Fantasia Film Festival Report by Deirdre Crimmins
Deirdre Crimmins is back from Montreal and she's smuggled some Cuban cigars, bacon flavored Lay's potato chips and her last festival report over the border using nefarious means best not discussed in mixed company.
Toad Road (dir. Jason Banker). I was looking forward to Toad Road at Fantasia, as it has one of the better premises for a horror film that I have heard in a while. In rural Pennsylvania there is an old country road, Toad Road, which goes off in to the woods, and through meadows. Along this road you will find the seven gates of hell. However the gates have long ago withered away, or fallen in the thick, which makes your journey to hell is more a change of awareness and bodily functions, rather than discrete stages. That is the movie I would like to see. Unfortunately, what Toad Road delivers is two thirds of real footage of hipsters doing drugs, punching each other, and cracking gay jokes, and one third poorly acted attempts at conveying a plot. Apparently director Banker has a background in documentary work, and he decided to create his first fiction feature by grabbing footage of a group of friends hanging out, and then slowly worked out with the cast what scripted scenes they need to include. I would really love to see a successful film that employs this technique, because in-theory it could make a strikingly realistic movie. However Toad Road is not a success and I must continue to fantasize about how great the film could have been.
A Night of Nightmares (dir. Buddy Giovinazzo). When music blogger Mark (Marc Senter) is invited to visit his newest underground musical find while she is renting a ranch in California, he jumps at the chance. She turns out to be just as talented, and just as adorable, as her album led him to believe. And Ginger (Elissa Dowling) seems to be enjoying the company of a true gentleman who is truly interested in her music. Of course this budding flirtation in a remote location turns out to be the perfect setting for a well-paced, original haunted house film. Though I do love a slow burn, atmospheric haunting film as much as the next gal, I cannot tell you how refreshing it was to watch a film where stuff actually happens. Record players turn themselves on and off at will, cars get flat tires, and characters vomit mountains of pennies. Mark and Ginger both deal with the scares in different ways, though they do their best to remain a united front against the dark forces that are afoot. A Night of Nightmares gave great scares, without any cheap jumps, and it reminded me of the fun you can have while trapped in a house with some pissed off ghosts.
Doomsday Book (dirs. Yim Pil-sung & Kim Jee-woon). Horror has been celebrating a resurgence of the anthology film recently (The Theater Bizarre and V/H/S are two easy examples), and with Doomsday Book the science fiction genre gets an excellent anthology set as well. Two entries by Pil-sung bookend the film with light, quirky apocalypses of different natures. “A Brave New World” is a quasi-zombie outbreak short which starts with an infected apple. A cautionary tale about keeping a clean apartment, its highlight is actually a newsroom debate that somehow shifts from awkward political jabs to a sing-a-long. “Happy Birthday” is an apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic short that watches as life on Earth comes to a crashing halt with a meteor impact. Again the best part of the already strong short is the news broadcast counting down the moments to impact. The piece in between these two lighthearted chapters is instead featured without laughs. “The Heavenly Creature” questions to far reaching implications that ripple throughout a world when a robot finds enlightenment. Though the Buddhist monks are in awe of the robot’s achievement of true Nirvana, the company that produced the machine seems less that pleased. This episode does get a little preachy regarding ideology, but considering the themes here it is to be expected. These sections all fit together to make a complete film that is long in run time, but absolutely worth it.
Inbred (dir. Alex Chandron). If you have ever watched House of 1000 Corpses, and wished that the Firefly clan included all of their extended family and that they were British, then you will love Inbred. This is a film that is uncompromising about the kills, and the fact that the only reason the audience is watching the film is to watch the heads roll. The loose plot behind the film is that a group of problem teenagers are sent on an outward bound to get away and do some manual labor. It is never made expressly clear where those kids come from, who the adults are with them, and what they are hoping to accomplish in the tiny village they are visiting. But none of that is actually important. What is important is that there is a solid supply of fresh meat for these hicks to mutilate in any way they see fit. Inbred had such fun with the kills, that the film practically rolls around in all of that blood itself.
Mon Ami (dir. Rob Grant). Out of all of the comedies, and generally comedic films, at Fantasia this year Mon Ami was easily the bloodiest, and got the biggest laughs. It is essentially a kidnapping heist that goes terribly wrong, most due to the fact that Cal (Scott Wallis) and Teddy (Mike Kovac) are both a bit timid when it comes to violence. Their discussions and hesitations when trying to inflict harm on their pretty prisoner would be less charming, and more clichéd, if left to less apt actors. Both of the characters are well formed, relatable, and endearing, and become even more so as the bodies start to pile up. The classical soundtrack to the film almost acts like a character unto itself as well. It makes the film and the fact that the characters can take themselves a little too seriously that much more absurd. Though the film is clearly a Canadian production, it is for some reason set in the U.S.A..
Errors of the Human Body (dir. Eron Sheean). One of the best things about Fantasia is hearing the filmmakers talk about how their films came to fruition. Sheean wrote last year’s post-apocalyptic powerhouse The Divide where he met actor Michael Eklund. It was during that shoot that Sheean and Eklund decided to work together on Errors of the Human Body. The film is a science fiction thriller, which heavily questions the ramifications of genetic tampering without getting too preachy or political. Eklund plays a doctor in mourning, both for his infant son and for the relationship with his wife that dissolved after his son’s death. He packs up and goes to Germany at the invitation of a massive lab that is very interested in his latest research into his son’s terminal genetic condition. When he arrives he gets captured in all of the workplace politics that are rampant there, including research thievery and secret basement labs. The film itself is quiet, as is Eklund’s performance, but the research they are conducting, and the beautiful space of the lab, always give you something to keep your mind occupied.