Honeymoon (dir. Leigh Janiak)
When newlywed couple Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) head to her parent’s cabin for their honeymoon we know to expect the worst. Is there a more classic setting for horror than a secluded cabin in the woods? Thankfully, HONEYMOON actually brings a good dose of original scares to the unoriginal location. Bea and Paul are adorable and trendy Brooklynites, but stop just shy of having an overly cutesy relationship or being too deep into hipster culture which keeps both of them likeable. Their relationship is caring and kind and they are enjoying being in love. After the first night in the cabin things start to change. Bea is acting odd, but not alarmingly so. She says she is tired, which would explain her actions, but it does not explain why there are bright white lights surrounding the cabin at night. HONEYMOON builds suspense at an easy pace, but does so effectively. When we finally see what is actually happening to the couple you realize the plot of the film has been incredibly smart and controlling about what we do and not know about their situation.
Open Windows (dir. Nacho Vigalondo)
OPEN WINDOWS starts out innocently enough. Nick (Elijah Wood) has come to Texas as a contest winner to meet his favorite movie star, Jill (Sasha Grey). Nick is not only a casual fan of the actress, he runs a fan site dedicated to her. Just as Nick is getting ready to go meet Jill a hacker barges onto Nick’s computer to tell him that Jill has called off the contest, and that he travelled to Texas for nothing. The entire running time of the film takes place in a computer monitor and this invasion is just the first of many that Nick will encounter in the next 100 minutes. If last year’s Wood vehicle GRAND PIANO can be described as “SPEED on a piano,” OPEN WINDOWS can similarly be described as “GRAND PIANO on a computer.” The comparison comes from the fact that the film is basically a faceless assailant, barking orders at Wood while he must somehow try to save a completely helpless damsel in distress. OPEN WINDOWS is entertaining, but the plot makes very little sense and is astronomically unbelievable past the first 30 minutes. Grey’s acting skills are not up to the mild challenge of playing an actress, which is an unneeded weakness for the already hobbling film. There will be an audience for this film, but I am not one to want to watch it ever again.
Bag Boy Lover Boy (dir. Andres Torres)
Albert (Jon Wachter) is a simple hot dog vendor in New York City. He sees no need to look for another job- he already has one. He does not get too stressed when customers give him a hard time. He just goes with the flow. When Albert has a generous customer, Ivan (Theodore Bouloukos), offer to help get him into the “art” business, the only reason Albert takes him up on it is the promise of photography lessons. Albert has a crush on one customer and would like to impress her. Predictably, Ivan is more interested in exploiting Albert for his simple mind and odd looks than he is in growing Albert’s photography skills. All of these elements seem completely normal up to this point. However the sexually violent nature of Ivan’s photography brings out something in Albert. Albert begins to be aware of power and sexuality, but is not capable of fully realizing how they can function together without disastrous outcomes. His sexual fantasies morph from his crush kissing him all over his face to far more violent acts. BAG BOY LOVER BOY explores issues of consent, exploitation, victimization, and art with a steady hand and stunning visuals. Albert’s arc through the film changes drastically without changing who he is at his core, which may be the most terrifying thing of all. This film is beautifully shot, expertly paced, with some of the best performances of the fest, most atmospheric score, and an original story. I would not be at all surprised if this is my favorite film overall for Fantasia 2014, and I hope its exposure at the fest means that many more people get the opportunity to experience it!
Animosity (dir. Brendan Steere)
When the opening scene of a film shows a mother killing her own child, that film is setting its own bar awfully high for audience expectations. Unfortunately ANIMOSITY cannot keep up the momentum that it promises. When a young couple buys a house from that aforementioned murderous mother, things quickly start to get strange. Most notably, after a confrontation with a trigger happy neighbor Carrie (Tracy Willet) is just as alarmed by her husband Mike’s (Marcin Paluch) dismissive nature as she is by the incident itself. When more peculiarities emerge, and Mike continues to downplay them, Carrie knows that something is up. The concept of what is happening to Carrie and Mike is very interesting, but unfortunately poorly executed. Most notably, I was distracted by major issues with the film’s continuity. When a major plot point comes from something as subtle as a bandage on Carrie’s foot, it was a little disorienting to find out that the constantly changing level of filth on her slippers, or the forever moving blood spatters on her face and shirt where merely mistakes from the crew rather than details for attention. Tightly told stories need as much attention to detail as the film is asking the audience for, or else the film falls apart. And in ANIMOSITY, this solid concept for the film does indeed fall apart,
At The Devil’s Door (dir. Nicholas McCarthy)
If you like jump scares you just may love AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR. The film is one of the more Hollywood-style of horror films at Fantasia this year. It has really creepy and jumpy visuals, but a plot that simply unravels near the end. The film follows both a real estate agent, who is trying to sell a potentially haunted property, and a young girl, who may or may not have just made a deal with the devil. The writing of the film keeps the timeline of both stories intentionally murky, and does so to add some good scares and exciting confusion. The set pieces of certain scenes are effective for getting the audience to jump out of their seat, but ultimately don’t add to the overall terror of the plot. Not all horror films need to shake you to your core, and good jumpy films like this are fun when your expectations are low.
Predestination (dirs. The Spierig Brothers)
Time travel films are often like a snake eating its own tail. The fact that a character in PREDESTINATION utters those words at one point goes to show how aware the Spierig Brothers were of their twisty time traversing plot. The time travel in this film does get fairly complicated, though never confuses, but first it begins with a story. A good chunk of the film’s running time is of Ethan Hawke as a friendly bartender talking to bar patron Sarah Snook. After a wager that Snook’s character can tell Hawke the best story he has ever heard, they dive into the entire tale of how Snook ended up at that bar. The story, though lengthy, is well told and necessary for the entire plot. After the story has ended both characters are swept into a world of time travel, terrorism, secret government agencies, and a slight touch of romance. The details of how the plot folds in on itself are intentional and really interesting for the audience to piece together as the story goes on. Very smart writing and editing, and a rare film to get time travel right.