Monday, July 23, 2018

The awesome KING COHEN opened Friday in LA and will open August 3 in NYC

If you love movies then you must see KING COHEN a loving, often very funny, portrait of filmmaker Larry Cohen, as told by the man himself and the people he worked with. It is a glorious celebration of a man, his movies and the industry he loves.

Cohen got his start in the golden age of TV writing for various shows being done live in New York. He then moved on to creating shows (BRANDED, THE INVADERS) before moving into feature films (BLACK CAESAR, THE STUFF,ITS ALIVE, Q, CELLULAR, PHONE BOOTH). He is a respected filmmaker who has carved out a niche for himself and still manages to throw scripts toward big budgeted Hollywood.

What is wonderful about the film is the steady stream of stories about the making of his films and the occasional counterpoints between Cohen and his actors. For example Cohen and Fred Williamson have differing remembrances about how the scene in BLACK CAESAR where Williamson jumps from a cab was shot. Other stories include his pushing of ITS ALIVE over a three year period to make Warner release it correctly. His persistence resulted in a major hit and the unforgettable ad campaign that result (There is only one thing wrong with the Davis baby....Its Alive). There are so many stories your face will ache from smiling. And trust me even if you aren't a huge fan of Cohen's films you'll want to see this because the stories are just so damn good.

I had a blast. This very well could be one of the most fun films of the year.

An absolute must for anyone who loves the movies or great films.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Brief words on Wilderness Parts 1 and 2 (2017) Fantasia 2018

This two part five plus hour  adaption of Shuji Terayama’s 1966 novel Ah Wilderness will either delight or bore its audience.

Set a couple of years in the future the film follows two young men who join a boxing program and becomes friends. We watch the arc of their lives and see what brought them to the present.

Despite the dystonia setting the film is firmly a sprawling personal drama. How you react to the film will depend on your love of long narratives.  While the film has been compared to TV series that people binge on the ebb and flow of the film is decidedly literary and cinematic.

Technically the film is well done on every level and if you are a fan of great acting you're in for a treat.

The deciding factor as to whether or not to see this film will entirely depend on how you like sprawling dramas that never leave the small confines of daily life. I was fine for a a while but somewhere in the first part I realize that my interest waned and it made getting through the rest a chore. Had I not had to watch the film in a single six hour block in order to cover it I would have liked it more.

Bless Fantasia for trusting audiences to try something as atypical genre wise, but screening it in a single block may have lost viewers.

Nate Hood on Amiko (2018) Fantasia 2018 Japan Cuts 2018

Yoko Yamanaka’s Amiko is the rare high school movie that truly feels like it was written, shot, and edited by actual teenagers, not adults trying to tap into the adolescent zeitgeist. Most, if not all, of this comes from writer/director Yoko Yamanaka who, at a meager twenty years old, was a teenager herself less than a year ago. There are moments where the film seems imbued with that special youthful energy of discovery so characteristic of eager amateurs—of realizing what weird ways cameras can be held, shots composed, moments edited together or torn apart. But these are precious few.

Amiko lazily stumbles forward like a sleep-deprived eleventh grader trudging to their first period desk, hoping against hope that they can put their head down and doze for a while without getting caught. The film follows the eponymous disaffected 16-year-old, a schoolgirl with a bad case of post-pubescent ennui wherein everything and everyone is stupid and pointless. Except for Aomi. Beautiful, sweet, Radiohead-loving Aomi, budding soccer star who’s equally disaffected by the trials of life. Amiko falls for him hard and they initially seem to hit it off, particularly in an achingly beautiful sequence (the film’s highlight) where the two walk the long way home from school over a mountain and through a small city as the light gets darker and darker until they vanish into near-invisible silhouettes of shadow. But one day Aomi unexpectedly drops out of school and runs off to Tokyo with a college student. And not just any college student: a big-eyed, big-boobed, barista-by-day, bar-hostess-by-night bimbo, the very antithesis of everything she thought he stood for. In a fit of hormonal pique she runs off to Tokyo to find him and ask why a Thom Yorke-obsessed cool-guy could fall for someone so…phony.

The last half of the movie is devoted to her aimless big city wanderings in a stream-of-consciousness style reminiscent of the early literary Modernists, interspersing memories, fantasies, and encounters with Tokyo weirdos.

But there’s no momentum, no point, no coherent idea propelling Amiko or the film itself. In what feels like a metaphor for the film, Amiko initially doesn’t seem to know what to do when she finally finds Aomi. She probably should have thought of that before she skipped town, much in the same way Yamanaka should’ve figured out what, if anything, she wanted to say when she started work on this movie.

Rating: 5/10

AMIKO played yesterday at Fantasia and plays again July 31st (Tickets and info here)
It also plays Japan Cuts next Sunday July 29th (Tickets and info here)

LÔI BÁO (2018) Fantasia 2018

I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing but early in watching LOI BAO I suddenly realized that I knew who the director was. I did not remember his name (Victor Vu) but I remembered his style from films such as YELLOW FLOWERS ON GREEN GRASS and SWORD OF THE ASSASSIN. Realizing who it the director was kind of deflated me since I knew I was only going to like LOI BAO not love it. I was hoping to be wrong, but unfortunately I wasn’t.

LOI BAO is the story of a comic book writer and artist who is working on the titled character, a super powered human with a look that is a cross between Batman and the Rocketeer. Sadly the writer has advanced cancer and is going to die. However with the help of a friend he undergoes a new process which turns him into a super powered human. Unfortunately the dark secrets relating to it comes calling and he has to find a way to become a real hero.

Lots of talk mix with some decent action sequences to make a film that is more something you like more than love. Blame it on an okay script and Vu’s tendency to film the action sequences so they just sort of miss. The violent ballet looks cool but carries no weight. We really don’t get a sense of danger so we never are really invested.

As for the script blame a lack of understanding about superheroics. Watching the film I had a sense that the writer didn’t really understand how these sort of stories work on their most basic level. Or maybe he only understood it on the most basic level but couldn’t create something more. While I wasn’t looking for something on the order of a Marvel film I would have liked something on the order of some of the short films I’ve seen over the last couple of years which tell similar story with a great economy.

While not bad, it is more disappointing . For all my griping there is something here that makes the film worth seeing, especially if you’re at a festival such as Fantasia. I do like the film but I really wish I loved it like I love the look of the hero in full superhero regalia.

I AM A HERO (2015) Fantasia 2018

Hideo Suzuki has been a loser all his life, but he stands a better than average chance of surviving the zombie apocalypse. That is because in heavily gun-regulated Japan, he owns one of the few fully licensed hunting rifles. His survival and that of a teenage girl will depend on whether he has the wherewithal to live up to the heroic meaning of his name in Shinsuke Sato’s I Am a Hero.

Suzuki was once a runner-up in a promising manga artist contest, but he now toils as an assistant in another artist’s manga sweatshop. Even his long indulgent girlfriend gives him the boot, but she invites him back shortly after being infected with the ZQN. Instead of a reunion, Suzuki will be forced to break-up with her permanently.

About this time, Tokyo is over-run by ZQN zombies, but Suzuki manages to get to the outskirts of town with the distressed Hiromi Hayakari. Waking the next morning, he discovers she was bitten days ago by an infected infant, but has yet to feel the effects. Appointing himself her protector, Suzuki pledges to take her to Mt. Fuji, where the altitude will dispel the effects of the virus, as per the internet, which could never be wrong.

Unfortunately, as she starts to fade physically (still without turning), Suzuki is forced to take shelter with a Walking Dead group of survivors encamped on the roofs of an upscale shopping plaza. There he meets the former nurse Yabu Oda who tends to the still human Hayakari. Of course, their self-appointed leader Iura, covets Suzuki’s firearm, as do those who covet Iura’s position.

If ever there was a film 2nd Amendment activists should embrace, this is it. Not to be spoilery, but it spectacularly illustrates the difference an equalizer can make between survival and having your brains eaten before your very eyes. In some ways, IAAH follows a conventional Living Dead/Walking Dead template, but the third act is such an adrenaline-charged jaw-dropper, it could easily become a breakout hit with the Train to Busan audience. Seriously, this is the best zombie film we have seen since Busan, even though IAAH technically predates it.

Yô Ôizumi is pitch-perfect as the nebbish Suzuki reeling from one existential crisis to another. Once again, Masami Nagasawa is terrific as Nurse Yabu. It is a forceful, complex genre performance, just like her work in Kurosawa’s Before We Vanish. Kasumi Arimura is also quite poignant as Hayakari. Indeed, their humanizing relationships will leave viewers eager to revisit these characters, something that screenwriter Akiko Nogi’s adaptation of Kengo Hanazawa’s manga leaves plenty of space for. After all, manga can go on forever.

Granted, the shopping plaza setting might remind fans of Dawn of the Dead, but the tech team can boast of some distinctively disgusting new zombie make-up and effects all their own. Plus, the lock-and-load go-for-broke extended climax is sheer movie magic. Very highly recommended, I Am a Hero screens at Fantasia.

Mori, The Artist’s Habitat (2018)

If you click with MORI, then you are going to find one of your favorite films of the year. If you don’t click this is still going to be a good portrait of a day in the life of artist.

Morikazu Kumagai is 94. His wife of 50 years is 76. They really haven’t gone out in 30 years, but that doesn’t mean they don’t experience life, as everyday they go through their paces cooking, cleaning, painting and observing life all around their property.

A mannered and low key celebration of life, this pastorally paced film is going to delight many with its slice of life take. We really get a sense of the slow paced rhythms of the life of Mori and his wife. Scenes seem to play out in a kind of real time as life happens and people talk around them. In a scene certain to slit audiences Mori goes out and wanders through his garden and just observes. On the face of it nothing happens, but everything does. We see the artist's sense of wonder. We get a sense of how the observations fuel his love of life and understanding of everything. By the time the film is coming to a close and the couple are discussing life, she wouldn’t want to live the life over, he is nowhere near done and wants to keep going forever we completely understand why. It is a wonderful bittersweet moment that is as glorious as anything you’ll see all year.

I loved this film a great deal. It delighted me and touched me with its sense and desire of life.

Highly recommended.

MORI,THE ARTIST'S HABITAT is the center piece film at this years Japan Cuts and sold out. For more information and possible last minute tickets go here


While I have always loved the strange monsters in the old Yokai monster films, I never found them scary. I’m sure if I saw an umbrella demon or a witch with a long neck I would be terrified but in the films from the 1960’s they just never scared anyone. They were kind of a smaller scale kaiju creatures. And while I was never scared before, that changed with ROKUROKU, a neat little updating that has genuine shivers in it’s story.

The basic story has a young woman and a fiend confronting a witch who travels around in a magic hotel. Long ago they made a half remembered promise to the witch and she has come back to collect. Attached to this are this chilling little takes of the Yokai monsters doing terrible things. It is an absolute delight.

To be honest the weird little tales are the best part of the film. Small little cakes of fear they send genuine shivers up and down your spine. To be certain the effects are all over the place, but the stories and filmmaking is damn strong that we get chills.

To be honest I could wax poetic about it all in great detail, but why? This is a sweet little confection that tastes good and entertains. It’s a film I just unashamedly love to death. It’s a old school monster movie with new school chills. Highly recommended

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Nate Hood looks at BORN BONE BORN at Japan Cuts 2018

Born Bone Born may be one of the worst ever Western localizations of a Japanese film title. Its pithy alliteration feels designed to be forgettable, custom made for getting lost in the backwash of foreign streaming titles on Netflix or Amazon. The original title is both informative and dignified: Senkotsu, the name for a rural Okinawan funeral practice of bathing a deceased person’s bones one year after burial. It seems unfair that Masato Harada’s recent mediocre war epic was allowed to maintain its original Japanese title of Sekigahara while this tiny gem of a dramedy should be burdened by such an aggressively terrible English title.

For this new film by comedian Toshiyuki Teruya is a humanistic cross between the family comedies of Yoji Yamada and the delicate introspective character studies of Hirokazu Kore-eda. The film follows the Shinjo family living on the Okinawan island of Aguni as they prepare for the senkotsu ritual one year after the death of their matriarch Emiko (Mariko Tsutsui). The proceeding twelve months proved tumultuous ones: her husband Nobutsuna (Eiji Okuda) has fallen into a catatonic alcoholic stupor; her eldest son Tsuyoshi (Michitaka Tsutsui) has gone sour and mean after losing custody of his children in a nasty divorce; her estranged unmarried daughter Yuko (Ayame Misaki) returns from the mainland nine months pregnant with her boss’s baby.

Standing above it all and desperately trying to keep them all from falling apart is Emiko’s warm-hearted yet imperious sister Nobuko (Yoko Oshima), who in a cathartic early scene channels Frances McDormand at her crotchetiest when she shuts down the neighborhood gossip for spreading cruel rumors about Yuko’s “condition.”

The rest of the film watches as the family struggles to reconcile their failings and heal their disparate hurts, particularly when Yuko’s boss unexpectedly shows up at their doorstep looking to make an honest woman out of her.

Born Bone Born (ugh) is a warm, relaxing movie as drowsy as a summer’s day at the beach: shots and sequences feel like they end a few seconds after they should, the acting is almost entirely naturalistic and understated, and the cinematography makes the hazy streets and bone-white sand shimmer in the sunlight.

Once or twice the film almost veers into intolerable stillness, but never long enough to prove fatal. Takumi Saitoh’s Blank 13 may be the superior film about a family grappling with the death of a parent to premiere at this year’s Japan Cuts, but Teruya’s little triumph shouldn’t be missed by those looking for a breezy, relaxing sit.

Rating: 7/10

The Outlaws (2018) Fantasia 2018

THE OUTLAWS is truly great. To be certain it doesn’t break any new ground, but god damn it kicks ass and takes names- and ultimately is so good it won several awards.

The film is the story of a seasoned cop who knows everyone and knows how to bend the rules taking on the exploding Chinese gangs who are running rough shod over the city. Given a short time to break them he goes at it with great skill.

Awarding winning film hits all the right buttons and is an absolute delight. Great characters, tense plot, super action and pithy dialog mix for one hell of a ride. I completely understand why this was a critical darling it takes a plot we've all seen a thousand times before and makes it absolutely new even though it isn't- and you don't care. Actually you just want to get back on the train and for a second and third ride. (No, it is that freaking good)

I don’t have much to say beyond that. Frankly other than saying I want a copy of this film in my collection so I can pull it out now and again, there is nothing left to say other than track it down and see it.

Da Hu Fa (2018) Fantasia 2018

DA HU FA is an independently animated film from China that got under the skin of the Chinese authorities. They didn’t like the independent part or the fact that it self-rated as PG 13 and the plot about challenging a brutal regime. That Fantasia found it and brought it to North America is a huge coup for them.

The film follow the title character who is a roly-poly fighting machine. He is the protector of the kingdom and as the film opens he is trying to track down a missing prince. Stumbling into a town where a giant grey peanut hangs in the air, he ends up in the middle of a weird conspiracy where a false god rules and people are executed if a fungus begins to grow on them.

A unique cinematic vision DA HU FA requires you pay attention and just go with it. It will all be explained along the way. Okay perhaps it’s not all explained but enough that we can get a handle on it. Done in a style that often looks like watercolors the film is absolutely gorgeous. It also sports character designs that are unlike anything else out there. It’s this unique look that has caused some people not to like it, but I’m guessing they were expecting a typical Disney-esque animated tale.

A decidedly adult film, people die, and when they die blood flows. It’s not bad, much of it is green, but it’s not something some parents are going to want their little ones to see. Then again there is a complexity to the story the young ones probably aren’t going to get.

Babbling aside I love this film. I’m trying not to say too much about it because one of the delights of the film was not knowing where it was going or knowing how it was going to be resolved. While I had a basic idea what the film was I didn’t have details and I think I was so much better for it because the complete lack of expectations.

This is one of the great finds of the year. In the almost 24 hours since I saw it the film has grown in stature the more I think about it. It is a film that went from being one I wanted to see again to one I must see again. I need to go to the special place, this unique world in order to recharge my batteries and remind me that there are people out there making films that are singular works cinematic art.

Highly recommended.

DA HU FA plays again at Fantasia on July 24th. For more information and tickets go here.

93QUEEN (2018)

Paula Eiselt’s 93 QUEEN is nominally the story of the founding of Ezras Nashim an all female ambulance corps in Borough Park Brooklyn, the place with the largest population of Hasidic Jews in the world. The Corps was founded because some women are uncomfortable with the idea of men they don't know helping them in an emergency. The film is also the story of Rachel “Ruchie” Freier, one of the company's founders, who fights tradition by becoming first an attorney, then a founder of the ambulance company and lastly a civil court judge.

This is a female empowerment story about women overcoming sexism and prejudice to do the right thing. They are changing minds. As one of the women in the film says, she is glad that her newborn daughter is going to have role models that show her that she can do anything she sets her mind to doing.

While I like the film and I love meeting all of the various women who fill the story, I kind of wish the film was a bit shorter. Because it's a feature the two stories of the founding of the ambulance company and the rise of Freier seem like they could be two movies. There is nothing wrong with either, and both are tied to each other, I just wish it was a little more focused on one or the other.

Regardless this is a very good film and worth a look when it opens Wednesday/

Call Boy (2018) Japan Cuts 2018

A young bartender being drawn into becoming an escort. We watch as he has numerous encounters with various women and takes stock of his life.

Great looking erotic thriller is so damn close to be a full on adult film that you’ll wonder why they didn’t go all the way (no pun intended). It’s also a film that tries to walk the fine line between being deep and meaningful or being about the sex, only to trip over the line and fall on its face. The result is it really isn’t deep and the sex, while good looking, ultimately only has the kink factor going for it. I got bored relatively fast and by the time the film ended after almost two hours I wasn’t really paying much attention to the proceedings. I had been there so many times before with a much more charismatic lead character.

I’m all for erotically charged films but there has to be something there beyond the sex. While the cinematography is ultimately worth the price of admission, the fact that it is tethered to an unremarkable story makes me not want to recommend it. If I wanted to watch an artistic sex film there are plenty of adult directors and cinematographers who are doing similar things without having to pull their punches.

Recommended for people who want arty kinky sex but need an air of respectability.

For tickets and more information go here

Friday, July 20, 2018


My number one must see at Fantasia has become one of the biggest head scratchers of the year. While not bad it is not what I expected...and that's good and bad...

Forget what you think this film is, it isn't that. It is not really any sort of exploitation film but an often oddly serious character study about a patriot getting older and sent to do one more job. The man is Calvin Barr, played by Sam Elliot in an award worthy performance. It's 1987 and Barr is living alone going through the motions, still trying to come to terms with all that he's done and lost, particularly his killing of Hitler, which as covered up and didn't end the war.  Then the FBI and Royal Canadian Mountie show up and ask him to come back and kill Bigfoot. It seems it is infected with a terrible virus and will wipe out the world.

It sounds loopy but the film is largely played straight. For anyone expecting a genre film you're going to be disappointed...pretty much until several moments in the second half when the crazy genre bug pops in. The fact the film is played so seriously is going to confuse people the first time through. Frankly I don't know what I think. I'm not sure if I'm mixed on the film because it is so odd or because my expectations have been shattered.

I know the shifts into silliness wobble the film. Carr's alias in German has the initials USA. There is a jokey feel to his going up to kill Hitler, which turns deadly serious once he does it. The Bigfoot vomit scene is played for laughs and works against the seriousness of the situation and the fact that Carr doesn't want to kill anyone. There are other moments the hobble the over all serious film.

I honestly don't know what to think. Actually I'm going to have to ponder this film a while and then see it again.

For the short term I like the film. I love Sam Elliott's performance. The rest I'll get back to you about.

Worth a look for the curious.

The Fantasia screening is done. The film will be heading to a limited theatrical and VOD release

Lifechanger (2018) Fantasia 2018

I'm going to go at this two ways.

If you don't want spoilers I'm going to simply say that if you want a great horror film that transcends the typical monster on the loose tale, and goes to that rarefied land where horror films about more than just scares then see LIFECHANGER. Trust me this is a truly great film.

...on the other hand if you want more details  and don't mind being told a thing or two keep reading.

The simplest way to explain LIFECHANGER is to say it is about Drew who is a body thief of sorts. Jumping from identity to identity he is on a quest to find the one person he ever encountered who seemed to love him for himself.

Told in a killer voice over with a sterling cast doing amazing work to create one seamless performance, LIFECHANGER is a huge glittering gem of a film. Rarely have so many people come together to create one character. If you are confused by what I'm saying just see the film and you won't be confused any longer, they are all fantastic.

Nominally a horror film LIFECHANGER transcends the genre to become a killer meditation on love, loss, relationships, life and a whole bunch of other things. Director Justin McConnell has found a new way to examine human existence and created a film that not only will move you emotionally on numerous levels but will get you thinking for days.

This is a quiet masterpiece hiding in plain sight. It was a film that sounds like something anyone other than a horror fiend would pass over. I almost did. However because the film was laid at my door as something special. Once I saw the film I knew how why I "had" to see it and then I started emailing my friends who are also covering Fantasia to tell them that they might want to put this film on their coverage list.

I kind of love this film.  It is the sort of small film that I love stumbling upon. One where nothing was expected, where it was offered to me to review and I decided to take a chance (honestly until the PR film connected to the fest reached out I was not going to see the film). And having taken a chance I've found a truly special film that, if all goes right, is going to be treasured film for more than just horror fans.

One of the gems of Fantasia and 2018, it is highly recommended.

If you want more information on LIFECHANGER read the interview I did with director Justin McConnell earlier this week. It can be found here.

Today's Japan Cuts Pick: VIOLENCE VOYAGER

Easily one of the most cheerful transgressive films you’re apt to see, VIOLENCE VOYAGER works because you can’t tell the extent to which that cheerfulness is ironic: it mimics the earnestness of so much anime and manga—let’s be friends!, let’s go on an adventure!, let’s stop the bad guy before it’s too late!—that you find yourself riveted despite yourself. And that's long after any respectable moviegoer has reflected, with equal parts awe and dismay, “Wait, what exactly am I watching?”

Even when the movie is over, you may not be able to answer that question, not in any definitive way. Writer-director Ujicha has executed a near-perfect blend of form and function, with the deliberately primitive animation matching the deliberately naïve plot, characters, and settings. Ostensibly about kids who make the mistake of visiting a sketchy theme park, VIOLENCE VOYAGER recapitulates that premise on the macro level except now you’re the youngster looking for diversion who happens to wander into a world of depraved horror. Be warned.

Sennan Asbestos Disaster (2017) Japan Cuts 2018

This is a documentary that follows ten years in the fight to get justice and compensation for the people of Sennan, Osaka who were put into harm’s way by not only working for the various companies that made asbestos but lived around the factories themselves. After almost a hundred of exposure thousands are sick and dying but no one is paying attention. It was a danger that the Japanese government knew about well before the Second World War but chose to willfully cover up the fact.

I’m going to mention that Sennan Asbestos Disaster runs almost four hours to start because the extreme running time maybe a factor in whether you decide to see it. I also mention it because I was lucky enough to be able to watch the film at home at my leisure so I got to stop and start the film as needed. Don’t get me wrong this is a very good, probably great, film but there is a lot of information and it can be a bit overwhelming.

Decidedly not a neutral telling of events, Sennan Asbestos Disaster wears it’s heart on the sleeve and the filmmakers are very much part of what transpires.This is a blood brother to director Kazuo Hara earlier The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On. Frankly the fact that the film covers so much time and makes so many of the victims out to be real people it would be hard for the filmmakers to disappear into the background. They are on the front line from start to finish whether the government and company officials like it or not. While normally one would like a sense of distance, in this case there is no way to really side against those fighting for compensation, after all everyone knew there were problems 80 years ago, they simply refused to let anyone know. There is not mitigation.

I like Sennan Asbestos Disater a great deal but it is a long film. As I mentioned above I got to take time away from my viewing of the film. I think that helped my connecting with the film and allowed me not to get overwhelmed to the point my eyes glazed over. While I heartily recommend the film when it plays this weekend at Japan Cuts,  I think you should consider the run time before you dive in.

For ticket and more information go here.

Japan Cuts 2018 Capsules: TOWARD A COMMON TENDERNESS, DREAM OF ILLUMINATION, and KUSHINA what will you be

Kaori Oda's personal and almost experimental cinematic essay on her time in Japan and with Bela Tarr at his film factory. Striving to be deep and meaningful I grew weary of it and had completely disconnected by the half way point. I'm sure it speaks volumes for those who connect, for me it was th loss of an hour I will never get back.

Plays July 22nd

Moody and "meaningful" story of a man selling land to foreigners and his high school aged daughter.  He is the bane of the farmers whose land he is selling. She is trying to figure out where she is going in life. This is a film that very much insists its about something.  Personally I'm not not sure what it is since it's moody black and white photography, meaningful silences arty images never came together for me. I kept waiting for some big revelation that never came. Worth a shot if you like arty films.

Plays July 21

KUSHINA, what will you be
KUSHINA concerns a community of women in the wilderness that was started when the matriarch wandered off one day with her daughter. Everything is threatened when an anthropologist and her male assistant arrive to study the group.

To be honest this is a film that didn’t click with me. While I could tell you what happens over the film’s brief running time, I couldn’t really tell you what the purpose of it is. It is the uncertainty of purpose that is going to keep me from fully reviewing the film, I just didn’t think enough of it to take the time to write it up be yond this brief note. On the plus side I loved the look of the film and the performances are first rate.

This film plays July 25

Justin McConnell answers a few questions about LIFECHANGER Fantasia 2018

When I saw Justin McConnell’s LIFECHANGER I had to talk to him. His film is such a knock out I had to do more than just let his film pass through Fantasia with only a review. I had to know more because LIFECHANGER is a film that demands to be thought and talked about and in order to get the discussion going I wanted to get Justin’s thoughts out there.

The problem in doing it was that Justin was getting ready to go to Montreal for the World Premiere at Fantasia and I was stuck in New York bouncing between multiple film festivals. Time was short to connect. In order to make things easier I came up with some questions and emailed them to Justin. The idea being he could answer them when he got a chance  and I would have time to get the interview up. What follows is our exchange. Hopefully it will be followed by a longer more detailed one when we can meet in person for a long more detailed talk on his large body of work.

Before I turn you over to the Q&A I just want to take the time to than Justin, yet again for making time to do this and for making one hell of a great film.

LIFECHANGER World Premieres tonight at Fantasia. (Information here )

STEVE: Let's start with the obvious first question, and the one everyone will ask, where did you come up with the idea for the film?

JUSTIN: It started with my frustration with not being able to get some much larger projects, THE ETERNAL and TRIPPED, to camera. I was part way to full finance on both of those projects, but not making them happen, so in 2014 I started thinking I'd have to do what I did with THE COLLAPSED back in 2010 - shoot something for whatever small amount of money I could put together. So I started thinking of how I could do something much more dynamic and thoughtful than that older film, while still keeping the budget down, fully expecting I'd have to shoot it for about $100K or so.

I was on a bus one day and I started thinking about what if I randomly saw myself out in public, but then realized that was basically just Denis Villeneuve's 'Enemy'. Still, the seed was planted then and the idea for LIFECHANGER sort of organically came to me in the coming weeks.

At the end of 2014 I wrote a character breakdown, beat-sheet, treatment and then first draft of the script just before X-mas. From there the script was re-written a lot right up until we shot. And the size of the project grew a bit (while still being low-budget), once my co-producer Avi Federgreen came onboard and we started aiming to put together a bit more money so we could put more production value on screen.

STEVE: The more I think about the film the less it becomes a horror film. I know for marketing purposes you have to call it a horror film, but how do you want the film to be classified?

JUSTIN: I'm not huge on classifying films as anything, to be honest. I get that people are comfortable putting stories in easily sorted boxes so they know what they like, and so they can find media that fits their pre-existing tastes. But in the case of the movies I make, as much as I am a horror fan and monster kid at heart, I don't really set out to fit a genre from the start. I set out to tell a story, and through my own twisted mind it just so happens to go in the direction of horror more often than not.

I would say that LIFECHANGER is a horror film, because the genre is vast and encompasses a huge number of sub-genres. But I'll fully admit it's also a thriller, somewhat a neo-noir, a story of obsession, a tale of magical realism, and even comedic at times. But I think that all comes out of the subject matter organically. I think there's a Jason Blum quote, and I'm paraphrasing, that says something like "a good horror film could have the horror removed and still be a good story", or something like that. I am fully-expecting people to say this isn't a horror film. Some of my own producers have said that. But I don't agree with them. Which brings us to your next question, I guess!

STEVE: Tying into that, how do you see horror films are they something more than just scary films or do you feel the genre can be more than that?

JUSTIN: The genre can be much more than that. I see this trend lately of people loudly proclaiming that '__________' isn't a horror film, and it's really short-sighted in my opinion. Horror is a lot more than just gore, or monsters, or ghosts.

Horror doesn't have to scare you. It can also disturb you, make you evaluate life, thrill you, and ultimately uplift you. I think part of the reason people like to look at horror so narrowly is that the majority of mass-market genre films all fit into an easily-classifiable section of 'things that go bump in the night', or 'killers coming to get you', but really that is just a fraction of what can be considered horror.

And if you want to expand even further, and use the word 'genre', that also encompasses action, sci-fi, dark comedy, noir. The point being that if a story has horrific elements, be they overt, emotional or existential, then it can be considered horror.

And even films that are not actually horror, can have scenes in them that use the cinematic language of horror to tell their story. Russian-roulette in 'The Deer Hunter'. The firecracker scene in 'Boogie Nights'. The opening ten minutes of 'Irreversible'. You don't need the classic horror tropes to have a horror film on your hands. Which is why a film like 'Hereditary' gets released that mostly feels like a really intense family drama for most of the audience, but is absolutely a horror film simply due to the visual language, tone and atmosphere implemented by the filmmakers. When that last act comes in 'Hereditary' there were all these complaints that it came out of nowhere, and that it 'suddenly became a horror film', but in reality it was one from the very first frame, the hints were all there. It just wasn't slapping you in the face with them.

I wonder what a modern audience would make of David Lynch's 'Eraserhead' under the current narrow view of what a genre film is. To me it's one of the most unsettling and terrifying films I've ever seen, but I bet a lot of people would say "that's not horror".

STEVE: The casting is key to the film. It wouldn't have worked if all of the performances came together. How did you go about casting the film? How did you get all of the performances to mesh? How did you handle the voice over in getting the performances to mesh? Was Bill Oberst who did it involved in working it all out?

JUSTIN: We shot this on a very low-budget, non-union in Toronto, so our pool of actors to choose from was limited. We couldn't use ACTRA or SAG performers, so every role was auditioned for. We had a great casting director onboard named Ashley Hallihan who collected us a ton of self-tapes based on sides we gave out, and from there we narrowed down our choices. I felt it was important to simply get the best actors we could, and make them fit the characters on page, instead of going by look and presence and hoping they could act.

Our lead Lora Burke impressed me in last year's Fantasia film 'Poor Agnes', so while we did get auditions for that role I always thought she was 'it' throughout the process. Jack Foley had just done a film called 'Fugue' with my co-producer Avi Federgreen, so he came highly-recommended (and Avi was right). I knew some others, didn't know the rest, but they all had to do a read.

Once everyone was casted I sent out a detailed character history to each of the actors who would have to play Drew, the shapeshifter, which outlined his entire life, so they could internalize that info. Then we ran what I called the 'Drew Boot Camp', where we all met and discussed the character at length, coming up with specific ticks and ways of moving that each actor would repeat when it was their turn to be Drew. Even then, you had to be actively watching on set to make sure nobody took the character in too far a direction away from who Drew was.

Even in post, it was very important to make sure the character seemed mostly consistent across all the bodies. Particularly with Sam James White, who gave us some really interesting stuff on set that was great in an isolated kind of way, but when it came to the edit we had to cut a lot out to make the performances seem unified. Painful choices, sacrificing individual scene elements for the good of the whole.

As for Bill Oberst Jr., I've been a fan for quite some time, but we actually initially were going to use a couple of other voices for the film. There's an actor named Peter Higginson (Latched, Point of View) who did the voice in earlier cuts, but we spent so much time re-writing the inner voice in post, we wanted to go a different way with the style and type of voice we used as well. Peter did great work that ultimately didn't end up fitting our final film.

Then we went out searching for a new voice during post, at which point Lance Henriksen agreed to do it, but SAG blocked us from using him because we didn't hire him 2 weeks before principal photography. My next thought was immediately Bill Oberst Jr., who I reached out to directly and am so glad is now the final voice in the film. Now that it's done, and with the delivery he gave, I can't imagine anyone else. But the road getting there was long.

STEVE: You use practical effects and no real CGI that I was able to spot. Was that your choice or was it a budgetary thing? How do you feel about practical effects over CGI?

JUSTIN: There is some CG in the film, but it's very subtle. The best CG in my mind is the stuff that the audiences don't identify as CG. And when it comes to modern effects work, and a lot of effects guys will tell you this, practical work augmented with CG when it makes sense, can actually give you a stronger effect than the practical alone. It could be as simple as hiding the seams in the make-up, removing wires, giving more life to eye movements, etc. But given my background, I'm going to be a practical effects supporter till the day I die, while still believing CG has a place in film when utilized correctly.

The challenge with practical is that they take longer, you need to give your artists more lead time to build everything, and on set you need to be aware of how long they can take. So it can be more expensive to do it practically. Best tool for the job, is what you use in a given moment, is what I believe.

STEVE: What are the release plans for the film?

JUSTIN: We will be doing our festival run throughout the Fall and early Winter, around the world. Then, the film was financed partially by Uncork'd (who have US rights), and Raven Banner (who have Canadian rights and international sales). The plan from what I know now is to release it on Blu-ray/DVD/VOD in the first quarter of 2019. And there may be some limited theatrical just before Xmas (because the film takes place over Xmas), but that is still being solidified.

STEVE: You've produced, directed and written almost two dozen films, and you've bounced across genres and in and out of documentaries. How do you choose what project to take? Do you have any problem going from narrative to documentary and back again?

JUSTIN: It's probably pretentious to say, but so far most of my projects have chosen me. In that the majority of my own work, as a director at least, have been things that I've self-generated. Some of the stuff I've produced is from material that is not my own, but I like to play in multiple genres and disciplines because I love film in general, and my ideas don't usually fit just in the genre. That being said most of the scripts I have in my slate at the moment are at the very least horror-related. So really it's about the story I want to tell, and what I want to say with that story.

I don't like to be bored, and I like to challenge myself as much as possible, which is why, for example, the last feature I made before LIFECHANGER was a single-take neo-noir thriller/drama called BROKEN MILE.

As for the documentaries, they've all been projects I've shot slowly on my own pocket-money over the course of years, as a way to keep busy and always keep producing material when I have less going on. They are almost hobby films in that respect, something to moonlight on while I'm trying to get narratives off the ground. I love documentary though, it's just that they tend to be a ton more work over a longer period of time, and a lot more complicated thought-process in post, so it's a whole other skill-set I've been honing over the years.

Overall though, of the films I've actually directed, LIFECHANGER is the first to have any kind of real budget (within reason), and the first that wasn't basically paid for through borrowed money, money I've earned via my production/post company, or favours.

STEVE: Having spoke with several filmmakers who've done both shorts and features over the last year I was curious how do you determine the length of your projects? Do you see your shorts as truly self contained or are you using the shorts as proof of concept? Or is it just the story you want to tell?

JUSTIN: The story and the concept determines the length. And also the available budget and the ultimate purpose the project serves. I fully believe in the power of short film production, as both a very efficient proof-of-concept and as a calling card. I've run a short film festival in Toronto since 2011 with Rue Morgue Magazine called LITTLE TERRORS where I've played over 600 short films to date. A lot of those directors have gone on to big careers, some even directing massive tentpole properties (ie. Christian Rivers' 'Mortal Engines'). They open doors.

Some of the shorts I've made were just because I had an idea I wanted to do, a little cash, and a little willpower. Others were meant to be proof-of-concepts. Others were stand-alones but then were repurposed as proof-of-concepts once we received a lot of positive feedback on them.

For up and coming filmmakers though, shorts are essential, as they are great education and experience. And if you do a good enough job, they can build you a career.

STEVE: What is next for you?

JUSTIN:We have two features that should be going to camera by late-Spring at this rate (proverbial *knock on wood*, as this is a really tough business). Both are with my writing-partner (on these projects), Serena Whitney. One is the adaption of Michael Prescott's novel 'Kane', which we are supposed to be shooting in Australia under the title 'Mark of Kane'. Serena and I co-wrote the script to that one, and are co-producing, while Serhat Caradee (Cedar Boys) is attached to direct. The other project is the feature-length version of our X-mas horror short 'Do You See What I See?', which for anyone who has seen the short, is a whole new animal now, both in scope and style of film. Serena and I are co-writers/co-directors of that one.

We've also go our third Little Terrors anthology release, 'Blood Sweat and Terrors', coming out this November across North America. And I'm in post on the feature documentary/8-episode digital series 'Clapboard Jungle: Surviving the Independent Film Business'. There's a bunch more on the slate, but those are the most immediate things.

STEVE: Since you are at Fantasia I have to ask, have you had a chance to see anything and if so, other than your own film, what do you recommend?

JUSTIN: I'm a programmer at Toronto After Dark, so I've seen a lot of the Fantasia line-up already this year. The ones that I can recommend and am allowed to talk about: Nightmare Cinema, Mega Time Squad, Satan's Slaves, Blue My Mind, Five Fingers For Marseilles, The Dark, Luz, Knuckleball, I Am A Hero, Heavy Trip, Tigers Are Not Afraid, Tokyo Vampire Hotel (though I recommend watching the full Amazon Prime series of that one instead of the cut-down festival version), What Keeps You Alive, Mandy. Also, they are doing a retrospective screening of 'Body Melt', which if you haven't seen, you HAVE to track down.
ADDENDUM; My full review of LIFECHANGER can be found here

Thursday, July 19, 2018

THE FORTRESS (2017) Fantasia 2018

It was a lot like a Korean Valley Forge when King Injo retreated to the Namhansanseong mountain fortress during the winter of 1636, but it did not end so well for the Joseon Kingdom. They were indeed times that tried men souls, but they were made exponentially worse by the corruption and arrogant sense of entitlement held by senior members of the royal court. At least that is the revisionist perspective offered by Hwang Dong-hyuk’s The Fortress (trailer here), which plays at Fantasia today and August 2nd

History has not been kind to King Injo, for good reason. Even during the early days of the encampment, Kim Sang-hun finds himself cleaning up resentments caused by the court’s stingy, high-handed behavior. Morale will only continue to plummet as hunger and record low temperatures take its toll on the beleaguered troops.

Strategically, Kim is diametrically opposed to the peace overtures reluctantly advocated by Choi Myung-kil, a senior official who has few friends at court, yet still enjoys the King’s confidence. Nevertheless, the two foes often find themselves allied together, arguing for better conditions for the King’s soldiers, over their colleagues’ petty objections. Having seen the enemy camp, Choi knows they are badly outnumbered. News of the impending arrival of Nurhaci, the Qing Khan himself further raises the stakes. However, Kim’s desperate plan to save the kingdom has a puncher’s chance of working, but he will only trust Seo Nal-soi, a common-born blacksmith pressed into army service, as his messenger.

It is hard to believe this gritty, downbeat adaptation of Kim Hoon’s historical novel came from Hwang, the man who brought the world the Miss Granny franchise. This is a cynically class-conscious film that explicitly argues the dithering king and his nonproductive court of leeches only have themselves to blame for their spectacular humiliation. Yet, apparently, there is a robust domestic market for such sentiments, because The Fortress set new attendance records for the Chuseok (“Korean Thanksgiving”) holiday.

It is also a bit surprising to find international action superstar Lee Byung-hun playing the peacenik Choi. However, he is certainly an intriguing character, who is resigned to his anticipated infamy, if it secures the King’s survival. Lee projects the necessary graveness and gravity, but he still can’t compete with the steely gravitas of Kim Yoon-seok’s Kim Sang-hun, looking at least ten years older than the thesp really is—and they are a hard ten years.

Hwang stages some impressive battle scenes that viewers have to admire, even though he telegraphs the bitter end from the earliest stages. As result, Fortress has the vibe of high classical tragedy, with every short-sighted decision bringing King Injo closer to his downfall. The atmosphere of stately woe is further enhanced by the score penned by the legendary Ryuichi Sakamoto (The Revenant, The Last Emperor, etc.). It is an impressive film in nearly every respect, but the maddening inevitability of it all will have viewer pulling out their hair, which is probably exactly what Hwang was going for. Recommended for fans of historical epics.

FSLC announces Scary Movies XI, August 17-23


 Opens with Scottish zombie Christmas musical Anna and the Apocalypse and closes with Jonas Åkerlund’s Lords of Chaos
 Special events include Zombie Christmas Opening Night Party, 35mm Tainted Waters retrospective sidebar, plus Larry Fessenden & Glenn McQuaid live on-stage for the return of Tales from Beyond the Pale  

The Inhabitant
New York, NY (July 19, 2018The Film Society of Lincoln Center presents Scary Movies XI, the eagerly anticipated return of New York’s top horror festival, August 17-23.
Scary Movies XI brings the genre’s best from around the globe back to FSLC for another wicked week of hair-raising premieres and rediscoveries, guest appearances and giveaways. 
The 11th edition kicks off with the New York premiere of the delightful yet blood-soaked holiday-set high-school musical Anna and the Apocalypse, as a band of Scottish teens fight, sing, and dance to survive the undead horde taking over their small town in John McPhail’s sophomore feature. The screening will be followed by an opening night Zombie Christmas Party. Closing Night is Jonas Åkerlund’s harrowing black-metal tragedy Lords of Chaos, the true story of legendary Norwegian band Mayhem starring Rory Culkin, Emory Cohen, and Sky Ferreira.
Other highlights of this year’s lineup include a trio of creepy Latin American offerings featuring possessions (Guillermo Amoedo’s The Inhabitant), dark fairy tales (Issa López’s Tigers Are Not Afraid), and haunted hospitals (J.C. Feyer’s The Trace We Leave Behind); the new film from last year’s closing night director Colin Minihan, who reunites with his It Stains the Sands Red actress Brittany Allen for What Keeps You Alive; and a selection of new indie horror at its most promising, including Sonny Mallhi’s gruesome slasher flick Hurt, Patrick von Barkenberg’s Swedish novelist nightmare Blood Paradise, and Andy Mitton’s house-flipping horror The Witch in the Window.
Scary Movies XI also presents the retrospective sidebar Tainted Waters, comprising a quartet of 35mm titles whose horrors take place above or below the surface—or sometimes come creeping onto the land: Phillip Noyce’s Dead Calm (featuring an early breakout performance by Nicole Kidman), Lewis Teague’s creature-feature classic Alligator, horror master Stuart Gordon’s H.P. Lovecraft adaptation Dagon, and Ken Wiederhorn’s Nazi zombie flick Shock Waves, starring the late, great Peter Cushing. Finally, the dynamic duo of Glenn McQuaid and Larry Fessenden present a brand new live edition of Glass Eye Pix’s acclaimed radio-play series Tales from Beyond the Pale. Entangling creatures, creeps, and ghouls with observations both personal and political, this special event offers two new Tales written and directed by Fessenden and McQuaid performed live on-stage with actors, foley artists, sound designers, and musicians.
Tickets for Scary Movies XI go on sale August 3, and are $15; $12 for students, seniors (62+), and persons with disabilities; and $10 for Film Society members. See more and save with the 3+ film discount package or All-Access Pass. Learn more at
Organized by Laura Kern and Rufus de Rham. Scary Movies XI is sponsored by IFC Midnight.
All screenings held at the Walter Reade Theater (165 West 65th Street) unless otherwise noted.
OPENING NIGHTAnna and the ApocalypseJohn McPhail, UK/USA, 2017, 92mNew York PremiereAs Anna (an enchanting Ella Hunt) nears the end of high school, the most pressing concerns are her questionable taste in guys and how to break the news to her widowed father that she plans to take a year of travel before heading to college. But those issues lose all importance when an unexplained plague begins spreading in her tiny Scottish town of Little Haven before Christmas break, and she and her classmates must battle hordes of zombies—and their unhinged headmaster (Paul Kaye)—in order to make it to graduation. Oh and they sing and dance, too… A highly accomplished musical, full of infectious songs and performance setpieces, and like one of its clear inspirations Shaun of the DeadAnna and the Apocalypse features merriment and menace in perfect balance. An Orion Pictures release.
Friday, August 17, 7:30pm (Followed by a Q&A with John McPhail and a Zombie Christmas Party)
CLOSING NIGHTLords of ChaosJonas Åkerlund, UK/Sweden, 2018, 112mNew York Premiere
Pioneering Norwegian black-metal band Mayhem experienced a rise and fall so notorious that it’s provided the subject of multiple books and documentaries. And now a dramatization of their tragic tale finally makes it to the screen courtesy of Swedish music video and film director extraordinaire Jonas Åkerlund. It’s a devastating portrait of youth mixed with power in dangerous doses, yet it humanizes its antiheroes in unexpected ways, in part due to memorable performances from Rory Culkin as Euronymous, Mayhem co-founder and a key figure in the world of black metal; Emory Cohen as Varg Vikernes, his bandmate and eventual murderer; and Jack Kilmer as Mayhem’s ultra-melancholic first lead singer known as Dead. Like the best of Åkerlund’s video work and his dynamite 2002 film SpunLords of Chaos is profoundly disturbing but with a macabre, comical touch. A Gunpowder & Sky release.Thursday, August 23, 7:00pm
Await Further InstructionsJohnny Kevorkian, UK, 2018, 91mNew York PremiereNick (Sam Gittins) brings his girlfriend Annji (Neerja Naik) home for the holidays after three years of avoiding his massively dysfunctional family. And it’s no wonder he chose to stay away: his grandfather (David Bradley) is a virulent racist, his father (Grant Masters) runs the family like it’s a business, and his mother (Abigail Cruttenden) just tries to hold it all together. Add in Nick’s high-strung pregnant sister (Holly Weston) and her dim-witted boyfriend (Kris Saddler) and Nick and Annji soon reach their breaking point. They attempt to leave early Christmas morning only to discover that a metallic substance has surrounded the house and there is no way out. The only clues to what’s happening come through the television, which, in the first of many cryptic messages, tells them to “STAY INDOORS AND AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS.” Familial tensions and paranoia escalate into blood-soaked chaos in this ever-relevant chiller that contemplates the state of today’s technology-ruled world. A Dark Sky Films release.
Monday, August 20, 7:00pm
Blood ParadisePatrick von Barkenberg, USA/Sweden, 2018, 82mEnglish and Swedish with English subtitlesWorld PremiereReeling after her latest novel flops, best-selling crime writer Robin Richards (Andréa Winter) is sent by her publisher to the Swedish countryside to regain inspiration. There alone, she indeed comes across an assortment of peculiar characters, including her driver and most obsessive fan, his explosively jealous wife, and the progressively more unhinged man who owns the farm that’s hosting her. Totally out of place in her new surroundings—for one, she is always dressed for glamorous, big-city life—Robin discovers just how dangerous these oddballs may be. The unpredictable debut feature by Patrick von Barkenberg (who also appears as Robin’s boyfriend) is bathed in dreamy atmospherics and streaked with offbeat humor, but remains grounded throughout by Winter, who holds your attention rapt.
Saturday, August 18, 9:30pm (Q&A with Patrick von Barkenberg and Andréa Winter)
Boogeyman PopBrad Michael Elmore, USA, 2018, 90mNew York PremiereTony (James Paxton) is a punk who dreams of escaping his small town but finds his release in drugs—until a friend gives him a new kind of pill called Wendigo and can’t remember what he did the night before. Meanwhile, Danielle (Dominique Booth), who likes Tony, spends her night taking care of her drugged-out friends at a punk club and getting tied up with the town dealer, Matt (Greg Hill), who is trading in something much darker and more sinister than pills. And  three kids from Danielle’s neighborhood have a run in with a bat-wielding, black Cadillac–driving, masked killer. This trio of perspective-shifting stories intersect into a maelstrom of murder, adolescent angst, sex, drugs, and black magic. Set during the course of one summer weekend, this indie film has punk-rock energy to spare and a distinct cinematic vision that transcends its micro budget.
Sunday, August 19, 7:00pm
HurtSonny Mallhi, USA, 2018, 93mNew York PremiereHalloween in New Caney, Texas, is slow and quiet. Rose (model Emily van Raay, in a striking debut performance) is having trouble connecting with her husband Tommy (Andrew Creer), who recently returned from military deployment and is struggling with PTSD. Rose’s sister and her husband urge them to head to the town’s haunted hayride to relive old traditions and maybe try to rekindle their relationship. The fairgrounds are filled with masked monsters and fake blood and death. Tommy runs off and the night gradually descends into chaos. Sonny Mallhi’s exquisitely realized third feature digs up the violence bubbling under the modern American experience and serves up a smart treatise on trauma. This truly gruesome and terrifying slasher flick reminds us that death is very real, and it’s not only the monstrous villains who wear masks.
Saturday, August 18, 7:30pm
Impossible HorrorJustin Decloux, Canada, 2017, 75mNew York PremiereFollowing a bad breakup, aspiring filmmaker Lily (Haley Walker) struggles with a crippling creative block. Unable to sleep, she begins hearing a sinister scream outside her window every evening. Convinced she needs to help, she heads out into the dark night and meets Hannah (Creedance Wright), a veteran scream hunter obsessed with stopping the creepy occurrence. The two women team up to try and locate the source before they become the scream’s next victims. As much a horror movie as a movie about the horror of creation, Justin Decloux’s ultra-indie second feature references everything from Asian horror to giallo, and its DIY spirit and eerie underlying dread secures its place as a small but mighty genre discovery.
Sunday, August 19, 9:00pm (Q&A with Justin Decloux and producer/composer Emily Milling)
The Inhabitant / El habitanteGuillermo Amoedo, Mexico/Chile, 2017, 92mSpanish with English subtitlesNorth American PremiereIn an attempt to secure some quick cash, three sisters break into the home of a super-wealthy family—and get a whole lot more than they bargained for. If this sounds tediously familiar, have no fear: The Inhabitant is no simple take on the old home-invasion-gone-wrong scenario. The film has serious political undertones—the house the women target belongs to a high-profile, and highly corrupt, senator—and its action opens up to also make room for a child possession tale like no other. Uruguayan-born, Chile-based filmmaker Guillermo Amoedo has made a name for himself working on screenplays for Eli Roth projects (The Green InfernoKnock KnockAftershock), but this one outshines them all, featuring genuine chills and higher-gloss production values than usually found within such confined spaces. A Pantelion release.
Monday, August 20, 9:00pm
Tales from Beyond the Pale Live EventLarry Fessenden and Glenn McQuaid’s “Tales from Beyond the Pale” returns to the Film Society of Lincoln Center for a double bill of contemporary audio dramas. Now in its eighth year, the primarily spooky show, produced by Glass Eye Pix, has taken cues from the likes of Inner Sanctum Theatre and the Mercury Theatre Company while putting its own rich spin on the format. Observations both personal and political are often deeply entangled with whatever creature, creep, or ghoul Fessenden and McQuaid conjure up. Two new “Tales” written and directed by Fessenden and McQuaid will be performed live with actors, foley artists, sound designers, and musicians; it’s quite a sight, and if you dare to close your eyes, quite a listen! Previous shows have featured the vocal talents of the likes of Ron Perlman, Michael Cerveris, Lance Reddick, Doug Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio, Sean Young, and Alison Wright… so you never know who might show up.
Wednesday, August 22, 7:30pm
Tigers Are Not Afraid / VuelvenIssa López, Mexico, 2017, 83mSpanish with English subtitlesNew York PremiereIn the midst of a world plagued by gang violence, 10-year-old Estrella (Paolo Lara) is left to her own devices after her mom disappears. As a protection measure—or is it a stroke of the supernatural?—Estrella believes to have been granted three wishes, and she uses one to bring her mother back, though failing to mention that she wanted her alive. Haunted by the dead shell of her mother, she leaves home and ends up taking up camp with a group of local orphan boys in their small Mexican village, nervously trying to remain hidden from murderous drug-dealing local thugs and forming a strong familial bond in the process. A fantastical tale that is also steeped in hard-bitten realities, writer-director Issa López’s alternately heart-wrenching and chilling film inevitably elicits Guillermo del Toro comparisons, mostly for its ability to extract wholly believable performances from its young cast, but stands firmly on its own as inspired cinema. A Shudder release.
Tuesday, August 21, 7:00pm
The Trace We Leave Behind / O RastroJ.C. Feyer, Brazil, 2017, 96mPortuguese with English subtitlesNorth American PremiereJoão (a commanding Rafael Cardoso) is a doctor coordinating the removal of patients from a Rio de Janeiro public hospital that, despite harsh protests from the community, is scheduled to close due to Brazil’s recession. On the night of the transfer, a 10-year-old girl disappears without a trace and João must find her, even if just to prove to his pregnant wife Leila (Leandra Leal) that he can be a dependable father. The more he searches, the deeper he is drawn into a world he wishes he never entered. Long-kept secrets are unearthed and João struggles against the darkness that is closing in around him. Is the hospital haunted? Is he losing his mind? The feature debut by J.C. Feyer—a strong case for the resurgence of Brazilian horror—is relentless in both its dedication to scaring the pants off the audience and to shining a light on the country’s social unrest.
Tuesday, August 21, 9:00pm
What Keeps You AliveColin Minihan, Canada, 2018, 98mNew York PremiereThe follow-up to Colin Minihan’s It Stains the Sands Red, a closing-night selection of last year’s Scary Movies, offers another twisty thrill ride starring the always compelling Brittany Allen. Here, she plays Jules, who heads to a lakeside cabin with her wife, Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson), to celebrate their one-year anniversary. The tranquil setting—the nearest neighbors are Jackie’s childhood friend and her husband across the lake—quickly turns terrifying, but to say anything more would spoil the surprises. Audacious and unsparing, the film veers into pitch-black comedy to keep the bloodletting and betrayal fun and boasts impressive cinematography that captures both the beauty and isolation of its remote environment and the ferocious violence that unfurls within. An IFC Midnight release.
Saturday, August 18, 5:00pm 
The Witch in the WindowAndy Mitton, USA, 2018, 77mU.S. PremiereA divorced dad (Alex Draper) takes his 12-year-old son (Charlie Tacker) to the farmhouse he’s purchased to flip in middle-of-nowhere Vermont. It was cheap—and for a reason: there is an old witch, Lydia (Carol Stanzione), haunting the premises, mainly planted in a chair by an upstairs window. At first her presence seems harmless enough, but as the renovations continue, it becomes more apparent that she, the previous owner, has no interest in sharing her home. As in the two previous features he co-directed, YellowBrickRoad and We Go On, Andy Mitton’s solo directorial debut proves that big scares can come in small packages, and his latest refreshingly character-driven film, which sees a father desperately trying to protect a child he wants to reconnect with and the house he has always fantasized about, has way more on its mind than it initially lets on. A Shudder release.
Sunday, August 19, 5:00pm (Q&A with Andy Mitton)
Tainted Waters Retrospective Sidebar
AlligatorLewis Teague, USA, 1981, 35mm, 91mTwelve years after a little girl’s alligator is flushed down the toilet by her father, body parts start showing up at the local sewage treatment plant. David Madison (Robert Forster) is the detective (haunted by his past, of course) assigned to the case, who must contend with his captain, city hall, the tabloids, an unscrupulous pharmaceutical company, and male pattern baldness, all while a giant gator is picking off cops and sewer workers, and starting to chomp its way up the socioeconomic ladder. David teams up with herpetologist Marisa Kendall (Robin Riker)—the girl who bought the alligator now all grown up—to try and stop the rampaging reptile. Featuring notable character actors (Henry Silva chewing his way through the scenery as the big-game hunter brought in to handle the beast is a particular highlight) and a script from John Sayles that’s smarter than it has any right to be, this is one of the all-time creature-feature classics.
Saturday, August 18, 3:00pm
DagonStuart Gordon, Spain, 2001, 35mm, 98mEnglish, Spanish, and Galician with English subtitlesHorror master Stuart Gordon has looked to H.P. Lovecraft as an inspiration for many of his works, and this adaptation of the famed writer’s tale “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” ranks as his second finest—following the inimitable Re-Animator—even if it never received a proper U.S. theatrical release. The modern-day set Dagon sees two couples’ paradise sailing getaway quickly descend into hell. Their boat hits stormy waters and in the process of finding help on shore, Paul (Ezra Godden) is mysteriously separated from his travel mates. Alone, he learns that the Spanish island, infested with fishmen, is under the worship of Dagon, who demands blood sacrifices and women to procreate with in return for the town’s prosperity, and makes the acquaintance of Uxia (the great Macarena Gómez of past Scary Movies selections Sexykiller and Shrew’s Nest), a mermaid who has appeared in his dreams—which increasingly become a terrifying reality.
Sunday, August 19, 1:00pm
Dead CalmPhillip Noyce, Australia, 1989, 35mm, 96mMourning the tragic loss of their young son, Rae and John Ingram (Nicole Kidman and Sam
Neill) take to the open seas with their dog for some peace and healing. Aboard their yacht mid-Pacific, they cross paths with the Orpheus, a sinking schooner whose sole survivor Hughie (Billy Zane) takes refuge with them. Loosely based on Charles Williams’s crackerjack 1963 novel—also the source of Orson Welles’s unfinished film The DeepDead Calm is the ultimate in edge-of-your-seat suspense, as John becomes trapped on the submerging vessel while investigating Hughie’s suspect account of the his crew’s demise, as his wife is left alone with a man who becomes progressively more unhinged. Featuring spectacular direction (by Phillip Noyce), cinematography (by the Oscar-winning DP Dean Semler), and performances (by its three leads), particularly a gorgeously natural Kidman in an early breakthrough role, the film is a true terror treat, not to be missed on the big screen.
Sunday, August 19, 3:00pm
Shock WavesKen Wiederhorn, USA, 1977, 35mm, 85mThe same year he appeared as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars, Peter Cushing also played another grand villain in Shock Waves: a former SS commander involved in the creation of aquatic Nazi zombies as secret weapons. The “Death Corps” project was a failed endeavor to say the least, and now, after their boat begins to sink, a group of tourists find themselves on the island where the commander and the water-based menaces still reside. With a cast that also includes Brooke Adams as one of the shipwrecked and John Carradine as the captain, this odd, atmospheric little shocker by Ken Wiederhorn (who dabbled again with the walking dead for Return of the Living Dead II), started a long tradition of Nazi zombie flicks, and it still remains the finest.
Saturday, August 18, 1:00pm
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