Thursday, July 18, 2019

Fantasia 2019.07: SHe, Stare, and Dreadout

No guests yesterday, so no pictures, but after one week, I've seen 24 features and 14 shorts, 6 attached and 8 as part of a program. Doesn't quite put me on pace for the 80 I've told people I'll see, but the first week is a bit short.

Week two is looking to start off a bit short as well, with Maggie, another dinner break, No Mercy, and Knives and Skin likely to win out over 1BR. Almost a Miracle is recommended.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, digital)

I kind of love "Bavure"; it jumps from being a nifty bit of artistic sleight of hand to a story of adventure and horror (by the time it's reached a second generation of painted people, they're astronauts exploring new worlds) told in distinctive, unconventional fashion. The brushstrokes and bits of live-action help trick the brain into ignoring the tremendous amount of work that goes into these images, even as part of the point is to be impressed by the art.

It's incidentally a nifty pairing with SHe, with some gender-bending bits and moments of surprising horror, but definitely one I'll happily watch again on its own.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP)

I don't know exactly what I expected of SHe, and truth be told I'm not exactly sure what I got. It's a striking stop-motion film, the sort of abstracted, found-object stop-motion that is almost entirely confined to short subjects, only done as a feature and taking a sharp turn from the delight one might feel upon seeing colorful, imaginative stills from it almost from the get-go. You've probably never seen anything like it, and it can be fascinatingly tricky to process.

Taking place in a world seemingly made of discarded clothing and other objects, populated by shoe creatures, SHe opens with a starkly dystopian reality, with the lady shoes imprisoned, let out only just long enough to give birth, and if the literal fruit of their loins sends forth something pink, it is forcibly transformed into a man's shoe. One of these high-heeled pumps fights back, killing her oppressor and then, needing to support herself and her daughter, dons that loafer's corpse to go work in a factory. But when she has a hard time fitting in there…

In building this fantastical world, filmmaker Zhou Shengwei doesn't necessarily lean away from certain tropes - the adult lady shoes are for the most part red, high heels, and have a literal garden growing out the back, with little flower buds for eyes; the guy shoes are black, filled with tools, and studded with metallic bits to show just how masculine they are - and there's something about that which doesn't entirely sit right when given a little thought. Enslavement and abuse is clearly presented as wrong, but Zhou doesn't always do a lot to subvert the attitudes toward gender roles that keep them entrenched. Its satire can be brutally sharp, but not always particularly nuanced.

Full review on EFilmCritic

"Mélopée" ("Plainsong")

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Introduced as one of the "Fantastic Week-Ends" shorts that got a bump up to playing with a feature in the main festival, "Mélopée" certainly merits that promotion. In the space of about ten minutes, it does some fairly nifty work in how it keeps its feet in one genre or another, opening with a scene of young people driving to a beach house that nevertheless feels like going to a dangerous cabin in the woods. Then it sketches out a bit of a love triangle quickly, suggesting that Olivier (Antoine Desrochers) has had a crush on deaf friend Diane (Rosalie Fortier) for some time without having to say it out loud and make things especially tense with her current boyfriend Guillaume (Antoine L'Écuyer). Then, once the audience has settled there, things start to get a bit weird.

The filmmakers handle that in impressive fashion, given the short time they've got, making something look legitimately seductive before turning around to make it a clear threat less than a minute later. There's a lot done with sound design and practical effects to make that work, and a sly recognition inversion of who is most likely to be hero and victim in a situation that works without letting the film seem too proud of what it's up to.

One spoiler-y aside: Does the French word for "siren" stretch the same way the English one does? Or does that particular bit of wordplay only show up in translation?

Shirai-san (Stare)

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I am not one to yell at the screen during any sort of movie, but I've seldom seen one that merits asking just what the heck is wrong with these people to quite such an extent. I mean, people's eyeballs are exploding and you know what to do to make that not happen, and it just involves not doing something. This isn't a difficult choice!

Now, certain people are going to see nothing in that paragraph but "eyeballs are exploding", and want to see the movie. That's totally reasonable. There are worse things to build a horror movie around, and this kind of basic J-horror, occupying the same cursed-woman territory as The Ring and The Grudge, has certainly been effective before. Before being driven into the ground as franchises (an admittedly quick process), those movies were top-notch thrillers, and this film's makers trying to capture that sense of unstoppable, spreading dread is a smart idea.

And this one gets off to a nice start, with a college girl telling a scary story to her friend Mizuki (Marie Iitoyo) before being alarmed by something only she can see. Elsewhere, another student (Yu Inaba) gets a frantic call from his brother Kazuto, saying "she's coming" before the line goes dead. The autopsy says it was a massive coronary event, which can sometimes put such pressure on the eye sockets that they burst, but Haruo finds that fishy, as does Mizuki, especially when they find Kazuto and Kana recently stayed at the same hot springs resort. A little detective work leads them and writer Mamiya to another scary story, about a woman with abnormally large eyes who kills anybody who finds out her name.

Full review on EFilmCritic


* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

DreadOut is based upon a survival horror video game, and while it's perhaps not the least ambitious example of adapting the action from that medium into film, it certainly does neither medium any favors, transposing the action from one onto another without doing much to take advantage of what film does better than games. It tries to make up for a thin story by being incredibly frantic, but never takes advantage of the visible potential.

It opens with a flashback to ten years ago, when police interrupted what seemed like a fairly intense supernatural ritual, with cultists holding a medium's daughter hostage to make her participate. Now, Linda (Caitlin Halderman) has more or less repressed that memory, more worried about balancing high school and her part-time job. The building where it happened is abandoned, but Jessica (Marsha Aruan), a girl in the next class up, figures that doing a livestream from that spooky edifice will help boost her social media numbers. She's got her boyfriend Beni (Irsyadillah) and a few others going along - Dian (Susan Sameh) is the one who actually looks up what happened, and Alex (Ciccio Manassero) is brash enough for anything - but they need help getting in, and find out Linda knows the security guard. So Erik (Jefri Nichol) flirts with her a bit, and Linda talks them past the door. When they get to the spot on the sixth floor that's still behind police tape, things start to get really creepy - not only is cell phone reception gone, but one of the many pieces of paper lying around have writing that only Linda can see, and when she reads from it, a portal opens in the floor, with several of the group falling in.

It's not quite non-stop action after that, but things barely slow down; Linda has a lot of running around and exploring to do, Jessica gets possessed, and some nasty ghosts seem anxious to make their way to the human world with a special knife in tow. For better or worse, writer/director Kimo Stamboel captures the mechanics of a game here - there are items to collect and use, puzzles to solve, weapons which can push the undead back, and portals between discrete environments that seem awe-inspiring at first but are eventually just useful. For the most part, Linda is isolated, a player-character trying to feel the environment out while also fighting its hazards, occasionally giving the audience a first-person view. It's a technique that can put the audience right in the middle, but also one that can lack detail or intensity.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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