The 30th Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival has come and gone. On the following 6 pages you’ll find mini-reviews for a selection of 30 movies, screened during the BIFFF 2012. As always, a mixture of various genre movies. An overview starting with James McTeigue‘s ‘The Raven’ and ending with Drew Goddard‘s ‘The Cabin In The Woods’. Find out & read all about the movies that lie in between, below…
John Cusack plays poet/writer Edgar Allan Poe during the final days of his life. His genius has gone over the hill, hasn’t earned him a lot of money, lost him his drinking credit at the local pub and now he’s stuck writing newspaper reviews for the Baltimore Daily. But when a mysterious serial killer starts committing murders based on Poe’s stories, detective Emmet Fields (Luke Evans) enlists Poe into the police ranks, for his insights to the murder cases just might help solve them. A cat-and-mouse game then ensues in which the killer taunts Poe by leaving clues at the crime scenes which might lead him to his abducted love-interest, Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve). Main objectives: discover the identity of the killer and stop him just in time to save Emily from a gruesome fate.
Needless to say ‘The Raven’ is a decent production, with talent showing from both ends of the camera (it’s directed by James ‘V For Vendetta’ McTeigue). 19th Century is portrayed in an adequate manner in terms of wardrobes, set pieces, etc. The good thing is, that ‘The Raven’ doesn’t want to be another ‘Sherlock Holmes’, which would have been just too easy. The core of things here centers around the decent elements of a detective story, not a string of spectacular set pieces. Cusack brings his recognizable likeability to the role, which may or may not upset purist Poe fans (but hey, this movie calls for Poe to be the clever hero, so that’s what you’ll get). Several key murder scenes from various Poe stories are being incorporated into the script (the most famous ones being those from ‘Murders In The Rue Morgue’ and ‘The Pit And The Pendulum’). Granted, they are presented here in a somewhat gimmicky way, but it’s nevertheless fun to spot them and see them executed in a new fashion. As mentioned already, Alice Eve gets served up as Poe’s beautiful love-interest (mainstream audiences need to be pleased, as always), and she even gets a claustrophobic, Poeësque storyline all of her own. ‘The Raven’ is not likely to blow away spectators (it’s just not memorable enough for that), but it is a decent murder mystery with a traditional flair to it and one that does manage to keep things intriguing for its complete running time.
A bewildered but sensual beauty shows up in a remote Swiss village. The local priest sees in her the devil’s work, claims her to be a Sennentuntschi and blames her for the suicide of a colleague. The god-fearing citizens are easily convinced, but police officer Sebastian Reusch (Nicholas Ofczarec) doesn’t do superstition and takes the woman into his custody, not at all unaffected by her more gentle & charming ways. But in a cabin up the mountains, a massacre took place. With the woman being the center piece of all the inexplicable goings-on, it’s up to Sebastian to uncover the truth to the matters.
Allegedly Switzerland’s first big budget genre movie, this is one that manages to captivate. Primarily because it’s based on an inherent folklore tale: A woman is made out of straw to be brought to life for the sole purpose of providing sexual pleasures for her male creators, yet after being taken abuse of she’ll inflict revenge upon her wrong-doers. The beautiful Roxane Mesquida plays Sennentuntschi and strikes the right note with her silent performance, adding a well-balanced sense of naivety, savageness, and mysteriousness to her persona. All performances, for that matter, are adequate. There’s a fair amount of nudity and sexual violence in certain scenes, but it felt in place due to the nature of the story. The film is intelligently plotted, with a script offering flashbacks to puzzle the pieces of the mystery together. The only minor quibble perhaps, is that director Michael Steiner takes it one step too far in his efforts to make us understand the plot (those explanatory re-cap shots at the end were a bit too much). But what the heck, since this is Switzerland’s first big budget horror effort, he might as well make sure that everyone gets it, so we’ll just forgive him for that.
THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE
Two female snake demons live their peaceful lives in a magical forest, far away from the world of mortals. When White Snake, Bai Suzhen (Shengyi Huang), falls in love with human Xu Xian (Raymond Lam), a young medicine man, she takes on her human form to go live with him. But Buddhist monk & demon hunter Fahai (Jet Li) knows about her real identity and will devote all his skills and religious knowledge to separate the two and save Xu’s soul. Between all of this, Fahai’s clumsy assistant Neng Ren (Zhang Wen) gets into trouble of his own with Green Snake Quingqing (Charlene Choi).
Once the relationships between all the main characters are established, we basically get a lot of duels & fights featuring all of them for the remainder of the movie. In the tradition of many of these Hong Kong produced epic tales of fantasy, lies at the core a tragic love story. And we’ve all seen enough of these films by now to know that things will steer themselves towards a pretty heavy, sad and anti-Hollywood ending. While produced by the team that previously brought us Ang Lee‘s successful ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, ‘The Sorcerer And The White Snake’ is not in the same league and even not along the same lines. It’s much more in sync with the films from the ‘A Chinese Ghost Story’ trilogy, though less dark and with the inclusion of the same sort of comedy touches. ‘The Sorcerer And The White Snake’ amuses until the very end, but also suffers from a CGI overload. At times the effects are truly wonderful and enchanting, but there are other moments they fall short and it feels like you’re watching a second rate fantasy cartoon. Nevertheless, imagine it to be a fine addition to the Chinese fantasy genre and you won’t be disappointed.
A large U.S. metropolitan area suffers a nuclear attack. A group of apartment residents make it in time to the basement, where the building’s caretaker takes them in for shelter. While questioning the faith of the outside world, the group will soon find themselves trapped in their basement shelter. The thin veil of human decency starts to unwrap and eventually the walls of sanity come crumbling down as food & water supplies run low and all hope for survival is abandoned.
Let’s throw a bunch of characters together in a confined space and see what happens, part 1. The confined space in this case being a basement. We’ve seen this before: men become savage beasts under extreme circumstances. And in this case (since we’re dealing with a group of people trapped in a confined setting) I yet again started thinking of the most foul version of Sartre‘s ‘Huis Clos’ imaginable, although I highly doubt that’s where Xavier Gens and writers Karl Mueller & Eron Sheean drew their influences from. A conscious choice was made by having the script dwell with the characters and not really focusing on the aftermath of the nuclear attack. This might be interesting in terms of character development but perhaps disappointing to those of us wanting to know more about the background story involving the post-apocalyptic environment outside. It’s pretty obvious that Gens just wanted to take things to the extreme in terms of how depraved the characters could get. But after a while you kind of wish the plot would throw in something else than just using the ‘humans turning into monsters under extreme conditions’ angle. The only question that pretty much remains of importance until the very end, is: will someone make it out alive and how? So in the end, there’s little story to speak of in ‘The Divide’. But despite these criticisms, the film holds together well, mainly thanks to interesting performances from some of the cast. Michael Biehn is reliable, as always, and his character has a few interesting twists to it. Rosanne Arquette surprises immensely in what very much might be her most demanding, unflattering role so far. And Michael Eklund is really taking names here, as his performance gradually transforms him into an antagonist so vile the word ‘human’ seems severely out of place to describe him. ‘The Divide’ certainly is a film worth watching, though it will surely on its own terms leave the audience much divided in their opinions.
THE BUTTERFLY ROOM
Ann is an aging, elegant woman with an obsession for butterflies. She has a large collection of butterflies in a room only she is allowed to enter. But there are other peculiar things about this woman. And they come to surface around the same time she makes acquaintance with young Alice in the nearby shopping mall. Some strange mother-daughter relationship develops between the two of them and deadly “accidents” start to occur in the apartment building where Ann lives.
Kind of hard to judge this film. Director Jonathan Zarantonello obviously put his heart and soul into this project, as he first made a short film about it, then wrote the novel and then finally turned the novel into a feature length movie. And if you take a look at the cast, you can clearly tell he’s paying homage to women active in the horror genre. ‘The Butterfly Room’, as a thriller, certainly has its moments where skill shines through and Zarantonello has an eye for crafting a scene. But as a whole you can’t deny the film has some tedious moments. The grisly denouement does make some of the wrongs right again. Barbara Steele, playing Ann, gets a lot of material to work with. On the one hand we see a woman struggling with the issues she has concerning her estranged daughter. Ann also seems to crave filling the void left by the “loss” of her own daughter, thereby seeking – actually buying – the affection of little girl Alice (Julia Putnam). On the other hand, Ann is a deranged and cunning female sociopath as well. And Steele does a splendid job portraying both sides of the character, as in: she pretty much owns the movie. Both Ray Wise and Heather Langenkamp serve their significance in the plot, so fans shouldn’t be disappointed. Sadly, the rest of the cast doesn’t really stand out in their performances. All-in-all ‘The Butterfly Room’ is a worthwhile watch for genre fans, and if Zarantonello manages to sharpen his sense for over-all pacing, I’m sure his next film will be even better.
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