The final day! Featuring: Kurt Russell’s new Western Bone Tomahawk; Love and Peace, the latest from Japanese director Sion Sono; Sean Byrne’s sophomore effort The Devil’s Candy; the Czech documentary Daniel’s World.
Daniel’s World (Czech Republic; Veronika Lisková, 2015)
Daniel’s World is easily the most controversial and difficult film of the festival. The titular Daniel is a twenty-something student and aspiring writer living in Prague. He is also, by his own admission, a pedophile: a stimulus-response test administered by his sexologist confirms that he is most attracted to young boys between the ages of 8 and 10.
Daniel sees his pedophilia as a sexual preference as opposed to a disorder or mental illness, and true to its title, Daniel’s World presents the world around him through his eyes. He has committed to a life of celibacy, understanding that he will never act on his attractions–and not just because society frowns on it; he is genuinely motivated by a desire not to hurt the objects of his affection. He leads a lonely life: he has acquaintances and contacts within a community of like-minded individuals, and near the end of the film, he marches in the city’s annual Pride parade. But his closest friendship seems to be with the young boy he loves, and not only will that relationship never have the depth Daniel wants it to have, it will end, by definition, sooner than later.
I can’t say I agree or disagree with Daniel’s assessment of his pedophilia; I don’t know much about the condition in general, and I don’t feel I have the right to say that his own interpretation of his experience is invalid. Daniel’s World forced me to look at something I didn’t know much about, in a way I’d never really considered, and examine it on its own terms, instead of filtered through my preconceptions. It was a valuable experience for me.
The Devil’s Candy (U.S.; Sean Byrne, 2015)
I wasn’t particularly thrilled by Sean Byrne’s debut, the preciously-retro Loved Ones. Byrne hasn’t dialed back the pop culture in its follow-up, The Devil’s Candy–the constant heavy-metal references start to get cloying after a while–but he does put them to the service of a story with compelling characters.
Starving artist Ethan Embry moves into a cheap house with his wife Shiri Appleby and teen daughter Kiara Glasco. The reason it’s so cheap is because the previous owners died under mysterious circumstances. Almost immediately after moving in, Embry starts hearing weird voices and painting fucked-up shit. That’s when the previous owners’ son (the ever-awesome Pruitt Taylor Vince), who’s also been hearing voices and sacrificing kids to Satan, shows up.
A lot of this is boilerplate stuff but the characterization makes it work, along with the performances; I’ve often been iffy when it comes to Embry but he really knocks it out of the park here, as do Glasco and Vince. And the voice-of-Satan effect is insanely creepy. Unfortunately, the ending is really, really silly.
Peace and Love (Japan; Sion Sono, 2015)
I knew Sion Sono by reputation going into Peace and Love but had never actually seen any of his films. What’s more, what I did know about him was from reading reviews of Noriko’s Dinner Table, Suicide Club, and Cold Fish (Jori wrote them up back when I ran Forced Viewing).
So I’m not entirely sure what, exactly, I was expecting from Peace and Love but it sure as shit wasn’t a magical-realist tale of a pathetic salaryman (Hiroki Hasegawa) harboring dreams of rock superstardom, who takes a tiny turtle as a pet and then loses it, only for that turtle to gain a mystical connection with its estranged owner, not to mention an unfailing sense of how to compose a hit pop song. With his absent psychic turtle’s help, Hasegawa gains the fame and fortune he always desired, but at the cost of…well, you know how these things usually turn out.
Thematically, Peace and Love is a bit of a mess. Come to think of it, it’s a bit of a mess as a story as well, once you figure in things like talking toys and a no-shit kaiju sequence. But Sono knows what he’s doing, and you just have to trust him–all of this stuff, as corny or ridiculous as it often sounds, has an amazing emotional payoff by the end. I was amazed.
Bone Tomahawk (U.S.; S. Craig Zahler, 2015)
The savage Western Bone Tomahawk is a good ending-point for the Fest. Kurt Russell, sheriff of a small frontier settlement, puts together a small posse to hunt down the abductors of town nurse Lili Simmons, who turn out to be a clan of savage throwback “troglodytes” the Indians refuse to claim kinship with. The other members of the posse include backup deputy Richard Jenkins, Simmons’s husband Patrick Wilson, and egotistical dandy Matthew Fox. The four don’t get along very well.
A lot of the content is standard Western stuff, except for the troglodyte business, which is remarkably graphic–even I found a couple of sequences hard to watch. The cast sells the hell out of this, especially Russell, Jenkins, and Simmons, plus a number of cameos from the likes of Sean Young, Michael Paré, Sid Haig, David Arquette, and Kathryn Morris.
My one complaint, other than some drag in the second act, is that I can’t hear someone say the word “troglodyte” without thinking of the kid from The Pit who mispronounced that word as “tra-la-log.” So thanks a lot, The Pit.