Toronto After Dark – Day 7
Just four more features to go before the curtain falls on TAD 2011. It suits me well that today’s line-up seems more like a subdued offering. Calm before the storm.
A rather sweet 17-minute short about a lonely taxidermist who befriends a dog he thought was dead. Animal lovers will no doubt squirm but ultimately be moved by the film’s message.
A group of five friends take a trip to the cottage, attempting to mend their wounded relationship. What they encounter is a mysterious supernatural element that threatens to destroy them for good. The Corridor, a sci-fi/horror, is reminiscent to something you’d find in a Stephen King story. It’s driven by the characters’ rich dynamic. Each one is distinct and contains their specific internal demons. The damaged relationships between these men are the strongest aspect in this film. The ensemble delivers fine performances.
While the supernatural element is original, I found it got too increasingly bizarre that it only helped to withdraw me from the elements I liked the most. The visual effects more often than not, appeared a tad too phony for my taste. The lagging pace is also, a big determent. In the end, I just wasn’t invested enough in The Corridor.
2/5 Skulls HOW TO RID YOUR LOVER OF A NEGATIVE EMOTION CAUSED BY YOU
A 16-minute dark comedy about the negative feelings that come up in a couple’s relationship. This beautifully shot short has its share of squeamish moments.
There have been some strong subversive takes on the superhero genre with titles such Kick-Ass, Super and Special (containing a mind-blowing performance by Michael Rapaport). The latest entry, VS, manages to present some exciting new angles. Unfortunately, the final product has its share of problems. VS is about four superheroes, stripped of their powers, having to battle through a series of twisted psychological games devised by their bitter arch-nemesis (James Remar) in order to save a boatload of civilians and themselves.
The influence of Saw in its basic premise is clear as day but writer/director/star, Jason Trost wisely doesn’t go the obvious direction. He is far more interested in exploring the frailty of these heroes when they can’t rely on their powers to bail them out. They’re completely out of their element. It’s actually quite heartbreaking to watch the protagonists struggle to deal with basic human traits like pain and failure. Superheroes are usually on the winning side…definitely not here. They also, contain quite of bit of emotional baggage which makes the more relatable.
The most audacious thing Trost attempts is taking the material dead seriously. He’s aided by some effective performances including himself as the leader of the pack, Charge. Sophie Merkley as Shadow is the only underwhelming piece of this cast. Remar will most likely get the bulk of attention for his deliciously over-the-top turn as Rickshaw. He’s obviously having a blast with this material. His scenes offer levity to the film’s sombre tone. This brings me to the film’s downfall; it’s earnest to a fault. As a result, VS has its fair share of unintentional laughs, some of it coming from some very awkward dialogue. A lower budget has actually benefited the majority of films at this year’s Toronto After Dark. In VS, it’s a handicap. The film’s cheap-looking sets and superhero costumes are a distraction especially when camp is not on the menu. The action beats and traps are not only uninspired but fairly tensionless. VS has too many interesting things going for it to just simply dismiss it entirely. Fans of darker, grittier explorations of the superhero genre might find enough here to let its cons slide.
Toronto After Dark – Day 8
All good things come to an end. Fortunately for us, Toronto After Dark 2011 has saved their most anticipated titles to close this year’s line-up with Lucky McGee’s The Woman and Ti West’s The Innkeepers.
In the middle of sex, a woman manages to find herself uncomfortably stuck with the guy she’s having an affair with. It somehow gets worse from there. This 18-minute short had me laughing and squirming in equal measure. The visual effects (also by writer/director, Chris Nash) are extremely impressive.
To be honest, I’ve never read a book or seen a film with Jack Ketchum’s name attached to it. However, I do know a few people who absolutely loathe his work. My knowledge ends there. So with fresh eyes, I plunge into the amoral world of The Woman. Co-writer/director, Lucky McKee hasn’t quite lived up to the promise of his debut, May…that is until now. Actually, I would go as far as stating that The Woman takes him to the next level mainly because there is a million and one ways this material could have gone disastrously wrong…well at least, in my opinion. There will be plenty of folks out there that’ll surely protest its mere existence in the world.
After kidnapping and chaining up a feral woman in his garden basement, Chris Cleek, a country lawyer with the reluctant assistance of his family, attempt to “civilize” her. We soon discover Chris Cleek is a far more poisonous threat to society than this woman could ever imaginably be. There are many ways of making a film based on such an outrageous premise. Wisely, McKee sees The Woman for what it really is; an allegory, on one level; the balance of power that exists between the male and female. The tone is the key to its success. I can’t think of a picture which made me laugh-out-loud hysterically but at the same time, horrified by such amped-up grotesqueness. Actually, I can safely say this film goes into some uncharted territory.
The alpha-male has never been so shockingly presented than it is here. Chris Cleek (an astonishing, Sean Bridgers) has got to be the most vile and monstrous character to ever abrasively smash onto the big screen. There seems to be no end to the inhumanity. Chris’ dominating, misogynistic aura has seriously put the dysfunction onto his dysfunctional family. The Woman presents in the extreme, what can go horribly wrong within the family unit. The parents’ personality and relationship affect permanent damage onto their children. Any parents-to-be who might second thoughts on their ability to raise a child might want to avoid this film for fear of traumatization.
None of this would work if it wasn’t for the bang-on brilliance in the direction and performances. Everything is played straight as it should be. I have to single out Angela Bettis’ beautifully understated turn as the broken-down mother. What Belle Cleek endures is absolutely gut-wrenching and heartbreaking to watch. It’s refreshing to see a horror film that handles such provocative elements with intelligence. It somehow never results in being simple exploitation. The Woman is the type of edgy, thought-provoking subversive cinema the genre has been lacking these days.
THE LADY PARANORMA
Vincent Marcone follows up the haunting, The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow with this 6-minute animated fable about an eccentric woman’s ability to hear the dead. The animation is appealing but the story plays out predictably.
There is no denying writer/editor/director Ti West has a distinct voice, a quality rarely seen in modern genre filmmaking. His films have a wonderful way of unraveling on its own terms. They’ve been often criticized for being too slow-paced. I’d agree if there wasn’t anything happening which is never the case with West’s work. With every passing moment either a mood or some new bit of info is subtly disclosed. His style is a throwback to days when filmmakers would take their time telling a story, building suspense and mood. Thankfully, West is around to fill that void for fans that don’t need gore-drenched tales to entertain them. These wonderful attributes are alive and kicking in his latest effort, The Innkeepers.
This old-fashioned ghost story is about the soon-to-be-closed, Yankee Pedlar Inn and its last two employees, Claire and Luke’s hunt for evidence to back its history of paranormal activity. Of course, they’re in over-their-heads. Ti West has concocted yet another meticulous-crafted horror flick. What makes The Innkeepers stand aside from his filmography to date is the insertion of comedy. Thankfully, the humour is pretty subtle and witty. Unlike previous reviews, I didn’t find the film to exist in two distinct halves. There is always a sense of dread lingering throughout. So as we laugh along, the audience is all too aware of the potential horrible things that await our beloved antagonists…and how beloved they are. Claire and Luke are a couple of the most likeable and engaging characters to pop into a genre film this year. Sara Paxton and Pat Healy are utterly charming and believable which only makes The Innkeepers that much scarier especially during its final act.
West continues to show his knack for piling on the tension. When the film turns full-on horror, the set-pieces can get quite frightening. By today’s standard, there isn’t much in the way of gore in a Ti West film (definitely excluding the gross-out fest, Cabin Fever 2) but he can lay it down thick in the absolute precise moments to achieve a pretty jolting, visceral effect. Genre filmmakers can learn a thing or two about this masterful use of technique. Still, some might be underwhelmed by the low-key climax. West is not afraid to leave certain pieces of the puzzle ambiguous and allowing the viewer to come up with his or her conclusions. It’s that very quality that keeps his films from ever getting stale with multiple views. They actually get better. The Innkeepers is a delightfully spooky haunted house tale I’ll fearlessly revisit any day.
Toronto After Dark has a level intimacy that just isn’t there at major festivals such as TIFF. It is run by a dedicated group of hardcore fans. While it may be a bit rougher around the edges (later than scheduled start times was at times a factor), there is no doubting the passion and enthusiasm Festival Director, Adam Lopez and his hardworking team brought during this year’s entire run.
There is a fair share of opportunities for devotees to not only mingle with each other but with cast and crew. The Q&A session has become standard practice at festivals but it was cool to see filmmakers of the shorts allocated time before every screening to introduce their films. I also appreciated Adam Lopez allowing his staff to often present a film especially if they championed a specific film. The Pub After Dark social gatherings during all eight nights was just another fantastic opportunity for everyone; fans and filmmakers alike to chat it up. You get a hell of a lot more chances to meet really cool people here than any other festival. TAD seems to understand that the experience is just as important as the movies themselves. Whether it was a good or bad film, a fun time was always had. Toronto After Dark is not only a fitting celebration of genre cinema but to the loyal fanbase itself. I can’t wait to see what TAD 2012 has in store for us!
P.S. Hats off to local filmmaker, Chris Nash for his clever collection of bumpers which definitely assisted in riling up the audience before each feature presentation.