Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.02 (15 July 2015): Kung Fu Killer, The Hallow, and "The Morrigan".

Dial into the day job, write movie reviews, find you've barely got time to get supper before the evening movies. Not the worst way to stay employed and possessed of a press pass while attending a 22-day film festival, but it didn't leave a lot of time to do much else.

Sad to say, the second visit to the food truck mall at the Quartier des Spectacles wasn't quite so successful as the first with its rib poutine. I got a brisket sandwich which was on the one hand some pretty good brisket on a very nice roll, but which on the other hand had a large pickle and cole slaw in there. Much less impressive once the contaminants are removed. The raspberry lemonade it was washed down with was good, but not much for $4.75 (Canadian).

Still, I did have enough time to plot out much of the festival afterwards, and despite my intitial worries that having seen various selections at Fantastic Fest, BUFF, and IFFBoston over the past year, along with the festival being back down to two screens after using three last year, would leave me with a somewhat light schedule, that's not going to be the case. I may break 85 or even 90 new features seen this year, which is insane, with the afternoons at de Seve likely to be even more packed than usual.

After the relative chaos of opening night, day two was when I was able to reconnect with familiar faces in line. I don't know whether Paul even had time to stop back home in Schenectady on the way here after the New York Asian Film Festival, and Gabriela has four shorts in the Fantastique Week-End this year, which is pretty great. It was nice to hear that I wasn't the only person with recent moving horror stories.

The movies were fun, too - Kung Fu Killer was goofy and probably deliberately so to a certain extent (insert usual rant about Donnie Yen movies not playing Boston here), and The Hallow is a great little horror movie, getting better several times when I expected it to level off.

Tonight's plan: Another night in Hall with Torrente 5: Mission Eurovegas and Office.

Yi ge ren de wu lin (Kung Fu Killer)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, HD)

Kung Fu Killer is what it sounds like and aggressively so, a cross between classic martial arts films where an evil master cuts a bloody path through his rivals and 1980s kung-fu cop flicks. The way director Teddy Chan combines these two does not exactly create something more refined - to torture a food metaphor a bit, it's got all the cheese from both recipes - but it does yield some damn fine fights, so the film can't be accused of not delivering.

In a period-set film, a master like Hahou Mo (Donnie Yen) might have become a monk when his dueling left another fighter dead; here he just turns himself in to the police and is sentenced to five years for something like negligent homicide. Before his sentence is up, though, he demands to speak to Chief Inspector Luk Yuen-sum (Charlie Yeung Choi-nei), who is investigating a man who was brutally beaten to death. Hahou says the victim was a martial arts master, and others will be targeted, although if he is released, he can help find the killer. This serial killer of kung fu masters is soon identified as Fung Yu-sau (Wang Baoqiang), and while Hahou appears to be his ultimate target, something about the way Hahou engineered his release from jail doesn't sit right with Yuen-sum.

Because of course it doesn't. The trouble with that as a plot device, unfortunately, is that this is the sort of cop movie where where the villain's plan being diabolical and the police/writers not really making a lot of sense in how they go about dealing with it. Do they just not have ankle bracelets in Hong Kong, for example, and why such a delay in warning the martial artists Hahou thinks will be targeted (and only doing so in sequence)? Thorough surveillance becomes pourous pretty quickly as well.

Full review on EFC.

"Lake Mahar"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, HD)

Basic Irish horror stuff, "The Morrigan" - young couple goes to a cabin on the shore during the off-season, mysterious girl shows up, and when they call the cops, it doesn't necessarily make things better. Nastiness and trust-no-one situations ensue. Mix it up in a stew of fog and the arcane seeming inevitable, and you're in business.

Is this Morrigan a well-enough known myth in Northern Ireland that writer/director Colum Eastwood can more or less let things go without explanation, or are audiences meant to be as relatively at sea as Richard & Anna? It works either way, I think, although it means that the mysterious girl goes from strange victim to generic monster rather quickly. It's a frequently-striking monster, at least - Eastwood and the visual FX team seem to make good use of being on the wrong side of the uncanny valley, letting the unreality of the big eyes and distorted faces unnerve as much as they might promote some giggles.

Once this is all in place, "The Morrigan" is an effective little horror short. It kind of follows the standard paths and might be a little more interesting with a more individually-tailored story (Eastwood and his cast do their best work when picking at the characters' minds), but it's got good jumps and atmosphere, getting its job done.

The Hallow

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

By way of exposition, there's a bit on the radio early on mentioning that an upcoming deal would make Ireland the only developed country without a national forest, and that just sounds like a bad idea: Anyone who has seen a few horror movies or read some folklore knows that country is so absolutely lousy with sprites of various sorts that there barely sees to be room for people. Don't mess with their habitat, because otherwise something like this initially slow-burning but ultimately intense bit of horror will ensue.

The man being sent to survey this forest is Adam Hitchens (Joseph Hawle); he often takes infant son Finn and their dog Iggy out in the woods while wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic) works on the mill house where they've been set up. The locals - naturally, a superstitious bunch - don't like this, with farmer Colm Donnelly (Michael McElhatton), whose daughter vanished into the woods some years ago, the most aggressive. But maybe the greatest danger isn't superstitious neighbors or the Fair Folk, but a fungus along the lines of Ophiocordyceps unilateralis that Adam finds attached to creatures rather larger than ants.

Certainly, the latter offers a bunch of things any horror movie can use, from being icky to look at to being able to serve as a springboard for other nasty things. Writer/director Corin Hardy finds ways for this stuff to get everywhere, and it's hard to overstate how effective this stuff is at enhancing a scene's yuck factor. On top of that, of course, it's giving a somewhat less mystical than usual grounding to the traditional battle between humankind and its "progress" and wild nature; this stuff gets everywhere. Not that Hardy's script goes for a complete demystification; the flip side of this battle is that iron (which traditionally burns mystical creatures) is still an extremely useful thing to have around.

Full review on EFC.

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