The aspect of horror and how spectacle fits into the undeniable formula is the thought process that Rob Zombie can always skew but play with. With the new structure of the studios, it is harder and harder to make the film you want. It either has to be huge, undeniably indie or have an angel investor. Or you can do the crowdfunding approach. It worked for Zach Braff…and it definitely takes you back to your roots but it begs the question: what do the investors get in return? Usually with a lot of these approaches, there is a ton of gimmicks in playing to the crowd. You got to have a hook. What “31” has to its strength is a blessing of characters (more on the villain side) that keep it moving. The problem is that the backing superstructure is pretty weak. Now granted, most of the people seeing this film are not going to be looking at that. The one thing that Zombie can definitely do is set a scene. The ending of “Devil’s Rejects” optimizing the song “Freebird” is over the top and exhilarating on many levels. Here, both the beginning and ending have bookends that really set tone, both with music and editing. Zombie’s use of freeze frame is an art and always harkens his films back to the Grindhouse circuit. After the screening, he did make reference to growing up in carnivals among the carnies so that notion of a gypsy existence very much rings true here. Sheri Moon Zombie gets the female vigilante role and busts it out, going for gold. You know she feels safe to do whatever is necessary and she goes for it. The dialogue is what it is since it is working towards an end game. It is more for the theatricality of it then anything else. The revelation of the movie is Richard Brake who plays Doomhead. You’ve seen him in a ton of films and music videos as well as “Game Of Thrones”. He is the movie. His character has little motivation but his sheer presence, intelligence and physicality simply pummels off the screen. This character is doing a job, albeit a violent one, but he loves it. Every time he is on screen, nothing else can dominate it. You can build a new horror franchise off this character. No masks. Pure and simple. The weak spot is the meaning per se of the game itself. Malcolm McDowell, a longtime favorite of Zombie’s, takes on a maniacal role but the chemistry on it is not quite right. He gambles with two older ladies on the results of the game but their inclusion seems neither motivated or essential. The sequences essentially take you out of the movie. The other villain including a murderous midget dressed up like Hitler, two maniacal brothers with chainsaws and a girl/boy team that is all about beauty and the beast by way of a maniacal mix of “The Munsters” and the nihilists from ” The Big Lebowski” is interesting but despite an inkling doesn’t make a story connection. There is a small one with “beauty” but it is never really optimized. Again, the movie doesn’t necessarily need to be that deep. On one side you have a powerful villain presence and some good style but on the other side a fairly weak backbone in terms of concept. But the element of it balances a bit and ending is still pretty bad ass.
When you look at the structure of teen angst and rebellion, it is always interesting to look at the progression of both Natasha Lyonne and Chloe Sevigny. I saw Natasha at one of the first parties I attended at Sundance in a private house around 1997 partying with Eddie Furlong. Chloe I originally ran into when she had that infamous run of publicity with Vincent Gallo and “The Brown Bunny”. What these two girls have always known how to do is take risks though neither has truly broken out into mainstream fame. Sevigny has had more success due to the HBO fuel of “Big Love”.
In the new movie “Antibirth” which premieredin Sundance’s Midnight section, there is a possibility for sure but the hand of director Danny Perez is truly not steady enough to balance the tone and make it both horrifying and riveting. How it begins definitely has potential. These two bad ass chicks who are self destructive in their own personal kind of way almost have the necessity of “Thelma & Louise” for a new misshapen generation. The chemistry is palpable. These girls could do some damage if they really wanted to. The background of a desolate wasteland (obviously the tax rebate heaven Michigan in the winter) specifically help situations. Actually too much profanity and incessant drug use (specifically by Lyonne) dull the situation. It would have been better if she went harder (and did less…say heroin). It would become a signal of almost nihilism and a point of no return.
However as soon as the film passes its 1/3 point, it has shifted to become focused on Lyonne who is trying but not controlled enough. Sevigny is better but she disappears literally for most of the movie. The revelation as Lyonne becomes pregnant and starts to transition into the movie’s twist could even feel more isolating if it was shot better and honestly, stayed with a less fantastical. It takes on an almost carnie tone. “Antibirth” has a possibility of hard core sci fi that could have truly transcended optimizing the right score. The last five minutes starts to show that and a wider narrative idea but it is squandered, as though the director thought “this is cool” but wandered too much. It’s too bad because his leading ladies were undeniably up for the challenge, just not used to the point they should have. Their car banter is a small glimpse into what might have been.
The cross section of a film festival in Hollywood always integrates with the aspect of the real versus the aspect of the weird. Life is always about how change reflects exactly what is going on in present day, whether it be political, economical or social, especially in texture of horror but sometimes in fantasy. That is true of AFI FEST 2015.
Southbound The progression of an anthology film is about maintaining a steady through-line as a narrative progression. The beginning of this tale with wraiths stalking two men running from a sin they committed but ultimately finds them stuck in a time loop is the best because it shows complete lack of control without overwhelmingly resorting to gore or cheap thrills. The second one similarly with an all female rock group really gets the blood boiling at times but peters out in the final moments. However it is the middle story with a simple guy stuck in the middle with one of the girls from the previous story where the rhythm really clicks. The problem is that once that pinnacles there is really no place to go. The requisite two stories afterwards simply feel like epilogues. This speaks to the impact of the earlier stories but the importance of any anthology is finding where that balance is.
The Mysterious Death Of Perola This film is much more of an art piece compared to the previous film but what this has to its advantage is that it is literally a two hander with a husband and wife filming a couples movie about isolation where the two people never really exist. It starts as minimalist with beautiful framing but slowly but surely disintegrates into something much darker. The film itself is at many points self indulgent committing itself to many cinematic tropes but at the same time there are moments of sheer delight and cinematic texture that really connect. Made in Brazil, there is kind of a new wave texture that very much sings when taking into account certain superstitions of the old world. Ultimately the woman’s story is more affecting than the man’s story although his motivations are unclear. This exercise is not really about story but a sense of ambiance which it achieves while still trying a bit too hard.
Tale Of Tales This is one of the films I wanted to see that at Cannes but arrived one day too late. Director Matteo Garrone does have a certain voice but the essentials of what he is doing is always a slight bit off (by design of course). His second film: “Reality” I saw at a previous Cannes and his opening shot there reflected why “Gomorrah” overall was a such an affecting picture. However “Reality” was even more affecting once you knew the actual story of its leading man. “Tale Of Tales” is about Garrone’s descent into fantasy and metaphor with three interweaving stories. All dwell in notions of selfishness. One story is about a woman who wants a child so bad she will do anything to get it. The second is about one of two sisters who becomes an analogy of the true consequence in wanting to be young. The last one is about a princess wanting something so bad having to realize that you had the power all along. To try to describe the twists which takes these characters to where they end up is too complicated to begin to explain. However there is a wistfulness and a world created here with giant bugs, ogres, twins born of a dragon and a queen transformed into a beast. Again all are overarching metaphors with a dark sense of comedy to them (much like “Holy Motors” but with a less perverted persistence). Garrone has a very steady sense of self with a neo realist view of subjugated motivations that eventually lead to enlightenment.
Baskin Sometimes a film’s reason for being lies in its ability to show an existential crisis in the most physical way. Here, it is embodied by a police chief and his protege with their team on a seemingly routine night. The discussions are fairly almost Tarantino-esque in their base nature especially examining each of these men and their inherent flaws through gallows humor. Reality tends to shift and, like the earlier film “Southbound”, turns into a textured loop after they are called for back up to a scene that turns into an accident. The crux of the movie becomes a bloody dissertation of a limbo where a talisman of sorts examines each man’s unwillingness to come to terms with their own shortcomings and, by extension, mortality. The protege begins floating backwards and forwards in his own perception as well as time which is not all together clear (this is Turkish horror by the way). By the final gotcha, the narrative tends to do nothing but inhibit more questions, specifically that the protege is simply bound to make the same mistakes as those before him.