Saturday, February 11, 2017

Monster Fest 2016 04: The Hollow Point, My Father Die, Safe Neighborhood, etc.

And that is a wrap on my first trip to Monster Fest, and if it winds up being my only one, it will have much more to do with the time and place than anything about the festival itself - I had a great time, but given that Melbourne is crazy far away, the festival takes place on what’s Thanksgiving weekend in the United States, and I don’t want all of my vacation time being reserved for a rotating set of festivals versus seeing new places, it will probably be a few years before I go Down Under again, despite really just having the best time.

The absolute funniest thing about this trip? I was alerted to the festival’s existence by a letter from Kala Hier, who does publicity for a lot of genre films and festivals, figured it was a pretty great excuse for a vacation, and got down there only to discover that not only was Fantasia vet Kier-La Janisse the director and head programmer, but Nicole McControversy and Evrim Ersoy were also programming the festival and introducing films - the funny part being that they do the same for the Boston Underground Film Festival, even having their wedding on the Brattle stage before on film there. Both of them also found it pretty hilarious to travel all the way around the world only to run into people from home (well, former home, since they’ve relocated to London despite still coming back for BUFF), while also understanding that the whole deal where, at least at the Lido, settling into one’s seat before the show was supposed to start was just not how things are done in Australia, even if “arrive early” is always part of the instructions at every festival I’ve attended in North America.

As they were working, I generally only saw them introducing shows, but they did take a little bit of a break on Sunday afternoon to catch Mystery Radio Theatre doing a live performance of ”Maxie Diablo and the Funky Funky Sex Murders”. While I admit that I kind of go more for honest pastiche than this sort of spoof, it’s a good time, I also laughed quite a bit. They performed it in the Lido’s “Jazz Room”, a cozy little space used for small musical/spoken word performances, tucked away under the main screen (if I’ve got my geography right).

Hey, there’s Nicole, hosting the Q&A for Safe Neighborhood with producer Brett Thornquest and editor Julie-Anne DeRuvo! You wouldn’t necessarily know it to watch the film, but it was made in Australia, maybe with one or two exteriors in North America. Most of the cast was Australian as well, although even with most of them being fairly young, they managed American accents pretty well. It was funny; the guests talked about how Levi Miller was already doing enough in the way of starring roles that he was looking for something to serve as a change of pace.

(Somehow not mentioned: That he and Olivia DeJonge, who played the sitter his character has a crush on, played brother and sister in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit not long before making this movie. Weird!)

Thornquest did find the distribution situation kind of amusing - with this film set at Christmas and finished late enough that it was making the festival circuit toward the end of 2016, it would probably be late 2017 before it was hitting theaters, kind of a risky proposition for a film that is built around a bit of a twist; if it keeps playing festivals, I imagine any secrets might be well out there by the time it hits theaters. He also mentioned that, even before they started shooting, financiers and distributors were asking about sequel plans, which means I should probably groan about people asking that question at festival screenings much less. They are kicking around some ideas, although given that the cast is young and a sequel probably wouldn’t be greenlit until after this came out, they might have to be flexible.

Anyway, that let out and I decided to make that the end of my festival. There was one show left - the closing film was The Greasy Strangler followed by a “Greasy Gala”, and if I’d received a press pass, I probably would have felt obligated, but I never really got to the point of not being jet-lagged and I filed that movie as not-for-me when it was playing midnights at Fantasia. Instead, i stopped off at one of the surprising number of schnitzel places you can find around Melbourne, had some food, and then rested up to play tourist the next day.

And there was much playing tourist for the next week. I really can’t recommend Melbourne enough for folks who want a winter vacation, and Monster Fest for those who live in Australia and like horror & genre movies. I probably won’t be doing this specific trip again any time soon, but I certainly look forward to visiting Australia again!

The Hollow Point

* * (out of four)
Seen 27 November 2016 in Lido Cinemas #4 (Monster Fest 2016, DCP)

Because I work a full-time job in addition to writing movie reviews, covering a festival can mean the final reviews trickle out a month or two later, as reliant on notes taken during or right after the screening as first impressions, and does that ever reveal disposable genre movies like The Hollow Point for the minor works that they are. It just doesn’t make much of a long-term impression, although maybe that’s better than seeing the movie’s name and groaning.

It takes place in a border town that was a popular place to smuggle guns ten years ago; now the locals are smuggling bullets so that the narcos can keep using the guns. A drop gone wrong has a couple of transporters getting samples of their cargo, but it also puts Sheriff Leland (Ian McShane) out of commission. His replacement, Wallace (Patrick Wilson), is a younger, by-the-book type who grew up there and seems to have rubbed all his old neighbors the wrong way, though he’s still cordial with his ex Marla (Lynn Collins). The trail he follows will lead through a sleazy used car dealer (Jim Belushi) and an efficient killer who likes to disguise himself as a police officer (John Leguizamo), but can he follow that trail to its end without becoming the same sort of rule-breaking cop his predecessor was?

It’s not a perfect barometer, but you can tell what sort of a video-on-demand-destined movie you’re looking at by considering the cast. The ones with complete nobodies will likely have to be good in spite of the lack of resources, and maybe only one or two people on the set really have the talent to make it interesting (not always the case, but more often than not). The ones with someone who used to be a big star, they’re often kind of bizarre - that guy is going to run roughshod over an inexperienced director, or joined up because he saw something unusual/interesting enough to get attention and maybe climb back to theaters. There are the folks who are super-famous within a certain niche, dependable in terms of delivering something specific. And then there are the ones like this, chock full of people like Patrick Wilson, John Leguizamo, Lynn Collins, and Ian McShane - the people who seem capable enough, and have been in movies people like, but never broke through to the point where they’re the reason anyone but a select few eccentric fans buys a ticket. They star in movies like The Hollow Point, professionals putting in a solid shoot’s work, making the movie watchable in that the folks gathered around the TV aren’t going to mock it but not getting a chance to elevate the script into something more interesting with their performance.

Full review on EFC.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 November 2016 in Lido Cinemas #4 (Monster Fest 2016, digital)

What director Riyana Kasmawan and writer Hannah Passmore are trying to get across with “Dummy” isn’t exactly complicated, and the way it does so will likely be fairly familiar for those who watch short films on a regular basis, but they do a pretty fair job of it anyway. You can predict the beats of this story of a kid who goes out and “befriends” a discarded mannequin without a whole lot of trouble, but the craft is quite nice.

The simplicity is perhaps the film’s greatest asset. It introduces a silent kid (Kieran Cochrane) left to his own devices when the brother mean to look after him (William Freeman) instead heads into the bedroom with his girlfriend, and then doesn’t bother with a whole lot of extra detail. He could be mute, he could just be introverted, but it doesn’t really matter; it makes him easy to ignore. What’s important is that what affection anybody in the film is shown is on the rough side, and that tendency is passed down as he plays with the mannequin. It’s not exactly chilling psychopathy - there’s probably a reading where his taking frustration out on an inanimate object is better than on people like others do - but the cycle is important: He decides to treat this thing as a person, and then he decides not to, and that’s the decision that matters.

Kasmawan puts it together nicely; the area around the brothers’ house is run-down enough that one can feel a bit of isolation and not be surprised stuff is just being tossed outside nearby, but not so much as to seem pitiful, and the play-acting is kind of cute and sad but not transcending. The arc of the story pushes forward steadily, hitting all the stops without short-changing or dragging. It doesn’t sound like much, but fifteen minutes doesn’t leave a lot of room for error, and this one manages to avoid stepping wrong.

My Father Die

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 November 2016 in Lido Cinemas #4 (Monster Fest 2016, DCP)

The title of My Father Die may not be great in terms of English grammar, but in terms of describing the raw rage that drives the characters in this movie, it seems perfectly reasonable: The building blocks of what someone feels without all the formal niceties, ready for action (although I wonder if it’s close to how one might express an idea in American Sign Language). This movie gets overheated at times, but is committed enough to that temperature that it works out pretty well.

It’s pretty basic - when Asher Rawlings was a kid (Gabe White), he idolized his big brother Chester (Chester Rushing) despite being fond of the same girl, though both feared their father Ivan, and for good reason - the prologue ends with him beating Asher so violently as to cause permanent hearing loss, and as the film proper opens, it’s just Asher (Joe Anderson) and his mother (Frances Reagan James) living in a run-down shack in the rural South, and she isn’t of much use. When Sheriff BIllings (William Mark McCullough) comes by to say that Ivan (Gary Stretch) has been released from jail, Asher doesn’t think twice about what comes next: He’s going to get Ivan before he gets them, although he’ll make enough of a mess of the attempt that he’ll wind up pursued by a state detective (John Schneider) and wind up hiding out with Nana (Candace Smith), that girl he and Chester always had the crush on.

Writer/director Sean Brosnan does not spend much, if any, time worrying about the rightness of Asher’s goals; Ivan is a monster from the word go and there’s never much doubt that no good will come of waiting for him to do Asher’s family some harm before they fight back. This is not a great attitude to have in real life, but in this sort of movie, the lack of time wasted before getting to the spot where we were always going to wind up is kind of refreshing. The important thing is that Brosnan doesn’t let Asher feel entirely good about doing what he can to win a rigged game; though there’s never much doubt about what he needs to do from the start, he constantly seems to be asking himself if this is a step too far, especially when Nana and her son Chess (Jonathan Billions) are involved, or when the fact that he doesn’t exactly have the skills to execute his violent instincts rears its ugly head.

Full review on EFC.

”Do You See What I See?”

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 November 2016 in Lido Cinemas #4 (Monster Fest 2016, digital)

Given that it’s mostly playing at genre festivals, it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that Justin McConnell’s & Serena Whitney’s short film “Do You See What I See?” takes a turn by the time its fifteen minutes play out, and to be completely honest, it doesn’t completely stick the landing. Even if that’s a sticking point for some viewers, they’ll probably be inclined to be generous, and not just because this one is set at the Christmas season. It’s good enough at being what it initially seems to be and clever enough in what it becomes that the two not quite fitting isn’t a huge deal.

What it appears to be, at first, is a snarky comedy with Caleigh Le Grand as Sloan, a wiseass at a twee Christmas party organized by her sister Jessica (Jorja Cadence) and her put-upon husband Jimmy (Adam Buller), who meets the one guy who isn’t a parody of married suburbanites (Emmanuel Whitney-Alexander), only to find out it’s a set-up before… Well, it played before a Christmas-themed slasher, you go ahead and guess. Still, it works; Whitney & McConnell give the characters some pretty funny lines which the cast, especially Le Grand and Whitney-Alexander, execute with cheery sarcasm. And even when they’re not quipping, they manage to capture how, while it’s clear that this group occasionally exasperates each other, they’re fond of one another. It’s not one of those movies where the only hint that the characters are friends/family is in the exposition.

McConnell and Whitney let the horror material enter the picture relatively slowly rather than just flipping a switch, which works out fairly well, and do allow things to get enjoyably messy along the way. This does mean that they don’t get a whole lot of time to play with the horror premise; even if it’s not quite a movie-ending twist, it still seems like a bit of a waste that they don’t get to do more. Indeed, walking out of the theater, I found myself wishing that this and the feature after it had their lengths switched; this seemed like a fun idea you could play with or dig into without it becoming a grind.

Safe Neighborhood

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 November 2016 in Lido Cinemas #4 (Monster Fest 2016, DCP)

Talking about something being fun when it comes to horror movies probably strikes non-fans as bizarre even at first glance, with trying to do so in specific terms raising the ante to alarming, and trying to do so without spoiling the surprises marking the speaker as completely insane. So, pardon me if this review of Safe Neighborhood makes me sound nuts, because my feeling conflicted on it being fun or not extends right down to the premise at its very core.

It takes place shortly before Christmas, with Deandra (Virginia Madsen) and Robert Miller (Patrick Warburton) heading out for a friend’s Christmas party, leaving son Luke (Levi Miller) with Ashley (Olivia DeJonge). Given that Luke is 12, you’d think he’d bristle at this arrangement, but Ashley is super-cute and watches horror movies with him most nights, so he’s got a heck of a crush. Tonight, he tells his friend Garrett (Ed Oxenbould), he aims to do something about it, but that’s before they start seeing signs that there’s someone trying to break into the house.

With the burglars spending much of the movie just out of sight and only Ashley’s boyfriend Jeremy (Dacre Montgomery) having much of an unmasked role beyond the people have been mentioned, this a movie where a strong cast is a must, and the mostly-young group tends to deliver. Olivia DeJonge captures that Ashley is pretty bright and self-aware while still coming off as fairly inexperienced; for instance, the scene where Ashley tells Luke that, yeah, she’s still with Jeremy despite his flaws plays as her obviously being more mature than Luke but still figuring that sort of thing out himself, not a wise or condescending adult. Levi Miller, meanwhile, plays Luke as having way too much confidence, clearly clever enough to outwit a set of home invaders but obviously messed up about what lines people will cross and how folks think generally. The secondary folks are fun too; Darce Montgomery and Ed Oxenbould play off DeJonge and Miller naturally, gaining both laughs and making enough of an impression that the audience will feel some loss if they’re knocked off on the way. Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen make little more than cameos as the parents, but their scenes sing.

Full review on EFC.

No comments: