Fantasia Festival 2019: Door Lock (2018)

Door Lock (2018)

Door Lock

Director (and co-writer): Kwon Lee

Cast: Hyo-jin Kong, Sung-oh Kim, Ye-won Kim

Door Lock is a 2018 South Korean thriller about a woman who suspects that someone is trying to break into her apartment and tries to figure out who it is.

Door Lock is the South Korean remake of 2011 film Sleep Tight except taking it from the other perspective. If you haven’t seen Sleep Tight, you probably want to see it after this one, mostly because then the thrills of figuring out who is the bad guy will be taken away. At the same time, if you have seen it, then this one might just be an exercise of watching the story from a different angle set in a different city. Falling into the category of never having seen the original, Door Lock is a mystery thriller mixed a different twist on the home invasion genre.

Starting with the opening scene of a woman going home to her apartment and being attacked suddenly, Door Lock quickly changes to a woman who wakes up and has a certain routine that has set herself in almost an compulsive way so the little changes automatically spark her attention. Despite her safety precautions of moving to a big building with better security and installing an electronic door lock, she still feels unsafe however one night, she is woken up by the sound of someone trying to break into her apartment frantically. Except her suspicions aren’t enough to keep the police to investigate further so she decides to take matters into her own hands.

Door Lock isn’t exactly a new idea and in the thriller department, it really takes noticing that one clue and that one dialogue in the movie to already have suspicions of the invader. However, there is some nice execution here. Right from the beginning, there is a sense of being followed as the camera will move from different angles and through surveillance cameras and from ceiling shots. Its quite creative and adds to the unsettling feeling of being observed. The sounds aren’t overpowering as well. It raises as the scene intensifies but also takes the care to focus on the little sounds in the surrounding like the clock ticking for example and isolating onto the everyday sounds amplified. There’s one scene that the soundtrack done really well where it follows two characters and there is a contrast on the soundtracks playing which was unique. The audience also gets a lot of the insider information, know more than the main character which works especially as the quick reveal of what is going on which leaves the rest of the story to question who, why and how.

In South Korean films, there’s always a notion about things being too slow because of its lengthy run time. In this case, it actually is the opposite. Its shorter run time actually deters it a little. It does give it a good pacing and the plot moves forward fairly quickly however there’s a lot of shallow characters especially the main girl who only gets caught in all the mess but feels never gives enough to be invested in her safety to begin with. Plus, the predictable misdirection to suspect other characters are fairly easy to see through as well. Perhaps the one thing that gets to be taken away from this is the concept of safety in the society and the false pretenses of it whether its the people around our everyday lives to the bigger buildings feeling more secure or the fancy gadgets to ensure safety all seems to have the loopholes that can be broken especially because they are also involving humans who might not all have the right intentions.

Overall, Door Lock is a decent thriller (from the opinion of someone who has never seen the original Spanish film). It has a few flaws to it but also has some tension and is fairly well-paced. Its cinematography and background sound design and soundtrack does it a lot of favors to build the atmosphere. Even if the characters are fairly shallow, the message it conveys is an important one.

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Fantasia Festival 2019: Daniel Isn’t Real (2019)

Daniel Isn’t Real (2019)

Daniel Isn't Real

Director (and co-writer): Adam Egypt Mortimer

Cast: Patrick Schwarzenegger, Miles Robbins, Mary Stuart Masterson, Sasha Lane, Hannah Marks

Daniel Isn’t Real is as 2019 American horror thriller about a boy’s imaginary friend that starts taking over and controlling his life.

In the midst of his parents’ split, young Luke is lonely and confused. That is until he meets young Daniel, a boy that only he can see. As most kids do, they end up locking away their imaginary friend but years later, as his mother’s condition gets worse after he leaves for university and he starts seeing odd images, he is lead to believe that facing his imaginary friend is needed and so Daniel is unlocked again. Whats starts out as a fun little company turns out to be a lot more sinister. Luke starts questioning whether its his evil subconscious that created this companion and whether Daniel is real or not.

Daniel Isn’t Real is a thing of the worst scary stories when the innocent child’s imaginary friend who is normally a safe haven turns into a thing of nightmares. Under neon-tinted scenes and the borderline of fantasy and schizophrenia, this story is creepy and unsettling. Perhaps its because its born from such a naive source of creativity and dependence. The lighting is used with incredible care. Not only does the color change with red neon lit hallways or white spotlights for example, it works not only to making the film visually stylistic but also, it gives each shot and its character a different emphasis and vibe. The same can be said about how the shots are framed. Its identified as a body horror and probably not in the way most would expect, and is done so well. Its quick-paced and as intriguing as it is crazy and entertaining all thanks to great execution.

All that dials down to the the two mains. The first being imaginary friend, Daniel played spectacularly by Patrick Schwarzenegger. Given Daniel is crafted with a lot of suspense to begin with even as a child, he delivers on giving this ominous imagination so much character and charm. He’s controlling, dominant and cunning and all this seeps through with not only the dialogue, but also his looming (and lurking) presence navigating the scene while immensely charming with each perfectly dressed moment and evil grin, packing in so much self-confidence. His character is the opposite of Luke (Miles Robbins) which makes sense as Daniel brings out the confidence in Luke, giving him the power to see what he can achieve but in turn also creating the tension between the two as the balance starts slipping away. In a film like this, there is an obvious twist coming: one that seeds from whether Daniel is actually an imagination or whether on a deeper scale, mental illness or simply something else.

Daniel Isn’t Real has its little flaws though. Its minor and easily can be overlooked with all the style and charm and fear that the film does. It all dials down to one character, the psychiatrist who pushes the story back on the path by encouraging Luke to release Daniel in the first place as a help for his issues (which we all know is never a good idea especially in horror films). If this scene didn’t happen, there wouldn’t be a movie however, other than that part, this character is essentially unnecessary in any other scene. Its a mystery in itself why this was chosen.

Despite this little flaw, Daniel Isn’t Real is a must-see. Its a horrifying trip seeded from the most innocent of youth creativity and dives deep into the issues of mental illness and evil possessions. Its a jaw-dropping ride that escalates from the positives of having an imaginary friend to the negatives as it takes over and where to draw the line, when to let go and maybe even reconsider this notion and just lock them away forever.

Fantasia Festival 2019: The Father’s Shadow (A Sombra do Pai, 2019)

The Father’s Shadow (2019)

The Father's Shadow

Director (and writer): Gabriela Amaral Almeida

Cast: Nina Medeiros, Luciana Paes, Julio Machado, Eduardo Gomes, Dinho Lima Flor, Clara Moura, Rafael Raposo

The Father’s Shadow is a 2019 Brazilian horror thriller about a nine year old girl who experiments with sorcery to hopefully bring her family back together.

Following the debut feature of director Gabriela Amaral Almeida’s Friendly Beast (review), a movie that spirals into a lot of craziness of blood and sex, The Father’s Shadow tones down the physical crazy from her previous film, rather in this latest film hones in the mental breakdown and sombre elements especially of the father character. Dalva has lost her mother and lives with her aunt and her father. When her aunt moves away for her own life and her father has a few work issues occur, he starts falling apart and holding on further to his deceased wife and giving little care to Dalva. Because of this, Dalva starts experimenting with sorcery and trying to find the incantation that will bring her mother back and hopefully fill in the void needed to bring her family back together.

This story is slow burn and its a bit odd. Which is somewhat expected with Almeida at the helm if we use her previous film as a reference, in fact, this one feels more grounded in reality. There are some obvious nods to zombie horror films in the most literal way and inspires a lot of the actual story development especially the motivation of the little girl, Dalva (Nina Medeiros). She is the main focus of the story and she holds a lot of the attention because of the different ways she approaches sorcery, influenced by movies and her aunt as well as her best friend, who has quite the turn of events. This isn’t a wordy film, in fact a lot of the talking is from her aunt, Luciana Paes and the concern she voices. The opposite applies to her father (Julio Machado) who loses the parenting ability and has lessening concern towards of Dalva as he falls apart, its more shown through the lesser words and the isolation and the lack of care of the surroundings.

Every character in this story has their own scars. There are feelings of being replaced, unimportant and disposable whether in the family or at work. Its why Dalva becomes such a girl that feels leads the story with investment of seeing whether she succeeds in her endeavor or not. Looking at the horror elements, its more along the lines of subtle appearances of spirits and the uneasy feeling of expecting something to happen and some of the teasing still shots that make up for the subtle horror.  To be fair, the horror scenes here are done with a lot of care. It tries to break out from expectations at times and offers something a little different. At times, the horror elements do get drowned out by the drama.

The Father’s Shadow is a slow and doesn’t have a lot of dialogue. A lot of the story is told through the things that happen, the surrounding sound (or lack thereof) and how the characters react and take action. Its a good way to execute the film as it does give space for the audience link the story together themselves but at the same time, it does feel slightly lacking in pacing. Its not that there isn’t anything happening, more that the climax isn’t really quite there and then it just ends. The concept of sorcery and the cast, especially Nina Medeiros really does deliver, where it doesn’t quite hit the point is the execution.

Fantasia Festival 2019: The Prey (2018)

The Prey (2018)

The Prey

Director (and co-writer): Jimmy Henderson

Cast: Gu Shangwei, Byron Bishop, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Nophand Boonyai, Rous Mony, Dara Our, Vithaya Pansringarm, Dy Sonita

The Prey is a 2018 Cambodian action thriller about a corrupt warden that sets up a hunting game for rich men using the prisoners as their prey.

The Prey is essentially a cat and mouse game gone array from the original plans as they accidentally implement an undercover international Chinese cop into the mix. Xin (Shangwei Gu) is said cop that has spent his life catching criminals and suddenly needing to try to not be caught, especially as he also has taken to help out the other prisoner, Mony (Rous Mony) also sent out. As the three rich men go their separate ways to kill their prey and win the game, things turn around when Xin and Mony manages to turn the game around and kills one of the three hunters.

Xin is the star of the movie here. He has more brains than brawn and that works in the gun heavy action. He has a lot of grit and while there isn’t a lot of context to his background, its never necessary because his character development relies on how this prison, the warden and the game may or may not have changed him. Talking about the warden played by Vithaya Pansringarm, he makes quite an appearance, albeit fairly familiar type of character, but he truly captures the role well in the first act with Xin. His part is small compared to the three hunters, especially two of them, the army camouflage dressed Mat (Byron Bishop) and his nephew, Ti (Nophand Boonyai). The latter takes on more of the story as the movie goes into the more intense bits. His story gets a bit far-fetched, but somehow it also tries to give his character more depth.

The Cambodian jungles are a great location. The beginning of the story takes place in the prison but most of the movie is set in the vast jungles. The camera work right from the start is the highlight of the film. It manages to capture the vast spaces to the little places with angles from the ground to overhead shots or trailing cameras after its characters. It all helps make the action scenes better. Although the scenes are mostly gun fights, with some interesting weaponry to say the least, especially Ti’s choice of firearm. The background noise uses mostly its natural surroundings except for the action scenes which has varying background music from lighthearted music to contrast the ruthless moments to the more intense music in the final act to complement.

At the end of the day, The Prey has a lot of great technical elements to it. Where it falls short is in its story. It lacks character depth, probably a lesser problem as its more about the action bits, but probably its bigger problems is having a disjointed story. There are some decent gun fights and combat but it introduces characters that never give enough focus or enough of a tangent to make it all come together, making it less easy to commit and feel completely immersed.

Fantasia Festival 2019: No Mercy (2019)

No Mercy (2019)

No Mercy

Director: Lim Kyoung-tack

Cast: Si-Young Lee, Se-Wan Park, Jun-hyuk Lee

No Mercy is a 2019 South Korean action drama film about a woman recently released from prison who takes revenge when her younger sister disappears the next day.

Revenge films definitely have a place in South Korean films especially after the Vengeance trilogy, Oldboy being one of the three that made it huge around the world. No Mercy is an entirely different beast of a film. With a central character Inae being a former security officer with martial arts training and clad in a feminine red dress paired with red heels, the main actress Si-Young Lee, previously known for her more romantic comedy roles shows off the contrast her fighting skills especially as she does almost 95% of all the moves herself without a stunt double. This is always a great point because the action choreography becomes more genuine and less camera cuts, making it a more immersive viewing experience. Adding on the fact that she also uses different weapons and the fact that as she learns more about her sister’s disappearance from one person to the next, her anger escalates causing each person to suffer her wrath just a step more intense  each time.

No Mercy attempts to make its audience feel Inae’s anger and pain with every reveal of her sister’s story. Her younger sister Eunhye, played by Se-wan Park in her debut role, is one that deserves praise as she takes on a intellectually disabled teenager. What starts with school bullies taking advantage of her ends up leading back to what caused Inae to end up in prison in the first place. Every reveal, maybe a little emotionally manipulative, does hit the same painful spot over and over again and its hard as the audience to not feel the same anger and frustration over the abuse of the vulnerable in the society.

No Mercy is not an easy film to watch. Its takes its subject matter far but also manages to balance out impressive action with a dose of thought-provoking drama. It all comes down to an intriguing script and a well-executed movie. It starts off in the middle of the film which sets the pace and what to expect. Unlike other South Korean action films, it has a shorter runtime and therefore has a well-paced script and well-developed contrasting characters: the weak and meek Eunhye, the fierce “heroine” Inae faced against a world of mostly horrible men and the most powerful of them portraying the most despicable.

Packaged as a revenge action thriller, No Mercy does deliver a more profound message. Its how society views its different members as a nuisance and treats them unfairly. Messages of female oppression, abuse of the vulnerable and the unfair treatment of the intellectually disabled are constant reminders in many scenes as some people find justifications through their power or through their ignorance. It is because No Mercy does such a convincing job that Inae’s revenge thriller, taken into her own hands because no one else bothered to care, as extreme as it is, felt more and more satisfying with each person she took down in a ruthless and unforgiving way.

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: 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.