Fantasia Highlights: Magic Magic, OXV:The Manual,The Battery, and Big Bad Wolves

magic magic

MAGIC MAGIC (U.S.A./Chile, 2013) 

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Written and directed by Sebastien Silva, Magic Magic was one of the first films to catch my eye in this year’s Fantasia program. Mostly because I felt utterly validated in my previous reading of Michael Cera as capable of immense creepiness. Here it was finally, a film in which Cera let his (true?) darkness shine.

Magic Magic was not at all what I expected. The synopsis is purposefully misleading and the film toys with its ambiguous development until the very end.  Alicia (Juno Temple) barely sets foot in Chile when her cousin Sarah (Emily Browning) whisks her away on a trip to a secluded island with her weird friend Brink (Michael Cera), easily annoyed friend Barbara (Catalina Sandino), and her good looking boyfriend Agustin (Agustin Silva, who is the director’s brother). This isn’t your typical young people go to a secluded place type of horror film. The horror rests in the film’s ripe psychological tension and compelling imagery. There’s something going on here with sheep and dogs that might be the basis of a funky cultural studies paper.

Although beautifully shot and blissfully disorienting, the film does have a couple elements that made me pause: there is the question of the portrayal of Mapuche culture that I can’t help but flag for a second viewing. That’s just what I’ll be doing before I fully make up my mind about just how great Magic Magic is.

OXV: THE MANUAL (England, 2013) 

002-2When I heard that OXV: The Manual, having its world premiere as part of Fantasia, was being compared in some ways to Shane Carruth of Primer fame and to films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I was all in. Darren Paul Fisher, the director of the film, labelled OXV: The Manual a scientific-philosophical romance and that’s bang on.

In the world of the film, knowledge determines destiny. Scientific research has discovered that people emit different frequencies and this has changed the world. Those persons with higher frequencies are helped by the world while those with lower frequencies attract bad luck and they are constantly out of sync with the natural world. Isaac-Newton and Marie-Curie collide – they are the lowest and highest frequencies respectively at their school for gifted children. Zak happens to have fallen in love with Marie, whose presence he cannot be in for over a minute a year for his own safety. The film follows the lives of Marie and Zak as he tries to to do the unthinkable: change his natural frequency and challenge fate.

OXV: The Manual is well executed, looks beautiful, and poses important questions. Questions about love, free will, scientific discovery, history, personal essence, intelligence. The list goes on. The performances are great and the way the storylines are weaved together and develop is well crafted. I won’t say much more and lead you to this gem with fresh eyes. Enjoy!

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THE BATTERY (USA, 2012)

“If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s probably a fucking zombie.” – Ben

Written and directed by Jeremy Gardner, The Battery is at the top of my list for Best of the Fest at this year’s Fantasia awards. This micro budget film follows Mickey (Adam Cronheim) and Ben (Jeremy Gardner), two dudes who used to play baseball together, as they travel the post plague backroads of New England. The two men cannot be more different: Ben does all the dirty work while Mickey yearns for human connection spending most of his days avoiding reality by losing himself in music. While they face encounters with the undead, surviving each other might be the hardest ordeal they face.

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The Battery is another film I was going to maladroitly skip: I’ve been feeling saturated in the zombie department. However, I kept hearing great things and also happened to meet Gardner and his girlfriend at the Irish Embassy. So, I decided to give it a look-see after all and was really impressed. The Battery isn’t like typical zombie flesh eating orgy films rather it focuses on the emptiness and bleakness of a post-apocalyptic world where human connection is few and far between. All of this with a killer soundtrack. Gardner’s performance kicks ass and his directorial instincts have definitely paid off boasting a few bold editing choices exemplified in the end sequence.

Not to be missed. That is all.

BIG BAD WOLVES (Israel, 2013)

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Highly recommended by fellow Fantasia reviewer Ian Sandwell, I took a leap of faith and decided to attend a screening of Big Bad Wolves, the second feature by Israeli filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado. Although the trailer seems to indicate a sort of revenge torture porn plot, which isn’t something I’m drawn to lately, that’s not what Big Bad Wolves is actually about. The directors of past Fantasia favourite Rabies have created an engrossing thriller forcing viewers to ask themselves some tough questions around vigilantism, an important topic these days.

A young girl goes missing in the woods and a trio of sleazy cops makes the situation worse by beating up the primary suspect. Unfortunately for them, this incidence of police brutality has made its way to youtube and there are consequences. Determined to get his badge back, Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) sets out to prove that this suspect did indeed commit these brutal crimes. The film also shows how this assumption of guilt messes with the life of Dror (Rotem Keinan), the person-of-interest in terms of this series of sadistic murders. Finally, a third party is circling these bloody waters, the father of the missing girl who knows that the “the only thing that scares a maniac is another maniac.”

Following a breathtakingly beautiful dreamlike opening sequence, the filmmakers have found a way to weave three films into one poignant story: a story about bad cops, a story from the point of view of a suspected pedophile, and the story of a vigilante father. The result is nothing shy of intense. Some of the torture scenes made me cringe, sending visceral alarms throughout my body. That being said, the film balances blood and humour in a way that is very entertaining and delightfully twisted.

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