Tuesday 11 April 2017

IHSFFF 2017 - Day Five

I'll be posting daily coverage of the Phoenix Film Festival at Apocalypse Later Now! again this year. Here's Monday 10th, which is Day 5.

The busiest time at the PFF is the weekend, which is now over and hopefully everyone got some long overdue sleep. However, the festival continues into the following week, with reduced theatre and film counts but with encore screenings of award winners and other worthy pictures. On the IHSFFF side, the showcase features continue on with two each night and that's what I'll be covering this week.

I got to see two features today. Here are some rough notes to help guide whether you want to look out for them after they're released. None of them will be screening again during the festival.

Note 1: I'll eventually review all the films that played as part of the IHSFFF 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 PFF index and here's the IHSFFF index.

All photos are courtesy of Dee Astell.

Block 20: Found Footage 3D (2016)
I hadn't read up on Found Footage 3D (which screened in 2D) beforehand so I was hoping that it wouldn't be a shakycam movie, as those things have a habit of giving me motion sickness. It wasn't, with the exception of a scene here and there, but it also wasn't at all what I expected otherwise.

It's a found footage movie about the making of a found footage movie and the meta aspects don't end there. The film that we watch being shot, Spectre of Death, is about a married couple patching up their marriage stay in a haunted cabin in Texas that used to belong to her great uncle, who murdered his wife there. Well, it turns out that that describes the leads and the production too.

This sort of nesting of levels is surprisingly well done. Once we realise that Found Footage 3D is mirroring Spectre of Death and vice versa, we start to wonder whether what we're seeing is our film or theirs. What's more, we start to see the setups for that mirroring and anticipate how things are going to unfold, only for writer/director Steven DeGennaro to manipulate us a little more.

The humour is a major aspect too, with Spectre of Death's director, Andrew, possibly the most accurate avatar for the audience I've ever seen. Almost every line that comes out of his mouth is what we're thinking. We need an avatar too because the arrogant star, Derek, inhabits his own reality, to the degree that he decides to shoot a found footage movie in 3D, a concept which makes absolutely no sense at all.

I won't mention most of the problems I had with parts of the story, because there's such a close tie between the film and the film within a film that they may not be negatives after all and watching for a second time may well show that they're more like intentional goofs. That includes the ending, which felt a little cheap; maybe it should and maybe it shouldn't.

More when I tackle this one for a full review at Apocalypse Later. I may watch it again as a double bill with Brutal Massacre: A Comedy to see how different approaches to a similar concept compare.

Block 21: Tonight She Comes (2016)
I'd heard that Tonight She Comes was the most outrageous film in the showcase features block, inheriting that mantle from Night of Something Strange in 2016 and Deathgasm a year earlier. And, let me tell you, it certainly went there, where 'there' is a little bit further than you're thinking right now.

As a piece of cinematic art, it's a powerful statement, something that will stay in the mind and serve as a baseline for comparisons to future movies. As a story, I'm not sure how much sense it actually makes, but I certainly have a host of questions about why this and how that. As a metaphor, it may be an impressive way to suggest that the seventies kicked the ass of the eighties when it came to genre cinema.

Initially, everything we see is eighties, with some young idiots doing the sort of things that young idiots do in horror movies. We're clearly setting up for a slasher movie and we all know how those go.

The point where we start to doubt that is when the bloody naked corpse of Kristy walks into a lake, because that really isn't the sort of thing that the eighties did. It's what the seventies did and, before long, we find we aren't in Kansas any more, Toto. We're in a... well, I won't spoil where it goes but it's thoroughly seventies in style, subject matter and even goofs.

And that's why I'm mentioning this. There are all sorts of errors here, in character motivation, plot continuity and human nature, but I'm pretty sure that they're intentional. The gimme was when the time was announced twice, as eleven fifty six and three minutes to midnight. I don't buy that writer/director Matt Stuertz didn't notice something that blatant before sending it out to film festivals, so I'm assuming that the other errors are deliberate too, especially as the type of problem varies depending on which half of the film we're in. In the eighties half, it's things like ridiculous decision-making on behalf of pretty much all the characters. In the seventies half, it's more day/night continuity or weirdly overdone accents.

While the lengths to which this one goes are going to be the primary reason for horror fans to watch, I have to call out the acting performance of Jenna McDonald who plays Felicity as a fantastic shade of off, knowing precisely what she has to do at any point and doing it without any hint of awkwardness or knowledge of social space. It's a tricky role to get right and she nails it absolutely.

This film is certainly going to be for everyone (let's just say that ritual magic really should be a bloody mess but I've never seen it quite like this before). However, those it's for will be bringing it up in conversation for years.

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