OCTOBER 2, 2010
I was very nervous about attending Shriekfest this year. Not that I had made any enemies there (as far as I know), or anything like that, but it was the first time I had taken my car out of the Valley in almost a month, since my mechanic told me that the bushings and other things keeping the tires on the damn thing were all worn out and close to breaking, which means a good pothole hit could result in me in a very dead car on the side of the road, missing a movie for the day. Also, he believes my transmission is nearing the end of its life, so going uphill (in traffic, which means switching gears a few times in the process) is something I try to avoid. Luckily my route was pothole free, and the transmission didn’t seem to mind the exercise. But I hope the makers of Fugue and the other 3 films I saw appreciate I risked my car to see their movie, dammit!*
Fugue comes from Barbara Stepansky, the same director as Hurt, which I saw (and quite liked) at last year’s Shriekfest. It’s not as successful, but it’s still a solid little psychological chiller, with good performances all around and an ending that reminded me a bit of Inside. And hey, I’m always happy to be reminded of Inside.
But it also reminded me of a couple other movies, and so it falls into that category of movies that work best on those who haven’t seen a million movies, since there are a few tell-tale signs of a twist ending right from the start, things that a movie “novice” might not give much thought to. For example, our heroine, Charlotte, has a band-aid on her forehead, but we don’t know why until much later. However, just the fact that it’s there got me thinking along the lines of “This is all in her head” or something. That’s NOT the answer, mind you, but it still got my noggin working overtime to catch other clues instead of just relaxing and enjoying the story. No one in a movie has a band-aid unless it’s a major plot point (or it’s Pulp Fiction).
However, it’s quite successful in balancing the “is she crazy or is this really happening” approach, which is always appreciated. Without giving too much away, our heroine is hearing strange noises, seeing things in the backyard, and her neighbors are treating her very oddly, and the movie is basically about her trying to understand why. A final shot sort of negates what we are supposed to believe was the ultimate answer, for some reason, but otherwise everything is wrapped up nicely and without cheating.
The only sort of unexplored area is her husband’s relationship with her sister (Julie Mond). They are abrasive to each other in front of Charlotte, but several of the things she finds out seem to be the result of a decision that they made together. So basically I started thinking that they were having an affair, but nothing ever comes of it. Since the entire movie is from Charlotte’s point of view (actress Abigail Mittel is in pretty much every shot of the film), we are left with the say-so of others to get information, which can be a bit tricky when much of the film is based on falsehoods.
Speaking of the point of view, the movie reminded me (not in a bad way) of the Jeff Daniels chiller Chasing Sleep, as both involve married professors having an affair with a student and the tragic/scary consequences of that. However that movie was from the professor’s point of view, whereas this one would be the student. It’s a testament to the cast and Matt Harry’s script that these folks are all likable, because at the film’s core is the tale of a guy running around on his troubled wife with one of his students (who knows about the marriage and doesn’t seem to care). Buncha jerks!
Two of the other three movies I saw weren’t as good, and they were both about the same goddamn thing (aliens killing people in isolated houses). One of them, Grey Skies, took forever to get going and then contained all of the action in a 10-15 minute burst, and had an incredibly unsatisfying ending (though I seem to be in the minority there; it won the audience choice award for the festival). The other, The Awakened, was a bit better, because it had more action and less annoying characters, but it also made the odd choice of starting the movie at the end, so we then spend the entire action portion of the film knowing who makes it out of the house. And there was no narrative point to this that I could see, so it was a huge misstep on their part. The other movie, Transfer, wasn’t even remotely horror, but it was a pretty good (if also anticlimactic) tale of two old folks getting new bodies thanks to some new technology. So kind of like Clonus mixed with The Surrogates, but with the action replaced by a lot of shots of people looking at what is now their own body in wonder.
I’d also like to point out that I found a good place to eat for future Shriekfests. It’s this little Mexican place about a block and a half east on Melrose. Very cheap and quite good. My biggest problem with the festival is its rather out of the way spot and lack of food options (not to mention very brief breaks between films, making going off to get food means you miss a movie), so I’m glad I found this. That way I can see all the films and still eat tacos, which is pretty much all I ever want to do anyway.
What say you?
*My car still took damage though – someone whacked my mirror and left it dangling. My duct tape surgery was largely unsuccessful. However, midgets that try to attack from next to the rear left door won’t be able to catch me off guard, because that’s where the mirror is pointing.