Fantasia Festival 2019: Depraved (2019)

Depraved (2019)

Depraved

Director (and writer): Larry Fessenden

Cast: Alex Breaux, David Call, Joshua Leonard, Ana Kayne, Maria Dizzia, Chloe Levine

Depraved is a 2019 American horror film about a field surgeon suffering PTSD that successfully puts together and brings a human to life.

After a sour conversation with his girlfriend, Alex leaves her apartment to go home and suddenly is attacked. When he wakes up, his brain has now been transplanted into another body with only fragments of his memory left. Now named by his maker Henry (David Call) as Adam (Alex Breaux), he needs to learn how to be human from a clean slate. His curiosity leads him to meet Henry’s partner Polidori (Joshua Leonard) who has less responsible expectations of this successful experiment.

Playing out as a modern retelling of Frankenstein , Depraved stays a lot in familiar territory. Its hard to redo a classic especially with a lot of similar elements being played out with modern day distractions. There are obvious challenges to overcome and yet, its hard to say that Depraved truly overcomes the familiar territory with enough of a twist to make it memorable. Sure, the modern take of it gives it a lot more attractions to open up the eyes of Adam, the name of Monster. A night out in town quickly takes him to experience drugs and strip clubs as starters, opening his eyes to the world outside from his contained world controlled by Henry. And no, naming him Adam doesn’t have to do with Adam and Eve. There’s something more to it.

There are two things to appreciate in Depraved. The first is Adam’s design as a character. He isn’t this bulking huge scary beast but still has his stitches and cuts to make him feel pieced together. At the same time, Adam has a past that flashes in his mind and it helps that the movie starts off with the perspective of this fellow before he is transformed into this new person. From the first moments of Adam, there is undoubtedly the character with a lot to discover because he is essentially a newborn discovering the world around him. Here is where the movie truly excels in making Adam feel more forgivable than the Creature because he is made to be more normal and the world around him in general accepts him to be that as well. Alex Breaux delivers on the roles and fits the character very well.

The second element is that the director navigates the film through different point of views. The focal character changes with the flow of the story, revealing the motives for each of them fairly seamlessly. Alex’s point of view flows into Adam and Henry and then pivots into Polidori and so on so forth. Because of this change, the story moves forward and reveals each of its elements with a smooth flow. Its a unique way to navigate this story even if its still much of the standard fare in terms of a modern retelling. At the same time, its important to probably mention that the movie is best when it is showing the Adam and Henry aka Creature and Maker interactions because these two characters have the most depth and friction in the balance of the story, making Alex Breaux and David Call the standout roles here as well.

Depraved is an okay movie. It executes a lot of elements that do make it unique in its way of telling this Frankenstein story and has a lot of merit to be discussed simply in making Adam into a different type of Creature. However, Frankenstein is a Classic and the story is very familiar and at times, while the story gives it some twists and turns to help reveal the ultimate goal of this experiment, it lacks a memorable climax. The tone is good and the execution is decent but the retelling doesn’t push itself to an exciting moment and feels rather flat. Not to mention, some of the acting leaves a little to be desired as well. Overall, Depraved has its pros and cons but it is a decent effort and if Frankenstein is a story that you enjoy, this could be one to check out for sure.

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Fantasia Festival 2019: Aquaslash (World Premiere, 2019)

Aquaslash (2019)

Aquaslash

Director (and writer): Renaud Gauthier

Cast: Brittany Drisdelle, Nicolas Fontaine, Lanisa Dawnsen, Paul Zinno,

Aquaslash is a 2019 horror film about a high school graduating class who goes to a water park to celebrate when someone puts razors in the slide.

Before we start, its important to make a few things clear. One, the Aquaslash version seen at Fantasia is most probably not the final edit. Its a work in progress where the visual editing had not been completed yet resulting in some scenes to be dark and some to be in the day. There were also some sound issues that weren’t polished like ear piercing whistle sounds. Two, the director Renaud Gauthier referred to this version as The Director’s Cut. Its put together in the way that he would want it to be presented. Also, pretty much confirming that it won’t be this way upon its release. With those two points clear, there won’t be so much about the visuals but more the story, the characters and its 80s vibe and of course, the slasher elements.

Aquaslash is a fun movie. It has its flaws. Despite its short run time, it actually spends a lot of time in the characters’ drama. Its not all teenage drama but a lot of it is girls and crushes and love triangles and the likes. It uses this time to create the characters as well as some shenanigans and make some comedic moments. Aquaslash is meant to be reminiscent of the 80s with the park, the style and satisfyingly the background music and soundtrack.

The best thing about Aquaslash is that it doesn’t take itself seriously. Because of that, a lot of it is much easier to accept. There are a lot of moments that sometimes might feel disjointed or completely random. Yet the tone the movie sets never shifts into taking itself too seriously. While that might sound like a bad thing, its a compliment to be able to do that and stay consistent. Looking at the effects and the slasher kills, they are not quite so abundant however, there is a reminiscent feeling of the 80s slasher here that works. The most memorable one is for the razor blades slide set up and how it is done. Because it all happens around the fun idea of a race down three entangled slides, there is a suspense who will inevitably meet their end at the razors. Things get out of hand and there is a great amount of entertainment in how it all unfolds.

Aquaslash, in this version, has its flaws and in the visuals and effects polish has obvious further work to do, but putting that aside, the idea is a pretty good one especially since it seems like such a clever idea of instilling fear in a family destination like a water park and yet, doesn’t feel like its been done before. Its something of a guilty pleasure movie filled with some 80s reminiscent entertainment. It will be interesting to see what the final cut after all the post production is done will be like.

Whats Up – Week 29: Fantasia Takes Me On a World Tour

Tranquil Dreams (39)

Another week has passed by in 2019 and its been a crazy week. For this and next week, I’m going to promise that life is going to revolve a lot around Fantasia. I probably got through one of my more intense weeks as a lot of things contributed to trying to get as many films done as possible. We’ll talk more in depth in the Watching section. Let’s just get to it!

READING

Within

Currently reading: Within by Clare C. Marshall

Between constant movie review writing with any free time I have, reading is a bit slow. I’m only a quarter into Within and so far, I’m liking it quite a bit. Definitely looking forward to get finish this one.

PLAYING

rullo

  • Rullo
  • Bonza

I’m going back to some of the mobile games to clear my mind. Surprisingly, during these moments, what destresses are puzzles and number games. Hence why I’m back to Rullo to do some math. Its probably the contrast  between the writing and the gaming that makes it feel more like I can just let it all go as I get immersed into calculating and working out the logic and such.  The same applies to Bonza, which I play a little less mostly because its a very wordy new style of crossword puzzles.

WATCHING

The Wretched

Hong Kong, Indonesia, South Korea, Spain, USA, Cambodia, South Africa are all the countries that I’ve been through this week’s Fantasia screenings. Talk about travelling the world through movies, right? If you want to see the ratings, you can check out my Letterboxd account HERE.

I haven’t disliked any of the films that I’ve seen to be honest just like them on different degrees and some I acknowledge the flaws but then it really works in their unique way. Its what makes Fantasia so fun to cover. Hands down, the movie that adds a unique twist to an under-explored horror subgenre is The Wretched who had the world premiere at the festival.

BINGING

Go Go Squid

Currently binging: Go Go Squid, The Coming One III, Rivers Flows To You, Love Signal 2, Queer Eye Season 4

You all know that I can’t stay away from Queer Eye when it lands so I have already started Queer Eye Season 4 and am about 3 episodes in or so. However, I’m taking it easy because I also know that its my companion series as I write plus, I truly love binging it. The few episodes that I’ve seen, its still very great so I’ll probably finish that up before Sugar Rush Season 2 lands on Netflix. Plus, while I’d love to say its my series of the week, the obsession for Go Go Squid is legit right now. Its on the way to being Top 3 TV series of this year or at least in terms of Chinese drama. I actually saved up a few days of episodes just so that I can binge a few episodes as a reward after I catch up with the reviews that were backed up on the weekend.

That’s it for this week recap on What’s Up!
What have you been reading/watching/playing/binging?

Fantasia 2019: 1BR (World Premiere, 2019)

1BR (2019)

1BR

Director (and writer): David Marmor

Cast: Nicole Brydon Bloom, Alan Blumenfeld, Susan Davis, Naomi Grossman, Giles Matthey, Clayton Hoff, Taylor Nicholas, Earnestine Phillips, Celeste Sully

1BR is a 2019 American horror thriller about a girl who rents an apartment in a complex and unexpected things happen.

1BR is those kinds of horror films where its all about knowing as little as possible before starting the film up so that the film can show its cards one by one and retain its surprise factor. There’s a lot to like about 1BR and most of it dials down to the premise that builds from a girl who has a dream that she wants to pursue, works as a temp to support her living and has conflicts with her father.

Everything starts off when she surprisingly gets chosen out of many people during open house for an apartment complex to fill their vacancy. She soon learn that her conversation with the building manager and one of the guests ended up giving them the right impression. While her apartment seems great, there is a list of strict rules for the residents, the unit seems to have some serious plumbing issues and the other people living there range from friendly to downright stalker creepy and there is a very solid concept of encouraging to read The Power of Community. There’s more to this apartment complex and its one twist down crazy lane that just takes its audience on a ride through a bumpy and disturbing road.

Without revealing too much from 1BR, David Marmor’s directorial debut is a well-executed thrilling 90 minutes. While there are some horror tropes and some obvious little bits in the beginning, the psychological elements of this thriller is one that takes many unexpected twists and turns, some more than others. However, it has a lot to thank for not only the themes it talks about, and a well-paced script that keeps the audience guessing on whats going to happen next. His script doesn’t hold your hand but lets the story unfold little by little while choosing of L.A. as the location, where a lot of people go to pursue their dreams sometimes get lost and forgotten and where do you find the strength to fight for your life.

With creepy background music and sound effects and a great performance from a lot of the cast, especially the main actress Nicole Brydon Bloom as Sarah who delivers a great performance. Paired up by the charming neighbor performance of Brian played by Giles Matthey and building manager Jerry, played by Taylor Nichols, pushing the story forward. It breaks down some of the walls of the predictable turn of events and makes this movie unsettling and psychologically thrilling and probably think a little more about the next place you rent and the power of community.

You can catch the encore presentation of it at Fantasia Intermational Film Festival on July 22 at 11:45am at the Salle J.A. De Seve.

Fantasia Festival 2019: DreadOut (2019)

DreadOut (2019)

DreadOut

Director (and writer): Kimo Stamboel

Cast: Caitlin Halderman, Jefri Nichol, Marsha Aruan, Ciccio Manassero, Susan Sameh, Irsyadillah, Mike Lucock, Rima Melati Adams

DreadOut is a 2019 Indonesian horror film telling the story of a group of high school students that go into an abandoned building to try and make a viral video and accidentally opens up a portal to another realm full of evil spirits.

Based on the 2014 Indonesion survival horror game of the same name, its important to first make it clear that the movie itself is a different story. It uses the same realm and even a portion of the evil spirits that appear in the game as well as some of the characters. There are some familiar scenes however, it still drives itself in a story that will translate better as a feature movie. There is no fault in choosing that path however, despite some nice cinematography, there are a mix of elements that both work and don’t work and it bases heavily on whether you are familiar with the source material or completely new to this world.

With that said, DreadOut has some of the issues of being indecisive. It lingers between horror and comedy, not being able to commit enough to a tense scene and very often, breaking the tension with some random silly dialogue. With that said, a lot of scenes are predictable jump scares, mostly accentuated through loud sounds and humming music or chants. It also goes on a little repetitive, mostly because the main defense is the main girl Linda (Caitlin Halderman) and the flash of her smartphone while jumping back and forth through reality and the other spirit realm while finding and losing her members of the group over and over again. She runs into all sorts of different evil spirits, increasing in its strength. Different from the game, the dangers are presented one after another without the game angle that gave its uniqueness, its presentation of Indonesian spirit origins.

Its hard to not think that DreadOut either is deliberately mocking or playing tribute to mainstream American horror when it emphasizes a lot of horror tropes that most horror viewers loathe, for example going into an empty place and saying hello. These are fun little moments if it is the former (which is the reason I choose to believe). Its definitely one of the more satisfying elements here.

As someone who knows the game, there are a lot of material to fill in those blanks and appreciate the effort here especially embracing the Evil Dead style of horror. It has its typical video game adaptation flaws like shallow characters and creatures and as a foreign language, also lingers in the bad script of stating the obvious which is okay in a game but doesn’t translate as well as a horror film except give it a good laugh due to the overacting and serious moments hindered by clunky dialogue. Despite its flaws, the run time packs the film fairly well-paced so for the general horror viewer, it should still satisfy a little demonic possession horror craving.

Fantasia Festival 2019: G Affairs (G殺, 2018)

G Affairs (G殺, 2018)

G Affairs

Director: Cheuk Pan Lee

Cast: Hanna Chan, Lu Huang, Sen Lam, Kyle Li, Alan Luk, Chapman To

G Affairs is a 2018 Hong Kong thriller that puts together the pieces after a severed woman’s head rolls into an apartment randomly.

G Affairs plays a bit like a story with connected characters and each of their stories that result in the final scene. Its title can be interpreted in two ones: one of the literal way of “G” Affairs, a story in chapters of words that start with the letter G or in the literal Chinese way, G, the Mandarin pronunciation of chicken, which in Cantonese is the common use for prostitutes. Not only the title highlights two ways but the story itself not only strives to show a side of Hong Kong post 2014 Umbrella Movement but also the two sides of parent and youth expectation, that things can be seen as good or bad as with the final destiny of someone can also be tragic or lucky for anyone with the same situation. Its the debut film for director Cheuk Pan Li and yet, there is a lot of maturity to the content he chooses to portray as well as the way he executes the story as well as shoot the film. Definitely choosing to give a rebirth to the Category III films, equivalent to a hard R rating is one that also deserves praise as Hong Kong films have moved away from it as it becomes dependent on the Chinese market.

The story is portrayed as a scrambled timeline taking place in the present with parts of the past that eventually link all the characters’ timeline together. No doubt a growing popular use of how to portray thrillers especially when executed well, the finale can be well hidden in all the little details. When it isn’t, it can be confusing. Its a test for its audience in the end to capture the details and make sense of it all and that will determine whether the finale will be far-fetched or logical. For G Affairs, other than at times stretching the use of the G vocabulary a little far, therefore making the story feel a bit on rails, it does a good job to not reveal too much but also create a compelling story that involves all these characters and yet also give them their spotlight to highlight the issues they face.To be fair, just like The ABCs of Death might have its more odd selection, G Affairs using that concept also pushes it far but still remains fairly clever and each of these opening up a chapter for one of the 5 characters involved. The film is thought-provocative to take a look into the little world of the different people in the society both as a result of the 1997 Handover after 20 years while also pushing the morals and ethics behind the scenarios as well as the stereotypes that drive the division whether its origin or age or profession.

Its hard to exactly pinpoint how well G Affairs will portray to the general public. In reality, the film embeds itself in a lot of Hong Kong views and to connect better with the material will need a certain level of understanding between the conflicting point of views after the 1997 Handover as well as the post 2014 Umbrella Movement and what it meant for the people living there. However, as a debut director, Cheuk Pan Li commands the camera well, adding in a good level of visually appealing shots to increase the cinematography of the whole piece. While the letter G is used a little bit too frequently and moves probably too fast and a few times, feeling fairly insignificant, the whole film as a whole is done in a clever way using finding its references in an array of elements that do contribute to the film like its music choices.

Fantasia Festival 2019: Vivarium (2019)

Vivarium (2019)

Vivarium

Director (and co-writer): Lorcan Finnegan

Cast: Imogen Poots, Jesse Eisenberg, Jonathan Aris, Eanna Hardwicke, Senan Jennings

Vivarium is a 2019 science fiction thriller about a house-hunting couple ends up being shown to a home located in a labyrinth of a cookie cutter neighborhood and abandoned by the real estate agent with no way out.

Choosing to start the film on the note of baby birds being knocked out of their nests by a cuckoo bird trying to take over is an odd way and sets the tone for Vivarium and even the story concept. With only a general knowledge of the couple, Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg), mainly their careers and an idea of their compatibility together as two weirdos (as they call it), they set off to find their perfect home which leads them to discover the office of Yonder run by Martin (Jonathan Aris) who awkwardly gets the couple to go visit one of the houses. As they drive into the rows of green tinted houses, identical to each other, they get to number 9, not a starter house which includes a baby’s room. Not long after, Martin disappears and they can’t find their way out and a box arrives full of necessities and then another box arrives with a baby. Their task is to raise the baby and get released.

Vivarium is a slow-burn movie. Its weird and bizarre, making the couple who considered themselves weirdoes initially to really be the normal ones thrust into this deserted suburbia. If we look at it in three acts, the movie sets up its scenario fairly quickly. For that, it deserves credit for giving it that dark humor and a dose of oddness, furthered by the feeling of hopelessness. However, the movie might be using uniformity as the creepy environment factor however the only creepy thing about the second act is the timeline of the child they need the raise, which gives an idea of how long they’ve been trapped there as well as this child who has a creepy voice and likes to imitate them. That one tone of life and the routine lifestyle might instill fear for some but mostly, it felt a tad repetitive and dragged the story out longer than it needed to and only dropping little hints of change to sustain interest on the mystery of why they are there and who is this child. What does make it for a lot of the slowness in the second act is the final act that turns up the story quite a bit as things start unveiling and the one reveal is the most thrilling part of the movie as a whole.

The technicalities of this film is what makes it stand it. First, the most notable is the color palette and the location of having these identical houses paired with a quiet background, that emphasizes on the sounds. The green of the houses to the blue skies with the cloud-like clouds  makes it feel like a story book fantasy and in turn gives it a fake-ness. This makes it feel an obvious distance and abandonment and with that loneliness. At the same time, the emptiness of the location is further emphasized with the cinematography and how some shots are shown. There are some captivating shots looking down as they drive around this labyrinth of  houses, trying but not finding their way out. Then there are shots of pulling way to show distance and shots where the character is centered to show probably the control of the situation. There are lot of deeper messages being conveyed here. It gives the story its depth and its creepy moments. Its leaves a lot for interpretation on the fears of life, uniformity, the routine, homeownership, the family model, the concept of work and having the need to find purpose and something to do everyday.

Vivarium has a lot to thank for its small cast and both Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots, especially the latter, that carries this film forward. Imogen Poots takes on the role of Gemma and she does it with so much heart. Even in some of the slow moments, the camera gives a lot of context on her emotions from her reactions to her facial expressions as she interacts with the boy and Tom. While Jesse Eisenberg has a less role as his character has some truly powerful moments and yet, the rest of the time, his character is affected a lot more by the situation that he is in. Especially worth a mention is the almost cameo role of Martin, played by Jonathan Aris which excels in its dark humor execution.

There’s a lot to appreciate in the craft of Vivarium. However, its not a film for everyone. It takes starts off very strong, lags in the center and then amps up in the final act with a lot of style. Its mostly of movie of moments and probably one that needs a few more viewings to capture its true depth and meanings.