Saturday, July 13, 2019

Fantasia 2019.02: The Deeper You Dig, His Bad Blood, and Vivarium

I kind of feel like I should apologize to filmmakers for days like Friday, when the way I got up early the previous day leaves me feeling worn down and I just can't make it through a couple of matinees, and a couple of independent films that could probably use it more will only get cursory write-ups.

First up was The Deeper You Dig, credited as "An Adams Family Film"; with Zelda Adams and her parents John Adams and Toby Poser representing. They're a family that just likes making movies, and why not? It's fun and you can do quite a bit with some reasonable equipment. You probably kind of have to be the sort of family where your 14-year-old cinematographer/co-star calls her parents by their given names for it to work (which isn't a bad thing, especially for this sort of project where they need to see each other as equal collaborators, just odd-sounding to me), and maybe they can't do this for much longer, but that's the deal with a lot of family projects. Zelda's 19-year-old sister used to be a bigger part of this, for instance, but is probably in college or moved on to other interests.

They didn't really make a great horror movie, but they made an interesting one that is pretty enjoyably idiosyncratic in some ways. I wouldn't necessarily spend money on it, but it doesn't have to be about that.

Next up was the crew from His Bad Blood, including director Koichiro Oyama, star/producer Yu Toyama, and co-star/producer Animoto Sakura (with the emcee & translator on the left), and they're the ones where I feel bad about not really being able to write up a full review - they made a pretty nice-looking movie for $100K, in a part of Japan where they don't make many movies, then traveled to Montreal and handed out flyers at the previous night's shows. They're indie as heck and could probably use it more than some others.

They're a very likable crew, though, and I'll probably spend some morning watching their screener to give them a second shot.

The Q&A went on long enough to spike my plans for the next movie, but I needed to run some errands and eat some real food anyway.

Last up, my first show introduced by Mitch Davis, likely the festival circuit's best hype man when he finds something he loves, introducing Vivarium and director Lorcan Finnegan. They led an enthusiastic Q&A, and I do kind of love that Finnegan didn't mind saying, yeah, that's what we were trying to get at when Mitch brought up themes and metaphors rather than entirely leaving it to the audience. It's a pretty good film that could probably have used a little tweaking, but it's kind of impressively weird, and Imogen Poots especially is kind of great in it.

Hopefully I'll be able to give more to today's movies, which are currently planned to be the "Utopiales" program, Away, Jade's Asylum, Almost A Miracle, Come to Daddy, and, well, we'll see how up I am for Porno, given that it's at midnight but does have a second showing at a more reasonable time. I've already seen Master Z: Ip Man Legacy and Extreme Job, and can recommend both.

The Deeper You Dig

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 12 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSeve (Fantasia International Film Festival: Fantasia Underground, DCP)

It's a bit strange to call a horror movie "cute", but that's the sort of vibe this DIY production from a small family in upstate New York gives off, less actually scary than an earnest attempt to make a scary movie. It's got the basic shape of a ghost story and the bones of a good parallel between the haunted parties - the hit-and-run driver and the distraught mother - but can't help but feel more like people excited to make a horror movie than a group into the particular story they're telling. In part, it's a bit of a case where ghosts just aren't as interesting as guilt to me, but the film takes an odd twist that seems like a good idea, but leads to the movie trying to do two or three different things at once that don't quite mesh.

It's neat to watch, and I don't want to make too much out of how the 14-year-old co-star was also the cinematographer for much of the movie, but there are a lot of scenes that are kind of built around the neat "one light cutting through darkness" visual that she might grow out of using so much, and it gives the movie a visual personality that a lot of more professional ones might not necessarily have.

Itsukushimifukaki (His Bad Blood, aka What a Friend We Have in Jesus)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSeve (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

As I say above, this deserves more attention than I was really able to give it, because there's a lot in it I like: There's a pretty fascinating dynamic in the early scenes of the whole town holding slacker Shinichi's parentage against him that seems like it may be especially keen for the way Japanese tradition and Christianity mix in that village, and it also makes one wonder a bit just how much Shinichi is the way he is because he's always felt like a curse on his family and community. Seeing his uncle be very politely cruel is a heck of a way to encapsulate this.

I kind of lost the plot once he went into exile and met his father, along with all the crime that went along with it, there's a lot of story that my sleep head just couldn't weave together. Still, I do kind of love the way that the last act wove a lot of fantasy and truth together, showing how we kind of mythologize our family and often rewrite our history into what we need it to be. It's sophisticated and ambitious but done without a lot of fanfare. The performances by Ikkei Watanabe and Yu Toyama as father and son are impressive, too, both as willing as anyone in the picture to dive into being unsympathetic while the story has them earn what sympathy they get from the audience.

I'll definitely be looking out for director Koichiro Oyama's next movie to show up at festivals or in theaters; he did an impressive amount with a little here, and if this gives him the chance to do something bigger, that would be great.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The festival's second movie featuring the pairing of Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg in as many nights is even stranger than The Art of Self-Defense with some of the same satirical ambitions, although that seems more of a gateway to weird things than the point of the exercise here. Weird wins almost every battle with incisive here, and there are definite pleasures in that, although that makes the movie even more not-for-everyone.

Here, they play Gemma and Tom, a young couple looking to buy their first home, but the market is crazy, with everything near the city getting snapped up by folks who make more than a grade-school teacher and a landscaper. They eventually let estate agent Martin (Jonathan Aris) show them a house in the "Yonder" development, whose suburban sprawl and uniformity is exactly what they're not looking for, and that's before Martin abandons them and every turn they take trying to leave lands them back in front of #9 until they run out of gas. Boxes containing supplies mysteriously appear, but soon a more sinister one shows up, containing a baby and the message "raise the child and be released".

Director Lorcan Finnegan and his crew do an impressive job of ramping up the strangeness in their movie; the endless rows of identical houses with their colorful-but-muted palette is a familiar jumping-off place, as is the too-generic design of all the supplies and instructions from the corporation or whatever running all of this, but they does a nice job of pushing it a little further, from the perfectly cloud-shaped clouds to the sun that seems to rise and set a little too fast. They do this resolutely and quickly enough that when Senan Jennings shows up as the boy after a time-jump, the audience is ready for what is one of cinema's most flagrantly creepy kids, with a voice that's not right and a deliberate combination of antagonism and a strange childish mockery of childish sincerity. It pushes every single bit of "why do kids do that?" to the limit, and it's hard not to admire to crazy abrasiveness of it.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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