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Here’s a roundup of four notable genre films screening at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival that, for one reason or another, did not receive full-length reviews. If the descriptions intrigue you, look out for these in the coming months.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair: As an indie melodrama wrapped in the guise of a horror story, World’s Fair maintains an uneasy ambiguity up through its melancholy epilogue. Casey (portrayed by the age-ambiguous Anna Cobb) is a young high schooler who joins the “World’s Fair” horror cult during a ritual that begins the movie. The eight-minute opening shot cements Casey’s mien and milieu: shy awkwardness housed in an attic bedroom with a glow-in-the-dark-star-covered ceiling. She seeks the unsettling changes promised by a community of horror thrill-seekers, whom we meet through posted videos of “the change.”
On the cusp of adulthood, Casey has yet found no place for herself. Dysphoric, she flirts with suicide. World’s Fair manages to be neither heavy-handed with moralizing, nor tedious with its insistent lack of clarity. That is a narrow path to walk, and transgender “writer, editor, and director” Jane Schoenbrun guides us through this journey with a sure hand. I bring up Schoenbrun’s circumstances because even before reading the director’s statement, I could sense that she unpacks her past confusions and sufferings through storytelling in the intimate depths of this film. The film was a novel experience for me, being the only example of “ominously quirky” cinema I’ve ever seen.
Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It: I love coming across movies that make for deadly drinking games. Take a shot every time Ernar Nurgaliev’s Brother Kooka shares an old Kazakhstani saying; you’ll pass out in the first twenty minutes. But the story? Oh yeah, the story. Das and his two buddies go on a weekend fishing trip. Das is dying to escape harassing calls from his creditors, constant arguments with his pregnant wife about a baby name, and the general crush of day-to-day existence. When this happy-go-lucky crew accidentally toss a bottle of urine at the car windshield of a four criminal brothers (all perfectly understandable in the frantic context), things begin to go awry. The thugs hit a dog in the confusion, and so enters the Psycho Rural Archetype. This is all very silly, and thank goodness. It is also superbly shot, with balanced frames, clever angles, and also a stylistic touch that particularly tickled my love for tidiness: the opening credits were nicely aligned on various horizontal surfaces. All said and done, a highly recommended romp.
Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break: “This lunch break, I’m going to right all the wrongs that have happened to me and my mum,” threatens the titular reality-star-wannabe. And he does, in a way. This movie is an unabashedly droll mash-up of Falling Down and Airheads, hitting all the expected notes of vengeance and comedy, mightily holding its sequined head high. You’ve seen this story before: aging loser hits back against the system, this time in the form of a dictatorially officious train platform attendant, a racially ignorant tea-shop owner, corrupt church officials, and that scummiest of scumbags, the reality talent show host. I found it impossible not to enjoy, though, as Nick Gillespie is a master of comedy craft, cramming together chuckle-time vignettes and sprinkling lyric-references throughout. Like a classic tune you can’t help bopping your head to, Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break is a breezy number that forces a smile to your face.
Hayop Ka! The Nimfa Dimaano Story: One cat, two dogs, an exotic city—Avid Liongoren’s animated send-up of telenovelas has it all. Nimfa is a perfume counter cat (of course) dating a burly janitor canine, but has a meet-cute with a very wealthy property mogul (also canine) and her life is up-ended. Liongoren delivers playful pokes to Filipino society, particularly the serialized soap operas so prevalent on television. Animation is the perfect medium for the surreal silly touches (cue rubber-ducky drop exposing the hunky male lead after he declares, “let us give in to our burning desires!”) as well as the video-game inspired battles that erupt whenever Nimfa is pushed too far. Clocking in at a swift seventy-four minutes, Hayop Ka! (translation: “You Animal!”) lands in that difficult sweet spot: nothing skated over, no loose ends, and you’re left with that pleasing sensation of wanting a little more.