Fantasia 2013: Boozie Movies Falls Asleep Before Reviewing ACROSS THE RIVER. But The Nightmares Were Worth It.
This is not because the film is polarizing or difficult to summarize and critique or praise. It's just that there's not much to review. Across the River presents the barest of horror film concepts that's minimalist bordering on nonexistent. It's the type of non-movie that's likely to put you to sleep. But the kicker is that it's also likely to give you some potent nightmares after it's bored you to tears. It's a film that you'll struggle to remember and yet its effects will continue to linger on along fringes of your subconscious for some time later.
It's now the seventh day after I viewed Across The River and maybe my review should only state, "I hope I don't go mad and die tonight." But that strained attempt of being clever is not only lazy, it's probably not as funny as it seemed when I first wrote it immediately after downing the double of JD that's in front of me right now.
While Across the River is far from captivating, it does one very important thing very right. It places the viewer in the horror with the film's protagonist and gives them no escape. By no means am I fan of the gluttony of found footage horror films that have flooded the market these past ten years, I appreciate what they've brought to the genre and am still waiting for the right filmmakers to take those attributes and embellish them and help it evolve. Across the River comes close enough to accomplishing this to earn some faint praise and garner a drunken recommendation.
In some ways, the ideal or the gimmick behind the found footage fad is the promise of potentially seeing a snuff film, or at the very least, something that feels as close as possible to being an authentic snuff film. The hype behind The Blair Witch Project wasn't based on any of its strength as a work of horror. People weren't talking about that boring turd because they thought it was a well executed fright flick, nor do I expect anyone really thought the film was all that scary. But it was the beginning of viral marketing and it fooled us all. People thought it was real. People flocked to the cinemas to see three stupid kids wandering around the woods filming themselves with a Best Buy purchased Hi 8 camera because they thought they were going to see these kids who presumably disappeared in real life actually die for real on camera. Since then, the most successful found footage horror films have continued this tradition. Films like Paranormal Activity wowed audiences because it strove to convince them that it was real. It's a disturbing notion that we so desperately want to see a snuff film released theatrically as populist entertainment, but I have to admit, beyond the gimmick, I enjoy the aesthetic.
All too often, horror films soften their actual horror with superficial artifices; the screeching violin scores that swell before the monster appears onscreen or when the camera cuts away as the victim is attacked by the killer or creature. It makes us feel safe. It reminds us that we're only watching a film. Suddenly, whatever tension or dread that was previously established dissipates as soon as the director starts to employ stylistic camera angles and editing. I love giallo films and am a great fan of works such as Suspira. But the psychedelic color scheme and operatic, music video like set pieces makes the film visceral and entertaining, but not exactly scary. Meanwhile, even as an atheist who mocks religion, The Exorcist still frightens me and makes me anxious when watching it.
Most contemporary found footage films fall apart on repeated viewings once the novelty has worn off. Also, they look and sound like shit and I generally get vertigo from watching them.
But I always go back to that last scene in the original Spanish version of Rec which otherwise, was just another generic zombie film. As well acted and well directed as it may have been, it brought nothing new to the genre or medium. At least not until that ending, when we as the viewers are trapped in that room with the reporter and that monstrous walking nightmare in those final moments. The camera never cuts away, we're stuck living the same terror as the film's heroine in real time, thus making the moment feel all the more real for us as non active participants.
I wish more conventional horror filmmakers would learn from this lesson.
Some have, such as is the case with the marvelous French home invasion film, Them. Without a single original idea, Them killed on the festival scene with the most basic of premises. A young couple is terrorized by a group of crazed bandits in their rural vacation home. But the film never leaves the protagonists' point of view. It never spares the audience with its nearly oppressive suspense. We live the terror along with the couple. It was an intense roller coaster ride, and unlike so many of the aforementioned found footage films, it was well lit and well shot. It was a damn good horror film.
Across the River is kind of like that, only the complete opposite because almost nothing ever happens.
A wildlife biologist in the rural mountains of Italy is conducting an annual consensus on the local mammal population and some strange unseen beast is brutally murdering the animals that he's been tracking. So he treks out into the woods in search of this mysterious new predator. He hears human like screeching at night and finds a woman's dress floating down the river out in the middle of nowhere during the day. He soon discovers an abandoned old village and is soon trapped there when the river bordering the town rises, impeding his travel back. He spends his nights alone holed up in an old shack, hearing strange noises coming from the dark.
Meanwhile, an old man living just outside of the forest may know the cause behind the screams at night and the dead animals in the morning.
We spend a lot of time with the nameless biologist as he drinks to pass the time in the shack, struggling to cling to his sanity. It's almost an anti Evil Dead 2 with many prolonged shots of him sitting in a wooded rocking chair listening to the sounds beyond his walls. I kept a hoping a decapitated head would suddenly drop from the ceiling into his lap.
And then he finally catches a glimpse of what's going bump in the night on of the many hidden cameras his set up.... And it's just so damn predictable.
Take a guess.
Yep, more ghostly girl demon things like every J- horror film ever made. Still, these brief glimpses offer a terror that few J-horror films have been able to capture and I can't pinpoint why.
The ending is vague and anti-climatic. An entire rescue team is massacred and the audience never gets to see any of it. Most of the action occurs off the screen. And when the credits began to roll my immediate reaction was "Fuck this shit, that's it? Really? Really? Fucking really?"
And yet, the film's most effective images stuck in my mind when I went to sleep later that night. And as a hardened horror film viewer, that's saying something. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, maybe it was all of the mind expanding substances taken these past few days, but for whatever reason, there was and is something legitimately chilling about Across the River.
This may be a patronizing and back handed compliment, but Across the River is perfect midnight viewing under the right circumstances. Its sluggish pace may put you in and out of sleep, but its quiet, psyche shattering terror may still leave an indelible stamp on your subconscious as it has on mine.