FANTASTIC FEST: September 25th
SALT AND FIRE (Mexico, dir. Werner Herzog)
Laura Sommerfeld (Veronica Ferres) is a research scientist sent to South America to investigate the Diablo Blanco, a massive salt flat created as a result of a manmade environmental catastrophe. When she arrives with her colleagues (Gael Garcia Bernal and Volker Michalowski), they are kidnapped and taken to a remote stronghold owned by industrialist Matt Riley (Michael Shannon). Riley has plans for Laura, but they’re nothing quite like she imagines, and before she leaves the Diablo Blanco an even more dangerous threat looms over her and all of humanity. Werner Herzog’s latest fiction feature is a strange bird, starting off as something like a corporate/ecological thriller and veering into unexpected directions. It’s much funnier than its subject matter would suggest, with absurd character touches and some oddly touching moments that are similarly bizarre. It’s gorgeously shot and unpredictable, and while it’s hard to say where it might fall in Herzog’s imposing filmography it’s definitely worth a watch–especially on the big screen.
FRAUD (dir. Dean Fleischer-Camp)
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 appear that your family committed insurance fraud. FRAUD is the ultimate found footage horror movie, but in a way that no one could have expected. 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.
PLAYGROUND (Poland, dir. Bartosz M. Kowalski)
Gabrysia is a middle school student who has planned to meet up with one of her classmates in an abandoned building on the last day of school to tell him that she has fallen in love with him. But the boy and his friend who tags along aren’t interested in romance, or in treating anyone else like a human being. PLAYGROUND is a brutal study of characters who have nothing but their own interests and relieving their own boredom at the front of their mind. They viciously taunt and bully other kids, and the final segment of the film follows the boys as they perpetrate a nauseating act of horrific violence with terrifying indifference. It’s technically impressive but exceptionally difficult to watch, and in that PLAYGROUND is reminiscent of artist provocateurs like Michael Haneke.
DEAREST SISTER (Lao People’s Democratic Republic, dir. Mattie Do)
Nok (Amphaiphun Phommapunya) is a young woman sent from her tiny village in Laos to help take care of her cousin Ana (Vilouna Phetmany). Ana is losing her sight, and her husband Jakob (Tambet Tuisk) is in the midst of dealing with a business crisis that sends him off on extended trips abroad. As Ana’s vision goes, a mysterious sixth sense takes its place. Nok stumbles on Ana’s secret and uses it for her own gain, but it seems forces both supernatural and very human are conspiring against her. Mattie Do’s second feature is a simmering horror story married to a household drama, paced completely unlike a traditional Western horror movie. There are supernatural elements, but the focus is mostly on how Nok reacts to her new life in the big city and the choices she makes that define her. DEAREST SISTER is a fascinating take on the genre and a look at life from a place in the world where films in general–not just horror films–are extremely rare.
FASHIONISTA (USA, dir. Simon Rumley)
Married couple April (Amanda Fuller) and Eric (Ethan Embry) run a vintage clothes store in Austin that their whole lives revolve around. They’re still reeling from a failed business partnership that they sunk years into when April starts to suspect Eric is having an affair with their employee Sherry (Alexandria DeBerry). After kicking Eric out of their shared apartment April meets the rich and mysterious Randall (Eric Balfour), a man whose obsession with clothes may rival her own. FASHIONISTA hangs on a spectacular performance by Amanda Fuller, who gave a similarly impressive performance in director Simon Rumley’s RED, WHITE, AND BLUE. Rumley has a special talent for portraying pathological behaviors in an unsettlingly immediate way, and here he applies that to April’s erotic obsession with clothing. FASHIONISTA covers a wide range of emotional territory: it’s sexy, funny, heartbreaking, and terrifying by turns. As dark as it gets, though, this is ultimately Rumley’s most optimistic and humane film by a wide margin.
PHANTASM: RAVAGER (USA, dir. David Hartman)
Reggie (Reggie Bannister) roams the desert in search of Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) after they were separated at the end of PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION. He finds Dawn (Dawn Cody) stranded by the side of the road and drives her home, but the Tall Man and the silver spheres are not far behind. Suddenly Reggie wakes up in an assisted care home where Mike visits him. Then he appears to be in the future after the Tall Man has taken over the Earth, as it seems his consciousness is somehow bouncing between dimensions and timelines. RAVAGER moves the focus squarely onto Reggie for what is billed as the final entry into the series, and it’s a smart move. Bannister steps up to the plate and gives a great, affecting performance. And for longtime fans of the series, seeing Bannister and Baldwin on screen again with Bill Thornbury (“Jody”) and the final appearance of Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man is an undeniable thrill. All that said, RAVAGER was produced independently and shot piecemeal, and the resulting final product shows the seams. If it looks like a PHANTASM fan film, that’s because it basically is one that just happens to have been made by the actual creative team behind the previous entries in the series. Anyone not already attached to this world and its characters will probably want to give this entry a pass, and even some fans may be put off by its defiantly lo-fi production values.
ANOTHER WOLFCOP (Canada, dir. Lowell Dean)
Lycanthropic sheriff’s deputy Lou Garou (Leo Fafard) has found himself a home base in which to lock himself when he turns into a werewolf, but lately he’s been going out on patrol as Wolfcop anyway. Sheriff Tina (Amy Matysio) is annoyed by his behavior, but a supernatural threat looms that could spell the end of humanity. A race of reptilian shapeshifters has found a way to reproduce by using humans as incubators, and it’s up to Tina, Wolfcop, Willie Higgins (Jonathan Cherry) and Willie’s sister Kat (Sara Miller) to stop them. ANOTHER WOLFCOP is a major improvement over the first film, which inexplicably is a feature-length origin story for a character whose name tells you everything you need to know about him. With all that heavy lifting out of the way, writer/director Lowell Dean is free to jump straight into the distinctly Canadian alcohol-fueled monster hijinks that the first film promised but only intermittently delivered. This is fast, fun, and out of control, with multiple werewolves, a geriatric robot killer, puppet monsters, and gallons of blood. This is a damn near perfect midnight party movie.
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