SITGES 2003 Film Festival Report


Sitges2003 Since this is my last full day, I take the opportunity to go into Barcelona for some shopping. Of course I first go to the FREAKS stores at C. Alí Bey (see last year's report). Then I take the opportunity to catch up on the films I missed at last year's festival, by shopping for DVDs at the FNAC megastore at Placa de Catalunya. Sitges 2002 opener, NAMELESS director Jaume Balagueró's DARKNESS, is available in a 2-disc special edition in English, as is THE SECOND NAME, last year's Ramsey Campbell-based closer. Even better, I pick up a subtitled DVD of 800 BALAS, Álex de la Iglesias Euro-western pastiche which showed without subtitles last year!

Back to Sitges for THE UNINVITED (Lee Soon-yeon, South Korea 2003), yet another Asian spook story. A man starts to see visions of two murdered children after being hit in the head during some construction work. He encounters a woman who has fainting spells and also sees similar visions. After an engaging opening, the story is soon bogged down with unrelated details and this turns into a slow-moving film, where not much of any consequence seems to happen. It could easily have been 30 minutes shorter and much better for it. What's worse, after the initial well-made shock sequence, it is unclear how the situation with the murdered children actually relates to the rest of the story. A disappointment that might be an indication that the Japanese and Korean horror wave is finally running out of steam.

The final film of my festival is also a Korean spook show, but much more original and interesting. In INTO THE MIRROR (Kim Sung-Ho, South Korea 2003), a department store is due to be re-opened after a fire where several people were killed. But a series of strange murders occur, where the victims are apparently killed by their own mirror image! A security guard at the store is investigating the events together with the police. The guard used to be a policeman but quit after he accidentally caused the death of his partner during a hostage situation, when he shot a mirror image instead of the criminal. The film has some good use of computer-generated mirror effects and if you like those comedy scenes where someone acts against his own mirror image (like in EVIL DEAD 2) this movie is full of them, but they often turn very nasty! The ending is seriously strange as the protagonist's world turns into a surreal mirror nightmare. In all, it's a good spooky premise mixed with more traditional police action, and a well told story which ended my visit to Sitges 2003 on a high note.


A festival like Sitges is so big that any visit is bound to be characterised as much by the many films one didn't see as the few one managed to actually attend. In the FANTASTIC category, I'm especially sorry to have missed Takeshi Kitano's Samurai epic ZATOICHI (Japan 2003), Oxide Pang's thriller THE TESSERACT (Japan-Thailand-Great Britain 2003), and Julian Richards' low-budget serial killer "home movie" THE LAST HORROR FILM (Great Britain, 2003). On the other hand, "sexy" drama TWENTYNINE PALMS (Bruno Dumont, France-Great Britain-US 2003) and splatter trash UNA DE ZOMBIES (Miguel Ángel Lamata, Spain 2003) got some very bad word-of-mouth, so I'm happy I didn't make it to those screenings. I wish I'd been able to check out some of the retrospectives, like the Japanese series and the Mondo Macabro films, but there just wasn't any time! Maybe next year…

There used to be a time when festivals like Sitges was literally the only chance to see this kind of international genre films, but nowadays we are spoiled by the rapid release of high-quality DVDs, often even before a film has completed its round of the international film festival circuit. Most of the worthwhile films of Sitges 2003 should be available for home viewing within a year. Some of my festival favourites were ONG-BAK, DOPPELGANGER, INTO THE MIRROR and THE MANSON FAMILY, and these are bound to turn up on DVD sooner rather than later. On the other hand, interesting shorts like EL TREN DE LA BRUJA or USHER, not to mention CHEESE MAKES YOU DREAM and ZIPPO, don't really have any good outlet outside festivals. Interestingly, a film which I didn't like a lot initially, but has stayed with me (especially in comparison to similar but inferior films), was DÉDALES. This is the kind of film I doubt it will find much exposure outside France, but it was quite nice to have the opportunity to see it, and it's unlikely I'd have caught up with it outside the festival setting.

Finally, for the record, here are the official winners of the various competitions at Sitges 2003:



Actor: Robert Downey Jnr - Singing Detective

Actress: Cecile de la France - HAUTE TENSION

Screenplay: Michael Haneke - Le Temps du Loups

Cinematography: Decha Seementa - THE TESSERACT

Best Original Music: Keitchi Suzuki - ZATOICHI

Special Effects: Gozu

Make up effects: Gianetto de Rossi - HAUTE TENSION

Art Direction: Scott Gallagher - THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE

Best Short: El Tren de la Bruja (Spain)

Special jury award: Takashi Miike - GOZU

SGM would like to say a special 'thank you' to Lars for this report. Cheers!

Back to the main Sitges page