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ASTRAL (October 1st)


YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU TAKES PART IN THE 31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN CHALLENGE; WATCHING ONE HORROR MOVIE A DAY THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. SOME OF THEM OLD, SOME OF THEM NEW, SOME OF THEM HAVE JUST BEEN ON OUR SHELVES FOR YEARS GATHERING DUST, STILL IN CELLOPHANE...

We got a lot out of last year's '31 Days' challenge. Sometimes it's not always easy to watch as many genre films as you like, so to be given an excuse to plough through 31 movies that you've never seen is something of a welcome pressure (I'll remind myself of that when I am up to my eyeballs in work and trying to fit a horror movie into my evening).

For the first entry, I was kind of tempted to go for a classic. Something that I have been meaning to watch for years but I've never managed to sit down and watch, perhaps. Instead, I decided to scan Netflix and winded up plucking for a film I've never heard of. This is always fraught with risk. But hey, this one had Frank Dillane in and I like his character in Fear the Walking Dead, so what the hell?

The film I am referring to is a relatively new release called 'Astral' – a British horror film about Alex (Dillane) , a college student who embarks upon a personal quest to 'astral project'. His motives? Well the opening scene shows his mum investigating some creepy whispering sounds coming from an upstairs room and then committing suicide by hanging herself from the stairwell. Does he want to make contact with her spirit? We're never really sure but what we do realise very quickly is that he's done that thing that all people do when they mess around with the other side. He's opened a door/gate. The more he astral projects, the more frequent and sinister his visions get. Sometimes it's a small wispy black fog (like the smoke monster from Lost, but wee) and others it's a horned demon thing. Either way, it's not good news.

The concept of astral projection is a subject that has been referenced before in a number of movies - most recently within the Insidious franchise. However it's not really one that's been explored in any great detail. The opening scenes of Astral threaten to shed some light on the phenomena. However the academic setting and tone of the opening scenes are never really built on, despite the introduction of a 'Basil Exposition' character who reappears in act two. However, he soon vanishes from the story all together. Just like most of the other characters who populate the film. They really have no real bearing on the plot whatsoever.

In fact, that's the overriding feeling that you get when you watch Astral. It just feels a little bit too haphazard and inconsistent in its approach. The direction and editing and dialogue and acting are all a bit hit and miss. Shots linger for a bit too long on the final images of certain scenes, some key thrills are underplayed and although the acting is generally ok, the script does them something of a disservice to be honest. It's a shame because the build up and atmosphere of Astral is effective at times. The decision to suggest rather than show the lurking presences works well for the first forty minutes or so of the film. Director Chris Mul adhere's to the old idea that the imagination can create a more frightening prospect that anything you can show on screen and there are a couple of neat visuals here that work quite nicely.

But unfortunately the film collapses in the third act. I mean, I had a horrid feeling that things wouldn't be wrapped up sufficiently and my fears were proved correct. It's a non-ending really. One that'll make you frown. Or shout, if you're that way inclined. There's no real connection in those last scenes between much of what has come before and the abruptness of the final scenes (not to mention the fact it doesn't really convey any real message or point) is fatally damaging.

It's a shame because Dillane gives a solid performance and there is a thirty minute section of the film where it almost promises to be good. But alas, it just couldn't maintain that level of intrigue throughout and ended up in a place that was both confusing and disappointing. Maybe I should have opted for The Cabinet of Dr Caligari after all...

#31days2019

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