I specifically planned my trip to the Fantasia Film Festival so that I could catch the North American debut of Pat Tremblay‘s latest weird opus, Atmo HorroX, before I left. I was more prepared for the experience than most, because I’m one of only a handful of people who’ve seen Tremblay’s complete body of work, since he sent me his still-unreleased 2006 debut film Heads of Control: The Gorul Baheu Brain Expedition (on VHS!) in 2010. Of that film, I wrote “…when LSD wants to blow its mind, it takes a hit of Heads of Control.” After briefly tackling on a straightforward narrative in the low-budget post-apocalyptic feature Hellacious Acres, this one is every bit as bizarre as Tremblay’s first movie. Let’s hope it’s not as unreleasable.
Tremblay and star Laurent Lecompte had been hyping the movie throughout the Festival, handing out trading cards and appearing in full costume in the Alumni Hall lobby, Lecompte thrusting his balloon phallus at passersby as they left more respectable movies. Here at the lineup to get into the premiere, Lecompte serves hors d’ouevres while dressed in a cowboy hat and goggles. The theater is about two-thirds full, but the film’s cast, who are seeing the movie for the first time, fill an entire row of seats.
I would begin by summarizing Atmo HorroX‘s plot, but, although I believe there is one, I’m not 100% sure I could find it. The movie focuses largely on the stalking activities of a monster (Lecompte) wearing pantyhose with sweetgum seeds stuck on it over his face and sporting a plume of phallic balloons jutting from his crotch. He conjures levitating sausages and kills people by placing ladies’ shoes on either side of their head. There are other, more traditional-looking horror monsters running around in the film as well; the face of one is battered into liquid during the film’s opening, only to rise as a rainbow snake. There’s also some kind of witch, a creature dressed in black latex with nine eyes, a man with remote controls taped to his bodies who communicates with the main monster by walkie talkie, a playboy wearing psychedelic goggles, and others. Often, scenes go on for too long with these characters simply posing on the screen, letting us drink in their oddness. Even the best parts can go on for too long: a doctor with a mutton chop goatee takes forever to write prescriptions (which are nothing but long, elaborate scribbles) for patients, then shakes his head, tears them up, and starts over. It’s funny, but the gag repeats too many times. The entire movie probably should have been at least twenty minutes shorter: it wears on you, and many scenes could have been trimmed or cut entirely. There is no comprehensible dialogue—it’s all garbled nonsense, sometimes distorted with feedback and cranked up to painful levels—and when there is music it is just as discordant as the dialogue. The color grading is garish, saturated oranges and pinks, making the monster appear to glow against the forest or street backgrounds as he roams.
Watching this film often feels like being trapped inside the nightmare of an avant-garde director of industrial music videos as he tosses and turns while working out ideas for a particularly challenging assignment. I didn’t see any walkouts, but the guy next to me did fall asleep. I can’t imaging waking up from a nod and seeing Atmo HorroX playing onscreen; it must be incredibly disorienting. As you might guess, this experience is not for everyone. If you’re the kind of movie viewer who defiantly gravitates towards the movies tagged “weirdest!” on this site, you’ll want to make Atmo a priority to seek out. It’s the kind of movie David Lynch looks at and says, “Gosh, that’s just too doggone weird for me.” Distribution prospects don’t look very bright; there is a market for the weirdest of the weird out there, but it’s the nichiest of niche auds.
Atmo HorroX brings our Fantasia Festival 2016 coverage to a close in finely weird fashion. Looking back, I can honestly say that Montreal is a beautiful, cosmopolitan city that I did not experience at all outside of the four square blocks it took to walk from my hotel to the screening rooms. I ordered poutine (not poutaine) and drank local beer and cider. I gashed my finger. I touched no one and made no lifelong friends of whom I’m aware, but I did come away with a new corkscrew and precious cinematic memories that will last until the onset of Alzheimer’s in a couple of years.
But enough about me, I am sure you want to know about the movies. Here’s a recap of what I saw:
Psychonauts, the Forgotten Children: Affecting animated fable/nightmare about drug-addicted Birdboy and his troubled teen friends.
The Lure: The best killer mermaid musical of the year.
She’s Allergic to Cats: Absurd outsider romantic comedy mixed with avant-garde video art, and anal gland expression. The unexpected discovery of the Festival.
Atmo HorroX: For pure weirdness, unquestionably the Festival champ.
WORTHWHILE BUT NOT THAT WEIRD
The Wailing: Eerie Korean exorcism.
The Holy Flame of the Martial World: Watch the snakebit finger laser!
As the Gods Will: Takashi Miike strikes again with this gory high school death-match fantasy.
Eyes of My Mother: Moody black and white serial killer character study.
The Alchemist Cookbook: Minimalist occult horror/psychological breakdown in the lonely woods.
Momotaro, Sacred Sailors: Animated Japanese propaganda film from 1945 featuring cute animals bayonetting cowardly Allies .
In Search of the Ultra-Sex: Insane vintage porno clips refashioned into a sci-fi comedy.
And that, my friends, was Fantasia 2016. As expected, we discovered a handful of the year’s weirdest films, justifying the expense, even though the cost of the trip was several times the 366 beer budget for the next two years. Tomorrow, we return to normal… or at least, as normal as it gets at a site that champions movies about monsters with inflatable polyphalluses.