Written by: Erin Shaw
The always awesome Erin Shaw breaks down the films of Dedfest 2015!
The Invitation is a quiet little horror film about two grieving parents who go their own ways after tragedy struck and who are just now reconnecting – each with new partners and new lives. The movie takes place in one evening during which a dinner party hosted by one of the parents for all the former couple’s old friends takes a chilling turn.
Shock and awe. Those are the only words that seem fitting to describe The Invitation – a movie that pulls no punches and explores the complicated emotion that is grief without offering any trite solutions or any platitudes. The tone for the film is set when Will and his new girlfriend Kira are driving to Will’s ex-wife’s house (also his former home) and while the pair are discussing the weirdness of the dinner party to be; they hit an animal on the road. The animal is clearly dying and suffering and Will has to put it out of its misery in what is arguably one of the most heartbreaking scenes I have ever witnessed on screen. The incident lasted a couple of minutes but it felt like forever to this sappy animal lover. That being said, the mood which is now grim as hell, only gets stranger and creepier as the movie goes on.
When the pair arrive at the house, the fun begins. They are greeted by a small cluster of friends that Kira has never met and Will has not seen in two years. They are also greeted by Will’s radiant and peaceful ex-wife Eden and her new husband David – a man not a stranger to grief himself. Will is shocked at the appearance of his former wife as the last time he saw her she was mad and suicidal with grief over the loss of their son two years prior. Will himself is still actively grieving, trying to push it away to live a normal life. As the film progresses, it becomes glaringly clear that Will is not okay and that he has not dealt with his pain at all and he is increasingly bewildered and angered by Eden’s serenity and perfect inner glow; a glow that her new husband shares. I will not spoil anything as this movie needs to be seen with an open mind, but suffice it to say that that inner glow is not perfect as its source is dubious and that source oozes around the group of friends like a pushy ghost wanting attention but never revealing itself. The final act of the film contains some of the most disturbing and genuinely scary moments that I have seen in recent years and The Invitation definitely makes itself stand out thusly.
Standout performances by Tammy Blanchard as Eden and John Carroll Lynch as a mysterious and slightly unwelcome friend of David and Eden’s give the film a meaty discomfiting feeling, letting truly cringe-worthy social awkwardness set the stage for the genuine terror to come. Though I loved every minute of this film, some may not. It is a slow burn and the clunky friendships of the characters can be hard to watch but no matter what your opinion of this film is, the one thing that cannot be denied is its uniqueness and that, in my estimation, makes it worth a watch all by itself these days.
Goodnight Mommy is an ambitious Austrian horror film that centers on the lives of two twin boys whose mother had been in an unnamed but clearly terrible accident and has undergone surgery to fix her mangled face. When she comes home bandaged but recovering, the twins see something wrong with her and come to the conclusion that she is not their real mother and they need to do whatever it takes to make her admit it.
I had so much hope for this movie. The trailer was very disturbing and the premise implied huge and horrific things to be seen and heart-stopping terror to be had. Yeah, well not much could live up to that hype (much of it created only by my ever-hopeful self) and Goodnight Mommy definitely fell rather flat.
Now, I think part of this may be my own rather inflated disappointment based on my own rather inflated expectations because there were some things to like about the film. For the most part, the build-up was pretty flawless in its bewildering execution. These twin boys lived in a huge remote house in an unnamed country; relying only on each other for company. Their mother, though somewhat implied to be rich and famous, is an enigma who appears on the scene after her hospital stay and who seems cold and alien behind her creepily bandaged face. Her behavior and that of the boys is bizarre and it could have many, many reasons; all of which the audience is invited to ghoulishly imagine and pick their delicious favorite.
But in the second act of the movie, when it fails it fails badly. The final act is so unimaginative and banal that you want to cry (or at least I did). The set up was so promising that while the climactic revelation makes the most sense of all the possibilities that the audience could entertain; its ordinariness and even the awful tragedy it reveals are so depressingly human and realistic that you’re left with your horror itch unscratched. Despite the horrifying figure that is the mother and the vague awfulness of the huge house and the unsettling pair of boys that prowl it at will, there is no shock and terror, nothing to chill you to the bone. When the ending comes you just say ‘oh, yeah well that makes sense I guess’ and to me that is a touch cowardly. Horror can be unnatural and surprising and it doesn’t have to make perfect sense, in fact its best when it doesn’t. So while some may find this film very effective, it left me rather unfulfilled and frustrated.
Tales of Halloween
This one is pretty simple. It is an anthology film with ten separate segments all told on Halloween night in a formerly quiet suburb. It’s funny, gory and a bit cheesy. It is full of cameos and little homages to famous horror films that are lovely Easter eggs for the diehard horror aficionado. It’s also directed by a motley crew of horror’s who’s who that guarantees that filming it was a blast and a half.
Tales of Halloween is pretty good in a really easy, campy ‘80s way. There’s nothing terribly new here but there doesn’t need to be. Anthology films are great Halloween watches and little Halloweeny stories make for great quick and dirty anthology fuel. It’s a marriage made in hell.
Two segments that stand out, however, are ‘The Ransom of Rusty Rex’ and ‘Friday the 31st’. The first stands out because it is so hilarious and good, the second because it is so, so, so bad. ‘Rusty Rex’ is a cute little few minutes about a kidnapping gone wrong and it is one of the funniest things I’ve seen this year. This is largely due to the acting of American Being Human alum Samuel Witwer who is delightful at physical comedy. ‘Friday’ tries to pay its dues to slasher films (all of them) as well as strangely recalling the Masters of Horror episode ‘On and off a Mountain Road’ but a small plot twist ends up making it just maddeningly annoying. But oh, well nothing’s perfect and no horror anthology is complete without a little ridiculousness.
We’ve probably all heard of this film; likely because it was written and directed by the ever controversial and divisive Eli Roth. Eli Roth is such an odd duck in the film industry…but more on that later. The first thing that needs to be said about this film before I extol its virtues (lest you think me insane) is that there is some truly crappy, crappy acting from Keanu Reeves. I love that man, I do; I think he is awesome on so many levels but here he jumps the shark in whole new ways.
That being said, the first quarter of the film is really good. Keanu’s love for his family is apparent, and the tension with the two strange girls who show up on the doorstep of his empty house that night is masterful. The rest of the film, as his relationship with the girls devolves – to put it lightly, is fascinating in its extremes and in how far the girls are willing to go to punish him for giving in to them. The last bit where his acting deteriorates to an impossible low could be said to be done on purpose because a real person would act the same way – check it out and you’ll see what I mean. But I could be reaching just because I have a fondness for this film that the world doesn’t really seem to share.
It is utterly wild that Eli Roth wrote this film – a VERY cautionary tale about cheating given what the horror world seems to think of him. He seems to be looked at as a Hollywood ‘dude’ who makes films with a lot of gore and boobs. His films get talked about for all the wrong reasons in my opinion but that’s another article – one soon forthcoming if I have my say. My opinion on the matter in short is that Roth pushes buttons; he goes after things that make us extremely uncomfortable but in such a way that we can find ourselves within his characters too. He is not rewarded for this talent. In the case of Knock Knock Roth seems to feel so strongly about the issue of infidelity that he spends two thirds of the film telling the audience rather outright that cheating can land you in a world of trouble. These types of tales of revenge and mayhem are usually relegated to female writers pandering to the lonely and hurt women of the world, and they usually have likeable and victimized female characters who find love in the end. Well, when frat boy Eli takes it on, he pulls not one single solitary jab. His female characters are made unlikeable, and very deliberately so, from the beginning. Keanu is seen initially as a nice guy who made a bad choice. As the movie goes on, the two women are seen as quite cunning and careful in their choices and are fully capable of doing some victimizing themselves and remaining independent and without a man to fall back on. Keanu shows his true colors as the movie goes on and he seems not so innocent and likeable himself.
When you create a movie without characters to root for, a moviegoer has to examine the issues at play to see what side they are on and that is a valuable thing. I think this is a talent of Roth’s that is much overlooked. He makes us look at ourselves and those around us and question things. He’s fantastic at making us say ‘What would I do?” and that; film friends is a question we need to ponder a lot more than we do. Cheers to Eli Roth and his uncomfortable film.
The Green Room
This film is quick. When people look up fast paced film on the internet, a poster for this one should be beside the definition. I sat down, took one bite of my popcorn and already we were in the thick of the main action. The next hour or so was a blur.
Without any back-story, we see a group of punk musicians looking for a lucrative gig. They find one through a local contact in the city they are currently touring in and find themselves playing at a White Supremacist club. After the show, as they try to hightail it out of there, they inadvertently witness a murder and then spend the rest of the film trying to keep themselves alive while the Neo-Nazis do their best to foil that plan. The acting was fairly good I must say, but I say that without knowing anything at all about any of the characters. We are literally dropped as they say in medias res. There were some fairly big actors here, which surprised me. Anton Yelchin and Imogene Poots delivered some decent performances but it was loathsome Nazi Patrick Stewart that delivered the biggest wallop. Honestly, the film was worth the view just to hear him call for his men with ‘red laces’.
In one sense, having the film take place in such a short time and in just a few locations was interesting. We are given no information on the Neo-Nazis other than their dreckish affiliations and we were given no reason to hate them other than for what they represented and that was refreshing. No need to make a wart huge and hideous and pussy, a wart is still gross on its own. I also suspect that Stewart and his band of merry men were based on real-life Neo-Nazi leader Tom Metzger and his group, but that could just be me.
Though the film moves far too quickly and has too little a plot to be a great film, the action and the quietly done gore were rather satisfying and that makes this film a good one. It is one to see to make your own conclusions anyway.