Greetings there gentlemen!!!
Righto so here is a very short essay (albeit with typo's here and there) for my favourite top 8 entries into Monsterfest.
First off, let me say that my candid humour is off the cuff, and that my remarks while a little cheeky, are not ill intended for the filmmakers, of whom i have respect for, since as a filmmaker myself, i know full well the challenges in managing a production. This is 'especially' hard for novice filmmakers learning the techniques of production - for what may appear as a work of little effort to a pro - may have been a crippling and difficult lesson for its director.
While the Monsterfest theme is fun, my own tastes are rarely altered to accomodate those movies that are in my opinion, less reflective of ambitious artistic merit. So in no way whatsoever is my top 8, a reflection of the coolest monster, or best make up etc. These things mean nothing without story and some effort on the part of the filmmaker to produce what feels like a complete short film - with artistic merit. That is a standalone film, that could be viewed as such - that wouldn't require the obvious context of a film festival theme for it to make sense, to be 'cool' or to work. As such festivals can lend to very idiosyncratic films (featuring pastiches of pastiches, or quirks aimed more for other filmmakers than general or even likely genre audiences.)
So let's begin!
My favourite film of the festival was Dispatch. This film almost ruthlessly combines a cinematic visual style, with excellent practical special effects, professional grading, sound mix, and an excellent edit. Then for the actors themselves, we have all round, credible performances, including an exceptional show from our female lead, all of which cast convincingly.
I regularly attend Horror film genre festivals, and i can imagine this film playing well. Often genre fans can be wary of anything looking too 'glossy.' The nature of the lighting does not lend itself to reality, but creates a soft almost romantic look. It is glossy, and beautiful to behold from a technical perspective and one of style, but is perhaps out of keeping from the mise en scenes. This is debatable, because in the States this kind of visual representation may appear far more 'natural' or 'real' in American film visual depiction, than say 'romantic or glossy' as it might 'across the pond.'
Its an interesting point, but by no means a criticism, just a matter of taste. The story is effective and disarmingly simple. I showed the film to a number of friends, some of which guessed, most did not - instead they were engrossed by the wincing pain of our actress. Though some felt the vampiric build up of hisses and howls was a little prolongued.
For all the qualitive reasons cited I have to put this film as my number one, as a matter of taste i prefer Directing and writing that is more dangerous and ambitious, but this is a perfectly executed story and style, that is in my opinion deserving of my personal and the festivals top nodl.
In terms of creative ambition, as in concept, story, others such as Lovers, Red and the Wolf and Bits and Pieces, take bigger and more commendable chances that i'll discuss in a moment!
I would rate second - the film Lovers, which in a way is the anti-thesis to Dispatch. Note - that both films are 'about' vampires. Dispatch is presented slickly - with a focus on looking good, while Lover's (though not as technically accomplished) is quite obviously reflective of an autuer director's vision. If take as a comparison the directors entries seen in Lossfest, or Twilightfest, such as Mr. I then we see a maintained style, albeit one evolving.
I believe we see here, a director with real promise - there is an unflinching experimentation visible here in visual style with a unique neo-gothic characterisation in both story and characters. There is a pervading melancholy through-out these stories. The evolution most evident is the director's confidence in approaching controversial material, psycho-sexual themes, mature depictions of violence, eroticism and obsession.
I actually wonder if this chap might not become a kind of Western Romantic Takeshi Miike. The film was overlooked in the festival (unfortunately) but this is more a measure of the taste of the filmmakers present on the board, than a genuine reflection of its 'artistic merit' - not the quality most often awarded in the public vote. (Neither does the festival advertise itself as an art contest so neither should the film automatically have polled higher than it did, but obviousy it does to my personal taste.
So with all those compliments why rate Dispatch one position higher. Well while Lovers takes greater chances, there are still some inconsistencies to the coherency of the story and the piece - that while not going so far as to make the story feel inaccessible, are still too rough to maintain a fluid attention to the piece, with minor technical issues contributing. Yet performances from our vampiress is strong, though our lead chap seems a little unsuited to the role (despite a genuine heart felt effort on his part.)
Dispatch, is arguably 'superficial' as a work of 'intellectual' art - but is nevertheless a reflective of many other artistic merits, great design, performance, succint scriptwriting with a precision to its intended audience, that should provide a lesson to producers everywhere. But for creative boldness, intellectual ambition and risk taking - so too does Lover's for Directors. In the world of indyfilmmaking, it is innovation and risk, and not Hollywood emulation (unless you are a precise artist and technical champion) which holds greatest reward.
Bits & Pieces is my third favourite. This is perhaps the most ambitious of all the shorts - it is a complete story that seeks to create a full environment, of prelude to conclusion reminiscent of a feature. We have here the life and death of a child, a death that is almost invited, at the hands of the very nicest monster your likely to meet.
We have an excellent performance from the child lead, she is convincing, disarming and charming - as our scarred victim in need of love, and friendship. Likewise her new found companion is a 'monster' a lonely monster at that, who values this child's friendship and honours albeit with a perverse result, the girls request that they not be seperated.
Overall the sheer ambition present in this film, from a director that is fast evolving is inevitably going to express some inconsistency. Parts I feel are streaking ahead and others rushing to catch up. First and foremoest the enormous focus here is on on the visual quality of the film - this pays enormous dividends with those scenes featuring the girl and the monster, his costume, the set etc all look fabulous. The attention paid to performance, extras etc are professional too. Yet sometimes the strains are slightly evident (the orphanage owner cameo is just slightly unconvincing) but it holds together, but the biggest compromise is to the depth and intellectual creativity behind the story. This is especially important when you are exploring dangerous subject matter.
A child is dead.
What does the story have to say about that? As a moral fable (which the film resembles) its conclusion is poorly drawn. Do not trust monsters that appear as friends? Had this been more evident, the film could have proved a haunting tale - rather than a tale that is intellectually awkward. No effective story is 'just a story' and people don't just 'tell stories' without a depth and wealth of ideas to make them effective. This film has them, but not enough i feel to carry off the ending in a manner that is satisfactory to audiences. Its too circumstantial in my opinion.
However this film is a huge intellectual improvement over Mahlen, that again looked great, but was such an experiment in style over content, that its artistic merit, ideas, and story bordered on nihilism. With limited production resources it seems this Director can bring incredible looking tales to the table, and more so than ever before, its scripts and storytelling are reflecting less emulative mainstream ideas, and more interesting and dangerous explorations. This bodes extremely well for the future shorts of this director.
Red and the Wolf was my fourth favourite, it is a classic romantic style of cinematography (ideally suited) for the retelling of the popular fairytale with a post-modern twist. There is a charming cinematography, that uses goos locations, actors, and performances overall, in a kind of minimalist fashion. Limited resources are slightly evident if only in the sparseness of this fairytale world. Most often we have cluttered visual depictions inspired mostly by fantasy realised in theatre. (extensive fairytale sets.) This is comparitvely 'nauturalistic' (albeit inconsistently) yet it still works overall to achieve a fantastical offbeat setting and look.
The actress in particular has a unique Germanic look, that is quite evocative of the Grimms setting, the helpful boys darker palor makes him ironically - look more out of place than the Red Riding Hood herself, which contributes to his positioning as the real 'victim' of another's lair.
To expand on the original feedback, while this film presents a great visual aesthetic, nice performances, and a naturalistic/fairytale mood that works it does have a few lost opportunities.
Fairytales are themselves, tales derived from adult folklore, there eventual publishing as 'children's tales' is only a recent deriviation. So, if its not for children, and its for adults - there is plenty of subtext to be explored.
With wolves... men... the subtext is often sexual - with red riding hood, the epitome of virginity, and the wolf... the sexual aggressor. Grandmother, virtuous, chaste, is the fallen protector. Those are the most common psycho-anaytical themes evoked from the adult originals of those tales.
In this film there seems to be a lack of intellectual curiousity on the part of the director to explore beyond an immediate 'twist' in the fairytales depiction. Yet this twist is great - but again there is ample room for something 'else' to be said. This is what elevates a film with a fairly conventional storyline and attractive aesthetic into a memorable work of art. The film is certainly a little too abstract to be plain entertainment (and would be a waste to do so) based on the twist alone.
The boy wishes to protect the girl in this film, he also wants to look brave in front of her, he basically 'desires her.' She does not want him, she prefers for whatever motive, the 'company of wolves'. But why? Imagine the pure insanity of her embracing the wolve's chest in a lingering shot before we return to our second 'helpful boy.'
Its a spitball off the cuff suggestion, but it is that 'elevated purpose' that is missing from this film, yet for all that, its an attractive, handsome rendition of the traditional fairytale I enjoyed. What we do have is her closing her eyes to the horror she's contributed to, but is that enough? I'm not sure.
A film certainly worth viewing is the British Horror fairytale film Company of Wolves.
One Percent is a bold yet subtly depicted science fiction drama, that is evocative of the Whitley Strieber novels Communion, and Transformation. My number five rated, is an atmospheric and unsettling film, that creates the sensation of a very real and credible alien abudction experience.
Subtle use of costume is used to alarming effect, (noticed only on a second viewing.) Which perhaps highlights the deepest flaw inherit in this film for me, which is its inaccessible story and technical/performance inconsistency. None of these are particularly grave, but in consort they compromise - just slightly, the film from reaching its full potential. I certainly required a second viewing to get the most from this film.
The script, and its revelation of the backstory for the missing child, including the exchange with the presumably ex-wife of the main character, added little background to me. I was still left a little confused, as to why the girl was missing, for how long, and the genuine circumstances of her dissapearance.
I do garner a basic idea however, (an interpretation) that is not dissatisfying - but i do feel that im a little too far from the genuine meaning inherit in the film. The performance of the father is by no means poor, but seems a little exagerated - too sudden, especially when he sees the return of his daughter. Perhaps too directed, and not quite natural enough?
In all the film maintains a creepy atmosphere, and braves the science fiction realm with a sense of maturity often lost in the genre, that could have done with a more accessible depiction of its story, and greater coherency in my opinion.
Results 1 to 9 of 9
11-25-2009 03:01 PM
11-25-2009 03:01 PM
The Devil's Toy is my number six, this is a classic 'yarn' - a tale one might expect to find in a crumpled copy of a 70's edition Tales of the Crypt, or if your British like me... in a hard-copy Warlord Annual with a wild card ghost story!
I mentioned in my original feedback that this film is crying out for a couple of extra minutes - with a possible view to production as a feature, and that was commented on by the Director as a distinct possibility. I'm glad of that for while I enjoyed this film, I expect it can be improved considerably with some extra material to flesh it out.
As a story this focuses around the concept of a cursed object, reminisent in cinema to me, of the Hell Raiser films. The idea that the Nazi's have placed all their 'evil' into one box is pulpish, and accessible to any viewer requiring the obvious! However, I would like to suggest a consideration for any feature development, to explore a more historical, credible, and creepy suspense building exercise, in the genuine revelation of what lays within the box!
The film's establishment as a yarn, makes for the fantastical to be more acceptable - for example, the kids finding such a cursed object in the basement would be a little stretched in a film with the same seriousness as 10 Percent. Poppy colours, pulpish acting, stylised violence all lend to a Tales of the Crypt vibe too - which acts in an a very effective (if apolagetic manner) for some of the films technical/style shortcomings. Such as the very 'modern looking' flashbacks for our ww2 veteran, or the fairly awkward costume for our Nazi soldier (he'd obviously just returned from his jogging with that hoody - poor guy! He'd just ran back to get a soda too!)
That we don't see the monster is just fine - save it for the end of a prospective feature, and with a history of pulpish building suspense and sinister encounters i'm sure ill be excited to see what really lays within the box.
Otherwise a surprisingly charming monster tale in my book, and Chris Keating the writer has done the director proud with a great pulp tale. As an interesting comparison, its worth noting that 'The Jones' uses an overt comic book styling in its cinematography and storytelling too - to positive effect.
Stepmother is an ambitious story that features both moments of mediocrity and flashes of brilliance. As a film its worthy of noting for this particular director, as a starting point for comparison I hope for future entries.
A family drama in which there is in effect, a child torturing her step-mother, for
posession of her father, with devastating consequences for an entire family... is no small thing to attempt.
The film immediately evokes both the best elements of Exorcist, and some of the worst of Amitville Horror 2 - The Posession.
Elements of the mothers performance, her possessed beating of the child into its dinner - the genuine reactions of shock and horror among the family and attending priests are spectacular. But then there is the exhausting exposition, the male stripper like quality of the priests costumes, the unnatural reactions of the husband to his wife's immediate death and the all too neat tagline from our girl, or her cliched depiction as a sinister looking child. (Any kid looking that sinister would be on a life membership course to Sunday School.)
Absent too is the 'real' story of this family. In Exorcist we are left to wonder - but we are given some important clues, as to the homelife of the posessed girl - and can discern some ideas as to a non supernatural cause for her behaviour, (potential abuse, parental divorce, moving home all the time.)
There is little cause hinted in this story, and because of the evil girls simplified depiction as a villain of supernatural power, one of the films greatest strengths - its domestic mise en scenes as it were is diluted.
With an effective motive, cause, and metaphor for the horror we see on screen, as elements united, this film could have been intensely powerful. As it is - its a dramatic / inconsistent horror tale that doesn't quite reach its potential but shows exciting promise in my opinion, in the director.
Bedtime Story I suspect suffered in ratings for similar reasons to Lovers (and though very different films and for different reasons) those reasons I believe, are for how 'uncomfortable' viewers felt watching them. Bedtime Story, is in part, a very uncomfortable film to watch due to the very realistic performance of our young actress. I believe many will suspect the girl was genuinely frightened... such will cause an adverse reaction to the films rating.
I will presume on the basis that the child is really just acting! This short film lacks a depth in story (it effectively expresses a style.) Yet we can discern that this is a 'father' overlooking his daughter, in the environment of a 'broken home.' That the father, and the monster, are interchangeable metaphors. If he is not a monster yet in his child's eyes, but he is fast becoming one.
Technical elements are a little shaky here and there, and there is some wild visual experimentations that do not quite work, such as excessive vignetting, and sometimes contradictory post work here and there. However, the mood maintained is one of depressing opression. The monster itself is quite shocking - with effective make up and close ups enhancing the graphic nature of the creature.
As a dark exercise in 'schlock' it succeeds where most films in the festival did not, in genuinely creating a monster that (as it banks out of the cupboard) has many backing up on there seats, uncomfortable while a little girl screams for help.
Other films I particularly enjoyed, include in order, The Tell, Monster's Beware, The Jones, Summon Lovin, Burst and Flower.
Naturally as I worked on Rusalka I can't quite rank that one up here!
Please feel free to ask any questions, happy to expand on topics, and to discuss.
11-25-2009 03:28 PM
Thanks, Lawrie. I appreciate the extra time you took to do this and actually agree with most of your review concerning One Percent.
Just a few quick notes before I dash out the door here for dinner.
The wardrobe thing was done purposely. We discussed it during pre-production and decided to go with it.
Maybe I'll touch on that later when I have time. Of course in the girls case it is quite obvious.
Secondly, I think the phone call added more back story than you think.
You obviously missed how long she was gone for as it was an issue you, yet it's right there in the phone call.
The nightmare the film opens with tells you what happened to her.
I don't love hitting people over the head with things but it's all there. I just need to get better at the execution.
Thanks again. The rest of your notes were spot on.
11-25-2009 08:11 PM
Thanks Laffie. I know how hard this is for you. The physical pain that you must endure admitting you liked something I wrote. Oh, the agony.
11-26-2009 12:41 AM
Glad you appreciate the difficulty Keaton!!!
12-01-2009 05:45 PM
Haha! I loved the review you wrote in my thread, it gave me a huge chuckle and still remained respectful. I agree, the tone and atmosphere of the film was probably a little too uncomfortable for many of the viewers here, and I'm all about making the viewer uncomfortable, as a huge horror fan, I think Horror needs this element. (Note to self: scary bald director guy acting in film, should not be scarier than the actual monster). Some have commented on the sound, vignette, and cuts that they didn't like which i ironically think hurt this film the most and which I completely agree with; unfortunately those details were enough to hurt it overall. Thanks again!