Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.
– Carl Sagan
There is something particularly thrilling about watching people battling insurmountable odds. Perhaps this is due to the way many of us are (not so secretly) preparing for the zombie apocalypse or the moment when global warming finally wreaks havoc and kicks humanity to the curb. Or maybe, it is a fear of the inevitability of death that provides an adrenaline rush and brings Fantasia goers together to watch characters and human kind struggle to survive (or not) harrowing situations – supernatural and otherwise.
Ireland / Corin Hardy /2015
As part of his job as a conservationist, Adam moves his young family to a secluded house in the woods in order to continue his work preventing the few remaining forests of Ireland from being devastated by disease and loggers. Although the house has bars on the windows and their neighbour is beyond nosy, from the onslaught, warnings from locals about the dangers of his trespassing go unheeded. As the young wife removes strange ugly bars from the windows of the house while the father journeys happily into the woods, baby in tow, they remain unaware that they are also being studied and that time for a safe exodus is running out.
It is obvious that the makers of The Hallow have a profound love of horror films. The film demonstrates a fresh and keen eye for the contemporary ripeness of age old lore.
With a premise that rings sweetly familiar, The Hallow offers unconventional pacing that will feel unexpected yet welcome as the story moves between the a tale of an eerie place to body horror (hands down my favourite element) and, finally, to horrific survival mayhem – scythe on fire and all.
This pacing is quick, unsettling, and I would argue, one of the more formula busting elements of the film. The Harrow tends to feel somewhat pre-digested: film savvy audiences will find some of the story’s exposure repetitive and overly spelled out. Almost as if there was a fear the audience would not fill in the blanks on their own.
However, this doesn’t stop the film from offering some jumps and scary bits that will leave audience members short of breath. The Hallow may not be groundbreaking but several of its scenes, especially the first real encounter, go in unexpected directions that are happy offerings to lovers of the genre. As a creature feature, The Hallow delivers some pretty sweet practical and special effects presenting some of the more horrific screen monsters in recent memory.
Denmark/ Jeppe Rønde/ 2015
Bridgend has earned its place as one of my favourite films of recent years. I would not be surprised to see it win several awards at Fantasia, and beyond, this year.
Bridgend is a riveting film with beautiful well-crafted visuals. This first narrative film for director Jeppe Ronde is an emotionally gripping exploration of painful subject matter inspired by recent events the the Welsh town of the same name.
Sara, her beloved horse, and her father move back to Bridgend, Wales when he takes on a job as a local cop. However, the two were not prepared for what is happening in the town they called home many years ago. A wave of cluster suicides has stricken the town, not unlike an epidemic, and the townsfolk are left with a host of unanswered questions.
Quickly, Sara begins befriending the local lost boys and girls, whom many view as troubled and destructive, while her father, preoccupied with distractions of his own, is tasked with addressing the scope and severity of recent events. Rebellious teenage antics are more than they seem as Sarah’s new friends show her a world of bonding, pronounced highs and lows, and youthful romps: a place where the dead are, perhaps, not lost forever.
Tackling the phenomena of youth suicide, in any media or format, is no simple feat. Few films have done so successfully and Bridgend stands alongside Quebec feature Toute est parfait (2008) for doing the subject matter justice. Bridgend moves beyond the grounded realism of Toute est parfait however, and delves into the realm of arthouse and visual poetics and offers a sensory experience that plunges the audience into this beguiling setting alongside Sara. Hannah Murray (known for Skins and Game of Thrones) stands out as Sara, whose world becomes ever murkier as she begins to unravel.
By refusing straightforward answers, allowing the contemplation of the unknown, and avoiding tropes, Bridgend opens up a world of questions and a multitude of interpretations by literally setting ablaze the screen with raw performances and inspired cinematography.
* Fantasia continues until August 5th, schedule available at fantasiafestival.com