[Imagine Film Festival] Reviews: Yuletide Horror Abounds in AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS; CUTTERHEAD Offers Claustrophobic Terror

Imagine Film Festival runs April 10–20 at EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and is jam-packed with amazing genre film fare from around the globe. Among the plethora of amazing cinematic offerings on tap are U.K. Christmas terror tale Await Further Instructions and Danish disaster chiller Cutterhead.

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Family get-togethers at Christmas can often offer their share of drama and tension, but nothing like what U.K. horror outing Await Further Instructions serves up. Nick (Sam Gittins) reluctantly brings his optimistic Indian girlfriend Annji (Neerja Naik) to his family’s home for the holiday, despite the fact that he has not spoken with his parents for three years. It’s quickly easy to see why he hasn’t communicated with them: father Tony (Grant Masters) tries to act like the head of the household in office manager style, while Granddad (David Bradley) hurls insults at Tony and spouts racist remarks freely. Nick’s sister Kate (Holly Weston) runs a close second to her grandfather in bigoted barbs, while her henpecked husband Scott (Kris Sadler) sits quietly by. Peacekeeping mother Beth (Abigail Cruttenden) does what she can to hold the holiday together.

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The family members then find themselves trapped  in their own home, with the windows and doors covered by what first appears to look like metal. Enigmatic instructions start appearing on the living room television set, informing everyone what to do, from not eating possibly contaminated food, to scrubbing themselves with bleach. The instructions get ever more sinister, and the family members begin turning on each other and taking sides, with Annji a target of suspicion.

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Await Further Instructions is filled with good old The Twilight Zone-style paranoia and mystery, as people stick to their most comfortable worldviews and safest outlooks on life, even when it means sacrificing one (or more) of their own to survive. Gavin Williams’ clever script skewers family relations as well as modern society’s uneasy relationship and dependence on media, as well as divides created by belief systems and people’s inhumanity and intolerance toward each other. Director Johnny Kevorkian brings it all to harrowing, brutal, and sometimes darkly satirical life beautifully. The ensemble cast is terrific. Await Further Instructions is a highly recommended effort boasting an insane third act full of super practical effects and jaw-dropping science fiction/horror elements.

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Cutterhead, an English-language Danish film, sees Copenhagen Metro public relations employee Rie (Christine Sønderris) visit the construction site of the subway building project. Her attempts to get heartfelt quotes from the men working in the tunnels are met with polite non-answers for the most part, and when she asserts that she is from “the office” and can go anywhere, she follows Croatian miner Ivo (Kresimir Mikic) and Eritrean employee Bharan (Samson Semere) to watch them perform what should be a routine task. A fire suddenly breaks loose, and the trio find themselves battling to stay alive, with both temperatures and tempers rising, and oxygen and water dwindling in supply. Souls are bared, secrets are shared, and decisions both wise and unwise are made as the three people see their chances of survival growing dimmer by the moment.

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Both a white-knuckle chiller on the surface and an intriguing look at class differences in Denmark as well, Cutterhead puts its trio of protagonists, and viewers alike, through the wringer. Director Rasmus Kloster Bro, who cowrote the screenplay with Mikkel Bak Sørenson, ratchets up the tension in tight, confined spaces. You can practically feel the heat and sweat in the film’s suffocating environments. Cinematographer Martin Munch keeps his camera right in the thick of things, adding to the fear and desperation of the characters. Fans of survival thrillers and disaster movies should find a great deal to like with this nailbiter, which features fine performances and gritty mise-en-scène.