Tuesday, January 03, 2017

IFFBoston Fall Focus 2016.04: After the Storm & The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Sorry, every festival I went to last year - this is as far back as I’m going to try and write full reviews before making one of my New Year’s Resolutions to not let this stuff pile up - if I can’t write something full-length in a week or two, it just gets kicked down to shorter length for This Week in Tickets. This year, things just got way out of hand, and while I’m picking some speed back up on the bus right now, it’s a bit of a grind and the stuff you do as a hobby should not be a grind.

Still, it’s sometimes fun to see patterns emerge after the fact, especially when you’re writing while looking back. I suspect that this wasn’t necessarily intended to be a double feature, as opposed to a six-day/six-movie series accommodating another event in the theater in the middle of it, but now that I write it up, these two movie both feature fathers dragging families down with them.

Anyway, on to writing up MonsterFest, where I could have seen The Autopsy of Jane Doe again, and was in fact kind of tempted, especially since it was playing with a short film by director Andre Ovredal. But, nope, I went to Dead Hands Dig Deep instead, and pretty much slept through the whole thing (not really still on East Coast of North America time, but still kind of wiped out), so maybe it’s just as well; I might have been taking up a seat that could have gone to someone who really wanted it.

That one, like After the Storm, is currently on VOD in the United States, but if you’re in the Boston area, it’s worth noting that it will be back at the Brattle Theatre on 3 February, through the 9th. It’s a good one, well worth seeing with a crowd.

Umi yori mo mada fukaku (After the Storm)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 October 2016 in the Brattle Theatre (IFFBoston Fall Focus, DCP)

There's a typhoon in Hirokazu Kore-eda's After the Storm, but it arrives late, too late to be the complete inspiration for the film's English language title (the original Japanese, "Umi yori mo mada fukaku", translates to "Even Deeper than the Sea"). Whoever came up with it was onto something, though; despite the understated, observational bent of Kore-eda's films, there is implied turmoil in these characters' pasts that makes how they tackle the present worth watching.

At the center is Ryota (Hiroshi Abe), who won an award for his first novel some years ago but has been working at a small firm of private investigators for so long that his description of it as research for a new book has worn thin. He has at least learned how to keep tabs on his ex-wife Kyoko (Yoko Maki) and 11-year-old son Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa), though his gambling keeps him from paying his alimony which may lose him visitation. So he tries to borrow from sister Chinatsu (Satomi Kobayashi) or find a valuable possession of his late father's, though he doesn't tell mother Yoshiko (Kirin Kiki) that he's looking to swipe something from the family home.

There's something about Hiroshi Abe that inspires, if not confidence, at least good feeling; he's tall and handsome enough to stick out in a crowd without being imposing, often coming off as amusingly befuddled when cast in a comedy. Here, he and Kore-eda use that charisma to remind the audience just how charming some toxic influences can be; there’s a hangdog weight to his body language, an air of guilt that pushes against his more selfish tendencies, a genuine fondness for his son that breaks through often-muted moments. It’s not an easy, boldfaced charisma, and in that way more easy to believe in his best intentions.

Full review on EFC.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 October 2016 in the Brattle Theatre (IFFBoston Fall Focus, DCP)

I expect a bit too much precision and consistency from horror movies in the best of circumstances, preferring that every element pull in the same direction, at least symbolically, even when I know that unpredictability and confusion is part of what makes them scary. Making a film about an autopsy, right from the very title, is only going to encourage that, leading me to nitpick The Autopsy of Jane Doe while the credits rolled. And though there certainly are things that could hang together better, it would be a mistake to focus on them at the expense of an exceptionally tense, intriguing, and well-executed thriller.

The Jane Doe that arrives at the funeral home that also serves as the local coroner’s office arrives at night, the result of another investigation, and while the county sheriff (Michael McElhatton) doesn’t like to impose, time is precious when investigating suspicious deaths. Coroner Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox) doesn’t mind too much; he’s a widower who has always retreated into his macabre work. He even tells son and assistant Austin (Emile Hirsch) to go have fun with his girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovlibond) as planned, but he decides to stay, meeting up with her later. This may be a bad decision - a lot of things about this corpse don’t add up, and as the Tildens try to figure out exactly who she is and how she died, the sense of unease seems to permeate the building with a lot more strange noises and things in the corners of their eyes not seeming right.

The investigation of all this is what drives the action, and writers Ian B. Goldberg and Richard Naing give director Andre Overdal a nifty path to follow. This sort of forensic horror can be a minefield, not just because it actively encourages a viewer to poke holes in something that by its nature does not fit in a rational universe, but because it also runs the risk of being frustrating by moving the finish line every time a solution seems to be in view or getting there and finding that what’s left is no longer mysterious and scary. Jane Doe does occasionally stumble in this regard - the repetition of a certain song is creepy when it starts playing in the mortuary, for instance, but doesn’t actually fit in the story that eventually emerges. Anachronistic details aside, though, what the autopsy serves up is impressively tantalizing: Not only is it fun to watch Tommy follow the trail of clues Sherlock Holmes-style, but even as Jane’s mysteries become stranger and more contradictory, they seldom seem entirely out of reach. As a bonus, the very work of uncovering them has a certain resonance - these two men are meaning well, but the way that they are digging into this woman’s body could take center stage if the filmmakers wanted to adjust their perspective just a bit.

Full review on EFC.

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