Friday, July 14, 2006

Fantasia '06, Day 8: Necromancer and Frostbite

Didn't wind up doing much of anything yesterday - brunch at Eggspectation, a quick walk to the chalet of Mount Royal, then Necromancer, which was probably not a good choice after the mountain had tuckered me out. Give it credit for being a lot more subtle/nuanced than many Thai films I've seen - the jumping back in forth in time hurt my head a little, but at least it's making a stab at complexity.

After that, I thought about supper, but really wasn't hungry. I poked into 1.000.000 Comics to try and fill a few holes (especially that 2000 AD #1478 that is an annoying hole in my recent reading), got a couple issues of Darkman out of the dollar bin, and then headed to the sculpture garden at the CCA to rest and write up the review of Exodus (it, along with the one for Die You Zombie Bastards!, are now up here). Then it was to Hall for Frostbite, a pretty nifty Swedish vampire action-horror-comedy. I admit, I was initially kind of disappointed to hear they'd gone the comedy route, since the polar night can make for a real grinder of a vampire movie if done right, but I figure 30 Days of Night will eventually get made, and in the meantime Frostbite is a whole ton of fun.

Today's plan: Archeological museum - last year's exhibit on Rome has been replaced by one on Japan, and the Canadian exhibits will be more fun now that I don't feel the need to look at every minute coin and chamber pot - and maybe hit the jet boats again, then back to the festival for Square Jaw Theater, God's Left Hand, Devil's Right Hand, Wilderness, and Meatball Machine.

Necromancer (Jom kha mung wej)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 13 July 2006 at Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival 2006)

My previous (limited) experience with Thai horror films, I admit, led me to paint the country's output in the genre with a broad brush - straightforward, bloody affairs that conform to the standard horror-movie template and lean heavily on sudden flashes of light and loud noises on the soundtrack to do their job. That's the trouble with forming an opinion from a small sample size of what is, evidently, a large population (horror films are very popular in Thailand). Certainly, some must be a bit more ambitious, as Necromancer is.

The story, which cuts back and forth in time, involves two detectives who, in their attempts to apprehend necromancer criminals, attempt to make use of those corrupting magics themselves. As the film starts, "Itti" (Chatchai Plengpanich) has already turned to the dark side, and is being held in a special prison cell designed to contain magic users. Of course, he escapes, seeking vengeance on his former partners. "Santi" (Akara Amarttayakul) is skeptical, but soon becomes obsessed with capturing Itti, though even the people in Itti's sights are saying to let him go - the price of trying to catch him is too steep.

The system of magic used in Necromancer comes straight from Thai superstition, where words written on amulets are meant to give their wearer power and good fortune. The next logical step is to tattoo one's spells on one's skin - after all, it's impossible to be cut off from one's powers if they're a part of you, right? Unless, of course, that other fellow happens to know a spell to do just that. Indeed, part of what sets Necromancer apart from many horror films, especially western ones, is not just the specific logic of its fantastic elements, but that it does, in fact, have a sort of system it sticks to. There's a logic to how the film approaches necromancy that allows it to almost believably be set in our real world.

Read the rest at HBS.

Frostbite (Frostbiten)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 July 2006 at Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2006)

On its own, Frostbite is an entertaining if imperfect film. Stand back a little, though, and it becomes the horror genre in microcosm - it starts out with a simple story to scare its audience, but eventually decides that's not enough, and reworks the concept to try and fit it into a modern world. By the time it's over, much of what made the initial concept actually frightening is being played as black comedy. It's good black comedy, but you can't help but think that something has been lost from when vampires were scary.

The film opens during World War II, as a lost Swedish volunteer unit of the German army, looking for shelter from the cold. What they find are mutilated corpses and a small coffin whose occupant wants out. Plenty of misguided Swedish blood gets spilled. Now, sixty years later, we meet Annika (Petra Nielsen) and Saga (Grete Havnesköld), a divorced doctor and her teenage daughter heading north to a small city in Norrbotten where Annika has taken a job in the hospital. She's excited about working with Professor Gerhard Beckert (Carl-Åke Eriksson), a genetic researcher who puts a stake through the heart of a body brought into the morgue when no-one's looking, and is giving experimental medication to a coma patient. Meanwhile, the kids at Saga's new school have invited her to a party thrown by John (Nilas Grönberg). Saga's new friend Vega (Emma T. Åberg) is in charge of getting the E, which she thinks she's getting from Sebastian (Jonas Karlström), a resident at the hospital. What she thinks is ecstasy is actually the pills Beckert is giving the coma patient, and if she saw the side effects they're giving Sebastian...

The program described Frostbite as the first vampire film to come out of Sweden, or at least the first with any kind of money behind it. You'd think a country that extends far enough north to experience "polar night" - periods up to a month long when the sun stays below the horizon - would be a haven for vampires, and a concept horror filmmakers would have seized upon much more recently. And while this unbroken darkness makes for an unusual visual on occasion - like kids hanging around the school's front entrance before the first bell despite it looking like the middle of the night - the film does almost nothing with it, story-wise. It's something of a disappointment, since the polar night thing is what Sweden's got that would let them make a vampire movie that's uniquely theirs.

Read the rest at HBS.

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