Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fantasia Day 7 (Wednesday, July 25)

As of yesterday, it’s been a full week of Fantasinsanity, and MAN what a ride it’s been. However, I’d yet to be leveled by any amazing horror features (that I wasn’t already aware of, hello Manborg and Juan of the Dead). Happily, I recently encountered a trio of fright flicks that with any luck with be arriving on everyone’s radar in the not-too-distant future.

With The Pact showing up as “sold out” on the Fantasia website yesterday morning, I opted to head over to the press room to view a digital copy rather than run the risk of not getting into the screening itself. While this meant missing out on the by-all-reports enjoyable Q&A with Casper Van Dien, his presence within the film is so incidental that it felt a bit like a (presumably small) “paycheck gig” for him, although the fact that he was willing to travel to Montreal in support of it (and his exec-produced Starship Troopers: Invasion) says something, I suppose.

As you’ll see in my review below, I enjoyed Nicholas McCarthy’s well-crafted haunted house film, but even greater treats lay in store. The first being the Tribeca Film Festival sensation, Resolution, whose co-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead were on hand to introduce the film (trading some humorous faux French to English translations) as well as a brief Q&A afterwards. I’m sure you’ll be hearing about this one outside the genre trades, as it’s smart enough and genre-bending enough to earn notice from the “serious” critics, much like the Duplass brothers’ Baghead a few years back.

The crowning jewel of the evening lay across the street at the smaller Seve Theatre, where rookie Ciarán Foy’s terrifying creature feature Citadel hit the sweet spot of pretty much every soul within the sold-out house. This was not the dedicated, unwavering fanboy adulation on display within the Sushi Girl or Devil’s Carnival crowds – this was legitimate admiration for a previously unknown cinematic quantity that had earned its kudos. (There will be another screening August 2 at 3:15pm; I imagine word of mouth will be strong, so buy your tickets now.) Foy’s post-show Q&A showed him to be a young filmmaker of intelligence and superb instincts, and I was happy to secure an interview slot with him later this week.

Granted, it’s still early, but Citadel might just be “that film” that comes out of Fantasia, at least as far as horror fans are concerned. (The time slot was made all the more enjoyable by the opening act of Billy Senese’s superb short film, Intruder, which set the creepy vibe extremely high.)

Pact, The (2012) (1st viewing) d. McCarthy, Nicholas (USA)

Newcomer Caity Lotz stars in this good ghost story well told, with bigger names Casper Van Dien and Agnes Bruckner taking smaller roles (and presumably smaller paychecks – one has to wonder what Van Dien saw in what is ultimately a throwaway part). Atmospheric and effective, with minimal, well-executed special effects, a bit of bloodletting and some fine chilling visuals without relying (too) heavily on aural jump scares. Like any worthy haunting tale, there is a mystery to be uncovered surrounding Lotz’s recently deceased mother’s home and writer/director McCarthy’s twist on well-traveled path yields a genuinely suspenseful final reel climax.

Smuggler (2011) (1st viewing) d. Ishii, Katsuhito (Japan)

A war between two rival drug running gangs results in a double digits body count, much of the onscreen violence doled out in wild-eyed, bone-crunching glory by psychotic assassin Masanobu Ando (called “Vertebrae” in the subtitles, though IMDb lists the character as “Spine”), all bleached hair and scar-riddled flesh. Ando’s screen presence is matched by the taciturn Masatoshi Nagase, playing a no-questions transporter of goods and people. Caught in the middle is failed actor Satoshi Tsumabuki, who unwitting commits himself to life in the underworld to repay his “insults” only to end up playing a significant role in the bloody game that ensues. Appealing on a visceral level (an extended torture sequence, extreme slo-mo collisions between blunt objects and tender flesh, etc.), but ultimately a bit unsubstantial and more than a bit silly.

Black Pond (2011) (1st viewing) d. Kingsley, Tom / Sharpe, Will (UK)

Extraordinary black “mumblecore” comedy from across the pond, the debut feature from writing/directing team Kingsley and Sharpe. Chris Langham, who registers as a more urban/equally urbane Alan Rickman, leads a superlative ensemble of players inhabiting a dysfunctional family both outlandish and familiar whose lives take a bizarre, headline-grabbing turn after a stranger (Colin Hurley) strolls onto their property. Peppered throughout with documentary-style testimonials and hindsight commentary on the events that unfold, as well as some priceless life coaching sessions (Simon Amstell) sure to spook anyone seeking a therapist anytime soon. An absolute winner.

Reign of Assassins (2010) (1st viewing) d. Chao-Pin, Su / Woo, John (China)

We are informed in a pre-credits sequence that a mystical monk’s remains will grant whomever possesses them mastery over the martial arts world, and with that, we’re off. This well produced Hong Kong wire-fu/swordplay epic is nothing we haven’t seen before, but for fans of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hero , House of Flying Daggers and Iron Monkey big budget fare, this should more than serve the turn. Starring Michelle Yeoh (lovely, lithe and lethal as ever) and Jung Woo-Sung.

Resolution (2012) (1st viewing) d. Benson, Justin / Moorhead, Aaron Scott (USA)

Good guy Peter Cilella tracks down ne’er-do-well pal Vinny Curran via an email, video clip and attached GoogleMap, a journey that ends at a deserted shack where Curran seems bent on chemically expediting his shuffle off this mortal coil. Cilella takes it upon himself to forcibly detox his childhood companion courtesy of handcuffs and chain; during the weeklong waiting period, the duo encounter an array of colorful characters and more than a few odd occurrences, including the inexplicable appearances of assorted A/V equipment (VCR, 8mm projector, cassettes, etc.) with increasingly perplexing and foreboding recorded material. The secret formula behind this unusual and highly enjoyable mindfuck is to forget that it’s a horror film – something not easy for the assembled Fantasia crowd to do, given the hyperbolic introduction by head honcho Mitch Davis – and enjoy the slow burn surprises and mounting dread organically, as well as the marvelously authentic relationship between Cilella and Curran. Their ribald and lived-in dialogue exchanges are the fuel upon which the film runs, such that when things get dark (and boy, do they) we are absolutely invested in their fates. It’s smart, scary, funny, and unlike anything you’ve seen before, but again, dump the expectations and just go for the ride.

Citadel (2012) (1st viewing) d. Foy, Ciarán (Ireland/Scotland)

After witnessing a brutal assault on his pregnant wife by a savage gang of hooded youths, Aneurin Barnard finds himself crippled with agoraphobia. Barely able to escape the confines of his dilapidated apartment complex to attend therapy sessions or retrieve food for his newborn daughter, Barnard is haunted by visions of the past, fearing the assailants will return. Return they do, revealing themselves to be more than an underage collective of thugs, but legitimate monsters cut from Cronenberg's Brood cloth and equipped with savage cunning and a perverse agenda. Writer/director Foy pulse-pounding debut is set amidst snow-swept, urban wasteland environs, successfully isolating his protagonists such that terror – ours and his – is felt during both daylight and darkest night. As a gruff priest and sympathetic nurse, James Cosmo and Wunmi Mosaku respectively offer able support, but it’s Barnard and Foy’s show all the way – the director and star ably work in tandem, creating an oppressive atmosphere of tension and despair. Having already racked up multiple audience awards during its brief festival run, this is a bold new voice in horror that I’ll be rooting for and that you will be hearing about.

2012 Totals to date: 327 films, 280 1st time views, 183 horror, 107 cinema

Fantasia Totals: 31 films, 29 1st time views, 15 horror, 29 cinema

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