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Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Phoenix Film Festival - Day Five

I'm posting daily coverage of the Phoenix Film Festival at Apocalypse Later Now! this year. Here are some rough notes for Monday 11th (Day 5) to help guide whether you want to prioritise attending these films later in the festival or look out for them after they're released.

While the bulk of the PFF takes place over the three day weekend, wrapping up with the awards ceremony, the festival does continue on for another four days, with a closing night movie in the Ciné Capri on the Thursday night. It's great to see the weekday scheduling extend into the daytime this year, but unfortunately I'm not going to be able to benefit from it. Next year I'll plan ahead but tonight we got to see three films as usual.

Note 1: I'll eventually review all the films that played as part of the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival part of the event (and some PFF films too) in detail over at my main review site, Apocalypse Later, but that sure ain't gonna be this week!

Note 2: I have indexes up at Apocalypse Later that detail every film, whether feature or short, that's playing this event. Here's the Phoenix Film Festival index and here's the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival index.

Block 19: Postmarked (2016)

I love catching up with PFF features that were made in Arizona, partly to see what our local filmmakers have got up to and partly because so many of them come out to see their work on the big screen. A number of the cast and crew for Postmarked made it out tonight to support their film and they signed 27x40 posters for the audience.

While some of these work out better for an experience than a movie, this one is a great exception, even though it unfolds almost entirely in a single room with a small cast talking through a large quantity of dialogue. Nobody will be surprised that it's based on a play and that we're never bored once is testament to the high quality of the writing.

The concept is simple. People know that a mailman (sorry, letter carrier) has seen a murder in a particular house at a particular time. They want the information he knows but the operation to pick up that one mailman for interrogation has become complicated. The 'bad guys' rack up two corpses to their name before finding the right man and circumstances lead to four of them being tied to chairs in a quiet warehouse.

While this might sound like a Tarantino-esque festival of grue, it's really a dark comedy that gets funnier as twists sneak in and the trouble escalates. There are seven actors in this room, all of them get opportunities to shine and all of them do so, whether through monologue or, in a couple of instances, through more.

This was a great way to kick off our festival-going experience tonight and I hope the film gets distribution soon so a wider audience can enjoy it.
Director Gene Ganssle signing posters for fans
photo: Countess Chaos Creations

Block 20: The Sublet (2015)

Beautifully shot and superbly acted, The Sublet unfortunately suffers from unoriginality and predictability.

There have been so many horror movies recently that revolve around a young couple, usually with a child, who move into a new place only to find that it affects the lady in the relationship severely, leading us to wonder if something supernatural is going on or whether she's just crazy. Some are great, like House of Good and Evil, while others fall short like last year's competition feature, The House on Pine Street. Still more only veer away from this model a little, like fellow showcase feature, Under the Shadow or the film it most closely resembles, The Babadook.

However well it's made (and it's made very well indeed), The Sublet adds nothing to this collection of films. It was clear from ten or fifteen minutes in where it was going to go and how it was going to end up. I was hoping for some sort of twist that I wouldn't see coming but it never arrived.

While the cinematography, editing and score are all worthy of note, it's lead actress Tianna Nori who shines the brightest. She runs through a whole slew of emotions as the film drags her through the wringer, from tired through angry to lost and eventually various degrees of crazy. She's relatively new but her credits are building and she's going to have an excellent future.

Block 21: Last Girl Standing (2015)

Benjamin R Moody pulls a number of neat tricks in Last Girl Standing. The first is to set us up with cliché before the title card, only to leverage that to create a story that's refreshingly new. It's not too hard to figure out where we're going, if we assume that we're really watching a horror movie rather than a psychological thriller, but the trip to get there is all the more enjoyable for its different take on that old subgenre, the slasher.

I was constantly impressed with how Moody kept it fresh. Beyond playing to one convention by writing a strong woman into the lead, it refuses to fall into the usual traps slasher movies set for their writers. We meet good people who help those in need, cops who do their jobs and a very poignant case of PTSD, given that the lead is the one survivor of a brutal campground massacre by a serial killer known as 'The Hunter' and her survival is where the film begins.

Akasha Villalobos does a solid job, even if she's playing opposite her real life husband, but others, such as Danielle Evon Ploeger as, in her own way, another last girl standing, impress even more. The whole cast does their job and they're backed up well by a strong score, highly appropriate editing and a camera that knows very much where to go.

If you've ever wondered about what would truly happen next for the characters (usually girls) who are the sole survivor of most slasher movies, this is much more believable an approach than any slasher sequel I've seen. However, it's as much an homage as it is a reinvention so expect something that's neatly new and traditional at the same time.
Me with writer/director Benjamin R Moody
photo: Countess Chaos Creations

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