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|Written by Joe Lipsett|
|Friday, 03 September 2010 00:00|
Every year I make an annual trek to Montreal to participate in one of North America's coolest film festivals, Fantasia. The festival is renowned for its selection of horror, science fiction, anime and foreign films - several of which are making their North American or Canadian debuts. Unlike some of the more prestigious (or pretentious) film festivals, Fantasia is lorded over by the fans, so that despite several big name directors and actors who attend the screenings (this year I saw The Descent by director Neil Marshall), ultimately the festival belongs to the individuals who celebrate what can only be considered non-traditional, non-Hollywood fare.
Due to tricky July scheduling, I was able to attend only the final weekend of the four week festival, though I was lucky enough to catch one of my most anticipated films of the year, The Human Centipede, at a special midnight screening. I also screened four other films during a 36 hour period, meaning that I ate poorly, and slept and showered little. Oh, how I suffer to bring you my annual Fantasia recap!
My buddy Jonathan and I got a late start on the day with our first film at 4 p.m. First up was a romantic comedy called Sophie's Revenge starring Chinese superstar Ziyi Zhang. Zhang plays the titular Sophie, a girl who has been dumped by Jeff, her doctor fiancée for a famous movie star named Joanna. The story begins with Sophie discussing her latest graphic novel on a television show and unfolds as an extended 2 year flashback.
The film is filled with North American romantic comedy conventions, although the film carried a zany, high energy vibe and the actors enthusiastic embrace the material, no matter how cliché it seems. Particularly well cast is Zhang, who plays against type for North American audiences familiar with her martial arts skills. Her Sophie is a more clumsy, less self-assured Amelie complete with cartoon visions, a wide assortments of adorable capes and hats, and a kitschy apartment filled with knick-knacks.
The plot is a high concept collision of screwball, slapstick and traditional rom-com focusing on Sophie's attempts to break up Jeff and Joanna with the help of Morgan, Joanna's ex. Highlights include a Hallowe'en costume party where Sophie (dressed as a sheep) and Morgan meet-cute when her costume entangles him, culminating in a sight gag worthy of an Austin Power sequel. As the two conspire on a number of ill-fated ventures - including Sophie posing as a fan of Joanna to get closer to her and later trying to capture her in a compromising position at the gym with the chunky lover of one of Sophie's girlfriends - it's clear that Morgan and Sophie are the true couple who are meant to be together. In the most memorable scene of the film, Morgan tries to raise Sophie's spirits by focusing on a new comic she's dreamt up. The character, a boy with a memory box head, appears between them in an animated/live action sequence as he meets and falls in love with a girl. The sequence is beautifully executed, creating a sense of genuine warmth and romance while solidifying the creatively and personally fulfilling relationship between our two leads.
In the end, the film runs a little too long considering the audience knows where it's all headed (including a third act twist designed to keep the correct couple apart), but Zhang's energy, romantic chemistry with Morgan and the fun presentation make up for the clichéd shortcomings. It was a great way to start the festival.
The late show screening we caught is an upcoming wide release (released on August 27), which unfortunately got off to a rocky start with an extended, protracted security screening of first the press and then the masses who had been lined up for hours beforehand. Metal detectors and bag searches were mandatory in order to get into the theatre, though the limited number of individuals conducting the searches extended the original start time from 9:30 to 10:20. Thankfully the crowd was rowdy and excitable, although those lucky enough to be seated early were forced to endure excessively loud Rammstein-esque music until the opening frame (note to Fantasia organizers: matching the music to the film tone is inspired, but blaring it at eardrum bleeding decibels is sadistic).
The Last Exorcism is shot in the now familiar first person documentary style employed by 1999's The Blair Witch Project and last year's Paranormal Activity. The plot concerns Cotton Marcus, an evangelical preacher who invites a film crew to film his "last exorcism" in order to expose the practice as a hoax. Marcus accepts the first job that he receives, the possession of a young girl outside New Orleans. Upon arriving, however, it appears there is more to the issue than initially meets the eye: the girl's brother is deliberately antagonistic to the group, the father is secretive and manipulative, and the girl herself may not be possessed by the Devil as much as feeling guilty over a less than virginal lifestyle.
The acting, set design, and atmosphere of the film are all relatively good quality, but much like some of the high profile horror films that have arrived in theatres awash in buzz and endorsed by famous filmmakers (in this case Eli Roth), The Last Exorcism starts off well and literally explodes upon climax. The first third of the film firmly establishes the characters, while the middle primarily consists of powerfully shot exorcisms and search scenes (albeit with a surprising lack of scares and gore). It is the ending of the film that is a complete disaster; audience reaction was equally divided between laughter and confusion. The goodwill built up by the majority of the film is thrown aside by a hasty, misconstrued final five minutes that seems to come out of nowhere, almost as if writers Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland realized that the film needed to come in under 90 minutes and this was the best they could come up with.
In the end, the film was marked by its ridiculous ending, but on the whole it was a decent film. I'll be interested to see if the film receives a welcome reception or if other audiences will be turned off by the familiar aesthetic and over-the-top ending.
This is the film that has been heralded as shocking, groundbreaking, and truly disturbing. The concept -- a mad scientist kidnaps three individuals and connects them mouth-to-rectum -- has initiated a slew of jokey internet products (Human Centipede plush cats and sock monkeys!). This is the film that may have even cost me a few friends, when - after seeing the trailer - they decided that only a sicko would want to see something like this.
But ultimately the only question that mattered was this: is the film any good?
I'm sad to report that the answer (unequivocally) to that question is...no. Despite the hype and the internet fervour, this film is a lame duck. Not scary enough to be a horror film, not gory enough to be gorno, not campy enough to be cult, lacking any kind of message that might have endeared it to repeat viewings, this, ladies and gentlemen, is a film that not only doesn't work, it doesn't have a purpose.
The purpose, in fact, of the film is simply to make a film about a man who connects three people mouth-to-rectum. The problem is that this occurs within the first 40 minutes of an 80 minute film. When there's nothing left to come, The Human Centipede committed the great cardinal sin of filmmaking and especially horror films: it bored me.The film starts as any number of gorno films might: two twenty-something girls get lost in the German woods in the rain, come upon a house in the woods and are served GHB-laced water from Dr. Heiter, a German surgeon renowned for separating Siamese twins. The doctor, as played by Dieter Laser, might be the saving grace of the entire film, as he is the only one who seems to recognize that the film he is in is ridiculous. He shouts, stomps around, dresses up, and asks his freakshow parade to perform like a dog (or rather his first attempt at constructing a centipede - his three dogs). After the girls wake up, Heiter cruelly talks them through the surgery along with the Japanese man he has abducted, at which point the film dissolves into a boring collection of random scenes: Heiter humiliating the three centipedes (including an obligatory fecal swallowing scene), the cops turning up at the house, the attempted escape, the final firearms heavy climax and disappointing denouement. It's all been done before, but with better acting, writing, direction and character motivation. Why does Heiter want to perform his surgery? Because he does. What does he want to do with the centipede once he's created it? No clue. In the end, the film is little more than an exercise; there's no film to watch except the execution of a concept that, once achieved, has nowhere else to go. The most horrifying aspect of the film may well be that director Tom Six has apparently already begun work on a sequel that is reported to feature a seven person centipede. The fact that the successor to the Uwe Boll crown has been given more money to make a non-film is the only scary thing about this entire situation . . .
After the most disappointing end to the first day of festival going we could have conceived, we approached the second day with a certain amount of trepidation. Thankfully things looked up when Jonathan and I sat down to watch Rinco's Restaurant, which turned out to be the best film of the fest (for us).
This is a film that's all about eating, which seemed a little cruel considering it played in between meals at 2 p.m. The main character is the titular Rinco, who we are told in the sing-song animated prologue ran away from her village because her mother was so promiscuous. She stayed with her grandmother, who taught her to cook and gave her a magic pot before she died. Rinco inherits her house, moves in with a boyfriend who steals all of her money and prompts her return to her hometown to live with her mother. We learn all of this in the first five minutes and open with Rinco, now mute, living with her mother, her dreams of opening her own restaurant crushed, and unable to cook. It is only after she rediscovers her grandmother's pot that her cooking abilities return, and she sets about to open her own modest restaurant uphill from her mother's saloon.
Naturally her cooking is her true gift, and, as soon as people eat her dishes, their wishes and happiness are fulfilled: school crushes blossom into romance, separated husbands reconnect with wives and children, etc. It's a commentary on the communal nature of a well-cooked meal, as much as a magic realism of Rinco's powers - this is her true calling, even if her mother dismisses her attempts and never once eats at the restaurant.
But there's so much more to the relationship between the two women than initially meets the eye: unlike so many contemporary films (I waited for the loser boyfriend from the prologue to return, but he was never seen or spoken of again), this film is about the lives we live around others and the changing nature of familial relationships. At its core is a beautiful commentary on the sacrifices of mothers and daughters as Rinco finally learns the truth about her mother and her absent father. The ending of the film is touching, poignant and appropriately magical - worlds away from traditional Hollywood films that would have trimmed the significant running time by one-third and reduced the characters to stock clichés. It would do the film a disservice to reveal the ending, suffice to say that I cried several times, carried a beaming smile, and desperately needed to eat as much as I could stuff in my face.
I spent most of the weekend confusing this title with another, the award-winning 2006 documentary about a pedophilic Catholic priest. After the screening, that wasn't an issue since this film is all about racism and mob mentality in a small Danish town. This film also marked the only time our press passes presented a challenge as we were almost denied entry into the film because they let the regular patrons in in advance. I wouldn't have taken issue with it (after all these are individuals who paid), but the fact that we had arrived forty-five minutes early and got the worst seats in the house was frustrating.
The film itself was reminiscent of last year's entry Kaifeck Murder (read my review here) - a solid, but not spectacular film with some troubling issues. Whereas Kaifeck suffered from an incomprehensible ending, Deliver Us From Evil suffers from a too-familiar premise in which a family gets in over their head and hillbillies try to kill them. The film is about two brothers: Johannes, the good brother with a wife and two kids and his ne'er-do-well truck driver brother Lars. In the opening minutes of the film, we learn that Lars is a bit of a fuck-up: he's gotten the town floozy pregnant, and he accidentally runs over the female companion of his boss Ingvar, who just happens to be the wealthiest man in town. He ends up framing a Bosnian immigrant, Alain, who works for Johannes, hoping that Alain will simply be driven out of town. Things take a turn for the xenophobic, however, when Ingvar demands Alain is handed over to him, prompting Johannes to hide the immigrant in his house, despite the obvious threat to him and his family. When Ingvar rounds up the drunken racists at the town fair for retribution, the film morphs into a Danish version of Straw Dogs as Johannes is forced to defend both Alain and his family from intruders.
What works about the film is the tension - it's a great thriller, even if you can see all the events coming from a mile away. The colour is saturated in the style popularized by the Saw films but also more recently in the imported films from Sweden such as Let The Right One In and the film adaptations of the Millennium trilogy, especially The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. This cold, stark-looking environment is an important reflection of the chilly, unspoken tensions beneath the characters' interactions, especially Johannes and Lars, who are polar opposite in terms of success and morals. When Lars realizes that his decisions have caused a series of deaths around Johannes' house, it becomes a question of how long he will wait to tell Ingvar the truth: will his brother survive long enough for Lars to accept responsibility for his role in the accident?
After the film, Jonathan took issue with the violence against Johannes' wife, who is pursued and raped by several of the town thugs in the climax (no spoiler alert because it's obvious from the moment she encounters them earlier in the film at the fair). More problematic than the rape is the fact that it feels as though she is being doubly punished. Earlier in the film, she schools her two children for suggesting that violence is ever justified, and, later, she pleads with Johannes to give Alain to the lynch mob to secure their own safety. Naturally she is saved by Alain, and together they murder the thugs. This turn of events, however, suggests that she is raped and then saved for her bigotry, and her violent turn - clearly meant to suggest the breaking point between savagery and civility - only serves to reinforce her hypocrisy. As the lone intelligent female character in the film (Lars' girlfriend is presented as a dumb, spineless slut), Johannes' wife is especially mistreated by the narrative.
All in all, I truly enjoyed myself at this year's festival. I loved the opportunity to see a number of films that I may not otherwise have a chance to see (last year's Kaifeck Murder and Sweet Karma have yet to be released theatrically or on video in Canada) and the audience at Fantasia is unlike any other audience you'll encounter at a conventional film screening.
If you should have the opportunity to track down any of the films, here are my top picks:
1) Rinco's Restaurant
2) Sophie's Revenge
3) Deliver Us From Evil / Last Exorcism (tie)
4) The Human Centipede (avoid at all costs)
Tags: badass, camp, cinema, cult, deliver us from evil, fantasia, festival, gorno, horror, human centipede, last exorcism, montreal, reivew, rincos restaurant, sophies revenge