Fantastic Fest Report: Monstrous Expectations

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas (@peteramartin)
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Monday's menu featured very different sorts of monsters on display:

The Host (FF info page and trailer)
Broken (FF info page and trailer | official site)
Venus Drowning (FF info page and trailer | official site)
Northville Cemetery Massacre: Director's Cut (FF info page)

The expectations for The Host have been sky high. In his introduction, Matt Dentler acknowledged as much (Dentler is the producer of the South by Southwest Film Festival and also one of the programmers for Fantastic Fest) -- and then proceeded to praise it again! Of course, our archives will reveal a number of past articles, and Todd, Opus, and Richard Brunton have all reviewed it enthusiastically within the past few weeks.

I think I was expecting something different from this effort widely described as a "Korean monster movie." From glancing at other reviews and comments -- sometimes I am too fearful of potential spoilers and don't read enough -- I think I underestimated the inaccuracy of that three-word description.

As others have intimated, it's much better described as a "Korean family under attack movie." It just happens that the most obvious attacker is a mutant river creature, but the family must deal with a multi-pronged attack: from their own government, from an outside government, and from their own personal demons.

I can't wait to see The Host again, but I have no such eagerness toward another viewing of Broken. Calling it nihilistic only begins to scratch the surface. To give you a further idea, the tag line on the poster is "No One Can Save You."

It's such a bleak story that you have to respect the vision of filmmakers Simon Boyes and Adam Mason, who colloborated on the script and direction. An ordinary mother and her young daughter are kidnapped by a quiet, deadly-looking backwoodsman. The two are separated, and the mother is given a couple of horrific, bloody tests while never knowing what has happened to her daughter. Eventually it becomes a test of survival in the wilderness.

This is not a crowd-pleasing popcorn picture. The mother doesn't develop into a superheroine and no snappy one-liners are traded. It's often cruel and difficult to watch. The hunter/woodsman's tests might initially sound like the puzzles of Saw, yet here the trials operate at a deeper level of depravity.

Forewarned is forearmed in the case of Broken. As regards Venus Drowning, the weirdness might make you uncomfortable about possible monsters in your own body.

After attempting suicide, a woman takes up temporary residence at a seaside flat. Over the first section of the film, we come to learn that she has suffered great personal tragedy and is trying to come to terms with her grief.

Jodie Jameson is very convincing as the troubled Dawn, which is good since she has to carry the ball on-screen for what seems like a very long time. Just at the point where patience was growing thin, however, Dawn discovers a tiny creature that's been washed ashore on the deserted beach. Cue weirdness.

The story maintains its psychological approach to Dawn's situation, even as she brings the creature home and nurses it back to apparent health. Sexuality, slime, a Swedish friend, and a sexy taxicab driver combine to make this twisted tale quietly rewarding if you're in the mood for a unique, early-period Cronenberg variation with a perverse mind of its own. You'll have to see it to learn if the creature becomes a monster.

The capper for the day was a late-night screening of Bill Dear's Northville Cemetery Massacre. This biker exploitation flick from the early 1970s surely stretches the boundaries of what belongs in a "fantastic" fest just as much as the secret screening of historical epic Apocalypto. Ah well, it's their festival, they can program what they want, and people will either come or not. For the record, I had a blast at the screening.

The plot follows a biker club that travels through a town with unfriendly police. Before you know it, one of the policeman has raped a woman and pinned it on the bikers; he then tricks the woman's father into taking up with him and another hunter as they stalk after the otherwise peaceful bikers, vigilante-style. No doubts here - the establishment "pigs" are the monsters.

One big plus was the presence of director Dear to introduce the picture and conduct a Q & A afterwards. He's aware of the film's limitations. It's not an undiscovered classic, but it is an entertaining biker flick with the requisite blood, barnyard nudity, and extensive footage of motorycles traveling down the road. Considering that the picture was filmed over a period of several years due to extreme budgetary constaints, it's all the more remarkable that the visual style proves to be energetic and fresh.

The print shown was labeled the "director's cut" to distinguish it from the shorter version that received theatrical distribution and will be released on Region 1 DVD next month. However, Dear said it was more like a first pass than anything. He's hoping that the extended version will also get a DVD release within a year or so, but some legal hurdles still have to be overcome.

Dear also showed several funny comedy sketches from his days working with Michael Naismith -- who also composed the music for Northville, after seeing it and declaring it "a terrible movie" -- and was a congenial and generous moderator of his own Q & A.

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MarinaSeptember 26, 2006 9:00 PM

The Host was the first film to sell out at VIFF (right after the opening Gala film). I'm looking forward to it. Sounds like it should be good fun.