Friday, July 20, 2018

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

TOWARD A COMMON TENDERNESS
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

DREAM OF ILLUMINATION
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.

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

THE FILM SOCIETY OF LINCOLN CENTER 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 filmlinc.org.
Organized by Laura Kern and Rufus de Rham. Scary Movies XI is sponsored by IFC Midnight.
FILMS AND DESCRIPTIONS
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
FILM SOCIETY OF LINCOLN CENTER
The Film Society of Lincoln Center is devoted to supporting the art and elevating the craft of cinema. The only branch of the world-renowned arts complex Lincoln Center to shine a light on the everlasting yet evolving importance of the moving image, this nonprofit organization was founded in 1969 to celebrate American and international film. Via year-round programming and discussions; its annual New York Film Festival; and its publications, including Film Comment, the U.S.’s premier magazine about films and film culture, the Film Society endeavors to make the discussion and appreciation of cinema accessible to a broader audience, as well as to ensure that it will remain an essential art form for years to come.
The Film Society receives generous, year-round support from Shutterstock, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. American Airlines is the Official Airline of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. For more information, visit www.filmlinc.org and follow @filmlinc on Twitter.

A Retrospective of Larry Clark (KIDS, BULLY, THE SMELL OF US) Begins August 23 at Metrograph, with Clark in Person!

Opens August 23

Larry Clark 

Retrospective Includes KidsBully, and a Rare Screening of The Smell of Us 

Clark To Appear In-Person!
Beginning Thursday August 23, Metrograph will present a retrospective of Larry Clark. Over fifty when his debut feature, Kids, was released to a clamor of controversy in 1995, the polarizing Clark has remained to this day an ageless enfant terrible, exemplifying the spirit of adolescent rebellion and, to cite the title of one of his infamous photography collections, teenage lust. Clark, an Oklahoma native, Vietnam vet, and survivor of methamphetamine addiction, documented the semi-rural demimonde he knew so well in his breakthrough photo book Tulsa, and brought the same veracity to the world of New York skate rats in Kids. In the films he would go on to make, the peril and passion of cruel, heedless youth has always played a crucial role, and in his latest, The Smell of Us, he has produced his most experimental, agitating work to date, a landmark movie by a talent who only grows more unquiet with age.
Special thanks to Mike Repsch and Dark Star Pictures.
Kids (1995/91 mins/35mm)
Leo Fitzpatrick’s smooth-talking “Virgin surgeon” Telly cuts a potentially deadly swathe through unsuspecting adolescent girls in this snapshot of dirty, dangerous New York that practically reeks of adolescent b.o. and rampaging hormones. Clark’s debut brought semi-documentary scrutiny to bear on the blunt-rolling and mating rituals of the city’s downtown skaters as recorded by punk prodigy screenwriter Harmony Korine, while assembling one of the great ensemble casts of its day, with screen debuts by Chloë Sevigny, Rosario Dawson, Justin Pierce (RIP), Zoo York skater Harold Hunter (RIP), and Jon Abrahams.


Another Day in Paradise (1998/101 mins/35mm)
Clark looked back to the 1970s—the days of his own wasted, wanton youth—in adapting Eddie Little’s novel of the same name for this gritty, grimy road movie period piece. Vincent Kartheiser, before he was Mad Men’s Pete Campbell, plays an oily small-time punk and addict who hooks up with veteran thief James Woods and girlfriend Melanie Griffith. Misunderstood and much-savaged on initial release, Another Day in Paradise holds up today as an unflinching, powerfully-performed character study, and an exemplary expression of Clark’s renegade spirit.


Bully (2001/108 mins/35mm)
“Nature sucks!” Where most movies about youth culture lag behind the ever-changing looks and sounds of the times, Bully is a perfect, even prescient portrait of the turn-of-the-millennium Eminem Moment, of youth disaffection and moral rot in sunny, swampy suburban South Florida. Using the basic material of the True Crime tale of Bobby Kent, a rich kid and petty tyrant in his small social circle, Clark tells a blackly-funny tale of violent comeuppance, with Brad Renfro, Bijou Phillips, Michael Pitt, and Kids’ Leo Fitzpatrick as wannabe gangsters putting together a remarkably clumsy murder conspiracy.


Ken Park (Clark and Ed Lachman/2003/93 mins/35mm)
Often censored, excoriated, and banned, but too-rarely screened, Clark’s collaboration with the virtuoso cinematographer Ed Lachman, developed from an old script by Kids screenwriter Harmony Korine, surveys desire and despair among a group of thrill-starved Southern California teenagers and their even more fucked up parents and guardians, thrown into self-destructive trajectories following the death-by-autoerotic-asphyxiation of one of the regulars at the local skate park. A purgatorial vision, seen in the shimmering light of paradise.


Wassup Rockers (2005/111 mins/35mm)
Clark’s first foray into digital filmmaking is an odyssey that passes through the variegated terrain of Los Angeles, following a crew of South Central Latino skateboarders from Guatemalan and Salvadoran families as they slash their way through the posh environs of Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, goofing off, flirting with intrigued rich girls, and attracting the ire of cops and uptight lily-white homeowners. An unusually tender film for Clark in its portrayal of youth solidarity, and quietly political in its implications.


Marfa Girl (2012/105 mins/DCP)
After years of difficulty getting new projects off the ground, Clark decided to strike out on his own, going through his own website to release this lyrical tale of forbidden love(s) in a Texas border town that continues the prodding at American racial insanity begun in Wassup Rockers. Half-Mexican Adam (Adam Mediano, leading a largely nonprofessional cast) fills the days in the arty backwater he calls home with skating, smoking, and sex—enough to make him Public Enemy #1 for the local border patrol agents with too much time to kill.


The Smell of Us (2014/92 mins/DCP)
Inspired by the sight of teenaged skateboarders congregating outside the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Clark conceived of a film that speaks as distinctly to European youth culture in the age of the smartphone app as Kids did to mid-90s New York, observing the lives of French punks trading on their youthful sex appeal to finance nights of reckless partying. Intersecting with the fashion world in a distinctly Parisian manner, this is Clark’s most daringly fragmented, mosaic-like film, as well as his most provocatively self-indicting—the director plays a pungent part as a dirty old man toe-licker.

Mari Okada’s Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms

Forget about Egyptian cotton and high thread counts. There are no finer textiles then the Hibiol cloth woven by the legendary Iolph. They might look like teen aged girls, but they live through centuries without aging a whisker. The outside world mistrusts them and the feeling is mutual. However, when a decaying empire tries to harness their genetic longevity, a (comparatively) young Iolph is thrust into a world she is destined to outlive in Mari Okada’s anime feature Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, which opens this Friday in New York.

As a Iolph, Maquia is supposed to feel lonely, but that doesn’t make it any easier. She has resigned herself to a super-long life weaving Hibiol cloth, when the army of Mesate suddenly invades. The cornerstone of the regime’s power were the ancient Renato dragons they successful adapted for military purposes, but the last of the mythical beasts are dying. If the king takes an Iolph as his wife, his successor should in theory live long and prosper. In the process, Maquia is whisked away by a wounded Renato, who crashes into the outskirts of a bucolic human farming community.

Soon thereafter, Maquia discovers a foundling still locked in its dead mother’s arms. Her maternal instincts compel her to adopt the infant she will name Erial, even though she knows she will outlive him by centuries. They spend a few happy years in that rural community, but eventually they must move on, to avoid attracting attention to her fantastical nature. She is sort of like John Oldman in The Man from Earth, but she is also a mother. Indeed, a great deal of Maquia addresses just what it means to be a mom, beyond simple biology.

There is no question Okada set out to make viewers blubber like a baby. This is the mother of all sainted, sacrificing mother films. Yet, Okada also does some highly intriguing fantasy world-building. She could set entire films in the Mesate realm that did not feature Maquia or explore mother-son relationships. Frankly, she could have doubled the time allotted to the Renatos without trying viewer patience. Regardless, when she lowers the emotional boom, it leaves a large indentation.

Visually, Maquia is also a rich, lush spectacle. The fantasy architecture is particularly arresting—so much so, we could easily envision it inspiring builders of the future. Arguably, this is the best-looking, most exotic-feeling animated film since Big Fish & Begonia, but it is as emotionally direct and resonant as Bambi.

The social systems and backstory of Mesate are so compelling, we would have preferred more palace intrigue and less tear-jerking, but it is clear as day Okada fully realized her vision. Even the most aloof hipsters will get choked up at the end. Highly recommended for fans of sophisticated anime, Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms opens tomorrow (7/20) in New York, at the Village East.

The Dark (2018) Fantasia 2018

THE DARK will break your heart, but not in a good way. What starts out as grand and glorious homage to the wild and crazy horror films of the 70’s and 80’s where nothing is certain and anything is possible goes sadly off the rails after about 40 minutes as the pacing slows and the seems to become an allegory about surviving sexual abuse.

I’m not going to give you details, but he film has to do with the relationship between the monstrous Mina who lives in the wooded Devil’s Den and the blind Alex who was brought there by a very bad man. As Mina ponders why she doesn’t have the urge to kill Alex the pair begins to bond.

For the first part this is a balls to the wall creepy horror film that mixes horror and humor to stunning effect. We laugh at things that end up catching in our throats. The plotting of the film is such that there is no way to really know where the hell this is going. It is in its way one of the most original horror films in years. We have an undead beast tearing throats and traveling with a young man who has been horribly blinded.

The audience of critics I saw this with was talking back to the screen in fear.

And then things begin to change…

… the internal logic falls away and what was most definitely a kind of supernatural horror film shifts. Alex and Mina begin to bond and the film largely stops being about a manhunt and monsters but about two people who have been horribly sexually abused. Alex begins to connect to Mina and Mina begins to literally become human and alive again, with the visible scars of her “death” slowly disappearing along with her desire to kill and inability to eat people food. The film I revealed to NOT be a horror film but an allegory about recovering from horrific sexual abuse.

While I and the audience members who didn’t walk out on the film had no problem with the film turning into an allegory, the trouble is the switch is so radical it’s as if the filmmakers took two scripts and grafted them together. Plot threads fall away. The internal logic of a supernatural film crashes into the brick wall of reality. Questions don’t appear but explode like rabbits with a suite of copy machines.

To be fair I suspect that the switch is not supposed to be a complete dropping of the horror film- but if you don’t stop thinking of the film as a horror film it becomes unbearably bad. Any plot threads and all internal logic just cease. To think of the last hour as a straight up horror film means you want nothing to work because nothing in the last hour nothing does. It’s such a radical shift that it forces you to rethink what you saw in the first part and it destroys the film completely.

On the other hand if you view the film as purely from the point of view of Mina’s internal dead psyche, that she is not really a monster but a young woman who had been raped and abused by her mother’s lover helping a young man who was kidnapped by a sexual monster who did unspeakable things to him then the film works better. We understand why she connects to Alex. We understand why here physical appearance changes. Of course that still doesn’t explain people referring to her monstrous appearance or some horrific actions- but it makes the film at least tolerable.

Frankly THE DARK disappoints. I think it’s the result of the filmmakers desire to make a serious film about abuse that collided with a need to make a film people would want to see. Somewhere along the way good intentions derailed a good movie. I want to applaud the attempt but despite a good cast and great filmmaking the film never achieves the heights it was reaching for.

A noble miss.

Fantasia ’18: Room Laundering

Call it karma fraud. Japanese law requires prospective tenants receive notification of a recent death in a rental unit, but it does not stipulate how far back that regulation applies. Goro Ikazuzi provides a work-around. He supplies a short-term resident to establish a buffer between future tenants and the deceased, rendering the flat “laundered.” His niece Mika Yakumo might either be the best or worst person for such a job, because she sees dead people. Usually, Yakumo resolutely resists any form of personal connection, but she will uncharacteristically find herself getting involved with two ghosts and maybe even a living human during the course of Kenji Katagiri’s Room Laundering, which screens during the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Yakumo’s father died when she was five years old and her mother mysteriously vanished a year later. It is now just her and angle-working uncle. He is a bit of a sleaze, but he seems genuinely protective of her. Most of the time, Yakumo easily ignores the ghosts in the apartment she launders, but she rather starts to enjoy the goofy personality of Kimihiko Kasuga, a punk rocker who now regrets committing suicide. In fact, she is somewhat sorry when she is reassigned to her next flat.

This could be her toughest case yet—her first murder site. Yuki Chikamoto was a cosplaying business executive, who was brutally stabbed by an intruder. She would very much like Yakumo to help bring her killer to justice. Kasuga would too. Much to her surprise, he has also moved with Yakumo, because he is attached to an object she removed from his former home. There also happens to be a somewhat geeky but presentable young chap next door who is quite interested in Yakumo—again, much to her surprise.

In many ways, Room Laundering is a dark film, but it also manages to be absolutely charming. Katagiri and co-screenwriter Tatsuya Umemoto never water down Yakumo’s emotional issues and anti-social tendencies, which is why it is so satisfying when she finally starts to come out of her shell. Fundamentally, this is a story about growing up and learning to process pain, but the room laundering premise and the attendant ghost subplots are wickedly clever.

Elaiza Ikeda is terrific as Yakumo. It is a restrained and disciplined performance that never takes the easy way out, but still pays off in a big way. Likewise, Joe Odagiri is endlessly surprising as Ikazuzi. This isn’t his splashiest or most important role, but it is likely to become a fan favorite. Kiyohiko Shibukawa earns all kinds of bittersweet laughter as Kasuga, while former AKB48 member Kaoru Mitsumune is quite poignant as Chikamoto.

First time helmer Katagiri takes his time establishing his characters and the rhythm of their lives, but his third act is an endlessly inventive parade of revelations. This is an undeniably eccentric film, but it should be described as soulful rather than quirky. Very highly recommended, Room Laundering screens again on Saturday (7/21), following its North America premiere at this year’s Fantasia up north.