Of all the genres and sub-genres in cinema, there's one heart warming reason why horror films stand out from the pack. Unlike your westerns, rom-coms, war films, period dramas and the rest, the spirit of independent filmmaking runs much deeper through the scary movie than any other type of film. It’s an often overlooked component, critics lazily lambasting another gore soaked film for selling its morals up the river, bypassing the fact that the film itself was cobbled together by a now penniless bloke with nothing but enthusiasm and a love of film in his toolbox.
No other movie genre invokes this sort of warmth from its fans, warmth that inspires a pioneering spirit strong enough to drive some folks close to ruin just for the chance of adding their own independently created offering to horror cinema history. What's even more exciting is the fact that many of these super fans have created movies that have gone on to be rightful cornerstones of cinema, Night of the Living Dead (1968), Evil Dead (1982), Paranormal Activity (2007). There's a good reason for this.
Good scary cinema often relies on risk. Predictability and the cliché are death knells for horror and thriller films. But to break the mould you have to offer something new, something risky, something that hasn't been done before. Boundaries need to be pushed and that sometimes means setting out on a project that on paper sounds absurd, even a little dangerous. These aren't the sort of projects Hollywood studios greenlight very often. So its left to the independent filmmaker to scratch behind the sofa for some pennies, call in favours and set to the task themselves.
Paradoxically, considering the death fuelled content of most horror films, independent scary cinema is democracy at its finest. Great independent horror has stemmed from every corner of the globe, no matter what the nationality, age, sex or background of the courageous soul stepping behind the camera. Britain has always done its bit to keep the flow of independent horror films plump and blood filled, and there are no signs of us giving up yet. And we find no finer example of this than the recently released Young, High and Dead (2013) from first time director Luke Brady.
From the blunt title alone, the premise will sound familiar; five youths head for a night of drugs, booze and camping in the woods but run afoul of a local child killer who happens to have off-loaded the body parts of a recent victim right by their tents. There’s nothing wrong with a well-worn set-up providing the tale is presented in a way that sets the film apart from all those other teens in the forest thrillers. And that’s exactly what Brady has done. Young, High and Dead has a style that’s entirely unique, no mean feat given the ground already covered by the scary movie in this particular sub-genre. Influences are clear; the woodland shaky cam of The Blair Witch Project (1999), the foot-chase misery of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), the forest torture of Eden Lake (2008). Classic horror traits are just the initial layer of terror though. Add into the mix some of the most uneasy to watch POV shots since Peeping Tom (1959) and subliminally creepy blink-and-you’ll-miss-them scares as Brady’s quintet go wandering by torchlight, and we find ourselves breathing rarefied horror movie air.
That old horror staple of two-dimensional characters tripping up the strive for sympathy is booted into touch early as Brady’s five central players (including Inbetweeners star Hannah Tointon) pass back and forth some of the most naturalistic dialogue you’re likely to hear in a film of this type. As a result there’s plenty of sympathy to go round despite the central group being a fairly unlikeable bunch. It also does wonders for those moments where you feel you might be watching found-footage of a real tragic trip to the woods. But then lurching to the opposite end of the spectrum Brady cuts through the cinema verite presentation with unnerving techniques such as a staccato camera effect, lending the screen a slight vibration that melds with the droning soundtrack. Its an unsettling mix of a documentary horror and a druggy nightmare, all building to a climax that doesn’t disappoint for impact, offering the pay off that the slow build, oddly melancholically cold first hour demands.
It took Brady five years of hard graft to finish his project. It was five years well spent, resulting in a debut that as a horror movie calling card will hopefully set the Englishman up as a future thriller writer/director to keep a very close eye on. If a studio grants Brady the big-budget upgrade that so many of his forebears were given, we could be looking at the next Romero or Raimi hailing from our very own shores. Something that will warm the cockles of any British horror fans heart as another Halloween draws near.
If you have the nerves for it, follow the link for a glimpse of Young, High and Dead’s trailer or to order a copy of the full ninety minute nightmare: