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Film Festival Follies: Toronto International Film Festival – Day 1

While I personally only cover the horror films that play at the Toronto International Film Festival, there are literally hundreds upon hundreds of other films playing at my favorite fest. This year Simon Barrett joined Bloody Disgusting for several days of no sleep, drinks, train rides and MOVIES! Below you’ll find “Film Festival Follies: Toronto International Film Festival – Day 1”, the second of his ongoing travel journal covering A Serious Man, Enter the Void, Solomon Kane and Daybreakers.

Film Festival Follies: Toronto International Film Festival – Day 1

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A Serious Man, Enter the Void, Solomon Kane and Daybreakers

Friday was the day that the Toronto International Film Festival began in earnest, at least for me. After going to sleep around 3:30 a.m. after Jennifer’s Body, I was up at 7:30 to shower and rush out to see A Serious Man, the new Coen Brothers film. Exhausted and more than a little confused, Mr. Disgusting and I raced to the theater, convinced that the first festival screening of this high profile release would likely fill up, only to find ourselves tenth in a very short line with about 45 minutes to spare. I stared at the wall while Mr. Disgusting went and got a coffee.

Several people have asked me to describe the plot of A Serious Man, as the excellent trailer for the film gives little away. All I could come up with is, “A Jewish guy in the 1960s has, like, a really bad month, causing him to examine his faith. And maybe he’s cursed.” That may not sound particularly engrossing, but the end result is fairly riveting. Like all Coen Brothers films, A Serious Man is beautifully crafted; in terms of sheer technical filmmaking, I doubt there’s anyone more talented working within the Hollywood system, even though their films are rarely flashy or epic in scope. Also, like all of the Coen Brothers’ recent output, there is a cold undercurrent of cynical misanthropy running throughout. Sometimes their ostensible lack of empathy for their characters bothers me, but in A Serious Man, the suffering of the protagonist seems to be the entire point.

After A Serious Man, I decided to do myself a favor and not see the new Harmony Korine film, Trash Humpers, and instead took a rare break in which to eat. Then I headed to one of my most anticipated films of the festival, Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void. I found Noe’s last feature, the Memento-esque rape-revenge deconstruction Irreversible, to be one of the most exciting pieces of cinema made during the past decade, and I couldn’t wait to see how he would try to top it.

Enter the Void is often brilliant, and Noe is doing some things in terms of cinematography and sound design in the film that should and probably will be studied in film schools for decades to come. A great deal of the film, particularly its first hour, is a jolting, exhilarating, emotionally exhausting experience. But it’s also long. It’s really fucking long, and after awhile, exceedingly redundant. And at two hours and 35 minutes, Enter the Void ended up exhausting a lot more than my emotions.

Enter the VoidEnter the Void isn’t really a narrative-driven film, but essentially it tells the story of a small-time drug dealer in Tokyo, his sister and their friends. Seedy and depressing, and structured within the philosophical context of the Buddhist cycle of rebirth, the film almost challenges the viewer to stay with it. I loved most of it, but a good portion was entirely unnecessary. And for a film so technically innovative, the story ends on a surprisingly trite and familiar note.

Hilariously, the version of Enter the Void that screened at Toronto is ten minutes shorter than the cut that screened earlier at Cannes, down from its original running length of 165 minutes. All I can say is, keep cutting, dude. Seriously. If Enter the Void were 40 minutes shorter the film would be a masterpiece. And probably the greatest statement I can make about the film’s flaws is that I honestly feel like I could cut more than 40 minutes out of Enter the Void without negatively affecting anything that it’s doing.

After the intellectual endurance test of Enter the Void, I was ready for some mindless entertainment, and Solomon Kane seemed like the best bet. All the ingredients were in place: an action star, James Purefoy, who was great on Rome, working with director Michael J. Bassett (whose last film, Wilderness, I found to be excellent) to do an adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s short stories of a Puritan soldier in the 15th century. With a reported budget of $40 million, I knew I was in for some blockbuster fun, right?

Yeah. Not so much.

I don’t want to write a detailed review of Solomon Kane because it’s part of the TIFF Midnight Madness series, which I love with all my heart, and reviewers with more knowledge of the source materials will no doubt extensively debate the film’s strengths and weaknesses upon its release. So all I will say is that I thought Solomon Kane was not good. Really not good. So not good that I spent a good portion of the film gaping at the screen, in awe of how badly the movie in front of me was sucking. A monumental waste of money and energy, basically Solomon Kane is the story of a murderous jerk who discovers that his soul is damned due to his crimes. He then repents entirely out of self-interest and becomes a boring pacifist, until he is forced to kill some more people, and then he has to go rescue a kidnapped young girl (Rachel Hurd-Wood, with whom he has a kind of creepily flirtatious relationship given their age difference) so his soul will be saved again. So basically the entire movie is about a self-righteous asshole trying to avoid the punishment he richly deserves. Any of which would be fine if the film was fun, but… well, you get the idea.

All that said, I regretted my choice to not wait and view Solomon Kane with the Midnight Madness audience, whose reaction to the film would no doubt enhance its mindless appeal. Watching Solomon Kane sober at a silent P&I screening following Enter the Void is definitely not the way to see it.

The double feature bludgeoning of Enter the Void and Solomon Kane, both painful theatrical experiences for different reasons, left Mr. Disgusting and I stupefied, so we took a break to eat dinner at a terrible Japanese restaurant with some friends before the Midnight Madness premiere of Daybreakers, the long-shelved vampire film by the Spierig Brothers, the Australian auteurs behind the 2002 zombie film Undead. I liked very little about Undead, but am happy to report that Daybreakers is a far superior film. A fun B-movie with a terrific concept, Daybreakers is set in a future in which a virus has transformed the vast majority of the world’s population into vampires, to the extent that humans are nearly extinct. The vampire world therefore faces a hunger epidemic due to this blood shortage, as starving vampires begin to turn on each other. Ethan Hawke plays a vampire scientist committed to developing a synthetic form of blood before both humans and vampires alike die out. However, a group of humans he unexpectedly comes across may have found another solution.

There’s a lot of great stuff in Daybreakers beyond its nifty premise, but there’s also a somewhat stagnant second act and subplots, especially one involving vampire boss Sam Neill and his human daughter, that add little to the proceedings. It therefore feels in many ways like the first film of a trilogy that will never come to fruition. Overall, though, it’s a fun, silly action-horror film that never takes itself too seriously, and will certainly amuse horror fans. Plus, it’s refreshing to see a vampire movie with some splatter in it. If the Spierig Brothers continue with this rate of improvement, I have high hopes for their next project.

Colin’s Q&A with the amicable and slightly drunk Spierig Brothers, joined by cast members Sam Neill and Willem Dafoe, was fun as always, but I was so tired by the end of it that I could barely form coherent sentences and was literally poking myself in my eyes with my fingers to stay awake. I staggered out of the theater, offended the film’s executive producer with some mumbled observations on the movie, then drifted back to the hotel to sleep.

A Serious Man – 8/10
Enter the Void – 8/10
Solomon Kane – 0/10
Daybreakers – 6/10

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