Friday, October 08, 2010

TerrorThon '10: The Horde and Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

Another week, another film festival. TerrorThon is a co-production between J. Cannibal and the folks behind the long-standing Boston Science Fiction Film Festival, and while it's got a few kinks to work out, I think it's one that has real potential to grow. Both Cannibal and SF/xx's Garen Daley have been at this for a while, so they had dedicated audiences to jump-start attendance with, good theater relations, and the contacts to get some pretty good indie horror on the schedule.

Of course, I do wish that they had cast their net a little wider, but I'm almost always going to wish that. The Human Centipede: First Sequence has been playing off and on at the Coolidge all year, Dead Snow is kind of last year's news, and The Horde is currently playing on demand. Then again, there's nothing in the definition that says a festival has to be all unreleased films. Also, both this and the February sci-fi festival (as opposed to the long-established marathon) are new for 2010; considering that both got pretty good attendance, I wouldn't be surprised if next year, they were able to go to distributors with photos of the audience and attendance figures and maybe get some more stuff that had been at Sundance or Fantasia a couple months earlier. Heck, this one had already earned a promotion from the video room to the upstairs cinemas at Somerville.

However, one thing that did frustrate me was the projection. La Horde wasn't bad, but I always wonder about the look of the film with Blu-ray projection; I know I can mess with the sharpness and contrast on my TV, and The Horde had a very pronounced video look. Tucker & Dale, meanwhile, was projected on DVD, and though I'd saved a couple bucks by purchasing my ticket ahead of time, the idea of dropping $12 to watch something on DVD irritates the heck out of me. I accept that film is becoming a more and more rare beast at festivals - prints are expensive for the producers, shipping them is expensive for the festivals, even if something isn't officially still a work in progress there may yet be tinkering to be done, etc. - but DVD? For $12? Especially considering that the folks in the next theater over paid something like $8 for an evening show (compared to the rest of Boston, The Somerville Theatre and Arlington Capitol are great deals)... The math used for upconverting DVDs is pretty good nowadays, but blown up to big-screen size, blurriness and compression still rear their heads.

Unlike most of my complaints, I did put my money where my mouth is this time - hearing that Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Undead would be projected from DVD during the introduction to The Horde pretty much sealed my decision to hit the comic shop and go home rather than stay for a second movie on Wednesday. As much as I like the theatrical experience and festival atmosphere, I'm not knowingly paying more for something I know will look better in my living room.

Still, I don't want to be too negative - I saw a couple good movies, in a bigger crowd than I might otherwise have expected, and with any luck, the event will grow and be even better next year.

La Horde (The Horde, duh)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 September 2010 at Somerville Theatre #5 (TerrorThon 2010)

For a while, every action movie of a certain type was described using the shorthand "Die Hard in a ____". For better or worse, when someone said that, the audience knew what they were going to get, even if it likely wasn't anywhere close to as good as that film. About the only subgenre more rigidly defined is the zombie movie - "____ are thrown together when the zombie pandemic breaks out". Barring an especially creative twist, those types of movies each come down to execution. That's the case with The Horde, which is a little bit of both: Filmmakers Yannick Dahan and Benjamin Rocher seem to have pitched the broad strokes more than the details, but still make a fairly entertaining movie.

A good cop by the name of Rivoallan (Laurent Segall) has just died, and a few members of his unit aren't planning on taking it sitting down - they're planning an off-the-books raid on the gang that killed him. Jiminez (Aurelien Recoing), Aurore (Claude Perron), and Tony (Antoine Oppenheim) are out for blood, although Ouessem (Jean-Pierre Martins) assures the deceased's mother that he's going along to make sure it doesn't get out of hand. Their target: A tenement in which Nigerian drug dealer Adewale Markudi (Eriq Ebouaney) is holed up, along with his brother Bola (Doudou Masta), partner Greco (Jo Prestia) and a number of henchman. Just when one side thinks they've got the upper hand, the informant that Adé had just killed gets up and comes at them, and when they look out the window, they see fires in the distance and a mob of the undead surrounding the building. The only other living soul in the building is nutty old veteran René (Yves Pignot), and the possibility of escape seems slim at best.

Compact that description a bit, and The Horde starts to sound like a French-language version of Versus, although the problem with Ryuhei Kitamura's calling card was that he didn't know when to stop (zombies vs. yakuza vs. cops was just where it started). Rocher, Dahan, and their co-writers don't run wild like that, although "restrained" wouldn't be the right word for this movie either - it's fast-moving, with some big action scenes and a sense of humor that's more than a bit politically incorrect. Still, it's one of those movies that is categorized as horror but isn't really scary - because there have been so many of these movies, its zombies are like robots, video game villains that can be wiped out without remorse, rather than something frightening or disturbing. There's suspense, but it's the kind of suspense that comes from a template - which will be the next character picked off, what form of betrayal will split the group apart? - than real dread.

Full review at EFC.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 1 October 2010 at Somerville Theatre #4 (TerrorThon 2010)

There have been plenty of slasher comedies, especially since Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson made winking self-reference popular with Scream. Few, however, have done such an entertaining job of marrying the genre with door-slamming farce, which is what you get with Tucker & Dale vs Evil - a snappy screwball comedy with a serious body count.

It begins, as many horror movies do, with a group of college kids heading out to do some camping in West Virginia. Chuck (Travis Nelson) is driving his dad's car, Chad (Jesse Moss) is hitting on Allison (Katrina Bowden); four other guys and two other girls are along for the ride. When they stop at a general store to stock up on beer, they bump into Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine), a couple of hillbillies on their way to their newly-purchased vacation home. A series of misunderstandings and prejudices soon has the college kids believing that the pair are redneck psycho killers, although the kids may be much bigger dangers to themselves.

Everybody has heard the line about how dying is easy but comedy is hard, and combining the two can be harder still. Writer/director Eil Craig and his writing partner Morgan Jurgenson play on certain familiar movie situations - there are two utterly hilarious bits of that at the general store, and the finale features a bit straight out of silents and Saturday serials - but instead of making their movie into a game of spot-the-reference, they find a nice middle ground between playing on broad caricatures and making their main characters, at least, individuals. They also do a fairly excellent job of escalating their comic misunderstandings in a way that stays believable even when people are winding up dead, all the way through to getting to the last act. It's a tricky transition that a lot of horror comedies don't manage, making their characters more active participants so that the story can have a proper conclusion without changing the tone drastically.

Full review at EFC.

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