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TIFF Horror x3

by Chris Feil

Amid screening global cinema and the odd Oscar contender or two, I was able to cram in some horror films to my TIFF lineup. The festival is so large that it doesn’t just limit its horror entries into the genre-centric Midnight Madness program. My sampling was not only a mini European tour, but also a trip through different genre tropes: the French extremity of Revenge, a gothic ghost story with The Lodgers, and a surprising psychological chiller with Thelma.


Joachim Trier takes a detour to something frightful for Thelma, a coming of age story of sorts about a Christian girl discovering her telekinetic powers just as she finds lesbian love in her freshman year at college. If only more dramatically inclined director’s like Trier also dabbled in horror, we might be blessed with more similarly smartly observed and emotionally rich genre films. It's as well observed as it is just a really fun time at the movies.

The film is so interested in Thelma’s internal life that it could fool you into thinking it’s a straight drama if it weren’t for all the stoically terrifying imagery. Trier also delivers on its scary elements in interesting ways: both the sexier and scarier elements lack catharsis, leaving you hanging on the feeling. Thelma is on one level about self-refusal, so an orgasm and a scream are treated with the same transfixed hesitation. Imagine a deeply repressed Blue is the Warmest Color by way of Carrie and you begin to scratch Thelma’s creepy kinky surface.

Grade: B+


With the aesthetic of a Super Bowl beer commercial, Revenge is a desert-set survival film where a young woman discovers that her boyfriend is not what he seems when she crashes his bro hunting weekend. French director Coralie Fargeat intends for this to be a feminine twist on the rape revenge tale but its satire is too forcefully contrived, rendering  any human element beyond the physical completely moot. In rushing to its titular quest, the film is robbed of character development and surprise for one deeply miserable sit. Comparatively, it’s kind of a relief once the gore arrives and I’m not sure that’s the point.

Midnight Madness always promises at least one nasty gorefest each year (see last year’s genius Raw, for example). To that end, Revenge fills the quota (not so) nicely: gag-inducing images involving broken glass, branding, and impalement to name a few. There are some witty sequences, like its bravura final circular chase, but the film remains a blunt instrument in its characterization and plotting. Body horror shouldn’t be so quick to ignore the mind.

Grade: D+

The Lodgers

A gothic horror of cursed siblings in a decaying mansion, The Lodgers is a chilly Irish ghost story with an undercurrent of sex and plenty of Brontë brooding. And that means we get quite a bit of eye candy to enjoy between jump scares: gorgeously detailed production design, fabulous costumes with an emphasis on capes, plenty of butts. The film is smart to not overplay its romantic element between the sister Rachel and the young wounded veteran she meets on her brief visits into town, even if the relationship exists to finally force Rachel into actually telling us what we already know about her situation.

While this film delights on one level for being of a dying breed of cinematic haunted house tale, it’s twists are evident from the jump and kill nearly all of the film’s tension. With its fairly slight delivery, The Lodgers should be a small scale treat but ends up being a bore.

Grade: C

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Reader Comments (3)

"Blue Is The Warmest Color meets Carrie?" Sold, sold, SOLD!!!!

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMatt St.Clair

Chris -- interesting write up of Thelma. I'm not sure i'd describe it as a horror film (despite knowing it has elements of such) but lovely writeup.

September 17, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I love Joachim Trier - very much looking forward to Thelma...

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

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