Toronto After Dark 2012: Game Of Werewolves Review

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As entertaining as it was to listen to director Juan Martinez Moreno discuss his inspirations for his old school werewolf movie, he didn’t really need to mention that classic Universal monster movies and John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London were big touchstones for him. Game Of Werewolves says it all quite clearly itself. With big loving, dripping brush strokes. Even if the movie hadn’t been the Audience Choice winner from this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, it was still a pretty obvious pick for the closing night film at Toronto After Dark. Old school werewolf effects and a mix of both silly and black comedy usually go down very well with a genre audience.

It’s a bit slow to pick up the pace and find its footing, but it uses this time to lay down its back story and introduce its characters. The plot revolves around Tomas, a young writer who returns to his hometown village to take part in some local festivities. Thinking himself a far more successful author than he is, he believes that he was invited to help host the event and that the town will be honoured by his presence. Instead, he finds out that he has been invited to his own sacrifice as the village attempts to end a 100 year old curse upon it. Tomas is apparently one of the remaining direct line descendants of local royalty. Her royal highness at the time was desperate to get pregnant with a son, but her husband could not fulfill his duties. So she worked her way through many men until finally forcing herself upon a studly gypsy. Discovering that she was finally with child, she ordered that the entire gypsy clan be murdered in order not to reveal the parentage of her child. But you never mess with the gypsies. If only the queen had watched the same classic and 80s horror films Moreno did…

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Toronto After Dark 2012: In Their Skin Review

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Director Jeremy Power Regimbal’s feature film debut In Their Skin is a pure genre exercise in tension and suspense. It’s sole purpose in life is to slowly but surely make you feel uneasy, make you wince and make you twist in your seat. Even though it owes many debts to its home invasion movie brethren, it does eventually create its own feeling and tone while also playing a bit on its theme of identity (the nature of your own identity; having it taken away from you; etc.). It makes sense that they moved to a slightly more generic title from its original one of Replicas, though, since it doesn’t really spend a great deal of time dwelling on the subtext. It’s all build, build, build…And it’s quite effective at doing it.

It starts almost from the get-go too. There’s tension in the marriage of Mark and Mary and it’s obviously been percolating for awhile. The couple and their son take off for some cottage time to see if they can repair some of the damage, but it’s going to take some time – they aren’t at the screaming fight level, but the slow simmer of unspoken issues stage doesn’t look to be ending any time soon. Upon meeting their cottage neighbours – the very odd and somewhat daffy Bobby and Jane – Mark feels obliged to invite them over for dinner. Mary’s not exactly thrilled at the idea and accuses Mark of simply not wanting to spend time with her alone. It gets worse during the dinner – one of the more awkward and uncomfortable social gatherings you can imagine – and as it becomes apparent that Bobby and Jane aren’t exactly the innocent simpletons that we initially thought they might be, Mark and Mary feel they need to end the evening early and send the couple and their son (who they claim is the same age as Mary and Mark’s, but is obviously a good 4-5 years older than that) packing with a very clear statement that they will not be welcomed back.

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Toronto After Dark 2012: My Amityville Horror Review

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I was initially very skeptical when I heard that the documentary My Amityville Horror was to look back at the real life events that inspired the blockbuster 1979 film The Amityville Horror. How do you document word of mouth happenings and alleged paranormal events from 35 years ago? Would there be a litany of “experts” in these fields giving their “professional” opinions? I’ll admit that I was worried it would be a frustrating experience and that the reason it was playing at After Dark was that it would likely have re-creations of some of these occurrences that were supposed to be ghostly in nature. The only way I thought the film could really touch on anything remotely interesting would be if it focused on the effect it all had on some of the people involved. Fortunately, that’s closer to what the film gave us. In fact, it was quite an interesting portrait of one very broken man.

Though I love horror films about the paranormal (particularly ghost stories), I have little time for claims of actual paranormal activity in real life. Not a single bit of credible scientific evidence has EVER been found regarding any of these things, so the blatherings of psychics, ghost hunters and others who dabble in these fields are tiresome to me. It’s not that I will outright state that these things could not possibly exist (how can I prove that they can’t?), but I find absolutely no reason to believe that they do. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, so I always wish more people realized that Occam’s Razor can be your friend. Of course, I might tread lightly if that topic came up around Daniel Lutz…Now in his mid-40s, bald, stocky and with piercing eyes, Daniel was the eldest child of the Lutz family who lived in the Amityville house and claims to have experienced many of the strange happenings within it. And he’s very adamant about it.

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Toronto After Dark 2012: Citadel Review

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The easy read of Citadel is of the black and white revenge variety – “bullies will never change, so ‘man up’ and blow the bastards away”. But it’s never that easy is it? A single person’s view of the world from their perspective just can’t quickly be generalized – even if it looks slightly post-apocalyptic. In this case, the troublemakers in question are roving groups of kids dressed in the universal sign of the juvenile delinquent: the hoodie. They all come from one particular concrete slab of an apartment tower in the terribly depressing outskirts of a city in Ireland. It all looks very alien as the steets are essentially deserted, the cops never crack the perimeter and people live in their shells hoping not to be noticed.

Not an ideal place to raise a family…With the birth of their first child imminent, Tommy and Joanne are moving out of the tower, but on the final trip there Joanne is severely beaten and injected with drugs by the hoodie brigade. The baby survives, but Joanne is left in a deep coma. Tommy begins living in a perpetual frightened state becoming agoraphobic and not even really knowing how to bond with his growing child (he rarely even talks to her). In therapy, a doctor tells him that he pretty much personifies fear in the way he walks in a hunched, rigid fashion and how his face is frozen in a scared mask. With help from one of the social workers, he tries to function on a day to day basis, but he becomes more and more convinced that the hooded kids (who look very much like they’re feral) are after his daughter. This is pretty much confirmed for him upon meeting a local priest who has a plan in mind.

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Toronto After Dark 2012: Wrong Review

 

If Quentin Dupieux’s genre deconstruction effort, Rubber, from a couple years ago, left some folks scratching their head, or even critical of its ‘extended comedy sketch’ nature, then Wrong is perhaps not the film for them. With a bigger thematic reach, and a far more episodic structure, Wrong is likely as close as we will ever get to stand-up comedy in cinematic language. It is an absurdist masterwork, and this is only Mr. Oizo’s third feature film. The film picks at the very fabric of the myriad network of tiny social contracts that make up the average person’s day: Talking to the neighbor, ordering a pizza, petty politics in the office, having a polite phone call with a friend, and the like. But of course, these are presented and dealt with by all the major and minor characters in a manner that is, well, wrong. As in any good comedy or a good storytelling, what happens with expectations are violated and how do we feel about that violation? Playing like the longest and best “Kids in the Hall” sketch ever made, even the lead actor Jack Plotnick bears a resemblance to Kevin McDonald (and can do wonderful emoting with his eyebrows and hangdog face.) Visually, the movie has a real penchant for filmmaking gags. Much of the shocking (but not necessarily abrupt) punch-lines are executed by revealing things just outside the frame, or even within the frame via rack-focus, with the precision of a master comedian. Often there is a complex series of reveals and pauses and doubletakes (which belies the overtly minimalist deadpan tone of the film) having the effect of keeping even a quick witted audience on their toes. The opening sequence is in a strange way his riff on the great opening sequence of Once Upon a Time in The West. Ok, maybe that is a bit of a stretch, but, like Rubber, there is as much (or more) comedy in the craft of construction as there is in the performances or dialogue.

The plot is quite simple. Former travel agent Dolph Springer (Plotnick) wakes up one morning at 7:60 am to find his loving pooch gone from the house and nowhere to be found. His neighbor, Mike (comedian Regan Jones, hilariously downbeat) is abandoning his own house, perhaps because Dolph mentions Mike’s daily jog; something Mike vehement denies he even does. It is raining at Dolph’s office, in a Synechdoche, New York sort of way (one of this films many “No Reason” moments) and his co-workers give him the evil eye for, well, best not to reveal why, but suffice it to say, Dolph is a creature of habit. Dolph channels the silent rage brought upon by his own effectually in this particular moment in his life – when any chance of even the smallest of comforts spiraling wildly out of reach – in a Greenberg-esque fit of pique by railing at a badly designed pizza logo. Miscommunication and bad decisions ensue. People unabashedly spout the phrase “vis-à-vis.” The movie, in fact, is very much concerned with wondering how any form of human vis-à-vis communication is every truly successful. Personally, I would consider Wrong to be a magnificent double feature with Roy Andersson’s Songs from the Second Floor; even though I’m not sure how to pick which film would be the feature and which would be the B-Side.

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Toronto After Dark 2012: Crave

Crave is one of those cinematic character studies that maintains a constant up-close proximity to its main subject, reflecting his yearning, frustration, and self-acknowledged inadequacies with stinging clarity. Portrayed with great skill by Josh Lawson, Aiden is a solitary freelance photographer who most often finds work shooting grisly crime scenes. As he spends his days and nights traveling through Detroit’s seamier areas, he becomes increasingly bitter and angry about the sickening flood of crime and death he witnesses on a regular basis. He frequently supplies himself with sad little hits of relief and pleasure from his overactive imagination: exaggerated fantasies of gruesome revenge and sexual rewards that repeatedly backfire on Aiden once he is forced to return once more to the pathetic reality of his own passivity and cowardice. His inner storm of loathing and violence growing by the day, he desperately seeks advice and peace of mind from the closest thing to a friend he has, Ron Perlman’s weary, wise veteran cop Pete. Things begin to look up for Aiden after a heat-of-the-moment fling with his attractive younger neighbor Virginia (Emma Lung) slowly gives way to the promise of a meaningful relationship, though the new connection only leads to a new crop of complications and disasters as he finds it more and more difficult to keep his simmering emotions and poorly executed vigilante schemes in check.
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Toronto After Dark 2012: Resolution Review

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David Mamet once wrote that the end of a great film should be both surprising and inevitable. Resolution is a horror movie of ideas; a twisted semiotic pretzel which is an ode to our collective addiction to scary movies and how we glean meaning from the experience. The titles dual meaning, both in the finality of an ending and as a means of seeing things clearer (particularly in audio-visual media) is one of those simple, perfect choices that not only gets at the experience of watching the film, but more significantly in retrospect. Unlike the smug, offhand silliness of Joss Whedon and Drew Stoddard’s Cabin in the Woods, this one makes you give a damn – not only about the films Lost-ish puzzle box, but about the two exceptionally well realized characters.

Opening with a grotty low-rez video of bearded junkie who is high as a kite and shooting off guns in the middle of nowhere, the camera pulls back to reveal Michael, at home with his lovely wife, viewing his best friends sad escapades with resignation and confusion. The latter because the video came with a Google Map link in the middle of nowhere. Looking at things like a plea for help, Michael gathers up his camping gear, some food and cash supplies and a pair of handcuffs. Determined to answer Chris’s plea for help, and detox his best friend for good, Michael assures his wife that he will be gone for no more than a week, and eventually land Chris in a good rehab place. Upon Michael’s arrival to the rotting house, just on the inside of a California Indian reservation, where Chris has been squatting in for a few days, there is some confusion: He was not sent for by Chris who certainly has no access to a computer or video editing equipment, not to mention that his pal is smack dab in the middle of a major crystal meth bender. That not-so-minor mystery aside, Michael carries through with his plan, much to Chris’s chagrin. Not only does this intervention test the limit of the two men’s life-long friendship but it brings in a number of pragmatic issues. The local meth dealers know where Chris is hiding out and want either their money or their drugs back, Chris is hazy on the location of the latter or is itching for his next fix – or both. The owner of the house they are camping out in wants them out of there (or cash to stay) and offers a less explicit, but no less real threat, of violence as well. Then there is the nearby mental asylum that lets some of its patients wander about the desert wilderness, there are dozens of hobo junkies far worse along than Chris, a local cult-like christian sect has their crisp white shirted members also wandering about (played by the director and writing team of Aaron Moorehead and Justin Benson in one of the films many nods towards meta-ness) and rumours of devil worship, ghosts, native spirits, you name it. Hell there is even a slimy real-estate salesman that might just be the creepiest of a fairly dense cast of lost souls wandering about in the wasteland. Someone comments at one point, “there are a lot of junkies buried out in these hills.”

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Toronto After Dark 2012: Crave Review

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“A broken toy brain” is how director Charles de Lauzirika describes the main character in his feature film debut (after years of documentary experience including many DVD supplementals for major films – many of Ridley Scott’s for example). It’s a fitting description for Aiden as he starts flitting between fantasy and reality more and more and begins to have some trouble in distinguishing which is which. His reality is already a bit off as he works his job of photographing crime scenes and their gruesome results while living in the large ghost town of Detroit. He’s struggling to stay afloat financially (he gets tips from his AA cop buddy – played by Ron Perlman – to come to specific crime scenes), but even more problematic is the constant push and pull of his own voices in his head. He sees so much injustice, but feels inadequate because he can never quite take the step to help.

Aiden starts imagining different scenarios of him saving the day and taking down the bad guys. The film doesn’t distinguish between what’s real and what’s going on in Aiden’s head, so the audience is always left trying to figure it out until it’s made obvious which world we’re in. This is used very effectively at one point in one of the funnier scenes of the film – after Aiden talks to his very pretty but much younger neighbour in the elevator and then beds her, we cut back to him outside the building and left assuming it was all a fantasy – but then we get a little surprise. The film is actually quite funny in several spots which serves to defuse the growing confusion in Aiden as well as add to the confusion of the audience at what we may really be seeing. Even though Aiden does start a relationship with his neighbour Virginia (Emma Lung in a very fine performance), he’s still not quite able to focus and get things done. He’s living somewhere in between his reality and fantasy and simply can’t commit.

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Toronto After Dark 2012: Doomsday Book Review

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What better subject to use for an anthology film in 2012 than the concept of “doomsday” for the Earth? Korea’s Doomsday Book (which won the jury prize for best feature film at Fantasia) tackles 3 different end of the world stories – each with a different root cause – and does so with style, humour and a sharp eye for satire. What it may have been missing was a script supervisor. With only the three stories, the film still runs close to 2 hours and seems to have trouble letting go of its ideas as it wants to fully explore every single nook and cranny. Fortunately, there are still numerous great moments that are discovered through these thorough explorations.

Pil-Sung Yim (Hansel And Gretel) directs the bookends of the film while Jee-woon Kim (I Saw The Devil, The Good The Bad The Weird) helms the centerpiece section entitled “Heaven’s Creation”. Devoted to the concept of androids achieving a higher consciousness, it’s the most intriguing of the bunch and has a great central premise. An android bot which was initially supposed to be a servant at a buddhist temple appears to have attained enlightenment and the other monks see him as buddha. It prays with the rest of the monks and they seek advice from it, but they can’t help wonder why it is different and call in a technician to the temple. While his diagnostic tests show it is functioning properly, his protocol forces him to report it up to the senior executives of the company. They feel the machine should be “put down” since it doesn’t just execute orders given to it from humans, but instead ponders their requests. In other words, it does something it wasn’t designed to do – think for itself. Though beautifully shot with some interesting back and forth debates between the business people and the monks, it hammers certain points home too hard and drags far longer than it really needs by restating what it had already done quite nicely. Having said that, the ending raises new questions and, even though it is open ended, is highly satisfying.

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