DELIVER US (Italy, dir. Federica Di Giacomo)
A priest arrives at his church to find a long line of people waiting to see him one-on-one before Mass begins. This may not seem totally out of the ordinary, but a good number of the people waiting to see him want themselves or a loved one to be exorcised of demons that cause them problems. Bad behavior in school, lust, drinking, drugs, exhaustion—anything and everything that they may consider out of the ordinary. DELIVER US is a fascinating snapshot of a place where exorcism isn’t the Earth-shaking battle depicted in horror movies, but an accepted facet of everyday life. He’s even shown performing multiple exorcisms via cell phone with the “demon” hissing at him from the other end of the call. The film follows the priest as he deals with people’s problems both demonic and prosaic, as well as a handful of the “possessed” as they try to deal with their issues. Director Federica Di Giacomo’s documentary observes passively as episodes unfold, providing no voiceover or interaction with the film’s subjects and allowing the viewer to take what they will from the proceedings. Whether you believe in the concept of demonic possession or not, DELIVER US is a candid and unsettling look at a unique phenomenon.
GOING TO BRAZIL (France, dir. Patrick Mille)
Best friends Agathe (Alison Wheeler) and Chloé (Margon Banchilhon) are having a rough week. Agathe’s younger sister Lily (Philippine Stindel) has anger management problems that are causing her trouble in school and in the world at large, while Chloé’s latest boyfriend has abruptly dumped her in the middle of a work shift. While hanging out together being miserable, they get a big surprise: Katia (Vanessa Guide), their other best friend who unceremoniously ditched them, is heavily pregnant and getting married in Brazil and she wants them to be at the wedding. Chloé is reluctant, but it doesn’t take much convincing on Agathe’s part to get the three young women on a plane to South America for a wild weekend. Although they hardly could have expected just how wild it would get when they hit a party the first night in town and Lily ends up accidentally killing a guy who tries to assault her. Before they can sneak out of the hotel and back onto a plane to France, circumstances for Katia to join them in a cross-country trek to French Guiana, their only chance to escape the country. But will lingering issues between the women ruin their escape? It’s difficult not to think of GOING TO BRAZIL is a sort of French counterpart to ROUGH NIGHT—both films focus on a group of friends and an accidental murder, but GOING TO BRAZIL is considerably darker and less straightforwardly comedic. The relationships between the leads are convincing and relatable, and all four women give solid performances. The tonal zig-zagging between charming relationship comedy and, say, people being thrown off of buildings or shot is also much more pronounced than the comparatively zany antics throughout ROUGH NIGHT. It’s an uneasy hybrid of comedy, drama, and action that never feels entirely cohesive, but GOING TO BRAZIL has enough unpredictable energy and heart to make it worth a watch.
THE ENDLESS (USA, dir. Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead)
Brothers Justin and Aaron Smith (writer/directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, respectively) are muddling along in their lives without much direction. They grew up in a “UFO cult” and escaped in their teens, but after a brief period of public interest they’re stuck in dead-end jobs. Aaron wants to go back to the cult’s compound for a visit, and after some reluctance Justin grudgingly agrees. They arrive to find things exactly the way they were when they left. In fact, not just the grounds, but the people are still exactly the same. Aaron finds himself attracted to Anna (Callie Hernandez), a young woman who used to babysit him when he was younger and who still looks the same age. Justin chalks it up to their strict regimen of organic foods, exercise, and hard work, but as the brothers spend a few days in the camp it starts to look like something else might be the source of the cult members’ youthful vigor–and it may already be too late for the brothers to escape again. Benson & Moorhead’s debut feature RESOLUTION was a brilliant take on the basic “cabin in the woods” template that spiraled out from the tense relationship between two best friends to encompass a brain-breaking cosmic horror. THE ENDLESS is something of a return to that world, and it’s arguably even better. The writer/directors have a convincing fraternal chemistry, and they’re a great comic team as well. THE ENDLESS expands on the mythology established in their first film and the obscure online companions that helped flesh out this world a little beyond the text of the film itself. The writer/director/stars manage an impressive tightrope act between the comic and horrifying, and while it’s certainly not a requirement to see RESOLUTION before this film it is that rare sequel or companion film that not only improves on its predecessor, but actually improves the experience of watching its predecessor. This is one of the biggest surprises and best films of the year in any genre.
THE MANSION (France, dir. Tony T. Datis)
Nine friends (and one adorable dog) are heading to a remote mansion for “2000s”-themed New Year’s Eve party at the request of central couple Fabrice (Marc Jarousseau) and Nadine (Nathalie Odzierejko). It’s a creepy, sprawling house surrounded by woods famous for being a good place to hunt wild boar. At dinner, Fabrice and Nadine make a big announcement, but the joyful party atmosphere is torpedoed when Bruno (Ludovik Day) staggers outside to vomit and makes a grisly discovery. The partygoers are not alone, but is the threat lurking in the dark human or something else? More importantly, can Drazic (Vincent Tirel) make enough hallucinogenic mushroom cupcakes to go around? If the setup for THE MANSION sounds familiar, it shouldn’t be a surprise. Aside from an unusually large cast of potential victims, this is a by-the-numbers horror/comedy that is never quite funny or gruesome enough to make much of an impression. Aside from laid-back dealer Drazic and shy goth outsider Charlotte (Lila Lacombe), every one of the characters is utterly obnoxious and deeply unsympathetic. Worst of them all is Stéphane (Jérôme Niel), obsessive and temperamental ex-boyfriend of Sam (Vanessa Guide, who also appeared in GOING TO BRAZIL at this year’s Fantasia), who is so relentlessly nasty to everyone there seems to be no convincing reason he would have been invited to the party in the first place. If it had anything to say about horror clichés or any fun tweaks of formula it could have been much better, but as it is THE MANSION is happy enough to traffic in uninspired tropes and hope that’s enough to keep the audience watching for a full 100 minutes.
THE NIGHT WATCHMEN (USA, dir. Mitchell Altieri)
Beloved clown Blumpo and his circus contract a mysterious disease and die in Romania, and on the return of their bodies to the States Blumpo’s is accidentally delivered to the warehouse of a Baltimore newspaper. Everybody’s working late to finish a big deadline, so it’s an easier shift than usual for the paper’s spectacularly lazy and inept night watchmen, whose ranks include a new guy everyone calls “Rajeeve” (Max Gray Wilbur) because he has to wear the former guard’s uniform and name tag until his are delivered. When creepy head honcho Randall (James Remar) opens Blumpo’s coffin to steal the famous clown’s nose, he unwittingly unleashes a vampiric threat on Baltimore. Can the night watchmen stop the vampires before it’s too late? Probably not, right? Director Mitchell Altieri was previously one half of horror directing team “The Butcher Brothers” with Phil Flores, and has directed a number of features of his own. While his output has been wildly inconsistent, it has previously been at least interesting or ambitiously weird. Unfortunately THE NIGHT WATCHMEN is neither. Instead, it’s a desperately unfunny horror/comedy that leans hard on stupid, lazy stereotypes and “jokes”: black people don’t like camping, some ladies have girlfriends, some guys don’t like people to think they’re gay, weed gets you high, clowns are creepy, poop smells bad, sexual harassment is hilarious, etc. etc. ad nauseum. Its setup is very similar to another recent “vampires in an office” horror/comedy, Brian James O’Connell’s BLOODSUCKING BASTARDS, but whereas that film had a sort of low-budget charm and a cast that could sell its modest jokes, THE NIGHT WATCHMEN goes out of its way to be as off-putting as possible. There are a few bright spots, most notably Kara Luiz and Dan DeLuca in the cast (Tiffany Shepis makes a welcome but entirely too brief appearance) and the use of buckets and buckets of practical gore is appreciated, but none of that is quite enough to make this film worth a watch for any but the least discerning and most easily amused horror fans. Here’s hoping Altieri gets back to the really weird stuff that defined his most interesting work next time.
A TAXI DRIVER (South Korea, dir. Hun Jang)
Struggling single father and private taxi driver Man-seop (Song Kang-ho) is too concerned with the immediate difficulties of his life to notice the political and social upheaval happening around him in Seoul. Student protestors take to the streets, but he’s too busy taking care of his daughter and trying to catch up on back rent to give much thought to anything else. When he overhears another taxi driver talking about a foreigner offering to pay a huge fare for a ride to Gwangju, he sneaks away and takes the fare himself. The foreigner in question is Jürgen Hinzpeter (Thomas Kretschmann), a German reporter living in Japan who has caught wind of something big happening in Gwangju. Man-seop drives to the town and finds it barricaded by military forces, but he manages to scheme past a blockade and finds Gwangju all but abandoned. Over the next two days, Man-seop has a difficult awakening as he realizes the importance of getting Hinzpeter and his footage out of the country to tell the world about what is happening. A TAXI DRIVER is based on the true story of Hinzpeter’s trip to Gwangju to document the massacre there, which proved to be instrumental in alerting the world at large to the situation in South Korea in 1980 and changed the course of that country’s history. Song Kang-ho, a frequent on-screen collaborator with noted South Korean directors Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-Ho, and Kim Jee-woon, gives another excellent and emotionally affecting performance as the titular taxi driver. His realization of the threat to his country and its future—and specifically that of his daughter—is a powerful arc that pulls the action of the film forward. It does feel a tad overlong with maybe one too many set pieces toward the end, but there’s no denying the emotional power of the central relationship between the taxi driver and Hinzpeter, especially given the information about the real story provided at the end of the film. A TAXI DRIVER is a fantastic film, the best of a strong roster of South Korean films at this year’s Fantasia. It is being released in the States this month, and anyone who gets a chance to see it on the big screen should make it a priority.
This brings my chronological coverage of Fantasia 2017 to a close, although I will also be posting another “catch-up” breakdown of films I did not catch during their previous screenings at the fest soon. Huge thanks Emmanuelle DiBuono, Ted Geoghegan, and Kaila Hier at the Fantasia press office for facilitating this remote coverage and to Daily Grindhouse for giving me the chance to cover the fest again this year!
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