Here’s Jason Coffman’s fourth dispatch from the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. Catch up on the first one by clicking on this sentence. And here’s the second! And the third! Now, for door number four…
PSYCHONAUTS, THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN (Spain, dir. Alberto Vázquez and Pedro Rivero)
After an apocalyptic struggle, a community of anthropomorphic animals live isolated on a small island. Dinky, a young mouse, wants to escape the island but wants her secret boyfriend Birdboy to come with her. Birdboy is deeply troubled and damaged by the terrible events of his childhood. While Dinky and her friends attempt to make their way across the island to a boat that will take them away, Birdboy is tracked by the vicious police dogs who want to kill him. PSYCHONAUTS, adapted from a graphic novel by its co-directors, is a dark animated feature starring a roster of very cute characters in very bad situations. However, while that could have been played easily for shock value, Vázquez and Rivero use this as a jumping-off point for a melancholy portrait of its young characters. While the film is unquestionably dark, it’s also quite touching in its portrayal of friendship and doomed young love. Thankfully there is also some weird humor to keep things from becoming oppressively sad, and those moments grow out of the strange world Vázquez and Rivero have created so it never feels out of place. This is a beautiful, fascinating animated film for older audiences—again, despite its characters and design, it deals with some tough issues—which is an exceptionally rare thing in modern cinema.
REALIVE (Spain, dir. Mateo Gil)
In the year 2015, successful artist Marc Jarvis (Tom Hughes) learns he has terminal cancer. In the year 2084, he becomes the first cryogenically frozen person to be reanimated. REALIVE follows the two parallel tracks of Marc’s lives that have distinctive tones: the 2015 segments are a romantic drama, and the 2084 scenes approach cryogenic reanimation as quasi-hard science fiction. The early parts of this, leading up to and immediately following the reanimation process, are especially interesting in the film’s nuts-and-bolts way of looking at this speculative process turns it into a sort of twist on FRANKENSTEIN. Writer/director Mateo Gil deftly balances the tone of the stories, and the result is a film that is reminiscent of Andrew Niccol’s GATTACA. It’s a smart, touching film that very slowly evolves into something quite different than it is at the beginning and ends with a gut-punch that throws everything that came before into a new light.
RED CHRISTMAS (Australia, dir. Craig Anderson)
Diane (Dee Wallace) and her brother Joe (Geoff Morrell) are getting their family together for one last Christmas before Diane sells the family home following the death of her husband. Her adult kids are almost uniformly awful people, and more than happy to bicker and taunt each other into screaming fights. One such interaction is interrupted at the dinner table with the arrival of mysterious cloaked figure Cletus (Sam Campbell) at the door. Diane invites Cletus in, but he refers to a dark secret from her past and her chipper demeanor suddenly changes to panicked anger. They kick Cletus out, but after dark he returns to exact vengeance on Diane’s family. RED CHRISTMAS has a spectacular performance by Dee Wallace and very little else to recommend it. Opening with a gruesome pre-credits sequence depicting the bombing of an abortion clinic, the film seems to want to be a gleefully offensive comedy but its confused tone never quite lands there. The credits may have a hint as to why the film seems to be constantly conflicted between splatstick murders and drama—there’s a list of recommended viewing of films about abortion that includes OBVIOUS CHILD, the documentary AFTER TILLER, and the explicitly pro-life Christian film OCTOBER BABY. By refusing to pick an approach to the material, debut feature writer/director Craig Anderson dooms RED CHRISTMAS to be a gory curiosity rather than an enjoyable horror film.
TANK 432 (UK, dir. Nick Gillespie)
After an operation goes south, a group of mercenaries discover a pile of bodies at an abandoned depot. Injured and unsettled, they move on leaving one of their number behind, and end up hiding out in an abandoned Bulldog tank from their unseen enemy. Once inside, the situation deteriorates rapidly, and once they discover they’re trapped in the tiny space, it’s only a matter of time before panic takes hold. Although that may still be preferable to whatever it is waiting for them outside. TANK 432 is an intensely claustrophobic film, taking place largely inside the titular tank. That claustrophobic feeling is the film’s greatest asset in its first half, as otherwise it feels very similar to other “locked room” siege films. As the story progresses and things get weirder, the film moves into more overtly surreal and horrific territory culminating in a finale that leaves open exponentially more questions than it answers. It’s not a new horror classic by any means, but it’s a solid and well-acted piece of tense horror that’s well worth a look.
SORI: VOICE FROM THE HEART (South Korea, dir. Lee Ho-jae)
Hae-Gwan (Sung-min Lee) is a desperate father who has been searching for his daughter for over a decade after she went missing after a fire in an underground train station and her body was never recovered. He follows a hint that sends him to a remote island where someone claims to have seen her. His visit serendipitously occurs at the same time an American Echelon surveillance satellite hears the voice of a child just before the bombing of an Afghan elementary school and decides it must help her, sending itself out of orbit and crashing into the ocean near where Hae-Gwan is searching. The satellite can identify anyone by their voice, prompting Hae-Gwan to use it to help search for his missing daughter while American authorities and the South Korean government are in a race to track it down before the other can recover it. SORI’s setup immediately recalls SHORT CIRCUIT, as does its adorable robot protagonist, but this is much sweeter and less of a throwback than it may initially seem. The interaction between lead Sung-min Lee and the robot is convincing and endearing, giving the audience a genuine relationship and thoughtfully drawn characters to invest in.
IN SEARCH OF THE ULTRA-SEX (France, dir. Nicolas Charlet & Bruno Lavaine)
A spaceship on a mission away from Earth receives a distress signal from home: suddenly everyone in the world is compelled to fuck constantly. The ship’s crew discovers that someone has stolen The Ultra-Sex, and if it’s not recovered all of humanity will be obsessed with sex forever. IN SEARCH OF THE ULTRA-SEX is entirely assembled from clips of other films that have been edited and dubbed to create the illusion of a (intermittently) coherent narrative. Many clips are from adult films of the ’70s and ’80s, although there’s a big helping of SAMURAI COP and WAR OF THE ROBOTS in there as well. This is extremely goofy stuff, but in addition to the juvenile humor there are a lot of clips that prove sex movies can be hilarious and deeply weird even without silly voiceovers — maybe the best part of the movie is when the story takes a break and there’s an extended scene of two painfully ’80s people posing in different “sexy” positions for the camera. There’s probably no way this could ever get a legit release on home video in the States, but it’s a riot to watch in a theater with a game crowd.
SUPERPOWERLESS (USA, dir. Duane Andersen)
Bob (Josiah Polhemus) used to be San Francisco-based superhero Captain Truth, but as he’s aged into his 40s he finds he’s lost his powers. He spends his days wandering around the city, drinking and avoiding his former sidekick Liberty Boy (H.P. Mendoza), who’s just published a memoir. Bob’s girlfriend Mimi (Amy Prosser) suggests maybe Bob should write his own book, so he buys a handheld sound recorder and starts dictating stories. When his Craigslist ad looking for an editor reels in Danniell (Natalie Lander), a beautiful young woman obviously attracted to him, Bob finds himself in uncharted territory. SUPERPOWERLESS is a showcase for Polhemus as Bob, and he’s great, but the real standout is Amy Prosser as his long-suffering girlfriend who is navigating some tricky terrain in her professional life and trying to support sad-sack Bob. There are a few sharp gags on superhero tropes, but mostly this is an adult comedy/drama about a man struggling to find his purpose and other than the superhero angle there’s not a lot to differentiate it from similar films of this type.
THE SHOW OF SHOWS (UK, dir. Benedikt Erlingsson)
Filmmaker Benedikt Erlingsson collaborated with members of Sigur Rós on this experimental documentary, in which he trawled through a century’s worth of footage from circuses and sideshows. The result is a collage of evocative moments grouped into themed categories and set to musical pieces. The often ambient, ethereal tone of the music is frequently at odds with the footage other than the opening segment which sort of sets the stage for the rest of the film. That segment feels appropriately melancholic and nostalgic set to the delicate arrangement, but THE SHOW OF SHOWS rarely reaches that kind of moment of synergy between music and image again. It’s an intriguing concept and the footage Erlingsson chose for the film is all fascinating, but at 74 minutes it gets tiresome in its second half. Note: This may also be a completely different viewing experience seen on a big screen in a theater with a nice sound system!
ATMO HORROX (Canada, dir. Pat Tremblay)
Director Pat Tremblay’s previous feature, HELLACIOUS ACRES: THE CASE OF JOHN GLASS, is one of the most perplexing movies I’ve ever seen. It plays out sort of like watching someone LARPing a FALLOUT game for a couple of hours, with no idea what they’re doing. I was confounded by the film when I first saw it, but the more I’ve thought about it over the years, the more I’ve wanted to revisit it. Tremblay’s new feature, ATMO HORROX, is insane on a totally different level. It makes HELLACIOUS ACRES look like an episode of FRIENDS. There’s no decipherable dialogue—characters speak in either unintelligible nonsense syllables or screeching walls of noise—and while eventually something like a narrative emerges from its absurd repetition, it’s almost impossible to say what the “story” here might be from just one viewing. Most audiences are probably going to find this to be unwatchable, but anyone willing to embrace the film’s utterly unique style and Tremblay and his actors’ fearless dedication to such a peculiar vision will find ATMO HORROX to be hilariously absurd and unnerving in equal measure. I’m very sad I didn’t get to see this with the audience at Fantasia; I’d love to have seen how they would react to something this bizarre!
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