Sunday, July 21, 2019

Fantasia 2019.09: Blood on Her Name, It Comes, The Wretched, and Alien Crystal Palace

Market weekend started Thursday, I think, but people really started showing up on Friday, so it's probably a bit more important to get in line early and such.

Hopefully that means Matthew Pope and Don Thompson can get find some distribution for Blood on Her Name, which is a tight, nifty little thriller set in what they call "the place between places". It was shot and more or less set in Georgia, and Pope talked about how, being from the area, he wanted to make sure it was authentic; as a fair amount of things set in the South aren't. They more or less wrote it with star Bethany Anne Lind in mind, and were careful about who they surrounded her with in order to make sure that even locals wouldn't think the accents were all over the place.

Next, it was across the street to Hall for It Comes, which I saw several people calling "a whole lot of movie", and they're not wrong. It is something.else, the latest work by a guy in Tetsuya Nakashima who has seldom seemed to make a movie that doesn't push its genre as far as it can go, and I'm not sure I see the point of other exorcism movies after this.

Next up, The Wretched, which got a Sam Raimi endorsement in the past few days and thus maybe a little more of a crowd than it might have had, with a fair number of market folks joining the passholders' line. They brought a fair-sized contingent, with writer/directors Drew & Brett Pierce (not sure whether they're twins or "just" brothers), as well as actors Judah Abner Paul, Madelynn Stuenkel, Zarah Mahler, Jamison Jones, and John-Paul Howard. The big take-away from this is that, like the guys from Porno a few days back, they shot this in an off-season, so what looks like summer in Michigan is actually something like late fall, not the most fun time to be shooting a summer-set movie in Michigan. Nearly everybody, asked about what the most memorable part of filming was, mentioned the cold in some way or other. Stuenkel got to combine it with chocolate syrup, as she was pretty much unrecognizable as "the hag".

After that, I was stupid and went across the street for Alien Crystal Palace which… was not good. Bad, even. Awful. Like, not even campily funny with people laughing at the outrageousness of it all. And though my French is terrible, the vibe I got from the programmers is "how the hell did we sell this out? This movie is terrible!"

That's two hours more sleep I could have had before heading out for Ride Your Wave, Prey, "Born of Woman" '19, The Incredible Shrinking Wknd, and either Killerman or 8 on Saturday, and I regret it.

"Whiteout" (2019)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

After a nifty-looking establishing shot, "Whiteout" is essentially a single take, camera set up in the back seat of a car, looking out the windshield but framed so that the audience can see the driver and passenger stopped and arguing about what to do upon encountering a man just standing in the middle of the road during a snowstorm. It's a neat bit of composition, with the man occupying the upper-central part of the screen where the audience is trained to watch but the active characters in other quadrants. It's an unsettling situation, but the feeling of trying to keep your eyes on both the performance and the place where you can sense something is going to happen increases the tension.

It's got a nifty ending that does a neat job of keeping the viewer uncomfortable, too, leaving room to chat afterward over what sort of instincts kicked in, and how that's going to work out going forward. Not bad results for ten minutes or so.

Blood on Her Name

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

It is very nice when the tail end of this sort of thriller has all of its pieces clicking together, maybe not forming something perfect but nevertheless making sense, maybe just a bit more than it had a moment or two earlier. Lots of movies have those sort of turns; few have them work so well. Some bits weren't exactly foreshadowed in obvious manner but still make everything fit just a bit better, and the filmmakers are able to keep these from stopping the movie because there's a perfect logic to it and a bit more to do afterward.

That all works in large part because everything before it was impressively human foibles. Compassion will mess with even the perfect crime, and nobody here is much of a criminal mastermind, or even really much of a criminal. The endless morass of getting pulled down here by trying to do right things true, especially in this middle-of-nowhere spot where there probably isn't enough of anything to go around, and sentiment really will sink you as much as greed.

Throw in a tremendously solid spine in Bethany Anne Lind's performance, put up against a few dependable character actors, and then cut until there's no fat left, and you've got a fine modern/rural noir.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Kuru (It Comes)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

It's not often that you see a horror movie like this that has both an incredibly clear idea what it wants to be about but also has such ambitious sweep, managing what sometimes seems like multiple new takes on old ideas. And then you get an absolutely amazing climax that is continuously offering more... It's a wonder this thing is never even close to careening out of control.

But it isn't, probably in part because Tetsuya Nakashima and company have a clear enough eye on the potentially maddening nature of parenthood and living one's expected life, and they can turn it around and find different angles on how it can translate into supernatural horror, and in doing so deliver some impressive horror movie shocks. There's themes and cleverness found here, but they don't overwhelm the thrills by making them just simple metaphors; the scares get bigger even as they stay connected to what makes them mean something. On top of that, there's fun against-type characters, like the daddy-blogger, the cheerily creepy little girls, and the ditzy exorcist.

And then there's the last act, which is bigger than anything else in an already-grand flick has set the audience up for despite all the hints that there's more to see than you know coming before. It's almost funny in its sensory overload, but is also not messing around, with all the blood, intensity, and danger of the great cinematic exorcism scenes. Somehow, the very scale of it both seema ridiculous but also expands the film's world in kind of scary ways. It's exhilarating in ways horror movies seldom manage, and when you get to the end, it's been a lot, but it's been great.

Full review on EFilmCritic

"El Cuento" ("Bedtime Story")

* * * (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

A pair of kids get on their mother's last nerve, leading her to give them a well-deserved scare in this short from Lucas Paulino & Ángel Torres that has a strong idea of which buttons to push and how to unnerve without actually going too far into making things gross. I like how everyone seems understandably frayed and on-edge without quite being hostile, and how the end plays out as a nightmare with all of the nervous illogic but emotional certainty that entails.

The Wretched

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Filmmakers Brett & Drew Pierce are working in a great horror movie tradition here, of the kid who knows something awful is up but can't get anyone to believe him, but at times it seems like they chose the wrong kid - not the eight-year-old who is in the middle of it, but the seventeen-year-old who is next door and is only kind of involved at first. It puts the scares at a little distance, and makes it feel like it should be working harder to pull it together. A late-film twist reveals how this might all fit together, but that puts a lot on the audience as well, because there's no time to spell out details.

It also feels like something of a squandering of a potentially really good monster. The program describes her as a "thousand-year-old witch", but for someone who is supposed to be kind of human, she's got no personality of her own, no sense of having lived a long time, no sense that she's got anything in her head other than living another day. Strictly speaking, that's probably enough, but it's hardly exciting. It's almost like she's gotten too good at jumping bodies and hiding, even if the whole thing where she devours memories seems a bit wonky in execution.

It's a bit of a bummer, because the Pierces have a nifty idea here and put it together well, using a lot of practical effects that hit the right buttons in the viewers' heads without often becoming cheap splatter, and there's a nice cast as well, the MVP being Piper Curda, who brightens almost every scene she's part of and shifts into a different gear when she has to do more. There's more ambition and creativity here than the average horror movie, and I respect the gambit they went for in the last act even if it's only something like 75% effective.

I can't quite talk myself into saying The Wretched lived up to the hype it received, but that doesn't diminish its strengths by much.

Alien Crystal Palace

* (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I should probably give this one of those "N/A" ratings, because from talking to others later, it seems like I slept through some memorable things, but I don't think I need to give it another chance to say that it's definitively awful. It's terrible and dull and feels like the same half-joke of how the musician who is supposedly the other half of a perfect being is actually a giant pill stretched out for ninety minutes. No matter how weird it wants to get, or how the budget doesn't match the ambition shown by the genuine eccentric making it, it's never weird enough.

I've got little patience for laughing at incompetence, even if it's somewhat less mean-spirited here because the filmmakers know that this is not for everyone from the start and can laugh it off, but, geez, I could have gotten a little more sleep and been less of a zombie the next day or seen something good instead, and I don't see what the upside is.

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