Disaffection and ennui are powerful motivators toward isolation. This is a remarkable experience that examines the connections and disparities that our messy emotions can lead us into. Then it is left open-ended as to where its characters will end up and how withdrawn they’ll continue to be.
Instead of going on and on about why I think this is one of the year’s most sublime movies, I’d rather just let it all wash over you the way it did for me. One of the highlights includes the slow pan of the camera towards an open window, while two characters physically connect for the first time. Let these two people have their moment together.
After the aforementioned brief musical overture, we go from black to the image of an actual human heart, splayed open in a patient’s chest during surgery, writhing and pulsing. Director Yorgos Lanthimos (DOGTOOTH, THE LOBSTER) is about to put us through an intensely uncomfortable experience and if you know the man’s work, you know what to expect in advance. This heart is one of only a few moments of gore, as Lanthimos chooses to evoke horror through profoundly strange and awkward conversations, punctuated just by sharp, dissonant strings and oddly timed percussion. To call the entire film jarring would be an understatement, but it is a welcome, albeit challenging feeling to savor.
As an exercise in minimalism, DOWNRANGE only works in spurts rather than slowly ratcheting up tension. The main problem lies in the fact that these are not characters we grow to care about therefore our investment is minimal as well. In fact, word around the TIFF campfire is that certain audience members were actually cheering on the kills, which is not a good sign or anything resembling an intended audience reaction. Yes, most of us as the sympathetic audience do not want them to suffer as they must stay alive while someone faceless is attempting to pick them off one at a time from a distance. But there is very little here outside of some flashy style to compilment.
ANIMALS comes to us from relatively unknown director Greg Zglinski. With it beginning relatively calmly, Zglinski tricks the viewer into thinking this will be a thriller/drama about a trapped married couple and their secrets. Nothing overly spectacular there. Yet, as soon as they hit the road the tone changes. Dark dreams and sudden time gaps unsettle the initial calm and unravel the true essence of the film. A descent into paranoia with a hint of Lynchian obscurity becomes apparent. Zglinski & the actors execute wonderfully that feeling of “We don’t know what’s happening either” which only enhances the enjoyment of a film so idiosyncratic it’s even acceptable to inject some dark humour with a suave French talking cat.
There’s little in terms of sociological commentary (the kind that Romero always chose to relish in) but the thrills are fairly consistent, even when the conflict that ensues is between the men themselves rather than what lurks in the dark. As an immense fan of films that have an air of mystery as the walls are closing in, or even as someone that constantly got goosebumps from playing Wolfenstein, TRENCH 11 is really one of the better examples of confined, horrific distress mixed with practical gore that has come out in quite some time.
Of course, given it's crazed production schedule, it's not a surprise that Dementia: Part Two feels like a trifle. It was written in two days, shot in six and what resulted is unsurprisingly similar to an old Corman programmer. One location, four characters, long takes, short running time, lots of black humor and blood; hell, it's even in black and white. What made it special was attending a film festival at midnight on a Monday, seeing a film tailor made for that exact moment. It's the sort of thing that can only happen at a genre festival like Cinepocalypse.
Bigfoot was a legitimate pop culture phenomenon in the 70's and every year there were more and more Bigfoot movies. In 2017, a year where people check the news with a trepidation usually reserved for the results of STD tests, perhaps we can find similar comfort in films about a huge hairy ape man lumbering around the Pacific Northwest. There is nothing, however, pure and innocent about Bigfoot in Primal Rage.
I can see this working for many. The dialogue is definitely sharp and most of the action is propelled by clever exchanges along with contextual time shifts. In other words, this isn’t just a case of style over substance, but the style and the substance leaves something to be desired overall. The theme of desperation among incredibly flawed criminals that eventually try to rediscover some semblance of morality along the way is admirable and there are intense, over-the-top moments that achieve dramatic merit at the same time. But Lowlife didn't contain many highs when all is said and done.
Sweet Virginia has a dark story. It's plot is of the Coen variety, a puzzle of infidelity, sociopaths, murder-for-hire, life insurance schemes and people who unwittingly bring hell crashing down upon their heads. None of the small-town Alaska residents who populate Sweet Virginia are happy. The best they can hope for is to get by and not become one of the innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. It's a dark story. But it's also just a dark movie, one bathed in shadows. Perhaps too many shadows.