Screen reports from the opening night of Film4 FrightFest which saw the UK premiere of Adam Wingard’s The Guest.
Film4 FrightFest veteran Andy Nyman was keen to highlight that - despite its new home at the Vue Leicester Square - FrightFest was going to be exactly the same in its 15th edition.
“All the things you know and love are exactly the same. You are still going to have to queue endlessly for a piss, probably miss the beginning of the film you want to see,” joked Nyman.
Nyman was given the tricky task of following Bobcat Goldthwait, who introduced last year’s festival, and passed with flying colour thanks to a series of gently mocking insults, including the new style of splitting the Main Screen programme across three screens.
“You may or may not know that they have divided the screens into groups: the Horror Channel screen is for goths; Discovery Screens 1 and 2 are for virgins; Arrow Video, weirdoes; and Film4, smug motherfuckers.”
Before introducing the festival directors, Nyman couldn’t resist one last gag at FrightFest’s expense: “You know you’re going to find your new favourite film and sit through some piece of shit as well, but that is the joy of FrightFest.”
The festival kicked off in earnest with the UK premiere of Adam Wingard’s The Guest, with director-writer Simon Barrett and star Maika Monroe in attendance for a post-screening Q&A.
A perfect fit as a FrightFest opener, the film is an unpredictable genre-splicer and notably features an unexpected turn from Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens.
Wingard explained: “The whole point of making that character work is that it almost had to be somebody that you wouldn’t expect to take the turn he does.
“Having this impression of Dan as the nice gentlemen from Downton played to its strengths in a lot of ways as, similarly, he has to deceive the family in the same way.”
Its origins lay in a script that Barrett had already partly written about a soldier who takes revenge on a crimelord’s family. “I wrote 30 pages and thought ‘I don’t want to see this’,” recalled Barrett.
“When Adam said he wanted to do a really lean, action-based horror-thriller, it occurred to me that the dynamic would work really well with it.
“There were things I liked about those pages, but it was just something no-one would want to see. The sense of fun and genre saved it.”
For Wingard, it was critical that the film felt like it wasn’t parodying the era but “something that had the same headspace”.
Key to this was the film’s striking score by Steve Moore. “When we were having our first conversation about it, it was very important to me that the score didn’t sound like you were trying to sound like the 80s movie - more that it had an authenticity to it.”
Horror fan Monroe – who also stars in David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, which festival director Alan Jones teased the FrightFest crowd by saying they’d see it early next year – was cast because she understood the film Wingard and Barrett were trying to make.
“We met with a few other actresses, but Maika was the only one who got the humour right away,” said Barrett.
“We think there’s a lot of humour in our films but, statistically, not a lot of people agree, so it’s interesting to meet actors like Dan and Maika who get it, because it’s hard to explain to people who will never get it.”
Film4 FrightFest continues until Aug 25. The Guest will be released in UK cinemas through Icon Film Distribution on Sept 5.