Altered States – horror and SF movies at this year’s VIFF

It Follows

A completely unnecessary scene in the scare flick It Follows.

Capsule reviews – Altered States film series at Vancouver International Film Festival 2014

– by Shawn Conner and Michael Nevada

This year’s VIFF has an intriguing array of genre fare, at least in the SF and horror departments. We were able to see many of the selections before or just after the fest’s start date, Sept 25. We’ll be adding to this post in the days to come with reviews of The Incident and The Well. Visit viff.org for ticket and screening info.

Alleluia – This is the latest from Fabrice Du Welz, the Belgian filmmaker whom horror fans know from 2004’s Calvaire (classic!) and 2008’s Vinyan (which I haven’t seen, but which has mixed reviews on RottenTomatoes.com). Alleluia follows the super-weird and sick relationship between a con man and his new, love-starved girlfriend. If you’ve seen the 1969 cult film The Honeymoon Killers, you’ll know the story – both movies are based on the true-life mayhem perpetrated by Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck. This updated version takes awhile to get going, but the suspense is ramped up for a nail-biter of an ending. Still, I can’t help feeling that Du Welz is working with material that is a little too conventional for his talents.

Trailer – Alleuluia:

The Infinite Man – Time loops are all the rage these days, if you consider last year’s Coherence (reviewed here, and available on VOD) and at least two entries at VIFF 2014. One is The Incident (see below); the other is Hugh Sullivan‘s The Infinite Man is a humourous take on the Groundhog Day-ish premise, with Josh McConville turning in a winning performance as Dean, a love besotted mad-scientist type, Australian division. Hannah Marshall as Lana, the object of Dean’s yearning, is also charming, as is Alex Dimitriades as Terry, her grasping ex. Trying to figure out what’s going on can be a headache, so just relax and let The Infinite Man’s heart and performances take you along for the ride.

Trailer – The Infinite Man:

Housebound – This New Zealand horror comedy mixes Scooby-Doo-style scare-jinks with some good laughs. Morgana O’Reilly gives a strong performance as Kylie an angry young woman who, as a condition of her sentencing, is forced to move back home with her talkative mom and silent step-dad. The movie doesn’t quite take advantage of the house-arrest idea (and the ankle bracelet that alerts the police when Kylie tries to leave the premises), and it doesn’t offer the jolt of white-knuckle fear horror-film fans live for. But the movie makes up for this with a strong dose of humour and some clever ideas. (Enter to win tickets to the Oct. 4 screening at the Rio Theatre here.)

Housebound movie image

Rima Te Wiata and Morgana O’Reilly in the New Zealand horror flick Housebound.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – This is the kind of movie where one character says to another, “Let’s meet at the power plant tomorrow night at 10 p.m.” not because it’s important to the story but because, well fuck, it turns out a huge Iranian power plant at night looks pretty cool, especially with superb black-and-white cinematography. In fact, this Iranian vampire flick could use a little more story and a fewer less gorgeous shots. But though slow and even dawdling at times, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is worth a look for its uniqueness (an Iranian vampire flick), the cinematography, and a star turn by a cat, credited as Masuko.

Trailer – A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night:

It Follows – At times, It Follows is deliriously successful at being super-creepy and, at its best, scary. However, as the story develops – some kind of evil force is being passed along through sex; that is, it follows and eventually kills the carrier unless they have sex with someone before that happens – we are forced to realize that writer/director David Robert Mitchell hasn’t entirely thought things through. This viewer, at least, needs a few ground rules for a horror movie, not an antagonist whose abilities and scare-factor changes according to the needs of the script at any given moment (i.e., except for the opening sequence ending in a thoroughly spooky, grotesque image, how does it fit in with the rest of the movie? Also, is the force passed on through orgasm? What if you just put the tip in? Also, how does it get around – we only see it walking, but it shows up at a lakeside retreat where the protagonists have escaped to.) Also, as good as the music is, too much of the movie relies on it for its scares – without the score, half of It Follows could be a margarine commercial. In other words, it’s good, but it could have been so much better with a more developed script.

Trailer – It Follows:

The Editor – Winnipeg collective Astron 6 have come up with a delicious idea – an homage/parody of ’70s giallo (Italian slasher) movies. Admittedly a niche genre, giallos have plenty of elements to spoof, from bad dubbing to atrocious (translated) dialogue to absurd plot developments, not to mention gratuitous nudity (here played by Vancouver burlesque performer/actress Tristan Risk) and lots of (fake-looking) blood. In other words, The Editor has a much smaller potential audience than the Scary Movie franchise. (Considering its budget – just over $100k – it doesn’t need to please the masses.) But even people unfamiliar with the genre will find much to enjoy here, while horror movie aficionados will love the humour and care that’s gone into The Editor. A sidenote: in a q-and-a following the Sept. 27 midnight screening at the Rio, filmmakers Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy (who wrote, directed, produced, and star in The Editor) said that they and Vancouver filmmakers Jen and Sylvia Soska (American Mary) are planning to work together in the near-future.

Trailer – The Editor:

Bloody Knuckles – This Vancouver-made horror comedy follows Travis, an underground comic book artist with a taste for the obscene, whose hand gets cut off by a disgruntled mob boss. The dismembered hand comes back to life, exacting revenge on the Chinatown mobsters. The film is campy to be sure, containing comically gory death scenes and heavy synth music, clearly paying homage to B-movies like Evil Dead 2 and Toxic Avenger. When the protagonist of the film is asked, “Is there ever a voice in your head asking if this is just wrong?”, he responds, “Nah”. This encapsulates the film in a nutshell. Bloody Knuckles is a celebration of schlock horror and unabashedly revels in the grotesque. It may not be for everyone, but that’s​ the point. – Michael Nevada

The Well – This post-apocalyptic thriller follows Kendal, a teenage girl, living in a drought-ridden Oregon, who’s sworn to protect her farm and terminally ill boyfriend. Unfortunately, a gang of thieves wants her land, laying claim to the last remaining wells in the Oregon Valley. Kendal must fight to protect her boyfriend and her home. The cinematography is beautiful, showcasing the lush desert landscapes of this barren world. The film falters, however, with tone. The Well is bleak and understated at times, similar to films like Children of Men, but this tone gets undercut by over-the-top villains that seem to come straight out of a spaghetti Western. Keeping that in mind, The Well’s beautiful shots and original take on the post-apocalypse genre make it well worth the price of admission. – MN

Trailer – The Well (2014):

The Incident – coming soon

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