TORONTO AFTER DARK FILM FESTIVAL 2015: NIGHT 4
The violent The Demolisher is the winning feature of night four of the 2015 Toronto After Dark Film Festival.
Shut In (screened with the short film From Out)
Whenever I work at a festival, I make sure to bring a notebook with me because it's almost certain that I'll forget something. While re-reading my notes on Shut In, I scribbled the word "silly" at least seven times. Shut In stars Beth Riesgraf as Anna, an agoraphobic woman who has not left her house for years. Now that all of her family has passed, she is the only one in a sprawling old house, and the only company she ever keeps is with a food-delivery guy (played by Rory Culkin). When she inexplicably (and ill-advisedly) offers him a sack of cash so that he can start anew, she passingly mentions that she has more money than she knows what to do with all over her house. Naturally, a gang of thugs show up shortly after and break in, and promptly tell Anna their entire plan in great detail, to the point where it'd make Blofeld's head spin. So much of this movie is so standard and mediocre, and although it does have a twist that I definitely haven't seen before in previous home invasion flicks, it is wounded by poor writing, a structurally flimsy script, and so much exposition in the dialogue that there is literally a scene where a character may as well be doing an impression of Monk figuring out a mystery.
The shorts that have been programmed this year are a serious home-run, and thus far have made this poor year for genre films feel much easier to deal with. Shut In was preceded by From Out, the story of Milo, who has been apprehended for the murder of a young woman. The main actor in this short looks like a lost Culkin brother and his delivery of the alien Milo is chilling and occasionally funny, and alongside some very fun effects, this is a very enjoyable watch.
The Hollow One (screened with the short film Heir)
Comparisons to Hellraiser will perhaps prime viewers for what The Hollow One is attempting. The film follows Rachel and her sister Anna, who are still dealing with the tragic death of their mother and subsequently, their missing father. Rachel is plagued with vague memories of the night that her mother was killed, and the nightmarish visions of that night come flooding back after uncovering an artifact that manifests a large, dark spectre that is hungry for Rachel's soul.
Although the filmmakers passion is undoubtedly palpable and credit is due for attempting to make an original story, it becomes lost in the execution. The actresses who play Rachel and Anna range from capable to amateur, and some of the dialogue in the movie feels very heavy-handed and melodramatic, specifically whenever the subject of family comes up, or whenever the malevolent being speaks, because so much of it sounds like what was picked up off of the cutting room floor for Pinhead's dialogue. Although The Hollow One is a very okay attempt and not particularly special or exciting, it has elements that seem promising for future works from that filmmaker. For example, the use of lighting when it comes to characters that have been possessed by the spectre is classy, understated and creepy, leaving a lot up to the audience's imaginations.
Heir is a story of a father named Gordon (Robert Nolan), who decides that he is going to indulge in a secret perversion. He takes his son to meet a man named Denis who shares that passion (played by the ever-creepy Bill Oberst, Jr.), and things get out of hand when Denis knocks Gordon's son unconscious and shows his true, slimy (literally) form. This short is very effectively uncomfortable and hard to enjoy, but with subject matter like pedophilia, it seems like it's exactly what it's going for.
The Demolisher (screened with the short film The Orchard)
Everyone can get behind a little violence, right? This stylish and sleek story follows Bruce (played by Ry Barrett, in my favourite role of his career), a repairman who is suffocated by a sense of responsibility for his crippled wife, who was wounded in the line of duty in a gang-related assault. Bruce succumbs to primal instinct and routinely leaves his home to beat the living daylights out of everyone who even resembles the men who hurt his wife, and as his psychological state continues to diminish, he becomes obsessed with killing a woman named Marie (Jessica Vano), who has a lot more fight in her than expected. The movie does have the tendency to err towards melodrama, but its consistency sets the tone and never feels disjointed. Although some will argue that Bruce's decision to hunt Marie felt unclear, it is easy to suspend disbelief due to the fact that it is very, very apparent that his character has completely broken down mentally, thus his motives don't really need to make much sense. For those looking for a Torontonian version of Judge Dredd, this movie is much more character-driven and may disappoint; but for those who are ready for anything, it is a seriously good-looking, unique surprise. (Also, I really, really need that soundtrack on vinyl. Immediately.)
The Orchard follows two former police partners who have been torn apart by a dark secret. This short is very well acted and is shot in a rural location which suits the crime story perfectly. Although I did have to watch the short twice to pick up on the subtleties in the plot because it is very quiet and understated, it is worthy of kudos for what it is attempting. The Orchard feels like a scene from a much bigger story, but in an enticing way that allows the audience to muse on it.
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