Day four brings us a new film from living legend Werner Herzog, the fifth (and final?) installment of the Phantasm saga, and more.
Salt and Fire
Mexico, 2016. Directed by Werner Herzog. Starring Veronica Ferres, Michael Shannon, Lawrence Krauss, Gael García Bernal. 93 minutes. ★★★
Herzog’s latest fiction film tells the tale of U.N. scientists kidnapped by mysterious abductors while en route to survey an ecological disaster in South America. Visually, the film is pure poetry, but I don’t think anyone expects anything less from Herzog. As far as the plot goes, it’s a bit ham-handed, and filled with awkward dialog. I’m not familiar with Herzog’s recent fictional work (the last such film I saw by him was his sublime remake of Nosferatu), so I don’t know if these are common flaws. Luckily, the main cast (Veronica Ferres as the lead scientist, Michael Shannon as the leader of the abductors, and Lawrence Krauss as an eccentric cabinet minister) manage to transcend it. And it’s not entirely without humor, especially at the end.
France, 2016. AKA Grave. Directed by Julia Ducournau. Starring Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Raba Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas, Joana Preiss. 98 minutes. ★★★★
Is it just me, or has the “New French Extremity” been hibernating for the last few years? If Julia Ducournau’s Raw led to a bit of a revival, I wouldn’t mind. Garlance Marillier and Ella Rumpf put in terrific performances as sisters attending a veterinary school with exceedingly odd initiation rituals which awaken bizarre proclivities in newbie Marillier. (Also keep an eye out for Calvaire‘s Laurent Lucas.) The hazing goes a bit over the top, but we’re not talking about a subset of horror known for its subtlety, so that’s okay. The film’s grossness has been overstated somewhat, except for one scene involving a cow, and to be honest I’d rather watch an hour and a half than We Are the Flesh.
United States, 2016. Directed by David Hartman. Starring Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Angus Scrimm, Dawn Cody, Stephen Jutras, Bill Thornbury, Kat Lester. 87 minutes. ★★
Phantasm franchise newcomer David Hartman has expressed a desire to move the latest installment away from the action-horror of the third and fourth films and back to the series’ roots in surreal imagery. Sadly it’s not really possible to recreate the first film’s cough-syrup-induced nightmare vibe with digital effects and modern aesthetics, which leaves Reggie Bannister (with the occasional help of Mike Baldwin, the late Angus Scrimm, and a couple of series noobs) acting across a CGI landscape that manages to be less convincing than the 1979 version.
With the visuals not up to snuff, the focus then turns to the standard flaws. Likable though he is, Bannister simply isn’t a natural lead actor, and the film spends too much time keeping him separated from Baldwin. None of the ensemble can navigate the awful dialog. Worst of all, the finished product was cobbled together from at least two or three short films Hartman and series patriarch Don Coscarelli made over the years, and it shows, particularly in its hash of an anticlimax that entirely fails to commit to any resolution.
The upside is that the cast and crew put a lot of passion into the project, which is certainly fun to watch even if it isn’t very good. These are Scrimm’s final scenes as the Tall Man; with Bill Thornbury and Kathy Lester also on board, Phantasm: Ravager represents the last reunion of the 1979 cast. I could think of a lot of worse reasons to make a movie.
Top Five Movies of the Festival
As of the end of day four:
- Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses
- Toni Erdmann
- The Eyes of My Mother