Three looks at this year’s “Midnight Madness” track
Probably one of our bigger general regrets from this year’s TIFF is that we haven’t been able to see as many of the “Midnight Madness” movies as we would have liked. Programmed by the jovial Colin Geddes, one of the programmers at TIFF who really gets how genre works as well as appreciates the support of online journalists attending the fest, “Midnight Madness” premieres some of the best genre films in the world mostly to the rabid crowd of fans who have decided to stay up late with like-minded individuals at the Ryerson University theater. Since we tend to do early morning screenings, we can’t stay up that late, which is why we hadn’t seen a single “Midnight Madness” movie at this year’s TIFF.
On our very last full day in Toronto, we decided to make up for that by seeing three of the movies showcased in “Midnight Madness” – Doug Aarniokoski’s The Day, Eduardo Sanchez’s Lovely Molly, and Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s You’re Next, the latter which had been getting huge buzz at the festival and many raves from our colleagues. Each of these three explore a different subgenre of horror although oddly, they all involve home invaders of sorts, and we were only barely impressed with one of the three we saw. (See, that’s the thing. When you’re up all day watching movies then go see one at midnight, you’re either going to fall asleep or be too tired to be very critical.)
Sadly, we didn’t get a chance to see The Raid and Kill List, which we’ve heard were both great, and we also wanted to see Livid, just because we’ve found the French horror filmmakers to be very sick.
The Day (WWE Studios)
Directed by Doug Aarniokoski; Written by Luke Passmore
Starring Shawn Ashmore, Ashley Bell, Cory Hardrict, Dominic Monaghan, Shannyn Sossamon, Andrew Coutts
Many wonder how humanity might change if there were a terrible disaster that wiped out a good chunk of the population and how those remaining might survive. There have been plenty of great movies that have explored this very subject. “The Day” is not one of them.
After an opening sequence in which we see Shawn Ashmore’s character Adam breaking into a house just before his wife gets dragged away, we meet our five main characters walking through what remains of the earth–honestly, it doesn’t look that bad–until they arrive at a large farmhouse. We get some sense of tension as they explore the seemingly vacant building before settling down there, which involves a lot of tough guy posturing.
Dominic Monaghan is the group’s leader holding out hope that eventually, they’ll find a safe place where he can plant the jars of seeds he’s carrying. (Wait a secondâ¦ does this doomsday have something to do with lack of food? Weren’t they just walking down the street past fields FULL of plantlife just minutes ago?) Wearing a flowered dress which seems out of place in the apocalypse, Ashley Bell’s Mary is immediately the most interesting of the five. She’s joined the group only recently and they don’t trust her, particularly the only other woman in the group, played by Shannyn Sossamon.
It’s nearly half an hour before we get any idea what they’re hiding from when they find a cache of food in the basement and quickly learn they’ve been trapped by a group of cannibals.
The fact that “The Day” treads on ground that’s been handled so much better in other recent movies, whether it be “The Road” or last year’s “Midnight Madness” winner “Stakeland” or even Neil Marshall’s “Doomsday,” really puts it at a great disadvantage. Unlike many other “end of the world survivor” movies, our heroes aren’t facing any sorts of mutants or creature, but other humans just like them–only they’re cannibals–but they’re not treated in a way that ever makes you feel our protagonists are in any real danger.
Without that level of tension or fear, that just leaves a group of D-level actors interacting and treating every scene as if they’re appearing in some sort of serious drama. Most of these scenes are often plagued by the movie’s abysmal writing and even worse acting, so it’s actually quite welcome when they stop talking and start fighting, which is most of the last act as the fight off a large tribe of cannibals led by Michael Eklund’s “Father.” The action and gore that makes up these scenes are just okay and nothing that special either.
Aarniokoski certainly seems like a filmmaker with some degree of talent as he creates an extremely stylish looking film, the muted colors adding to the stark tone. When the story transitions into nighttime, the whole thing is way too dark to tell what’s going on. In fact, the best thing going for “The Day” is its score, which is absolutely fantastic electronic music that does a better job setting the tone than anything being done by the director or actors. We have no idea who is responsible though it sounds a lot like the work of Charlie Clouser, who did the “Saw” movies.
“The Day” might be the perfect entry drug into horror for any 13-year-old kid who has never seen a naked woman or any sort of R-rated violence–who knows? Maybe in 20 years, they’ll be praising this like older horror fans do “Halloween”–but for everyone else, this is absolutely juvenile, moronic filmmaking done by people who have seen way too many movies, but didn’t bother to pay attention to what made them any good.
Directed by Eduardo Sanchez; Written by Eduardo Sanchez, Jamie Nash
Starring Gretchen Lodge, Johnny Lewis, Alexandra Holden, Ken Arnold
Before “Paranormal Activity” reinvigorated the found footage horror genre, the movie often cited (cursed?) as its originator was “The Blair Witch Project,” and one of that film’s directors, Eduardo Sanchez, returns to that familiar territory with a horror film that begs similarities both to “Paranormal” and the soon-to-be-released remake of “Silent House.”
As you watch the opening wedding video of Molly and Tim (Gretchen Lodge, Johnny Lewis), you might think we’re in for 90 minutes of low-fi filmmaking but once the newlyweds move into her father’s old home, Sanchez switches to more traditional filmmaking as the couple start hearing intruders in the night. As we learn, Molly is a former junkie and potentially a victim of abuse by her father, all stuff that comes out as she’s left alone in the house by her new husband and she starts experiencing weird sounds. When Tim gets back, he immediately sees the change in Molly as well as starts
While “Lovely Molly” starts out fairly straight-forward, it gets pretty weird as it goes along. Molly’s dead father had something to do with horses, something we learn from the many pictures of him with horses, and Molly’s fear seems to involve either horses or dead deer, because her father often appears to her in those guises. We don’t actually see him as much as hear him, which is probably a good thing considering how silly that probably sounds.
Sanchez has plenty of locations in which to keep us on edge, whether it’s the creepy basement or the creepy attic or the creepy woods or that mysterious door with a wreath on it. He also doesn’t completely give up on the home video idea as it returns to that technique from time to time as Molly carries around a video camera for no explicable reason except maybe to document what’s happening to her. One often wonders why if this is Molly’s childhood home, she’s wandering around so cautiously while exploring it as if she had just moved in, too.
Ultimately, it all works to keep you effectively creeped out, since at first, you don’t really know what’s going on then just as you think you’ve figured out where it’s going, it starts throwing even more weirdness and leaving you more confused. It has that in common with “Blair Witch” in some ways because it may require repeat viewing to put some of the pieces together.
The biggest takeaway from the movie is what a fantastic and daring actress Gretchen Lodge is, playing a role that has her going through all sorts of permutations, playing up her sexuality one minute and being absolutely evil the next. It’s also quite a coup for Sanchez to have gotten instrumental rock band Tortoise to provide the score.
Even if not all of “Lovely Molly” makes sense, Sanchez has still got it when it comes to making viewers feel uneasy, and he’s created a terrific looking horror film that introduces an impressive new talent in Gretchen Lodge. It’s hard to tell if those things alone make up for the film’s stranger turns or the fact it feels strangely derivative, but it certainly makes it more watchable than other “Blair Witch” rip-offs.
Directed by Adam Wingard; Written by Simon Barrett
Starring Sharni Vinson, Rob Moran, Barbara Crampton, Ti West, Wendy Glenn, Amy Seimetz, Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Nicholas Tucci
The story goes that Wingard and Barrett brought their first movie “A Horrible Way to Die,” recently released on DVD, to TIFF in hopes of getting into “Midnight Madness,” but it was instead placed in a different category. After seeing James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s “Insidious,” they went back to the drawing board, regrouped their cast and brought in some of their filmmaking friends to explore the home invasion subgenre of horror, which was Bryan Bertino’s “The Strangers.”
After a prologue showing a couple being taken out fairly quickly by a masked intruder, we’re introduced to a wealthy dysfunctional family coming together at their country mansion for a little quality time. Their quiet dinner is suddenly invaded by a trio of attackers wearing animals masks.
The fact that the M.O. of the attackers is almost identical to “The Strangers” is something that’s going to be hard to avoid for Wingard and Barrett, and we barely have had a chance to meet the family before the assault begins with crossbow bolts flying through the windows, so it’s hard to care one way or another when they start dying.
At least they have some talented friends to call upon to fill the roles of this family with AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg returning from “A Horrible Way To Die” to play squabbling brothers Crispian and Drake. They offer some of the best moments as the film begins, but then Bowen’s character disappears for what seems like a good 40-minute chunk, which is a shame. Then again, the film’s real standout by far is Sharni Vinson – yes, from Step Up 3D – as Crispian’s Australian girlfriend Erin, who quickly slips into the role of badass heroine as she starts taking out the assailants in a way that will elicit cheers. (Wingard also got fellow filmmaker Ti West to play a small role as the filmmaker boyfriend of Crispian and Drake’s sister.)
There are some bits that are funny and a couple clever kills, but once the violence begins, the movie just isn’t funny enough to be considered a “horror-comedy,” and the dialogue just goes downhill very fast, as does the mood.
We won’t give away the big twist introduced fairly early on, but one has to assume the filmmakers were trying to approach this sub-genre of horror in a way that’s far less clever than they may have thought. In fact, “You’re Next” does very little to break any new ground, not in the shocks or the gory kills, all stuff that dates back to slasher classics like “Friday the 13th” and “Halloween.” The only really difference is that it’s a family trying to survive while others try to kill them, so that adds a different dynamic than what we’ve seen before.
Wingard’s biggest offense is the overuse of loud sound FX throughout the movie, not just to punctuate some of the scares–and there are some good ones–but the loud ambient noises just permeate the entire film to the point of being aggravating. It also makes “You’re Next” feels little more than a classier and wittier take on “The Collector”–a horrendous home invasion movie by the writers of the last few “Saw” movies.
One’s mileage may vary depending on the amount of bloodlust they have in their heart at the time of viewing, but so many stronger movies have explored similar territory, whether it’s the aforementioned “The Strangers” or movies with women fighting back against insurmountable odds like Neil Marshall’s “The Descent” or even actual horror-comedies like “Severance.” All that this offers is a way to analyze those around you in the theater and wonder why people get so excited merely at the thought of gory violence begetting even gorier violence.
While the filmmakers clearly did their homework on how to make a scary gorefest, they fail to give us something that feels particularly new or different.
Source: Edward Douglas