FRAUD (USA, dir. Dean Fleischer-Camp)
FRAUD is the ultimate found-footage horror movie, but in a way that no one could have expected. Imagine if someone had access to all of your family’s home videos, hours and hours of special occasions and mundane moments alike. Now imagine this person edited those videos together in such a way to make it convincingly appear that your family committed insurance fraud. Director/editor Dean Fleischer-Camp found a family’s Youtube videos and expertly assembled FRAUD from hundreds of clips, fashioning a fiction narrative from real home videos. And it’s definitely a narrative, although Fleischer-Camp’s approach (and presumably his intent) is closer to experimental cinema. In a world where people post their entire lives online, it’s entirely possible that someone else can take that life and mold it into something much different. As interesting as the film is in its approach, the actual experience of watching it is not terribly compelling?—?this is, after all, still ultimately a compilation of home video clips.
NEIGHBORHOOD FOOD DRIVE (USA, dir. Jerzy Rose)
Madeline (Lyra Hill) and Naomi (Bruce Bundy) started an upscale restaurant called Ciao in Chicago’s Humboldt Park, but they’re facing backlash for their part in gentrifying the neighborhood. They decide to throw a neighborhood food drive at Ciao to help their image and hire an intern, Bianca (Ruby McCollister), whose boyfriend Steven (Marcos Barnes) is a waiter at the restaurant. Bianca and Steven’s professor David (Ted Tremper) is providing them with unofficial and highly unusual couples counseling and joins them in helping plan the party. Will these five people be able to throw one successful food drive, or will their hubris destroy them all? NEIGHBORHOOD FOOD DRIVE is one of the absolute funniest films of the year, amping up the barbed satire of Rose’s previous feature CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY to a level of nightmarish absurdity. All of its central characters are terrifyingly self-centered and fundamentally misguided, but the cast plays them to perfection and the film is unpredictable in its brilliant left-field touches. Rose plays the supremely unimportant travails of these characters like a horror movie, with lurid Bavaesque lighting and an ominous synth score casting a pall of dread over the proceedings. NEIGHBORHOOD FOOD DRIVE is hilariously bleak, inventive, and utterly unique.
SHE’S ALLERGIC TO CATS (USA, dir. Michael Reich)
Mike Pinkney (Mike Pinkney) moved to Hollywood to make movies, but instead he’s grooming dogs. In his off hours he makes lo-fi video art with an old camcorder, but what he really wants to do is an all-cat remake of CARRIE. Mike’s life is an increasingly unmanageable mess, from the rats that infest his shoddy rented house to his producer Sebastian (Flula Borg) berating him for not coming up with ideas that have commercial potential. One day at work he meets Cora (Sonja Kinski) and asks her out, but when the big evening comes things go much differently than Mike hoped. Debut feature writer/director Michael Reich gives SHE’S ALLERGIC TO CATS the look and texture of one of its protagonist’s videos: everything has a sheen of hazy video noise and the movie frequently lapses into multi-layered montages of images and text. It’s an audacious choice and takes some getting used to, but it perfectly fits the material. It also gives what could be a fairly typical indie comedy about a struggling filmmaker a creepy, dreamlike atmosphere that is often completely at odds with what’s happening on-screen. That gives the film a distinct tone that Reich manages to maintain even as it veers from surreal comedy into more horrific territory. It’s a singular and intriguing debut feature, and it’ll be interesting to see where Reich goes from here.
THE VOID (Canada, dir. Jeremy Gillespie & Steven Kostanski)
Police officer Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) is almost done with his shift when he sees a man stagger out of the woods and collapse in the road. He gets the man into his cruiser and heads for the nearest emergency room, which happens to be the only thing left operational in the local hospital after a fire severely damaged the building. Carter’s estranged wife Allison (Kathleen Munroe) is running a skeleton crew, and shortly after Carter arrives a cult of white-robed figures and two men bent on killing the man Carter brought to the hospital arrive. But those are the least of their problems when they’re forced to defend themselves against an otherworldly threat. Directors Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski are two members of Canadian comedy filmmaking collective Astron 6, and it’s no surprise they’re so adept at creating truly horrific atmosphere–even some of Astron 6’s comedy is really disturbing. In some ways, THE VOID is a familiar siege horror film with characters barricaded in one location and dealing with threats from inside and outside. What sets it apart are its absolutely incredible practical monster effects and a grasp of what makes Lovecraftian horror so unsettling. This captures the feeling of that style better than anything since FROM BEYOND. In world where “Hello Cthulhu” exists, THE VOID brings terror back to cosmic horror.
SAINT BERNARD (USA/France, dir. Gabriel Bartalos)
A composer named Bernard (Jason Dugre) stumbles through a series of bizarre events after finding the severed head of a Saint Bernard, which he puts in a bag and carries around with him. Writer/director Gabe Bartalos has been working in makeup and special effects since the 1980s, making a name for himself with credits including FROM BEYOND and DARKMAN. But it’s his work with Matthew Barney that SAINT BERNARD ultimately most resembles; the film’s structure is closer to CREMASTER than LEPRECHAUN. Bernard’s encounters range from an encounter with a monstrous chief of police at a Kafkaesque police station to an attack by anthropomorphic bundles of human hair. It’s all but impossible to summarize SAINT BERNARD, as any semblance of narrative is much less important than its constant barrage of bizarre surrealist imagery. What makes the film compelling, though, is its handmade feel. The production and set designs are dizzyingly intricate, and the practical effects are often astonishing. It would likely benefit from repeat viewings, and it was clearly a labor of love for Bartalos. It’s definitely not going to be for everybody, but anyone looking for top-shelf weirdo eye candy should put SAINT BERNARD on their watch list immediately.
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Tags: Boston, Boston Underground Film Festival, Brattle Theatre, Canada, Dean Fleischer-Camp, Film Festivals, France, Gabriel Bartalos, Horror, Jeremy Gillespie, Jerzy Rose, Michael Reich, Steven Kostanski