Here’s Jason Coffman’s second dispatch from the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. Catch up on the last one by clicking on this sentence. Now get to reading — a third installment is on the way!
THE EYES OF MY MOTHER (USA, dir. Nicolas Pesce)
Francisca (Olivia Bond) lives on an isolated farm with her Mother (Diana Agostini), a Portuguese immigrant, and Father (Paul Nazak). Their quiet lives are upended when young drifter Charlie (Will Brill) wanders up to their house. Years later, Francisa (Kika Magalhaes) still lives on the farm, but loneliness has taken its toll on her. THE EYES OF MY MOTHER is a quiet, spare film shot in beautiful black & white that will probably read to some viewers as pretentious. But debut feature director Nicolas Pesce uses careful observations and long periods of silence to build toward moments of gut-churning horror. At its most harrowing, the filmrivals similar intimate psychological portraits of unstable individuals; while it shares little on the surface, the film feels strongly reminiscent of Lodge Kerrigan’s underseen classic CLEAN, SHAVEN(1993). THE EYES OF MY MOTHER is a fascinating work of art and an unsettlingly effective horror film.
WHITE COFFIN (Argentina, dir. Daniel de la Vega)
Virginia (Julieta Carinali) is driving somewhere in a hurry with her young daughter Rebeca (Fiorela Duranda) in the back seat. When she stops at a remote gas station to get something to eat, Rebeca goes missing, and suddenly Virginia finds herself in the middle of a twisted game that she must win to save her daughter’s life. Written by the García Bogliano brothers (COLD SWEAT, PENUMBRA), WHITE COFFIN hits the ground running and barely stops for a breath over the course of its brief running time (70 minutes including credits!). Director Daniel de la Vega keeps things moving at a breathless pace all the way up until the nasty final twist of the knife. This is horror/action as almost literal rollercoaster: It’s kind of a blur once it’s over, but WHITE COFFIN is a hell of a ride while it lasts.
THE WAILING (South Korea, dir. Na Hong-jin)
Inept policeman Jong-Goo (Do Won Kwak) is awakened early one morning by an unusual call. There’s been a murder, possible multiple murders, the first in his small South Korean village in years. Worse, the suspect appears to be suffering from an inexplicable illness. As more strange incidents occur, whispers in the town point to the arrival of a strange Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) as the point when things started to go wrong. Jong-Goo bumbles into a dangerous supernatural mystery that threatens to consume everyone. THE WAILING has already garnered a number of hugely enthusiastic reviews, and its appearance at Fantasia almost feels more like a victory lap than anything else. I know this puts me in a tiny majority, but I found THE WAILING far too long and its opening half far too goofy for the wild shifts in tone in the latter half to work.
FURY OF THE DEMON (France, dir. Fabien Delange)
In January of 2012, an esteemed collector of film prints held a secret screening of a film previously lost to time. Rumored to have been made by Georges Méliès himself, LA RAGE DU DEMON supposedly drove audiences who saw it into a violent rage, and the 2012 screening was no different. Using a mix of filmmakers like Alexandre Aja and Christophe Gans, RUE MORGUE editor-in-chief Dave Alexander, and even Pauline Méliès (great-great-granddaughter of Georges) as talking heads, FURY OF THE DEMON plays out as a documentary. The film is structured as a series of interviews discussing the mysterious lost film at the center of its story, and incidentally serves as a solid primer on the work of Georges Méliès. As the mystery unravels a bit, the film moves into more obviously fictional territory, but the film is at its best when it focuses on passionate cinephiles talking about the silent era and lost cinema. The event at the film’s center, however, is a major problem—it’s never remotely convincing that this event actually took place given the total lack of any supporting evidence other than the interviews. Still, hardcore film fans may find it worth a look just for the segments that are genuine and for the filmmakers interviewed.
THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON (Germany, dir. Stephan Rick)
Urs (Moritz Bleibtreu) is a cutthroat corporate lawyer who has a crisis of conscience after the tragic fallout from a merger between pharmaceutical corporations which he orchestrated. He meets young hippie Lucille (Nora von Waldstätten) and goes with her on a group mushroom trip that convinces him to leave his wife and career behind. But before he can sever ties with his old life completely, he gets an offer he can’t refuse from pharma magnate Pius Ott (Jürgen Prochnow): one last merger that will help get a drug to the market that may save countless lives. Urs agrees to take the job as a form of penance, but his behavior is becoming increasingly unhinged and he fears the mushrooms have lasting effects that are turning him into a violent monster. THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON is a slick thriller with a strong central performance by veteran actor Bleibtreu and a typically menacing turn by Prochnow, but is a little too cold to be fully engaging. It’s an adaptation of a novel and very much feels like one—it’s a bit overstuffed with characters and incidents that all feel a little cramped in the film’s running time. It’s technically proficient and handsomely mounted, but overall it feels something like a typical Hollywood adaptation of a popular novel, for better or worse.
THE LURE (Poland, dir. Agnieszka Smoczynska)
To say that the film is “unique” is a severe understatement: It’s a musical about man-eating mermaids who look like teenage girls getting a gig singing backup with a low-rent bar band in the early 1980s. It’s actually even weirder than it sounds, but eventually that works against it. The first hour or so is breathtakingly off-kilter, packed with both low-key songs and one huge dance number that could have been pulled from a big-budget Bollywood movie. It’s somewhat disappointing when the plot meanders off into a number of directions without any real payoff in its final act. Still, despite its unsatisfying finale, THE LURE is unlike anything else out there and well worth a look and proves that Smoczynska is definitely a talent to watch.
THE ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK (USA, dir. Joel Potrykus)
Sean (Ty Hickson) is holed up in a tiny trailer deep in the woods with his cat Kaspar. He’s working on something that requires precise mixtures of chemicals and speaking incantations. Occasionally his cousin Cortez (Amari Cheatom) drops by with supplies, but otherwise Sean is alone in the forest with Kaspar and something sinister and powerful. And one incredibly creepy opossum. Joel Potrykus’s follow-up to 2014’s BUZZARD is another blue-collar horror show, but with a much different approach and tone. It’s much quieter and less urgent, taking its time establishing a claustrophobic atmosphere and its lead character’s isolation. The long periods of quiet are punctuated with bursts of supernatural dread or surprisingly goofy humor. One scene in particular using cat food as a central prop is flat-out hilarious, and Potrykus uses these breaks in tension expertly to build toward a powerful finale. Hickson is a compelling lead, which is important since large chunks of the film are without dialogue. The end of the film is a little jarring and abrupt after all that comes before it, but that’s a minor nitpick. THE ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK confirms Potrykus as a unique voice in independent cinema.
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