Audiences at the Dallas International Film Festival, by and large, do not walk out of movies.
Oh, occasionally someone will leave in a pique of disgust or offense or utter confusion -- which may have been why several left during Yorgos Lanthimos' Alps -- and, there are often a handul who will leave during a program of short films -- it happened last night during the "Late Night Shorts" more than halfway through -- but no one walked out of Nicholas McCarthy's The Pact.
True, Mr. Carthy was present to introduce the film, and stayed afterward for a question-and-answer session. True, many people had bought individual tickets to the screening -- individual ticketholders tend to outnumber passholders by a considerable ratio at the festival -- and may have figured, 'What the heck, I'm already here.'
But perhaps others were like me, tired from a long day of screenings yet intrigued by the premise, in which a woman goes looking for her missing sister by exploring the mysteries of their childhood home after their abusive mother dies. Lights flicker in the house, shadowy figures pass in the darkness, and bodies are hurled through the air by unseen forces.
But whatever the promise of the setup, whatever the virtues of the short film (which debuted at Sundance last year) that McCarthy expanded into a feature, the result is a very perplexing affair that holds little suspense or tension for horror buffs. There's a minimum of bloodletting, so it's reasonable to expect more from the atmosphere that's created, yet the film doesn't really go anywhere, and the narrative has far too many holes that are never explained -- and not in an intriguing, thoughtful fashion.
Our own Alex Koehne had a much more positive impression; you can read his review from Sundance.
My day began with Alps, and I have nothing to add to the fine review that Kurt Halfyard filed from Toronto last fall, except to say that it was a treat to see the film. Here's a brief excerpt from his notice:
Those who got an offbeat intellectual charge out of his weird fable Dogtooth or simply enjoyed the alien-dance moves of actress Aggeliki Papoulia are in for more of the same with ALPS, perhaps a spiritual sequel which features similar visuals and narrative beats.
Next up came Save the Date, a romantic comedy starring Lizzy Caplan and Alison Brie -- two actresses whose work I love -- along with Martin Starr and Mark Webber. My expectations were low, based solely on the brief impressions passed along by ScreenAnarchy's Alex Koehne from Sundance, who called it his biggest disappointment.
Which goes to show that ScreenAnarchy writers do not always agree with each other (see our respective comments on The Pact, above). What ultimately sets Save the Date apart from other conventional romantic comedies are the nicely-nuanced performances and the focus on the relationship between Caplan and Brie, who play sisters dealing with romantic travails -- one is engaged and deep into the madness and minutie of wedding planning, while the other suffers a devastating breakup before bouncing back into an affair with an even better, potentially more perfect mate.
That being said, and as much as I liked the characters, the forward momentum creaks to a halt at a certain point. It's so low-level and pleasant that it lacks the necessary fire and energy to maintain interest; I became a bit impatient waiting for the plot machinations to be resolved. While it was enjoyable to spend time with pleasant people on screen, as a movie it felt like it would have been better suited for episodic television. Still, it was a likable experience overall, and seemed to go over well with the audience.
Between Save the Date and The Pact, I watched the Late Night Shorts program. All the shorts displayed at least one clever idea, executed to greater or lesser effect, but the clear standout was The Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke, which sparkled with ingenuity. You can find an excellent appreciation of that effort from our own J Hurtado right here.