Here’s Jason Coffman’s third dispatch from the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. Catch up on the first one by clicking on this sentence. And here’s the second! Now, for door number three…
ALOYS (Switzerland, dir. Tobias Nölle)
After the death of his elderly father, private investigator Aloys (Georg Friedrich) continues to work and interacts with his clients as though his father was still alive. He performs constant surveillance, but is unable to interact with anyone. After getting drunk and passing out on a public bus, he wakes to find his camera has been stolen and soon after he receives a phone call from Vera (Tilde von Overbeck). Vera offers to return the camera if Aloys will join her in a mysterious practice called “telephone walking,” in which Aloys and Vera are seemingly transported places by their telephone connection. ALOYS is the feature directing debut from Tobias Nölle, and it occupies some of the same territory as whimsical films such as AMÉLIE and LIZA THE FOX-FAIRY. However, instead of the bright, cheerful tone of those films, ALOYS deals with its characters’ neuroses in a much darker and more subdued fashion. There are moments of joy here, but they are bright spots punched through a thick layer of gray depression. The performances are great — especially Tilde von Overbeck, who is mostly represented as a voice on the phone — and the moments of magical realism are deployed expertly.
SHELLEY (Denmark, dir. Ali Abbasi)
Romanian immigrant Elena (Cosmina Stratan) takes a job as a maid for a couple living mostly off the land in a remote lake house in hopes of making money to take back home to find a nice home for her and her son Nicu. As she settles in, she becomes close with Kasper (Peter Christoffersen) and Louise (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) and discovers Louise is distraught that she cannot have a child. Kasper and Louise offer Elena a large sum of money to carry a child for them as a surrogate from Louise’s eggs, and she agrees. But as the baby grows inside her, Elena begins to experience dangerous physical symptoms of illness and becomes convinced the baby is killing her. SHELLEY has some obvious references in its title and poster (which openly borrows from the iconic poster for ROSEMARY’S BABY) that give the viewer a good idea of what they’re getting themselves into. The first part of the film lulls the audience in with a quiet, meditative rhythm that becomes increasingly sinister. The glacial pace may put off viewers looking for more immediate thrills, but this is a slow-burning familial nightmare that deserves a look from any horror fan looking for something different.
EMBERS (USA, dir. Claire Carré)
In the aftermath of a neurological plague that has wiped out most of humanity, the last few remaining people wander without memory. EMBERS follows several characters in this world, including a Guy (Jason Ritter) and Girl (Iva Gocheva) who may or may not be married; a Father (Roberto Cots) and his daughter Miranda (Greta Fernández) in an underground bunker; a Boy (Silvan Friedman) who crosses paths with a number of different people; and “Chaos” (Karl Glusman), a young man who roams around as an impulsive Id, attacking and stealing from anyone who gets in his way. Debut feature director Claire Carré has created a fascinating world here, a truly unique take on the post-kind of independent apocalyptic sci-fi film that has become ubiquitous over the last several years. There’s not much of a traditional narrative here, just impressions and observations of these characters struggling to survive and make sense of the world and the other people around them. It doesn’t shy away from the darker side of human nature, though, and while it seems slight it actually puts forth a lot to think about and a melancholy that lingers long after it’s over.
MAN UNDERGROUND (USA, dir. Michael Morowiec & Sam Marine)
Conspiracy theorist Willem Koda (George Basil) is having a tough time getting his message out into the world. His speaking gigs are getting smaller, and he’s growing increasingly frustrated. His friend Todd (Andy Rocco) suggests they make a movie together of Willem’s story with Todd’s home movie camera. Willem balks, but then he discovers later that Flossie (Pamela Fila), the cheerful new waitress at the diner he frequents, is an aspiring actress. He impulsively asks her to be in his movie, and after she agrees they start shooting soon after. But Willem and his collaborators don’t exactly have the same view of what it is they’re working on, and it’s possible Willem’s crazy story about encountering aliens underground may be less crazy than it seems. Anchored by three fantastic lead performances, MAN UNDERGROUND walks a tricky line between oddball comedy and darker psychological terrain. It’s frequently laugh-out-loud funny, but it also endears its characters to the audience to the point that it’s genuinely uncomfortable to watch when there is inevitable conflict between them.
SEOUL STATION (South Korea, dir. Yeon Sang-ho)
An injured, elderly homeless man stumbles into the Seoul train station and collapses. Hours later, he dies and immediately comes back as a shambling, flesh-hungry zombie. SEOUL STATION follows characters on parallel paths through this burgeoning zombie apocalypse as they try to make their way across the city to each other, but the twist here is that this is an animated film instead of live action. Unfortunately that’s the only twist here, aside from some deeply unpleasant revelations near the end of the film that only serve to make its one-dimensional characters even less sympathetic. It’s a shame that more wasn’t done here, as an animated film would seem to open up this kind of story to interesting possibilities. Instead SEOUL STATION is a standard “zombie apocalypse” movie distinguished only by its medium, and that novelty wears off quickly.
WE ARE THE FLESH (Mexico, dir. Emiliano Rocha Minter)
A lone man lives in what appears to be an abandoned warehouse where he trades junk items he scavenges from inside for eggs from someone on the outside. How long he’s lived here in isolation is unclear, but when a young man and woman appear seeking shelter he takes them in no questions asked. In exchange for letting them stay with him, the man asks them to join him on a mental and sexual odyssey. WE ARE THE FLESH straddles the line between narrative and explicit performance art, documenting the process of turning the warehouse into a labyrinth of womb-like chambers and presenting explicit sex acts that appear to be at least partially unsimulated. The performances are fearless and the filmmaking undeniably artful, but anyone who finds explicit sex presented without a clearly defined purpose problematic will probably want to give this a hard pass.
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