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Don't Let Him In (2011)
Director: Kelly Smith

review by Paul Higson

Screening at the 22nd Festival of Fantastic Films in an almost entirely retrospective programme there is an element of privilege that new British horror film Don't Let Him In was found a slot on the bill. The festival has over the last two decades supported new filmmakers and screened their work. Jake West, Julian Richards, Andrew Parkinson, Mark Redfield and many other horror film up-and-comers and upstarts have visited the convention. New horror featured heavily over the years but only three new features have made the programme over the last two festivals and they may have to bump up the new content if the event hopes to increase attendance. There has been a crazy proliferation of new horror film festivals at a time of when there is less and less money and the related audience are being pared down further with each additional event. It cripples those events with history and handicaps those incepting on new hope.

The majority of UK festivals are interested in new cinema and fight over titles. Some titles they share, sometimes many titles resulting in similar programmes. It's not as if there is a shortage of good and interesting films around. Kelly Smith's Don't Let Him In will not change the world of the horror film but it is one of a crop of decent thrillers that helps gird the reputation of the British new wave horror cinema. Film technique is no-frills strong and, with a small cast, it allows itself the opportunity to build a little on character in a relatively short running time (under 80 minutes) before perpetrating its horrors on them.

A brother and sister, Calvin and Mandy (Rhys Meredith and Gemma Harvey), his nurse girlfriend, Paige (Sophie Linfield), and her obnoxious millionaire boyfriend, Tristan (Gordon Alexander), spend the weekend in the countryside at a remote house inherited by one of them. Now, this may sound like hackneyed scriptwriting but they are first accosted by beautiful gypsy Emer (Esther Shephard) who reads a terrible future in the palm of one of them. Then they meet jovial policeman Sergeant Utley (Jason Carter) who informs them that there is a serial killer in the neighbouring forest who goes by the name the Tree Surgeon, an unfortunate moniker that reeks of the farcical. A serial killer called the Tree Surgeon sounds as odd and comical as a superhero called Bicycle Repairman and raises the question if this a horror film or a comedy. The tone occasionally falters like this but; thankfully, this is primarily a straight horror.

The Tree Surgeon's name does not make much sense other than as a rotten joke. Black comedy periodically tries to barge through, such as the retrospective example of how he came by his name nailing the dismembered body parts of his victim to a tree. The accompanying flashback to a field trip for a secondary schoolgirls' art class is amusingly played out with ample horror.

The male cast members break off on errands occasionally hinting respective culpability as the gypsy girl is abducted. A stranger with a stomach wound is taken in and his injuries attended to but he is confessedly uncertain of the identity or appearance of his attacker. They put him up overnight and his wounds are not as terrible as originally thought. The next morning he gives his name as Shawn (Sam Hazeldine) and a lift to the hospital is offered to him but he is not keen. Sure, there are a number of plot holes, and the couples are asking for it if this stranger turns out to be more than the normal amiable chap he appears to be. But he is not the only character to be concerned about, as is also pointed out a several points that neither does any of them really know Tristan. He does not endear himself to people and there is a pall hanging over him from the fire that killed his parents who then bequeathed him their great wealth. He too might yet be capable of anything. What we do know from the title is that it is a man that we must beware, but which, and the film evolves into a tightly scripted game that is constantly tugging us away from everything we suspect to be the real and to some extent what should be the obvious twist. That it never ultimately fools us does not matter, the script casts doubts.

Having set this up successfully the film then confoundedly fluffs credibility on several points. The final and most unforgivable movie sin being the ever risible facade of normality passed off by someone later revealed as the maniac who then goes into psycho goon overkill. The performance may be useful for the actor's show-reel but bad for this film. The acting is professional throughout and helped by some great verbal tennis in the scripted dialogue. The standout show-stealer though is the unpleasant Tristan who sprints in as a figure of hate and never lets up becoming increasingly fiendish and dangerous.

The violence when it comes is strong but not prolonged or sustained and a threat to turn the film over to torture territory does not happen to this hombre's relief. It follows in the tradition of the rural British horror yarn, and inadvertently brings to mind several films including Stalker (2010), Invitation To Hell (1982), and even Brookside: Unfinished Business (2003), taking the end of the latter film but with a far darker bent.

Mistakes aside, the film is well shot (on Super 16mm) and edited, particularly evident in the numerous tussles; two camera set-ups not entirely evident, the material succinctly matched. The end credits do reveal a serious size of production crew behind it and a screed of professional facilities and official organs putting in assistance and finishing touches, and so Don't Let Him In should look and feel good.

Don't Let Him In



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