Films reviewed: “The Corpse of Anna Fritz”, “The Forbidden Room”, “Green Room”, “The Invitation”, “Love and Peace” (pictured above), “Observance” and “Ratter”.
London Film Festival 2015 was split into strands including Dare, Debate, Family, First Feature, Galas, Journey, Laugh, Love, Official Competition and Thrill. Here are the Cult and Experimenta reviews. Follow @halfacanyon for more.
The Corpse of Anna Fritz – 3/10
Original title: El cadaver de Anna Fritz
Director: Hèctor Hernández Vicens
Writers: Hèctor Hernández Vicens, Isaac P Creus
Starring: Albert Carbó, Alba Ribas, Cristian Valencia, Bernat Saumell
“You’ll see, she doesn’t even look dead.”
Film criticism is like necrophilia: the violation of a once-living, defenceless body (of art) left to be watched, studied and unravelled. Well, not really, but such exaggerations are necessary to find anything worthwhile from director Hèctor Hernández’s Spanish horror The Corpse of Anna Fritz and its laboured premise.
Bumping into an acquaintance evokes a mandatory “how are you?” greeting on the streets, but here not a single question is raised when a corpse returns to life. It occurs when three male friends sneak into a morgue to gawp at the nude, dead body of Anna Fritz (Ribas), a famous Spanish actress and international sex symbol – as a character puts it, “half of Spain would do her”. Ivan (Valencia) and Javi (Saumell) do just that. In contrast, Pau (Albert Carbó) – the “nice” one because he looks but won’t touch – hangs his head in disgust.
And then Anna’s eyes open, followed by a Kill Bill-esque sequence of toes and fingers reorganising themselves. What’s running through her mind is hard to tell, for the film’s focus is on the men’s attempts to hide the reanimated corpse from security in case she reports them to the authorities. This involves internal fighting, smashing a phone, and the least dramatic instance of hiding behind a trolley put to screen for quite a while.
There’s no mention of whether Anna’s a zombie, if she’s witnessed life after death, or if perhaps she’s a supernatural being as impermeable as a grain of sand. Nor is there exploration of the relationship between Anna’s media-friendly acting career and whether that’s why the men feel her naked body is fair game. Aside from 30 seconds of a mortuary worker checking in, there isn’t even a proper obstacle for the trio to hide from. It’s just a few thinly written morons ducking under tables, wondering if Anna is dead or alive. If the action isn’t predictable, it’s because the script can only entertain by illogically and haphazardly flicking an on/off switch for its wordless, lifeless victim.
The Forbidden Room – 9/10
Directors: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson
Writers: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Robert Kotyk
Starring: Udo Kier, Geraldine Chaplin, Matthieu Amalric, Charlotte Rampling, Maria de Medeiros
Strand: Experimenta gala
“Well, the woman in church had hope in her soul…”
Sonically, visually and moustache-ly audacious, Maddin is on fire as he dreams the molten dream of an overflowing kaleidoscopic volcano. In fact, a sizeable chunk is a fantasy conjured up by a dead man’s moustache. (I think.) Really, words can’t really describe a psychedelic experience that naturally jumps from Udo Kier electrocuted during a choir’s rendition of a song about derrieres, to “women skeletons” deploying a poisoned leotard as a murder weapon.
With an opening credits sequence continuously folding in on itself, followed by an old poet’s tutorial of how to take a bath, it takes a minute to fall in love. An early scene centres on four men trapped in a submarine and sucking flapjacks for oxygen, when in steps a woodsman who took a wrong corner at a forest. That’s how easily Maddin and co-director Evan Johnson slide from dream to dream, culminating in what is – in Inception terms – several levels deep. Think of The Forbidden Room as a snowglobe that showers ideas when shaken.
More words on this – including my interview with Maddin – to come elsewhere in December.
Green Room – 7/10
Director/Writer: Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Imogen Poots, Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Callum Turner, Joe Cole
“This gun only has five cartridges, not six, because they’re big as fuck and only five fit the cylinder.”
In the tense, temporarily bearded thrills of last year’s Blue Ruin, Saulnier hinted at what was to come, and in heavy metal horror Green Room he dials the fun up to about 8 – let’s not go overboard. The black comedy’s gnarly premise sees a young, terrified punk bank battle its ways out of a battered music venue owned by a pack of neo-Nazis led by Patrick Stewart. Already it’s probably more watchable than anything it’ll face on its 2016 release date.
The band is the Ain’t Rights, made up of Yelchin, Shawkat, Turner and Cole. Scraping the drum barrel for a gig, they take the stage at a rural Oregon bar that’s also a hangout for white supremacists. When the band slip in a protest cover of the Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks, F*** Off”, bottles are flung at the stage.
Far worse is to come when backstage, instead of a groupie, they encounter a dead body. Along with the victim’s best friend, played by standout Imogen Poots, they’re locked inside a room while the bad guys decide how to deal with the witnesses. What follows is a wild battle of improvised weapons, punk music seeping through the walls, and the type of gore that elicits the right kind of groans and delayed laughter.
However, something’s lost in the momentum when the final act arrives. Blue Ruin was at its heart a revenge story fuelled by divorce and years of bloody fantasies. Green Room, while finely done, is about getting from A to B, with a “this is all you’re getting, and you’re gonna bloody like it” quality.
The Invitation – 7/10
Director: Karyn Kusama
Writers: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, John Carroll Lynch
“I could make you want me.”
The formality of sending a wedding invitation is a bit odd when it’s often preceded by a Facebook message or text asking for address. But these are the rituals everyone plays along with. So too do the dinner party guests of Kusama’s evening of genre tension (as opposed to the other kind of horror present in Polanski’s Carnage) with a meal between reunited school friends.
For a backdrop, one of the guests is Will (Marshall-Green), a former partner of host Eden (Blanchard) with whom he split following the grief of losing a child. When the conversation turns to a topic befitting of the festival’s “cult” strand, the rather edgy dialogue caresses its secrets with finesse. You know something will happen, and it’s a long, teasing wait – complete with nervous titters from the audience I saw it with – until the party really gets started.
Once the mysteries have their Scooby Doo masks pulled off, the action and scares are all a bit “been there, done that” and perhaps you’re even wearing a t-shirt you bought from last time. But it’s a fun t-shirt with the most memorable final shot of anything I saw at the festival.
Love and Peace – 8/10
Director/Writer: Sion Sono
Starring: Hiroki Hasegawa, Kumiko Asô, Toshiyuki Nishida
“They can’t see me because they only see science.”
A colossal crooning turtle is the tip of a typically raucous iceberg (floating through a magical sewer) in Love and Peace, just one of Sono’s six features for 2015. With a storyline involving kaiju and a toy princess discovering her own immortality, it’s surprisingly one of the Japanese director’s few recent films to not be based on a manga. But who else other than Sono could come up with such preposterous ideas that mesh so well together in a hugely entertaining visual circus?
Even more unexpected is that Sono has made what borders on a live-action Christmas Pixar film: free of the sex, violence and shock tactics he’s known for, yet undeniably from the twisted mind behind Suicide Club and Love Exposure. A Japanese-language voice cameo from John Ratzenberger as the wounded cat unconfirmed.
The central loser is Ryoichi (Hagawa), a wannabe rock star whose concerts were attended by nobody (even worse than attracting nobodies) and is reluctantly a bullied employee at an office day job. Early fun is to be had with the workplace comedy, playing up its OTT dynamics – mean colleagues, automatic door with mind of its own, a crush on a staff member – before teeing up the secret star: Picadon, a pet turtle.
Succumbing to peer pressure and humiliation, Ryoichi flushes his only friend, Picadon, down the toilet, only to take mere seconds to realise his mistake – and from then on, he howls at the sign of turtle-related objects. An acquired taste; to me, it’s hilarious. The hyperactive melodrama takes a further turn when Picadon winds up in a magical, underground lair, where a wizard (well, whatever you call an old dude with magical powers) nurses abandoned Christmas toys and rejected pets. “I’m not a cute puppy anymore,” says one. Oh yes, they speak.
Written 20 years ago, Love and Peace is evidently from the pen of someone ignoring parameters and budgets. Granted “wish candy”, Picadon grows, glows and sings, deciding it’ll compose hit songs for its former owner. The escapades escalate from there, culminating in kaiju slapstick and music industry satire, as the oversized, singing shell-zilla trots along Japan’s streets. (The undeniably catchy title tune, however, is too similar to Wilco’s ‘My Darlin’’ to ignore.)
A standout joke comes from the old man breaking into a lab. Disguised as Santa Claus, he’s literally invisible to the scientists who “only see science”. Why the costume? Because that’s the time of year it’s set. Rather apt, considering Sono has delivered a surreal, exhilarating comedy that works just as well for a family Christmas viewing and a drunken midnight cinema crowd.
Observance – 6/10
Director: Joseph Sims-Dennett
Writers: Joseph Sims-Dennett, Josh Zammit
Starring: Lindsay Farris, Stephanie King, Brendan Cowell
“I think I’ve got a virus…”
Ticking along to its own sick, elusive rhythms, Observance is a debut of promise from Sims-Dennett, a director already mastering the art of invisible suffocation. Parker (Farris) is assigned an odd task: take a telescope and watch a seemingly normal woman across the road, without acting upon what he sees. Like any 21st century freelancer, he never turns down work, but is suspicious of a few things. For instance, why him? Why her? Why is black goo growing inside his stomach?
The horror’s strength and weakness is in its lack of an obvious all-action payoff (is this ever satisfying?). That’s not to say nothing happens. Instead, the tension builds and builds, unbearably so, adding what appears to be an allegory for someone complying to an unethical job – unable to say no to a droning boss on the phone, while the rot expands inside his stomach.
Ratter – 3/10
Director/Writer: Branden Kramer
Starring: Ashley Benson, Matt McGorry, Rebecca Naomi James
“Great, now I have to change all my passwords.”
The visual setup of Ratter is completely through devices belonging to Emma (Benson), a student living an everyday existence with a laptop or phone always at her fingertips. She may be in every scene, but her actions (eating cereal, watching films) are seen from the POV of an online stalker. Who’s watching isn’t clear, and nor is it a whodunit. It could be anyone with an internet connection. But actually, the absence of suspects only adds to an unsatisfying viewing experience.
The horror of Ratter is in its unremarkable nature – even when Emma dances like no one’s watching. For the majority of the runtime, we watch a best-of compilation of someone’s dull daily routines. Occasionally the hacker will rewind, or perhaps zoom in on a body part. At its most interesting (or least boring), a scene will end abruptly out of jealousy when Emma interacts with another student. But mostly, it’s a cautionary tale about online security: no activity or person is too tedious for a stranger’s viewing.
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