Today: Heading into the home-stretch with plenty of social commentary and babysitters, plus jungle-horror cheapie and an autopsy.
Jungle Trap (U.S.: James Bryan, 1990/2016)
The kids at Bleeding Skull uncovered the existence of this cheapie during an interview with exploitation auteur Jim Bryan, who’d shot the footage but became so disillusioned with the direct-to-home-video biz that he never bothered finishing the film. With Bryan’s permission, Bleeding Skull had the footage edited and scored and now brings it to the world.
Chiefly set in the jungles of South America, the shot-on-video Jungle Trap was actually produced in Burbank…and looks it. Not only the most forgiving fan could claim that the film is written badly, acted badly, and filmed badly. Yet Jungle Trap also sporadically exhibits an eerie fever-dream atmosphere, largely derived from its warts-and-all presentation; Bleeding Skull mastered the film from twenty-five-year-old videotape, and didn’t bother to clean up the picture or correct static and dropouts. It may have an extremely narrow target audience, but that audience should celebrate it as a treasure.
The Playground (Poland: Bartosz M. Kowalski, 2016)
A bold and provocative social study that has generated adulation and outrage in equal measure, The Playground applies a distinctly European view of class interaction to a story of two preteens whose unpleasant behavior gradually escalates into something truly horrific. I don’t think it’ll play well to American audiences; the gulf between our view of social class and the filmmakers’ is too wide; certainly there’s a lot I either don’t get or don’t agree with.
In its defense, Bartosz Kowalski’s direction provides a creeping sense of foreboding and menace which culminates in a powerful and devastating conclusion: certainly the most intense emotional reactions I’ve experienced to a film this festival. That’s exactly what I look for in a film like The Playground, even if the commentary didn’t entirely work for me.
Short film: Burlap (U.S.: Justin Denton, 2016)
A typical stalking-the-babysitter horror tale with a weird twist. I guess this is supposed to be tied in to one of the VR “experiences” and I expect I would have understood it (and enjoyed it) more had I done those.
Safe Neighborhood (Australia: Chris Peckover, 2016)
Made in Australia by American filmmakers, Safe Neighborhood starts off as a by-rote stalking-the-babysitter/home-invasion horror/thriller, but takes a brilliant left turn at the end of the first act that turns it into something quite different: a wicked satire of a horror-comedy with sharp and unflinching social commentary. While Patrick Warburton steals his early scenes, it’s Olivia DeJonge (The Visit) who holds the film together in the long game as the film’s plucky heroine. One of the highlights of the festival.
Short film: Help Me First (U.S.: Mike Gasaway, 2016)
Quickie about ghost-hunters who find more than they bargained for. Didn’t do much for me.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe (U.K.: André Øvredal, 2016)
The latest from Troll Hunters director André Øvredal sets itself up as a procedural thriller told through the narrative device of the title character. Sadly, it ditches this novel premise about halfway through in favor of a less-interesting story path littered with “cat scares” (one of which involves an actual cat) and incoherent supernatural elements. Øvredal provides competent direction, and the acting team of Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch put in fine performances as father-and-son medical examiners, but overall Jane Doe adds up to less than the sum of its parts.
Top Ten Movies of the Festival
As of the end of day seven:
- Buster’s Mal Heart (Day 5)
- Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses (Day 3)
- Call of Heroes (Day 6)
- Arrival (Day 1)
- Safe Neighborhood (Day 7)
- Toni Erdmann (Day 2)
- A Dark Song (Day 5)
- Playground (Day 7)
- Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl (Day 6)
- S Is for Stanley (Day 6)