Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fantasia Review: BLOODY KNUCKLES

Over the past few years there's been a rise of brash young filmmakers reveling in the trashy cinema from the 80s. Young men and women weaned on early Troma, gonzo Kung-Fu and gross out odes to offensiveness like Street Trash are stepping behind the camera. A new wave of cinema has come down the pike to recreate those times, and it is a welcome breath of foul air in a move landscape that keeps moving towards the middle of the road, looking to for as much mass appeal as possible in order to establish a franchise and rake in overseas dollars. Joining the ranks of high octane, low budget fare like The Taint, and Dear God No is Bloody Knuckles from Matt O'Mahoney. The film made its world premiere this past weekend at Fantasia.

Travis (Adam Boys) is the creative force behind the underground comic Vulgarian Invasion, a DIY effort made to offend the delicate sensibilities of anyone and everyone that reads it. When his latest issue lampoons a shady Japanese businessman Leonard Fong, Travis soon finds himself parting ways with his drawing hand after an untimely introduction to a table saw. Afterward, Fong's gangland associates dump Travis in the alley and toss his hand in the sewer. Drunk and despondent, Travis winds up in the same alley one night soon thereafter, puking his guts out before scurrying off in fear. Little known to him, the magical content of malt liquor infused vomit reanimates his severed hand, giving the rotting appendage a mind of its own and a thirst for revenge!

Bloody Knuckles is an often hilarious B-movie that will appeal to thirteen year old boys, and the inner thirteen year old boy that lives in all of us, and those that find dick and fart jokes the height of comedy. The film is heavily influenced by the slapstick humor of Evil Dead II, especially during the scenes where Travis mano-el-hando with his former fist. O'Mahoney doesn't care who he offends, and the film mines humor from a number of taboo topics, including the mentally challenged in its outrageous opening sequence. Despite this, Bloody Knuckles never feels mean-spirited. It just harbors under the justifiable belief that nothing is off the table when it comes to making with the funny. While it might shatter monocles across high society, it is sure to appear to that part in all of us that just wants to watch a severed zombie hand shove a comic book up the crumpled bunghole of a yakuza gang member. This is due in part to how likeable the supporting cast around Boys is. Gabrielle Giraud is terrific as tough and indefatigable local journalist, and Ken Tsui brings a lot of comic relief as Travis' step-brother/best friend/ business manager. However, the real star of the show is Dwayne Bryshun as “Homo Dynamus”- a bondage clad gay superhero inspired to action by Travis' comic. Bryshun is consistently hilarious every moment he's onscreen in his studded leather outfit and bondage mask. I swear there's a whole movie in his character alone, and hope O'Mahoney and crew find a way to continue his adventures one day.

Bloody Knuckles is just puerile, juvenile, grotesque fun. If the idea of an animated hand writing “I Love Cock” in permanent marker on its former owner's rubber hand is your idea of a good time, then you are going to find a hell of a lot to love here. If you find yourself inspired to start a punk band called “Franken-Cunt”, Bloody Knuckles is for you. If the following two sentences make you gag on your caviar, then what the hell are you doing reading this site? 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fantasia Review: CYBERNATURAL

On the one year anniversary of a teen girl's suicide, the group of friends responsible for cyber bullying her are online for a group Skype chat. They're soon joined by a mysterious stranger, that they can't get rid of and that knows each of their most intimate secrets and is more than willing to share them in order to tear the group apart.

Cybernatural takes advantage of modern communication as it unfolds in real time across the laptop screen of its protagonist Blair (Teen Wolf's Shelley Henning) as she uses Skype, email, Google, Facebook and Instant Messenger to try and figure out what is going on. She finds herself bombarded with messages from the dead girl's Facebook. The tight scope of the film makes it better suited for viewing on your computer, adding a greater sense of intimacy, while minimizing the image quality issues that would be apparent on a large screen.

For the most part this technique works well, as the kids find themselves no longer in control of their technology, unable to delete incriminating photos or log the stranger out of their chat. There's a creepy running gag that finds the Wikipedia entry for “Demonic Possession” popping up as the first search result whenever Blair turns to the internet for help. My favorite bit of the film involves Blair's typed text changing to the phrase I GOT HER I GOT HER I GOT HER over and over when she attempts to have the dead girl's Facebook account flagged and shut down.

Your enjoyment of the film will depend on how tolerant you are of loud teenage kids that shout over one another in order to be heard. It's also important to note that the kids aren't heroes, and that each of them bear responsibility for the death of a young girl. We see the fragile threads of friendship severed as the group lies, threatens, gossips about and sells one another out the more scared they get. The mysterious puppet master puts the teens at one another throats by exposing secret after secret.

Cybernatural makes inventive uses of modern communication to craft a tense, often scary tale, especially in its first half. It's a sleek, modern update of the “Kids with a secret trope” that has some very real performances from its young cast and its a far more unnerving film than you'd expect from the cozy confines of a laptop screen. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Greetings from Fantasia 2014: Deirdre’s Reviews, Part Two

Honeymoon (dir. Leigh Janiak)
When newlywed couple Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) head to her parent’s cabin for their honeymoon we know to expect the worst. Is there a more classic setting for horror than a secluded cabin in the woods? Thankfully, HONEYMOON actually brings a good dose of original scares to the unoriginal location. Bea and Paul are adorable and trendy Brooklynites, but stop just shy of having an overly cutesy relationship or being too deep into hipster culture which keeps both of them likeable. Their relationship is caring and kind and they are enjoying being in love. After the first night in the cabin things start to change. Bea is acting odd, but not alarmingly so. She says she is tired, which would explain her actions, but it does not explain why there are bright white lights surrounding the cabin at night. HONEYMOON builds suspense at an easy pace, but does so effectively. When we finally see what is actually happening to the couple you realize the plot of the film has been incredibly smart and controlling about what we do and not know about their situation. 

Open Windows (dir. Nacho Vigalondo)
OPEN WINDOWS starts out innocently enough. Nick (Elijah Wood) has come to Texas as a contest winner to meet his favorite movie star, Jill (Sasha Grey). Nick is not only a casual fan of the actress, he runs a fan site dedicated to her. Just as Nick is getting ready to go meet Jill a hacker barges onto Nick’s computer to tell him that Jill has called off the contest, and that he travelled to Texas for nothing. The entire running time of the film takes place in a computer monitor and this invasion is just the first of many that Nick will encounter in the next 100 minutes. If last year’s Wood vehicle GRAND PIANO can be described as “SPEED on a piano,” OPEN WINDOWS can similarly be described as “GRAND PIANO on a computer.” The comparison comes from the fact that the film is basically a faceless assailant, barking orders at Wood while he must somehow try to save a completely helpless damsel in distress. OPEN WINDOWS is entertaining, but the plot makes very little sense and is astronomically unbelievable past the first 30 minutes. Grey’s acting skills are not up to the mild challenge of playing an actress, which is an unneeded weakness for the already hobbling film. There will be an audience for this film, but I am not one to want to watch it ever again.

Bag Boy Lover Boy (dir. Andres Torres)
Albert (Jon Wachter) is a simple hot dog vendor in New York City. He sees no need to look for another job- he already has one. He does not get too stressed when customers give him a hard time. He just goes with the flow. When Albert has a generous customer, Ivan (Theodore Bouloukos), offer to help get him into the “art” business, the only reason Albert takes him up on it is the promise of photography lessons. Albert has a crush on one customer and would like to impress her. Predictably, Ivan is more interested in exploiting Albert for his simple mind and odd looks than he is in growing Albert’s photography skills. All of these elements seem completely normal up to this point. However the sexually violent nature of Ivan’s photography brings out something in Albert. Albert begins to be aware of power and sexuality, but is not capable of fully realizing how they can function together without disastrous outcomes. His sexual fantasies morph from his crush kissing him all over his face to far more violent acts. BAG BOY LOVER BOY explores issues of consent, exploitation, victimization, and art with a steady hand and stunning visuals. Albert’s arc through the film changes drastically without changing who he is at his core, which may be the most terrifying thing of all. This film is beautifully shot, expertly paced, with some of the best performances of the fest, most atmospheric score, and an original story. I would not be at all surprised if this is my favorite film overall for Fantasia 2014, and I hope its exposure at the fest means that many more people get the opportunity to experience it!

Animosity (dir. Brendan Steere)
When the opening scene of a film shows a mother killing her own child, that film is setting its own bar awfully high for audience expectations. Unfortunately ANIMOSITY cannot keep up the momentum that it promises. When a young couple buys a house from that aforementioned murderous mother, things quickly start to get strange. Most notably, after a confrontation with a trigger happy neighbor Carrie (Tracy Willet) is just as alarmed by her husband Mike’s (Marcin Paluch) dismissive nature as she is by the incident itself. When more peculiarities emerge, and Mike continues to downplay them, Carrie knows that something is up. The concept of what is happening to Carrie and Mike is very interesting, but unfortunately poorly executed. Most notably, I was distracted by major issues with the film’s continuity. When a major plot point comes from something as subtle as a bandage on Carrie’s foot, it was a little disorienting to find out that the constantly changing level of filth on her slippers, or the forever moving blood spatters on her face and shirt where merely mistakes from the crew rather than details for attention. Tightly told stories need as much attention to detail as the film is asking the audience for, or else the film falls apart. And in ANIMOSITY, this solid concept for the film does indeed fall apart, 

At The Devil’s Door (dir. Nicholas McCarthy)
If you like jump scares you just may love AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR. The film is one of the more Hollywood-style of horror films at Fantasia this year. It has really creepy and jumpy visuals, but a plot that simply unravels near the end. The film follows both a real estate agent, who is trying to sell a potentially haunted property, and a young girl, who may or may not have just made a deal with the devil. The writing of the film keeps the timeline of both stories intentionally murky, and does so to add some good scares and exciting confusion. The set pieces of certain scenes are effective for getting the audience to jump out of their seat, but ultimately don’t add to the overall terror of the plot. Not all horror films need to shake you to your core, and good jumpy films like this are fun when your expectations are low.

Predestination (dirs. The Spierig Brothers)
Time travel films are often like a snake eating its own tail. The fact that a character in PREDESTINATION utters those words at one point goes to show how aware the Spierig Brothers were of their twisty time traversing plot. The time travel in this film does get fairly complicated, though never confuses, but first it begins with a story. A good chunk of the film’s running time is of Ethan Hawke as a friendly bartender talking to bar patron Sarah Snook. After a wager that Snook’s character can tell Hawke the best story he has ever heard, they dive into the entire tale of how Snook ended up at that bar. The story, though lengthy, is well told and necessary for the entire plot. After the story has ended both characters are swept into a world of time travel, terrorism, secret government agencies, and a slight touch of romance. The details of how the plot folds in on itself are intentional and really interesting for the audience to piece together as the story goes on. Very smart writing and editing, and a rare film to get time travel right.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Fantasia Review: GOAL OF THE DEAD

There seems to be two types of zombie movies: the over-serious, “this is the end of the world” exploration of humankind as our own worst monsters and since the worldwide popularity of Shaun of the Dead over a decade ago (side note: I feel old) there's the zombie comedy which spoofs the tropes of the genre to ever diminishing laughs and returns. The French two parter Goal of the Dead plants its cleats firmly in the latter category, and while in spots it makes for a raucous midnight movie with the right crowd, there's not a lot going on in the brains department for audiences or the undead to chew on.

The first thing that jumps out is the film's running time. It's two hour and twenty minute length are divided into two halves, and it is overlong by a good stretch. I understand what the filmmakers were trying to give their characters increased depth while establishing more back stories for them, but it feels like they could have trimmed a good chunk on ancillary characters and B-plots and had a much tighter film.

What you have here is an hodge podge of a plot where the Parisian national football team is playing one of the small, countryside club towns. A member of the national team in the twilight of his career is returning to play against his home town and an unexpectedly hostile crowd. He also has to contend with a young, cocky upstart player who dreams of moving on tho the English premiere league. There's the slimy agent, a coach that cannot revive his past glories, a teenage girl that may or may not be his daughter and your standard gang of drunken soccer hooligans looking to cause chaos. Oh, and the opposing team's star player harbors an unexplained grudge that has his dad shoot him up with what he believes to be steroids, but instead is a chemical compound that turns him in to a pissed off, super fast and strong, ravenous zombie. So there's that.

On the positive side, the move does contain some good laughs, including the way the virus is spread. Instead of your standard biting doing the trick, the zombies spew gallons of a milky substance over victims, which makes for a nice vomit fest in the crowded stadium. There's some decent gore with the exception of some less than stellar digital effects, and there was one moment that got me to jump so bad I spilled soda all over my shirt. It's nothing inventive, and there's nothing you haven't seen before, but if you're in the mood for something along the lines of Cockney vs. Zombies, this is a good choice.

Your enjoyment of Goal of the Dead may depend on how you experience the film. I took in part one in a massive theater with a lubed up crowd that was primed for a gory, funny, over the top zombie film. See it this way made it easier to just sit back and enjoy it, and forgive its flaws. However, I watched the second part as an online screener while alone in my hotel room, and it sucked all the energy out of the film. Seeing that most people are going to watch this via Netflix or some sort of home streaming service as opposed to theatrically (I can't see this getting a major U.S. Release), it may not have its maximum effect. Goal of the Dead is by no means a bad effort, it's simply middling, and I for one am prepared to put a moratorium on comic zombie films for a bit. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Fantasia Review: THE HARVEST

If you told me that one day the man behind Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, of of the most sadistic and psychologically tormenting films of all time, would return to the horror genre after a far too long absence and craft a movie that could be the perfect gateway film for kids ages 10 to 12 looking to get their feet wet, I would have told you to check your medication. Yet that's just what John McNaughton has done with THE HARVEST, a rare kids horror film that has the capacity to terrify their parents just as much. The Harvest manages to deliver an all time great villain while working in a fantastic swerve that manages to set the whole film on its ear.

The Harvest centers on Andy, a young, sickly boy confined to a wheel chair who constantly dreams of the larger world around him, and Mary Anne, a recently orphaned girl who has come to live with her grandparents (including the legendary Peter Fonda in a strong supporting role). A friendship begins to blossom between the two for the simple reason that they are two outcasts that found one another. Yet despite a seemingly benign friendship based on a love for XBOX baseball games, Andy's mother is determined to keep the young girl away from her son, and to press on with her controversial treatment to cure him. She is determined to keep the boy all to her self, and works to drive a wedge between Andy and anyone else who might care for his well being.

The most striking aspect of The Harvest is just how strong the performances are across the board. Michael Shannon is his normal terrific self as the boy's father, worn down and reduced to an emotional nub from the stress of the family situation and the constant verbal abuse his wife subjects him to. Young actors Natasha Calis and Charlie Tahan are outstanding at the two leads. They share a tremendous chemistry and their performances make you remember how easy it used to be to make a friend when all you had in common was local geography and a need for companionship.

However, the real show stopper is the performance from Samantha Morton as Katherine, the boy's mother. Morton channels all the ugly characteristics of the wicked step-mothers from Grimm's fairy tales, bringing a psychological ugliness to life on screen. Even in the moments where you're led to believe she is acting in Andy's best interest, there's little more than malicious intent behind her eyes, and words that are coolly calculated to inflict stinging barbs of the supposed fools she has to suffer. As The Harvest progresses so does Katherine's dementia, and Morton takes her character to depraved levels. In doing so, she creates one of the best female antagonists since Annie Wilkes in Misery.

I cannot sing the praises of The Harvest enough. McNaughton has created a cautionary fairy tale regarding parental love turned sour. It's a terrific film for fans of any age, but given the opportunity, it has the chance to find a receptive audience with the younger generations (for concerned parents, there's virtually no blood and very little violence) just looking for a good scare. 

Fantasia Review: AT THE DEVIL'S DOOR

The film center's around three women: Hannah, a teenage girl that would sell her soul to spend the rest of her life with her new boyfriend; Leigh, a hard working, yet lonely real estate agent charged with selling a house with a disreputable past and Vera, a successful yet brooding artist who is also Leigh's younger sister. Tying the three women together is a demonic presence that calls out to them, hoping to use one as a vessel that will give it entry into our world.

Director Nicholas McCarthy follows up his previous film The Pact with a tonally similar work. I don't want to give out too many more plot details about the film because to do so would spoil the film's greatest strength. McCarthy weaves between each of his three leads, allowing their story to unfold in a nonlinear manner, which keeps the viewer on his toes. No one is safe, as characters you think you will follow throughout the proceedings are killed off without warning in the first half.

This works fantastically well in the worst half. McCarthy knows how to build tension in a scene, and the film contains some of the best sound design in a horror film in a long time. The way the film jumps back and forth within its time line, along with a heightened sense of terror and foreboding led me to believe this might be something special.

Unfortunately, when the film settles in to a more traditional narrative structure for the second half, it becomes a bit of a slog. It winds up following the least interesting and empathetic character of the three. I'm not sure the world needs yet another riff on Rosemary's Baby, yet that's exactly what the last act of At The Devil's Door becomes. Also, the film culminates with the last character standing making a decision that betrays her arc and spits in the face of a loved one. It's as if it was inserted to be an “ooh” moment and it flat, false, ending.

Between this and The Pact, I do believe McCarthy has great things in store. He “gets” what makes so much of the horror genre work, and he's not afraid to tell a story that's a bit off kilter. It's that last act that's done him in both times. If he could just nail the finish, or bring his sensibilities to a third party's script, we might be blessed with an instant classic.  

I ORIGINS is a romance film with a dash of science fiction

I Origins (dir. Mike Cahill)

Speculative fiction films are currently having a renaissance.  Though not horror, we have written about these films on All Things Horror because some of these films are the smartest and most inventive films that you have not yet heard of.  COHERENCE, LFO, FREQUENCIES (previously titled OXV: THE MANUAL), and INVERSE are all recent films that are small budgeted, but become genre films simply by asking “What if?”  I ORIGINS has part of its heart in this science fiction world, but ultimately is a sappy romance.  If that is your sort of thing you will love it, but for this cold-hearted horror enthusiast, the plot fell a little flat. 

The story follows Ian (Michael Pitt), a hipster research biologist investigating the evolutionary origin of the eye.  After a chance hook-up at a Halloween party he becomes obsessed with the woman whom he only can identify by her eyes.  Through a series of repeating “elevens” on lotto tickets and bus numbers the universe magically aligns and leads him to her, and they have a whirlwind romance.  Ian’s scientific atheist mind is a contrast to free spirited Sofi’s (AstridBergès-Frisbey) embrace of angels and new age interior design.  After a tragic and highly unlikely accident Sofi is killed suddenly and Ian settles back into his more predictable life. 

The film then jumps forward a number of years to Ian’s new life.  He married his attractive lab assistant Karen (Brit Marling, who previously worked with director Cahill on ANOTHEREARTH) and together their research on the eye has revolutionized evolutionary biology.  When their son is born and given a retina scan at the hospital the plot finally begins to get interesting. 

I will spare you the details and revelations of what the retina scan uncovers because this incident and the plot that tumbles out of these discoveries is the best part of the film.  The science involved is shaky at best, but that is part of the fun of speculative fiction.  You get to experience a slightly modified version of our reality, one where the unimaginable becomes a new normal for the characters. Ian gets thrust into this new reality of chasing a possible discovery of the century, and it is both his scientific and personal passion that fuels him. 

Had the film focused more of its running time on this new twist on science and Ian’s quest I would have found it a lot more enjoyable.  Instead the bulk of the time is spent on Ian and Sofi’s courting period and their debates about religion.  This romance is not a new story nor does it unfold in an unexpected way.  In fact, it plays out like Dharma and Greg—the rebellious and spiritual woman who woos the straight laced logical man—and this lack of originality is boring.  But the science of the eye and the global ramifications of Ian’s discovery are riveting.  It is just plain frustrating that less time is spent on them. 

Should you be looking for a romantic film with a dose of science fiction, and you were a fan of Cahill’s ANOTHER EARTH, I ORIGINS may just be up your alley.  But if you are looking for another solid addition to the current wave of tightly edited and groundbreaking speculative fiction films you may be disappointed, like me. 

Fantasia Review: GUN WOMAN

In the middle of a desolate stretch of California desert there is a nuclear waste storage facility. Said facility has been re-purported into a place where the world's wealthiest and most sexually deprived men can indulge in the necrophiliac fetishes. One of their regular clients is the disgraced son of a Japanese politician, a man whose capacity for sexual violence, degradation, humiliation and murder would make Satan himself turn his head away in disgust. One of his many victims was forced to watch as his wife was brutally raped and murdered before he himself was left a half blind cripple. Now the man, known only as “Mastermind” has a plan to exact his revenge. That plan involves purchasing a meth addicted woman, breaking her of her habit and training her to become the world's greatest assassin. Said training consists of a montage that I'm pretty sure apes the regiment of Rocky Balboa in the days leading to his bitter showdown with the feared Ivan Drago. Once he deems her ready, he will use her to carry out his plan by surgically inserting an automatic pistol into her body, injecting her with drugs that give her the appearance of death and smuggle her into THE ROOM. Once she awakes from her coma, she will tear open her sutures, assemble he pistol and have twenty two minutes to kill everyone in the building before she bleeds to death.

If under penalty of death for failure, you had one guess as to where GUN WOMAN hails from simply from the synopsis above, you would guess Japan, right? Gun Woman is the latest from schlock artist Kurando Mitsutake, and stars Machine Girl's Asami*

Gun Woman is not a good film. It looks like it was shot on VHS. The acting is atrocious. The set design is god awful. The plot would only make sense to a person who fell head first into a running blender. The gender politics in the film are fucked up beyond belief. Asami has no arc, and no reason to carry out the Mastermind's plan. She exists as nothing more than a tool for him, to be used and discarded as he sees fit. She has no reason to carry out this plan, no reason to listen to her captor and no reason not to rip off his head and shit down his neck once she's turned in to a skilled killer. His actions, which include shooting a man in the back and cutting open a drugged out female to show his protege how she could bleed out, are every bit as despicable as the main villain. Gun Woman is what a room full of teen boys in the throes of puberty would put together given the chance. What saves Gun Woman from total train wreck status is the gonzo third act, where a naked, blood soaked Asami wreaks havoc in the facility. It's so over the top and ridiculous that you have to appreciate it.

Aside from the last twenty or so minutes, Gun Woman is an uncomfortable watch. It seems fucked up beyond belief that in 2014 there are movies that deliver the message women are nothing more than objects to be fucked, fondled, ogled and discarded at a whim. It's a shame because all the staples of a midnight movie classic are in place here. It's just delivered within such a shitty context that I'd argue one viewing is enough at best, or one time too many if we're being honest.    

*The star of all five films in the Rape Zombie saga. Did you know there were five films titled Rape Zombie? Do you feel a little sadder for knowing this now? I do.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Greetings from Fantasia 2014: Deirdre’s Reviews, Part One

For the fifth year in a row I am attending Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival! While picking a favorite genre film fest would be like choosing a favorite slasher, I will say that Fantasia has always been very dear to my heart. I will be up here for a full week, and Mike will be joining in on the Canadian fun this year too. Here is the first bundle of quick reviews of films screened at Fantasia that you should look out for. Check it out!

Life After Beth (dir. Jeff Baena)
LIFE AFTER BETH begins with Beth’s death. She is young and it is unexpected, and try as he might, director Baena makes every effort to establish her wake as a somber occasion. But with a cast that includes comedic legends like John C. Reilly, Cheryl Hines, Molly Shannon, and Paul Reiser as the mourners there is no chance that laughs can be held out for too long. As Beth’s boyfriend Zach (Dane DeHaan, who was memorable in 2012’s underrated CHRONICLE) does his best to deal with his loss her parents’ unusual behavior makes it difficult for him to move on. After some backyard snooping Zach discovers that Beth has returned to life… sort of. More a comedy with a dose of horror than a funny horror film, LIFE AFTER BETH succeeds in creating a new version of zombie conventions. As titular star Aubrey Plaza pointed out during Fantasia’s sold out Q&A, zombies are not actually real, so you can play them however you want. She clearly has fun with her undead role, and Baena has fun rewriting the zombie apocalypse. 

Suburban Gothic (dir. Richard Bates)
Had you shown me SUBURBAN GOTHIC with no context, I would have thought it is a hilarious and quirky film from some new voice in filmmaking. The fact that it comes from Richard Bates just blows me away. Bates is the mammoth force behind 2012’s EXCISION, which is one of the most terrifying films in the past five years. After EXCISION I could not wait to see what Bates would create next. SUBURBAN GOTHIC is a complete departure from EXCISION in nearly every aspect: Tone, visual style, music, and plot structure. Yet it is consistent with Bates’s first film in that it is a completely cohesive film experience, with each of these elements creating an insular and authentic world. The film itself follows Raymond (Matthew Gray Gubler) as a smart mouthed weird kid who has grown up and become an unemployed loser who has to move back in with his parents after business school. Upon returning to his parent’s house Raymond’s long lost paranormal abilities return and he must team up with a local bartender (Kat Dennings) to set things right. For this type of film, however, the plot is incidental. The real joy of the film is the sharp dialogue and huge personalities in this satire of a suburban hell. 

The Zero Theorem (dir. Terry Gilliam)
While Terry Gilliam has a way of creating biting satire of our modern world, THE ZERO THEOREM is by no means a horror film. It is a send up of the direction that our society is headed with technology and obsession. Christoph Waltz gives an immersive performance as Qohen, a man who is haunted by the idea that he is waiting for a phone call to steer him towards happiness. In the typical Gilliam fashion the version of the future that he lives in is bright, loud and overwhelming for Qohen. He retreats to his home, a burned out monastery in the middle of the city, and tries his best to shut out the world and get his call. When not-so-chance encounter with a vibrant young woman (MĂ©lanie Thierry) distracts Qohen from his focus on getting that call his world begins to crack at the seams. Gilliam presents up with a peculiar protagonist here. While the world he lives in is detestable to him, and seems tiring to me, Qohen is the only one who seems unhappy there. Nearly everyone else seems pretty happy. Showing a man whose major defect is his resistance to his entire environment is an interesting thought to ponder while watching him wait, and wait, for his call. 

Low budget speculative fiction films are becoming more common. With PRIMER and COHERENCE showing directors that the best science fiction films this decade can be filmed practically in their own homes many more are attempting to tell big stories with limited resources. THE RECONSTRUCTION OF WILLIAM ZERO has some good ideas, but with weak writing and limited performances it never quite tells the story it wants to. The film is about clones. Which clone created which and in what order are lead up to in the film as if they are the big plot twists, but most of these are easily guessed by the audience. The film also wastes AJ Bowen as an inconsequential henchman in a trench coat investigating one of the clones and his genetics work. Conal Byrne does a decent job of carrying all of the various parts, but his performance does not give nuance to each person as an individual character. In all honesty, the clone’s hair style is the major identifier between one clone and another. The story itself does have some solid ideas, but it is unfortunate that they are not executed in such a way that would earn them a place with the current new wave of speculative fiction masterpieces. 

Thou Wast Mild and Lovely (dir. Josephine Decker)
Despite my constant insistence that films be fun and exciting, I do have a strong love for quiet, reflective art-house films. It is rare that these slow films veer into horror territory, but when they do it can be a great combination. Like watching exceedingly slow train wreck, the small touches of horror are amplified. In THOU WAST MILD AND LOVELY the film is just like this slow motion wreckage. The film takes place on a small farm. The farmer (Robert Longstreet) and his naturally beautiful daughter (Sophie Traub) take on a farmhand (Joe Swanberg) for the summer to keep up with their work. The farmhand hides that he is married, and the father and daughter hide that not everything is as it seems with them. Make no mistake, this film is as slow of a burn as you will find, but the lovely pastoral setting and director Decker’s clearly controlling hand never leave the audience bored. The end of the film first takes a direction that is not surprising, but does not stop there and instead continues toward deeper fears.

The Harvest (dir. John McNaughton)
For all of the genre offerings Fantasia programs, there are only a handful of traditional horror films. McNaughton (HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER and WILD THINGS) brings us THE HARVEST as one of the more disturbing horror films at this year’s fest. The center of the film is a relationship between a young boy and girl. Maryann (Natasha Calis, THE POSESSION) has just moved in with her grandparents after both of her parents die. Feeling alone she wanders and finds another house abutting her grandparents’ backyard. Peering through the windows she sees a boy about her age who is wheelchair bound. Andy (Natasha Calis) is a sick kid who is homeschooled and never leaves his house. His over protective mother (Samantha Morton) and doting father (Michael Shannon) keep him on a short leash that was never a problem before Maryann started visiting. Morton’s performance as the possessive mother is at a level beyond the ordinary. She is haunting and all-encompassing as a mother who is doing everything not to just protect her son, but to maintain complete control over her family. Emasculating her husband and denying her child any joy become regular behavior for her, as her character swings into mania. As the story develops and shows that there is much more going on than just a bedridden kid, the stakes are raised and the tension becomes suffocating. Though Morton is fun to hate and the plot does take a dark turn, the tone of the film is almost family friendly. The score, the child actors, and the flinching camera spare us of any possible gore or far-reaching terror. Instead you get to sit back and watch a mother become a monster, and enjoy the ride!