Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Fantasia 2018.12: The Dark, I Am a Hero, Luz, The Witch in the Window, and Inuyashiki

Monday, apparently, is the day you want to come to Fantasia if you like seeing directors talk about their movies.

That there is The Dark director Justin P. Lange on the right. He made a pretty nifty movie with enough sharp turns that it made my general plan of "see as many movies as possible at the festival without researching unless you need to resolve conflicts" seem pretty clever, because I didn't know what was coming at any point.

He had a pretty dedicated pair of kids working for him, noting that they initially tried to find ways to keep Toby Nichols from having to wear some appliances over his eyes that left him as blind as the character, but the kid kept pushing to do it. Not that the guy was above messing with his director; he would regularly sound not-great during rehearsal and then nail it when filming started, and toward the end of shooting he and co-star Nadia Alexander were practicing one scene with the soapiest possible manner, getting him into a mild panic because they were on a soundstage with with all this elaborate stuff going on before delivering.

Shinsuke Sato (center) had a long day of audience Q&As, with I Am a Hero, Bleach, and Inuyashiki all playing on one screen or another, although it's maybe not hugely taxing - you've got time to have a nice meal while folks watch your movies, probably a nice lounge to read in. Maybe you catch that nifty horror movie that played before yours.

One of the big topics here was something I had kind-of-sort-of noticed but never given a lot of thought to, that a lot of Japanese movies are funded by broadcast television stations, and as a result there are some hard limits on what you can and can't do, so the fact that this was a Toho production without a lot of that sort of thing going on meant he could do a big, violent, gross zombie movie, and he did go kind of all-in.

Much of the climax takes place at a shopping center, so there were inevitable questions about Dawn of the Dead, and he didn't talk about themes so much as pointed out that this took place at an outlet mall, so the action played out differently because much of it was outside, and then pointed out that while you are starting to see more outlet malls in Japan, it was tough to find one in good shape that would let them shoot, so that chunk of the movie was actually shot in South Korea. You probably wouldn't notice in part because of all the English signage, which feels like it could be a metaphor for something (loss of place amid consumer culture?), but it's tough to put one's finger on it.

For Luz, Ariel was joined by director Tilman Singer (center) and production designer Dario Mendez Acosta (right), which isn't just bringing random people up because, as Ariel mentioned at the start, this movie is "very production designed." It's period layered on period, and the whole thing had an incredibly meticulous script, with practically every motion and bit of unsynchronized sound pre-planned. It was Singer's thesis film, so they didn't have a whole lot of money on top of shooting on 16mm, which meant he basically had three takes per shot and that was it. It works out very well; I saw a few folks on Twitter amazed that it was a student film.

Funniest bit: When someone asked if Acosta brought the South American bits to the movie, and he laughed, saying that while he and Singer did a semester abroad in Colombia, he was born and raised in Germany, and this (indicating his face) was lying to you - he's quite German and loses his mind when the train is five minutes late.

Nice crowd for The Witch in the Window, as Mitch Davis welcomed filmmaker Andy MItton, as well as stars Charlie Tacker and Alex Draper and producer Richard King. Shot in Vermont, which explains why a fair number of people came up; Draper is actually a professor at Middlebury College, and they got a lot of people from there working on it. It feels authentically New England in a way that a lot of other haunted house movies don't.

It's interesting to hear how a lot of the movie evolved while making it, with something that's maybe not crucial to the supernatural mythology (whether or not Simon's marriage could be salvaged) but certainly what the movie was about on a thematic level changing midway through, and the important last beat added during sound mixing literally an hour before the film was locked. Which is crazy, but worked.

New screen, same Sato, as he closed out the long day with Inuyashiki. Most of the Q&A was in French, so I didn't catch a lot, but it was kind of interesting to come full-circle and see the Fuji Television logo at the front and notice that, while this film is just about as violent as I Am a Hero was, it was kind of bloodless and held back. Maybe I wouldn't have noticed if he hadn't mentioned this before, but it's hard not to given the context.

Today's plan is kind of up in the air - Chained for Life for sure, and then I'd kind of like to see Da Hu Fa in 3D, but I've heard the subtitles are kind of incomprehensible. The alternative is V.I.P., and then back to Hall to see if I can get into Bodied afterward.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

As this sort of short horror movie goes - person demonstrates he's not really a great human being, walks himself into supernatural situation well-suited to punishing it, with violence ensuing - "A/S/L" is pretty good. I don't know that this kind of short is actually scary; it's got too certain a sense of its own righteousness for that, and I suspect that most people watching it know the game well enough that the sudden reversal doesn't provide the relief it's supposed to because the audience is never really that worried.

This one does its job well, though - there's an uncertainty and caution to both Brendan Boogie (as the older man) and Lindsey Taft (as the 13-year-old on the other end of his internet chat) that not only makes them feel less like strawmen but gives the short the feeling that it could go in any direction. It's still always going to end up at the same place, but not knowing the how or the exact feel puts it a notch above many others doing the same sort of thing.

The Dark

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The Dark is good horror-movie stuff that starts with a couple of great bits of misdirection before the story proper begins, good enough that I almost don't want to talk about where it really goes, because discovering it is a lot of nerve-wracking fun and makes the result kind of beautiful. But since a good review tells you why I like it, here goes.

It starts with a tense little bit - twitchy-looking Josef (Karl Markovics) stopping at a gas station, getting an odd assortment of snacks from the convenience store, and ripping open a map before he pays for it. The proprietor doesn't much like him, or any of the tourists who come looking to scare themselves in "Devil's Den". It turns out someone is not what he seems here, and further, when things do get to Devil's Den, there is yet more to be afraid of - although what's there is not, it turns out, as completely inhuman as one might have assumed.

That opening gambit is something that genre audiences have seen rather a lot, but it's still pretty effective; filmmaker Justin P. Lange keeps potential distractions like music to a tense minimum, introduces incongruous bits that pique interest at the time and make a lot more sense later without being clear foreshadowing, and teases the audience with some clear genre knowledge that nevertheless doesn't become a wink and deconstruction. It's well-executed horror material that does a couple of things before the audience is completely ready, giving them both a tingle of excitement and leaving the rest of the film wide open.

Full review at EFC.

I Am a Hero

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I kind of expected the title if this to be a bit more ironic, both from what I've heard of the manga and the way the opening act played (as well as my increasing unease with zombies and the rules that go with them becoming mainstream). It's not, really, but rather pretty much standard but well-done zombie action.

It's good, at least, with a couple terrific action scenes, with an initial attack on the hero that plays genuinely creepy and a fantastic cab sequence highlights of the first half before things calm down for a little while so they can build up to the finale. There's a lot of kind of action that you've maybe seen a lot, but it's done in slick, bloody fashion.

It's definitely one where I prefer the movie in my head more and don't like how it plays into a lot of the toxic fantasies that often go with zombie movies (the world ends and not only is the hero's gun hobby suddenly useful and necessary, but he winds up with a younger, nicer girlfriend and a teenage cutie admiring him unconditionally), and those can use some shredding. But, just looking at the movie Sato made, it's thrilling, capable fast-zombie material, certainly doing well by its genre.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

Luz is a nifty, disorienting sort of horror movie which has the neat idea of combining hypnosis and possession, creating a sense of lack of control and disconnection that many other films like this lack. It's a fascinating way to make what seems very small into something tremendously tense.

It's an unnerving look, too, shot on 16mm in brutalist, run-down locations, with tons of smoke that makes a room both claustrophobic and infinite. The sound is peculiar and synth-y, too loud and out of sync, but it fits, even if it is also often very jarring. Writer/director Tilman Singer seldom lets the audience forget that they're watching a movie - some of the dropouts on the film seem a little too regular to not be a reminder of the film's own artificiality - but that may in part be a way to condition the audience to want order even as it receives something very much out of joint.

Full review at EFC.

The Witch in the Window

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Thumbs up to the 75-minute horror movie, which is the best length for the genre. May filmmakers' increasing recognition of streaming services as their ultimate landing spot keep them from adding fifteen to twenty unneeded minutes going forward.

Despite that brief length, writer/director Andy Mitton doesn't push the scares too hard; his film is mostly quiet and kind of upbeat as it shows the father and son connecting as they repair a haunted house. It gets sweeter and more responsible as it goes on rather than seeming foolish and panicked, and as a result it's scary but not destructive at its heart, which is relatively unique where ghost stories are concerned.

Nice chemistry between the two stars, as well; Charlie Tacker and Alex Draper make for a nice, believable pairing even when Mitton is being a little too writerly with their talk and having them communicate with the audience as much as each other. It's a genuinely impressive father/son story with or without ghosts.

Full review at EFC.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I was hoping that the feature film version of Inuyashiki would fix up a few problems the manga had, most importantly that the author quickly found himself more interested in the villain than the title character, which leads to a level of violence that is too much by far, but it turns out to be a pretty faithful adaptation, warts and all.

Of course, getting it "right" does mean it winds up with a good take on the title character, maybe not so extremely old and feeble as the manga, but believably beleaguered and with a very nice performance from star Noritake Kinashi, who projects a simple, genuine decency compared to the villain's detached sociopathy. It's a good but not preachy version of the much-retweeted quotation about not knowing how to explain you should care about other people, and also superhero 101, but kind of effective..

The action and effects do a fair job of capturing the manga's imagery, and look pretty good for something likely a bit below blockbuster level. It's kind of antiseptic at times - the combination of excess and worry about appearances that results in a lot of bloodless headshots - but has a nice handle on aerial action, which seems like it would be neat in 3D if movies get released that way in Japan.

Full review at EFC.

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