he employs slow-motion to such an extent that cheapens the movie’s denouement. That said, I think the reason this scene sticks out so much is because it jars with Figgis’ knack for authenticity. He mines very natural performances from his cast, particularly from Blennerhasset and Murray (who both convey so much sadness with limited screen-time), while the world he creates feels real and lived in. He is clearly a writer-director to watch and with a bigger budget could produce something quite special.

 

Urban Traffik premiered at the Underground Cinema Film Festival on 11th September 2016

 

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‘Don’t You Recognise Me?’ Festival Success

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Jason Figgis’ film, Don’t You Recognise Me?, was recently were selected for its world premiere at the Starburst International Film Festival in the UK, where it picked up the Best Performance for actor Darren Travers at the Starburst Fantasy Awards.

The film has since been selected for its US premiere at the Fright Night Film Festival in Louisville, Kentucky in November.

In Don’t You Recognise Me?, Tony (Matthew Toman) is planning his next documentary. He’s going to spend a day in the life of someone who lives his life as a self-styled gangster on a rough Dublin estate. Meeting up with K (Jason Sherlock), he’s welcomed into the seemingly amiable young man’s flat and introduced to his friends and (multiple) girlfriends. K tells Tony that he’s taken on his father’s role in the community following his murder, and is seething at the similar loss of one his ‘brothers’ the year previously. He appears to have his heart in the right place, but his genial side slips when they later bump into someone who owes him money. As the day progresses, Tony and his film crew will learn far more than they bargained for about K’s life, his family, and morals.

 

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Director Jason Figgis on ‘The Ecstasy of Isabel Mann’

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The Ecstasy of Isabel Mann is the story of a troubled teenager Isabel Mann (Ellen Mullen), who is seduced into an incredibly violent sect of day-walking vampires. Her classmates start to go missing and on the trail of the gruesome murders are two detectives – Witham (Neill Fleming), who believes her to be the prime suspect, and Barrett (Matthew Toman), who has his doubts.

Ahead of the film’s premiere at the IFI Horrorthon, director Jason Figgis tells Film Ireland about putting the film together.

After the DVD and VOD release of my horror feature Children of a Darker Dawn (2013) in the US and Canada in December of last year, I was already deep into post-production on my new feature film, The Ecstasy of Isabel Mann. Because we received some fantastic responses to the film based on its naturalistic and almost prosaic approach to Dystopian life after the Apocalypse, it made me realise that the journey to making the latter film was naturally following the same process arc.

I wanted to try and realise a horror film that was more about the relationships between the characters and the journey they were on – more than any horror that might emerge from the more genre specific aspects of the story. Yes, it is a film about vampires but the word ”vampire” is never uttered in the film itself. Perhaps it is about mental illness too? Some of these elements are more about what the individual takes away from the experience of watching the film than the film itself.

Ellen Mullen, who portrayed Cassandrain in Children of a Darker Dawn, was the natural choice to play the lead role of the troubled Isabel. She has a maturity as an actress that is uncommon in a girl of her age (16 at the time of shooting) and brought a melancholic beauty to the performance. We also brought back Adam Tyrrell from Children, this time as Isabel’s estranged boyfriend, Aaron. We needed a young actor with sensitivity to portray the vulnerability of a teenager who is unable to cope with the ultimate reality of what Isabel is going through. Several other actors returned from the previous film in supporting roles; actors I knew I could rely on. The other central roles were filled by predominately new actors, with Saorla Wright being a stand out as Isabel’s best friend Jacinta ‘Jay” Rossi.

We didn’t have any traditional funding from funding bodies so the process of realising the film was a slow one, with a lot of the post-production handled by myself. I ended up editing, grading and doing the full sound mix too. My producing partner Matthew Toman gave great support, as did Jason Shalloe as Line-Producer in the earlier stages of the production. Alan Rogers was my Director of Photography and he has subsequently gone on to shoot my latest two features – Family and Don’t You Recognise Me?, both of which are now in post-production. Michael Richard Plowman (Children of a Darker Dawn, A Lonely Place to Die, Age of Heroes) is another regular collaborator and he supplied a beautiful score that is complimented by tunes from three excellent bands – Irish chart-toppers Youth Mass (who supplied the closing song and theme), London outfit Moho Mynoki and US/Italy combo Soft Pill. We filmed the entire production in North and South county Dublin in several key locations around the city and suburbs.

 

The Ecstasy of Isabel Mann screens on Sunday, 26th October 2014 at 23.10 as part of IFI Horrorthon 2014 (23rd – 27th October). The film will be introduced by director Jason Figgis.

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‘Family’ Wraps Production

Dee Clancy - Family

Irish film and TV production company October Eleven Pictures (in association with Pop Twist Entertainment Inc) have just wrapped production on their latest feature film Family, which stars Lynn Rafferty (Love/Hate) and Stuart Dunne (The Snapper, The Van).

This feature film, which is produced by Matthew Toman and written and directed by Jason Figgis is a violent tale which looks at the dilemmas facing 29 year old Dee Clancy (Rafferty) who, away for three years in Germany, is forced to return to Dublin following the brutal murder of her younger brother Steo.

Discovering who is behind the vicious crime, she is left with no alternative but to settle the score – with brute force; the only way she has ever known. Tracking the criminal network throughout the city, she determines to take them out one by one until she will finally come face to face with her old adversary Joe Bruton (Dunne).

Filmed in Dublin in March and April 2014, Family is currently in post-production at a facility in Belgium. Director of Photography on the project is Alan Rogers. The film will be scored by regular collaborator Michael Richard Plowman with sound from Jordan Balbirnie and make-up from Tori Campbell.

The feature film is set for a Summer 2014 release.

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October Eleven Pictures Complete Post Production on ‘Railway Children’

 

October Eleven Pictures (‘A Christmas Carol’) have just completed post production on a new feature film that looks at a post-apocalyptic society where only children roam the world after a devastating virus has left all the adults dead.

Railway Children follows the fortunes of two teenage sisters Evie (Catherine Wrigglesworth) and Fran (Emily Forster) who have been travelling from town to town, gathering food and finding accommodation as they move from place to place. They keep to themselves; Evie reading chapters from E. Nesbit’s classic children’s story ‘The Railway Children’ to her little sister in an attempt to bring a sense of normality to their bleak existence – the novel was a favourite bedtime read as both girls were growing up; their mother (Jennifer Graham) their favourite reader.

Finding overnight shelter in a derelict building, the sisters soon settle down only to be awoken by shouts from another room. Investigating, Evie witnesses the beating of a girl. She watches in horror until the mob leaves the building and the girl behind. Tentatively going to her aid, the girl whom Evie discovers is called Alice (Justine Rodgers) leads them to a large building at the edge of the city from where they hear singing coming from a basement window. They investigate . . .

. . .so begins a battle of wills between newcomers and those holding tenuous threads of a commune civilisation together; add to this further invidious threats from two of the girls’ darker pasts and an already tense atmosphere is soon to explode into violence.

Writer/Director Jason Figgis (‘The Twilight Hour’, ‘A Christmas Carol’) workshopped the film with 40 teenage first-time screen actors for twelve months at Habemus Performing Arts School in Dundrum before embarking on the exciting but tough task of bringing this post-apocalyptic world to the screen.

After two well received screenings of the film for cast and crew at Light House Cinema in Dublin, the sci-fi chiller is now on the festival circuit. Its first stop will be the 3rd Underground Cinema Film Festival at Dun Laoghaire this September.

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Irish Adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol’ Distributed on Facebook

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Jason Figgis’ adaptation of the Charles Dickens’ famous novella A Christmas Carol has become the first film to be cast, crewed, financed and distributed on Facebook.

Figgis’ version of A Christmas Carol was made over two years in and around Dublin for just under €1,200, with cast and crew working for nothing and has been warmly approved by The Dickens Fellowship. Any actor or technician who worked on the film can now earn 25% of the gross rental price by selling the film from their own website/Facebook page.

It is the first new production based on a work by Charles Dickens to premiere in 2012 – Charles Dickens’ bicentenary year – and was launched at 12:01am on 1st January 2012 on the Dickens Fellowship website,

You can rent the whole adaptation or watch a preview clip on the film’s Facebook page here.

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