OCTOBER 18, 2013
Hey look - I didn't even do full reviews of every movie I saw when I was doing this shit full time. You think this year will be any different? HELL NO. Read on for capsule reviews of the films I saw at Screamfest that I didn't think enough much of, or simply didn't have the time, to write up full HMAD-y rambles. And in one case I couldn't because it boasted end credits by yours truly!
My pick for the weakest film of the fest (which was thankfully short on found footage movies; the only other one was Delivery and that one's good), this one had the ingredients for a fine traditionally shot creeper - a great location (an actual glacier!), a lovely leading lady (Anna Gunndís Guðmundsdóttir), and a Thing like cast of blue collar scientist types who get wiped out by SOMETHING that is disturbed during their work. But as with Apollo 18, they opt to go the POV route and kill the suspense and momentum of the narrative. And (also like A18), there are only two characters, so it's deathly dull as well since nothing of note can happen to either of them for quite a while. Bonus points for the ending, which (spoiler) switches to traditional filmmaking in order to explain how the footage got back to civilization, but it's too little too late - they should have done that at the halfway point, allowing for a speedier than usual FF sequence and then a real finale.
This is the one I worked on! But as always, I never got to see it before making my credits, so I had no idea if it would be something I'd be embarrassed to be associated with, however tenuously. Luckily, that wasn't the case - this was a damned entertaining blend of film noir and supernatural/psychological horror. Angel Heart would be a good point of reference (and not just because they share a New Orleans locale), so if you dug that film you should find a lot to like here - including sex scenes that would make the MPAA blush (we were seeing an unrated version; no word on how the censors will feel about certain activities). Kudos to Adam Geirasch and Jace Anderson on their best film yet, and look for this one next year (it's already been picked up for distribution!).
The plot synopsis includes "Held prisoner in a house full of antique toys, she must overcome her deranged captors or become a living doll", which led me to believe that the other dolls were former humans and she'd literally become one of them. But no, there's nothing supernatural about it, and the dolls don't really factor into anything beyond some mildly creepy set dressing. So once I realized it was much more straightforward, I had fun with this blend of Misery and The Baby, with our heroine being held against her will by a deranged woman and her fully grown "baby" daughter, who suffers from some sort of mental handicap that basically has her acting feral. It's a bit TOO simplistic; the movie mostly revolves around her attempts to escape (which we know she won't do until the movie's over, if that) and her boyfriend's attempts to find her. A potentially exciting subplot involving her best friend (who has been sleeping with said boyfriend) coming to pick her up and being taken as well is dealt with far too quickly, and the end is a bit abrupt, but it's an admirably gonzo slice of Spanish horror. Since most of their films are a bit more subdued, it's nice to see them have a little more fun.
THE SEASONING HOUSE
There were three movies with rape as a plot point in this year's festival; I allowed myself one. Nothing personal against such fare, but it's a long, busy month and I can only do about 1/3 of the things I'd like to (not even counting all the usual things I have to skip: I haven't turned my Xbox on in weeks, or been to Harmontown, etc). So why spend some of that limited time watching something that will just depress me? But the solid cast (Sean Pertwee, Kevin Howarth, Anna Walton) prompted me to give it a look, and while it certainly didn't change my mind about such movies, at least MOST of the depravity was left off-screen, and had a unique hook at its center: our heroine is deaf and thus couldn't often even HEAR her fellow captors' pleas for help (the title refers to a house where young girls are drugged and rented out to soldiers to do with as they please), and unlike the others isn't chained up and is free to go about the house - something that comes in handy when she turns the tables on the antagonists in the 3rd act. As these things go I've certainly seen worse, and it's based on a true story (for real!), so it's got more merit than the usual I Spit On Your Grave wannabes, but I couldn't wait for it be over so I could go look at a puppy or something.
Part of why I was so annoyed by all of the shorts with full film crews (100 or more people, in some cases) is because this feature length movie had about 20 total people on both sides of the camera. Hell, there was even a short with a shockingly similar storyline (and also shot in upstate New York) that supposedly needed like double the manpower to pull it off. Thus, I walked away more impressed by this; it's not the most exciting movie ever made, but I liked how small scale and personal it was, going for drama more than overt horror and usually succeeding. I was also impressed with the makeup; it's about a Stand-like virus that has wiped out most of the country, with one of our two heroes getting infected early on (the movie is about his decline as his partner tries to keep him alive), allowing us to see the various stages of the disease. First it's just some boils on the face, but by the end they look like a botched experiment from The Fly (his foot in particular was an icky highlight), also impressive in light of that short which didn't offer much insight into what was killing everyone.
GOLDBERG & EISENBERG
Not really horror, but a unique take on a revenge film, where a man (Eisenberg) suddenly fixates on another (Goldberg) and lashes out when the gestures of friendship are not returned. So it's basically the 2nd half of Cable Guy stretched to a feature, with things getting darker and heading into Coen Brothers territory (a fair point of reference since they are special thanked as "Gods" in the end credits along with Tarantino and a few others). It can be a bit repetitious, but it's a great "go in blind" movie as you're never sure where it's heading, and both actors are terrific; offering a steady anti-chemistry and straddling the line between sympathetic and hateful (yes, both of them). Director Oren Carmi also offers a few great long takes (including one in a cramped apartment where the blocking keeps teasing the expected moment where an unconscious character springs back into action), and as he explained in the Q&A after it's not exactly easy to get funding in Israel for such dark material, so kudos to him for taking a tough project and making it even more of a challenge. This just start its festival run, so it probably won't be out for a while - keep an eye out if you like your movies dark and JUST off-kilter enough to stand out but not so much that it turns into a farce.
And sadly that's all I saw besides the films I reviewed in full (The Dead 2, Torment, Demon's Rook, and Beneath). It's ironic; I was all excited about Screamfest being closer this year, but because of so many other things going on I ended up missing more movies than usual. I have screeners for a couple of others, but I'm bummed I missed seeing films like Haunter and 308 (Cannon Fodder was one I purposely skipped - life's too short for another zombie movie with wall to wall terrible digital blood, as seen in its trailer). I also didn't see as many shorts as I would have liked, though of the three blocks I DID attend I found this year's crop to be rather underwhelming; the best was The Banishing, which took a haunting tale and spun it into darker, BC-approved territory (I also loved that it featured a girl who instantly googled "Banishing spells" when her little sister began claiming there was a ghost talking to her). I also quite liked The Barista (which began with a riff on Unbreakable and went to a much funnier place), Dembanger (which detailed the reasons why you shouldn't accept random Facebook requests), and Skypemare, which has a pretty self-explanatory title and featured the lovely Cerina Vincent. And while I didn't care much about the plot, the stop-motion Butterflies was a marvel to look at - not sure if I just didn't hit the right blocks, but even more disappointing than the underwhelming entries was the lack of variety - it was the only animated one I saw.
So, overall, not the most memorable fest, but at least it only had one stinker (and even that was at least competent and mildly entertaining at times), and I loved the new locale as it offered free parking if you were lucky (not a chance in its last three venues) and affordable concessions (ditto - I'm usually broke by week's end). Plus there were a lot of foreign films which is always a plus, and things ran completely smooth; apart from the opening night movie (a given) nothing started late or had to get pulled/replaced. And you can't argue about the eating options: the hot dog place, Chipotle, a wings place, Panda Express, a pie shop (!), and Starbucks were all within a block. That's good quick-eating. Please bring it back to the Noho Laemmle next year!
What say you?