Fantastic Fest 2016: Day Five

Day five brings us the latest from Sarah Edina Smith, the secret screening of the new M. Night Shyamalan film, and more.

Re:Born

Re:Born

Japan, 2016. Directed by Yûgi Shimomura. Starring Takumi Saitoh, Mariko Shinoda, Hitome Hasebe. 106 minutes. ★★

I’m not generally a fan of martial arts films, but I figured what the hell, there’s no point in going to a film festival if I’m not going to stretch outside my usual boundaries. Also, I skipped The Assassin last year, and rued the decision a few months later when I watched the screener.

Unfortunately Re:Born just did not wow me. The martial arts sequences are indeed impressive; they’re like watching an intricate ballet of violence. However the plot felt little more than perfunctory and hollow, with little in the way of an emotional core. The protagonist’s effective invincibility alienated me as well.

Oh well, I guess I’m really not the target market for this sort of thing.

Fashionista

Fashionista

United States, 2016. Directed by Simon Rumley. Starring Amanda Fuller, Ethan Embry, Eric Balfour. 108 minutes. ★★★

This is an interesting psychological thriller (sorta) about a woman who owns a secondhand-clothing store who gets involved with some bad, bad people, and mayhem ensues. Writer/director Simon Rumley says a lot about womens’ image and self-image (or at least I think he does) without ever being ham-handed or preachy, and he earns every twist and turn of the plot. Lead actress Amanda Fuller kills in a courageous, vulnerable performance; Ethan Embry and Eric Balfour also turn in fine performances. Plus an awesome soundtrack.

Buster's Mal Heart

Buster’s Mal Heart

United States, 2016. Directed by Sarah Edina Smith. Starring Rami Malek, DJ Qualls, Kate Lyn Sheil, Lin Shaye, Toby Huss. 96 minutes. ★★★★★

I wasn’t initially interested in Buster’s Mal Heart, but once I realized Rami Malek was in it, I decided to give it a chance; Mr. Robot is one of my new favorite shows. Golly, am I ever glad I did: Buster is my new favorite fiction film of the festival so far. Sarah Edina Smith (The Midnight Swim) puts Malek in the “dual” role of a mentally-ill mountain man roaming the wilds of Montana and a young father who falls prey to a wandering prophet of doom (DJ Qualls).

Malek seems to have come out of nowhere and is winning all the awards thanks to his performances on Mr. Robot and he does not disappoint here, but Qualls and Kate Lyn Shiel also impress. Smith delivers a twisty, turny, borderline-SF plot and pairs it up with lyrical, heartbreaking imagery and a creepy retro pulsing-synth score of the kind throwback horror movies have been turning into a cliché. It’s a lot to take on but it all works, and I don’t expect to see a better film this festival. (If I do, though, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.)

Split

Secret Screening: Split

United States, 2017. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Starring James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Kim Director, Betty Buckley. 116 minutes. ★★★

About five minutes before the secret screening began a rumor circulated that M. Night Shyamalan had been spotted on-site. When the Blumhouse Productions ident ran during the bumpers that all but confirmed it. Hope you weren’t holding out for Free Five or John Wick 2.

This tale of three girls (The Witch‘s Anya Taylor Joy in the lead) kidnapped by a man with multiple personalities (James McAvoy) isn’t as bad as I had expected it would be; I parted ways with MNS after The Village. It’s actually pretty good. Mind you, I’m none too happy about one of the film’s central conceits, which basically fetishizes mental illness. But the plot works, more or less, even if it’s not too hard to figure out what’s really going on.

The real reason to watch, however, comes with the performances: McAvoy in particular, who knows exactly when to go over the top and when not to (and how far to go). As thrillers go, you could do worse. Shyamalan certainly has, ha ha ha.

A Dark Song

A Dark Song

Ireland, 2016. Directed by Liam Gavin. Starring Catherine Walker, Steve Oram. 99 minutes. ★★★★

This dark little gem about a self-destructive occultist (Sightseers‘ Steve Oram, in a bravura performance) and the woman who hires him to perform a black-magick ritual (Catherine Walker, no slouch herself) isn’t really a horror movie, although it does occasionally speak the language, and it goes into some very, very dark places. The film writer/director Liam Gavin gives us is more mournful and sad than scary, a meditation on love and loss that rings true in the deepest chambers of the heart. Damn near perfect, and another one of my festival faves.

Short film: Givertaker

United States, 2016. Directed by Paul Gandersman.

Teenage girl decides she’s Willow Rosenberg and decides to slap some black magick on her high-school rivals. Not really my thing, but made well enough, I guess.

Top Five Movies of the Festival

As of the end of day five:

  1. Buster’s Mal Heart
  2. Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses
  3. Arrival
  4. Toni Erdmann
  5. A Dark Song

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