Fantasia 2015: Indie delights and problematic horror

Cop Car header

Though the last week of Fantasia is upon us, the coverage must go on! Here are three more reviews from what I saw this week.

The Interior

A few years back, I saw at Fantasia a sweet, quirky little movie called Doomsdays. It was exactly the kind of movie you go to a film festival to see: one made entirely out of passion and overflowing with charm, creativity, rock-solid formal elements and built a simple but staggeringly effective script.

The Interior is this year’s Doomsdays. It’s everything I just mentioned and more: a profound example of how a committed indie filmmaker can take a budget a major studio would blow on craft services and use it to trounce most major studio films in terms of both form and storytelling. It’s funnier than most studio comedies and scarier than ANY studio horror film of the past decade.

Interior

 

What begins as an office comedy in the vein of Office Space or Haiku Tunnel suddenly morphs into an alone-in-the-woods horror film as James, a downtrodden office worker, retreats to the woods after receiving a fatal diagnosis. But James soon finds he isn’t as alone as he thinks he is, as a series of odd occurrences escalates into a terrifying ordeal

On paper, The Interior seems impossible to pull off. A wacky comedy that morphs halfway through into a horror film? That kind of sudden tonal shift just shouldn’t work. And yet it does here, better than you’d believe. The comedy sequences are hilarious, full of quirky characters and biting dialogue. The horror sequences, by contrast are completely terrifying, exemplifying the “less is more” approach to horror that seems to have gone completely extinct otherwise.

Director and writer Trevor Juras expertly builds the tension over the course of the latter half of the film, taking us through pitch-black sections of forest only sometimes illuminated by James’ flashlight, almost constantly resisting the urge to have something jump out and go boo. But it never does. We keep waiting for the jump scare, the payoff we’ve been trained to expect by years of awful horror movies. But it never comes, because the tension isn’t just a prelude to a cat jumping out or a knife wielding maniac suddenly pouncing from the underbrush to show us his stabbing technique. The tension is the point.

The film, ts should also be mentioned, is staggeringly well-filmed. When James enters the woods the camera takes on this beautiful objective quality, gliding through the woods, not focusing on anything. The focus is as deep as the Marianas Trench, allowing us to take in these full, beautiful frames of untouched wilderness, beautiful and daunting at the same time. During the Q&A, I was knocked for a loop to learn these scenes weren’t even filmed using Steadicam, just a hand-held camera with a counterweight, and it’s clear that the DP, Othello J. Ubalde, has the steady hands of a brain surgeon.

I hope to heck that The Interior gets a distribution deal if it hasn’t already, because this is the kind of film that needs to be seen by as many people as possible. It’s a direct counterpoint to so many of the awful, toxic ideas plaguing not just horror films but cinema at large.

Cop Car posterCop Car

Oh hey, speaking of indie films that completely show up major studio films: Cop Car, a film for which expositional dialogue is a foreign entity and yet still tells a story so well it hurts.

The film focuses on two young boys who, after running away from home, find a seemingly abandoned cop car, which they naturally take for a joy ride. Of course, the car is owned by the corrupt local sheriff, whose drug connection is bound and beaten inside the trunk, putting him in a hell of a hurry to get the car back.

From the first few lines of dialogue, Cop Car is telling us everything we need to know about who the characters are and what they’re about, without the kind of awkward exposition you’d normally get. The film trusts us to put the pieces together from dialogue, characterization and by watching the performances themselves. This goes for both the boys and the sheriff, played by Kevin Bacon. We’re never told exactly what kind of seedy doings the sheriff is up to, but we know it involves drugs and the need to quietly dispose of multiple bodies. And that’s really all we need to know. We’re given all the relevant info we need about the entire cast organically and then left to put the pieces together for ourselves.

If it hadn’t been for Mad Max: Fury Road, Cop Car might have been the only film that I’ve seen all year that does this properly, but now we have a duo of organic storytelling movies heavily based around cars and the rapid conveyance thereof, and I’m more than ok with that.

Some kind of hate posterSome Kind of Hate

Here are some things you just don’t do in a story about self-harm. Eroticize it. Fetishize it. Make it a source of power. Some Kind of Hate does all three, turning a serious problem faced by countless depressives and turning it into a fetishized gimmick, producing a repulsive film in the process.

The protagonists are the students of a kind of camp/cult for wayward teens, one of whom swears to kill his bullies for tormenting him. To his “rescue” comes the ghost of a previous camper who was killed by her camp-mates, who cuts herself to inflict identical injuries on her victims.

While Some Kind of Hate COULD have been an interesting and thoughtful look at self-harm and depression, it remains teaspoon shallow throughout, using cutting as a gimmick for a blandly presented ghost/killer.

Cutting and self harm becomes a source of empowerment for the killer, a problematic depiction of a real issue that is never corrected. Cutting isn’t shown as self-destructive but rather as a source of power or agency, and that dangeous association between self-harm and power is never counteracted, even in the finale when the heroes defeat the killer by – guess what? The film even has the outright gall to depict a quasi-lesbian scene between the ghost and the female lead in which cutting takes on an erotic element as razor blades across the thigh result in what for all the world appear to be orgasmic gasps. I would have thought it was a general rule that you DON’T MAKE SELF-CUTTING SEXY, but there it is.

One person I spoke to found this interestingly transgressive, but there’s two problems with that reading. One: transgression is only relevant when it has a point, when it’s stripping away a taboo and forcing us to talk about something we aren’t. The scene in Some Kind of Hate just feels like cheap titillation, an out of nowhere spoonful of lesbian eroticism that exists only to excite the audience. And second, some things shouldn’t be transgressed against for a very good reason: because they’re harmful and toxic. And the sexualized depiction of self cutting fits “harmful and toxic” to a tee.

Some Kind of Hate is a repugnant, ugly movie and that’s as much as deserves to be said about it.

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