Fantastic Fest 2011: Part 1
The Squad, Human Centipede II, Manborg, A Boy and His Samurai
Part 2
The 2011 Award Winners.
Part 3
Paranormal Activity 3, Melancholia, Sleep Tight, New Kids Turbo, Aardvark, Calibre 9.
Part 4
Comin’ At Ya 3D, Urban Explorer, Headhunters, Bullhead, You’re Next
Part 5
Beyond the Black Rainbow, Clown, Haunters, The Holding, Juan of the Dead

Nothing pithy to say today. So let’s do this thing!

The Devil’s Business
Genre: Horror
Director: Sean Hogan

FF Summary: Two hit-men, veteran Pinner (Billy Clarke) and the fumbling new guy, Cully (Jack Gordon), are ordered to take out one of their former associates. While the target is out on the town, the two stake out in his house. As boredom kicks in, Cully requests Pinner tell a story of his past. Pinner chooses a dark and haunting one. He tells Cully about Valentina, a stripper that he and his associates were ordered to take out – and not to dinner. Pinner brings out the demons – first figuratively, then literally – as he unfolds the story of a love affair gone awry.

The supernatural suggestions of Pinner’s story put Cully on edge and when they see occult symbols on an investigation of the rest of the house, their imaginations turn towards the sinister. They slowly realize their target isn’t exactly who he seems to be; this job isn’t going to be as easy as they first assumed; and their perceived upper-hand in the situation begins to quickly reverse.

Should You Be Excited: Not really.

Thoughts: I have a lot of respect for this film. It is a rare dialogue driven horror film, that at times feels like a stage play. Clarke and Gordon do a lot of talking in the first half, with Clarke giving a very pivotal and very lengthy monologue. Of course, this also means the film isn’t very eventful. But the slow burn of transitioning from a lowkey hitman drama into a supernatural horror movie is a great payoff. I was reading Clive Barker’s The Damnation Game while at Fantastic Fest, and this movie has some interesting story parallels. Things build up to some crazy events at the end, but unfortunately the movie doesn’t ever go quite far enough once it gets going. Even when the plot gets kooky, the film never rises above a 6 on a 1-to-10 energy scale. It stays too small, when all it really needed was to pump some action in during its final moments.

Moment to Savor: The reveal of what is living in the house’s cellar.

Rating:
★★★☆☆

Out of a Possible 5 Stars



Extraterrestrial
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Sci-Fi,
Director: Nacho Vigalondo

FF Summary: Julio wakes up with one hell of a hangover. As he gradually takes in his surroundings, it’s obvious he’s not in his own bed. He introduces himself to Julia, his apparent hookup from the night before, and they go through the typically awkward conversation. Julia is clearly trying to get him out of her apartment as soon as possible. But as he gathers his belongings they realize that things are much too quiet, even for a Sunday. A quick trip to the balcony reveals absolutely no one on the street. They gaze off into the distance and see a huge spaceship looming on the horizon. While they struggle to understand what they’re seeing, Julia’s neighbor Angel stops by. Angel brings news of the alien invasion, and it becomes apparent that he’s obsessed with Julia and maybe even spying on the apartment. When Julia’s live-in boyfriend Carlos comes home, things become even more complicated. The four acquaintances must try to find a way to survive threats from both outside and within, and maybe make some sense of their situation.

Should You Be Excited: Yes.

Thoughts: This is not the sophomore film you’d expect from Nacho (after Timecrimes) but as he explained to the audience, if you lived in his native Spain, Timecrimes was in fact the left field project. Prior to Timecrimes Nacho was known for his comedic shorts. Extraterrestrial is what his previously existing fans were expecting his feature debut to be. So Nacho’s first two films are confusing for two different sets of fans now. I saw the second showing of the film at FF, and Nacho relayed a funny story about a woman in the audience of the first showing who didn’t realize the film was a comedy and was angrily shushing people who were laughing. That misguided woman must have done a lot of shushing, because Extraterrestrial is a great silly comedy. Silliest of all is that despite its high alien concept, the aliens are a fairly irrelevant factor. In fact, for me, I found it increasingly funnier and funnier the way the movie had nothing to do with the aliens. Raul Cimas has the funniest role, as Julia’s clueless and endlessly supportive boyfriend.

Moment to Savor: When Julia’s obnoxious neighbor sets up shop in an abandoned apartment across the street with a tennis ball launcher and a megaphone, determined to blow Julia and Julio’s affair wide open.

Rating:
★★★★☆

Out of a Possible 5 Stars


Livid
Genre: Horror
Director: Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo

FF Summary: LIVID starts with Lucie on her first day of training as an in-home nurse. She shadows a long-time veteran of the job named Wilson, the pair travelling along well-established routes. One stop in particular, though, intrigues Lucie- an isolated mansion in which lives an elderly woman who is comatose and on a respirator. Wilson tells Lucie that the woman used to be a dance instructor famous for her strict methods. Her final wish was to die in her home amongst some unspecified treasure. It’s at the mention of this treasure that, later that night, Lucie’s boyfriend William decides they, along with their friend Ben, will sneak into the house to rob the woman. What the trio finds inside as they progress through the maze of rooms and unlock doors that probably should stay locked proves to be bizarre and horrifying.

Should You Be Excited: Not really.

Thoughts: This film will likely be a huge disappointment for anyone seeing it because of Maury and Bustillo’s previous film, Inside. The films have little in common, both stylistically and in subject matter, and if you’re after something like Inside then don’t bother here. Whereas Inside was straight-forward, unrelenting and disturbing, Livid is fantastical and all over the place. The set-up is creepy and solid, and I really like our lead, Chloé Coulloud, but midway through the movie suddenly goes off the reservation, never to return. I like films that go off the reservation, so there were definitely things I liked in the second half of the film. Maury and Bustillo have a good eye for imagery, but they don’t seem to have much of a head for story. Not here at least. You can sense rhyme and reason lurking beneath the surface, but little of it makes its way to us. Yet, something about the nonsensical story and strange path that the film ends up taking appealed to me. Really, it probably deserves 2.5 stars, but I’m going to give it an extra .5 for effort.

Moment to Savor: The reveal at the end of the film for why a certain character was always told not to go outside her house really typifies the WTF nature of the film.

Rating:
★★★☆☆

Out of a Possible 5 Stars


A Lonely Place To Die
Genre: Action, Thriller
Director: Julian Gilbey

FF Summary: Five vacationers find their Scottish mountain getaway interrupted by a very unexpected discovery: a little girl locked in a subterranean prison cell a hundred miles from anywhere. The semi-feral child speaks only Russian and attacks anyone who touches her. Soon the group find themselves stalked by the girl’s heavily armed captors, two of the most convincingly heartless villains in cinematic history. The heart attack-inducing chase that follows will take them down raging rivers, three-mile cliffs and into the heart of a city on fire. Gun-toting maniacs join the fray on both sides, sending skull bits and splintered bone flying across every inch of gorgeous, lawless rural Scotland.

Should You Be Excited: Yes.

Thoughts: This is a top-notch action thriller, and announces Julian Gilbey as a filmmaker to be watching. The realism of the rock climbing (Cliffhanger suddenly looks even cheesier) gives the film a pervasive sense of danger, even in its simpler moments, and despite FF’s summary above, the film is not a crazy hillbilly movie. Though I’m in full agreement on the convincingly heartless and oh so hateable nature of our villains — Sean Harris won an acting award at FF; adding to his collection of sinister slimeballs. As far as characters are concerned, the film did not go where I was expecting at all (again, it is kind of being sold as a rural terror movie), but proved all the more interesting and surprising for it. I didn’t need another City People Vs Evil Rednecks movie.

Moment to Savor: The climactic chase through a Scottish town’s Wicker Man-like street festival.

Rating:
★★★★☆

Out of a Possible 5 Stars


Take Shelter
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Director: Jeff Nichols

FF Summary: When we first meet Curtis, he’s having strange dreams. They start with a wicked storm where the rain resembles motor oil, bad things happen, and LaForche wakes up screaming from real physical pain. Each dream gets progressively worse. Are they predicting the end of the world? Appearing so undeniably real, Curtis starts to confuse real life with the dream world. These nightmares haunt and eat at him. As paranoia starts to take a toll, he decides to build a living quarters underground, risking his job security, marriage, and friends.

Should You Be Excited: Sure.

Thoughts: Your enjoyment of Take Shelter will depend a lot on how you feel about Michael Shannon. A guy I know literally walked out of the film because he hated it so much, and I later discovered he can’t stand Michael Shannon. I like Michael Shannon, so I liked the film. Shannon is not an ideal leading man, but he is perfect here. The film is a great subjective portrayal of a man slowly losing his mind, made more compelling by the fact that Curtis knows his mother was hospitalized as a paranoid schizophrenic around the same age that he is now. So Curtis well knows that he is likely going crazy, but is still powerless to overcome certain chemical/emotional reactions he is having. He knows that he is probably going crazy for thinking that the beloved family dog is going to hurt him, but the emotional paranoia won’t leave his mind. I’ve never seen a film in which a hero who is going crazy is also trying to realistically determine if he’s going crazy, seeing his doctor, a counselor, taking meds. So the film is half-thriller (from his perspective), half tragic drama, from his wife’s perspective. The film has its problems though. It gets repetitive, and I didn’t always buy the other characters reactions/decisions. And I’m still on the fence about the ending. Curtis’ wife is played by Jessica “Queen of 2011″ Chastain. Seriously, how is it possible that she made so many movies that came out this year? It is mind-boggling.

Moment to Savor: Any of Curtis’s dream sequences.

Rating:
★★★½☆

Out of a Possible 5 Stars


One more installment to come! I saw a lot of goddamn movies at FF.