Ghouls! Ghosts! Chocolate! Sweets! Mummies! Werewolves! Spiders! Fake blood! Orange and black polyester things EVERYWHERE! It’s Halloween season!!!
We thought this was the perfect opportunity for a (seriously) belated review of our experience at Film 4 FrightFest, which packs a weekend in August full of the best hand-picked horror films there is under one scary roof (this year, it was the humongous Vue cinema smack-bang in the middle of Leicester Square). We were lucky enough to catch the 9-years-in-the-making Frank-Miller-and-Robert-Rodriguez-directed Sin City: A Dame To Kill For.
At its core, Film 4 FrightFest isn’t just a weekend stuffed front-to-back with screenings of debut horror films, unearthing of the legendary ones, indie showcases, and everything in between. It’s the total focus on creating the illusion of a horror festival – a community, an experiment, an adventure – that really makes it a special thing. Tricks, shocks, guest appearances and surprise screenings are rumored to pop up more often than not, keeping it interactive and a real event rather than passive watching.
FrightFest also taps into the fan-known fact that watching a horror in the cinema with other die-hard horror fans is incomparable with watching one with a less horror-inclined audience (girlfriends dragged along by their boyfriends etc.). You are a community of brave explorers, brave enough to throw yourself into the deep end of dark cinema, for a whole 5 days, and it’s the communal experience they’re offering, and which brings FrightFesters back time and time again.
As to the film, we schizophrenically interviewed ourselves about the main issues we think it raised and that got talked about mostly. Happy reading… and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!
AMELIA: First and foremost, it’s clear that A Dame To Kill For is from a man’s perspective, made for men. The subject matter is graphic novel which is considered male territory anyway. As a woman, I found it hard to ignore the fact that Eva Green spends the majority of the film topless… and isn’t the point of a femme fatale to be more mysterious and alluring then just plain naked? It took something away from the character I think. It was a bit gimmicky, even if she played the role very well.
HOLLY: I really enjoyed her character. I thought she embodied the femme fatale stereotype to a T – especially when she drives the police inspector to top himself out of mad desire (a great, meaty moment). She used her sexuality to dominate which is the point of a femme fatale. I started to ignore her state of nakedness after a while, which was just a bizarre distraction. Of course it was from a man’s perspective – from the scopophilic camera watching Jessica Alba ‘strip’ (she doesn’t strip at all) to her inability to do anything without the support of Bruce Willis’ ghost guiding her – but I would not say it was misogynistic because of this. It was a parody of film noir itself, and that was the point I think.
A: Women do run Old Town, but there’s just no getting away from the fact that this is a man’s playground. All those women are prostitutes. Again, they use there sexuality as a weapon to dominate – but the bigger power in the Basin City is clearly money.
Jessica Alba as a Vengeful Stripper?
A: I find Jessica Alba to have a limited range of expression and to be a bland actress in general. The role could have had so much more to it, but she was just constantly overcome by her demons, and her determination never amounted to anything.
H: In the end, Jessica Alba wins by achieving her goal of killing the Senator to avenge her love Hartigan, but she mutilates herself – rejects her beauty in order to win. She also needs big bad Marv to kill all the bad guys for her. When she eventually does kill the Senator, you don’t actually see it happen or feel empowered at all; it’s a really weak moment. She’s also not really sassy enough or expressive enough, as you’re saying, to be a convincing stripper. I actually thought Juno Temple, who was playing Sally, the prostitute, would have fared much better…
All Style no Substance?
H: A Dame To Kill For is pure, visceral entertainment and one big genre allusion, and I enjoyed it for that. It was an exercise in style and the visuals are beautiful, especially watching it in 3D and in the environment of that cinema. Everything was atmospheric and accentuated, from the rain to the blood to the cigarette smoke (and there was a lot of it all).
A: It was without a doubt a really memorable and enjoyable viewing experience, but it had none of the innovation of the first Sin City, which people were clearly disappointed about after such a long wait. It was a lot more packaged and shiny, more focused on the wow-factor of the visuals than the actual storylines. In terms of experimental filmmaking, which Miller and Rodriguez’s first Sin City belongs to on some level, this fell flat.
H: I agree, but how could it have been experimental with a style that was a decade old? The micro-plots laid on the action as thick as possible. I think it was very self-aware that it had a mountain to climb to impress people, and I think they tried to do it through humour…
Why was there clear and present humour in the second Sin City, as opposed to the first?
A: I think it needed to take itself more seriously to win over die-hard fans. The comedy made it enjoyable but lighter – it’s like it already knew it wasn’t capable of making the same impact, so it stuck to pastiche, irony and glossy visuals. There was very little that felt ‘edgy’.
H: Was A Dame To Kill For making fun of itself? There was something overly self-conscious and ironic in the comedy (Marv telling Nancy ‘You look hot’ bluntly, for instance), in such a contrast to the first one where it was all deadly serious. It made it less dark and reflected the focus back to the surface. If nothing else, it was skin-tinglingly enjoyable throughout.
The Final Word: A sequel to kill for? Not so much
Check out FrightFest’s Halloween all-nighter at the Prince Charles Cinema if you want to be seriously disturbed… (we know we do).