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Paracinema 2024 – Weird Britain



Feature By: Matthew Tilt

A weekend of eclectic British cinema courtesy of the Paracinema Film Festival at Derby Quad.

The 2024 edition of Paracinema was awash with international and British made shorts and features, striking a perfect balance between new voices in genre cinema, influential films dusted off for anniversary screenings (The Blair Witch Project) and the odd bit of utter tosh (I’m looking at you Repo! The Genetic Opera and The Activated Man).

One aspect that was remarkably consistent however, was the selection of films made by British directors. Let’s look at the short pictures first, split into three programmes across the weekend. The festival kicked off with Strange Visions collection, which included The Concierge at the Sunrise Inn, directed by Calum Weir and written by Joe Dore. This surprisingly affecting short follows the titular concierge (Sam MacGregor) as he attends to the seemingly abandoned hotel.

All is quiet until an unexpected arrival (Diana Feng) appears at the reception desk, leading to a series of sweet, gently humorous scenes as the pair get to know each other and uncover the secrets behind the mysterious hotel. The simple conceit is lifted by the strong performances from both actors, combined with some excellent sound design and strong direction.

This was followed by Re-Birth, which doesn’t lack ambition, but falls a touch short in the execution. Writer and director William Brooke pulls a lot from the noir genre in his style of filmmaking but despite a good performance from lead Jessica Kinsey, it never manages to match its influences when it comes to tension. Instead, the 20-minute runtime dumps a lot of exposition on the viewer, making it feel like a clip from a feature shown out of context.

Four British directors were showcased in the Dead Funny programme. Made in just 48 hours, James Button’s RoButler got plenty of laughs from the audience as desk jockey Cwnt Jones (yes, it sounds exactly like you think it does…) orders an AI-driven butler to help manage his workload. What follows is eight minutes of bizarre accidents, silly voices and an entirely expected, but no less satisfying twist. Being just two minutes long, Tony Hipwell’s The Lure is essentially just a fishing trip skit and doesn’t really give any of the cast or crew time to shine, but it’s an inventive idea and is well executed.

Free Spirits, directed by George Moore, who also co-wrote the film with Stuart Armstrong and Ben Bovington-Key, wasn’t just a highlight of the shorts selection, it was genuinely one of the best films shown all weekend. Spencer Jones plays Reverand Howard Lee Jr who has taken over the parish from his recently deceased father (a wonderfully unhinged cameo from Clive Russel) and finds himself caught between a very conservative parish council and a local nudist camp tormented by a poltergeist. Its jam packed with visual gags and the script shines thanks to the game performances from the cast.

Rounding out the horror comedy portion was Collection Only which was a lot darker than the other films in this programme, following two friends to go to collect a chair they’ve found on Freecycle. Written and directed by Alun Rhys Morgan, the dialogue just about walks the line of dark comedy without becoming too offensive, although there are some lines which will put off some viewers, but once the horror starts the impressive practical effects and genuine scares sets this apart as a Welsh Evil Dead.

Darker Horizons was the longest shorts programme of the weekend, with a host of British on show. Keeping the Evil Dead theme going, Shaun Munro’s Breakfast sees our protagonist try and make his breakfast while a malevolent spirit causes chaos, resulting in a host of gory, darkly funny injuries. Ten of Swords from Faye Jackson was an interesting take on the zombie mythos, seeing our undead brethren put to work in menial jobs. It runs a little long and the ending is disappointing, but there’s a lot of talent on display here, with good performances from the cast, especially Theo Solomon, and some suitably gory practical effects.

A couple of familiar face pops up in Paul Hendry’s The Choice, with Alex Macqueen playing the Devil, coming to collect on a pact made by TV celebrity Billie Angel (Rita Simons). Macqueen is clearly having a blast in his role, which lifts the film above its rather predictable plot. And there are more TV stars in Pareidolia from Aaron Truss, including Graham Cole and Carolyn Pickles. While the idea of being haunted by the faces we impose on objects and buildings is an interesting idea, the paper-thin script and some rather large gaps in the logic of the film, render this ineffective.

The last short of the weekend was Stephen Graves’ The Dead of Winter, which features James Swanton (who played in the ghouls in Rob Savage’s Host and Dashcam) back on spooky form as a homeless man left to die by a passing man (Oliver Maltman), only to reappear at the man’s affluent home. The scares aren’t exactly original, but Graves manages to build tension effectively, leaving you searching the background of every scene.


One of the joys of Paracinema is having the directors in attendance, meaning that after every British feature we got a brief Q&A about the making of the film – as well as a director’s panel at the end of the third day.

This brought to light many interesting titbits, including the fact that Dan Gould, writer and director of Interlopers funded the film using damages he was awarded after been hit by a car when he was a child. Despite being in his twenties, Gould manages to develop a complex, three-part zombie film, with nods towards conspiracy thrillers. Gould himself noted that each act of the film was designed to be independent and was filmed as a separate production. This meant that if something were to go wrong during the production, they would still have a marketable short film.

The plot is clever, if a little convoluted, as big pharmaceutical companies infect the planet with a new zombie virus to force humanity into the next stage of evolution. Each act follows a different group of characters as they discover the plot, deal with the initial breakout, and then try to survive in the fallout of the apocalypse, with only two characters (The Unknown, played by Ewan Henderson, and The Interloper, an effectively creepy performance from Ward J. Harris) connecting the different plot threads.

While it deals with a world-ending event, Gould cleverly keeps the scale small, focusing on a handful of characters and only using CGI when necessary. By working with the Farewell Theatre Company, he’s also blessed with some excellent performances from the cast. The influences are clear to see but the film rarely becomes derivative, and for a debut feature the ambition from Gould is clear to see. His next ambition – to create something that has never been done before – might be trickier to bring to the screen but there’s no doubting that he will be an interesting director to watch.

Tom Lee Rutter, who’s short Bella in the Wych Elm, played at a previous edition of Paracinema, brought the anthology The Pocket Film of Superstitions to this year’s event. With cameo appearances from Lynn Lowry, Caroline Munro and Dani Thompson, Rutter is quite happy to pay tribute to the salacious horror flicks of the past but does so with a very British sense of humour.

With a tongue-in-cheek voiceover from The Shend, Pocket… walks the audience through a host of superstitions and folklore from across the UK. These range from minor infractions such as crossing knives or spilling the salt, all the way through to tarot, satanic cults, and changelings – all of which are treated with a broad sense of humour, giving it the feel of an Amicus Production through the lens of Monty Python.

Between the humour there are some genuinely unsettling scenes. The changeling segment, with some particularly disturbing practical effects, stands out as the rather grim centre piece in the film – its serious tone benefitting both the scene itself and the next segment, which returns to the more comic styling.

Interviewed after the screening, Rutter said that the film came about because he felt disenfranchised, struggling to make features with no budget and which made very little money. “It’s ironic that the film started with the Hand Maiden segment, where I wanted to tell a short story filming only the hands, and gradually developed to this, with a monster cast list!”

Nothing Goes was a short feature, clocking in at just under an hour, but really maximises its runtime by cranking up the tension from the opening moments. Written and directed by Jordan-Kane Lewis, it follows Alex (Aiden James), a broke university student who is convinced by his girlfriend Lexy (Katie Walker) and her friend Peach (Steven Walker) to take part in a ‘victimless’ robbery that will set them all up financially.

It’s supposed to be victimless because they’re robbing a group of retired gangsters who spend their free time gambling in a rural pub. That the plan goes horribly wrong won’t be a surprise to anyone, but Lewis shows a willingness to swerve and continue cranking up the tension in different ways. Much like the Safdie Brothers put Adam Sandler through the wringer in Uncut Gems by not only emphasising his gambling debts, but also the difficult relationships with his father-in-law, his wife and his girlfriend; in Nothing Goes, the fallout of the robbery starts to impact every part of Alex’s life, with an excellent performance from James highlighting the character’s vulnerability.

Lewis handled the cinematography himself and shows a clear love of the British directors who exploded in the 1990s. There are visual nods to Danny Boyle and Michael Winterbottom, while the rapid-fire editing and cuts between high-definition camera work and video footage from Alex’s own camcorder propel the film forward. It all builds to a bleak ending; one that robs the audience of closure, but which feels in-keeping what has been developed over the last hour.

Speaking to the audience, Lewis noted that selling films that walked the line between genres was becoming increasingly difficult, as producers and distributors focused on marketability. While he felt that Nothing Goes was a hard sell because it wasn’t exclusively a thriller, nor was it a road trip movie or a slice-of-life drama. His next film, he announced, was going to be a vampire film, which he hoped would be easier to position on the market. While there’s little doubting the logic there, you have to hope that he manages to retain the stylistic eye and storytelling ability he has showcased here.

Burnt Flowers, from Micheal Fausti might have been the most polished of the British films on show across the weekend but unfortunately it had the most issues. It’s an ambitious piece; a London thriller cutting back and forth between the present day and the 1960s, as a missing person case unveils details of an uncaught serial killer from the 1960s.

Amber Doig-Thorne plays Detective Franc Alban, whose struggling make headway in a corrupt department when she’s approached by a mysterious woman (Ayvianna Snow) to investigate the disappearance of her husband. This brings Alban up against jailed gangster Tony Rose (Fausti) and into the middle of a longstanding mystery.

Fausti noted that he was inspired by the Jack the Stripper killings that took place in London and remained unsolved to this day, and you can see a real fascination with that period. The 1960s portions of the film really shine here, with attention to detail and well-rounded characters.

When it cuts to the present day, it falters. Doig-Thorne does her best with the script but the character is bounced between characters for long sections of exposition, which often lead to her falling into bed with them before another bout of exposition with the characters sat in their underwear. A few plot points lack credulity and various character beats are added simply to wrap things up in a bow, or to the shock as with the inclusion of Laurence R. Harvey’s perverted police commander.

Fausti is clearly ambitious, and the work that his production company is doing should not be sniffed at, but Burnt Flowers is a picture that overstretches itself. It’s such a shame when many of the issues would have been ironed out with a bit of script workshopping.

The last British flick to be shown at the event was Joel Stern’s Bored Games with the writer/director putting in a very funny performance as Zuck, one half of three couples who find themselves playing boardgames through the apocalypse in a bunker. Well, it’s sort of an apocalypse; Stern takes the believable threat of a socio-economic uprising (with rioting overtaking London) and then adds the twist of man-eating foxes for some excellent visual gags later in the film.

The six leads do a good job balancing the inter-personal relationships and paranoia, with some the constant stream of jokes. Standouts are Jonathan Oldfield as the put upon Paul and Lorna Rose Treen as his manipulative partner Lindsey, who got the biggest laughs from the audience.

It’s not particularly original, but there’s a real love on show here. All the cast completely buy into the premise and the script is full of the nerdy references and in-jokes that you would expect. In a lot of ways, it harks to Bill Watterson’s Dave Made a Maze, with its millennial angst and our collective disenfranchisement translating into awkward, relatable characters tackling our biggest fears the only way we know how; locking ourselves away and hoping it all sorts itself out.

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