Published on July 30th, 2014 | by Thomas O'Connor0
Fantasia 2014: The good, the bad and the slimy
As is the case whenever you consume a large amount of culture in a short span of time, Fantasia isn’t so much an experience of highs and lows as averages with the occasional spike in one direction or the other. While there is the occasional joyous, orgasmic cinematic experience and the occasional arduous, painful slog, for the most part things average out to being just ok. Last time, I took you through a few examples of that “just ok”-ness, but today we’re having a look at some of the highs and lows I’ve had at Fantasia 2014. And one movie about slime, because I thought of a snappy title.
Film nerds, in my experience, tend to be a jaded, cynical lot, prone to dark humour. So when a particularly dark comedy comes out, one can practically already hear the film buff community’s attention suddenly zeroing in like a Terminator locking on to its latest target. And In Order of Disappearance isn’t just a black comedy, it’s a comedy that absorbs light itself and crushes atoms into even smaller atoms that have to buy supplements off the internet so they don’t feel embarrassed in the atomic locker room anymore.
Stellan Skarsgard stars as a snowplow driver in Norway whose son is killed during an incident with the local mob and the usual quest for vengeance follows. In terms of tone, or at least the particularly obsidian shade of black the film’s comedy comes in, I’d compare it to In Bruges or even one of the Cohen Brothers’ darker comedies. Moments of stone-faced absurdity come frequently and images like a group of mob pallbearers being slowly raised onto the back of a truck by an arduously slow lift have all the morose hilarity of a perfectly timed pie thrown in the face of a sad clown.
I don’t even care that the photography occasionally looks like a car commercial. I don’t even care that it can be a bit sexist at times. This is black humour done perfectly, a deadpan knockout that left me without any doubt that it was the best thing I’d seen at Fantasia this year so far.
As the blurb for Guardian is quick to point out, Indonesia is poised to become the next big hotspot for action movies, having already gifted the Raid films to an eternally grateful world.
What it failed to mention is that besides country of origin, The Raid and Guardian share nothing in common, quality level least of all.
While The Raid took a fairly small budget and used it effectively to deliver a tight, fast, hard-hitting action flick, Guardian tried to stretch what was probably a similarly-sized budget into a film with a much larger scope, featuring car chases, big action set pieces and more locales. While a skilled director may have been able to pull this off, it’s clear that “skilled” isn’t a word you’d use to describe most of the people who worked on Guardian.
The entire endeavor feels amateurish from top to bottom, from the horrendous photography that looks like something you’d get out of a cheap digital camera to the pointless and unbelievably bad visual effects. The shockingly scant martial arts scenes are so haphazardly filmed and edited that they become impossible to follow and the gunfights are endless shots of the heroes and villains firing machine guns at things with determined looks on their faces until the agreed upon allotment of people fall over, usually hamming it up in their herky-jerky death motions.
Nothing about it is engaging or interesting in the slightest way, and it all feels like a quick cash-grab thrown together in a week and shot on someone’s iPhone.
“Hey, do you want to see a documentary on slime mold?” is a question that will usually be answered with blank stares and furtive movements toward the nearest exit. And while I understand that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, The Creeping Garden will probably end up being one of the docs to watch this year and not just if you’re Egon Spengler.
Slime molds, the film tells us, are a critically understudied organism, neither animal nor plant nor fungus. After a basic introduction to what slime molds are and what we know about them, the film becomes a highlight reel of all the weird but interesting stuff people are doing with them just for the sheer fuck of it. We meet people making slime mold art, using them as computers, as parts of robots and even to make music. This also comes after a brief, and a bit tangential, look at the origins of science films and time-lapse photography, which will probably interest film historians to no end but may seem like an odd dalliance to others.
But the centrepiece of it all is the time-lapse photography of slime molds in action, running mazes, absorbing food, or just living, pulsating and undulating like something out of a horror movie (probably one that has played at Fantasia in the past). The imagery captured in these sequences is stunning and memorable and the accompanying score gives it an almost Herzogian feel.
I can’t help but feel that The Creeping Garden lacks a bit of consistency as flits about from topic to topic a little too quickly and that maybe focusing more on slime mold biology might have been more interesting than one of the several slime mold-related endeavors the film presents us with. That being said, The Creeping Garden is still a hell of an interesting doc, with enough formal charm that it isn’t being entirely carried by the subject matter.