Piper - FrightFest World Premiere
Director: Anthony Waller
Starring: Elizabeth Hurley, Mia Jenkins, Jack Stewart, Tara Fitzgerald, Robert Daws
Written by: Anthony Waller, Duncan Kennedy
Produced by: Aija Berzina, Alexander Buchman, Gleb Fetisov, Anthony Waller
Cinematography by: Roger Simonsz
Original Score: Wilbert Hirsch, Anthony Waller
Soon after moving to Germany with her daughter, Liz is plagued by nightmare visions and gradually a dark secret in her past is uncovered by the restless spirit of the Piper, the cruel and vengeful minister of harsh justice who seeks out the guilty and punishes them by taking away their children.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from ‘Piper’, but I was pleasantly surprised. The film follows history teacher Liz (Elizabeth Hurley) and her daughter Amy (Mia Jenkins), who have relocated to the small German town of Hamelin. Liz is harbouring a deep dark secret that awakens the legendary figure of the Pied Piper, the spirit of a Medieval rat catcher who uses his magical pipe to lure away the local children. The Piper choses her daughter as the medium for her punishment, plaguing Amy with nightmares and metaphysical attacks from rats and insects.
And Amy is not the first to suffer this fate – the film opens, rather gruesomely, with the self-inflicted hanging of a young child, and on her second day of her new school, Amy witnesses the tragic death of her classmate, who walks off the roof of the building while in a trance-like state. But soon, Amy becomes enamoured with local gypsy boy Luca (Jack Stewart), who vows to protect her from the Piper in any way he can and by the end of the film, pays the ultimate price for his devotion.
Anthony Waller and his cinematographer Roger Simonsz have created a beautiful, atmospheric film with ‘Piper’. While the special effects leave a little something to be desired, it is a gorgeously shot film with a fantastic script that leans into the folkloric and fairytale aspects of the story in a believable and engaging way. Sometimes twisted takes on fairytales can go badly wrong, but in this case, it works perfectly. The character’s motivations feel authentic and some of the twists and turns the story takes feel warranted because they make sense within the context of the story and aren’t included for cheap shock value. Waller seems to trust his audience to know what’s going on without spoon-feeding them, which as a horror fan, I appreciate because not every single thing in a film necessarily needs explaining.
The horror elements are fantastic. The stand out scenes, for me, include one sinister character, Peter (Robert Daws), being eaten alive by rats, which is particularly gruesome. It's a fast-paced, genuinely unsettling sequence where Liz is being stalked on the train by the Piper (Arben Bajraktaraj), and an ominous scene set in a church confessional where Liz confesses her dark secret, that she was responsible for the deaths of two young sisters who she killed in a hit-and-run, to what she thinks is the local reverend, but who turns out to be the Piper himself. The performances, from every actor, are sound and believable. The make-up is well done, and the music is somehow both menacing and ethereal. I love fairytale music and Wilbert Hirsch's score is particularly good.
One thing I wasn’t expecting was the emphasis on Liz and Amy’s mother-daughter relationship and the power that love has. One of the key lines throughout the film is the importance of loving someone more than yourself, and while that may sound cheesy on the surface, it’s actually the main crux of the story and it pays off beautifully.
The end of the film actually had me tearing up, which I was not expecting, but I absolutely loved that. For me, some of the best horror stories are the sad ones, the emotional ones, and ‘Piper’ delivered in that respect. A wonderful wee film for anyone who loves folklore and fairytales as much as I do.
- Victoria Brown
'Piper' received it's World Premiere at FrightFest '23 on August 27th and is released by 101 Films on Digital October 16th