It’s really a testament to the scope and variety of the things one can see at the Fantasia International Film Festival that my top 5 Fantasia films this year can contain a big-budget sci-fi Blockbuster and a movie so obscure and bizarre that I’ll likely never get a chance to see it again. The entire spectrum of film making is encompassed in Fantasia’s 2014 program, from the ultra-budget to the micro-budget, and all places in between. Old and new, comedy and tragedy (and mixes thereof), you can see it all at Fantasia, and no matter what it is, odds are it will be something you’ll remember for a long time to come. This year five films in particular left a lasting impression on me, and they seem to encompass that all-important Fantasia variety quite nicely.
Fantasia Film Festival 2014
A festival the likes of Fantasia is not to be tread lightly. For a variety of evident reasons it is a behemoth of an event, lasting far longer than the vast majority of other movie festivals and offering a slew of genre features and shorts ranging from lighter fair some may deem to be mainstream to supremely hard core, provocateur material. As with any event of similar ilk, not everything showcased earns the passing grade.
Frank follows a post-internet age Billy Liar and asks, “What if he did follow his dream through, but his idol was a lunatic?” Jon (Domnhall Gleeson), a young middling English songwriter, gets invited to play keyboard for the aforementioned Frank (Michael Fassbender). Frank wears a giant fake head made of papier-mâché and refuses to take it off. Soon, Jon is invited to spend a year in Ireland with the band as they record their painstakingly overblown album, all the while secretly filming it and posting clips to YouTube.
Notwithstanding a third act that comes across as laborious for how it strives to resolve the plot, Steel Cold Winter is fittingly titled character study, guided by reserved but highly efficient direction that helps set the film’s deliberate pace. In many ways the film is cold, both in tone and for its wintry setting. Even the few wisecracks tossed by certain peripheral characters about the strangeness of the happenings do little to alleviate the overall serious mood Choi’s picture steeps itself in.
For the most part Time Lapse efficiently builds suspense around its simple conceit, offering a tightly wound up story that showcases how a once closely-knit unit can break apart when its pieces begin to obsess over the details of their respective lives that were, that are and those that shall come to pass. Bradley King smartly offers up a depiction of people’s obsession with destiny. In this case said destiny is not manifest in the traditionally understood sense but rather figuratively served on a platter for the trio of plucky protagonists to observe, digest and then obsessively try to adhere to it out of fear that any deviation will lead to their ultimate obliteration.
Part of the advantage of being an ardent supporter of action movies, similarly to die hard horror movie buffs, is the exponential choice from which one can choose a film to watch. The good stuff is divine whereas the bad stuff, when particularly poor, is bafflingly loathsome. Guardian is a cacophony of loud noises, a ruckus storm of aural and visual attacks that might leave some shaking their heads to recover from the stupor. When a movie is as senseless as this one, who can blame them.
Bluntly revealing information to the audience is one manner by which to increase the tension, another being the performance of a capable star. In the case of Creep that star shines very brightly on Mark Duplass. Having co-written the screenplay with director Patrick Brice Duplass was well positioned to understand where to take the character, how to behave and when to dial up the creepiness. The most inventive decision is to make Josef has compelling a character as he is through comedy.
Cybernatural suffers an unenviable fate. Movies that take time to find their groove but end strong can be forgiven. Those that carry the potential to do something of interest only to squander that potential in as worrisome a fashion as does Cybernatural make for painfully disappointing experiences. This movie won’t scare anyone away from using Facebook or Skype any time soon.
Just this year has seen the relatively wider releases of dreck the likes of Almost Human and All Cheerleaders Die, both films that can easily discourage horror movie junkies from continuing the exploration of what the American independent scene has to offer. Enter Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer who collectively bring forth a surprisingly effective, unnerving, fantastically gory and thematically intelligent movie about the soul-sucking motion pictures industry in the City of Angels.
After Tim Burton’s Ed Wood was released, Sarah Jessica Parker remarked in interviews that she had just played the worst actress of all time. Delores Fuller, Wood’s ex-wife and would-be starlet, responded, albeit quietly, merely stating, “That hurt” on a Plan 9 From Outer Space DVD. The Creep Behind The Camera, Pete Schuermann’s docu-drama surrounding the making of 1962’s The Creeping Terror, retains as much class and care for its subjects are Parker did for Fuller.
Naito packages this descent into hell with black humour and disgusting, unnerving visuals that clearly denote the lengths to which Shigeo is willing to go in order to have his way with people. It isn’t just that the live recordings he dispatches are eerie for their content, but the obvious joy the antagonist reaps from putting his victims (both the kidnaped and the sorry souls lured into futile games that never end well anyways) through mental and physical torture. The director finds the oddest ways to infuse humour into proceedings that in the hands of most other filmmakers would be blanketed in an impossibly bleak tone.
Pouvoir intime, or Blind Trust if you’re of the Anglo persuasion, is a film that has more or less fallen through the cracks of time. It was issued on home video once upon a time, in the long-past age known as the VHS era, and hasn’t been seen in a newer format since. Luckily, some enterprising folks at the Fantasia International Film Festival got together with the Cinémathèque québécoise and got them to dust off their 35mm print of the film. Showing these kinds of movies serves a very specific purpose: they add depth and texture to a film culture that was still figuring itself out even in the mid-80s.
‘Irish horror movie’ isn’t a phrase that comes up a lot, unless someone brings up Grabbers, and why on Earth would anyone do that. And yet, Fantasia 2014 has seen the unveiling of Let Us Prey, a new horror film by first time director Brian O’Malley, which is already making waves in the horror film circuit, and with good reason. Let Us Prey is a tense, tightly-wound and effective horror film that shows incredible promise from O’Malley, and delivers both for gore fans and those in search of something a little deeper than mere exploitation.
Archetypal characters, an easy to follow story, emotions that are worn on the film’s sleeve, and a soundtrack with easy listening pop rock are all featured prominently in Siti Kamaluddin’s Yasmine. Most have seen this sort of movie before, probably more than once. Credit where credit is due, however, as it should be argued that the filmmakers at least do a very nice job at making a film that can win over an audience, something not all films that follow such tropes accomplish.
It can be argued that a movie that is about a great many things is a strong one. There are more than enough examples throughout film history to support this statement. Movies that tackle several issues can be analyzed and enjoyed on multiple levels and speak to a wider audience than those that concentrate on hammering home a single viewpoint or idea. One must be mindful, though, that the mere fact that a film is thematically multifaceted is not a guarantee of quality. The filmmaker must cohesively weave the numerous ideas into the film’s fabric to help ensure cohesion for the final product.
Typically, a brutal murderer’s wardrobe in a horror film is chosen because it’s spooky or hides some kind of physical deformity. It’s no accident in Aik Karapetian’s cruelly vile and unpleasant The Man in the Orange Jacket that the titular killer dresses that way, and no surprise he quickly sheds himself of his uniform at the first opportunity.
Based on Robert A. Heinlein’s short story All You Zombies, Predestination sees an unnamed agent (Ethan Hawke) for the temporal agency leap through time to catch an elusive serial murderer known as The Fizzle Bomber before he destroys over ten city blocks in New York. The only problem is the bomber seems to be aware of the attempts to stop him, as he keeps changing the specific day and time of his latest catastrophe.
Is Gun Woman stupid? Yes, it is very stupid. Is it revolting? Yes, in some scenes it is quite revolting. Just as shocking as some of the plot developments themselves, Mitsutake’s film ends up a pretty memorable lark. One has to enter with the proper mindset of course otherwise it will easily turn off the average viewer. The film embraces the ‘show, don’t tell’ mantra, never shying away from depicting some truly gross effects. If one can handle a little queasiness, Gun Woman is a brash and bold bit of dark humour.
Though time travel often demands expectation of the messiest, awfullest worst, Hugh Sullivan’s debut feature-length effort is one smoothly cut time machine. Whereas Primer has taught us to expect headaches, hair-splitting logic, and, for some of us, an utter lack of a point, The Infinite Man delivers laudable clarity, fun, and a deceptively straightforward end in sight.