Here's Jason on five films off of the Midnight Movies portion of the Tribeca Film Fest's expansive programming.
Every year when the New York Film Festival rolls around I always find myself a little bit saddened by the lack of horror offerings. Oh sure I'm always up for the latest Claire Denis joint, I'm not complaining, but sit as it does on the cusp of Fall my mind's usually turning towards Autumnal things at that time, which for me equals Haunted Houses just as much as it does Oscar-Bait. But if I wait around til Winter's passed it's good times again for a genre-loving New Yorker, since the Tribeca Film Festival always offers up a thorough Midnight Movies program. Here's my quick takes on five of the flicks they're offering this year that go bump in the Spring night.
Saving the best for first, The Canal tells the story of a film archivist named David (played by Rupert Evans) who moves his expectant wife into that old standby, The House They Really Should Have Done Research On Beforehand. Sure enough as the mysteries pile up so too do the news-clippings of its horrifying past, which begins to seep its insanity into everybody inside. Somehow the Kubrick it reminds me of is Eyes Wide Shut more than the similarly plotted The Shining (that green party dress the wife wears gives off total Kidman sensations, not to mention all the Christmas-bulb lighting) but it comes across as a harrowing Kubrickian experience all the same. Think if Stanley had directed Don't Look Now. [more...]
The sound-design and editing are sharp and effectively sinister, and the visuals are the sort that might carve out a dark notch in your brain never to let go - actually there's another movie coming out later this year, a marvelous Australian horror film called The Babadook (I reviewed it over at my own site) that's shockingly similar in not just those regards but on a number of levels... The Canal focuses on a father's trials in a mad-house and The Babadook on a mother's, but as I think they'll both be out around October-ish they'll make for a super old-school double feature. They've both even got throw-backs to nightmare figures from silent film - Dr. Caligari is so hot right now, you guys. While I preferred the stylized but soulful hyper-theatrics of The Babadook, The Canal's no slouch and it pulls no punches - as it dives deep into walls and underground tunnels (edited by the same guy who made the tunnels of 2011's Kill List so monstrously effective) you're gonna find yourself inching backwards in your seat most assuredly. Oh god that hole in the wall...
Next up, a trilogy of flicks all about another horror stand-by - the group of friends/lovers/family who head out into [fill-in-the-blank] and are confronted by [fill-in-theblank]s which hunt them down for hurtful purposes. I call them "friends/lovers/family" but often you have no idea why these people have anything to do with each other - they can't seem to stand each other half of the time.
The most interesting relationship dynamic probably comes from Preservation, the new movie from actor-turned-director Christopher Denham (recently he played one of the hostages in Argo) - Preservation gives us Mike, Mike's wife Wit, and Mike's brother Sean who is recovering from military-related trauma of some sort. The trio heads to a campground the two boys grew up visiting for some hunting of deer and rebuilding of bonds, although really neither Mike nor Wit really seem to want Sean tagging along. Sure enough buried tensions begin to unearth as the hunters become the hunted - there are actually some interesting perspective shifts in the film as masks are removed (sometimes literally) but Preservation is way too talky for its own good; characters spell out their motivations and the movie's supposed themes in plodding conversations that even Great Actors would have trouble selling (and these aren't by any means terrible actors), and it dulls the edges right off of any wicked turns it makes its move for. You never feel the twigs snapping beneath your feet - you never sink quite in.
But even at its most plodding at least Preservation has some dynamics, however dulled, to its story-telling - not so fortunate are either Extraterrestrial or Indigenous (so many single word titles so little time), which you could swap the entire casts between and lose nothing, since there's nothing to lose. In Extraterrestrial a bunch of irritating kids visit a cabin in the woods and are menaced by aliens (cue weed and anal probing jokes), in Indigenous a bunch of irritating kids visit the jungle and are menaced by the chupacabra - you guys have no idea how excited I was to see a chupacabra movie, and all they gave me was one of the mole-men from The Descent with an extra long tongue. What a rip-off. At least give me a monster to root for!
I've seen a million disposable movies like Extraterrestrial at this point in my life but it was Indigenous that really got my goat with its characters' stupidity (and that's saying a lot since the kids in Extraterrestrial couldn't drive around a tree.) Time and again a person gets cut off from the group only to stand there shining their flashlight into the darkness, seemingly just waiting for the monster to strike - if you can't care enough about yourself to even pretend to defend yourself, why am I supposed to care? Pick up a damned rock, a stick, flail your arms around like a windmill - something!
In the end both films save their most (read: only) interesting turns for their last few scenes - Extraterrestrial's got a killer final tracking shot, fun in a way the rest of the movie strains for and fails, while there's a clever social media twist to Indigenous that should get the folks at Facebook behind a sponsorship campaign right quick - but it's far too late at that point for any of these forgettable folks and the aggresively forgettable movies they rode in upon to be saved.
That leaves Summer of Blood, which can be described best as the Brooklyn hipster vampire sex-comedy you never knew you wanted... and still might not be sure you really wanted even after it's over. It's really very funny at times but almost unbearably unpleasant at others, hell sometimes simultaneously - I suppose it gets the sensation of a walk through Williamsburg right in that way. Director Onur Turkel stars as Erik, the loser-in-life who becomes a winner-in-eternal-undead-afterlife, whose smug self-amusement is rightly chastised by every victim he leaves in his wake.
But the movie seems a little too charmed by him all the same (and seeing as how its director is its lead actor that was clearly always gonna be a problem) - I think at some point the movie wanted me to stop laughing at him and start laughing with him, but we walked down different paths, the two of us, on that mark. Laugh I did though - it's not quite all the Seinfeld-as-Renfield fun-time that it wants to be but it does dig its fangs into a few sordid New York neuroses and drain them for the dark humor it can.