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TIFF 2017: ‘Let The Corpses Tan’ Is Exhaustingly Stylish

‘Let the Corpses Tan’ is perhaps too high-powered, running its perfected aesthetics into the ground.

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Directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani have brought their latest film Let the Corpses Tan (Laissez bronzer les cadavres) to the TIFF Midnight Madness program this year. The director-duo, best known for 2013’s giallo, The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, have this time turned to the spaghetti western. Let the Corpses Tan (based on the cult novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jean-Pierre Bastid) takes place in a remote hideaway, a den of thieves run by Madame Luce (Elina Lowensohn). After stealing a good deal of gold bullion, the criminals hide out in Luce’s Mediterranean home, but their plans are made more complicated by the totally unaware wife, son, and maid of one of the men. When the police finally show up, the film descends into chaos as everyone fights to get out alive — and with their gold.

Let the Corpses Tan is quite a visual spectacle. Super fast-cutting, deliberate framing, and rhythmic music help create an excited energy. Cattet and Forzani are incredibly stylish in creating their throwback crime western. Feeling like an Alejandro Jodorowsky film, Corpses manages to viscerally convey the feel of the hot, sun-soaked hide-out, and in the heightened aesthetics there is also a good deal of humour. The squeaking of characters’ cool leather jackets at every movement becomes a part of the soundtrack, while Lowensohn especially, as the incredibly bold and irrationally confident Luce, is both entertaining and somewhat inspiring. Laughing in the face of a gun pointed toward her in threat, her fearlessness is a delight.

But while Cattet and Forzani have excelled in their aesthetics with Corpses, they have not done much else. Obviously well-versed in genre conventions and how to crystallize various retro influences into one coherent film, Corpses itself is not quite a success. Taking place over the course of one day, the slight plot (going from an early breakfast, to the theft, to the arrival of the civilian wife, to the cops and ensuing shoot-out) should not be an issue — perhaps an easy and conventional crime narrative, it is nevertheless and effective one. Yet Corpses becomes exhausting.

Jumps backwards and forwards in time becomes gimmicky. Interesting and fun the first time, when used to depict events as seen through the eyes of multiple characters by rewinding the plot and restarting from a new perspective, this trick quickly becomes old. Likewise, the frenetic energy, gory violence, and repeated jokes soon lose their freshness as the film goes on. Corpses intercuts its narrative with a sort of fever-dream sequence of a woman painted in gold being variously tortured, or torturing others. Again, the repetition here within an incredibly creative sequence makes it lose its edge. We watch as she is repeatedly painted in gold, or repeatedly urinates on the faces of men, or repeatedly is covered in glittering dirt that people throw at her. By the third or fourth time, it is not quite as interesting.

In its speedy pastiche and unending energy, Let the Corpses Tan is like a caffeine-induced panic attack rather than the high-speed and engaging film it should be. As the film goes on, every element becomes too much, too often. The things that made it unique and fun in the first act become tiring by the third, and with its snappy style, it verges into the territory of the Tarantino-esque — something which is out of date, and in poor taste. While there is no problem at all with a film being style over substance, Corpses is perhaps too high-powered, running its perfected aesthetics into the ground.

The 42nd annual Toronto International Film Festival is scheduled to be held from 7 to 17 September 2017.

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‘Nekrotronic’ Sells its Soul to Monica Bellucci

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Some movies are just so hard to grasp that trying to do so would be futile. In some instances, that can be used to a film’s advantage, such as Kiah Roache-Turner’s 2014 debut, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, in which explanations didn’t really matter. Understanding what was happening in that film wasn’t the point; it was just about accepting the ride. That’s the same strategy employed in the director’s 2018 follow-up, Nekrotronic, a supernatural social media haunt that opts for the same deprivation of logic for the sake of a fun B-movie romp.

Co-written with his brother, Tristan, the script takes a kitchen-sink approach to the insane story of demons possessing humans through social media. As the eternal fight between Nekromancers and demons rages on, they’ve become locked in a new type of cyber warfare. An app being designed by a soulless corporation of human husks is overseen by the Queen of the Underworld herself (played by the always incredible Monica Bellucci), and acts a lot like Pokemon Go — but as users find ghosts instead of Pokemon, they unknowingly give their souls to the underworld. And so,  the fate of all mankind now rests on the shoulders of a sanitation worker (Ben O’Toole) and his best friend (Epine Bob Savea).

Nekrotronic is about kicking ass and filling the screen with as much gore and high-tech weaponry as possible.

This Ozploitation film tries really hard to give explanations to virtually everything it introduces, and that’s an admirable effort in a story that very clearly doesn’t care that much. It’s Ghostbusters with a little bit of They Live, and an aesthetic that feels like the video game Doom more than any movie in recent memory. There are 3D-printing demon souls and giant lasers, wraiths, and ghosts that travel through the internet like it’s a series of tubes, and a refusal to stop introducing new conceits. That Nekrotronic has logic presented at all is like if the Alien movies tried to give motivation for the xenomorph attacking its prey — endearing to attempt, but so very unnecessary.

Nekrotronic

That is the major issue that plagues Nekrotronic. The Roache-Turner brothers want to do everything, but by doing everything it’s easy to lose focus on the central conceit — which is hard to pinpoint, because there are so many small emotional beats that are all treated like huge deals at various times. There’s not even really much in the form of a social commentary on our reliance with social media and technology; Nekromancers once put demon souls into the internet as a form of containment, and then didn’t realize that the Queen of Hell would discover a way to use the internet to release the demons. That’s a neat genre explanation that could be mined for more of a critique on apps that data mine and do more harm than we really realize, but unfortunately, the movie only passively mentions this point, then walks away from it immediately.

Instead, Nekrotronic is about kicking ass and filling the screen with as much gore and high-tech weaponry as possible. The cyber-horror aesthetic lends itself really well to the narrative; while it very much looks like a B-movie, it looks like a B-movie with a budget. The visuals are also very vibrant and filled with more colour than Wyrmwood, which is justification for a more riotous feeling — and the really bad jokes support that spirit.

nekrotronic

But the ultimate reason to sit through this very boring, exhaustive assault on the senses is for Monica Bellucci. She chews scenery, whether it’s for the benefit of comedy or horror; no one else comes close. If Nekrotronic did anything really right, it was casting Bellucci as a demon from Hell that says phrases like “No more Mrs. Nice Guy” as she tries to come off motherly, seductive, and terrifying at the same time. If there’s one thing to take away from this film, it’s that the Roache-Turner brothers are hellbent on telling entertaining stories — they just missed the bar with this demonic affair.

Editor’s note: This review was originally published on September 8, 2018 as part of our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival. 

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What to Watch Out For at TIFF 2019

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Upon its founding in 1976, the Toronto International Film Festival was originally known as the Toronto Festival of Festivals. Implied in the name was TIFF’s status as a clearinghouse for the best festival films of the year. Cannes and Venice might be able to attract bigger premieres from the world’s leading auteurs, and Sundance might have the market cornered on formulaic-yet-quirky dramedies, but Toronto would bring the best of each festival to North American residents who might not feel like hopping on a plane to the South of France.

Over the years, TIFF has grown to be a powerhouse among film festivals, not only selecting high-profile films that were first shown elsewhere, but also offering a bevy of its own prestigious premieres. So far, only the Gala and Special Presentation screenings have been announced, but they represent the movies most likely to cause a stir. Below are a sampling of the films you’ll want to seek out in Toronto.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

You wouldn’t be wrong to be puzzled about the existence of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Didn’t we just get a Mr. Rogers movie, after all? Well, yes, and Morgan Neville’s 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor charmed critics and left audiences misty-eyed. This new narrative feature is clearly trying to ride the wave of acclaim that followed the documentary, but it’s the creative team that makes this one worth watching. The director, Marielle Heller, is responsible for last year’s Melissa McCarthy dramedy Can You Ever Forgive Me?, a scathing yet poignant look into the life of a once-prominent writer who has sunk to forging the letters of famous authors to make a living. It was one of 2018’s best (and most underrated) films, opening up the possibility that Heller might strike gold twice in a row. Tom Hanks doesn’t look much like Mr. Rogers, even in makeup and costume, but there’s a good chance Heller will still extract just the right performance out of him. (Brian Marks)

Ema

Ema

Pablo Larrain had a banner year in 2016, when he released both Jackie and Neruda. The former offered a nuanced portrait of grief in the public eye, as well as one of Natalie Portman’s greatest performances. The latter, rather than being a standard biopic, mixed biographical elements with a metaphysical detective story that elevated the project. Now Larrain returns with Ema. There’s not much to go on about the new film, which is described as being about a woman who attempts to restart her life in the wake of a family tragedy, but Larrain’s ability to shake up even rote material makes it worth watching. (Brian Marks)

The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch

Another literary adaptation, Donna Tartt’s 2013 novel The Goldfinch arrived eleven years after her last book, and quickly caused a stir. Though it polarized critics, the iconoclastic author found a new appreciation among readers, who turned the book into a bestseller. Baby Driver’s Ansel Elgort stars as Theo Drecker, whose mother was killed in a terrorist bombing when he was a child while visiting New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Amid the confusion and shock, Theo takes The Goldfinch, a painting by Carel Fabritius, the most gifted student of Rembrandt (who himself was killed in an explosion). Though he’s taken in by a wealthy socialite (Nicole Kidman), Theo is drawn into a world of crime years later as the result of his theft. Directed by John Crowley, who helmed part of the underrated second season of True Detective and the lovely Brooklyn, this adaption looks as if it might thread the needle between the novel’s thriller aspects and its emotional charge. (Brian Marks)

Marriage Story

Marriage Story

It’s impossible to view Noah Baumbach’s newest film, Marriage Story, through anything other than a personal lens. Starring Scarlett Johansson and Baumbach favorite Adam Driver as an actress and a playwright going through a difficult divorce following the birth of their first child, it’s uncomfortably close to Baumbach’s own divorce from Jennifer Jason Leigh, shortly after they had their own child (and reportedly after he had already started seeing his current partner, Greta Gerwig). It’s unclear if he’ll mine the same dramedy territory of his first masterpiece, The Squid and the Whale, or if he’ll stick more to drama for this one, but it’s bound to be an essential work from one of our greatest living writers and directors. If you’re not able to catch it at Venice or Toronto, fear not — Netflix will be releasing the movie, just as it did Baumbach’s last film, The Meyerowitz Stories. (Brian Marks)

Motherless Brooklyn

Following 2000’s forgotten Keeping the Faith, Edward Norton seemed to have given up any itch to direct. In reality, he’s been working behind the scenes for almost twenty years to adapt Jonathan Lethem’s National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novel, Motherless Brooklyn. The detective thriller was a watershed for Lethem, who found a way to retain the absurd postmodernism of his early novels while creating characters of real emotional density. In addition to writing and directing, Norton will star as Lionel Essrog, an orphan who’s compelled to spit out nonsensical utterances thanks to his Tourette Syndrome. He’s eventually drafted by a mobster-adjacent figure into a low-rent detective service. But when that mentor is stabbed to death, Essrog goes in search of his killer. Lethem’s moving and blisteringly funny novel deserves a sense of style as developed as the novelist’s, and though Norton doesn’t have a track record himself, he has worked with some of the greatest directors out there. Hopefully, some of their style rubbed off on him. (Brian Marks)

Uncut Gems

Uncut Gems

Adam Sandler is a great actor whose talents can only be unlocked by great directors. Aside from some of his early comedy classics, it’s when he’s working with auteurs like Paul Thomas Anderson (Punch Drunk Love) or Noah Baumbach (The Meyerowitz Stories) or even James L. Brooks (Spanglish) that he can really shine. Directed by Benny and Josh Safdie, who directed one of 2017’s best films, Good Time, Uncut Gems stars Sandler as a jeweler looking to score it big. TIFF’s artistic director, Cameron Bailey, said the film is “probably the most Safdie movie you’ve ever seen,” and is “cranked up to 11 the whole time” while speaking to IndieWire. If anyone can bring Sandler back to the heights he’s occasionally reached, the Safdies can. The movie is also co-written by Ronald Bronstein, who’s collaborated on many of their films, as well as starred in Daddy Longlegs, so the whole gang is back together. (Brian Marks)

Knives Out

Knives Out

While the internet will have you believe that Rian Johnson is one of the worst directors in Hollywood after he “ruined” Star Wars with Episode VIII, he is in fact still allowed to make movies. And at this year’s TIFF, he is set to make a huge splash at the festival much in the way his previous films Looper and The Brothers Bloom did before. Making its world premiere in Toronto, Knives Out ditches the science fiction epic for a new take on the whodunit genre, with the promise of twists and turns, and a cast more than ready to duke it out against each other. Daniel Craig leads an investigation into a group of suspects potentially guilty of murdering a wealthy crime novelist (Christopher Plummer). That group of suspects includes Chris Evans, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Jamie Lee Curties, and Michael Shannon. The first trailer for Knives Out is electrifying, from Chris Evans telling off each character to the absolute cattiness of Toni Collette, and there is no doubt that this will be one of the bigger films of the festival. Unsurprisingly, it looks like a surefire hit for audiences, and a likely contender for the festival’s People’s Choice award. (Christopher Cross)

Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit

Another famed indie director who made it huge with an established franchise is Taika Waititi. Though What We Do In The Shadows has a large following and received plenty of praise as TIFF’s Midnight Madness People’s Choice award winner in 2014 (while also enjoying life as a TV spin-off for FX), there is no denying that Thor: Ragnarok has given the New Zealand director more opportunities. While he’s now set to write and direct the next Thor film, Waititi is bringing a more controversial movie to this year’s TIFF for its world premiere. Jojo Rabbit follows a young German boy (Roman Griffin Davis) who finds a Jewish girl in his home and seeks advice from his imaginary friend on how to handle the situation. The catch is that the imaginary friend is not a cute animal or character…but Adolf Hitler (played by Waititi himself).

In anyone else’s hands this would sound like a disastrous idea, but this is Waititi we’re talking about. Billed as an “anti-hate satire,” it is clear that Waititi won’t pull any punches with the subject matter. However, he’s also putting a lot of the onus on himself to make Hitler ‘fun’ by casting himself in the role. The cast includes Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Scarlett Johansson, and Thomasin McKenzie, but this looks like it might be more of a two-hander much in the vein of Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople. The first teaser trailer has plenty of laughs, but also shows a lot of why this could go either way. It’s a must-see for fans of all of Waititi’s previous films, but it’ll be interesting to see how it plays to more general audiences. (Christopher Cross)

The Personal History of David Copperfield

The Personal History of David Copperfield

Armando Iannucci’s criminally underseen The Death of Stalin proved that anything Iannucci touches is bound to be hilarious. While his political satire has never been sharper than in almost everything else he’s done, The Personal History of David Copperfield promises a witty take on the life of Charles Dickens. Based on the autobiographical novel David Copperfield by Dickens, it’s the potential of an Iannucci film to be biting while highlighting the absurdity of the time period that will likely please most audiences. With The Death of Stalin, Veep, The Thick of It, and In the Loop, Iannucci has always gotten the best out of his casts, often elevating his already great writing. The Personal History of David Copperfield stars Dev Patel, but it’s the supporting cast that raises excitement for the film even more. Peter Capaldi, Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Ben Whishaw, and Gwendoline Christie all round out the cast. The movie feels like a safe bet at the minimum, but it depends how much Iannucci mines out of his cast and the source material that will dictate the film’s success on the festival circuit. (Christopher Cross)

Joker

Joker

Okay, let’s be honest here. Comic book movies don’t really need to go into the festival circuit. They do well enough on their own, and the only reason to pull something like this is because awards season buzz starts at festival time. Why get shunned by the festival crowd when you can get included in the conversation by virtue of just being there? That being said, Todd Phillips’ Joker is one such film that doesn’t look like a big flashy blockbuster that will make a ton of money just by existing. This origin story for Batman’s most notorious antagonist looks stripped down, dark, and appropriately moody. It also has Joaquin Phoenix playing the titular role. If anyone is going to push the potential for awards buzz, it’s Phoenix, who is almost always in the Best Actor conversation, even if it’s rarely a guaranteed lock.

The film also features a cast that includes Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Shea Whigham, and Brian Tyree Henry (who has been rather unstoppable in his acting choices). Joker sounds like everything that would appeal to the awards season circuit, if it was anything other than a comic book movie — which is likely why it is here. All signs point to it being a potentially great character study, but its in the hands of Phillips, who has not had the greatest track record, and has virtually no evidence in his filmography to support the idea that this could be good. But the trailers have looked promising, and you wouldn’t know it to be a Phillips movie unless you looked it up. Consider this one of the most intriguing films to play at TIFF this year. (Christopher Cross)

The Laundromat

The Laundromat

Steven Soderbergh took a break from filmmaking only to come back just as hard-working as ever. This year he has already released the magnificent High Flying Bird, and the much-more-anticipated The Laundromat is now making its North American premiere at TIFF this September. Starring Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, and Antonio Banderas, there isn’t much room for second-guessing the awards chances of this movie. Unless it’s an absolute dud (which based on Soderbergh’s track record, is highly unlikely), this will likely be a huge awards contender for Streep and Oldman.

What will make it a likely hit with festival audiences is not just its cast and crew, but the subject its tackling. Soderbergh takes his aim at the Panama Papers leak from 2015, which exposed an abundance of fraud and tax evasion from wealthy individuals through offshore financial corporations. It’s a topic ready for Soderbergh to target, and rife with material that should keep it gripping at a brisk 96-minute runtime. At the very least, Soderbergh has a way with dialogue and making character interactions sizzle on-screen which helps keep the excitement for The Laundromat high. (Christopher Cross)

The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse

Who are we kidding — The Witch was too incredible of a debut from Robert Eggers for anyone not to be excited about his sophomore feature. The Lighthouse promises the same kind of atmospheric intensity as Eggers’ debut film, which played huge at TIFF; this will undoubtedly play to the same effect. Starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as lighthouse keepers on an island in New England in the 19th century, the movie tracks their gradual descent into madness. Shot on 35mm black-and-white film, The Lighthouse is being billed as a psychological thriller, and if anyone is not 100% sold on everything mentioned above, then there’s not much more that can be said. Everything paints this as an exciting, dread-filled follow up to The Witch. Seeing Eggers move from the 17th-century to 19th-century still promises a heavy emphasis on period, which will likely feed into the atmosphere. And then there’s that intensifying paranoia that sounds like it will be in full effect here as well. Consider this another guaranteed hit at the festival. (Christopher Cross)

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‘High Life’ Upends Sci-Fi Conventions

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High Life Movie Review

Editor’s note: This article was originally published September 15, 2018, as part of our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival. 

After the Toronto premiere of Claire Denis’ new film, High Life, critics rushed to post about its most extreme and bizarre moments on Twitter, mostly in an ecstatic manner. Besides being a display of public awe, the early micro-impressions helpfully illustrated the difference between a good science fiction film and a great science fiction film: good science fiction finds fascinating new ways to depict things we’ve already imagined, but great science fiction is concerned with the sort of ideas we’ve never even contemplated. High Life, her first English-language feature, is a stunning achievement for Denis, one that violently expands the conventions of the genre, and further evidence of her restless vision.

Like Andrei Tarkovsky, Denis doesn’t bother with the standard details — we never find out what year her film is set in, and the very recognizable Earth flashbacks are incongruous with the dingy yet futuristic space scenes that make up the bulk of the film. In this unnamed future time, convicts on Earth who have been sentenced to death have been given the option to fly into space to participate in scientific missions. If they die, it’s not much different than their fate on Earth, but if they survive long enough they have the chance to return knowing they’ve done a service to humanity. Except that it’s quickly revealed that this is all a lie. The convicts will never return to Earth, either because it’s not feasible, or because they’re no longer wanted.

Robert Pattinson adds another adventurous role to his resume as Monte, who has been imprisoned since he was a young boy. It’s not giving anything away to reveal that he is the lone survivor of a drifting spacecraft — well, him and a young baby. The ship has sailed for years toward the nearest black hole to Earth; the mission is to determine if there is a way to harness energy from the sucking maw. There used to be many other crew members, including a scientist (a wonderfully eerie Juliette Binoche) who performs fertility experiments on the convicts, an impetuous young woman who becomes her guinea pig (Mia Goth), and a laid-back prisoner who seems resigned to his fate (an underused André Benjamin).

Like Kubrick, Denis delights in the slowness of life in space; she wants us to consider every extended moment and what years of this repetition could do to a person.

High Life - Claire Denis

Denis’ vision of space travel in High Life has clear connections to the grungy design of Alien (1979). The equipment still works fairly well, but in a few years things will look as beat up as the interior of the Nostromo. Denis has also praised the work of Tarkovsky and Stanley Kubrick in interviews, and their influence is unmistakable. Like Kubrick, Denis delights in the slowness of life in space; she wants us to consider every extended moment and what years of this repetition could do to a person. And like Tarkovsky, she imbues her characters with great passions, but often leaves them hidden behind stoic faces that require the audience to interpret their feelings.

Yorick Le Saux’s cinematography finds great beauty in what might otherwise be an asylum of fluorescent lights, turning what could have been a very ugly film into something quite beautiful. In a scene that may have been inspired by Woody Allen’s Sleeper (1973), Binoche visits what Denis refers to as the “fuck box,” a self-pleasuring device that the crew visits to let off steam. Le Saux photographs Binoche in a faint purplish light that emphasizes her long black hair — it streams all the way down her back like a cascade of spiders. Binoche’s witch-like doctor seems more humane in the fluorescent light when she carries on her fertility experiments, but in the box, she can be seen in her true light.

Pattinson, though, is clearly the star of the film, and he wisely does as little as possible in that capacity. The last few years have been filled with adventurous and remarkable career choices for Pattinson, and his great strength is knowing when to turn down the temperature. In his last great performance, Good Time (2017), Pattinson was most moving in his restrained scenes with his intellectually-disabled brother, and in High Life, he practices an even greater degree of restraint. It would be easy for an actor to pull out all the stops with Denis’ bonkers story, but it’s far more compelling when they keep the energy low, as if they have been desensitized to everything around them.

High Life

Despite the more obvious science fiction homages, the movie High Life most feels akin to is Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin (2013). The stories have nothing in common plot-wise, but Denis’ movie has a painful undercurrent of sorrow that occasionally peaks out above the menace, much like that film. Like Scarlett Johansson’s asexual alien, Pattinson and his fellow prisoners are starving for human connection and love. The closet Johansson got was luring lonely men to their deaths, but she never made a real connection. The prisoners in space are also desperate for connection, but they mostly resort to the sex box, and even when they do have sex it’s violent and ugly. Pattinson lives a life of chastity as if he knows the possibility of love is futile in the cold sterility of space.

I’ve seen many great films so far at TIFF, but none have made me want to watch them all over again as strongly as High Life. I just want to bathe in its cosmic glow a little longer.

 

‘High Life’ Upends Sci-Fi Conventions
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TIFF 2018: ‘Hold the Dark’ Embraces the Necessity of Evil

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Hold the Dark Review

If Green Room was Jeremy Saulnier’s hardcore punk rock movie, Hold the Dark is his atmospheric black metal film. Filling each scene with cold, wintry images and characters that prefer to communicate with their actions, this is a different, more meditative beast than Saulnier’s previous films. Let the atmosphere sink in and you’ll find a calm, assured film that embraces evil’s necessity.

An author named Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) who spent time with wolves in the wilderness is hired by the mother of a missing child to find the wolves that she believes took her son, and hopefully bring him back alive after killing the wolf that did it. Things become complicated when word comes out that the mother, Medora (Riley Keough), has disappeared ,and her husband, Vernon (Alexander Skarsgard), has been sent home early from the war in Iraq. As the plot starts to twist and contort (the screenplay is written by frequent Saulnier collaborator Macon Blair), it eventually situates itself in a place where nothing good can happen. Like a blocked artery, Hold the Dark ties off the narrative for its final half, and lets the body count rise while the mood becomes increasingly grim.

There to keep the peace in the Alaskan village is Donald (James Badge Dale), a police officer that has struggled to help the families of other missing children in the village. He’s a man of action, but his actions have not seen any results, leading many to resent the police force. Donald and Russell both want to help Medora and Vernon find their child, but when things become complicated, the two are forced into a game of survival. Here is where Saulnier’s incredible ability to create tension shines brightest amidst the darkness of the situation. There’s always some semblance of hope and optimism, but it diminishes as the situation becomes increasingly dire, until the only hope that’s left is a fragment of what it used to be.

Hold The Dark

Saulnier is actually surprisingly sparing when people die. There are long stretches of conversations between characters that feel just as compelling as the few action scenes throughout. Honestly, Hold the Dark reminds me a lot of Wind River in how grim it often feels, but unlike Taylor Sheridan’s film (which seems to be fighting darkness), this one embraces it as a way of life for some. Wolves, and how they behave, becomes a constant metaphor throughout as Russell tries to unravel the mysteries at the core of this village.

Hold the Dark is a staggering achievement in setting a mood

The exploration of evil and its merit is what the majority of Hold the Dark seems centered around. Even Russell himself takes umbrage with Sherriff Donald’s claim that they’re investigating humans, not animals. The way the movie ends also feels like a continuation of this idea. It also helps that a lot of the mythology and spiritual imagery is rooted in nature and the animals inhabiting the Alaska landscape. Creepy tribal masks, heavily wooded areas, an isolated village, and the ever-present night sky all bring together this idea that humanity isn’t as different from animals as we may believe. Some just choose to embrace it more.

Hold The Dark

A movie like Hold the Dark is deliberately evoking a feeling over its narrative. The actors are all doing their best to convey without speech, and when they do speak, they all sound weathered and near-death. Skarsgard and Wright both carry the movie into its tense atmosphere, while James Badge Dale has a character that is specifically meant to keep us grounded in reality. The film recognizes that there are people dedicated to the traditions held in the village, which is why certain characters feel like they’re more a part of the village’s infrastructure than others. Skarsgard carries a silent terror to him that thrusts a lot of the film forward, while Wright is solemn and understanding of the ways people deal with emotions that are difficult to contend with by some.

With a cast that feels so attuned to everything happening, Hold the Dark is a staggering achievement in setting a mood. The tone never fluctuates, even when it heads into more hokey territory. That stuff all feels in line with the setting, however, and as I said right away, this really is a movie that embodies the spirit of an atmospheric black metal song. It treads in evil more than most movies would dare, all the while keeping its earthy tones and convincing the audience that perhaps what we classify as evil is actually a natural way of life we’ve become accustomed to fear. Regardless, Saulnier has hit it out of the park again with another brutal tale of survival.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs September 6 – September 16. Visit the official website for more information.

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TIFF 2018: Unthinkable Tragedy in ’22 July’

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22 July Review

It’s a truism that Paul Greengrass loves a tragedy. From his earliest TV work to films including United 93 and Green Zone, Greengrass uses his trademark shaky camera to create a verité portrait of violent turmoil that places his audience in the center of the action. Even in his completely fictional work with the Jason Bourne films, Greengrass’ handheld camera make his images more impactful and tactile, as if he’s documenting real life. His newest work, Netflix’s 22 July, takes as its subject the murder of 77 Norwegians by right-wing terrorist Anders Breivik in 2011. Greengrass flirts with exploitation and sadism in 22 July’s first half, which meticulously documents Breivik’s preparations and his cold-blooded slaughter, yet he finds a way to restore a voice to the victims and survivors in the more meditative second half.

The first thing we see is Breivik (Anders Danielsen Lie) preparing fertilizer to be used as bombs. The film’s music and the dingy lighting of Breivik’s shed make him look more like a serial killer preparing an attack than a deranged racist murderer. His attack of July 22 is divided into two major components. The first part involves parking a van filled with explosives near the office of the Norwegian prime minister. A security guard notices the unauthorized vehicle, but the device explodes before he is able to check it, killing eight and injuring 209 people.

The second, and far more deadly, part of Breivik’s attack occurs on the island of Utøya. After escaping the blast, the bomber arrives at the island disguised as a police officer. On the island is a summer camp for young members of the ruling left-wing political party. Breivik secures a ferry to the island, claiming to be a police officer sent to provide security in the wake of the blast. Once on the island, he drops the façade and begins to indiscriminately mow down trapped teenagers.

This first section is one of the most effective and virtuosic sequences of Greengrass’ career. His roving camera turns the small Norwegian island in to the battlefield that it really was. But it’s also an incredibly painful sight to behold. There’s no time to get settled or come to understand the denizens of the island before they are brutally murdered. When Breivik guns down the campers unlucky enough to be in the lodge when he first arrives, the camera opts for a moment of taste and films the massacre from outside, leaving it up to our imaginations. Yet it’s only a tease, and from then on Greengrass brutally photographs the violent murders at the barrel of Breivik’s assault rifle.

Yet in its second section, 22 July, seeks to atone for some of the excess of its first half. The surviving campers, who we know so little about, begin their recovery process, and we come to understand the depths of their fear and trauma. Jonas Strand Gravli is excellent as the severely injured camper who sets an ambitious timeline for his recovery: he must relearn how to walk unassisted in order to testify against Breivik without a cane or any other sign of weakness.

But the show is stolen by Lie as Breivik. He has a dead-eyed stare and blank face that only rarely betrays any kind of emotion. He doesn’t especially look like the real-life Breivik, but his mastery of his mannerisms in the court scenes is quite chilling. If there’s a flaw in the character, it belongs with the screenplay, which shows little interest in what may have driven Breivik to his racist views.

The dual structure of 22 July inevitably pits the two sections against each other. The first is technically flawless, and one of Greengrass’ most impressive works of film, but it’s also sickeningly cold. Greengrass is on shakier ground with the second half — the shaky cam is his signature, but it’s not at all necessary to have the camera constantly juddering during intense courtroom scenes. Still, the section is a departure for Greengrass, one that saves the film from merely being a beautifully executed exploitation of tragedy

The Toronto International Film Festival runs September 6 – September 16. Visit the official website for more information.

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Freelance Film Writers

Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip. We are currently looking for Film, TV, Anime and Comic writers.

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