Day three delivers the Short Fuse program of short horror subjects, the polarizing We Are the Flesh, and more.
Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses
New Zealand, 2015. Directed by David Stubbs. 89 minutes. ★★★★★
Belief caught my eye in the Fantastic Fest program because of its superficial resemblance to the Anneliese Michel case (which inspired at least three films and a Public Image Limited song). Like Michel, Janet Moses was a troubled young woman who began exhibiting disturbing and antisocial behavior, which in retrospect seem to be obvious symptoms of mental illness, but which were interpreted by her family as indicative of possession. Both women died during attempts to exorcise them. In fact, they were even similar in age at the time of their deaths (Moses was 22, Michel 23).
However, what I didn’t expect (as the Fantastic Fest program didn’t mention this) was the Maori ethnicity and spirituality of Moses and her mother’s family, and Belief director David Stubbs goes out of his way to sensitively approach the role religion played in her death. Stubbs is clearly more interested in examining the question “How could this happen?” and the effect of the tragedy on the family (who clearly remain devastated).
The key to the film’s success are its dramatic recreations of the events leading up to Moses’s death. Such re-enactments are often the cheesiest part of any documentary featuring them but Stubbs takes them and nails them to the wall, filling them with palpable tension. Not only are they more than a little scary, they’re easily the most terrifying seen I’ve seen yet at this year’s fest. So far, this is my favorite film of the festival.
Short film program: Short Fuse
The first short film program I attended this year was the Short Fuse program. I’m not sure what the difference is between the three programs (the other two are called Fantastic Shorts and Shorts with Legs), but it was a strong slate, giving me something to hope for for the other two.
Dawn of the Deaf
United Kingdom, 2016. Directed by Rob Savage.
Titles punning on Night of the Living Dead or Dawn of the Dead are common enough to be passé, so I was pleased to find that Dawn of the Deaf wasn’t a parody, half-assed, or both. I really liked the film’s central conceit, in which the zombie plague afflicts everyone except the hearing-impaired: dawn of the deaf, geddit?
Sadly, it does commit what I consider to be the Cardinal Sin of Short Films, which is that it doesn’t tell anything remotely resembling a complete story. If Dawn of the Deaf were a feature, everything we see here would be the pre-credits sequence. I hate when shorts do that.
Australia, 2016. Directed by Tim Egan.
Some of my favorite horror shorts are just little slices of weirdness with no explanation. Curve, my favorite of the Short Fuse program, is a great example of this. Director Tim Egan puts a young woman on a brief diagonal stretch of concrete between two sheer drops, with no indication of how she got there, vague hints of what lies below, and not even a chance in hell of making it out. I love shit like this.
United States, 2016. Directed by Jill Gevargizian.
Najarra Townsend (Contracted) plays a hairdresser with some bizarre proclivities. Well-constructed with some great effects sequences and a fine performance by Townsend.
They Will All Die in Space
Spain, 2015. Directed by Javier Chillon.
A science-fiction mystery with a delightful black-and-white B-movie vibe. My one complaint is that the title gives away a bit too much of the plot, but on the other hand, when you have a title as good as They Will All Die in Space you gotta use it for something.
I Want You Inside Me
United States, 2016. Directed by Alice Shindelar.
The only short on the program I didn’t like. Admittedly, Teen Sex Horror is one of my least favorite subgenres, so I don’t think there was ever any chance I was going to like it. That being said, it has a wonderful final scene.
United States, 2016. Directed by Chris McInroy.
An uproarious horror-comedy concerning a cursed electric guitar, with great effects. Damn near perfect. Keep an ear out for the Gremlins reference in the dialog.
Australia, 2016. Directed by Craig D. Foster.
Workplace comedy with added werewolf for flavor. The payoff is awesome, but the film takes a little too much time getting to it.
90 Degrees North
Germany, 2015. Directed by Detsky Graffam.
Another one of my favorites, with an appropriately fucked-up premise (an evil traffic intersection!), perfectly paced with an ingenious resolution. Never gonna trust traffic intersections after seeing this one, I’ll tell you that.
When Sussurrus Stirs
United States, 2016. Directed by Anthony Cousins.
An adaptation of bizarro author Jeremy Robert Johnson’s awesome short story of the same name (it’s in his collection We Live Inside You). Director Anthony Cousins puts a Frank Hennenlotter twist on the visuals (including one shot which seems to be a direct reference to Brain Damage). Most of the entries on this program had standout effects, but this one probably had the best of the lot.
Short Fuse ranking
- Death Metal
- 90 Degrees North
- They Will All Die in Space
- The Stylist
- When Sussurrus Stirs
- Dawn of the Deaf
- I Want You Inside Me
The Eyes of My Mother
United States, 2016. Directed by Nick Pesce. Starring Kika Magalhaes, Olivia Bond, Paul Nazak, Will Brill, Diana Agostini. 77 minutes. ★★★★
First-time director Nick Pesce gets a bravura performance out of lead actress Kika Magalhaes in this tale of a young woman with unconventional attitudes towards family and a twisted relationship with her mother’s murderer. With its intense, intimate focus, female-led story, and excellent black-and-white cinematography, this one has a vibe similar to last year’s Darling (only with 100% less Larry Fessenden). Ariel Loh’s score, consisting primarily of slabs of stomach-churning ambient drone, underlines the intensity. Unforgettably brutal, but also unsettlingly beautiful.
We Are the Flesh
Mexico, 2016. AKA Tenemos la carne. Directed by Emiliano Rocha Minter. Starring Noé Hernandez, María Evoli, Diego Gamaliel. 80 minutes. 💣
Emiliano Rocha Minter superimposes Christ imagery upon this tale of a creepy guy and his two attractive vacant-souled minions as they build a big cardboard womb underneath Mexico City and proceed to fuck each other senseless inside it.
It’s hard to work out exactly what Rocha Minter means for the audience to take away from this film, and even harder to care. The sound design and score unsettle and startle, but they don’t keep the non-stop parade of explicit sex scenes from being dull at best and infuriating at worst. Like I said a couple of days ago, I’m not a prude but I’d like sex scenes in films to actually mean something. Here, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Rocha Minter was indulging in his fetishes on the audience’s dime. I have my fetishes as well. I just don’t expect other people to pay me to indulge in them.
In short: I don’t think I’ve seen a film so maddeningly pointless and awful since Enter the Void. So fuck this film. No, scratch that. I’ll take a page from Lenny Bruce here, and un-fuck this film. This film does not deserve to get laid.