Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2014: The Babadook Review!

If it's in a word, or it's in a look, you can't get rid of the Babadook...

On paper, there’s nothing remotely scary about The Babadook. I mean, honestly - It’s a nonsensical title for a movie about a haunted, spooky pop-up book for children, right? It’s truly earth-shattering, then, when this film sucks you into one the most deadly serious kinds of conflict one can imagine in a horror film - the question of how to reconcile the equal parts love and devotion to ones children, with the resentment and anger many feel towards them for the sacrifices they require. When this manifests itself as the batlike phantom called the Babadook, the result is one of the most chilling experiences you’re likely to have with a film this year.

In The Babadook, the widowed Amelia (Essie Davis) struggles to keep it together as her six-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman)’s nightmares and misbehaviour keep her in a perpetual sleep-deprived trance. When a mysterious pop-up book appears on their bookshelf, strange, violent phenomena begins to swirl around both Samuel and Amelia, leaving both they and the audience wondering what’s real.

The film’s two anchors are Sam and Amelia and as characters, both pop off the screen in every scene they’re in. Noah Wiseman is exactly the right amount of adorable, irritating and, when necessary, skin-crawlingly creepy. Davis, similarly, goes through an incredibly wide array of character twists that perfectly convey the slow crawl of anxiety and outright exhaustion creating the horrifying hallucinations around her. It’s the scenes (and there’s a lot of them) where Davis and Wiseman are together, though, where their chemistry is nothing short of magical, making even the most hardened horror fan viscerally feel each tender scene and each horrific one equally.

The Babadook itself, springing from the pages of the twisted (and beautifully rendered) pop-up book, is absolutely not one of the ghosts/demons from lesser horror movies that spend the whole movie in shadows, only to reveal themselves in the last few frames. No, the Babadook is right there from the beginning, in both sight and sound. If you think the word ‘Babadook’ sounds silly now, I’d challenge you to have the same opinion after hearing the painful croak of it in the film.

Jennifer Kent’s ability to mine horror from the real emotion between a mother and son is rather unique, shared only by films like Lynne Ramsay's We Need To Talk About Kevin. With this deft handling of extremely nuanced characters and issues, I'm just going to say it, it's a goddamn crime that there aren't more female voices like hers in horror. Rest assured though, with more films like The Babadook, it'll be a lot easier for these types of voices to break through.

The Babadook continues a long history of Australian horror films that have almost always been thought-provoking, brilliantly-directed and acted, and of course, some of the most terrifying films ever to be produced. Joining films like The Loved Ones, Wolf Creek, Snowtown, Next of Kin, and a host of others, The Babadook is all but assured a place among Australia's best horror exports, and in my opinion, one of its best films of any kind.



 
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Check out Toronto After Dark's schedule, ticket info, and more here.

This piece was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer. His writing has appeared on Mcsweeneys.net, the CBC Street Level Blog, Ohmpage.ca, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.


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Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2014: Time Lapse Review!

Time travel movies were, up to a point, strictly the realm of big-budget films where scientists with Troll-Doll hair and a penchant for exclaiming 'Great Scott!' would nag young Family Ties alums about creating paradoxes by screwing with their own timelines. After Shane Carruth's breakthrough Primer, though, everything changed. Suddenly it was possible to write a great story and use time-travel as a device to put a great character piece onscreen without needing any elaborate special effects. That's what Time Lapse attempts to accomplish and though it’s not a flawless film by any means, it gets remarkably close to the mark.

Finn (Matt O' Leary) is a painter and building manager for an apartment complex in which he lives with his girlfriend Callie (Danielle Panabaker) and the eccentric, scheming Jasper (George Finn). With tension brewing between the trio over typical roommate stuff like money and a dissatisfaction with work situations, things escalate after the death of their eccentric scientist neighbor reveals that he has discovered and built a machine that can take Polarioid pictures of the future. The issue of how best to capitalize on this information, if at all, results in a conflict reminiscent of Shallow Grave, and a situation where no one can be trusted. In particular, the need to re-create (or is it create? dun dun dunnnn) the future scene from the Polaroids becomes the source of huge drama and implications for the three friends.

Beyond the usual trappings of a time-travel story (paradoxes, the question of fate, etc), there's a really small but important set of interpersonal issues that are brought to the surface in Time Lapse, which snowball into a climax that leaves everyone involved with wounds both literal and figurative. At times you feel like you're watching a stage play, as the film is particularly dialogue-heavy, only a small handful of sets are used, and the characters are kept to the barest minimum. Callie's is probably the meatiest role here and Panabaker takes you through a rollercoaster of emotions throughout Time Lapse's running time, but O'Leary and Finn more than hold their own in scenes with enough tension to make any viewer squirm.

Time Lapse is the perfect reminder that there's a lot to love about minimalist, diminutive sci-fi. In a lot of ways the time travel/prediction is a bit of a MacGuffin, where the Polaroids could be substituted for almost any get-rich-quick scheme, but the dramatic tension between the three leads is more than enough to sustain the film. In a different time, this story would be right at home in an episode of The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone, but as a standalone piece, it's a great little mind-bender that shows that time travel doesn't exclusively have to be the realm of Marty and Doc anymore.


 
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Check out Toronto After Dark's schedule, ticket info, and more here.

This piece was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer. His writing has appeared on Mcsweeneys.net, the CBC Street Level Blog, Ohmpage.ca, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.


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Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2014: Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter Review!

There’s a scene in Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter where the titular Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) stands, distraught, in her bathroom holding the remnants of a VHS copy of the Coen brothers film, Fargo that has been unwound and destroyed by her VCR. Before flushing the whole celluloid ball down the drain, Kumiko buries her face in the mass of film in a brief moment of feverish ecstasy, literally engulfing herself in the frames of a movie that encapsulates all of her hopes and dreams of a new life. No other moment in the film is this striking for me, and that's saying something in a film that's filled with striking and surprising moments. It's Kumiko's quirkiness, obsession, and complete devotion to her quest all summed up in a few minutes.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter opens on a lonely Kumiko mysteriously finding a waterlogged but functional copy of Fargo in a cave, and proceeds to show her growing obsession with the film, specifically the scene in which Steve Buscemi stashes a large sum of money in the snow near a fence. Kumiko rewinds and rewatches the scene countless times and uses the images to construct a map to where this treasure is buried and abruptly abandons her job, her nagging mother, even her beloved rabbit Bunzo, and hops a plane to Minnesota to pursue the riches she believes she's 'discovered'.

This movie hinges on Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim, Babel) and her ability to effectively portray two characters — the withdrawn Kumiko of Tokyo who goes through the motions of being a participant in society but never truly fits, and the lost but heartbreakingly determined Kumiko of Minnesota who must rely on the unbelievable kindness of strangers to accomplish her task and claim her treasure. It's hard to argue that Kikuchi makes a single wrong acting choice here, always choosing the more difficult route of being subtle and spare rather than overdramaticizing the turmoil her character feels at every turn. This makes her few outbursts of joy, despair, and anger in the film seem truly meaningful. In short, it's one of the best performances I've seen this year.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is nothing short of a gorgeous film that harvests beauty from both the emptiness of Kumiko's Tokyo and the austere landscapes of Minnesota, though this is all background for Kumiko herself, who's in almost every frame. The Octopus Project's score bolsters every scene with a dreamlike quality that puts you right in Kumiko's head when necessary. It's a stirring combination of sight and sound all working together to make this fever dream of a story fill every space in the theatre.

Before I watched Kumiko and immediately afterwards, I had no idea why this movie was at After Dark. There's nothing remotely resembling science-fiction, action, and certainly not horror here. Some would call Kumiko's quest a futile one — little more than the delusions of someone on the fringe of madness — and the last third of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter features a host of well-meaning characters trying to convince Kumiko of this. But sometimes, when we grab onto something as powerful as a myth, it's impossible to let go, and that's why this film is at After Dark. We're all here - programmers, writers, directors, reviewers, and audience members - because we love film enough to follow it into the most unfamiliar and unforgiving places that it can possibly lead us.

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Check out Toronto After Dark's schedule, ticket info, and more here.

This piece was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer. His writing has appeared on Mcsweeneys.net, the CBC Street Level Blog, Ohmpage.ca, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.


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Doctor Who & The Companion Who Forgot To Care

[Spoilers up to and including "Flatline", the ninth episode of Season Eight.]

Well, that was pretty messed up. And I don't just mean the terrifying creatures from the two-dimensional universe who were sucking humans into flat deaths, or that giant hand, or the shrinking TARDIS. Because, yet again this week, the most fascinating thing about the episode was the relationship between the Doctor and Clara. Season Eight's portrayal of our current companion continues to be much more interesting than the two-dimensional character (pun oh-so-very intended) we were introduced to last year.

Last week, after "Mummy On The Orient Express," I wrote about the way the Doctor seems to be actively moulding Clara in his own image. And I wasn't the only one who noticed. As Chris Lough wrote in his review for Tor.com, "Over the course of the season... he continually places her in positions that will make her just like him." It backfired in "Kill The Moon" — she was so upset by the responsibility he forced her to shoulder that she was ready to leave him for good. But their showdown with the mummy helped Clara to better understand the Doctor's thought process. She even lied to Maisie just like he would have.

But this week, the show made that theme kind of the whole point of the episode. (Y'know, other than all the saving of the world.) In "Flatline," Clara runs around with the sonic screwdriver, calling herself the Doctor, and trying to save the day. It's not the first time we've seen a companion take on the Doctor's role — like, say, Amy in "Dinosaurs On A Spaceship" — but this week it had a whole new weight.

That's largely because we're left to wonder just how much of a positive development this really is. Just a couple of episodes ago, Clara had deep concerns about the Doctor. She's had them all season long — unable to answer his "good man" question in "Into The Dalek." But in order to satisfy her time travel addiction, she now seems willing to overlook her concerns and embrace the Time Lord's way of seeing the universe. To make it, in fact, her own.

It ended well in "Mummy On The Orient Express" and again in "Flatline." They save the day. But the Doctor's companion isn't supposed to think like the Doctor. They're supposed to think like a human being. That's the whole point, as we've been reminded over and over again this season. Clara is the caretaker. The one who cares so he doesn't have to. His conscience. The asking questions one — not just about the details of an episode so the audience can understand what's happening, but also about whether or not what the Doctor is doing is truly a good thing to do.

So the moment in "Flatline" that really stands out for me is one that happens when they're in the tunnels. While they're trying to escape the Flatliners (sorry Doctor, "the boneless" is a terrible nickname) they come across some of Rigsy's graffiti. While Clara has been playing the role of the Doctor, Rigsy has been playing the role of her companion. And in that moment, he looks for praise from her just like she looks for praise from the Doctor. But she barely even glances at his artwork. "Yeah, not bad," she says dismissively. She's got bigger things on her mind. It's exactly the kind of rough bedside manner we've been seeing from the Twelfth Doctor all year. Focusing on the big picture while forgetting to be nice to people. It's the kind of thing Clara is supposed to be better at. That's why he needs her around. She is after all, a school teacher. She's supposed to be encouraging to young people. But right now, she's too busy saving the world to be nice.

It's a small moment, but an emblematic one. She's supposed to care about being nice. About lying to people. About seeing them die. But in "Flatline," she doesn't. At least, not as much as she's supposed to.

"You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara" the Time Lord says to her at the end of the episode. "Goodness had nothing to do with it." And you can understand the worried look on his face. Because, if the Doctor's companion becomes too much like him, then who's left to do all the caring?


Other thoughts:

- There's a good discussing about that graffiti moment on the Verity! podcast this week.

- Emily Asher-Perrin points out the great class-related stuff for Tor.com.

- Interesting choice to have a graffiti artist in Bristol named Rigsy; that's Banksy hometown. I visited the city this summer — Bristol's street art is great.

- For a show about travelling through all of space and time, there have been an awful lot of episodes taking place on Earth this year. And another one, it looks like, next week.

- It doesn't have much to do with "Flatline", but as a Canadian I couldn't help but have the events in Ottawa in mind as I re-watched the episode this week. "Flatline" deals, as Doctor Who so often does, with the question of violence and what our response to it should be. These days we seem to have an increasing understanding of how often mental illness plays a role in these situations — it occurs to me that it's something I wouldn't mind seeing the show tackle at some point.

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This post posted by Adam Bunch, the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at adam@littleredumbrella.com.


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Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2014: Late Phases Review!

Though they've never been my favourite horror antagonists, werewolves have gotten a bad shake over the past few years. Showing up as little more than an excuse to get overly buff Magic Mike meatheads to shed their shirts and howl in teen-horror fare like Twilight and True Blood, it's hard out there for a lycanthrope.

Breaking modern werewolf conventions at every turn, Late Phases is a somewhat fresh take on the moonlit creature-feature. Moving the setting to an unlikely one — a retirement home — and casting Nick Damici (Stake Land) as a blind former veteran who's the only one to detect that things are going awry with his fellow residents is a brave decision on the part of Spanish director Adrian Garcia Bogliano. In addition, the pacing of the film is a little bit slower than one might expect, but it works here.

Late Phases begins with Ambrose (Damici) being committed to this old-folks community by his son (Ethan Embry). Damici comes off as a Charles Bronson type, a type he very much plays into as the film wears on, and seems out of place in a charming way here. In another trend-bucking decision, the film wastes no time in showing you the werewolf as Ambrose's neighbor and his beloved dog are brutally slain on his very first night. However, you don't see much of the creature again for the bulk of the movie. Instead, we get a film about a man completely obsessed with taking this creature apart. Ambrose purchases silver bullets (remember that he's blind and this causes some concern around the town), and commits to a training regimen that wouldn't be out of place in a Rocky movie (if Apollo Creed turned into a feral dog at midnight).

While this is all going on, there are some issues with the way this community is presented. No one seems as concerned as they should be with the violence that befalls them, especially the police, and as much as I'd like to attribute this to a larger statement about how the elderly are ignored and cast aside, I think it's more a matter of a tonal misstep in the writing.

When it finally rears its head again, the werewolf creature design and the rendering of the transformation leaves a lot to be desired in a movie as thoughtful and serious as Late Phases is presented by that point. This is one of my quarrels with werewolf movies in general — they’re so rarely shown as anything but goofy — and though Late Phases does a better job than some, it’s still asking for a major suspension of disbelief for a film that's taken a more measured tone up to that point. Ultimately, though, Late Phases is a perfect antidote to the common werewolf film, and a declarative statement that growing old doesn't mean you have to give up your silver bullets.

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Check out Toronto After Dark's schedule, ticket info, and more here.

This piece was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer. His writing has appeared on Mcsweeneys.net, the CBC Street Level Blog, Ohmpage.ca, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.


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Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2014: Open Windows Review!

In Nacho Vigalondo’s Open Windows, we're thrust into a world where people and situations can be manipulated by faceless hackers with malicious intent and a distinct lack of consequences. It's the world of 1990s techno-thrillers like The Net and Hackers taken to even more dubious ends, though despite being much more plausible and less like far-fetched science fiction in 2014, its premise stretches both the limits of what technology can do, and most unfortunately, what an audience will sit through.

Like another Toronto After Dark selection, The ABC’s of Death 2, Open Windows is somewhat hamstrung by its premise. The entire movie takes place on the desktop of Nick Chambers (Elijah Wood), as a fan and blogger who wins a dinner with his favourite scream-queen Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey) and is promptly rebuffed. Upon learning of this, Chambers is contacted via instant message by 'Chord' (the voice of Neil Maskell) who tempts him with glimpses into Goddard's most private communications, including full access to her cell phone and a camera trained on a hotel room where she's carrying on an affair with her director. From there, Chord uses Chambers as his eyes and ears in increasingly more elaborate and disturbing ways as he mounts a relentless pursuit of Goddard. As the title suggests, this all plays out in browser and Skype windows on Chambers' laptop, which do a serviceable job of moving the plot along (though the device becomes less and less credible as the story moves away from a static location).

The incredulity brought on by the story tends to snowball as Chambers leaves his room, laptop in tow so we can follow the action. There's a good effort here to keep things relatively grounded in reality and Open Windows handles the technology aspect of the story better than most, but the last third of the film attempts to do way too much while keeping the story confined to a computer desktop. A car chase and foot pursuit is well outside the purview of this device, and the former is too long and elaborate of a scene to be successful. I think most viewers will wish that the film would switch to a more traditional point-of-view by the time the film enters its final throes.

Elijah Wood is a good anchor for the film, which is fortunate because his face is front-and-centre for almost the entire running time. He transitions between emotions and roles seamlessly, and like his turn in 2012's Maniac, takes more than a few risks with his portrayal of the socially-awkward, easily-manipulated Chambers. Unfortunately, Woods performance isn't matched by anyone else in the film, least of all Sasha Grey. Grey, as in her roles in several other films like The Girlfriend Experience and Would You Rather, can't muster a scene with real emotion or gravity to save her life. Scenes in which she'd be expected to be terrified or dehumanized read as bored, and ironically, the scenes where she's most animated and most like a human being are the ones that open the film, where she's ostensibly pretending to act in a campy action/horror. Supporting roles from the other actors are also weak. It's too bad, because Woods performance is worth going out of one's way to see.



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Check out Toronto After Dark's schedule, ticket info, and more here.

This piece was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer. His writing has appeared on Mcsweeneys.net, the CBC Street Level Blog, Ohmpage.ca, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.


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Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2014: Zombeavers Review!

You already know if you're going to watch Zombeavers. There's probably nothing I could write here, no revelatory tidbit of information, that would either encourage or discourage you from watching badly-on-purpose assembled beaver puppets viciously tear apart every piece of wood and flesh onscreen.

The setup is the same as you've seen a million times before. Mary (Rachel Melvin) arranges a girls weekend with the shit-disturbing Zoe and naive Jenn (Lexi Atkins) at a remote lakeside cabin, which is soon interrupted by boyfriends Tommy (Jake Weary), the effusive Buck (Peter Gilroy) and Jenn’s recent ex Sam (Hutch Dano). We’re also introduced to several quirky locals along the way. I'd elaborate but I don't think it's a spoiler to say that getting too attached to any of them is unwise in a movie about rampaging beavers.

The origin story of the crazed rodents is razor-thin, and as one would expect, is partly the fault of John Mayer (yes, that John Mayer in a cameo role). It's secondary to the point though, which is that these beavers are dangerous, completely relentless, and even cunning to a hilarious degree. Yes, these buck-toothed bastards are smart. Smarter than most horror villains, actually.

I think what elevates Zombeavers above the Sharknados of the world is the fact that everyone looks like they’re having a great time on set and with the material given. There are points in the film where the actors, especially Palm, Dano, and Gilroy, seem to be fighting to one-up each other, as well as the beavers themselves, in chewing the most scenery. It gets excessive at times, but movies like this have no place for restraint and nuance.

Director Jordan Rubin is competent enough behind the camera and is very aware of what he's doing, and that's all you can really ask here. Ultimately, if you're ever going to watch a movie in which a group of teenagers is overrun by unkillable rabid beavers who communicate with each other sonically by slapping their tails, make it Zombeavers.


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Check out Toronto After Dark's schedule, ticket info, and more here.

This piece was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer. His writing has appeared on Mcsweeneys.net, the CBC Street Level Blog, Ohmpage.ca, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.


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Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2014: Housebound Review!

I've seen worse family photos

Though it's a feature of nearly every horror film out there, very few entries into the genre manage to balance comedy with genuine scares in a way that neither steps on the other's toes. In Gerard Johnstone’s debut feature Housebound, while the humour is certainly at the forefront of the film, the scares and the seemingly endless twists remain extremely effective and uncompromising. 

After a botched ATM robbery, Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) is sentenced to house arrest, complete with electronic ankle bracelet to prevent her straying, at her childhood home with her mother (Rima Te Waita) and stepfather (Ross Harper). Before long, the brooding miscreant is plagued by strange, seemingly supernatural happenings on the property, leading to the revelation that her mother has long suspected that the house is haunted. What follows is a series of twists and turns as Kylie, her mother, and parole officer Amos (Glen-Paul Waru) attempt to unravel the truth.

The titular house is as much a character in Housebound as any of the people that inhabit and explore it. Simultaneously sprawling and confining, it evokes Wes Craven's The People Under The Stairs as it serves to completely disorient the viewer with its hidden rooms and passageways so that, in the third act, you never really know where the characters actually are in the labyrinthine house. It works on multiple levels as well, as it starts off displaying a few cluttered rooms to bring out Kylie's feeling of confinement to the small space, and then more of the layout is revealed to show Kylie's gradual understanding of the house's history and the horrific events that occurred there.

Though I have a few issues with the characters — the mother and Amos seem to vacillate between true believers in the paranormal and complete skeptics every other scene — Johnstone does a great job of keeping you guessing throughout the 100-minute running time with enough twists that Housebound seems a lot longer than it is (in a good way). As you can probably tell, I watch a lot of horror movies and movies in general, so there’s not much I haven't seen, but I can honestly say that I never knew what was coming next in this movie. By the time the final payoff comes (and boy does it pay off), you’re almost exhausted from the journey there.

A New Zealand horror-comedy may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you're looking for something to watch that’s just challenging enough while remaining light and fun, but Housebound definitely fits the bill. A welcome surprise and a great way to open After Dark 2014, and Gerard Johnstone is definitely a filmmaker to keep your eye on.


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Check out Toronto After Dark's schedule, ticket info, and more here.

This piece was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer. His writing has appeared on Mcsweeneys.net, the CBC Street Level Blog, Ohmpage.ca, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.



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Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2014: Suburban Gothic Review!

Peekaboo!
After an ambitious, shocking, mind-blowing debut with 2012’s Excision, most everyone that saw that film was salivating at what Richard Bates Jr would come up with next. Unfortunately, in what I assume was a reaction to the extreme nature of Excision, it was nearly impossible for Bates to obtain funding for a sophomore effort. Out of the depression associated with the closing doors he faced came Suburban Gothic, a film that attempts to make sense of the tortured artist unable to pursue his true calling. For many reasons, Suburban Gothic can easily be written off as a failure, a pastiche of quirkiness that attempts to draw from the Wes Anderson well too often, but it’s not entirely devoid of charm.
After the MBA his father demanded he obtain fails to land him a job, Raymond (Matthew Gray-Gubler) is forced to move back in with his parents (Ray Wise and Barbara Niven) and the town he thought he left behind. Raymond’s past as a picked-on fat kid whose secrets start with the ability to communicate with the dead and get stranger from there, is the central theme of Suburban Gothic and its unraveling is what drives the film. The horror is all in Raymond and his maybe love interest - we’re told this but there isn’t an ounce of chemistry between them - and their intent to cleanse their small town of a vengeful spectre.

Unfortunately none of the horror elements in this supposed horror-comedy are effective at all. There’s nothing that approaches scary here, and certainly nothing that’s as jarring or affecting as the stuff Bates put onscreen in Excision. Without this element, the comedy would have to compensate, and whether it does or not will probably divide people. Ray Wise is always good for a laugh whenever he’s in a scene (though his blatant racism gets a little out of hand for my tastes) and Gray-Gubler does a pretty good job of holding his own in his frequent sparring with Wise and the many other cameo characters he encounters (including a hilarious Jack Plotnick who I wish there was more of). Kat Dennings is, well, playing the single character she’s played in every film or show I’ve ever seen of hers. If you’re a Kat Dennings fan, that’s probably a positive. It’s not for me.

There is just so much thrown at the wall in Suburban Gothic, and there’s almost no way anyone could entirely love or hate it. For me, it’s almost exactly 50/50. I love the completely offbeat humour most of the time, and there’s a genuine quality to Gray-Gubler that’s endearing to me. That said, the horror aspect of the film is basically non-existent and forgettable, and large parts of the film, including many jokes, come across like someone wrote them on Ambien. People in Suburban Gothic seemingly just say the first things that pop into their heads, and that only sometimes reads as funny rather than simply quirky for its own sake. By the end of the film, the ‘whoa, random!’ element definitely wears thin.

If you told me that this was Bates first film and Excision was his second, it'd make a lot more sense to me. Excision is a polished, well-balanced, genuinely scary, important addition to horror.  Suburban Gothic is the exact opposite, but it shows glimmers of the genius that Bates debut had on full display. For that alone, I say it's worth 90 minutes of your time.


 
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Check out Toronto After Dark's schedule, ticket info, and more here.

This piece was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer. His writing has appeared on Mcsweeneys.net, the CBC Street Level Blog, Ohmpage.ca, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.


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Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2014: The ABC's of Death 2 Review!

With the anthology horror film having experienced a bit of a renaissance with the V/H/S films (now on its third installment), it’s not any coincidence that directors/curators Ant Timpson and Tim League have gone back to the well for a second iteration of their popular ABC’s Of Death anthology. It allows for a titanic slate of popular directors to showcase their work in one place, and in many ways speaks to an audience that has grown up with things like YouTube and Chatroulette, where tiny bursts of entertainment can be consumed and discarded with little consideration for long-term retention.

The major flaw, and in my opinion it is major, with ABC’s Of Death 2 is its sprawling, ill-conceived premise. As appealing as the idea of 26 horror shorts sounds (to a horror geek like me), it simply doesn’t make for a pleasant traditional movie experience simply due to its gigantic size. With no connecting theme for the shorts (beyond the trite ‘letter of the alphabet’ conceit), it reduces almost all of the works to either one-note jokes or incomprehensibly banal gross-out scenes.

This makes me wonder exactly who or what situation this anthology is for. Sitting in a theatre and watching the pieces unfold at a clip, there’s almost no way you can retain all 26 shorts after the credits roll. Traditional anthologies cap off at around four to five shorts, which seems to be the sweet spot in terms of balancing a varied slate of ideas and direction with enough length for each film (and the viewer) to breathe. It seems to me that the best way to consume the ABC’s films is to watch them either at home, with the benefit of a pause button so you can watch a few segments at a time, or have them running in the background of your Halloween party where guests can drift in and out. Long attention spans are not welcome here.

All of this is not to say that ABC’s 2 is absent of quality. There’s some outstanding talent here and their submitted segments truly make you want more time than they’re given. The Soska Twins (American Mary, See No Evil 2) turn in the gleefully grotesque T is For Torture Porn which skillfully upends the Hollywood casting couch trope, and the crown jewel of the anthology is X is For Xylophone by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo (Inside, Livid) which is a moody, haunting little piece. Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Splice)’s U is For Utopia and Steven Kostanski (Manborg, Father’s Day)’s W is For Wish are also major standouts.

Again, though, the problem with ABC’s 2 is that the pieces I’ve named make up less than a fifth of the shorts on offer, and are not only buried by worse segments but are also backloaded towards the end of the film when almost any viewer will be burnt out. Other anthologies are not hamstrung by the need to have 26 films, many of which are terrible jokes (Alejandro Brugues’ E is For Equilibrium is little more than an unfunny ‘women, am I right?’ flop) fly by the audience over the course of two hours and they are better for it.

While I realize that the alphabet concept is the hook for ABC’s of Death 2, I wish that Timpson and League had, perhaps, chosen a word to spell out with the short films to curb the sheer number of stories that are thrown at you. It’d certainly prevent the overall piece from becoming Tired, Emotionless, Direction-free, Ill-conceived, Overwrought, Underwhelming, and Silly.


 
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This piece was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer. His writing has appeared on Mcsweeneys.net, the CBC Street Level Blog, Ohmpage.ca, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.


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