Friday, September 30, 2011

Fantastic Fest 2011 day seven & eight: RABIES, LIVID, A LONELY PLACE TO DIE, THE INNKEEPERS

Rabies (dirs. Aharon Keshales & Novat Paupshado, 2010, Israel)

Aharon Keshales and Novat Paupshado's awesomely vicious and funny film Rabies came with a lot of options as Israel's first horror feature. That there's a homicidal predator in the forest, the directors could've explored that as a traditional (albeit Israeli) slasher film and made a bloody decent one at that. Instead, they focus on the broader picture of Israeli acting talent, the quartet of friends road-tripping in the woods, the park ranger and his trusty hunting dog, the two cops patrolling the area, the brother and sister targeted by the maniac — IN ADDITION to a very dangerous killer on the loose. In doing so, Keshales and Paupshado concocted a very creative, articulated entry to the international genre scene. So the conventional beginning — young Tali (Liat Harlev) stuck in the killer's trap, her brother Ofer (Henry David) comes to her aid only to be attacked off-camera — quickly segues to separate story-lines of friends, a hunting expedition, laughter and bickering that spirals out of control as tensions rage, miscommunication reigns and violence ensues. That the forest is littered with landmines leftover from past nationwide conflicts is just one spark to this growing molotov. A case of good samaritan aid and misidentification leads to copious bloodshed, another instance of a corrupt cop Yuval (Danny Geva) forcing himself on the girls Adi (the lovely, ass-kicking Ania Bukstein) and Shir (Yael Grobglas) he's supposed to be protecting — you know, from the psycho in the woods! — goes far different than you might think. Rabies equaled one of my most memorable Fantastic Fest films and a favorite, and I look forward to these directors' future efforts within the horror genre.

Livid (dir. Julien Maury/Alexandre Bustillo, 2011, France)
Maybe you've heard this already, but Livid, the 2nd horror feature from powerhouse directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, is NOT another Inside. But, if you've seen Inside and you're an adherent to the New French Extremity movement, you HAVE to see Livid. It's way different — I've been calling it a fairytale for twisted adults — but in its inherent beauty, its creative scares and nice bursts of practical FX horror, Livid is a worthy member of France's sicker horror scene. I hate to give anything away, but I'll say that prominent press image of a young ballerina w/ a bloodied-face seemingly floating in midair IS explained within Livid's unusual mythology. In brief, trainee in-house caregive Lucie (Chloe Coulloud), along with her opportunistic wharf-working BF William (Félix Moati) and bartender bud Ben (Jéremy Kapone), decide to rob the massive Brittany country estate of one of her new patients, comatose former dance teacher Jessel (Marie-Claude Pietragalla, sporting a huge breathing apparatus way creepier than the old woman's in Insidious, thanks to her talon-like fingernails), since she's suppose to have a big-ass treasure in there. Of course nothing goes as planned, and beginning with a cadaver of old Jessel's daughter Anna (Chloé Marcq, echoing Degas' dancers) we're propelled into a supernatural horror rollercoaster. And while Livid doesn't exceed Inside in brutal awesomeness, it's a fascinating, unsettling experience from the dynamic duo.

A Lonely Place to Die (dir. Julian Gilbey, 2011, UK)
The survival thriller A Lonely Place to Die stumbles in its third act, when director Julian Gilbey descends from the vertiginous Scottish Highlands into a neighboring township (the May Day festival in town is pretty cool, the rest not so much). But the first hour, set amid sheer rock faces soaring hundreds of feet in the air, scattered forest cover and burbling rivers, is awesome. I suffered from a bit of acrophobia in the first half, as the camera zoomed around mountaineers hiking and climbing the terrain — but I didn't mind too much, it was such a thrilling ride. The team, including climbing expert Alison (a fantastic Melissa George) overhear a girl's echoing voice in the forest and, upon discovering a breathing pipe in the ground, dig up a box containing young Serbian Anna (Holly Boyd). Anna was kidnapped from her wealthy father and held for obscene ransom in truly a lonely place to die, and as the team proceeds to take her to safety dudes wielding scope-outfitted rifles prowl after them. Couple that amid the Scottish Highlands, where a misstep equals a broken ankle or, worse, a deadly plunge, and Gilbey's created a creative game of cat and mouse. Which is a drag when the chase returns to level ground, as it becomes a much more normal film from its initial, awesome setting. A Lonely Place to Die was picked up by IFC Midnight w/ a limited theatrical release beginning Nov 4.

The Innkeepers (dir. Ti West, 2010, USA)
My final film of Fantastic Fest was suitably fantastic, so I started with awesomeness (Ahn Sang-hoon's Blind) and ended with awesomeness, to the tune of The ABCs of Death contributor Ti West and his new creative ghost story The Innkeepers. I unabashedly LOVED The House of the Devil, West's ode to '80s chillers and physically wrenching in its unexpected scares. The Innkeepers is as frightening as its predecessor but the strong, realistic instances of wisecracking and one-liners makes for a more well-rounded, touching story. In fact, it made me care more for young slacker lead Claire (Sara Paxton, an instant charmer despite showing no gratuitous skin like in Shark Night 3D), employee of the soon-to-close Yankee Pedlar Inn up in Connecticut. She's cute w/o being overtly sexualized, routinely puffing at an asthma inhaler (a clear plot element, or an ambiguous one?) whilst immersing herself in the inn's spooky folklore. See, according to coworker Luke (Pat Healy, aka John from Ghost World), a good-natured if scruffy older nerd, the building is haunted and he's got proof, on a Geocities-styled website he's kinda sorta making the effort to build. Plus there's sole resident Leanne (the ineffable Kelly McGillis — as in Callsign Charlie from Top Gun, hello?!), a former actress-turned-psychic, who informs starstruck Claire that there are indeed three ghosts inhabiting the inn. Claire dons headphones, cuing an audio recorder that picks up traces of piano playing — supposedly a ghostly woman who met her demise in the building. Then said ghostly woman's aged ex-husband arrives, demanding a specific room for the "nostalgia", and the supernatural element increases. Once West turns on the scares to full volume, we're so into these players' heads (particularly Claire's) that we just want everything to turn out all right in the end. But this is a horror movie, remember! Lucky Austinites: The Innkeepers screens as part of a Ti West retrospective on Oct 3 at the Village Alamo Drafthouse.