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As 2012’s SXSW film portion of the festival draws to a close,
its opening night—a rousing evening of the perfect CABIN IN THE WOODS, and
gory, romantic fun of [REC] 3: GENESIS—seems far removed from the current state
of mind. Preceded by three days of a decidedly Northeastern climate (i.e. low
50s and pouring) , the fest gave way to sun, but maintained an air of bad omen,
as a grayish storm made its way into theaters, crafting a genre lineup whose
strong and most effective works have tended to be the heaviest and most somber
That’s not to say fun hasn’t been had. V/H/S is a pure party
of an anthology. There’s a full review to come upon its release later this
year, but suffice to say it’s a bloody good time with an especially, and
thankfully, varied peek at found footage as a storytelling tool, real scares
and a look into our own predatory natures once we hold the power of a camera.
Don Coscarelli’s triumphant return, JOHN DIES AT THE END is
also something to write home about, providing a gleefully weird, psychedelic
and heady journey that deserves and most likely rewards return trips.
Still, there’s no doubt the Midnighters and subsequent
horror material elsewhere, have been either lacking, effective, but ultimately
not great debuts, or unnerving in a way that a rowdy excitement is not the
immediate impulsive reaction [Note: for all of our South By reviews, see the bottom of this page for links]. Here’s a look at the rest of everything Fango
THE AGGRESSION SCALE
Undoubtedly a touchstone, THE AGGRESSION SCALE eventually
plays like a sort of ultraviolent take on HOME ALONE as a group of thugs, in
search of their boss’ stolen cash, come face-to-face with a silent, badass and
very much prone to precise and deliberate fits of carnage, Kevin McAllister.
Ultimately, and much like its lead character and young boy, Owen (Ryan Hartwig)
however, the film feels imbalanced, which is not to say its transition from
serious minded crime thriller to the darkly amusing good time of watching an
eleven year-old viciously get over on goons is a rough one, but that chugging
along to its destination houses a ton of dead air.
The standout of THE AGGRESSION SCALE, aside from its
incredibly energizing and possibly over-promising opening titles, is Derek
Mears. The FRIDAY THE 13TH and horror vet, normally hidden behind masks and
prosthetics, gets full shine as one of the film’s criminal lugs, and he’s
simply the funniest and most engaging aspect onscreen. Both his lines, and
stunning ability to take hits with both a cringe and laugh factor are when
AGGRESSION truly comes to life. Also on hand, playing the deputized leader of
the band of thugs is TWIN PEAKS’ Dana Ashbrook, whose character wonderfully
spends much of the film overcompensating in his menace. On the much shorter end
of the stick is Owen’s family. The setup, as his father and new stepmother and
sister move into a new home often feels lifeless, uninteresting and slogging,
with Fabianne Therese as new sibling Lauren sadly often reduced to a crying
There are certainly trashy, crowd pleasing bits to be
witnessed in THE AGGRESSION SCALE, but its inconsistent nature is what leaves a
A serious-minded account of an appalling true
crime, COMPLIANCE is also undeniably an incredible and intense psychological
horror film. Craig Zobel’s peer into how a man phoned a fast food restaurant
posing as the police, and subsequently manipulated several folks into a rape, is
a very largely successful exercise in discomfort; both in reaction to what’s
physically onscreen and our own perceptions of how we’d act.
Pat Healy, worlds away from the endearingly sardonic desk
clerk in Ti West’s THE INNKEEPERS, essays the frightening and mild mannered
individual who understands the power of “power” and manipulation to a sickening
degree. Meanwhile, Dreama Walker also puts in a powerful, yet understated
performance as the young girl, falsely accused of stealing and at the mercy of
Healy, her manager and the lineup of folks forced to keep her under watch;
mostly nude, scared and vulnerable. Zobel’s direction is smart and tight, with
only the epilogue eventually feeling a bit like padding. He understands that
much like the man on the phone’s suggestions, we’ll wince and cringe at a
visual restraint and suggestion, as well.
One of the annually contentious Q&A films at this year’s
Sundance, COMPLIANCE only causes outrage in light of what transpired, and I
suspect those in the audience either didn’t know how to facilitate that anger,
or were upset by the confrontation that they too could be mentally manhandled
in such a way.
If there was a running theme of SXSW's genre offerings this
year, it was the notion of checking expectations at the door. Whether the
result was positive or negative, it remained a refreshing aspect to be consistently surprised by what you thought you were getting yourself into.
Aleksander Nordaas' THALE is not a monster movie, or at least
not a rampaging monster movie. There's certainly a mysterious and grisly
quality to it, but like many others at the festival, surprised Fango in the
reveal that it's a delightful story, more based in fantasy and myth.
As two old friends clean the house of a dead man (that's their
job, the No Shit Cleaning Service), they happen upon a hidden basement
laboratory, and eventually Thale and in doing so, uncover the existence of the
huldra, a mythical Norwegian feminine creature with a cow's tale. Silent and
beautiful, Thale spends the day with the two cleaners as they learn, in spades,
things about themselves and their roommates. Nordaas has made an intimate and
beautiful film of the situation, constantly keeping us guessing as to the
nature of Thale and just who is stalking about outside.
There lies some epically dodgy CGI in THALE, but in the
grand scheme, it's price I was happy to pay for a film of this ilk. Given your
eventual sympathy and endearment toward Thale, it becomes apparent that what I
initially wrote is false. THALE is a very true monster movie, and a fine one at
THE TALL MAN
Speaking of expectations, Pascal Laugier's MARTYRS very
aggressively announced that from here out, his films should never be bogged
down with ideas of what it is or isn't or will be until digested. Bearing that
in mind, THE TALL MAN (and I know how ridiculous and roundabout this sounds) is
still so far removed from anything I expected it not to be. It is a thoroughly
odd film whose destination ends up so jarring, the concepts of good and bad
don't settle in for a decent while.
Structurally, and even where his ideas are concerned, the
film does bear a similarity to MARTYRS, whose very genre-centric first act
slowly peeled back to reveal a much grander understanding. THE TALL MAN's
opening seems to hint at Laugier's own version of a classical small town scary
story, one where a legend of a tall man is blamed for the endless barrage of missing
children. When Jessia Biel, playing the town's go-to nurse, sees her son
snatched, the journey it takes is most peculiar.
There's plenty to commend on the film, as Laugier's
depiction of life in a depressed and despair-ridden small town is both haunting
and beautiful, and feels honest. Biel is excellent, as are her supporters, even
if Jodelle Ferland's narration is a bit heavy handed.
What doesn't sit well about THE TALL MAN is that Laugier's
grand misdirect doesn't feel as warranted. MARTYRS gave way to a reveal that
truly felt transgressive, whereas THE TALL MAN, also interested in playing with
plenty of morality issues (what the film is suggesting could be plenty
insulting to many), has a much more scaled down endgame. While it is secret and
something decidedly underground, and must be near to Laugier, it's unclear the
process of getting to the subject in this film is necessary.
THE TALL MAN is unabashedly a unique Pascal Laugier story,
and one that hinges entirely on your own willingness to go along.
For more of our SXSW coverage, see reviews of CABIN IN THE WOODS, [REC] 3: GENESIS, GIRLS AGAINST BOYS, BEAST and CITADEL.
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