Monday, April 9, 2012

BIFFF Day #2 (Saturday, 4/7)

Despite going to bed at around 3am the night before, I found myself awake at 8am Saturday morning, my mind cooking up questions to pose to my first solo interview efforts of the fest, that of Michael Sauter (co-writer of Sennentuntschi) and bad boy Frenchman Xavier Gens, who made big horror waves in 2007 with his contribution to the avalanche of French horror that emerged in the latter half of the decade, Frontier(s). Both were held in the previously mentioned "Jameson bus," both went quite well. Got a picture alongside Gens, as well as one of him holding up an issue of HorrorHound that I could send along to Nathan for posting on the HHW Facebook wall.

Then it was time for more movies and more chatting with my ever-growing social circle. In addition to my press room gal pals, I made the acquaintance of Sven Soetemans and Thierry Wybauw, two of the many contributors to HORROR 101 that I had never yet met face to face, as well as Gert’s friends Barbara, Nicolas and Sabrina. By the end of the night, our group had taken over a full half row of seats in the epic BIFFF screening room – yes, the despicable habit of “saving seats” is alive and well in Belgium and I’ll be playing by the whole “When in Brussels” rulebook while I’m here, I guess. Saturday was also the BIFFF zombie walk, so lots of undead drippings surrounded us throughout the day.

The first feature of the day, Himizu, was a surprising one as it was the first non-horror, non-sci-fi, non-thriller, non-gory effort I had seen, and to be honest, I couldn’t understand its inclusion in the fest other than its maker’s pedigree. Just the same, I’m glad I was able to see it, as it had a genuine emotional impact on me, which I was not anticipating. The rest of the program was filled out by three world premieres: Barbara Steele’s return to the silver screen (The Butterfly Room), the flippant cartoonishly violent French/American sci-fi actioner Lockout, and capped by the superb Brit torture flick, Truth or Dare, which also featured a Q&A session with the director, producer and star. I’m curious to see when this UK feature will make its way to our shores – details were still being worked out as we spoke – but it’d be nice to secure a screening of ToD for HorrorHound’s film festival in September. Have to see about making that happen.

Himizu (2011) (1st viewing) d. Sono, Shion (Japan)
Writer/director Sono (Suicide Club) delivers an overwhelming and cathartic cinematic response to the tragic events of March 11, 2011, when Japan was rocked by a 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami. An adaptation of Minoru Funuraya’s manga, Sono explores the life of a 15-year-old (an extraordinary Shota Sometani) in the wake of the aftermath, whose life was oppressive enough before Mother Nature stepped in, what with a philandering mother, drunken and abusive father, faltering family boat rental business and a small community of homeless squatters living outside his front door. Wrestling daily with suicidal thoughts, the youth resists emotional engagement with his community of well-intentioned misfits, the most determined of which being an idolizing female classmate (Fumi Nikaido) whose unsinkable spirit provides Himizu’s bloody beating heart. Not an easy film to watch for multiple reasons, but one that had tears rolling down my cheeks during its final moments as Sono and his two young leads (both of whom won awards at the Venice Film Festival last September) deliver an excruciatingly raw and devastating message of hope for a crippled nation. Not the least bit “fantastic,” gory or futuristic, but a breathtaking work of beauty and soul.

Butterfly Room, The (2012) (1st viewing) d. Zarantanello, Jonathan (Italy/USA)
Barbara Steele’s first horror role in three decades (not counting the 1991 Dark Shadows reboot) is reason enough for rejoicing, but the fact that the 74-year-old icon carries the creepy, physically demanding role it off with such ferocity and dedication makes it doubly pleasing. Basically a revisiting of the “hag horror” mini-wave of the 60s, Steele stars as a deranged and volatile collector of butterflies and little girls who has her eye out for yet another specimen to add to her trophy room. Writer/director Zarantello has a terrific visual eye, as evidenced by several well-constructed suspense scenes, and guides his elegant starlet to one of the finest roles of her long career, full stop. Unfortunately, he has less luck with his supporting cast which he has affectionately peopled with convention regulars such as Heather Langenkamp, Camille Keaton, P.J. Soles and Erica Leerhsen (who is just goddawful, sad to say), though the always-welcome Ray Wise knocks his scenes out of the park, especially when paired with Steele. The film itself isn’t 100% successful, but there’s no denying that the old gal’s still got it in her.

Lockout (2012) (1st viewing) d. Mather, James/St. Leger, Stephen (France/USA)
Futuristic prison hostage movie combines elements of a half dozen superior flicks, but since the whole thing plays like a comic book anyway, there’s no great foul being committed. Guy Pearce (looking buffed and polished as vintage Van Damme) is clearly having the time of his life playing a framed-up cop blackmailed into a suicide mission to save Presidential Daughter Maggie Grace, quippy one-liners matching his impressive body count blow for blow. Some of the f/x look straight out of videogame, and everyone seems to be acting in B-movie mode, but the energy is high, the pace fast, and the intellectual payload extremely low, so it definitely fits the bill for big dumb sci-fi/action fun.

Truth or Dare (2012)
(1st viewing) d. Heath, Robert (UK)
Basically a reworking of the nerd-takes-revenge 80s slasher scenario for the torture porn generation, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when handled with such a sure hand. When the local misfit is humiliated and abused at the final after-school party, it sets off a chain of events that culminate in his tormentors being called to a remote country estate where justice is meted out by the outcast’s hunkier older brother (played by The Borgias’ David Oakes). While the material is well traveled terrain indeed, director Heath and writer Matthew McGuchan manage to pull off enough cringe-worthy scenes of agony and a genuinely surprising third act to make it worth your while. The performances by tormentors and tormented alike are solid, with Jennie Jacques’ slatternly bitchy babe leading the pack.

2012 Totals to date: 130 films, 112 1st time views, 66 horror, 20 cinema

Picks of the Day: Himizu, Truth or Dare

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