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! And the fourth! Now, for door number five…
CREEPY (Japan, dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
Police detective Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) retires following an incident with a vicious murderer in his precinct house and takes a job at an academy teaching about the psychology of serial killers. One of his former co-workers comes to him with information regarding a case with some disturbing loose ends and Takakura reluctantly agrees to join the unofficial investigation. Meanwhile, his wife Yasuko (Yûko Takeuchi) has some unsettling interactions with their new neighbor Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa) and suspects that Nishino and his family may not be exactly what they appear to be. Based on a novel by Yutaka Maekawa, CREEPY has the kind of oppressive atmosphere of dread Kurosawa is best known for — it’s very aptly titled. Kagawa is seriously unnerving as Nishino, a man who may just be socially awkward or could just as possibly be a soulless murderer. The film does show some bumps in the transition from the page to the screen, mostly in the character arc of Yasuko. The latter half of the film requires her to undergo a major change in personality that doesn’t seem to make much sense. However, that feels like a minor complaint in what is otherwise a masterful slow-burning thriller that teeters into full-blown insanity by its finale.
WE GO ON (USA, dir. Jesse Holland & Andy Mitton)
Miles (Clark Freeman) has become paralyzed by his fear of death to the point that he can barely leave his apartment. In a moment of desperation, he puts out an ad offering $30,000 to anyone who can give him verifiable proof of any kind of afterlife. His mother Charlotte (Annette O’Toole) comes to stay with him and help him sort through the applications, narrowing down the possibilities in their search. After some dead ends, Miles may find what he’s looking for in a way he never could have guessed or wanted. Co-directors Andy Mitton and Jesse Holland previously directed the 2010 horror film YELLOWBRICKROAD, a unique and fascinating movie that showed serious promise. WE GO ON is another very unique story, especially in that its center is an adult mother-son relationship. The cast is great, and their interactions help enable some seriously creepy moments and set pieces. It stumbles a bit at the very end, but overall this is a solid, interesting horror drama well worth a look.
THERAPY (France, dir. Nathan Ambrosioni)
Following the discovery of a cache of video and film cameras at a crime scene, two profoundly incompetent police detectives—including a female cop constantly on the verge of hysterics—watch the footage recovered from the cameras and edited by… a police editor? Who cuts out all the boring parts and adds a score and sound effects? Anyway, that footage shows a bunch of young people who wandered out into the woods and then into an abandoned mental asylum (in “found footage” style, of course) who are up against an axe-wielding madman. You don’t need me to tell you what happens next. THERAPY is a grindingly dull, utterly generic horror film that proves France can crank out a shrill, near-incoherent “found footage” horror movie just as well as we can here in the States. This is roughly equivalent to watching 96 minutes of home video footage of teenagers hanging out in the woods and an abandoned building while someone occasionally sets off a cherry bomb three feet behind where you’re sitting—it’s never scary, but it’s frequently startling, and like many modern horror films it doesn’t seem to understand these are not the same thing. If you prefer your horror movies packed with characters making stupid decisions and arbitrary noises blaring on the soundtrack in place of actual scares, you might want to give this a look. Anyone else should steer well clear.
WOMEN WHO KILL (USA, dir. Ingrid Jungermann)
Morgan (writer/director Ingrid Jungermann) and her ex Jean (Ann Carr) have a popular podcast on female serial killers called “Women Who Kill.” One day at the food co-op where Morgan volunteers, she meets the mysterious Simone (Sheila Vand) and unexpectedly finds an instantaneous mutual attraction. While Morgan and Simone start spending more time together and a tragic event occurs at the co-op, Jean starts to suspect that Simone may be more than just a fan of the podcast—and that Morgan’s life may be in danger. WOMEN WHO KILL is a sharply written, wryly observed comic thriller that is more about the characters and their relationships than any genre trappings that surround them. Buoyed by a great supporting cast including Annette O’Toole (in her second strong showing at this year’s Fantastic Fest!), Jungermann, Vand, and Carr provide a strong emotional center for the increasingly dark territory into which the film moves in its final act. It’s understated but frequently laugh-out-loud funny, and it’s a strong feature debut for Jungermann.
UNDER THE SHADOW (Iran, dir. BabakAnvari)
Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is left alone in her Tehran apartment with her daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) when her doctor husband is sent to work on the front lines of the Iran-Iraq war. A medical student before the revolution, Shideh already barely recognizes the oppressive world in which she now lives. When her building takes a direct hit in one of the endless evenings of constant bombing, the fear under which she lives becomes literalized. Possibly worse is Dorsa’s interactions with an ominous imaginary friend, which may be a supernatural creature called a djinn or could possibly be a manifestation of her fear and stress. UNDER THE SHADOW is a well-mounted horror film that explores a time and place not very well known outside the Middle East, and it works best when it primarily focuses on the surreal horror of day-to-day life for Shideh and her family in a world that has changed so drastically as to be unrecognizable as the same they used to live in. There are some masterfully crafted and expertly deployed jump scares in the film’s first hour, but as the film moves toward its final act the mysterious nature of the force menacing Shideh and Dorsa becomes more clearly defined and less compelling. Still, this is an intelligent, beautifully directed and acted film that no horror fan should miss.
THE ARBALEST (USA, dir. Adam Pinney)
In 1968, inventor Foster Kalt (Mike Brune) presented at the biggest toy convention in the world and became one of the richest men alive from “The Kalt Cube.” Ten years later, an investigative journalist and her crew join Foster at his isolated home in the woods for his first interview in four years and the unveiling of his new invention. But Foster wanders away, still wearing his lapel mic, and begins spinning the tale of how the mysterious Sylvia (Tallie Medel) has figured into his life. THE ARBALEST is the debut feature from Adam Pinney, who worked as cinematographer and editor on the horror/comedy BLOOD CAR (a cult classic in waiting) as well as shooting Joe Swanberg’s 24 EXPOSURES and the Adult Swim short TOO MANY COOKS. While those previous titles may give a rough idea of where Pinney’s film lands, it’s even more perplexing than they might suggest. Mike Brune, star of BLOOD CAR, is very funny as Kalt, but the show really belongs to Tallie Medel as Sylvia. She’s hilarious and compelling, giving the film yet another unexpected facet in her deadpan performance as a woman whose apathy towards Foster is nearly matched by his dangerous obsession with her. The film looks gorgeous, and the period design and costuming are excellent, as is the appropriately dreamy score.
THE DWARVENAUT (USA, dir. Josh Bishop)
Stefan Pokorny is the artist and mastermind behind Dwarven Forge, a company that specializes in intricately detailed miniatures for DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. THE DWARVENAUT focuses on Dwarven Forge’s ambitious Kickstarter campaign to create modules and pieces for the city of Valoria, the imaginary city where the games of Pokorny and his friends have taken place for decades. While his previous campaigns have been wildly successful, this time the future of the company is riding on reaching their goal. Director Josh Bishop spends a lot of time with Pokorny and the employees at Dwarven Forge, delving into Pokorny’s fascinating upbringing and how it brought him to his love of art and D&D. Pokorny’s energy is so infectious it’s great fun just watching him work and interact with his friends and colleagues, so it’s forgivable that there’s not really much suspense riding on the Kickstarter part of the film.
MIRUTHAN (India, dir. Shakti SoundarRajan)
Karthik (Jeyam Ravi) is a traffic cop trying to raise his little sister Vidhya (Baby Anikha), who is constantly trying to find him a wife. Things are looking up in that department when Karthik meets Renuka (Lakshmi Menon), but soon thereafter their city is the site of a zombie outbreak caused by chemicals leaking into the local water supply. Before anyone knows what’s happening, the city is overrun and Karthik must save Vidhya and Renuka from the zombie hordes. MIRUTHAN is the first Tamil zombie movie and it’s pretty fun, but the language is really the biggest thing that sets it apart from any other similar zombie movies. There are some songs and moments of ridiculous action typical of modern Indian action films, but for the most part MIRUTHAN sticks to the “Zombie Apocalypse” playbook pretty closely. It’s worth a look for being the first film of its kind, and it’s solid entertainment, but it’s not terribly memorable.
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