J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

IIFC ’16: Eva’s Legacy & The Wager (shorts)

Somehow, elderly British upper crust ladies and gents, can be either reassuring or wickedly scary, depending on the context. Perhaps they are merely products of their idyllic or macabre country manors. Regardless, the tradition of British gothic horror continues rather nicely in Simon Frith’s Eva’s Legacy (trailer here) and Joss Maines’ The Wager (trailer here), which both screen as part of short film blocks at the 2016 Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema.

Eva’s Legacy will be a human interest story. At least that is what the reporter who has come to interview her thinks. The heirless titular Eva has announced she is bequeathing her grand family home to a children’s charity. It seems appropriate, since the estate once sheltered several children from the chaos of the London blitzes. Eva vividly remembers one little boy in particular . . .

Frith has assembled a lovely setting and classy British cast for what feels like a proof of concept short. Frankly, it seems like Legacy is just getting started when it ends (but it is far worse when a film feels like it has been over long before its credits roll). Frith controls the build-up nicely, maintaining a vibe not unlike the under-appreciated Dominic West film, The Awakening. Sue Morley is subtly mysterious as Eva and Elizabeth Twells makes an effectively contemporary gothic heroine. It would be nice to see this one expanded.

In contrast, Maines’ The Wager is more self-contained, but it is even more satisfying for genre fans. It sort of plays like the Hammer Horror version of the favorite Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, The Man from the South. After fleecing two associates in a not-so friendly game of cards, Peter, their wealthy host, offers the financially desperate younger man a fateful bargain. If he can spend a night in a reportedly haunted room of the old dark house, he will forgive all his debt and throw in all the takings from their game. Needless to say, it will be easier said than done.

The atmosphere of The Wager is wonderfully Hammer-esque and the house’s backstory is appropriately sinister (eerily evoking Abelard and Heloise). As Peter and the other old-timer Harry, Ian Hogg and Stephan Chase look they could have been wizards in the Harry Potter franchise or apprentices of Peter Cushing and Sir Christopher Lee, which is a very good thing.

Both Eva’s Legacy and The Wager are impressively produced, suitably British supernatural horror films. They represent a lot of talent contributed by their respective casts and crews, so they are easy to recommend for genre fans. The two shorts would screen well together, but they are in separate programs at this year’s IIFC, with the former screening this Wednesday (1/6) and Saturday (1/9) and the latter screening Friday (1/8) and Sunday (1/10).

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