Thursday, April 21, 2011

Boston Underground Film Festival 2011 Day 8: The Beast Pageant and Satan Hates You

Day 8? What happened to day 7? Well, I'd already seen Atomic Brain Invasion and Cold Fish, and though the idea of seeing Sion Sono's new movie again had some appeal, it was nice to have the night off. The other theater was showing the "J. Cannibal's Tapas of Terror" and "Midnight Transgressions" programs, and while I like short films plenty, I can skip the horror and "how far can we push it?" stuff. Plus, new comics day and not feeling like I have to rush home from work made for a nice break.

It's maybe not fitting that the festival ended with one of the more egregious projection errors, but it was disappointing; what happened with The Beast Pageant was roughly as bad as everything that happened Saturday combined. Basically, there were about twenty minutes of shorts before the feature, but apparently the feature started running at about the same time. We saw the shorts, then the projection switched to the feature, which ran to the end and restarted, causing some confusion in the audience - was this some weird achronological editing? Were we seeing deleted scenes? It took a while until someone was sure enough that something was up and went to find festival management.

The festival guys were, naturally, extremely apologetic, especially considering that this was the last day of the festival, so there was no chance to reschedule, or give free tickets to the guys who weren't using passes. It's a real shame that the problems with presentation need to be mentioned - and they do, as they certainly affected my enjoyment of the movies and ability to discuss them - because BUFF runs a fun festival, and even with the problems they had, the general feeling is of things running smoothly.

I didn't love everything at BUFF, but I don't think you're supposed to; if one person were to love everything, they probably wouldn't be as close to the edge as they wanted to be. But they certainly had a slate of interesting movies, and that's what you go to this festival for.

The Beast Pageant

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 31 March 2011 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (Boston Underground Film Festival 2011)

Obviously, I can't review this movie properly, as I wound up seeing it out of order. However, I suspect that the very fact that those of us in the audience didn't twig to the fact that we were coming in late or quite get what the deal was when the movie looped around suggests that, at the very least, the movie isn't exactly tight.

In it, we follow Abraham (co-director Jon Moses) as he escapes from his machine-controlled life in a city straight out of Brazil or the films of Guy Maddin and starts roaming across the increasingly bizarre countryside. That is, after a miniature singing-cowboy version of himself grows out of his abdomen.

The Beast Pageant is a strange little movie, the sort that often seems built with the primary purpose of having the audience say "huh, that's peculiar". It gets plenty of that, for sure - changing landscapes, dancing trees and rocks, naked doll-sized people baking pies inside their scale-model house, bizarre commercials for fish in cereal boxes. It's also got the sort of obligatory theme of how modern life can be confining and how the machines intended to serve us are actually the ones in control. There's not a lot to it besides its eccentricity and familiar message, really; filmmakers Moses and Albert Birney are just putting ideas on-screen.

There's charm to that eccentricity, though. This is very much a D.I.Y. movie - the camera is salvaged and the sets are spare - but its homemade aesthetic is earnest and playful. The exposed, convoluted machinery of the city is lovingly detailed, while the "best we can do" effects for the cowboy (alternately a doll sticking out of Abraham's shirt and shots of Moses against a background that roughly approximates the shirt's pinstripes) fool no-one but still work.

It's not a great movie. It's scattered and random and I suspect that if I had seen it in the right order I would have grown impatient waiting for things to get started. It's a diverting bit of oddness, and enjoyable enough on that count.

Satan Hates You

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 March 2011 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (Boston Underground Film Festival 2011)

I must admit - I've completely lost the ability to tell genuine evangelical Christianity from satire of the same. I say this not to disparage the people who find comfort and strength in their faith, just to point out that as with any group with strongly held convictions, you sometimes need to look very close to figure out whether something is being said with the force of true belief or comic exaggeration. For the life of me, I can't figure out which one Satan Hates You is, which may make it sort of brilliant.

We are all sinners, as they say, but Marc and Wendy may have a leg up on the rest of us. Both hang out at the same bar; Marc (Don Wood) is an unemployed alcoholic who is quick to anger when somebody gets the impression that he likes other men, while Wendy (Christine Spencer) is a party girl who is not terribly particular about what she puts in any of her orifices. They are being watched by unseen demons Glumac (Larry Fessenden) and Scadlock (Bradford Scobie), who are not allowed to interfere directly but can certainly whisper encouragement. Still, evil influences aren't the only ones in their lives; the folks at the storefront church next to Mickey's bar make overtures to Marc, and Wendy finds herself drawn to the televised sermons of Dr. Michael Gabriel (Angus Scrimm).

"Christian" doesn't often word-associate well with "bloody horror", but they are not always mutually exclusive. There are both long and recent traditions of apocalyptic art, and Halloween "Hell Houses" are often surprisingly graphic to those who don't realize that God-fearing people often have extremely specific and detailed ideas about sin and the punishments sinners will receive at the hands of Satan, and are dead serious about scaring you away from them. So when the characters of Satan Hates You are involved in nasty, sinful things (on either side), writer/director James Felix McKenney presents it with plentiful blood and gore, often imaginatively so. That back-alley abortion clinic, in particular, is impressively grotesque. The production values are sometimes a bit crude, as befits something made with more fervor than resources or technique.

Full review at EFC.

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