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.

THE HALLOW the-hallow

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 iBridgend_PresseStill_0000000ts 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

Whenever a new horror film comes out and starts garnering rave reviews from people in the know, my reaction is usually to have my eyebrow thrust skyward with the force of an Apollo rocket. I’m not generally a fan of modern horror movies, which is to say I hold them in the same regard as I do garden slugs or Jake Busey. And yet, people kept telling me I HAD to see It Follows, an indie horror film with a killer hook and great execution, that it would turn me around on modern horror movies and restore my faith.

It didn’t.

It isn’t bad, the hook is definitely killer and it has some interesting formal elements as well. But it’s also a bit muddled, tries to be retro and modern at the same time, and, for my money, doesn’t go deep enough with its central idea.

It followes posterThe hook is pretty simple: the monster is an STD. After a round of the old backseat boogaloo with her boyfriend, teenager Jay finds herself pursued by a mysterious entity that appears as normal people, sometimes people she knows, walking steadily towards her with a glassy stare. The entity can appear at any time and if it catches you, as the now ex-boyfriend tells her, it kills you. The only way to get rid of it is to sleep with someone else, passing it on to them.

As horror movie hooks go, it’s direct, simple, and clever. STD’s have always been sort of lurking in the subtext of a lot of horror movie monsters, and It Follows is one of the few I can think of to come out and take the sexual/disease element out of the shadows and make it part of the actual text of the film rather than subtext.

Similarly, the monster itself, if it can even be called that, is extremely simple. No fangs, no claws, no jumping out and going “arglebargle” (except for one scene), just someone that no one else can see walking towards you with a blank expression, carrying with them the subtle implication that if they catch you, that’s your ass. I tend to find stuff like that scarier than the usual jump scares, and indeed It Follows can be damn chilling at times.

The problems really are in the execution. The film seems to be sorta going for a retro vibe, very much in the vein of classic Wes Craven or John Carpenter. The film could – almost – be set in the 70s, everyone drives old cars and watches 40s sci-fi movies, at one point the characters go to a movie in this gorgeous old movie palace with a live organist, and modern conveniences like cell phones are almost totally absent. The soundtrack is even this actually really good synth affair.

The problem is that the 70s affectation feels sorta half-assed. In the face of all the retro-isms, this one character (a completely pointless one who could have been cut from the movie entirely at almost zero consequence) is always reading on this weird clamshell e-reader. The photography is also extremely crisp and modern looking, which often puts the look and sound of the film at odds. Whenever that retro soundtrack kicks in I thought to myself “Wow that sounds awesome. But it doesn’t fit what I’m looking at at all”. Perhaps had they gone full House of the Devil and made it look convincingly like a 70s horror movie, as well as sound like one, this discrepancy could have been avoided.

It Follows insertOn the subject of photography, the camera work is very deliberate, with a recurring motif of 360-degree pans, but I still can’t quite tell if they worked for me or not. On the one hand, it’s nice to see a film pay enough attention to its camera work to even have a motif; on the other hand, the recurring pans felt a bit over-used and heavy handed.

On the scripting side of things, It Follows often feels muddied and in need of some refining. There’s that aforementioned pointless character, and I got this nagging sense that the film never quite knew what it wanted to say on the heady issue it was engaging with.

It Follows had a really great opportunity to say something really important and profound about the way we deal with STD and STI sufferers as a society, and while it is true that the film can be seen as a statement about how we demonize them, I kept waiting for the film to go that extra allegorical step.

The movie also sorta betrays itself in certain ways, especially during one scene where the monster’s existence is made plain to Jay’s friends after it sneaks up behind her and grabs her hair (in a kind of lame looking effect) and throws the resident beta male out of the way. Admittedly the old ‘is she really just crazy’ shtick is a bit played out, but I think the film might have functioned better over all if it focused on Jay’s private battle instead of surrounding her with a Scooby Gang of friends, highlighting the stigma of isolation and shame that STD sufferers still face all too often.

So is It Follows everything it’s cracked up to be? Probably not. It wades half-heartedly into the retro aesthetic pool, but its unwillingness to go all the way makes things like the Casio soundtrack and 70s paraphernalia more distracting than enjoyable. Similarly it feels as though the film just doesn’t go deep enough with the STD allegory it seems to be trying to be, and as such feels more exploitative than profound. Not that there isn’t room for exploitation, but with the hype this film was garnering I was frankly expecting more.

Hype is probably this film’s worst enemy, really, and I think once the chorus of praise that currently surrounds It Follows dies down and people can just stumble upon it with no expectations of brilliance, it will be more able to make an impression on people.