Saturday, July 09, 2022

BUFF 2022.02-03: Honeycomb, The Innocents and Nitram

Check it out - guests (with programmer Nicole McControversey)!
I think writer/director Avalon Fast (center) and co-star/etc.Henry Gillespie-Graham (left) were the only filmmakers for a feature to visit, and almost certainly the only non-local ones, arriving from British Columbia and hanging around the festival for a few days, and why wouldn't you? There's some talent here, but pulling everything together to actually get a movie shot and finished isn't necessarily something you can repeat easily, much less being accepted into festivals, so when that happens, you head over just in case you never get another chance.

Honeycomb was one of just two features on the schedule that really felt "underground", not that this festival has ever been strictly about the homemade stuff that won't ever get distribution; in fact, it was pretty loaded up on international genre movies that already had distributors' logos in front of it. I admit, I bailed on the other one Friday night - Hypochondriac looked like the sort of thing that gets me considering leaving early, and with the Brattle still doing some distancing, I wasn't going to claim a ticket that could go to someone really enthusiastic - but it made me wonder what sort of a wrench the pandemic threw into indie filmmaking. Was it a situation where the need for Covid protocols would hamper indie filmmakers more than studios, but not necessarily hobbyists? It certainly feels like there's that sort of hangover going on.


Seen 24 March 2022 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 2022, DCP)

There are movies you expect to find on YouTube and others where you expect to be charged admission, and by and large they shouldn't both be on the same scale, which it's why some don't get star ratings. This falls squarely into the first category - rough as heck, sometimes interesting and showing potential, but you don't take someone who expects professional polish to this on a date.

It offers up a group of young women between school years finding an abandoned house well off the road and decide to make a commune there, with boyfriends only brought in blindfolded and a set of harsh but hopefully fair rules. Naturally, certain members of the hive attempt to emerge as queen, and stuff with guys inevitably becomes a problem. The cast is actually pretty capable, unpretentious and able to sell their harsher moments. The locations are fun and sell themselves. Both the earnestness and viciousness are matter-of-fact in a way one can believe. The downside is that it often feels like the filmmakers expected a lot more to emerge from the outline through improvisation, and that even with what they did get, there's not necessarily enough footage to stitch it together. Even at 70 minutes, it drags for the amount that actually happens of interest.

It's okay, the sort of thing that probably means more ro young women than me and more to the folks making it than random young women. It's probably not surprising that "appropriate revenge" doesn't work out that well, especially for relatively petty disagreements, and kind of ends just when it's starting to get interesting.

De uskyldige (The Innocents)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 March 2022 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 2022, DCP)

The Innocents isn't quite another attempt to reinvent the X-Men - you kind of need some sort of officials trying to take control of the young people with powers for that - but it's close enough to feel like one and maybe make me grumble a bit about the cynicism of it even as I'm admiring the craft. Superhero stories (or supervillain stories) are about bringing things into sharper relief by increasing the scale at their best, but just reveling in the amped-up violence at their worst, and this one doesn't always have enough to say to make the ugliness worth it.

It's one of those movies that seemingly has a hard time seeing kids learning the lines between right and wrong and what the consequences of their actions may be as much more than little sociopaths at times, and while there's some truth to that, it's also the sort of thing that is stark enough without being heightened, so you're kind of gilding the lily on the darkness here, and by exaggerating, the film loses a bit of what could kind of be interesting - how young Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) is maybe drawn to the way Ben (Sam Ashraf) acts out because she resents having to look after her developmentally challenged older sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), who has a special connection with neighbor Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), and how each of Ben, Anna, and Aisha find their almost-trivial powers enhanced by the others. There's potentially layers here that could perhaps use a more delicate touch.

The execution is pretty darn good, though - filmmaker Eskil Vogt can grab a moment and milk it for all the tension he can find, and he knows how to deploy his young cast, especially Fløttum, who looks to be about eight or nine but can present his deep resentment but can also conjure a bit of uncertainty, where Ida starts to grasp the horror of the world needing her to be a moderating influence even though, like looking after her big sister, it's probably too much responsibility for that kid. I do like how the folks playing Ida's and Aisha' parents all seem the appropriate level of overwhelmed without it feeling like a too-convenient plot device.

The result is, almost inevitably, like a certain strain of comic book, the sort that seems to be pushing an envelope more to be seen pushing it than because there's something especially interesting on the fringes. It's well-executed but leaves me a bit colder than was intended.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 March 2022 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 2022, DCP)

I forget whether Nitram had a "based on a true story" tag on it at the start or not - I feel like it didn't - and not being familiar with the specifics of this incident makes me wonder if the film played with a greater sense of mounting dread for its local Australian audience that would likely immediately recognize it as a fictionalized version of the events leading up to the mass shooting that led to a change in the country's gun laws. Otherwise, it's got a sort of "this can't end well" vibe but not a lot of specific dread.

Which is fine. Interesting, even, as Caleb Landry Jones's "Nitram" (the reverse of Martin, the real-life gunman's nam) falls into a good-if-odd situation as a favorite of faded light Helen (Essie Davis) after being a source of frustration to his parents (Judy Davis & Anthony LaPaglia) for his entire life, and there's this broad sense of desperation, because none of these people really have the tools to make satisfying lives for themselves, and even when they're enabling each other, there's no sense that they're happy or in some sort of symbiotic situation. They're just getting fleeting moments of pleasure that in many cases are destructive of the world around them. The cast does well to make them seem mostly functional but not really capable of the sort of introspection necessary to decide to make their lives better, and off-kilter without it seeming fun. It's a low-key bad situation where one maybe doesn't necessarily see how close many are to falling apart until it starts happening.

I'm not sure whether it's a problem that the film jumps to Nitram buying a bunch of guns and getting into shooting without a lot of explanation. Part of the "problem" with this story, for those of us looking for a narrative, is that Nitram is not all there, and sometimes his brain forms connections that a healthy, intelligent person's don't, and if you're looking for an explanation or a through-line, or a counter to the common conservative line that the problem is poor mental health, well, you're not going to find it. You've just got to see that someone is going to occasionally make this jump and be horrified at the way the Australian society of the time was ready to let them do so with few questions asked. It's frustrating from both a real-life and storytelling perspective, but not just because one wants answers - the filmmakers capture how the randomness is part of what makes it terrible but I can't say I felt riveted by it - the back half of the movie got to "these things that make no sense happened and they're awful" for me but not "these terrible random things happened and you can't look away".

And that's why I'm not nearly as high on the movie as I feel I should be - I saw posts on social media the night it screened that the IFFBoston audience was stunned into silence, but I can't say that's how I felt, as opposed to just waiting for the movie to reach its inevitable destination. Not waiting impatiently, mind; just not having the visceral reaction that writer Shaun Grant and director Justin Kurzel were looking for.

No comments: