Matt Freckingham's first film, co-directed by SGM friend Jason Impey, was TURN HEEL. It was an enjoyably raw, deliberately lo-fi hark back to the shot-on-video splatter fests of the late 80s and early 90s - in particular those that emanated from Germany around that time: VIOLENT SHIT, THE BURNING MOON etc.
His second film, the 25-minute sensory assault which is CHERISH, is co-directed by Kerr Wykes. It merges a framing device which recreates that love of old SOV gore with a centrepiece shock sequence which proffers something far more troubling.
The film opens with Dan (Dan Grainger) trying to encourage his partner (an actress who, I'm told, would rather not be named!) to get out of the bathroom and join him for a day in the local park. Unbeknownst to Dan, his partner is pregnant - and is busy sitting on the toilet fantasising about aborting the unborn child.
Her gory dream sequence over, she joins Dan and off the pair goes for an afternoon of frolicking in the great outdoors. They play on kids' climbing frames, walk hand-in-hand ... everything seems just fine. Amusingly, the music during these moments is a chirpy number which is lifted from some UK television commercial which I can't mentally place right now.
But then, Dan makes a discovery in nearby bushes: a bloodied videocassette inside a carrier bag which also contains what looks like offal. Against his partner's wishes, Dan suggests they take the tape home and give it a play.
Unwittingly, by picking up the cassette Dan has marked himself and his partner as the next victims of cult leader The Master (Freckingham) and his masked goons. They sneak into the lovers' house and sneak sedatives into their cups of tea. But not before the oblivious couple have had the chance to sit down and watch their baiting videocassette: a hyper-disturbing fast-paced montage of real-life atrocities and fetish porn.
Everything we see during this 9-minute segment is genuine. Scat porn, chain saw violence, suicides, executions, genital mutilation, self-harming, anal fisting, road accident aftermaths ... All set to the beats of a frantic black metal tune, and editing together in quick succession.
In fact, that last matter - the editing - is a blessing of sorts, at least for more sensitive viewers. If the presentation of real hardcore gore and sickness (literally, in a couple scenes) sounds too much to bear, take solace in the fact that nothing stays on screen long enough to really get under your skin. Everything is spliced together well in this regard, ensuring that while the gorehounds and Mondo ghouls get their fill of Dark Web-esque excesses, those less sure of themselves are never given the opportunity to become overly traumatised. They may decide never to sit through this again, of course, but at least they're unlikely to need counselling afterwards.
Once the tape has ran its course and our protagonists duly nod off, it's time for The Master and his cronies to drag the pair of them into a room which has been covered in plastic sheeting. They're tied to chairs and ... Well, you'll have to get a hold of a copy if you wish to know any more!
The framing scenes are a little cheesy, enjoyably so, and work really well as such. They were shot on the FujiFilm FinePix digital camera with grain and noise added in post-production to achieve an impressively authentic look of old VHS. Replete with vertical lines and moments acting as convincing instances of damage, the look is akin to the aforementioned Andreas Schnaas and Olaf Ittenbach films, as well as the likes of Alex Chandon's BAD KARMA and Michel Ricaud's SEXANDROIDE.
In keeping with this aesthetic approach, CHERISH (the title refers to a longer version of the screenplay which afforded The Master a lot of dialogue in which he expressed his adoration for his torture subjects, which was subsequently decided against) makes efforts to look ambiguous in terms of era. Fashions and furnishings don't scream of any specific decade, with only the inclusion of a flat-screen TV belying the fact that this wasn't shot in recent times.
The pace is brisk, dialogue is minimal, the photography is bright and agreeable despite the efforts to make everything look as ugly as possible. The gore effects, by the filmmakers themselves I believe, are crude and rudimental. But that's okay but they suit the look and tone of the film perfectly, as well as serving to counterbalance against the grim true-life gore during the film-within-a-film segment.
Of that segment, there's not much to say from a reviewer's perspective ...! Clearly influenced by mix-tapes such as THE MOST DISTURBED PERSON ON PLANET EARTH and the like, it's hard to justify - but modern horror takes on many guises and reflecting the true terrors of modern society by thrusting them straight into the viewer's face (that is, exploiting the despicable videos uploaded online on a regular basis for sick kicks!) is, like it or not, a facet of the contemporary genre. Here, as well as the unsightly moments mentioned above, we have a dying camel, a live octopus surfacing from a woman's stretching vagina, some poor guy setting his own face alight ... It's hardcore stuff, despite my previous comments about it being ever-so-slightly more palatable on account of its rapid-fire presentation. Extreme cinema exists, you can't deny it.
What's it all saying, you may ask. Cherish the life you have! Appreciate the fact that you live your staid life in a country where you can be who you want, say the things you do, have your own thoughts and feel lucky to be alive. I think. That's how I look at it anyway, but I'm an optimist...
Shot in a well-framed pillar-boxed format, CHERISH looks good and is highly proficient for such a low-budget endeavour (the budget was reportedly around £150).
CHERISH was released as an extremely limited run by the Oldskull label. Due to demand, talks are currently underway with a German label who hopes to give the film a special release in 2017.
You will, by now, know if this one is for you!
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Oldskull|