Thursday, March 24, 2022

BUFF 2022.01: You Won't Be Alone and The Nest

I've been trying not to jinx this for the past few weeks while also checking to see if the schedule had been announced, because I don't believe in jinxes but also don't see the point of talking about something that may not happen. Well…
Did they make that the opening night film of the festival as a sort of comment about how we've been doing these things in living rooms with maybe one or two others in the household who are into the sort of thing over the last couple years and it really hurts peculiar genre films i particular, or is it just a happy-ish coincidence? I don't know, but with BUFF being one of the first festivals canceled for Covid, it's really good to see it back.

I've mentioned before that even more than most film festivals, you've got to go into this one knowing a good chunk isn't going to be your thing, but it's kind of fun to note that they spent the first night looking at the two poles of modern horror with the classy art-house material of ou Won't Be Alone and the rather less-intellectual The Nest. I don't know that either really made a huge impression on me one way or the other; both flavors have either gone harder and been more precisely crafted (or, perhaps, more amusingly slipshod) but they still more or less do what they set out to do. The most interesting thing is that these two movies are more or less in the same genre but don't have a whole lot more in common than that.

Well, aside from the nasty fates the kitty-cats meet early on in both movies. They've got that in common.

You Won't Be Alone

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2022 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 2022, DCP)

There's a part of me that wonders if it's a red flag that this movie was not released by A24 - it's the sort of thing they've had a good instinct for, but if they let it go to Focus/Universal, maybe it's lacking something. It's not really scary, but filmmaker Goran Stolevski doesn't entirely grab something more grand and universal.

It's kind of odd that a man made this movie, given the extent to which this film about a pair of shapeshifters often finds itself resolving into a mother/daughter story: It starts with a woman bargaining with a the "wolf-eateress" known as "Old Maid Maria" for the life of her daughter Nevena, said witch returning 16 years later to claim her prize, take the form of her mother, and make Nevena a witch capable of taking other forms herself, with later events focusing on motherhood and Nevena being tormented by Maria, who wanted a child of her own but is a terrible surrogate mother, alternating between sabotaging and abandoning Nevena.

The first thing she does, when Nevena is an infant, is maim her so that she cannot speak, which persists no matter what form she takes. There's an odd thing about this movie in that it doesn't seem to know what to do with her lack of a voice, like it was added as a folk-horror version of the need to keep people from using cell phones. There's this idea of how Nevena's isolated childhood left her with a strange inner voice and point of view even before she became a witch, and she had to learn what it means to be human by observing from outside and experiencing different points of view, and it's a good one, but there's seemingly not a whole lot of thought given to the woman she would become. It's a rich vein of material that winds up feeling kind of generic despite the interesting folklore it's built on. Nevena's female identities tend to run together - they're all the same physical type - and her narration disappears as "Bosilka" and "Biliana" integrate into their villages.

On the other hand, sometimes it's best to just let mythology be mythology, a bunch of jumbled larger forces that those who believe can't fully understand rather than a jigsaw puzzle made of parables that fit perfectly together. The world shown here isn't complex, whether in its fantastic elements or the more mundane ones. If anything, I suppose, it comes down to the idea that the world is often horrific and unfair, and you've got to decide whether you'll embrace it or demand it embrace you.

The Nest '87

* * (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2022 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 2022, DCP)

The Nest is surprisingly amiable, as Corman-produced junk goes. It's dumb and fairly unambitious, built out of horror movie spare parts, but the leads are pleasant and it's occasionally kooky rather than floundering. There's no money to spend, of course, but the filmmakers do a fairly decent job of working around that for a while. They keep the cast members who can contribute something front and center (and give credit to Terri Treas and Stephen Davies who know just how weird to make their secondary characters) they find locations that feel more expansive than maybe they are, and the bloody comes often enough to distract from how they really can't mount an actual killer-cockroach attack.

That's part of how the filmmakers bite off more than they can chew at the climax, though; the masses of roaches never seem like active super-roaches once it's time for them to be more than just something rustling the grass. Director Ternce Winkless is unable to make a ticking clock situation work, and the "boss" monsters that the special effects department whips up aren't good enough to splash across the screen because they're neither surprisingly cool or charmingly cheesy, but trying to shoot around them only highlights the problem.

With these decades-old b-movies, it's often worth looking to see what became of the folks involved, and a surprising number are still working. Heck, writer Robert King is doing some pretty darn good TV for CBS/Paramount - who'd've thought the guy who made this had The Good Wife/Fight and Evil in him?

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