Thursday, May 28, 2015

Joe Dante Returns With BURYING THE EX

If there's a anyone who can handle material that can skirt the line of subject matter that's just this side of uncomfortable in order to mine some laughs out of horror, it's Joe Dante. The mastermind behind The Howling has a keen eye for slapstick and satire as evidenced by the Gremlins films and The 'Burbs. His latest film, Burying the Ex, is slated for a June 19th release on iTunes, VOD and select theaters, which is welcome news for fans of his work after his last feature, The Hole, languished in the shelf for years. 

Burying the Ex has the benefit of a stellar cast of young talent, including the stunning Alexandra Daddario (True Detective), Star Trek's Anton Yelchin and the titular ex-girlfriend Ashley Greene (Twilight series). The premise has been explored before with one half of a couple killed in an accident and the other left to cope and move on after finding new love. The caveat here is Yelchin's character planned to dump the first girlfriend moments before a bus steamrolls her. When the grieving, not quite ex-boyfriend finds love in the arms of Daddario (the lucky son of a bitch), he finds a reanimated, if not quite fresh, Green waiting on his doorstep:

SYNOPSIS: It seemed like a great idea when all-around nice guy Max (ANTON YELCHIN, Star Trek) and his beautiful girlfriend, Evelyn (ASHLEY GREENE, Twilight Saga) moved in together. But when Evelyn turns out to be a controlling, manipulative nightmare, Max knows it’s time to call it quits. There’s just one problem: he’s terrified of breaking up with her. Fate steps in when Evelyn is the victim of a fatal, freak accident, leaving Max single and ready to mingle. Just as Max is thinking about moving on with what could be his dream girl, Olivia (Alexandra Daddario, True Detective) – Evelyn has returned from the grave and is determined to get her boyfriend back...even if that means transforming him into one of the undead.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"He Recited Me A Poem About Ass Fucking": Trailer For Hebrew Horror Gem GOLDBERG & EISENBERG

With a month to go before a June 23rd release date on DVD and VOD, the Israeli horror/comedy hybrid GOLDBERG & EISENBERG posted its first trailer and it is goddamn fantastic. The film has racked up praise and awards at festivals for the past year, including the "Best Director/New Wave" award at Fantastic Fest and "Best Actor" at Screamfest LA, Oren Carmi's style has been compared to that of the Coen Brothers. While that might seem like high praise, the two minutes of footage here evokes definite comparisons to the "fish-out-of-water-and-in-far-over-his-head" characters the Coens have mined for comic gold in works like Raising Arizona, Burn After Reading and Fargo. The other film I couldn't help but think of is the Ben Stiller's underappreciated black comedy The Cable Guy, as the nebbish Goldberg strikes up an unlikely friendship with the eccentric and dangerous Eisenberg. What starts out as the adventures of a nerdy computer programmer that just wants to win the affections of a beautiful young woman winds a trail of voyeurism, stalking, kidnapping, intimidation and bloodletting. By the time Goldberg realizes he needs to get Eisenberg out of his life, the slacker thug and his hired goons have made it impossible for him to do so.

The trailer is pure brilliance, and as evidenced by the quote in our headline, it is definitely NSFW:

Mad Max: Feminism Lite

Full disclosure: I was raised on the original Mad Max movies. I daydreamed about the barren wasteland of Road Warrior, envied the talents of the Feral Kid, swooned over souped-up, brutalized muscle cars, and raced about the house booming “Master-Blaster runs Barter Town!” in my best Tina Turner impression. Whether all of this was enacted by a child-me is a story for another day (hint: it didn’t), but needless to say, I think you can understand that this was a cornerstone in my film education. It was likely that I could never truly love a Gibson-less Max, and probable that I would resent anything above the indie filth aesthetic of the original trilogy (don’t call it a comeback for Thunderdome – that shit is ill).

So it was a surprise when I actually enjoyed my time with Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s not perfect, no, but it’s fun. It’s design is drop-dead gorgeous and it’s effects, practical and CGI, made me laugh in joy more than once. The vista of Imperator Furiosa driving into the sandstorm actually brought tears to my eyes for fucks sake, and believe me when I tell you few movies have actually done that. Fury Road is fun, it’s beautiful, and it’s a damn good way to spend two hours in a dark room.

But it’s not a Mad Max movie. And it’s not feminist.

The filmmakers have pulled a fast one, promising Max and instead presenting an incredible new female hero: Imperator Furiosa, as played by Charlize Theron. Max (Tom Hardy) is still there, but he’s a backdrop, a catalyst to the plot when it needs a push, the gun at Furiosa’s back when she can’t be everywhere at once. Hardy has perhaps ten lines in the full piece, a psuedo-bookend to the tale of Furiosa. His presence is unnecessary to the film overall, something that could have been carried out by bringing one of the many other characters in Furiosa and Max’s band of misfits to the forefront. And therein lies the problem.

By couching Furiosa’s epic in Max, using him as the catalyst for more than a few of her plans and actions, and focusing predominantly on his backstory, not hers, they cut Furiosa off at the knees, taking away so much of the power that she builds throughout the film. Yes, she is a complete and total badass, leading a gang of women used as ‘breeders’ in a patriarchal dictatorship to a matriarchal oligarchy oasis of hope. That. Is. Super. And sure, it’s more than we see in most action movies these days – but when you watch how and where Furiosa needs help, that’s where the film becomes troubling.

Throughout the film Max controls her actions in small but substantial ways, and you start to question her power, her leadership skills and her critical thinking. Coupling this with lines that are like a giant, flashing ‘feminism’ neons – ‘we are not property!’ the girls cry – makes it all the more insulting, a sucker punch to the stomach when you think about how we could have had a truly feminist action film, had they axed Max, brought one of the other women to the front and just slapped Furiosa across the poster. Fuck, set it in the world of Mad Max so you can keep those gorgeous frankentsteined muscle cars – make Furiosa part of his world, or (dare I say it?) even gender-swap Max, but don’t tell me that a film is feminist, that a film that is Mad Max and give me something that delivers neither of those things.

George Miller can keep saying how he ‘can’t help but be a feminist’ until the war-boys come home, but I will always rejoinder that this isn’t feminism. It’s feminism 101 for men. It’s feminism lite.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

POLTERGEIST: A curse on audiences everywhere

At home in a long line of unrequested Hollywood remakes, the announcement of 2015’s POLTERGEIST was first met with a resounding, “Really?” Whether you worship Tobe Hooper’s original film or you are indifferent to it, revisiting the film today is a confounding decision. In the end, the new POLTERGEIST is a soulless remake that fails to scare. 

I grew up with 1982’s POLTERGEIST. I was never blown away by the campiness or the mediocre direction, but I did love the legend of the film. The real life curse of POLTERGEIST and use of actual skeletons in the practical effects was interesting enough to satiate my appetite for horror, even with the ho-hum film. Remaking such an average film seemed odd to me, but I concede that there are plenty of fans who adore the original film. If these fans of the original film are the intended target for this remake, the studio (MGM, Vertigo) really does not understand horror fans.

In this version of POLTERGEIST the general plot of the film is the same. A family moves into a budget friendly house, only to find that it is teeming with paranormal activity. These poltergeists kidnap the youngest daughter in the family and bring her to their dimension so that she can lead them to the final realm of the afterlife. The family contacts poltergeist researchers and together the try the best to save the young girl and escape the damned house alive.

The casting of POLTERGEIST is a bit off.  Kyle Catlett is excellent as the uptight, anxious middle child Griffin. The youngest daughter Madison (Kennedi Clements) is just as adorable as she is unsettling, which is impressive given the careful balance needed in that role. But performance by Saxon Sharbino, as the teenage daughter Kendra, is a giant weak point in the film. She is capable of looking confused, but never quite captures the terror of what is happening to her family. Teenagers need to sway from annoyed to protective to naïve, often in a single scene, and her performance does not rise to the occasion. Sam Rockwell was an odd choice for the father, and he never seems to completely shut off his smartassedness. Rosemarie DeWitt is amazing, as always, in the role of the mother. She adds much needed heart and honesty to the film, and it makes me wish that she had better roles than this.

POLTERGEIST commits three of the cardinal sins of bad horror films: the musical score telegraphs every single jump-scare, all of the characters make astoundingly dumb decisions, and it is just plain boring. I could go on about the fact that it gets very old getting a musical cue for every single interesting scare, thus negating any attempts at atmosphere or fear. Or I could drone on about all of the metaphorical staircases the family continuously runs up. But none of that matters in a film that drags like this one does. 

To no one’s surprise, I heartily advise that you skip seeing POLTERGEIST. Revisit the original film if you are a diehard fan, and tell the studios to try to focus on creating new scares, for a change. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD Is Pure, Brilliant Madness and Genius

Mad Max: Fury Road is shit your pants amazing. Let's get that out of the way first.

After a three decade absence, George Miller returned to the post apocalyptic desert wasteland with the chaotic delight of a small child smashing his toy trucks together in his backyard sandbox. Fury Road adapts the template of the great spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone or Sam Peckinpah and reimagines them for our modern age, delivering a massive spectacle of action and mayhem that rarely pauses to give the audience a chance to its collective breath. The result is the most exciting and refreshing summer blockbuster of the season.

Fury Road is a chase film that kicks off in the opening minute and doesn't stop until the credits roll. With Fury Road, Millers creates all sorts of weaponized vehicles to tear through the parched Australian desert, each one more capable of tearing through flesh and bone than the one before it. Bodies launch themselves from one vehicle to the next from mounted poles wavering back and forth through the air. War rigs blast through spike-plated assault vehicles like a thoroughbred swatting away flies. The War Boys sent to bring down Max and Furiosa appear to be shot out of cannons and come in never ending waves at Max and Furiosa. It's a film that drives relentless forward until there's no place left to go, at which point it pulls a one-eighty, heading back towards the way it came in order to pick off the remaining pursuers. The action starts out grandiose and manages to maintain that scale for the entirety of its two hour runtime.

At the outset of Fury Road, Max is hunted and captured by the War Boys, scavengers for the local warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). From there he's turned into a living blood bag for Nux (Nicolas Hoult), one of the many war boys succumbing to nuclear radiation. Joe lords over the people by controlling the water supply, offering the impoverished, sickly and diseased masses a mere trickle each while he and his sons drink fresh breast milk pumped from Joe's growing concubine. When Joe's trusted lieutenant Furiosa (Charlize Theron) absconds with his most prized brides, Max finds himself strapped to the hood of Nux's war rider as part of the fleet sent to give chase and bring back the women. After an absolutely magnificent and extended sequence through a raging dust storm, Max and Furiosa find themselves thrown together. Furiosa's goal is to get the women to the fabled “Green Place,” the less violent colony led by the Vulvani. It's the place she called home until Joe stole her away.

Tom Hardy steps into the role of Max Rockatansky like a boss. Proving once again he's one of the modern age's most adaptable movie stars, Hardy barely says a word throughout the film. Instead, he conveys Max's weariness and boiling frustration through facial contortions while coiling his body to strike out violently at less than a moments notice. Hardy is so assured in his performance as Max that he appears to have no qualms about being a supporting player in his own movie. While his name is in the title, Fury Road is a true ensemble piece. If anyone owns the film, it would be Charlize Theron. Furiosa has the heroes arc of the film. Miller writes her as Max's equal, every bit as tough and capable as him. Though the pair are at odds at the outset, the two quickly become allies, as the two share a bond that can only be forged by those who spent time in the foxholes together can develop. Furiosa stands out as the most developed character in the film, one who has ample reason to despise Immortan Joe and the life he stole from her, but who refuses to take her eye of her end goal in order to take revenge on the warlord. I haven't said much about Hoult as the War Boy Nux, but he becomes the emotional heart of the film. He begins the film with a death wish and a desire to be accepted at the gates of Valhalla by warriors that have gone before him, but becomes something far greater as the film goes on. While a lesser film would have given them a hive mentality, the brides of Joe each have their own personality, and each handle their situation in their own fashion. Some are defiant, some go with the flow and some wish to turn back and throw themselves at the mercy of Joe at the first sign of distress. As King Immortan Joe, encased in death mask and a muscled up body armor meant to hide the ravages of disease and age, Kears-Byrne brings to life one of the best villains in modern movie history.
Yet Fury Road is much more than a stupid summer “shoot-'em-up” blockbuster. Amidst the chaos of explosions and fury, Miller crafted a work that brims with smart social commentary. Fury Road offers a scorching takedown of our culture's war mongering and overwhelming desire to horde and consume all resources despite the environmental costs. When Joe enters the prison/domicile his brides call home, he's met by graffiti that asks “WHO KILLED THE WORLD?” when the answer is obvious. Men killed the world through their greed, through their constant need to take more and more without giving back and through their bloodlust.

Amongst a summer movie season where The Avengers has come under fire for questions regarding Black Widow's portrayal and men's rights clowns kicked up such a stir over all-female Ghostbusters that a second all-male followup was swiftly announced, the greatest accomplishment of Fury Road is Miller's swift, brutal takedown of the Patriarchy. Fury Road may be the most pro-feminist movie of the year. It's not just Furiosa's resolve and ability to stand shoulder to shoulder alongside Max. It's not just the determination of Immortan Joe's on-the-lam wives to be seen as something other than possessions for their male jailers. Miller also gives us the Vulvani as an alternative to the bloodlust of Immortan Joe, The Citadel and the variety of feudal lords that pop up throughout the film. The elders of the Vulvani carved out a peaceful existence in the wasteland, surviving by banding together rather than lashing out. Yet as the film barrels towards its breathtaking climax, the women give every bit as good as they get, tearing through War Boys like a hot knife through soft butter. It's important to note the band of women are not anti-male. Like Furiosa, the Vulvani accept Max and Nux as allies and equals.

Mad Max: Fury Road is the perfect action spectacle. It pummels audiences with bloody mayhem from start to finish, offers the audience enough big concept ideas to chew on after they digest the explosions and manages to be the anti-Nolan by being more concerned with exploring the frailty of mankind and the bonds that bind us together. Hardy proves himself to be the perfect choice to pick up the banner Mel Gibson carried for three films, and the wasteland still feels so vast and unexplored that you can't help but salivate of Miller's next foray into that world. In the meantime, there's a perfect slab of cinema greatness playing near you. Put down your computer and tear ass to your multiplex right fucking now.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Jennifer Lynch Documentary DESPITE THE GODS Releases May 19th

BrinkVision releases Jennifer Lynch's (The Walking Dead, Chained) foray into Bollywood in the upcoming documentary DESPITE THE GODS. The documentary chronicles the litany of disasters and obstacles Lynch faced while working on a Bollywood action film about a man eating snake. It will be available on DVD and VOD this May 19th. What comes across in the trailer is how much of a badass Lynch as she overcomes cultural and creative differences and how her sense of humor helped keep her afloat. After playing over 40 festivals, the documentary will be available for the world to see.

Jennifer Lynch, daughter of cult film auteur David Lynch, made her auspicious directorial debut in 1993 with cult classic Boxing Helena. She was the youngest American woman to direct a feature film, and after that she took an extended hiatus. Fifteen years later, a recovering addict and hard-working single mother, Lynch returns to the director's chair with an ambitious project that will test her skills and the entire crew's sanity. Despite the Gods brings us behind the scenes on the set of Lynch's Bollywood/Hollywood action film about a man-eating snake goddess. In the spirit of LOST IN LA MANCHA and OVERNIGHT, Penny Vozniak, friend of one of the producers hired on to do behind-the-scenes on HISSS, ended up chronicling Lynch slowly losing her grip over a much-extended eight-month shoot.

Disconnecting PRIVATE NUMBER

Let's get this out of the way first: PRIVATE NUMBER  is not a good movie. The plot such as it is consists of a hodge podge of at least a half dozen much better films regurgitated through the Lifetime Network Sunday Night movie of the week quality filter. The acting contains enough ham to feed a dozen Easter dinners. It's a bad movie, but it still manages to be entertaining in the way that certain kinds of Z-grade films can. Private Number offers up the kind of cringe inducing entertainment reserved for eavesdropping on a blind date that's torpedoing in spectacular fashion in a public setting.

Michael (Hal Ozsan) is a writer battling with a number of demons. A year sober, he could use some Jack Daniels rocket fuel in order to get the keystrokes moving on his followup to his smash debut novel Knight Fire. If a crippling case of writer's block wasn't enough stress, his beautiful and supportive wife has gone baby crazy, and is hell bent on him putting a bun in her oven despite his adamant anti diaper stance. While Katherine (Nicholle Tom) generally has Michael's back, his continued existence at living a childless marriage sends her off the rails and transforms her into a shrieking harpy more likely to bite the head of an infant over snuggling one in her bosom. As Michael's stress reaches its zenith, his phone begins ringing in the middle of the night with the unknown callers asking "Remember Me?" It all ties in to unsolved murders, crooked cops and secret pasts that will leave you scratching your head by the time the film concludes.

While Private Number lifts heavily from genre efforts such as The Shining and Cold Creek Manor, and any number of 1990's supernatural police thrillers, the end result is a jumbled mess. Brat packer Judd Nelson and his flaring nostrils make an appearance as a pissed off and possibly corrupt sheriff while Tom Sizemore  lays on the schmaltz as Michael's AA sponsor. Only Ozsan seems to understand the B-movie hell he's participating in, and he embraces the pulpy nature of the film, alternating between knocking his friend's kid to the floor in a pique of rage to mean mugging for the camera while vowing to "get the son of a bitch" responsible for the murders to no one in particular.

The hodge podge of bad cliches and over the top performances pulls Private Number apart at the seams. What it offers the viewer is the kind of comfort a bad movie can offer at two AM when you're hungover, glued to the couch with a bag of chips closer than the remote control.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Fantasia 2015 Phase One: ANT-MAN, TALES OF HALLOWEEN, TURBO KID & More

Last year's Fantasia ranks near the top of any film fest I've had the privilege to cover. Aside from the wave of outstanding genre films that ran day at night, Fantasia benefits making a home in the beautiful city of Montreal, and its location combined with the amount of friends old and new, the hosting abilities of the infatigable fest co-director Mitch Davis and the rowdy, passionate crowds that packed theaters at all hours of the day make the fest a sheer delight. With a lot of history to live up to, the 2015 fest is well on its way to topping itself with a first wave of titles sure to thrill the crowds. 

The fest kicks off with a bang with Marvel's controversial ANT-MAN. Edgar Wright removed himself from his longtime passion project, and it remains to be seen if the comedic, madcap edge he would have brought to the film has been sanded off by the corporate suits. One thing for sure is Ant-Man boasts a kickass cast including Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas. Will this be the second summer straight Marvel spins gold out of one of their B properties or will Ant-Man be the first misstep in the Marvel cinematic shared 'verse. 

We raved about TURBO KID right here and the Canadian exploitation film that stepped right out of the early 80's makes a triumphant hometown return. The "Mad Max meets RAD" film came together as part of the first edition of Frontieres co-production market, and the screening should be a victory lap for co-directors Francois Simard, Annouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell. 

One of the titles guaranteed to generate a ton of excitement is the world premiere of the TALES OF HALLOWEEN. Spearheaded by Soulmate's Axelle Carolyn, this anthology project has rounded up world class genre talent including Neil Marshall, Lucky McKee, Paul Solet, Darren Lynn Boussman and many more. By all measures, horror fans could have another Trick 'r Treat on their hands this October. 

Other first wave highlights include:

South Korea - Dir: Choi Ho

Lee Jeong-jae (THE THIEVES), Shin Ha-kyun (THIRST) and K-Pop star BoA enters a dangerous death game in this high octane action comedy where a Mixed Martial Arts fighter must play a deadly urban chess confrontation created by a Machiavellian mastermind. Canadian Premiere.

Ethiopia/Spain/Finland - Dir: Miguel Llansó

Ethiopia’s first sci-fi feature also happens to be a post apocalyptic black comedy, an eccentric love story and a brilliant blast of politically-charged surrealism that exists in a space between Alex Cox and Alejandro Jodorowsky. Probably the single most unusual and unforgettable film you will see anywhere this year, screening in our Camera Lucida section.  Official Selection: Rotterdam International Film Festival. Canadian Premiere. 

New Zealand - Dir: Jason Lei Howden

Behold, the riotous heavy metal Kiwi splatter-comedy-horror-monster-demon-freakout the world’s been begging for has arrived. Packed with lunatic gore reminiscent of early Peter Jackson and volume-11 riffage harkening back to that same era’s most ferocious metal, DEATHGASM absolutely shreds. In every sense.  Official Selection: SXSW, Stanley, Fantaspoa. Canadian Premiere.

Canada - Dir: Gabriel Carrer

An unstable repairman tending to his crippled wife – an ex-cop brutalized by gang violence - sneaks out at night to unleash his rage on any criminals he can find. An atmospheric and poetic reinterpretation of the urban Vigilante Film as a psychological examination of trauma. World Premiere. 

USA - Dir: Michael Almereyda

Gifted indie trailblazer Almereyda (NADJA, CYMBELINE) turns his unconventional gaze towards the controversial social experiments of Stanley Milgram (brilliantly portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard). Co-starring Winona Ryder, Anton Yelchin, Taryn Manning, John Leguizamo and Anthony Edwards.  Official Selection: Sundance, Seattle International Film Festival, Beijing International Film Festival. Canadian Premiere.

Japan - Dir: Mari Asato

A deadly curse hits a gothic style convent in this brilliant atmospheric adaptation of the hit horror video game Fatal Frame, where flawless storytelling and character development, a creepy ambiance taking advantage of every inch of its location and a haunting music score bring the audience back to the golden age of J-Horror. Official Selection: Stockholm International Film Festival. North American Premiere.

Hong Kong - Dir: Derek Kwok, Henri Wong

When ex cons discovers their love for badminton, they ask a fallen former champion to lead them to victory. Derek Kwok and Henri Wong co-direct this hilarious comedy centered on over-the-top characters reminiscent of Stephen Chow's spectacular SHAOLIN SOCCER. Canadian Premiere.

Indonesia - Dir: Ifa Isfansyah

Aging female warrior Cempaka is the most respected fighter in the Golden Cane clan, but she must now find a successor among her disciples. Coming on the heels of the wildly popular THE RAID series, this flawlessly executed epic actioner by Ifa Isfansyah is here to confirm Indonesia's place in the leading nations of martial arts cinema. Canadian Premiere.

Japan - Dir: Nobuhiro Yamashita

Nobuhiro Yamashita, director of the contemporary classic LINDA LINDA LINDA, is back in musical comedy/drama territory with a fighter attitude! Rising super star Fumi Nikaido (WHY DON'T YOU PLAY IN HELL?) and J-Pop sensation Subaru Shibutani, member of Kanjani Eight, shine in this remarkable underdog tale. Official Selection: Rotterdam International Film Festival. Canadian Premiere.

Australia - Dir.: Joseph Sims-Dennett

His job is to observe, observe a beautiful woman. Soon enough, he discovers his gig implies more than he ever asked for. A poignant and terrifying thriller in the vein of Polanski's REPULSION, Among first 2015 Camera Lucida selections to be announced, OBSERVANCE promises to haunt your nightmares.  World premiere.

Spain - Dir: Sam Ortí Martí (AKA Sam)

An instant-classic of wickedly fun (and imaginatively grotesque) stop-motion comedy/horror that many have described as PARANORMAN meets WALLACE & GROMIT by way of SOUTH PARK, POSSESED is the manic creation of Goya-nominated anima-lunatic Sam Ortí Martí, featuring the voices of Santiago Segura, Anabel Alonso and Nacho Vigalondo. Official Selection Sitges, Athens Animfest, Canadian Premiere. 

USA - Dir: Perry Blackshear

A smart, haunting psychological horror masterpiece that Verite Film hailed as “unbearably tense and profoundly moving”. Despite having only been playing on the fest circuit for five months, THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE has already won awards at Slamdance, SF Indiefest, IFF Boston and the Nashville Film Festival. International Premiere

Denmark - Dir: Michael Madsen

Is Earth ready for an alien visitation? Michael Madsen"s fascinating follow-up to INTO ETERNITY reflects on this interrogation through a simulation with scientists and philosophers. A powerful and groundbreaking documentary. Official Selection: Sundance, Hot Docs. Quebec Premiere.

The Fantasia Film Fest runs from July 14th through August 4th with Concordia University serving as the main base. This year's stunning festival poster, seen at the top of the page comes from Montreal artist Donald Caron and depicts the legend of the Wendigo facing off against the mythical creature the Cheval Noir. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Stanley Film Festival: THE INVITATION - RSVP Yes.

The Invitation
Director Karyn Kusama
Writers Matt Manfredi & Phil Hay

Full disclosure: Karyn Kusama is my new hero. A diverse female filmmaker, Kusama has made epic indie films and massive – massive! – studio films, most focused in sci-fi and horror; a genre that is usually reserved for white boys (no offense white boys, but lets be honest). I mean, as a Latina Horror Director, what’s not for me to admire?! She makes a living from making films her way. And most importantly? She makes films that have depth and story and personality and brains – films that discuss the problems of interpersonal relationships, of government, of society.

And lucky for us, her latest is no different.

The Invitation was the centerpiece film for the Stanley Film Festival, and it is obvious to see why: Watching the film, it’s obvious how masterful Kusama’s direction is – each pause and tone and forced smile build carefully upon the last, adding depth and texture to an already rich story. Beyond that, the camerawork, the editing, the production design, hell, even the lighting are beyond perfect, treading nimbly enough to be absorbed into the larger product, but each beautiful when taken on their own. More than just technically beautiful, the film also features a gorgeously diverse cast and a script that is nothing short of mindblowing – a long, slow burn that pulls you deeper into the mystery of the story until you lose all confidence in your preconceived notions.

Will (played by a magnificently brooding Logan Marshall-Green) finds himself trapped at the world’s most awkward dinner party. Thrown by his ex-wife, Eden (a terrifyingly plastic-appearing Tammy Blanchard) and her new beau, David (Michiel Huisman) it’s a reunion for their old group of friends – a group of friends that hasn’t seen each other since an unnamed incident two years prior. The delight the group shows in welcoming Will and his girlfriend, Keira (a vibrant Emayatzy Corinealdi) is tempered by a cautious sympathy, gentle hands, sad smiles. But as the night eases into comfort amongst old friends, cautious warning signs begin to crop up – locked doors, strange new spirituality, and seemingly uninvited guests. As Will’s tragic past and volatile future unfold, the story combusts in a brutal finale that calls into question both the grieving process and the system our society has put in place for it.

In a panel before the screening, Kusama spoke eloquently of trying to evolve the genre, shape it and change it in a way that she could only do through independent cinema. She described her film as an emotionally-charged drama with a horror twist at the end – and that is completely the truth. To get to that moment takes infinite patience on behalf of the viewers; but you won’t regret it. In a Q&A post-screening, co-writer Phil Hay mentioned that in writing the end, their team took into account the many mysteries of the Hollywood hills, California’s historical horrors, and imbued them with a contemporary sensibility. This shows in the final moments of the film, as you watch Keira and Will stare out across their city – and as the viewer breathes in those last tenuous seconds of horror and angst, your mind echoes with those tales that you’ve heard of death and hatred and murder.

Through careful direction, a elegant, clever script, and brilliant performances, this film was a quiet but powerful addition to the line-up at this year’s Stanley Film Fest.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Stanley Film Fest – THE TREATMENT

The Treatment
Director Hans Herbots
Writer Carl Joos (based on Mo Hayder's novel)

There are some films you watch and shudder through. Immediately after viewing you know that you’ve seen something great, something intelligent and brutal and well-made – but something that you’ll never put yourself through again. For some, Irreversible is that movie. For others, The Tribe. The Human Centipede for yet another set.

The Treatment was one of those movies for me. And from the looks on the faces of the cohort that left the theater at my side, it was for many more, as well.

From Belgium, this film could easily be called an overlong episode of Law & Order: SVU. The general themes are in place when you attempt to write a description: hardened cop, perverted criminal, ticking clock to find the answers and save the next victim. But The Treatment offers so much more than your typical criminal procedural – the level of perversion and insidiousness of the subject matter is enough to make even the most jaded filmgoer’s skin crawl. Trust me. I loved A Serbian Film.

Nick is the hardened cop in question, a tough, volatile detective that rarely listens to his superiors and does a lot of slamming of doors and delicate skirting of the law. He’s plaugued by the mysterious disappearance of his younger brother in their childhood, but it’s more than just painful memories. The lead suspect in the disappearance, a known paedophile, wanders free, continuously trespassing on Nick’s property to mock and terrorize him. Screaming insults, leaving letters about what he did to Nick’s brother… and scattering bones across the front yard.

It’s little wonder then, that the already plagued Nick goes rogue when a case that mirrors that of his brothers crosses his desk. And that’s where the story begins – in a filth and blood stained house, handcuffs dangling from the walls from the massacre that happened within. As Nick follows the clues through the house and out into the surrounding neighborhood, the depths of humanity’s sickness is tested and revealed. As elements of the story reflect his own tale, we learn more, see more of the wretchedness that slowly weaves into the modern case. Its the horrid story of a network of the sick and morally destitute – men and women that protect and help each other to sate sickening appetites.

But The Treatment is so much more than nausea inducing envelope-pushing. Where films like Centipede or Serbian Film have a certain purpose – to gross out, disgust and repel their viewers – Treatment seems to have a separate one. Child pornography and paedophilia are an unfortunate truth of our society, as is sexual violence, misogyny, and many of the other themes of the film. And rather than completely push the boundaries to a place where a viewer can easily write off the film as another shockfest, The Treatment keeps itself grounded in reality, forcing you to always keep in mind that the horrible sites before you are real life. They are truth. And they are something that can truly happen. Serbian Film and Centipede rely on bright colors, studio visuals and surrealistic sequences to push audiences into gross out land; even the grittier Irreversible utilizes distinctive, stylized camera work and storytelling to keep the audience grounded in the fact that all is fiction and you can step away. The Treatment doesn’t offer that succor to it’s viewers, instead keeping its film gritty, personal and flat to leave room for the horror within to breathe. To permeate. To remind you that the horror you’re seeing before you are all too real and all too likely to happen or have happened to someone you know.

The Treatment isn’t pulling any punches. It’s a film that uses typical tropes from our society of criminal and sexual fascination, but turns them on their head, utilizing the familiar to lure audiences into a sick world where the very worst nightmares are a reality.