The 16th annual Fantasia Film Festival is underway in Montreal, Canada. The festival is so packed this year that it’s overwhelming to even begin looking at the film schedule. The horror lineup spans across subgenres and budgets and this is precisely what makes Fantasia so special. Giving equal attention to major productions and low budget indie films, Fantasia has something for everyone.
In its 16th year, there are over 160 screenings during the three-week festival, and it would be insane to even attempt reviewing them all. I’ve been running to the various theaters to catch each flick, and I still can’t watch them all. Although it would be ideal to write full reviews, it would take way too many days, and way too many cups of coffee. What follows are mini-reviews on what I’ve seen so far at Fantasia 2012 including The Victim, The Human Race, Memory Of The Dead, and Error Of The Human Body.
The infamous Michael Biehn attempts to revive his career with a low budget B-movie. The acting isn’t great, the plot is not original, and the camerawork is haphazard. But, I can’t deny that I enjoyed every minute of this one-and-half hour kitsch thriller. The dialogue is hilarious and the characters are amusingly one-dimensional (with the exception of Kyle, played by Biehn). The Victim took 12 days to shoot on a shoestring budget with an unfinished script, and Biehn delivers a surprisingly entertaining ride from start to finish.
The Victim knows exactly what it is, and it doesn’t try to be anything else. Michael Biehn fans will love this flick, and while it’s no masterpiece, Biehn made do with what was given to him.
THE HUMAN RACE
The Human Race was promoted heavily by Fantasia, giving audiences high hopes for the low budget sci-fi, fantasy, horror, exploitation mashup. Unfortunately, the rough cut is a Battle Royal rip-off with an oddly Republican political agenda that leaves nothing but a sour taste in your mouth and a buzzing in your ears.
The plot follows the story of 79 random citizens – although you only see about 30 of them, the rest are just numbers on the screen – who are abducted from a city block only to wake up on a dangerous race track. The 79 marathoners must compete against each other in a death race. If they stray from the path, they die. If they’re lapped twice, they die. To be more precise, their head explodes.
The film opens with a ten minute setup of a character discovering she has cancer. By minute 10, she is subsequently cured of said cancer, and by minute 12, her head explodes, completely nullifying the introduction to the film. After the unnecessarily cruel introduction, the main characters are introduced: a one-legged war vet (Eddie McGee), his do-gooder friend, and a pair of def pals. The acting is good, and Eddie McGee brings a much needed badass factor to the film. His single fight scene is the most effective moment of the film. It’s a shame they didn’t utilize more of his one-legged stunts. The def duo spends most of their time together, and while the initial use of sign language is inventive, it quickly becomes tiresome, especially when the def guy tries to rape the def girl.
For a film called The Human Race, there sure as hell isn’t a lot of actual racing. The death scenes are trite, and the last 30 minutes are absolutely baffling. You get a sense that the filmmaker hates just about every type of person in the world.
Granted, what I saw was a rough cut, but the few redeeming qualities lead me to believe that The Human Race is beyond the saving grace. The character motives make no sense, and when they try to work together, it leads to nothing. I will say this is a perfect movie night film if you are looking for a good laugh with friends. Otherwise, you’re better off watching Battle Royal again.
Hunky hottie Matthew McConaughey brings out his inner creep in Killer Joe, delivering a chilling, hilarious, and captivating performance. If you think you know McConaughey, Killer Joe will have you doubting the romantic-comedy star’s innocent eyes. But, to give McConaughey all the praise would not be fair to the rest of the amazing cast, and the stylish camera work that keeps the film moving.
Killer Joe, directed by William Friedkin, who directed a little film called The Exorcist back in 1973, is based on a play of the same name. This becomes clear throughout the film as the dialogue and humor lends itself to stage performance. William Friedkin does a commendable job adapting this for the screen. Often, play-to-screen adaptations run the risk of being extremely static as they take place in limited settings. However, Killer Joe is full of stylistic decisions that keep you invested in its creepy atmosphere.
Killer Joe is a grotesquely hilarious black comedy, but it’s also an enthralling southern gothic thriller. It’s this division that makes the film so powerful. McConaughey is responsible for much of the unsettling mood of the film, especially during the KFC fellatio scene where his sinister perversion is at its apex. Killer Joe is full of laughter, southern grit, and smoking hot gore that you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere.
MEMORY OF THE DEAD
Although the Evil Dead remake is still in production stages, Memory of the Dead could easily be conceived of as a modern Argentinean remake of the Sam Raimi classic. Albeit, a poor one. The film is well intentioned and lighthearted, but it lacks the punch lines.
A few friends gather together in a cabin in the middle of the woods. As they arrive, lighting strikes, the sky turns red, smoke wafts between rows of trees, and anyone who steps outside is subjected to possession or death. Sound like Evil Dead? The haunted house proceeds to torment each member of the group by forcing hallucinations onto them.
Director, Valentín Javier Diment is evidently heavily influenced by surrealism and Dadaism as the narrative is full of absurdist non sequiturs. Hallucinations, demons, and ghosts pop up out of nowhere, and it’s a jumble from start to finish. While a melding of surrealism and horror comedy sounds great on paper, it’s a mess on screen. Surrealism is about not making sense, exploring consciousness, and the capabilities of the human mind when detached from societal norms. Horror comedy, on the other hand, relies on human perception, the body, and satirizing social conventions. The result in Memory of the Dead is a messy film that is neither scary, nor all that funny. What it does have is heart, consistency, and a vision that Valentín Javier Diment delivers with unrelenting integrity. Diment clearly did not relinquish any creative control, and his style is unique if nothing else.
ERROR OF THE HUMAN BODY
Body horror is a realm that not many young filmmakers venture into despite the fact that so many are influenced by David Cronenberg. Error of the Human Body, is a daring take on the subgenre that attempts to explore ideas of bodily mutation, genetic engineering, and birth defects. The film looks incredible, the performances are top notch, and the plot is interesting. However, the film is lethargically drawn out, with very little action.
Geoff (Michael Eklund) is scientific researcher whose life is just as messy as his hair. He’s hired to work at a state of the art laboratory in Germany, to further his research with a team of like-minded geniuses. Jarek, a fellow scientist, is the epitome of villainy with his Lex Luthor shaved head and menacing eyes.
Although Michael Eklund delivers strong performance, his character is a morose bastard, who is difficult to empathize with. Nothing exciting happens for the first 30 minutes of the film, and the conflict doesn’t come about until about half way through. The script has all the right ingredients for a great story, and all elements weave into each other for several twists, but the pacing is deathly slow. In turn, the conclusion is not as shocking as it has the potential to be. Some will love Errors of the Human Body for its powerful dramatic tone and evocative approach to body horror. Others may find it a heartless beauty.