The Unwanted

The Unwanted
The Unwanted

Format: Blu-ray + DVD (R1/A)

Release date: 14 July 2015

Distributor: Kino Lorber (US and Canada only)

Director: Bret Wood

Writer: Bret Wood

Based on the Gothic novella ‘Carmilla’ by: Sheridan Le Fanu

Cast: Hannah Fierman, Christin Orr, William Katt, Kylie Brown

USA 2014

95 mins

***½ out of *****

When movies are rooted in a sense of place that pulsates from their opening frames, deepening to a point where the story is inextricably linked to a regional atmosphere, thus becoming as much a character as the picture’s on-screen personages, then you know that you’re in a world of total immersion. When said films feel like they’re coming from a place that feels familiar and lived-in from the perspective of the filmmaker, the work takes on an added transcendence that can only come from the heart, as well as a good eye for detail and local colour.

In genre films, some of the strongest examples of this can be found in all of George A. Romero‘s early Pittsburgh films (Dawn of the Dead, The Crazies, Martin); Alfred Sole’s astonishing New Jersey-rooted Alice, Sweet Alice; Paul Maslansky’s Houston-based voodoo thriller Sugar Hill; and amongst many others, the latest foray into regional horror, Bret Wood’s The Unwanted.

From the beginning, writer-director Wood plunges us into a contemporary milieu, a kind of antebellum-ish New Millennium Gothic, as a mysterious young woman (Christin Orr), attired in fashionable grunge duds and bearing a countenance of toughness and determination, gets off a Greyhound bus in an alternately seedy and retro-cool South Carolina burgh.

She makes her way on foot to a leafy post-war neighbourhood to the house she’s targeted. Here she inquires into the whereabouts of one Millarca Karnstein (Kylie Brown). The door is answered by the handsome, but alternately seedy-looking owner Troy (William Katt of Carrie fame, here adorned in a grubby ball-cap with long curly locks of head-banger-hockey-hair), and Laura (Hannah Fierman, ‘Lily’ in the ‘Amateur Night’ segment in V/H/S), his insanely gorgeous wide-eyed daughter who hovers silently behind him.

He claims not to know whom she’s looking for. The woman is insistent, though: he must know, since Troy’s house was the exotically named Millarca’s last-known address. Troy amusedly points out that he’d have heard of someone in the town with a name like Millarca Karnstein, never mind someone of that monicker residing in his home.

By this point, ‘Karnstein’ is ringing a bell with us (at least those of the geek persuasion). For horror aficionados, the mere mention of the name Karnstein immediately signals that we’re about to plunge into an adaptation of ‘Carmilla’, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s immortal 1871 classic novella of vampirism, which predates even Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), making it one of the earliest major works in the (relatively) modern genre of vampire fiction.

Some of the best movies adapted from the Le Fanu include Vampyr (1932), Carl Dreyer’s liberal cinematic borrowing from the material, as well as several faithful renderings including Roger Vadim’s 1960 Blood and Roses , with its highly charged erotic qualities; Camilo Mastrocinque’s creepy 1964 Terror in the Crypt, starring Christopher Lee and Adriana Ambesi; the exceptional 1974 Roy Ward Baker-directed Hammer Horror version The Vampire Lovers, with Ingrid Pitt and Peter Cushing in the first film of Hammer’s Karnstein Trilogy; and now, of course, The Unwanted, one of the most effectively oddball attempts to wrestle with Le Fanu’s work.

When our heroine (bearing the name, Carmilla Karnstein, of course) leaves Troy’s home dejectedly, but also with skepticism, she inquires at the local cop-shop for information about the missing Karnstein, and is told the report she’s requested will take two full business days.

Damn! She’s now going to be in this low-down Hicksville conurbation longer than anticipated. Carmilla sallies over to the local greasy spoon for some coffee where her waitress is none other than Laura, Troy’s daughter, the drool-inspiring beauty with the jet-black hair and come-hither saucer-like dark eyes.

Laura reveals to Carmilla that Daddy Troy didn’t tell the truth. Millarca Karnstein did indeed use their home as a mailing address, living in the family trailer on the outskirts of town near Daddy’s hunting grounds. Carmilla, in turn, reveals that Millarca was her mother, and even though Laura’s mommy Karen (Lynn Talley) died when she was a tyke, she has vague recollections of both women.

And now we plunge into the Le Fanu tale proper, the two women eventually embarking upon a passionate lesbian relationship with the added touch of bloodsucking.

Here Wood takes us into strange territory involving dreams, nightmares, flashbacks and lingering questions all needing answers. While there are vampire-like qualities to the eroticism, Wood sublimates the supernatural elements in favour of a compelling mutual lust amongst the two women for both flesh and blood.

Troy, creepy from frame one, slowly edges into complete psychopathic bunyip territory, especially as the film reveals one new horrific revelation after another. With his clearly incestuous desires for his own daughter (and the possibility that he’s acted upon them), he’s as much a danger to the women as they are to each other.

What’s delightfully perverse is the identical lesbian vampire relationship twixt the mothers of Laura and Carmilla. For genre fans, it’s like getting dreamy, healthy dollops of ‘double-double’. Karen and Millarca slurp, suck and wildly caress away in dreams and flashbacks while their daughters in the present are also engaged in identical gymnastics.

The movie has a few strange pacing problems, due on one hand to the screenplay being a touch ambitious for its own good, and, once we take time to peruse a number of cut and/or alternate takes in the Kino Lorber Blu-ray extras, we discover why there are a few lapses in logic, motivation and tone, most of which inspire us to think, ‘Uh, why the hell were these sequences cut and/or not worked into the overall narrative?’ There might have been concerns, rightly so, about pacing, but I suspect the film feels longer and a bit more disjointed than it needed to be, because these scenes fell to the cutting room floor.

Another irksome touch that affects pacing and tone is one of the most jarringly annoying song-scores I’ve heard, which wends its way through the picture. The opening song is terrific and well utilized, as are the orchestral elements of the score proper, but a lot of the others seem shoehorned into the proceedings.

Happily, the aforementioned fumbles don’t detract from the overall visual dexterity, which the picture has in spades, as well as the performances by all four leading and supporting ladies engaged in vampiristic Sapphic pleasure.

The revelation here is William Katt. It’s almost impossible to separate him from his post-Carrie work as the sweet, handsome young lad who finally takes Sissy Spacek to the prom in Brian De Palma’s masterpiece, but in The Unwanted, we drop all notions of that much earlier role from our minds and marvel at his initially subtle and eventually mounting, crazed viciousness.

It’s such a great performance that one feels a certain degree of regret that such mainstream industry awards as the Oscars all but ignore low-budget independent horror, since the work Katt does here is Academy Award-worthy, at least in terms of even a nomination in the Supporting Actor category.

Also, pacing problems aside, the final third of the film is utterly chilling and plunges us into one terrific jolt after another. The movie features, hands down, the best on-screen use of a hunting arrow and where/how it plunges since Burt Reynolds’s fine aim delighted us in John Boorman’s Deliverance.

Bret Wood’s previous feature-length work has been in documentaries. He’s highly regarded as one of the finest producers of added-feature extras in the world of home-entertainment for the Kino Lorber company. His recent commentary track for the Blu-ray release of Lewis Milestone’s The Front Page is phenomenal. Incidentally, the extras on The Unwanted include Wood’s first-rate short dramatic effort The Other Half, a grimly funny, scary and perverse bite-sized treat involving a double amputee, his wife and a prostitute.

Wood’s first feature film was the funny, revelatory and, frankly, vomit-inducing Hell’s Highway: The True Story of Highway Safety Films and his sophomore feature effort, Psychopathia Sexualis (2006), was a dream come true for me personally, as it focused upon the classic encyclopaedia of sexual deviance by Richard Fridolin Joseph Freiherr Krafft von Festenberg auf Frohnberg, genannt von Ebing (known more popularly as simply Krafft-Ebing, though I’m a big fan of his full name).

As a seemingly unrelated aside, the Krafft-Ebing Psychopathia Sexualis was a favourite tome amongst director Guy Maddin, screenwriter George Toles and myself as young gents in the early flowering stages of our lives, a book that we’d read aloud to each other round campfires in Gimli, Manitoba throughout the 80s, along with our coterie of similarly enchanted colleagues.

The feature film Archangel (which I produced, Guy directed and George wrote) includes a Krafft-Ebing phrase for our favourite sexual delight, one which means very little to anyone not acquainted with arcane terms in Psychopathia Sexualis, but never fails to give us insider-chuckles to this very day. I refuse to tell you what it is. You must acquaint yourself with Krafft-Ebing and then see Archangel again. It will put Maddin’s entire film in a whole new context for you (if you hadn’t sensed it already, that is).

That a contemporary filmmaker has created a documentary portrait of Krafft-Ebing seems an extra-special treat for those who partake of The Unwanted, Wood’s first fictional feature: one which features so many delightful dollops of bloodsucking, lesbo action, incest, chilling suspense and glorious bits of mad violence.

At the end of the night, what’s not to like?

Greg Klymkiw

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Yakuza Apocalypse

yakuza apocapypse 1
Yakuza Apocalypse

Seen at LFF 2015

Format: Cinema

Release Date: 6 January 2016

Distributor: Manga Entertainment

Director: Takashi Miike

Writer: Yoshitaka Yamaguchi

Cast: Yayan Ruhian, Hayato Ichihara, Riri Furankî

Original title: Gokudou daisensou

Japan 2015

125 mins

The ludicrously prolific Takashi Miike (as I write this, IMDB lists 99 credits as director since his debut in 1991) seems to work in different modes. There’s the high-end classy work he did for Jeremy Thomas (13 Assassins, Hara Kiri ); there are the extraordinary cult films he made his name with in the West (Audition, Visitor Q, Ichi the Killer); and there are a whole lot of other films he seems to have tossed of in short order that work on a ‘throw it against the wall and see if it’ll stick’ principle. Yakuza Apocalypse is very much a third mode film.

‘Unkillable’ yakuza boss Kamiura is in fact a vampire, who manages to infect loyal underling Kageyama with his condition after being decapitated by assassins. Kageyama in turn infects some of the common populace and soon the world is out of whack: if everyone is a yakuza vampire, then where do Kamiura’s old gang get their status from? Soon a Kappa demon turns up and the conviction grows that some kind of apocalypse is in the offing. A female yakuza has steaming milk issuing from her ears, with which she tries to cultivate a new crop of ‘decent civilians’. The end of days arrives in the shape of a frog-headed martial arts master who looks like a sports team mascot with a bulging hypnotic eyeball. A Kageyama/Frog smackdown ensues. The world ends.

Trying to describe the plot of this effort is a thankless task. There’s stuff in here from spaghetti Westerns and Road Runner cartoons. There’s a lot of informative and/or baffling dialogue (‘Yakuza blood tastes bad and has no nutrition’). There are nice ideas that go nowhere, and wacky bits of business that occasionally pay off (love that frog). There’s an almost philosophical thread about what defines a yakuza. (Kageyama’s skin is too sensitive to allow for the requisite tattoos, the dearth of ‘decent civilians’ makes the old gang question their place in the world.) But much of this gets forgotten as the chaos mounts. It’s not boring, but it is frustrating, all a bit scrappy and makeshift and half-baked. There are the desired moments of weirdness that Miike fans would expect, but here they just don’t add up to much. Ah well, there’ll be another one along any minute…

Mark Stafford

This review is part of our LFF 2015 coverage.

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Make More Noise!

Make More Noise
Make More Noise! Suffragettes in Silent Film

Format: Cinema

Distributor: BFI

Release date:
23 October 2015
For selected venues visit the BFI website

DVD release date:
23 November 2015

Curated by: Bryony Dixon, Margaret Deriaz

UK 1899-1917

80 mins

When the theme for the 59th BFI London Film Festival is ‘the year of strong women’, it seems unsurprising that festival director Clare Stewart would have chosen Suffragette as the opening night gala. And as a compliment to director Sarah Gavron’s film, BFI curators Bryony Dixon and Margaret Deriaz have mined the archives for footage relating to the women’s rights movement. The result is Make More Noise!, words taken from a legendary 1913 speech by British political activist Emmeline Pankhurst, calling for women to be louder, more visible, and impossible to ignore.

The 21 short films selected for this compilation from the BFI National Archive provide a glimpse not only of news footage of the suffragettes, but also at the way women were depicted in turn-of-the-century and Edwardian comedies, sometimes embraced and sometimes mocked. The documentary footage is fascinating, revealing the sheer numbers of people who flooded the streets to protest alongside the suffragettes, including working-class men, who also lacked the right to vote. There is disturbing footage of the infamous death of Emily Davison, who threw herself in front of the King’s horse on Derby Day (the importance of which went unnoticed by the filmmakers, who kept on rolling), as well as images of the huge crowds at her funeral procession. The war brought new work opportunities for women, and we see them staffing munition factories as well as a field hospital in France, where they served as orderlies, nurses, and surgeons.

But as well as the wealth of news reels, the curators have also taken a playful approach to the era, unveiling a host of comedic portrayals of females – still often played by men. In the mischievous ‘Did’ums Diddles the P’liceman’, a young boy dressed as a suffragette mercilessly taunts a policeman into a wild chase. In another, ‘Women’s Rights’, two women (men again) are depicted as foolish gossips. In a 1913 comedy, a husband, outrageously forced to look after his own children by his suffragette wife, dreams of extracting his revenge. But the highlights are the pre-war short films featuring the Tilly girls (Alma Taylor and Chrissie White), two high-spirited young women determined to be gleefully and gloriously independent.

Soundtracked and performed by composer and pianist Lillian Henley, who was commissioned by the BFI to create an energetic period score, Make More Noise! is a fascinating, moving and entertaining tribute to the suffragettes. While it seems like a shame that more wasn’t made creatively of the rather dry intertitles, used to introduce the shorts, it’s a small niggle that can be overlooked.

This review is part of our LFF 2015 coverage.

Sarah Cronin

Love & Peace

Love Peace1
Love & Peace

Format: Blu-ray, DVD + VOD

Seen at LFF 2015

Release date: 11 July 2016

Distributor: Third Window Films

Director: Sion Sono

Writer: Sion Sono

Cast: Hiroki Hasegawa, Toshiyuki Nishida, Kumiko Aso

Japan 2015

117 mins

Sion Sono has made an insanely warped family film about a rock star and a turtle.

Brace yourselves, folks. Sion Sono has made a Christmas family film, albeit one that may well traumatise any children who come in contact with it. Love & Peace tells the story of Kyo (Hiroki Hasegawa), an office drone whose youthful dreams of rock stardom have long since withered. He is now such a pathetic loser that his life is the subject of derision on morning TV – although this may or may not be a dream sequence. One lunch break he buys a turtle from a vendor on a park bench, names it Pikadon, and immediately treats it as his only friend and confidante, telling the turtle all his hopes and desires: to be in a band, have a hit song, play in the Tokyo Olympic stadium. But when his co-workers find Pikadon on him the next day, their mockery drives him to flush it down the toilet, where it follows the currents to wind up at a kind of Land of Misfit Toys deep in the sewers, presided over by a boozy wizard (Toshiyuki Nishida). He grants Pikadon magical powers, and thus Kyo, stricken with remorse over his actions, starts to have his wishes granted: he becomes a Spiders-era Bowie-esque star, on his way to the top, but Pikadon is growing in size with every wish.

As that précis probably reveals, Sono’s latest is not the easiest film to sum up. It feels decidedly sick and strange without actually crossing the line into something taboo or transgressive. It’s glossy-looking and has a budget, but the actual experience of watching it is abrasive; for much of the running time we’re watching shonky puppets with squeaky voices interacting with unsubtle human performers, while in the background that parping march from Walter Carlos’s soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange alternates with the horrifically catchy title tune over and over again. For long stretches the film lacks forward momentum, essentially spinning its wheels before it gets to where we know it’s headed. The Sewer of Misfit Toys is a candy-coloured nightmare of live animals and busted merchandise, run by a kindly old man with worrying Charles Manson/Jim Jones parallels. The outside world seems to be full of cruel idiots. And our lead character is pretty hard to like. In fact, Sono seems to want us to despise his hero. I’ve never been fond of the word ‘snivelling’, but Kyo actively snivels in the early stages as an office worker, when he’s not being a delusional gurning man-child at home, a screeching loon in the street and finally an egomaniacal prick when he attains stardom. What fellow worker Yuko (Kumiko Aso) sees in him is hard to understand.

How much of this annoyance is intentional, and what the hell Sono means by it, is, as usual, hard to say. I have the feeling that someone who was more au fait with current Japanese pop culture might get more out of it. Whatever: there are sizeable chunks of Love & Peace where it sits on the right side of ‘delightfully deranged’ and delivers. I suspect that my face sported a sizeable grin for the moments when my head wasn’t buried in my hands. And the climax is a jaw-dropping thing, wherein a glitter-suited feather-cut Kyo stomping around the stadium stage is intercut with full-on Kaiju action as a Gojira-sized Pikadon goes on a slow-moving rampage through Tokyo’s streets under the obligatory assault of the armed forces, on his way to a reunion with his master. The rest… Well, it manages to be both sweet and creepy, Sono eschewing his customary sex and violence but still ending up somewhere… unhealthy. It feels like warped children’s birthday entertainment, like… How’s this? Like a clown on misdiagnosed prescription medication putting on a puppet show with stuff he’s pulled from the wreckage of a plane crash. There you go. Fill your boots, and, y’know, Merry Christmas…

Mark Stafford

This review is part of our LFF 2015 coverage.

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Format: Cinema

Seen at LFF 2015

Release date: 6 May 2016

Distributor: Metrodome

Director: Lucile Hadžihalilovic

Writers: Lucile Hadžihalilovic, Alanté Kavaïté

Cast: Max Brebant, Roxane Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier

France 2014

81 mins

Lucile Hadžihalilovic’s follow-up to Innocence is as poetic, disturbing and elusive as its predecessor.

Ten years after her wonderfully disquieting debut Innocence, Lucile Hadžihalilovic returns with a tale that feels intimately close to it, thematically and atmospherically, despite the differences in setting. Here again, birth and transformation are elliptically explored through the creation of an immersive, sensory world infused with slow-burning unease. Just like its predecessor, Evolution starts in water and ends with an ambivalent coming out of the water – symbolic birth? Escape? Expulsion? Abandonment? But where Innocence revolved around a little girl’s education at a peculiar boarding school, the protagonist of Evolution is a little boy who lives on an island seemingly peopled only by women and other young boys. After seeing something alarming while swimming in the sea, a boy begins to question the way in which he is brought up. Soon he finds himself in hospital, the reason for his treatment unclear.

Is what we see just a manifestation of a little boy’s anxiety at growing up, or is the reality of life on the island truly sinister? Just as in Innocence, Hadžihalilovic skilfully treads an ambiguous line, leaving us to interpret what we witness. Although at first view the film could be seen as the male pendant of Innocence, its real focus is once more on the female. Choosing to tell the tale from a young boy’s point of view allows the film to present the women as incomprehensible creatures with strange bodies and customs, and to underline the alien, disturbing nature of human reproduction. Innocence looked at the rituals that marked a young girl’s transformation into adolescence and adulthood. Here, the emphasis has switched to worrying, unexplained mutation, and to the weirdness of living matter in all its squelchy, mushy monstrousness. This comes to a head in a few moments of startlingly horrific imagery, which punctuate the fluid flow of oblique impressions, all the more powerful for their sparseness.

Imbued with a mythical quality, Evolution is constructed from simple, but unsettlingly effective motifs: water, a starfish, the colour red, the decaying white village and the decrepit hospital, the women’s red hair and odd features, their identical outfits, either austere khaki dresses, or quaint white nurses’ uniforms. These elements subtly draw on legendary and filmic creatures, suggesting aliens, sirens and monsters, giving the story a deeper resonance. A beguiling mix of art and horror, Evolution is a richly evocative, intensely physical experience, an eerie, darkly poetic meditation on the strangeness of organic existence. Hadžihalilovic makes a cinema of textures, colours and sounds, a cinema of ideas embodied in sensations, a rare, precious kind of cinema that is both sophisticated and visceral. Let’s hope it doesn’t take her another 10 years to make another film.

Virginie Sélavy

This review is part of our LFF 2015 coverage.



Format: Cinema

Seen at
L’Etrange Festival 2015

Director: Sion Sono

Writer: Sion Sono

Based on the novel: Riaru Onigokko by Yûsuke Yamada

Cast: Reina Triendl, Mariko Shinoda, Erina Mano

Japan 2015

85 mins

Two coaches carrying high school girls on a school trip are hit by a sudden gust of wind that slices the buses and their sitting passengers in half. Everyone is killed but Mitsuko (Reina Triendl), who just then was on her knees picking up her pen. It is with this literally breath-taking visual motif that Sion Sono begins his new film, and the scene haunts the rest of the story.

Tag is one of the six films that the insatiable Japanese director shot this year, two of which were presented at this year’s L’Etrange Festival. You might think that Sion Sono bites off more than he can chew, all the more so as his subject is not very original, since Tag is an adaptation of Yusuke Yamada’s successful novel Riaru Onigokko (The Chasing World). Yet neither the five low-budget films nor the short TV serial that preceded Tag hold a candle to it.

After escaping death, Mitsuko runs away from the supernatural wind-like forces that pursue her, and by changing clothes, she transports herself to another world, where she meets new schoolmates who seem to recognise her. This we only understand thanks to the character of Mitsuko’s girlfriend Sur (short for Surreal), who exposes a theory of parallel universesthat can be altered by any unexpected action. In the second world, death again awaits Mitsuko, this time in the form of a berserk teacher who starts shooting her pupils with a machine gun (Sion Sono offers some comic relief here, nodding to Wes Craven’s Freddy by having the teacher make a screeching noise with her gun while looking for survivors). Another universe shift and Mitsuko metamorphosises into Keiko (Mariko Shinoda, ex-member of AKB48), who is about to get married. But as the wedding ceremony turns into a Kung-Fu slaughter, another shift occurs, together with another identity change, giving us Izumi (Erina Mano, also in Love & Peace) as a racing champion).

Sion Sono’s main departure from the novel is to change the target of the demons’ attention (in Japanese the game of tag is literally called ‘demon (oni) game’) by replacing characters named Sato with three girls whose names recur in his filmography: Mitsuko, Keiko and Izumi. This enables him to use the novel as a pretext to craft a complex film combining a theory of Twilight-Zone-like parallel worlds with a reflection on the female condition in today’s Japan, reduced to three roles: a fantasised schoolgirl, a successful student or an obedient wife.

Despite the dashing rhythm of the three heroines’ unending flight, the whole film is suffused with dream-like sadness and despair, which Sion Sono captures in wide shots of forests and snowy landscapes that are interspersed with the action. And the final scene of the nuptial bed, with a young man in his underpants inviting Mitsuko to consummate the union, leaves the heroine with only one disturbing way to exit the infernal cycle of a Japanese woman’s life.

Pierre Kapitaniak

This review is part of our Etrange Festival coverage.



Format: Cinema

Seen at TIFF 2015

Director: Alan Zweig

Canada 2015

84 mins

***** out of *****

Hurt, the latest film by the acclaimed, award-winning Canadian filmmaker Alan Zweig (When Jews Were Funny) has its masterpiece status guaranteed – not simply for its selection in the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival’s all-new 40th anniversary Platform competition (named after Jia Zhang-ke’s 1998 epic); not only because it was an exclusive selection chosen from hundreds of movies in a showcase devoted to shining a light upon 12 international feature films made by exceptional filmmakers doing bold, original work; and most certainly not because it was the only Canadian film in competition, which was then subsequently awarded the Grand Prize by a jury that included Claire Denis, Agnieszka Holland and Jia Zhang-ke. These might normally be considered reasons enough for the picture to attain a lofty status, but the real rationale behind such a proclamation is that Hurt is a film of such greatness that it can’t help but live eternally as one of the most original, compelling and heartbreaking films of the new millennium.

Over one non-stop year between 1984 and 1985, 18-year-old cancer-survivor Steve Fonyo ran 8000 km across Canada with a prosthetic leg. Though his handlers and medical doctors urged him to take a break from running during the blisteringly cold -40 degree weather on the bald, open prairies of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, he refused. He did not want to slow the momentum of reaching his goal. Raising $14 million for cancer research, he received his country’s highest distinction, the Order of Canada.

Fonyo was constantly dogged, however, with unfounded accusations of being a copycat opportunist. A few years earlier, Terry Fox, a young man similarly afflicted, set out on a similar run. Alas, he never finished, dying en-route across Canada in Thunder Bay. His death was exploited by the various Canadian cancer societies, and Fonyo was all but ignored until he passed Fox’s dropping point and, in fact, began raising serious coin for cancer research. Fonyo, a sweet-faced, honest kid, became a hero to all regular folk across the country. He was no longer in the shadow of a previous ‘hero’ and the bureaucrats and administrators of all the high falutin’ charities had to acknowledge his feat of greatness.

Greatness, however, can be fleeting.

After suffering for three decades from abject poverty and various addictions while living within the dark underbelly of the criminal class, Steve Fonyo, this Canadian Hero, was transformed into a pariah by pencil pushers in the nation’s capitol and turfed from the Order of Canada. If he’d been suffering from a disease like cancer, this would have been unthinkable. Because he suffered from the diseases of alcoholism and addiction to crack and other drugs, he was fair game for humiliation by Canada’s fascist Conservative government.

Charting one year in Fonyo’s life, Alan Zweig pulls off a miracle. This stunning documentary (the only one selected for the Platform competition) is as narratively searing and artistically compelling as the grim and gritty 70s cinematic forays into crime, punishment and atonement, like Scorsese’s Raging Bull and Yates’s The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Zweig, along with his editor Robert Swartz, cranks up the drama, careening us dangerously and deeply into the horror-ridden life of a hero.

We follow Fonyo’s loving relationship with a wife who was with him through his darkest hours, which included living homeless on the mean streets of Vancouver’s Hastings Street, the very locale in which Canada’s most notorious serial killer Robert Pickton, the farmer who kidnapped what might be hundreds of street women, addicts and prostitutes, then abused, tortured, murdered and subsequently fed them to his pigs. We get sickening first-hand accounts from Fonyo and his wife about what it was like to live on the streets, surrounded by pushers, pimps and rapists.

Zweig captures what might well be Fonyo’s ultimate annus horribilis, including violent altercations with his wife when he drops her for a younger girlfriend; a move to the most dangerous, crime-ridden ghetto of Surrey, B.C.; more violence with the sleazy, drug-addicted ex-boyfriend of his new girlfriend; and a bitter journey to his sweet, Hungarian mother’s suburban home to look over all the stored items of his year as a hero.

It is the very notion of heroism that is at the root of Fonyo’s massive downfall. People want their heroes to be shining examples of modesty, grace and success. What happens, though, when our heroes hit rock bottom?

The very process of filmmaking is what creates an indelible portrait of a fallen hero. Even more astonishing is how Zweig, his voice frequently heard off-camera with probing questions and conversation, gradually becomes a trusted confidante/confessor to this decimated idol of heroism, and a friend whose growing bond is what adds a brave and complex layer to the film.

Zweig’s intervention as both artist and humanitarian offers the promise of healing and redemption to Fonyo. A deus ex machina sees Zweig bringing in one of the world’s foremost authorities on addiction, the brilliant counselor, author and teacher, Gabor Mate. With the cameras rolling, with Mate’s assistance (and by extension, Zweig’s), Fonyo, for the first time in his 50 years on earth, looks deeply into a mirror of truth. We weep with him and finally see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Finally, we feel this tragic figure will find peace and that we’ll be rewarded with a happy ending. Remember though, that the film shares a great number of similarities with American cinema’s existentialist male angst movies of the 70s – tough minded ambiguity. Sadly, the film leaves us with yet another deus ex machina out of left field. There’s nothing happy about it at all.

Alan Zweig’s Hurt cold-cocks you as frequently as it wrenches tears.

This review is part of our 2015 TIFF coverage.

Greg Klymkiw

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Baahubali: The Beginning

Baahubali: The Beginning

Format: Cinema

Seen at
L’Etrange Festival 2015

Director: S.S. Rajamouli

Writers: Vijayendra Prasad, S.S. Rajamouli

Cast: Prabhas, Rana Daggubati, Anushka Shetty

India 2015

159 mins

In Telugu ‘Baahubali’ means ‘the one with strong arms’ and, indeed, everything seems Herculean about this Tollywood blockbuster from S.S. Rajamouli, whose previous feature film, Eega, was shown at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and swept up awards all over India for best special effects. This nearly three-hour film is but the first half of the Baahubali epic, and the second part that is due to follow next year will doubtless be as long. Yet when the lights came on again at its European premiere, the Etrange Festival audience was unanimously crying for more.

Baahubali has also set a new record for the costliest budget for an Indian film, the diptych nearly doubling the previous record of $21 million, invested in S. Shankar’s science-fiction flick Endhiran (2010).

Rajamouli’s inspiration is as ambitious as the budget, loosely drawing on the longest epic of all, the Mahabharata. Baahubali tells the story of the kingdom of Mahishmati and the feuds and intrigues that accompany a contested succession to the throne. Its narrative is divided into two nearly separate parts. In the first one we follow the coming-of-age of Shivudu (Prabhas), who was saved as a baby from the arms of a drowning woman, chased down by the king’s soldiers. Growing up to be an exceptionally strong young man, Shivudu is obsessed by climbing up the immense waterfalls whence he originally came. When he finally succeeds, he falls in love with Avanthika (Tamannaah), a beautiful rebel warrior whose mission is to rescue the Princess Devasena (Anushka Shetty), kept prisoner for 25 years by the cruel tyrant Bhallala Deva. Shivudu takes up her mission, confronts the tyrant and successfully delivers the Princess, who turns out to be his real mother. The second part takes us half-a-century back to the embedded tale of two cousins, Amarendra Baahubali and Bhallala Deva, who are competing for the throne. During the war against the barbarous Kalakeya kingdom, it is ultimately Baahubali who earns the throne by thinking more about protecting his people than killing the enemy, but the evil cousin has him treacherously murdered soon afterwards.

The war against the Kalakeya tribe, for whom a whole new language was invented, gives Rajamouli the opportunity to out-Jackson Peter Jackson in a 45-minute battle scene involving 2000 stuntmen and real elephants. His larger-than-life characters prove to be incredible tumblers and fighters, but Rajamouli also demonstrates his skills in the way he deals with romance. The film is worth seeing if only for the bravura of the magnificent seduction scene, which features the only song in the film, quite unusual by Indian standards. During what is actually a sword fight between the two budding lovers, Shivudu manages to undress Avanthika, to wash her, to dress her again in much sexier clothes, and even to make up her face, transforming the raging warrior into a stunning beauty.

Baahubali: The Beginning ends with Kattappa, the faithful slave devoted to the Princess Devasena, confessing to Shivudu/Baahubali that it was he who slew his father. Rajamouli has learnt many of his tricks from Jackson’s handling of The Lord of the Rings, but the suspense is much harder to bear as we do not know how the story will unfold. The date to find out is set for next year’s Etrange Festival.

Pierre Kapitaniak

This review is part of our Etrange Festival coverage.



Format: VOD – part of six films released by Icon Film Distribution and FrightFest on a new specialist label

Distributor: FrightFest Presents

Release date: 19 October 2015

Director: Steve Oram

Writer: Steve Oram

Cast: Toyah Wilcox, Julian Barrett, Noel Fielding, Julian Rhind-Tutt

UK 2015

79 mins

After acting in two of Ben Wheatley’s films – Kill List (2011) and Sightseers (2012) – and co-writing the latter, Steve Oram strikes hard with his first opus as director. Sightseers opened with a long series of moans uttered by the unhappy mother, and here Oram limits his dialogue to just that. The film starts with Oram and Tom Meeten (it would be pointless to give them names, even though each character is duly attributed one in the final credits) crossing the woods and performing a strange ritual of urinating on the picture of an ex-wife or girlfriend without uttering a single intelligible syllable, contenting themselves with expressive grunts and growls. This sets the scene for the remaining 80 minutes. For Aaaaaaaah! is a Planet of the Apes, the other way round. Rather than having the apes evolve to a near human level of civilisation, Oram prefers to bring Londoners down to their very primal selves.

Oram has embarked many of Wheatley’s crew on this low-budget project that manages to fuse two cornerstones of TV broadcasting: soap opera and wildlife documentary. Also caught in the adventure is Julian Rhind-Tutt playing an alpha male scoffing in front of a brand new plasma screen and playing video games; Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding from the surrealistic The Mighty Boosh; and Toyah Willcox, who played Miranda in Derek Jarman’s Tempest (1979) but also, prophetically, Monkey in Quadrophenia (1979), and who plays the leading female part. With Willcox came Robert Fripp, who happens to be her husband and who improvised a bewitching music that advantageously compensates the total absence of articulate dialogue. (And make sure you stay for the final credits if you are a King Crimson fan.)

Seeing Julian Rhind-Tutt going ape is a delight in itself, and most likely a turning point in his career, but beyond the comic effect of the concept, Oram shows how little our behaviour as well as family and social structures have evolved since we were apes ourselves. Although Oram denies any attempt at serious social criticism, the modern consumer society so perfectly fits the animal struggle for food, territory and a dominant position within the group that by the end of the film the rudimentary and limited communication between the characters sounds like an improvement over the compulsive use of the F-word in so many contemporary productions.

With his debut experiment, Oram vindicates the importance of slapstick comedy and fart jokes (aren’t they timeless after all?), and the final TV show compulsively enjoyed by the surviving homicidal outcast heralds tomorrow’s post-reality-television. Don’t say you haven’t been warned!

Pierre Kapitaniak

This review is part of our Etrange Festival coverage.

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Der Nachtmahr

Der Nachtmahr 1
Der Nachtmahr

Format: Cinema

Seen at LFF 2015

Director: Akiz

Writer: Akiz

Cast: Carolyn Genzkow, Sina Tkotsch, Wilson Gonzalez Ochsenknecht, Kim Gordon

Germany 2015

88 mins

We follow Tina, a teenage girl, to a late-night pool party. Techno pounds, lights flash, kids show each other stuff on their phones. She takes pills, she dances, she freaks out whilst, mid urination, she seems to see something moving in the bushes. She gets killed, wakes up from a dream.

Back home, Tina tries to maintain her school and social life, avoiding the ever-present threat of social embarrassment for herself and her fairly well-to-do parents. But, problematically, she starts to hear noises at night. She encounters something in the kitchen. The house is being visited, it seems, by a little green thing that nobody else sees or hears, a thing with a strange connection to her. What to do? Her therapist suggests talking to it, making contact. Her parents would rather she not mention it, especially when the boss comes round for dinner, and she risks social-pariah status if she brings this up with her shallow, bitchy, circle of party-chasing friends. Is she crazy? Dreaming? Dying? Is it the drugs?

A thoroughly discombobulating German oddity, Der Nachtmahr warns us before we start about the strobing, isochronic tones and binaural noises it contains, before advising us to play the film loud. There is, to be fair, a certain amount of Gaspar Noé-style audio-visual overkill in certain sequences, but Akiz’s film ends up far removed from Noé’s flip nihilism. It’s not, in the main, an easy watch, played mainly in keys of discomfort, from creepy to awkward to embarrassing, in an appropriately teenage fashion, but ultimately it delivers a positive take-home message about accepting yourself, and owning your own weirdness. Carolyn Genzkow is great as Tina, vulnerable, raw (and always underdressed) and the uh… thing has a rubbery, lo-fi charm. Der Nachtmahr plays an amusing game of parallels with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and where Spielberg’s film gave us a magical creature capable of performing miracles, here we have a lumpen, physical creature with a pendulous ball bag and sloppy table manners. I don’t know what it is, but I think anybody who has survived adolescence would recognize it.

Great throbby synth soundtrack. And Kim Gordon turns up as an English lit teacher dissecting a Blake poem, which is pretty damn cool. Hazy and hormonal and well worth a look.

Play it loud.

This review is part of our LFF 2015 coverage.

Mark Stafford

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