Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Etheria Film Night 2014: Soulmate and shorts

I must admit to being kind of surprised that there was an Etheria Film Night in 2014; it started as a science-fiction offshoot of the Viscera Film Festival, a film program spotlighting horror productions directed by women which disbanded earlier this year. Apparently, though, it was only mostly dead, reforming in a way that put the various genres under one roof, and still partnered with All Things Horror to bring it to Boston.

In some ways, I think the consolidation has been a real boon. Previous Etheria shows just didn't have enough quality short films for great packages at times - which, it should be noted, is tough for all sci-fi blocks, since any sort of major world-building can take a lot more behind-the-scenes work than a short film's budget can support, though further narrowing the sample makes things even trickier. Other times, even narrower themes would emerge, like the time there were three or four red-riding-hood stories in one program. This year's broader focus seems to have led to a stronger program as a whole, with something closer to the cream being selected.

It was a fairly full house (for a room that holds thirty-odd people), so it was kind of disappointing that the "women in film" trivia questions for meet with uncomfortable levels of silence. I won a prize for knowing that Debra Hill was John Carpenter's writing/producing partner, which was why I didn't also raise my hands when asked who directed Tank Girl along with the two-part 2014 season finale of Doctor Who. I was kind of surprised nobody else got that one, although I like Tank Girl enough that I'm always surprised to see Rachel Talalay's name on a TV episode. In my head, she made a modest hit that naturally led to other feature opportunities. Of course, I also didn't remember Mary Harron's name when asked who directed American Psycho. In my defense, I have never seen that movie.

For knowing that bit of non-trivia, I won a DVD of the afternoon's feature presentation, Soulmate, signed by director Axelle Carolyn and one of the co-stars:

Soulmate autographs

It is, think, important progress that where I remember much of the talk when one of her short films played Fantasia a couple years ago referring to her in terms of who her husband was, his name wasn't mentioned at all here, even though their dog's was.

To be fair, Nubi looks like a great dog who really should have an important part in all of their films going forward.

Etheria 2014 Shorts

Seen 14 December 2014 in the Somerville Theatre Micro-Cinema (Etheria Film Night, digital)

This two hour block was, as I mentioned, one of the more solid genre short packages I've seen in a while. I'm not sure how much traveling this new version of Etheria is doing - I sometimes got the impression that the last one was Los Angeles, Boston, and not much else - but it's absolutely worth catching if it comes to your town, especially since none of these films are yet legitimately available online.

"The Guest" by Jovanka Vuckovic - This is the second sorry film I've seen from Ms. Vuckovic that has rather underwhelmed me on its own but which has me anticipating her first feature. Like "The Captured Bird", this is a tremendously striking film visually, but the story just seems to be starting to come into its own as the closing credits roll. She can grab an audience's attention, and I'm anxious to see if she can hold it.

"Serpent's Lullaby" by Patricia Chica - There is a whole lot to really like about this one - it tells a lot of story with an impressive economy of words and the memorable visuals hint at the climactic unveiling without quite giving it away. I do kind of feel that the tone falters a bit when the action moves outside of the spooky house, into the conventional world; there's an awkward comedy vibe that doesn't really fit with the spooky stuff. In general, though, it's a neat idea executed well.

"Little Lamb" by Heidi Lee Douglas - This one is a nifty little period slow-burner about a convict woman in nineteenth-century Australia who finds herself going from the frying pan to the fire in fairly short order. It's a bit long to start and seems to have a bit of a shortcut at the end, but in between it is plenty tense and occasionally rather gruesome. If the movie is a direct descendant of one of the bloodier classic fairy tales, then Douglas does a suitably nasty job of translating it.

"You, Me & Her" by Sarah Doyle - After close to forty-five minutes of intense horror to kick the program off, this being a more playful take on a sci-fi concept (meeting a bunch of alternate selves from parallel universes). The in-story logic trends to involve a fair amount of handwaving, but Doyle and star Shannon Woodward make the interaction and differentiation of the various Annas fairly funny, including flashbacks to the points of divergence. There's a fine nugget of an idea about it never being clear which risks to take in this one, and the generally smooth effects and dry humor help it go down easy.

"113 Degrees" by Sabrina Doyle - Another nice bit of science fiction, this one a more serious tale of two astronauts who have become lovers over the course of a long-term facing an uncertain future when they return to Earth... Well, if they make it. The filmmakers build a world that seems just solid enough to believe, doing an impressive job of selling us on the situation without a whole lot of hysterics. Things get a little touch-and go when Doyle apparently tries to create ambiguity on just how Francesca's mental state contributed to the disaster, but otherwise, a nifty interplanetary-era short.

"Dawn" by Rose McGowan - This one veers dangerously close to not just being all about a twist, but not being entirely behind it, like the filmmakers want to tell this spooky story but aren't totally comfortable with how conservative its message is. Even with that in mind, McGowan an lead actress Tara Lynne Barr are well able to evoke how Dawn's warm 1950s cage is both comforting and confining, and if some of its climax is a bit muted, it's in part because the supporting cast is doing good enough work that the audience might like to see them doing a bit more.

"Hide & Seek" by Kayako Asakura - I almost feel like this could be a segment of a new Ju-on movie, if the producers had continued along the anthology route rather than rebooting it. It's got a creepy ghost kid, a mother who might be even stranger, and a teenage heroine who may be in way over her head. That makes it a little familiar, but it's got a couple good jump moments to it.

"The Jelly Wrestler" directed by Rebecca Thomson/written by Claire D'Este - I might have enjoyed this one just a notch or two more if it had just stayed an off-center comedy all the way through. It's a pretty nutty one - an aging bartender finding herself drawn back to old habits when the bar she works at plans a jelly-wrestling contest. It's a fun performance from Elise Taylor, and the chaos around her gets weirder and funnier. Even the last over-the-top bit is good for a laugh.

Soulmate

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 December 2014 in the Somerville Theatre Micro-Cinema (Etheria Film Night, digital)

What is a ghost? Potentially anything a writer wants, but probably the strongest way to use this particular bit of supernatural lore is as the past personified, with the question being how that can affect the living and the present. Writer/director Axelle Carolyn zeroes in on that idea with Soulmate, and playing it out makes for an interesting story.

It's one that starts with a suicide attempt, a young musician who has been recently been widowed. When next we see Audrey (Anna Walton), she is renting an old house some miles away from any neighbors in Wales, complete with a room that caretaker Theresa Zellaby (Tanya Myers) and her husband (Nick Brimble) say cannot be opened. So those noises Audrey thinks she's hearing would seem seem to be coming from somewhere else - at least, until she finds Douglas (Tom Wisdom) in the sitting room.

It's a while before Douglas makes his first appearances, giving the viewer some time to get familiar with Audrey, and Carolyn and actress Anna Walton handle that introduction well. Without many words devoted to explaining herself, they show her sadness and difficulty in knowing just what to do next, and often the way she goes about trying to minimize the bandages on her wrists or seems stymied trying to arrange some music is just as telling as her doing it. Even more impressively, there is at least a hint of something other than depression from the start, so that the process of her possibly emerging from her shell as the film goes on feels quite genuine.

Full review at EFC.

1 comment:

Rebecca Thomson said...

Thanks so much for taking the time to check out our films and review them. Much appreciated Jay!