Thursday, May 02, 2019

Boston Underground Film Festival 2019.02: Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records and The Girl on the Third Floor

Huh, were there actually no guests for Industrial Accident? You'd think there would be, but if there were, I didn't get any pictures.

So here's Chris Hallock talking to The Girl on the Third Floor director Travis Stevens:

He's had a hand in other movies that have played BUFF, Fantasia, and the like, but I think this is the first feature that he's directed. It's a pretty basic horror movie, so some of the most interesting discussion was about casting Phil "CM Punk" Brooks, because you don't necessarily go with a big wrestler-type for this sort of movie, but they thought he would be an interesting choice because you do see a lot of guys in finance these days with tattoos who spend all their off-time at the gym, not quite the button-down type of the past.

I must admit, I wound up thinking more about other ways the movie could have gone. It's got a ghost who may have died 100 years ago, but is mostly seen as contemporary, and I wonder about that - is Don just seeing what he expects from a spiritual force, or is the ghost a character that can grown and learn? Similarly, I kind of wonder if the attachment of a ghost to a place can potentially work both ways - if you renovate a house to serve a new purpose, can a vengeful spirit be refocused and redirected?

Something to play with on my own, I guess.

Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records

* * (out of four)
Seen 21 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, DCP)

Industrial Accident tests the limits of how far a documentary can get on large reserves of affection for its subjects, and it's no small distance, especially when the viewer shares it, or at least has the sort of overlapping fandom that can at least get them a head start. Without that, it can quickly become a string of different people asserting that they loved something more or less the same way, losing track of just exactly why it was so beloved.

Wax Trax! Records was spawned in Chicago from the Wax Trax! record store, which itself had moved to that city from Denver in 1978, after founders Jim Nash and Dannie Flesher found themselves pushing against the barriers of straight-laced Colorado. The store quickly develops a reputation as one of the premiere punk record stores in the country, bringing up-and-coming acts to Chicago and importing records from Europe. And as seems inevitable with any fan-started enterprise, it's hard to maintain when the founders get new interests or the business gets too large.

Wax Trax! was particularly noteworthy as one of the first places to bring industrial metal to the United States, and fans of that music will likely have a blast seeing its stars talk about their early days, how Jim & Dannie were instrumental in their success, and so on. There's talk about how the pair often seemed to have tastes too broad for the label to have a signature style but also of how they tended to see a sort of comedic absurdity beneath the grim and angsty surface industrial presents. It's likely interesting to fans, but also a fair amount of the same thing repeated over and over - several different people say something about the pair not actually signing contracts with bands, for instance, which isn't terribly helpful for either newcomers or fans who know the broad outline of the label's story.

Full review on EFilmCritic

"La Mirilla" ("The Peephole")

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, DCP)

Enrique Manzo Escamilla's "The Peephole" is probably just good enough to be worth seeing again; stuck in front of a feature with even slightly more polished edges, it looks kind of bare-bones and stretched, the product of a filmmaker with some style working frantically to get the most out of the time and resources he's got, tossing enough violence onto the screen to try and provoke a visceral reaction. It feels kind of like a demo reel, slick camerawork and editing and effective use of blood.

Thinking it through, though, there's some neat stuff going on here. It opens with a man basically scaring themselves watching a horror movie, nervously looking out the peephole, seeing something horrible, cowering, stepping out, seeing nothing, finally eventually stepping out and being attacked himself, at which point the camera retreats back through another peephole, through which the woman he thought was being attacked is looking.

So, here's the question - is it actually dangerous to go outside of your little bubble, or does it just feel that way because we're so pushed to see the world as frightening and dangerous even though the reality is that there are no monsters? That wasn't exactly my first thought here - the film plays pretty well as a straight-ahead bit of supernatural horror, and there are maybe too many POVs and camera angles to make it a slam dunk that the violence is subjective imagination - but it feels more right the more I turn it over.

I don't know that it makes a great short film - as much as it takes a bit of skill to make a movie that can be read multiple ways, I'm not necessarily sure it's tremendously useful to make a movie that can be read as saying one thing or its opposite. Still, it marks this short as a bit more than just a speed bump on the way to the main feature.

Girl on the Third Floor

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre #17 (Boston Underground Film Festival, DCP)

Horror movies aren't the only place where viewers can spot big missed opportunities, but because something either scares a person or it doesn't, they can seem like bigger misjudgments there. Such is the case with Girl on the Third Floor, where it seems like there are a few opportunities that, if they don't pull the entire film together, are still perhaps a bit more unique or less random than well-executed haunted home improvement.

That's what Don Koch (Phil "CM Punk" Brooks) is aiming to do, though he doesn't know that the place he's working on has secrets. He's got time but not a lot of expertise - he's a former finance bro who has cut a deal with the feds - and wants to have the place ready for a new start by the time his wife Liz (Trieste Kelly Dunn) gives birth. This place has challenges that might baffle even an experienced renovator, though - rot without apparent cause, sticky fluids in the walls, marbles that seem to roll out of nowhere. And, of course, there's Sarah (Sarah Brooks), the cute (and very interested!) young neighbor that represents another sort of temptation that has nearly wrecked his life in the past.

That particular vice is the one that ties into why the house is haunted, but it takes a while for the movie to get there, during which time writer/director Travis Stevens does a bunch of entertaining haunted house bits that, because the film is fairly sparsely populated and it doesn't look like writer/director Travis Stevens is going to pull a Psycho by switching up the protagonists, sometimes leans toward dark comedy as this guy who is obviously used to hiring contractors has to deal with supernatural interference on top of everything else that goes with renovating a house. He's got a strong enough handle on tone that it never goes too far down that path, especially since he and his crew are able to make the kind of moments between the real violence just gross enough to not get a laugh, and cranks things up when he wants to mess the audience up without going too far over the top.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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