On the sixth day, I watched: the John Hawkes-led neo-noir Too Late; the colonial-era horror film The Witch; the Polish supernatural drama Demon; the “extreme” and “controversial” anthology German Angst; Isaac Ezban’s Twilight Zone-inspired The Similars.

The Similars (Mexico; Isaac Ezban, 2015)

Isaac Ezban wears his influences on his sleeve in The Similars. Or maybe I should make that observation in the singular: his main starting point is The Twilight Zone. In particular, similarities exist (sorry about the pun) with two specific episodes. One is “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” which is the one about the neighborhood whose residents turn on each other when they become convinced bodysnatchers are in their midst; I won’t name the second, because it would be too much of a spoiler. Ezban even bookends the film with narrative segments that ought to end with the words “…in the Twilight Zone.”

This influence finds its reflection in the film’s greatest flaw, which is that this tale of the paranoia that breaks out in a Mexican bus station in the wake of a mysterious “disease” that changes people’s faces, simply doesn’t have enough story to stretch out to feature length. It would work much better as a forty-two-minute-long installment of an anthology series; that way Ezban could tighten the pace by removing numerous redundant instances of people bickering with each other and accusing their fellows of being in league with the government or the devil or what-have-you.

Beyond that, it’s a stylistic delight, with Ezban committing fully to the film’s retro-gonzo aesthetic and playing up the visual absurdity to fantastic effect.

Demon (Poland; Marcin Wrona, 2015)

It took me six days to find a Fantastic Fest offering I didn’t really like–I even managed to find the positives in The Mind’s Eye–but it was destined to happen. And it’s a shame, because it’s a well-made film with a decent plot about a young man who finds human remains buried on the grounds of his future home, and then starts acting very strangely at his wedding a couple of days later.

For me, what killed it was the characters. They were just terrible, terrible people. When the groom starts having a seizure oon the dance floor during his reception, the best man props him up and pretends like he’s dancing. Despite the groom not having a history of epilepsy, the family doctor declines to have him hospitalized. Basically, the wedding has to go on at any cost. And that really alienated me. I don’t know, maybe it’s a cultural thing. Your mileage may vary.

Too Late (U.S.A.; Dennis Hauck, 2015)

You can make the argument that Dennis Hauck’s neo-noir Too Late is primarily a stylistic and technical exercise. I can’t argue that. There is something almost essentially gimmicky about its structure–five twenty-minute-long segments (basically the length of a reel of 35mm film), not presented in chronological order, each consisting of a single long take.

What allows Too Late to transcend its gimmickry are its atmsophere and ensemble. This is “scumbag L.A.” at its absolute finest–the kind of vibe I’d fished the remake of Maniac would have had. And the acting? Well, John Hawkes rules the film with the iron fist of Stalin, but it’s not like we didn’t realize he was awesome a long time ago. The rest of the cast is just as brilliant.

Is it derivative of Tarantino? You betch. But let’s have more stuff like this and less shit like The Boondock Saints.

The Witch (Canada/U.S.A.; Robert Eggers, 2015)

Another religious/Satanic horror. This one takes place in colonial New England and stars Anya Taylor-Joy as the eldest daughter of a devout Puritan/Calvinist family banished from the colony (governed by the great Julian Richings!) for religious nonconfirmity. Shit just goes downhill from there, and before you know it, everyone’s accusing each other of having signed on with the Devil by way of the creepy witch who supposedly lives in the woods.

The Witch features a strong script and fine performances but the location work and atmosphere steal the show. This is isolated, middle-of-nowhere horror at its finest. The woods haven’t been this scary since Blair Witch.

German Angst (Germany; Jorg Buttgereit, Michal Kosakowski, Andreas Marschall, 2015)

I guess I should have been wary when the producer, who also directed one of the segments of this anthology, started talking up how “shocking” and “controversial” the whole project was. While all three stories tackle subject matter beyond the pale, none of them make the emotional connection required to truly shock.

The first segment, about a young girl who may or may not have castrated her father, doesn’t seem to have much point. The second, about neo-Nazis terrorizing a deaf-mute couple, is the only one that seems to have a theme (which the main antagonist shouts at the audience as a moral fig-leaf), but even then the characters have little depth beyond “Nazis and victims.” Only the third, an erotic mystery attempting to cross Hellraiser with Eyes Wide Shut, seems particularly thought through to any degree. But it doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen before.

Top five movies of the festival

As of the end of day six:

  1. Green Room (day 2)
  2. The Witch (day 6)
  3. High-Rise (day 3)
  4. Der Bunker (day 5)
  5. February (day 5)

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