Double Feature: Girl’s Revenge (哈囉,少女, 2020) & Cyber Hell: Exposing An Internet Horror (2022)

Girl’s Revenge (哈囉,少女, 2020)

Director: Weica Wang

Cast: Yu-Ping Wang, Yuri Chen, Shiny Yao, Pii Liu, Mike Lin, Edison Song, Teng-hong Xia, Moon Lee

Bullying. Humiliation. An ugly truth. She’s standing up for her friend. But her retaliatory quest is about to unravel. After a sex video subjects her friend to mockery and bullying, a transfer student sets out to reveal the truth as campus secrets come to light. – IMDB

There’s been a really big focus on bullying in Asian film and TV lately in the past few years from Girl From Nowhere, Better Days and Cry Me A Sad River, etc. A lot of these films focus on the extremities of the situation. Girl’s Revenge takes it from another angle which looks not only at bullying but how social media plays a big part in the modern school environment when a sex video leaks from a party gone out of control. Its more of emotional bullying than a physical one.

Girl’s Revenge is basically set up in 2 parts. The first focuses on the new transfer student Yun-heng and her bond with her new group of friends leading up to the birthday party where one of her friends Li-Chia gets involved in this sex video being taken and distributed after an edgy party game. The second part is how Yun-heng teams up with other students to try to figure out what actually happened at the party to give some justice to her friends. It all dials down to walking the line between whether Yun-Heng’s justice for her friend is making her into the bullies that she despises by giving them a taste of their own medicine.

Girl’s Revenge runs at a tight 81 minutes and for that, it has its pros and cons. The story keeps itself very quick-paced and moves forward from Yun-Heng’s transfer to making new friends and drawing those lines of certain other classmates. The conflict happens quickly much like the investigation itself but the quick-paced also keeps it focused on the situation at hand. On the other side, the tighter runtime sacrifices a little on building up more on the characters as there just isn’t enough time to do it. There’s a basic background of what happens and hints of Yun-Heng’s past as to why she’s been transferred to this school which affects her decisions in the end, especially when its exposed at the end. Its somewhat of a twist to the story itself which at one part does push a little too far and becomes slightly apparent where the plot wants to take it.

The cast here is pretty close-knit, focusing on a few key characters from the three friends, the in-running class ambassador, the boy pursuing Yun-Heng, another classmate who initiates the investigation and the school teacher and principal. The roles are pretty clear-cut and the characters here faced with this situation do work well, especially for the character of Ke-Chien, the class ambassador who is the main suspect of what goes down as she seems to be a wolf in a sheep skin trying to be nice to everyone but also having the resources to make it seem like the subconsciously exposes other student’s secrets but acting innocent about it. Its never been so clear that someone is a suspect but then, its these characters that do create some good friction especially since there is no outward and obvious bullying, so how do you subject such a person to what they’ve done. The film takes a good approach in this situation.

Girl’s Revenge might lack a little bit of character depth but its portrayal of this form of bullying in the modern world in a school setting is one that doesn’t forget to make sure we know that these are high school students in the set-up who find joy in life’s simple things but also that easy accessibility of social media is one that can easily be misused and it no longer has to be a physical act but an emotionally disturbing one.

Cyber Hell: Exposing An Internet Horror (2022)

Director: Jin-seong Choi

Anonymous and exploitative, a network of online chat rooms ran rampant with sex crimes. The hunt to take down its operators required guts and tenacity. – IMDB

Continuing on the online crime investigation documentary angle, Netflix recently delivers Cyber Hell, a South Korea n crime that involves a mystery chat room, the dark web and a slew of police officers, reporters and hackers working together to trace down hidden manipulators who use compromising footage of young girls to make them do bad things to themselves which gets shared online with paying members. As internet becomes our main form of connection more and more, these real life horror stories really do deserved to be shared, not focused on the killer themselves but both the devastation of its victims but also bringing attention to the dangers lurking in the deep dark corners of the web and condemnning not only those who created the space but also those who create the demand for it.

Unlike other limited series, Cyber Hell is executed as a 2 hour documentary film. It fits the investigation really well as it moves through the time frame of how they track the culprits down from the angle of the police and others who are simply reporting the investigation to bring awareness to the public about such crimes. This investigation is also one that is much closer to the present as it took place starting in 2018 and follows each step that they discuss until the eventual capture of the culprits. The documentary focuses heavily on the process and the hardships of looking for a killer in today’s online space especially with the advancement of technology and the more securitized software or online chatrooms which provides a safe space where information isn’t saved but also can be a useful tool for those who mean harm to others, much like creating spaces like the Nth room.

As it moves from one interviewee to the next, it makes it more real that some of these people remain hidden while others are from various fields of job willing to join the case at the time. Luckily, the ones involved were eventually caught and the final highlight of the issue didn’t talk about those who did it but also who else is responsible and bringing in a bigger point of how easily what we consider safe information can be used to blackmail.

Much like ‘The Blue Whale Challenge’ which was made into a Russian film #Blue_Whale (review) which was adapted to talk about the issue of the dangers of online darker spaces, Cyber Hell achieves that by telling the story of the hunt from those involved from their online interactions with the ones involved to those actually implicated into the situation and afraid to talk about it and being used to delay the investigative work. Considering its something in South Korea and wasn’t exposed further, it was an intriguing case to learn about and well worth a watch.

The Tinder Swindler (2022)

The Tinder Swindler (2022)

Director: Felicity Morris

A fraud man who attracts women using the popular dating app and tricked them out of millions of dollars. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Friday Film Club*

As the world moves into finding love on dating apps, Netflix has taken as an inspiration for many different shows like The Circle which bases itself around how to make yourself likeable via solely social media and no physical contact and films like its latest Holiday film, Love Hard (review), each of them with the similar angle of catfishes. Whether its guilty pleasure reality shows or fictional rom com, nothing prepares you for the modern day dating apps like Tinder which is just a series of swiping through someone’s picture to decide their interest and to hopefully find a match. The Tinder Swindler is a documentary about the going-ons of three women who almost simultaneously was caught up with Simon Leviev who keeps his expensive lifestyle by using the money he cheats from one woman for the next venture and essentially accumulating enormous debts and how these women team up to fight back to try to get him caught by the police.

The Tinder Swindler starts off with Ceclie, a woman living in UK who has been a lot of dates from Tinder to try to find her love and talks through her thought process of deciding who to swipe right on. No matter the expert or not, her story tells of a long haul con game by this man that almost comes out of a fantasy. As the documentary follows her story step by step, the con truly starts when another woman from another country enters the picture even if they don’t know each other. These are the anchor points that start showing the money trail that is going on in this whole swindling business. Its not outwardly explained by the way the documentary unfolds is chronologically shown which helps with piecing everything together.

Much like how exposing this man in one country eventually does bring in some backlash and judgement, also emphasizing the harshness of the online community but still managing to achieve its purpose, which also probably is the purpose of this documentary being made acting both as a cautionary tale but also a specific target on this specific individual who has put these three women in debt that they have to pay off for making their bad decisions.

This documentary has a lot of great elements in the sense that it does fit into the current world especially as the pandemic is still looming in the air and dating apps seem like the only way to meet anyone. Its cautionary tale element and the purpose is essentially achieved as different articles have come up since the documentary’s release, and perhaps even before when the initial article was released. Its a great effort to share this story despite all the judgement.

Call it a little well-deserved revenge that doesn’t exactly change anything for their own situation but at least, the knowledge of the exposure makes up for it a little. Will the documentary do anything for the dating app users, maybe just in being more cautious and careful when approaching online, but its not a problem that can easily be solved especially if someone is intentionally trying to do it and when the convenience is just basing it on first impressions of a few pictures and a little blurb. For those who have been enjoying Netflix’s documentary releases, this one is a pretty decent one to check out.

Found (2021)

Found (2021)

Director: Amanda Lipitz

The story of three American teenage girls-each adopted from China-who discover they are blood-related cousins on 23andMe. Their online meeting inspires the young women to confront the burning questions they have about their lost history. – IMDB

Found is a 2021 Netflix documentary which talks about three Chinese girls that were adopted to US to different families in different states but finds they are blood-related cousins through an ancestry DNA test by 23andMe and through their various conversations decides to reach out to a Chinese genealogist to look for their roots from their orphanage to where they were left and potentially seek their parents to get some answers as they get ready for their trip to China together to get to their own family history more.

Found is a really great topic to explore. As China recently approved their three child policy in 2021, the one child policy may feel like a good while ago but cannot be forgotten as many children were given up during this time due to the hefty penalties for having more than one child. This lead to a lot of families giving up their children leaving them in bustling areas in front of government buildings or streets creating stories like the ones of these three girls. The documentary does a great focus on how detailed the genealogy research is especially the in-depth research and even the emotional burdens as they follow her to meet various potential matches.

The first part plays a lot around the researches and communications from the genealogy while the second part follows the girls as they go through this China trip that leads them to meet the ladies who took care of them at their adoption centers or the places that they were left while also exploring the country itself. Breaking it down, the first part gives a lot of back story primarily as the genealogist follows the different leads and talks to the different potential match. At the same time, being a girl born in China, she also shares some of the mentality behind the gender of a child in the society in certain family structures. At the same time, her research and results also contrast with the mixed emotions behind the adopted girls as they discuss their feelings towards this whole situation.

The documentary plays on a few elements and shows the genealogy and how it is rather hard to find matches especially in face of strong laws that perhaps stop parents from wanting to find the children that they have given up but it does focus on both of sides of the story. While it doesn’t specifically reference the details of the one child policy, the different conversations also sheds some light on the people most affected by this law to its penalty. Its a rather thorough documentary and these three young girls also learn quite a bit from following their roots and doing their trip together and get some kind of closure, the whole situation feels both touching and amazing and perhaps a nice story for others to decide whether they want to try to seek out their own roots and explore their place of origin, whether or not finding their parents is really up to chance.

Genuine human emotions, heartwarming and a decent look at these three adoption stories as well as the genealogy portion of searching for answers and root all culminate together in this documentary. Its well-made and hits the points fairly well. While it doesn’t dive very deep into the one child policy, it still gives enough information to share these girls’ journey and perhaps, the results aren’t so important as the very fact that their one decision brought them each other and gave each other the courage to go get in touch with their roots by simply going back to their homeland and seeing the little bits of what was found.

FNC 2021: Bound (2020)

Bound (2020)

Director (and writer): Jean-Armand Bougrelle

Bound is a Japanese documentary that explores the traditional art of Japanese rope bondage in today’s society in regards to women. While bondage as a term itself has strong sexual connotations, these women share a different view depending on how they view it and the different roles that they have assumed to the meanings that it has for them. Its an interesting topic to explore to say the very least and has not only acts to open the society towards this community of women who practice but also the deeper elements from the techniques and art to the deeper feelings and different settings that it can take place.

Bound takes an interesting angle. It dives into the interviewers which are primarily all women who practice in different avenues. It looks at what got them interested in the first place and their own journeys with shibari and the feelings that it exposes. For some, its a liberation, others its about vulnerability, a few view it as an art while others enjoy it for its capability of being able to communicate without language. It also emphasizes on the differences in context when performed between two women or a man and woman, and whoever leads as the rope artist. In some ways, it shows a part of how these women feel about the society around them in order to search for these releases.

The community of practitioners of this rope bondage in the society also feels very varies. Its touches on what differs between each of these roles: domina, performers, models, etc. Its rather intriguing to see how the different spaces they choose to do this and the different places that some people have created in order to keep this safe space alive mostly for women who desire to have their own space to have this release and communication and yet, it has nothing to do with the sexual elements where a lot of them especially mostly exploring the women tying up women performing together and the dynamic that they have together which exceeds the romantic interest. It dials right down to the artistic element of how certain performers and models are more pleasant to watch than others.

What completes the documentary is that it also goes into a little history lesson on how shibari formed when its historical roots were as a torture device in ancient times where different knots and methods suggested different class and crime with an end game to kill. Its an opposite of how its viewed now which creates in some cases pain that brings pleasure.

Bound is a straight-forward documentary that shares the community of women who performing this mostly in secret and the different roles. It aims to share a different side of the society and a different angle to how bondage can be viewed. Its a rather eye-opening lesson in general and a rather intriguing topic. In some ways, there is a certain depth to the whole topic explored.

*Watched as coverage for Festival du Nouveal Cinema*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror (2021)

Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched (2021)

Director: Kier-La Janisse

WOODLANDS DARK AND DAYS BEWITCHED explores the folk horror phenomenon from its beginnings in a trilogy of films – Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (1968), Piers Haggard’s Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) and Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973) – through its proliferation on British television in the 1970s and its culturally specific manifestations in American, Asian, Australian and European horror, to the genre’s revival over the last decade.  – IMDB

Running at over 3 hours, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is a documentary that talks about the history of folk horror in an extensive format. The documentary breaks down into six chapters going through about 200 films that contribute to the folk horror genre from its start as what is known as the unholy trinity in British folk horror to American folk horror to folk horror around the world concluding with a look at the future of folk horror. In reality, folk horror feels very much like an unexplored territory. With film offerings that possibly aren’t vey often however this documentary brings to light is the diversity of the subject on hand much like how it concludes with specifying that its possibly not so much a horror subgenre but more of a mode revolving around certain key points whether in history regarding society, beliefs and the shift from old to new creating resistance to change.

For someone like me that is still very much learning about the horror genre especially when it comes to the horror films of the 60s to 80s, this film features a lot of unexplored territory. The folk horror genre while having some interesting offerings in the past few years (and some of them even being presented at past Fantasia Film Festival), it is still one that has the impression of having not such a long history that could be worthy of 3 hours at first, however as the subject as discussed more and the history starts being explored through over 50 interviewees throughout the documentary and as it expands from different countries and how it differs in approach, the documentary doesn’t lose its appeal at all. In fact, its presented in an intriguing and educational way presenting not only an extensive list of movies to better dive into the subject but also even showing many books that also have covered this subject.

As much as the documentary focuses on the past, its main takeaway is that folk horror isn’t quite as expected that its based on folklore but rather that its a much wider look at the society and beliefs. It links itself to resistance to change through society whether its in history when its about a shift in belief with the church facing modernization of society or the Indigenous people or other populations towards white settlers in their lands or even how the symbol of witchcraft and the witch is actually a bigger look at fear of society towards women in power, which is actually a rather surprising discovery overall. Of course, as it expands around the world, the folklore is based much more on more spiritual figures and their own countries issues and beliefs. What makes folk horror stand out is the basic conclusion that this style of film and the stories it tells is very much rooted in a pessimism in society much like how in recent years, there is a slight rise of folk horror being created contributing a lot to how history is cycling through its own dark times yet again.

Overall, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is a very thorough look at the history of folk horror. There is a great amount of information here whether its about its movies spanning many countries but also a lot of interesting point of views about the subject. Folk horror is a fascinating subject whether its considered as a subgenre, a mode or simply a film style or storytelling method. It embodies so many different elements in films whether its witchcraft, Indigenous people, folklore, history, religion, society, feminism, good and evil, psychogeography and environment etc. Its no wonder that the documentary needs over 3 hours to cover all the material. It might be lengthy but it only gets more interesting as folk horror is explored further into each chapter. The execution and breakdown is done incredibly well. Definitely worth a watch!

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist (2021)

Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist (2021)

Director: Pascal-Alex Vincent

A look at the life and work of Japanese animator Satoshi Kon. – IMDB

Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist is a documentary that takes a look back at Satoshi Kon’s film and TV work one by one and the influence and collaborators along the way and their impression of both his person, career and imagination. Telling the story of his beginnings and inspirations from Akira that lead him to creating manga in the start that were greatly influenced his art style to this later projects that charted a new direction for adult animation as he both directed and wrote stories that blended reality and imagination.

Made as a tenth year anniversary remembrance of Satoshi Kon’s passing in 2010, Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist is a great overview of his work and a fantastic homage to an animator that brought a different angle to Japanese animation with the stories that he told. Having only seen one film of Satoshi Kon, Paprika was my starting point which happened to be his last feature film released. However, the documentary does a great job at making sure that even those who aren’t thoroughly familiar with the filmography can still be able to be engaged as it talks about each project’s meaning to Kon and where his inspirations came but also how these films marked its place in Japanese animation, adding the intrigue to check out any missed filmography.

The documentary focuses on his career which starts off from his beginnings as a manga artist and gradually the opportunities that lead him to his first notable project, Perfect Blue which was anything from perfect when looking at the box office which incurred a loss and how the company wanted to prove others wrong and took another chance with him. Satoshi Kon’s films in discussion are rather multifaceted which on one hand discusses a societal issue, usually relevant to the Japanese population whether its idol group formations to films and actress to the underbelly population of Japan. At the same time, the main characters always held a part of himself as well while also revealing that Kon’s current projects sometimes even reflected ideas of his next project.

The execution of the documentary is pretty good. The layout of going from one project to the next and having different people involved being part of the interviews and sharing their experiences to tell their analysis or the actual progression of the projects shed a lot of light from behind the scenes. At the same time, the influence of Satoshi Kon was better emphasized as the interviewees expanded to people from the film industry outside of Japan including Darren Aronofsky who talks about how he asked Kon for permission to use one of his scenes in Requiem For A Dream and how director Rodney Rothman aspired to make Spiderman: Into the Spider Verse comparable to the experience of Kon’s films as two examples, moving to interviews from animators, voice actresses, producers, and others from USA, UK , Japan and France that crafts a good picture of Kon.

As the film ends with a quick look at what’s known about his unfinished final project, Dreaming Machine that didn’t end up being released, it further emphasizes the loss of a talent who was about to move away from his normal themes in his previous films and chart another path with his limitless imagination in family animation films. Plus, it has a final note from praise that other people in the industry interviewed throughout who either drew influence from his work or was able to work with or be acquainted with him during his career. Well-rounded, respectful and thorough: Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist is a great journey through this acclaimed Japanese animator’s career.

*Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist is available on demand on Fantasia’s virtual platform throughout the festival running from August 5th to 25th, 2021. Check out more info here.*

Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir (2021)

Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir (2021)

Director: James Redford

A look at the life and work of author Amy Tan. – IMDB

Being best known as the author of 1989’s novel The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan has grown to become a fiction novelist who writes stories about Chinese immigrant stories and Chinese mother-daughter relationships along with their different experiences. This documentary recounts her biography as well as her writing career and how she came into writing and the inspirations behind the novels that she’s written. Using both old photos and videos as well as interviews with family members and other authors and publishers and interviews with Amy Tan herself, it forms a look at how her career started as well the inspirations from her real life as she learned more about her mother over the years of their dramatic relationship together as well as her past that crafted her into that the author that she is today. At the same time, it also pulls footage from The Joy Luck Club movie to draw certain relatable scenes.

Its hard to say whether a documentary like this is more appealing for those familiar with Amy Tan’s work and yet for myself, I’ve only ever read The Joy Luck Club and watched the film adaptation, making me not exactly knowledgeable about Amy Tan’s work either but doesn’t detract from the fact that her debut fiction novel which were quite revolutionary as a reading experience as it was relatable to a certain extent in terms of being a Chinese daughter and the relationship as well as having a family history that might seem like it was crafted as a film but actually may have been the reality for some people from the previous generations. That didn’t hinder the fact that this documentary shared much more than just her biography but through it also shared a person who found herself as an author and the consequences of her fame and the controversy of how people viewed her portrayal of both Chinese people, culture and how much of it felt like stereotypes that stemmed over the years.

What makes Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir quite a great watching experience perhaps is that Amy Tan herself is a fascinating person to watch. Her life experiences and her recounts of her relationship with her family to the discoveries that she makes as she dives into her mother’s recollection of her own experiences all opens up something new. She feels like such a down to earth person whether its her approach of how she started writing or being clear on how to not deviate from her path as an author and what she is writing. As the documentary dives between her family history and how each of these life elements come into play and how each of her published books come to view, its a great reminder that Amy Tan is much more than just her debut fiction novel The Joy Luck Club and that there’s so much more to discover.

Overall, Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir is quite a decent watch whether or not you are familiar to her work (in my opinion). Her experiences and her life is one that is full of drama and once the realization that a lot of her work is inspired by her mother’s life, it brings on a whole different meaning as she shares a bit of her own family’s history and experiences. A well-rounded documentary taking it on a biographical angle but also look at writing and the point of view of an author.

Double Feature: My Beautiful Broken Brain (2014) & Why Did You Kill Me? (2021)

Welcome to the next documentary double feature! Documentaries are definitely a little more frequently showing up here as I’ve been interested in checking out more of these especially the ones related to crimes and such. The first is 2014’s The Beautiful Broken Brain is not crime-related but a personal journey and the second is this year’s Why Did You Kill Me about a family’s journey to hunt down the killer of their family member after her death in a drive-by shooting.

Let’s check it out!

My Beautiful Broken Brain (2014)

Director: Sophie Robinson & Lotje Sodderland

MY BEAUTIFUL BROKEN BRAIN is 34 year old Lotje Sodderland’s personal voyage into the complexity, fragility and wonder of her own brain following a life changing hemorrhagic stroke. Regaining consciousness to an alien world – Lotje was thrown into a new existence of distorted reality where words held no meaning and where her sensory perception had changed beyond recognition. This a story of pioneering scientific research to see if her brain might recover – with outcomes that no one could have predicted. It is a film about hope, transformation and the limitless power of the human mind. – IMDB

Documentaries like My Beautiful Broken Brain is not usually my go to however, the premise of this documentary is quite fascinating to watch as it shows the sudden changes that can happen in terms of health to anyone and how her journey is different as she has to embrace a changed world and her path of recovery. For a documentary about a girl who loses quite a bit due to the hemorrhagic stroke, its actually executed in a fairly positive way and sends out a positive message about how we should view our own life whether its about hope or not taking things for granted.

The execution of the film is done a good portion with videos filmed by Lotje Sodderland which builds up on her personal journey through her own recovery from her own feelings and the different steps she takes in order to embrace this “distorted reality”. Its truly hard to imagine what she went through especially when the most basic abilities are striped away through on incident. The execution builds from the start of how Sodderland ends up the way she is described from herself and her family and the reality that she now faces, outlining the effects the stroke had on her brain. As she moves forward, she compares her world to David Lynch’s work and hence her will to document what has happened to her and the journey of her recovery to eventually meet him. In the world of medicine and science, there isn’t really a lot of guarantees especially facing anything with the brain and perhaps that’s the takeaway here as this is a never seen before (or at least rarely seen) especially hard to watch when it gets into the neurological experiment bit.

In some ways, My Beautiful Broken Brain reminded me in premise of 2005’s Japanese TV series 1 Litre of Tears that was based on the true story of Aya Kito who suffered a rare brain degenerative disease and had documented it in her own diary. Where that one brings forth a lot of sorrow, My Beautiful Broken Brain has a lot of heart-wrenching moments but it makes the supposedly successes truly shine through. Its a little scary to watch that the senses and abilities that we use everyday is diminished to being unrecognizable. Overall, The Beautiful Broken Brain is decently executed and offers up a lot of information and a very personal journey that shares both a positive message about hope but also reminds us how lucky we all are to be able to do everyday things like reading and writing.

Why Did You Kill Me? (2021)

Director: Fredrick Munk

The line between justice and revenge blurs when a devastated family uses social media to track down the people who killed 24-year-old Crystal Theobald. – IMDB

Social media and technology has been a huge basis on how crimes are solved on a lot of the recent Netflix crime documentaries. In some ways, perhaps Why Did You Kill Me feels a little lesser in terms of the depth of the case itself as it somehow loses the depth of the topics that it can go. This one focuses primarily on the case on hand and following the footsteps of finding who is involved and why it happened. It also is one of the few where for the most part, the ending is relatively resolved and not exactly some form of call for action.

Why Did You Kill Me takes the angle of a family that wants to find the killer and using the help of a young cousin on Myspace to reach out to different gang members of the suspected gang involved and finding the clues to narrow down who it is and what happened after showing signs of not trusting the police. As much as the documentary is about solving the crime, its more about the line between justice and revenge.

Between interviews and crime scene restructures with minimized scenes, the whole crime is shown in a good detail as it goes from its suspect to exploring the involvement of family members and their own backstory. The crime documentary starts off rather solid because it focuses on the whole early days of Myspace and how eventually it turned into a very extreme way of using the victim’s picture to build the online profile which does end up attracting the person involved. The whole investigation circles around a lot of the same motions and that’s where the pacing of the documentary does feel sometimes like it lacks the content as a full length feature. Its not saying that this case isn’t worth shining light on as the final note on justice and revenge is pretty decent.

Double Feature: Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel (2021) & Don’t F*ck With Cats (2019)

Welcome to the next double feature! This time is a little different as I get the reviews for documentary mini-series out of the way. Being mini-series, it technically should be in its own segment as TV binges but Letterboxd categorized them as movies so here we are! The first is Crime Scene: The Vanishing at Cecil Hotel which is rather new as its a 2021 Netflix documentary and the other is Don’t F*ck With Cats: Hunting Down an Internet Killer from 2019, also a Netflix documentary. Let’s check it out!

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at The Cecil Hotel (Mini-series, 2021)

College student and tourist Elisa Lam vanishes, leaving behind all of her possessions in her hotel room. The Cecil Hotel grows in infamy. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Friday Film Club on Movies and Tea*

Crime Scene: The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel is a 2021 American docu-series about the vanishing and death of Elisa Lam at the Cecil Hotel. Separated into 4 episodes, it takes a look at the beginning, progression and finale of Elisa Lam’s vanishing and what happens. At the same time, its not only about the mystery but also about the investigation process and the involvement of web sleuths after the elevator surveillance tape was released online as well as the history of the Cecil Hotel from its early days until the present.

The documentary itself definitely has some good and bad elements. On one hand, the history of the Cecil Hotel and the area that it resides it adds a lot of knowledge. As the case builds from the one event, it digs up the horrors of the hotel and the dangerous people that lived there and how the hotel ended up with these residents. Through the interviews of the past manager, the past residents and the investigators of the case, it adds in a lot of perspective that feels like tangents to the mystery the the documentary focuses around but actually gives it a lot of foundation.

The mystery itself is done well enough. In some ways, it actually feels like the historical information about the hotel actually sometimes outshines the case itself mostly because the case itself uses a narrator as a voice-over reading Elisa Lam’s online entries and thoughts and plays it out in a blurry image while also adding in some of the real footage from the news and the investigation. The case is rather mysterious especially with the elevator surveillance tape that gets released and web sleuths who try to decipher this footage and all the questions that it raises. Ever since Don’t F*ck With Cats docu-series was released, web sleuths seems to be a hot commodity to add into mysteries, perhaps more pushed forward by the fact that Unsolved Mysteries have been revived on Netflix as well.

For this docu-series, where it does falls short is that it never really pinpoints a solid direction in execution and sometimes feels like it wants to touch on too many different issues from online bullying, mental illness, Cecil Hotel, who is at fault, etc. All these issues are big things to talk about and yet, the big points of mental illness, which should have been the focus didn’t have as much time to dive into, since that should have been the big takeaway from this one. However, at the end of the day, for those unfamiliar with Elisa Lam’s case and the Cecil Hotel, it is a rather fascinating one in terms of the information that it offers.

Don’t F*ck With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer (Mini-series, 2019)

A group of online justice seekers track down a guy who posted a video of himself killing kittens. – IMDB

Don’t F*ck With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer is a 4 episode mini docu-series on Netflix that highlights the trek of web sleuths tracing down a kitten killer after releasing a brutal video which leads to a bigger case which involved the killing of young man filmed and released to the public as well. Its hard to talk about Don’t F*ck With Cats being the main reason that it follows a case that is tracked down to a killer located in Montreal, a city that I personally grew up in. The places this killer frequented and lived are areas familiar to myself and for that, its one of the reasons that makes this documentary probably one that hits a lot harder especially the unsettling feeling that unspeakable things could be happening all around us and no one ever really knows. I’m not naive to believe that that isn’t that case, but watching something like this definitely brings that out.

With that said, Don’t F*ck With Cats on one hand is well-executed as a documentary. It starts off focusing heavily on web sleuths and the power of the Internet that pretty much using the right avenues, you can probably track down anything. Other than the very disturbing video of the kitten killings, the web sleuths part actually is an entertaining and intriguing as the community comes together but also leads up to a conclusive thought at the end that gives the viewers a final question to ponder on whether they were the push that caused the killer to elevate to bigger crimes. I’m getting ahead of myself but the idea of this hunt moving between the Internet killers and how it tracks from a single video to eventually being able to pinpoint a location by the end and eventually provide information to the police to hopefully help with their investigation is a fascinating sort of journey as it also parallels with the inevitable focus on the crimes of Luka Magnotta. There are also uses of videos from when the investigation was going on and such which always adds to documentaries.

To be honest, Don’t F*ck With Cats is a really good documentary. On one hand, its one to definitely watch as its focus on web sleuths and the power of Internet is quite intriguing and triumphant for the most part for what they were able to discover however, on the other hand, its also a disturbing case and one that should be highlighted but then as Luka Magnotta is still alive, it almost seems unfair to bring him that spotlight given the information even though the show does make a good point to give space for friends of his human victim to talk about this person whose life was ended so young. In some ways, while the case revolves around the killer and proves how the Internet is a powerful tool when used correctly. The biggest takeaway is that the Internet is great in some ways and also horrible in other ways. The openness of it brings on its own consequences and in the end, that message is shown clearly giving the documentary a good amount to ponder on.

FNC 2020: Caught in the Net (2020)

Caught in the Net (2020)

Directors: Vit Klusak & Barbora Chalupova

Three adult actresses posing as 12-year-old girls, three fake bedrooms, three cameras, three chat boxes with fake profiles. A social experiment on the sexual abuse of young people online conducted live on camera. An investigative documentary that plays out like a thriller as it probes how the sexual predators who live closer than you might think relentlessly manipulate their young victims. – FNC 2020

Caught in the Net is a Czech documentary about online sexual predators. The documentary starts off by showing how it chooses its three actresses who are all of age but looks younger and can pass as twelve year olds. From that process moving to how the set is created with their three rooms as well as the recording and monitoring of the activity right outside and how they bring some of their own younger pictures and create this fake profile for the three to interact with men who reach out to them. The have a specific code of conduct that was shown right before the online interaction started indicating that they could not initiate anything, in general. Its pretty much an experiment of seeing sexual predator behaviour which over the course of the 10 days of online interactions definitely felt like it truly was a scarring experience, and rightfully so because as much as the images and videos were genitalia was blurred out, its not hard to know what is going on. As it moved to extreme territories with blackmail, paying for their pictures (and more) and eventually, physical meeting at a spot, the documentary covers every phase.

Its no doubt that Caught in the Net is meant to trigger some very negative feelings about these online predators. However, its also a bit of an education for people who don’t realize how these young girls are treated. Other than looking at selected conversations and interactions, they did bring in experts like sexologists, psychiatrists and lawyers which brought in the extra knowledge of what these actions were. These actresses are all of age so they have their own judgement but they also offer their view on the situation and the men that they interact with. It reflects on the effects these interactions could have on future perspectives of themselves, relationships as well as sex. While it is reflective of Czech laws, aside from the details, it does reflect on a knowledge of how illegal any of these actions are from these predators. It also expands on what the nature of pedophilia beyond what the general view of it is. All these things give this documentary a well-rounded sense as they also bring in people who deal with girls who have suffered from these situations like Crisis Line directors and such. Aside from exploring the predator psyche, it also explores why twelve year olds would accept this in the first place.

Caught in the Net is truly a shocking experience. Even if before you start the documentary up, its already expected, watching the online interactions and the different men and how some of them tell their own experiences, its a grueling experience to go through. What is shown is filtered quite a bit especially since the documentary ends explaining that these three girls over 10 days had over 2400 men contact them as well as some of the highlighted men having personal meetings with them. Even for the actresses, it starts feeling very personal especially when faced with men who have turned around and posted their pictures on social media to threaten her as well as having one central men that popped up on all three girls interactions who was known by one of the crew.

Overall, Caught in the Net is a very well-executed and thorough documentary. It was eye-opening and shocking and covered all bases from the young girls (even if it was actresses) to having thought of different outcomes to selecting a few men that seemed the most intriguing of the conversations to focus on while also have a very important moment happen where after all the bad men, there’s always one saving grace. The men are all blurred out and their private parts are all blurred out and yet, it still delivers its content with knowledge on the side of law and psychiatry. At the end, Caught in the Net does make a point to address that online predators don’t only target girls but boys and give a note to parents and also was asked to give in the content to police to revise. It really is killing two birds with one stone.

*Caught in the Net is showing virtually on Festival du Nouveau Cinema until October 31st, 2020*