The home stretch of Fantasia 2015 is almost upon us. It’s hard to believe the fest is nearing its end, but the coverage continues all the same. Here’s a quick rundown of some of what I saw this week.
I believe I’ve said this before, but some of the best Fantasia experiences I’ve had are with films I knew almost nothing about going in. Such was the case with He Never Died. I knew it had Henry Rollins in the lead, I knew he was a cannibal, and that was about it. And true to form, I had one of the best experiences of the year so far. It’s not a perfect film, mind, but Rollins’ performance alone elevates the film above any petty flaws that I might be able to find in it.
Rollins plays Jack, a reclusive man who’s apparently as tough as old boot leather and has a taste for human flesh. Jack lives day by day, trying to keep his proclivities in check and stay out of trouble. Of course, this becomes considerably harder when in the same week Jack runs afoul of the local mob and meets the daughter he never knew he had.
The centerpiece of He Never Died is Rollins’ astounding performance as Jack, which mixes phenomenal deadpan deliveries with heaps of charm. It’s astounding that Rollins has never headlined a feature film before, and I hope this is just the start for him because watching him onscreen is an engrossing experience.
Of course, the film isn’t perfect. At times it feels like its spinning its wheels a bit, it could use a more complete ending and it feels a bit too gore-happy. But those are piddling complaints towards an otherwise hugely entertaining experience. Apparently the film is being developed into a Netflix series, and if that happens I’m all the way on board.
Director Mamoru Oshii is best known for the Ghost in the Shell series, the first of which is one of the most influential anime films of all time. With such a staggering achievement under his belt, you’d see why studios would essentially give him carte blanche on future projects, allowing him as much creative freedom as he needs.
Nowhere Girl, his new live action film, might be proof that that may not be the best idea. The film follows Ai, a student at an all-girls art college, thrown into social withdrawal by a severe bout of PTSD. After some trauma, AI is receding further and further into herself, prompting bullying from her classmates and concern from her teachers.
The first 80-odd minutes of Nowhere Girl is, and I need to be harsh about this, dull. It’s one scene of slow pans across still frames set to soft piano after another. And while I get that stillness and quiet meditation are two of Oshii’s calling cards, here it just feels like the majority of the film has no forward momentum whatsoever.
Of course, there IS a really good fight scene. A really, really, really good fight scene, because as you may expect the movie has a big twist at the end. A lame one, as it turns out, but one that at least facilitates the aforementioned really, really good fight scene. But as good as it is, it doesn’t make everything that comes before and after it less of a droning, repetitive slog that feels mostly like the product of rampant directorial indulgence.
Found footage horror isn’t too likely to pique a lot of interest these days. Since Blair Witch opened the door to every schmoe with a camera who wants to make a horror film, the market has been flooded with wave after wave of cheap, unimaginative, motion-sickness inducing dreck.
And yet. It’s still very possible for a found-footage horror movie to be good. And JeruZalem is the proof.
JeruZalem follows two American tourists as their trip to Israel unexpectedly brings them to Jerusalem during Yom Kippur. One of the two naturally is filming the whole thing on her brand new pair of Smart Glasses, which gives us literally a first-hand look when the biblical apocalypse happens and the city is beset by demons and giants.
While JeruZalem plays to a LOT of eye-roll inducing horror conventions, it also innovates in some really interesting ways. The use Smart Glass opens up some interesting new storytelling devices, for one. When our protagonist meets someone, for example, we can see her glasses recognize their face and open up their Facebook profile (or Myspace page in the case of her dad, in a really clever little joke), which acts as a quick way to get exposition out of the way. Some may see it as a gimmick, but I thought it was a really interesting and innovative device for getting the story told and the characters established quickly.
The visuals are also pretty interesting, though the budget obviously means that we see precious little of the demons that attack our heroes. But what we do see feels striking and interesting, and that goes a long way.
Of course, it takes a bit of while to get off the ground, but that aside I see a lot of potential in JeruZalem. There’s a lot of cleverness and craft on display. It would be easy to write it off as just another found footage horror flick, but even if this film doesn’t make a huge splash, it may be worth it to see what the directors have in store next.