By Cleaver Patterson.
It sounds odd that the screening for a film which is not primarily horror – at least in the generally accepted sense of the word – was the first to sell out at a festival dedicated to the genre. However that’s just what happened when tickets for the FILM4 FrightFest European premiere of director/writer Howard J. Ford’s new thriller Never Let Go went on sale. Considering the popularity of his previous hits – The Dead (2010), and its sequel The Dead 2: India (2013) – this shouldn’t perhaps be so surprising. What is unusual, however, is that Never Let Go is an urban thriller involving the sensitive subject of child abduction, two areas not normally associated with the usual horror film festival attendee. But then there is nothing remotely normal about this cinematic journey, which produces a genuinely nail-biting and tense experience from a real-life human drama, as opposed to one derived from make-believe.
In an attempt to break a cycle of post-natal depression and connect with the newborn daughter she is having trouble accepting, single mother Lisa Brennan (Angela Dixon) takes her baby on a trip to Marrakech. She has barely just arrived, however, when her child is abducted as they sit together on a busy beach. Alone in a hostile, foreign country where the officials have trouble understanding, let alone believing, her story, Lisa is forced to take the law into her own hands. With time being of the essence, she embarks on an increasingly desperate and terrifying journey to find her daughter before it’s too late for them both.
Where the appearance of ghosts, goblins and ghouls seems hackneyed to modern, seen-it-all audiences, the future direction for filmmakers in the niche market of the horror film would appear limited. What do you give young people – who make up the core demographic of the horror genre – if you still want them to react to what they are being shown on the screen in front of them? The answer, it would appear, is reality. In recent years, horror has turned increasingly to danger emanating from human, rather than inhuman, sources in efforts to inject new life into the field. There are, however, only so many ax-wielding madmen or knife toting delinquents that you can conjure up before they begin to loose their cutting edge.
So how about horror derived from real-life situations which, though not common, could and do happen. Situations such as child abduction. Ask any parent and the thought of their son or daughter being spirited away – often from under their noses – must be one of the last great ‘fears’ which haunts human beings. Even those who don’t have children of their own, can imagine the sense of fear and panic when you loose something precious – worse still when that thing is a defenceless and vulnerable baby. Which is what makes the premise behind Ford’s Never Let Go such an edgy and powerful example of the new breed of horror film, and the direction the genre may well need to follow if it is not only to survive but also to thrive.
What is more effective though is how Ford takes the elements intrinsic to the best horror, then ups the anti: fear of the unknown is heightened by placing the central character in a strange, often hostile environment (in this case a foreign country); physical and mortal danger is intensified as it’s not only Lisa’s life which is in danger but also that of her helpless daughter. The style in which the action is captured as it unfolds simply adds to the film’s overall darkness. It may have been shot amongst the bright, acrid browns and dusty golds of North Africa’s deserts, but Ford’s sharp and snappy form of filming – he cut his directorial teeth making commercials – simply adds to the urgency of Lisa’s situation: the viewers, as well as Lisa, hardly have time to catch their breath during the extended chase sequences which pepper the plot.
On the screen, Dixon carries what to all intents is a solo project. The intensity and desperation which she instils in the character of Lisa is palpable, and marvellously realised by an actress who is still relatively new to the role of leading lady. Dixon is unafraid to immerse herself completely in her part, to the extent that you sympathise with and believe completely, as she clearly does herself, in the extremes Lisa goes to in order to save herself and her daughter. Never Let Go may not be your typical horror fare. However, as an example of a new direction for the genre, it is both a brave and shocking addition to a field of cinema increasingly in danger of loosing its way.
Cleaver Patterson is a film journalist and critic based in London. He is News Editor for the website Flickfeast, and regularly contributes to Rue Morgue Magazine and Film International. He is a contributor to the new film encyclopaedia Movie Star Chronicles: A Visual History of 320 of the World’s Greatest Movie Stars, to be published by Aurum Press in October, 2015.
Never Let Go received its world premiere on the 18th July, 2015, at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival in South Korea. It will show at FILM4 FrightFest in London on the 28th August, 2015. An interview with the film’s star Angela Dixon can be read here.
Film4 FrightFest 2015 runs from the 27th until the 31st of August 2015, at the Vue cinema in London’s Leicester Square. Further details and ticket information can be found at www.frightfest.co.uk.