Arrow Video FrightFest Glasgow offered up horror, comedy, and deadly serious dystopian drama with its Friday, March 1st screenings. Besides the world premiere of the terrific British indie shocker Here Comes Hell, this reviewer also had the opportunity to watch the American metalheads vs. giant ants movie Dead Ant (retitled Giant Killer Ants for its U.K. release) and the Canadian science fiction tale of a strict boarding school for young girls, Level 16.
Dead Ant (AKA Giant Killer Ants)
With its CGI giant ants, rather stock characters, and plentiful drug humor, writer/director Ron Carlson’s Dead Ant sets out to be little more than a fun romp best shared with a buddy over popcorn, pizza, and a beverage – and it succeeds at achieving just that level. Manager Danny (Tom Arnold) leads 1980s one-hit wonder metal band Sonic Grave on what is supposed to be a mind-expanding peyote trip in the desert before a comeback attempt at a nowheresville music festival. One of the band members breaks Native American local Bigfoot’s (Michael Horse) rule about respecting nature, which sets the six-legged freaks into vengeful motion. Jake Busey, Rhys Coiro, Leisha Hailey, and Sean Astin topline as the band members, all putting in game performances along with the supporting cast members, but the jokes are pretty evenly split at hitting and missing, and your mileage may vary depending on your tolerance level of stoner humor (mine is low). Viewers who enjoy Syfy-level creature feature fare or eighties-metal parodies will have the most fun with Dead Ant.
Writer/director Danishka Esterhazy’s futuristic fable Level 16 concerns the goings-on at the Vestalis Academy, ostensibly an exclusive boarding school for orphaned girls. It is here that young Vivien (Katie Douglas), Sophia (Celina Martin), and several other girls try to rise to the titular ranking, after which graduation and dream lives await. Something is amiss from the beginning, viewers can tell, as the girls are taught the air outside the academy is poisonous, and the place is run strictly, with the girls taught only what the severe Miss Brixil (Sara Canning) deems necessary. Sophia betrayed Vivien several levels earlier, and the two are uneasily reunited in Level 16. Sophia pleads for Vivien to stop taking the special mandatory vitamins supplied by the academy, to see what really goes on in their shared bedroom after lights out. As the pair starts secretly sleuthing about, they uncover frightful truths in a place where brainwashing takes the place of education. Douglas and Martin play off each other well, with the former imbuing her character with a great deal of strength and courage. Canning gives a nice turn as the ice-cold headmistress, and Peter Outerbridge gives a calculated, creepy performance as the academy’s Dr. Miro. Esterhazy presents a tightly knitted tale set in a gloomy, foreboding, claustrophobic atmosphere. Though some elements are familiar – the film has drawn numerous comparisons to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale – enough original angles are on display for this effort to stand on its own.
(4 / 5)
Also on the March 1 schedule were director Billy Senese’s supernatural suspenser The Dead Center and Swedish/Mexican diabolical doppelganger chiller The Black Circle.