Anyone traveling internationally should heed this advice: nothing hurries customs agents along faster than the phrase, “I’ll be covering a film festival.” Two years in a row now I’ve seen the Dear God, All Right, Moving on… expression at the border when explaining the reason for my trip.
So without further ado, the reason for my trip: Fantasia Festival movies!
7/12: Nightmare Cinema (Anthology)
“Horror” isn’t really my preferred genre—I either find it too pointless, or too scary (!). “Anthology” also isn’t my preferred film format — I typically want one movie to carry itself. Combining the two, however, works out well: it allows for a taste of a director’s work without committing the viewer to overkill. Mick Garris, supervising a clutch of Horror luminaries, has put together a string of varyingly good vignettes. “The Thing in the Woods” (dir. by Alejandro Brugues) tells the tale of a handful of twenty-somethings making incredibly bad, incrediblier rapid-fire decisions as if they can’t get to their gruesome fates fast enough. “Mirari” (dir. by [the Legendary] Joe Dante!) deftly taps into the fears of plastic surgery gone awry. “Mashit” (dir. by Ryuhei Kitamura) is pretty ho-hum, until the very Catholic (that is to say, “Unorthodox”) slaughterhouse finale. And “Dead”(?) concerns a boy who, having been … dead … for seventeen minutes can now see the … dead.
What stood out with its bleak tone, creepy understatement, and grisly ambiance, however, was “This Way to Egress” directed by David Slade of Thirty Days of Night fame. A mother of two boys is growing increasingly unhinged after her husband leaves her, resulting in her seeing her surroundings and people she meets looking ghastlier and uglier as the hours go on. Her psychologist just about recommends suicide before heading off to a meeting. This short stood out even moreso because, unlike Thirty Days of Night, it is well-written, very unnerving, and left me creeped the Hell out. (Somewhat appropriately.)
7/13: La Nuit a dévoré le monde (The Night Eats the World)
If any of our readers are fans of the zombie/undead/shuffling corpse-people genre, they should check out Dominique Rocher’s directorial debut. Our hero, Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie), passes out in the back room of his ex-girlfriend’s apartment after an awkward encounter at a party. Upon awakening, he finds that Paris’ entire populace has become little more than walking corpses. What follows, however, is much more a meditative experience than the jump-scare/slasher-thing that the genre usually provides. Sam embraces his extreme isolation in his barricade, and the over-all soundscape is “quiet.” In fact, about 80% of the movie goes by before there is any violence to speak of. It’s not too weird, but it is a unique take on the undead. (By the way, this feature was preceded by the horror-cum-cutesy short, The Monster Within; Ghislain Ouellet’s film is worth hunting down if you want another unique take on the near-death/haunting experience.)
Unfriended: Dark Web
Golly, it would seem that I’m being bombarded with horror, horror, horror. But I was pleasantly surprised by Stephen Susco’s slice of modern reality — somehow he pulls off the central gimmick (the movie is in real time, displayed exclusively on one lap-top screen) with aplomb and some real tension. In Dark Web, an good-natured gang of twenty-somethings (of course) are planning to play a game of “Cards Against Humanity” over Skype. Things go sideways when the starring lap-top, operated by slacker Matias (Colin Woodell), is found to hold some very unsettling videos. Obviously the gang of youths could have made some better choices as the whatsit hits the fan, but it all holds together nicely. And if you’re willing to accept the central conceit that there are a lot of nasty “black hats” out there, well, it comes close to being believable.
(It just occurred to me that opening weekend was the weekend of Friday the 13th. Mystery of horror solved.)
Epic in both scope and length, Nobuhiko Obayashi‘s latest film (and would-have-been swan-song, had he not recovered from stage-four lung cancer diagnosis) concerns the interconnected lives of six young Japanese in the years just before the empire’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The title translates roughly into “Flower Basket,” an audio motif found throughout the film in a recurring song about a young man who went off to war. The heightened color palette, micro-flashbacks, and a tightly constructed cyclical soundscape maintain a sense of dreaminess: pleasant in the first act, subdued in the second, and morphing into darkness in the third. The six leads do a fine job in capturing their archetypes—naive, simmering, stoic, buoyant, awkward, and tuberculotic—but the boys’ professor (played by film veteran Takehiro Murata) stands out in particular. His statement, “art should have no borders”, is a message Obayashi must hold dearly in his heart. Any fans of Obayashi in particular and of artful Japanese cinema in general should check this out.
Oh how I wanted to love this movie. I truly did. The crowd loved it. I didn’t dislike it. This revenge tale of an avenging uncle and his two avenging nephews returning to Indonesia to exact revenge for their family’s murder hits a bunch of right notes, but veers so much between The Three Amigos and The Proposition in tone that it is impossible to take it at face value. I must say, though, that the villain—a Dutch colonial commandant by the name of Van Trach (Reinout Bussemaker)—makes this action/adventure piece just about worth it. He’s the kind of psycho who by day will execute just one innocent family member (instead of two) and regard it as a praise-worthy kindness, and by night can be found brooding in front of a portrait of himself before raping the indentured help. Nasty stuff. Unfortunately, it is interrupted with so much Disney-Smiley-Gung-Ho that the movie just crumples. Directed by Indonesia’s Mike Wiluan, a producer in his first directorial outing.
7/15: Aragne: Sign of Vermillion
I’m torn about whether to bring this to your attention, as I have very little good to say about it. I write this, though, to warn away anyone seeking a solid, unnerving, stylized anime. Saku Sakamoto’s movie starts very well, but almost had me walking out by the middle. The uncontextualized, the unexplained, and the utterly meandering swirl repetitively across the screen in a haze of needlessly complex-yet-clunky editing and neat-o visuals (if you don’t like evil maggoty things, consider this your second warning). A young woman begins seeing mysterious bugs after she moves to a housing block built on an old industrial site. Her primary sin, along with the rest of the characters, is never, ever making me care about her fate. A handful of very promising ideas (other-dimensional creepy bugs and military death projects from ’44, among them) just shuffle to the periphery of the “was that real?” quandaries and jump-scares. Never have I looked at my watch more during a 70-minute movie.
I hope that I hold up this well when I’m 107 years old. It would probably help, though, if I had a legendary electro-prog score composer following me around during my adventures. One of the great daddies of cinema wowed the audience with a performance by Maurizio Guarini (of Goblin fame) that breathed fresh new life into the sometimes creaking source material. Chronicling Dante’s trip through Hell under the guardianship of the poet Virgil, L’Inferno remains an impressive piece of cinema after all this time — even if it does remind the viewer that there were few things Dante liked more than placing anyone he disagreed with in eternal torment. From my vantage point near the front, I needed only to shift my gaze left to see Guarini plugging away solo on a keyboard. His prowess and enthusiasm carried the piece, and he’s as tireless as ever after so many decades of constant creativity. The event was naturally sold out, and even with my press badge and an hour-ahead arrival, I barely got in. Well worth the sore feet from waiting in line.
That was one of the strangest things I’ve seen.
But we don’t have to worry about it because it’s actually a collection of animated web shorts! Bwahahahaha.
After the reign of the love-extinguishing “Petit Jesus” begins on earth, the ground is scorched, the oceans are dried, and mankind is beset by famine, thirst, and roaming gangs of maniacs with chain-saws where their privates should be. Traveling across this milieu is the legendary hero, Jung, who wishes to reunite with his true love Maria. Through repetition, trials, and devouring his co-adventures, he eventually becomes strong enough to battle Petit Jesus. The Parisian psychos behind bobbypills.com have assembled, in stunning 4K, their collection of hyper-(hyper-)violent episodes of Jung’s comic adventure. Join him as he overcomes Compassion, Fortitude, and a slew of other monsters with his ten punch hit.
7/16 Mega Time Squad
New Zealand has a new director to watch out for: Mega Time Squad‘s Tim Van Dammen. My interest in the picture was cemented when I randomly met Tim while loitering in the Fantasia media room. An affable man, he’s created an affable comedy with a time-screwing twist. John (Anton Tennet), a collection boy for the crime boss of comatose Thames, NZ (pop.: not quite 7,000), loves his work — until he gets a bug in his ear about stealing thousands of dollars from an incoming Chinese gang without giving his boss the goods. With the aid of a mystical bracelet, he stumbles through countless bad decisions and zapping time backwards, in the process zapping John after John after John into being. Madcap capering ensues against the half-horse-town backdrop: will John(s) survive, trick the bad guys, grab the cash, and win the girl? It’d be a certainty if only he weren’t so dim — but then, time is on his side. (Recommended!)