The Toronto After Dark Film Festival rolls on through this first weekend and all the way up to Friday, October 26th. For tickets, more information, a full list of films and screening times head on over to torontoafterdark.com. Also, be sure to check out the Toronto After Darkcade, showcasing some of the best in genre-based independent gaming. You can catch our write up about it here!
Today, we take a look back on Thursday second opening night film, the much buzzed about American Mary, and we give you our thoughts on three films yet to come: the cabin in the woods thriller Resolution, the trippy and fanstastical After, and the return of Rubber director Quentin Dupieux with Wrong. You can also check out our review of the opening night film Grabbers here.
After storming onto the genre scene with their less-than-no-budget debut Dead Hooker in a Trunk, Jen and Sylvia Soska (a.k.a. The Twisted Twins) have returned with a new clever/disgusting little genre flick. With a larger budget and more time on their hands to shoot, the writing/directing twins return turned in something far more polished and even thoughtful this time. As much a dark comedy (or even satire) as it is a horror flick, the Soskas dive into the world of body modification to provide some icky set pieces, surreal surgery-scarred characters, and a just enough of twisted take on the American Dream to qualify as more than just gooey genre shenanigans. Now that American Mary is under their belts, the twins are clearly more than just DIY horror icons and bring a welcome female perspective to everyone’s favourite blood n’ guts genre.
They ladies spin their yarn around Mary (Katherine Isabelle), a medical student who moonlights as a stripper for cash. Since that whole med school thing is expensive, she starts to dig further for work and ends up doing some perverse backroom surgery for her sleazy strip-club owning buddy. It disgusts her, yet opens her up to a new form of employment. Word gets around about her skills and soon she gets involved with the underground body modification surgery scene (yep, apparently that exists). Introduced to the world by a creepy woman who has surgically altered herself to look like Bettie Boop (Tristan Risk, in a performance worth watching the move for alone), she quickly ends up doing jobs like making a model’s body as genital free as a Barbie doll or mixing and matching body parts for a pair of mutually obsessed twins (played by the Soskas with hilarious German accents, obviously). She soon becomes a star in the world and the first half of the movie is darkly funny with plenty of explicit surgery close-ups to keep the genre fans at bay. Then Mary is horribly victimized, seeks revenge with her scalpel and gradually goes insane one gruesome murder at a time.
The Soskas drive their movie with character and milieu more than plot, whipping up a shady world of handmade freaks and geeks and the insane doctors who make them. The sisters are clearly fascinated by this culture too much to sneer heavily at their self-made Frankensteins, while still acknowledging the surreal and twisted nature of that world. Once the film is driven by Mary’s psychosis, it starts to feel a little more generic, but not in a bad way. The material transforms from oddball body horror comedy into full on genre creepshow smoothly, with some truly disgusting set pieces to keep the Fangoria fans drooling/gagging. Isabelle (Ginger Snaps) is in nearly every scene and delivers one hell of a performance, never allowing herself to be overshadowed by her plastic faced co-stars or pushing the psycho-buttons too hard in the second half. American Mary is a truly unique and nasty little horror story made with wit, style, n’ smarts from the Soska sisters who have quickly established themselves as being amongst the most promising new horror-slingers on the market. It’s a horror flick that should have gotten a Halloween release and chances are it sadly won’t play much theatrically, but if you like seeing the genre pushed in odd and fresh new directions, see this thing any way you can. I’d recommend not having a heavy meal first, but do what you please. Maybe leave rare meat off the menu at the very least though. – Phil Brown
There’s an intriguing set-up within After, but the execution for it feels all wrong. The film squanders a potentially interesting character drama almost immediately by substituting a multi-layered plot structure instead of actually fleshing out thrills or even anything approaching an actual story.
Two strangers on a late night bus – Ana (Karolina Wydra), a nurse and part time playwright, and Freddy (Steven Strait), a projectionist and aspiring comic book artist – wake up following what they believe to be a horrific crash to find themselves back home in their respective beds with no one else in town around to explain what happened. Together the seemingly unrelated pair who previously wanted nothing to do with each other on the bus have to find out what happened, deal with some flashbacks from the past, and find out what’s causing this creeping black fog that looks to engulf the whole town within three days. Oh, and there’s a monster eventually.
There are some clever touches in the film and it makes use of what had to be an extremely low budget quite frugally. When the nature of the monster that shows up later in the film, it houses the only real satisfying and original plot twist, but far too often it feels like writer and director Ryan Smith is trying far too hard to construct something akin to Jacob’s Ladder or a standard end of days narrative while doing anything and everything in his power to distance himself from looking like he’s going down either road.
The film gets started way too quickly to care about or even really know these characters outside of cursory banter. It tries to create the same sense of disorientation that the characters are feeling, but it’s too vague for its own good. The actors are fine, but their chemistry together never gets fully established. It’s also a good 30 minutes into the film before anything even remotely suspenseful happens and a full hour before even the most basic of explanations come to light. The final act moves towards a more fantastical approach is admirable, but it never excuses the lethargy of the first hour. – Andrew Parker
Screens: Sunday, October 21st at 9:45pm.
Don’t let the opening credits that say Resolution was co-funded by American Express fool you. This low-budget bit of self-reflexive horror is the real deal. It certainly isn’t flashy, but it’s intense, gorgeous to look at, incredibly acted, tightly and complexly plotted, and it doesn’t jab the audience in the ribs every five minutes to hammer home how clever it really is.
Michael (Peter Cilella) receives a video in an email from his estranged childhood best friend Chris (Vinny Curran) showing him tweaking out of crack and crystal meth while illegally squatting at an abandoned shanty on an native reservation. Wanting to help his friend, Michael tazes Chris and handcuffs him to a pipe in the room for days on end in an effort to make him quit cold turkey. Things start to get strange, however, when Michael starts discovering found footage styled messages on numerous different kinds of media from VHS tapes and 16mm film to CDs left in his car and vinyl recordings. These are all tied to the real reason both of them are there in the first place, as well as their run ins with some local mental patients, a UFO cult, a pair of thugged out drug dealers, mortgage brokers, the property’s wary owner, and a mysterious French neighbour.
It sounds out of control and there are a lot of red herrings, but Justin Benson’s script (which he co-directed with Aaron Moorhead) will inevitably play to most viewers like a smarter and headier version of Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods. Unlike that film, this one isn’t funny and observant because of how obvious everything is, but rather because these characters aren’t drawn to be archetypes. Cilella and Curran deliver easily two of the best performances of the festival and their chemistry as friends and adversaries is seemless. Even as the film ramps up the tension in the final act, Benson still gives the actors room to have quiet, introspective moments that aren’t forced and only serve to make the audience care about two likable characters even more than they already do.
To go into the plot with any more detail would ruin far too many of the surprises and twists. I’ve probably said too much already outside of giving away the real meat of the film, but I wanted to make it know that this film could really appeal to anyone. It deserves to succeed beyond these festival confines. It’s smart, funny, scary, and poignant in equal amounts, and there’s few films these days that could manage to hit all four as well as this one does. – Andrew Parker
Screens: Tuesday, October 23rd at 9:45pm
A few years ago Toronto After Dark screened Quentin Dupieux’s wacko debut Rubber and now the festival is screening his follow up Wrong. While the lack of a killer tire hook does make the movie a little less accessible (and frankly a little less suited to screening at a genre movie festival), but the movie 110% true to the surreal comedy tone Dupieux established in his previous effort. That movie opened with a hilarious monologue claiming that the movie was an homage to things happening for “no reason” and frankly Wrong could open with that exact same speech. It’s nonsensical, ridiculous, hilarious, and completely meaningless, which is exactly what makes it so inexplicably compelling. An equal number of people will hate the movie for the same reasons others will love it. Call me old fashioned or strange, but any movie that opens with a fireman taking a dump in the middle of the street with zero explanation automatically earns a special place in my heart.
Trying to explain the plot for a movie like this is pointless, but let’s give it a shot. Jack Plotnick (who was also in Rubber) stars as the pathetic Dolph who works in an office that has rain pouring at all times despite the fact that he was fired months ago. His dog is kidnapped and he doesn’t know why. So he hires a private detective (Steve Little from Eastbound And Down) who hooks some of the dog poop up to a memory-reading device. It eventually in turns out to have something to do with William Fichtner’s psychic guru who speaks in an unidentifiable accent. Plus, there’s also a subplot involving a gardener and a horny pizza girl who enjoys sudden marriages and instant pregnancy. So…yeah, it’s that kind of a movie.
Dupieux is clearly a talented guy who can whip up pretty visuals with ease and Wrong cements the filmmaking voice he established in Rubber. What it’s all supposed to mean is another question and more likely than not it’s completely meaningless. Like Rubber, this is an abstract comedy with laughs defined by moments designed to makes audiences scratch their heads and mumble “what the fuck.” The filmmaker has definitely defined a unique style and seems to work well with actors, but this sort of thing will only take him so far. Wrong was cranked from conception to final edit in six months and it feels like it. The thing is more of a loose collection of sketches and ideas, but has a certain drive and tension just by virtue of the fact that it’s impossible to predict what could possibly happen next at any time.
Just making something this strange is enough to get Dupieux attention for now, but his weirdo sensibility is going to get old fast if he can’t figure out anything more to do with it. If anything Wrong is a step back from Rubber, but that’s not a big deal at the moment since his style still feels fresh. If he can come up with something to do with it, the guy could create something special and really earn a cult following. If not, he’ll just always be that “killer tire” guy and his movies will play to an increasingly smaller audience each time (which let’s be honest, ain’t exactly a big audience as it is). Definitely worth seeing if only because there’s nothing else like it out there, but hopefully Dupieux will find a way to transition from a promising weirdo into an interesting weirdo when he next steps behind the camera. – Phil Brown
Screens: Thursday, October 25th at 9:45pm.
FROM AROUND THE WEB