When it comes to paying cinematic homage to those that came before, no other film genre does it more openly than horror. While some critics cry foul when they do this, I like it when current directors show respect for those who laid the groundwork. Case in point at this year’s 2015 Sundance Film Festival: writer/director David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows. A new breed of haunting is unleashed venereal-style after Jay (Maika Monroe) has sex with her boyfriend. Turns out, an evil spirit is getting passed from partner-to-partner, and the only way to “stop it” from coming after you is to pass it on.
Mitchell sets up a respectable homage to John Carpenter’s Halloween, featuring lots of tracking shots and looming menace, and the cast does a terrific job of adding the needing empathy. However, Mitchell winds up painting himself into a corner, and never figures out how to end the film. He aims for a Christopher Nolan-headscratcher, but doesn’t follow his own rules long enough for it to work. It Follows has been gathering plenty of acclaim after premiering at the Cannes Film Festival last year and is still at 100% on RottenTomatoes. I wouldn’t say the ending is bad enough to ruin the whole film, but it sure does leave a bad taste in your mouth. There will be far worse horror movies released this year, so It Follows is definitely worth checking out so that at least you’ll get to see one of the better ones. Having been picked up by Radius-TWC, expect to see it sooner or later.
Another sub-genre that always finds its way to Sundance is the female revenge thriller, and this year’s entry, Reversal, is a lot of fun. There are always a lot of walkouts during the Sundance Park City at Midnight selections, but this is one worth sticking it out. Director José Manuel Cravioto delivers a lot of flash, with Rock Shaink Jr. and Keith Kjornes’s screenplay providing some fun twists to the standard roaring rampage of revenge. While never winding up as the female Django Unchained, Cravioto has a lot of fun dispatching the men responsible for Eve’s (Tina Ivlev) disappearance six months ago. Leading her to the seedy underbelly of sex trafficking, she takes the brutalized Phil (Richard Tyson) on a night he’ll never forget as they drive from one house to the next to save the rest of the girls.
Reversal’s ending is definitely a love-it or hate-it affair. Two of my colleagues walked out feeling cheated, saying: “It’s like watching watching Death Proof without the last scene.” But I felt there was enough bloodshed to warrant leaving the finale in my head. I can only imagine what happens after the credits roll. The only pseudo-problem is the character of Lea (Bianca Malinowski) who starts off as really annoying but is only in a few scenes. As for Ivlev, she makes a fantastic lead, full of hate and malice for her captors, while keeping the audience rooting for Eve to the bitter end. Reversal was picked up by IFC Midnight, so expect to see Ivlev’s take down of Buddy Revel at some point this year.
Not every film in the Park City at Midnight can be a winner. The Nightmare — from the director of Room 237 — is a documentary about the terror of sleep paralysis. Consisting of eight subjects scattered across the U.S. and one in England, director Rodney Ascher manages to create a sense sense of impending doom for the scary stories, but never gives any kind of enlightenment to the phenomenon.
The Nightmare is a snore of a film, something that should never be the case when making a film about sleep. Ascher resorts to cheap scares such as dropping a giant spider on the camera lense with the tried-and-true horror music sting to elicit gasps. If Ascher had actually shed a light on the effects of his poor subjects, or maybe even talked to actual doctors, it could have been a fascinating documentary. He even glosses right over the fact that the phenomenon carries over through many different cultures across the world. Unless you like listening to strangers tell you scary stories for 90 minutes, there’s absolutely nothing to see here.
I was holding out hope for director Bruce McDonald’s Hellions, as it was the last horror film I screened at the festival. Unfortunately, it takes itself way too seriously. With a storyline involving trick-or-treaters literally from hell, I was hoping for something a little more mean spirited or even outright hilarious, but McDonald shows no signs of life. It’s Halloween and 17-year-old Dora (Chloe Rose) discovers she’s pregnant. Things go from bad to worse when she’s left home alone and the malevolent guests show up on her doorstep with her baby daddy’s head in a sack and a quest to take her baby from her.
There are some interesting things going on with Pascal Trottier’s screenplay — like the fact that her pregnancy goes through all nine months in one night after one of the trick-or-treaters touch her belly — but McDonald drains the life out of the film with no tricks or treats up his sleeves. Not even Robert Patrick as an ass-kicking cop can save the film that’s just lots of noise and no fun. Daniel Gray and Tom Brown’s animated short film Teeth screened prior and packs way more fun into its scant six minutes about a man with a hilarious oral obsession leading to a surprising end.
Photos courtesy Sundance Institute[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00P2XKBEU,B0024FADBA,B00JQQI222,178329468X]