Now in its 45th year, Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia once again turned a small corner of Spain’s Costa Brava into a mecca for genre fans. Creating perhaps what is the most comprehensive and detailed snapshot of horror, fantasy and science fiction in 2012, the festival featured over 200 movies as well as retrospective screenings, star introductions, masterclasses and much, much more.
Blessed with balmy October weather, this quaint little town in Spain played host to some of this year’s most anticipated titles from directors such as Dario Argento, Rob Zombie and Joko Anwar. Below are some of the high and low points of the festival.
Sightseers (Ben Wheatley, 2012)
Ben Wheatley continues his ascent with this fantastic comedic character study starring the fantastic Steve Oram and Alice Lowe. Beginning with two slightly awkward new lovers embarking on a road trip and warping into something unexpectedly darker, Sightseers is continuing proof that Ben Wheatley is one of the finest directors working in the British industry right now. Special mention must go to the script, written by the leads, which is so astutely observed and full of brilliant character moments that it is destined to join the ranks of British classics of the decade. Add a killer soundtrack and you have one of the definitive films of 2012. A must-see.
Robot & Frank (Jake Schreier, 2012)
A quiet, reflective comedy drama, Robot & Frank features a terrific central performance from Frank Langella as well as able support from reliable performers such as Susan Sarandon, Jeremy Sisto, Liv Tyler and James Marsden. Set in the near future, where robots have become everyday tools, Robot & Frank focuses on Frank, a retired cat burglar who is slowly succumbing to dementia. When his son brings a medical robot to take care of him, Frank is resistant at first. However, slowly but surely a bond begins to emerge, culminating in in Frank’s desire to do one last job. Lightly wearing its science-fiction elements, Robot & Frank is a low-key marvel of emotion; human, gentle and humorous, this is a film that rewards investment in its characters and creates a believable, well-crafted world.
The Impossible (Juan Antonio Bayona, 2012)
Juan Antonio Bayona, the talented director of The Orphanage (2007), returns with The Impossible, a well-made but somewhat overwrought drama focusing on a family trying to survive the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in Thailand. Eyes firmly on an Oscar nomination, Naomi Watts gives her all as the matriarch of the family, who is determined to survive until she is sure her son will not be left alone, while Ewan McGregor portrays the sturdy father of the family with just the right amount of pathos. However, the real bulk of the acting plaudits must fall on the three children ably portrayed by Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast. With meticulous performances, the three kids manage to strike almost no false notes. As impressive and emotionally engaging as The Impossible is, high-strung Hollywood melodrama derails the film more than once. The most poignant points in the film are the low-key moments but a desire to constantly hammer home the tragedy means most of the mood is generated by effusive violins and sentimental string-pulling.
Modus Anomali (Joko Anwar, 2012)
Joko Anwar is one of the most talented genre directors right now. The fact that he is working in Indonesia – a country where horror cinema is generally not very innovative – makes this achievement doubly impressive. Although never blessed with the high budgets that most US productions get, Anwar’s films regularly display inventiveness and intellect, which is sorely lacking in the rest of the genre. With Modus Anomali, Anwar worked with an even smaller budget, turning out a truly indie feature, and the result is all the more remarkable. Focusing on John Evans, an amnesiac who wakes up buried alive, Modus Anomali tells the story of his attempts to find and rescue his family from the hands of an unidentified maniac. Largely shot on shaky cameras, but always allowing the audience to see what is happening, the film is a clever puzzle that will divide audiences. Suffice it to say that those who get on board will find themselves amply rewarded as Modus Anomali has been thoroughly thought-out and will stand up to repeated viewing. All in all, a remarkable achievement and further proof that Joko Anwar is headed for great things.
Miss Lovely (Ashim Ahluwalia, 2012)
One of the most upsetting and uncompromising films ever to come out of India, Miss Lovely tells the story of two brothers working in the seedy underbelly of Indian exploitation cinema in the 1980s. Blessed with stellar performances from all involved, the film depicts the inhabitants of the world the brothers live in: financiers, gangsters, club owners and, of course, the performers. The roster of characters seems to come from a human cesspit. With all morality corrupted and all human goodness sapped, these are brilliantly engaging monsters, all consuming each other in a desire to get to the top. It is a sad, melancholic and destructive portrait of a scene unfamiliar to most Western audiences. Never once compromising its raw emotional brutality during its running time of less than two hours, Miss Lovely builds to a climax that grabs you by the throat and does not let go until you are completely choking. Guaranteed to remain with you for months after the film ends, Miss Lovely represents a new step for Indian independent cinema that is to be encouraged, applauded and, most importantly, shown to audiences.
The Lords of Salem (Rob Zombie, 2012)
Rob Zombie creates what might be the worst and yet most entertaining film of the century. For the most part, The Lords of Salem plays like some misguided homage to John Carpenter, recreating some of unforgettable shots from The Fog (1980), until the final third becomes an LSD trip of exaggerated proportions with some of the craziest imagery known to mankind since Alejandro Jodorowsky made El Topo (1970). It is a ham-fisted attempt by Zombie to create something cerebral, which, instead, is more like an expensive Christmas panto for which there is no justification. Grand in its mediocrity, The Lords Of Salem is a recommended to anyone who wants to discover the madness of the witches of Salem. By the time the final quarter rolls, you will be aghast at the madness of the imagery with which Mr Zombie decides to bombard the audience.
Come out and Play (Makinov, 2012)
A retelling of the 70s classic Who Can Kill A Child?, Come out and Play is a lacklustre, almost shot-for-shot remake that goes nowhere. Lacking in atmosphere and suffering from a hysterical performance from one of its leads, this handsomely shot film will only impress those who have never seen the brutal, sun-soaked images of the original. Perhaps the best part of this disappointing exercise is the lovely credits and the fact that the film gets dedicated to the martyrs of Stalingrad at the very end.
Yellow (Ryan Haysom, 2012)
A special mention must go to Yellow, a neo-giallo short that has been doing the festival rounds for a while. An astute tribute as well as a clever updating, Yellow is a promising start for a clearly talented team, including director Ryan Haysom, cinematographer Jon Britt, composer Anton Maiof and production manager Catherine Morawitz. Perhaps the only problem with Yellow is a desire to over-explain the narrative; the film works incredibly well as a mood piece and an unnecessary plot development late in the film somewhat undermines its impact. However, this is a minor complaint in a piece that is clearly head-and-shoulders above most of the shorts produced today.