Saturday, February 22, 2014

Nevermore Film Festival Recap (Day Two)

 Saturday is always the grinder at Nevermore, because I have the entire day and try to take advantage of seeing as many movies as I can. After breakfast at a greasy spoon, we were on out way to a healthy mixture of features, foreign short films, and the Retro feature of the Festival: William Castle's The Tingler Starring Vincent Price (yep, still pretty sure that's the title, so no need to check up on that). There wasn't anything that quite matched the surprise and entertainment that was The Shower (well, maybe The Tingler, but that's a movie I'd already seen), but overall Saturday turned out to be a pretty solid lineup.


 We started with The Returned (which, it turns out, is not the same as the show Les Revenants), which is kind of a contagion / sort-of zombie movie that also isn't. It uses the idea of an outbreak that turns people into flesh eaters and jumps forward twenty years to a world that's learned to cope with the virus. Anyone who is bit (it's only transferred by blood) becomes one of them, but if a retroviral drug is administered immediately, there's a chance they can survive and become what's referred to as "The Returned." They have to continue injecting themselves every day to prevent the virus from breaking down their bodies, but the contagion is largely under control - until the supply of the drug starts running low.

 At the center of the story, which is less about the disease and more about how the world responds to its continued presence are Kate (Emily Hampshire), a doctor who works with "Returned" and prepares them for life outside of the hospital's rehabilitation center, and her boyfriend Alex (Kris Holden-Reid), a guitar instructor who met Kate when he was infected. As Kate struggles to convince private firms to invest money into developing a synthetic form of the drug (the natural can only be made from untreated victims), she works to buy more medicine for Alex, illegally if necessary. After a hospital break-in from an anti-Returned group ends violently, the clinician who was smuggling medicine to Kate, Eve (Melina Matthews) warns her that they also stole information about where registered Returned live, and that she may be in danger. Alex's friend Jacob (Shawn Doyle) and his wife Amber (Claudia Bassols) offer them a place to hide out, but the world seems to be falling apart as tensions increase between pro and anti-Returned groups...

 I was rather impressed by how writer Hatem Khraiche and director Manuel Carballo slowly provide exposition in The Returned. Rather than devoting time to an exposition dump early on, we're eased into the world where the presence of Returned is already accepted (by some, anyway) and learn about its origins and effects through conversation. Alex is nervous about telling Jacob he's Returned, and we don't know what that means or the ramifications of it until later, during one of Kate's presentations, where it's treated like any other life-long disease. There's no long discussion about where it came from or how the world handled it at first, just a handful of flashbacks involving one of the main characters. The Returned deals with this world as it is and is comfortable enough in the strength of the story to let the audience put the pieces together.

 As would turn out to be the trend for the day, The Returned is less of a horror film than the premise might imply and more allegorical, similar in a sense to David Cronenberg's remake of The Fly. It has a similar sense of hope and desperation, but on a broader scale - while there are four main characters, the lives touched by families with Returned is explored repeatedly and in differing approaches. It's an intimate story with a broader scope, one that maybe stumbles a bit near the end (it's really the only way the movie could end, but you can probably guess what's going to happen halfway in) but is quite well directed and acted. Think of it as a sort of alternate universe response to 28 Days Later, story-wise, and it has some nice ideas to wrestle with. A great way to start the day off.


 After The Returned, we settled down in Cinema Two for the long form and short form foreign shorts, Across the Styx and Revolution of the Foreign Invaders (respectively), which I'll try to cover in short bursts, with links to the films (or their trailers) when possible.

 Across the Styx:

 Agophobia - I'm not going to lie - I watched this film, was impressed by the visuals, but didn't know what the hell I'd seen when it was over. I think the best way I can describe it is if you imagine William Gibson going on a walkabout with some serious hallucinogens. If it helps, the synopsis is on the official site. It was interesting to watch, but I freely admit that I didn't follow most of it.

 The Other Side - A student working on his thesis goes to the home of a writer and her lover, convinced they found a portal to another world. It's a slow build and a bit of a rushed final scene, but has an interesting premise. There are so many results for this title that I couldn't find the specific one based on Nevermore's site, but if I locate it I will update this entry.

 The Crimes of All Hallow's Day - After an introduction from filmmaker Antonio Isasi-Isasmendi, we're presented a story of true crime from Ibiza in the 1970s about a Danish couple who run across the wrong "nice old couple" while out for a drive. It has a very late-sixties, early-seventies vibe to the lighting and cinematography, and a wicked sense of humor.

 AM/FM - A student has a chance encounter with a homeless man who makes a compelling case for alien invaders in this short from Brazil. Some of the cutaways to what the aliens look like are rather amusing and reminiscent of Ed Wood films, but it takes a surprisingly dark turn at the end. After The Crime of All Hallow's Day, my second favorite of the long form shorts.

 Revolution of the Foreign Invaders:

 Euthanas, Inc.- A cheap family wants to euthanize grandma, so they take drop her off with a company who specializes in unique deaths. If you want to die like in your favorite movie, Euthanas, Inc. can make it happen. But Grandma has other plans...

 Don't Look Here - When her fathers dies, a young woman returns home to comfort her mother and sister, but it appears that his connection with the younger daughter is stronger than anyone may have expected. It's a brief, Guillermo del Toro-esque take on communicating with the dead, that's effective but perhaps too quick to conclude. (Searching for the title has been extremely difficult, both in English and in Spanish. I will update accordingly if I locate it).

 Hibernation - An astronaut prepares for deep sleep as he heads out for interstellar exploration, but he's more interested in the girl whose place he's taking. More straight-ahead science fiction than anything resembling horror, but it has some nice cinematography and a distinctly retro-vibe.

 Mr. Bear - Steve and his wife are running late to their children's Christmas dinner, and when the car breaks down next to a mechanic, he's mistaken by the men inside for a "cleaner" of, unusual circumstances. Quite clever and surprisingly gory with some sadistic humor thrown in for good measure.

REM - To be honest, I wasn't a huge fan of this short. It wasn't that it was very reminiscent of Inception (which it is), but that it essentially exists to tease either a) more short films or b) a feature length continuation of the story, neither of which I'm particularly interested in.

 Nexo - A man's new phone has a strange camera: instead of showing what's in front of him, it displays the yard of his friends, where the man appears to be, even though he's inside his house alongside his girlfriend. There's some genuine suspense, but it's often hampered by not seeing the image on the phone and an abrupt conclusion. (I was having trouble finding this short as well in any form online).

 Le Revenant - My favorite of the foreign shorts involves a young man who is convinced he can cheat death, so he tests his theory with hilarious results. Often cartoonish with a healthy dose of black comedy, Le Revenant ramps up the insanity as the now undead man decides he's going to stop Death from doing his job, often with disastrous consequences.


 The main event for Saturday night was Nevermore's "Retro" screening of The Tingler (shortened title for the sake of brevity), presented by Bruce Goldstein of Rialto Pictures. Goldstein mentioned in his introduction that despite his reputation and recognition for film programming, he's probably best known around the world for The Tingler due to his interest in screening it (and other William Castle films) with the original "gimmick," Percepto. The Tingler also happens to be John Waters' favorite movie, and with good reason. While House on Haunted Hill might be better known, The Tingler exemplifies "camp" cinema before anyone had a firm grasp on what "camp" was, not to mention the distinction of having an onscreen LSD experience in 1959, nearly a decade before it caught on with the counter-culture.

 If you're a fan of very questionable "science" and even more questionable scientific techniques of experimentation, or of characters who exist to out-chew the scenery of their co-stars, or of William Castle / Vincent Price and you haven't seen The Tingler, you're really missing out. Price is gnawing all over the scenery like an overgrown rat as Dr. Warren Chapin, a prison mortician who also researches fear in his home laboratory with his assistant, David Morris (Darryl Hickman). David is dating Lucy Stevens (Pamela Lincoln), the younger sister of Chapin's wife, Isabelle (Patricia Cutts). Warren and Isabelle have a "hate / hate" relationship; she is constantly (and openly) carousing around town with other men, and at one point he tricks her into thinking he's going to kill her for the sake of an experiment. Their dialogue is also dripping with innuendo, like this bon mot from Warren:

 "How is it that the back door slams whenever the husband comes in the front door?"

 I'll let you mull that one over. The title creature comes in after Warren meets Ollie Higgins (Phillip Coolidge), the husband of deaf / mute theater owner Martha (Judith Evelyn). Warren is explaining his theory that an organism lives inside of us and materializes during periods of extreme fear, which gives it enough strength to shatter vertebrae. Ollie suggests calling it "the Tingler," and when Warren mentions it to David, he agrees that "we can't give a Latin name until we've discovered it, so the Tingler works." David also traps a cat, leaves a dog outside in a car, and makes a strange joke about hoping that Lucy can't run fast. Screenwriter and Castle regular Robb White, intentionally or otherwise, packs the film with lines that could imply something far less innocent. Although, considering that Chapin is open to the idea of experimenting with Martha because she can't scream (the only way to stop the Tingler) in order to manifest the creature should give you some idea of how morally questionable every character is in The Tingler. When (SPOILER) Isabelle tries to murder Warren with the Tingler, it hardly seems unreasonable after what he's done in the name of "science."

 The great fun of watching a movie like The Tingler is seeing it with an audience, in particular because Percepto! is designed for theatres. While we didn't get the exact Percepto! experience, it was nevertheless a fun time, and they found a way to throw in another gimmick during Chapin's LSD experiment, where the black and white film turns color for a short period of time in what can only be referred to as "proto-psychedelic." When Chapin tricks Martha later and "doses" her, there's another, stranger hallucinatory sequence that improbably ties into the story's "twist," one that's jettisoned almost immediately so that the Tingler can get loose in the theatre below Ollie's apartment.

 Oh yes, I haven't mentioned what the Tingler looks like, have I? Well, imagine a large rubber cenitpede being pulled along by string and you'll have a pretty good idea. It's gross, but not exactly scary, and when it tries to choke Warren but looks suspiciously like it's humping his chest, it's hard to be frightened. Then again, that's probably not the point. William Castle specialized in "interactive" movie experiences, and the audience in Fletcher Hall was certainly having a grand time shrieking and laughing along with The Tingler, fifty five years after its original release. Call it schlock if you like, but Castle knew what he was doing with his gimmickry.


 It's hard to imagine topping The Tingler, but at it was barely nine o'clock when we left Fletcher Hall to move to Cinema One, there was no reason not to see one of the two movies closing out Saturday at Nevermore. The options were Battle of the Undead, an Israeli film about zombies, or The Last Days (Los últimos días), a Spanish film set just before and slightly after a sudden disease causes all of humanity to be incapable of being outdoors. While I enjoy a zombie movie as much as any red blooded gore hound, if you're offering me post-apocalyptic cinema, I'm going to take it. (Long time Blogorium readers will attest that if there are two subgenres the Cap'n is a total sucker for, it's anthologies and post-apocalyptic cinema).

 Marc Delgado (Quim Gutiérrez) is a software programmer in Barcelona who lives with his girlfriend Julia (Marta Etura), a puppeteer. He's hesitant about having children and there's some visible strain in their relationship, but something strange has been happening around them. People are shutting themselves in, finding they are incapable of going outside. When Enrique (José Coronado), a corporate restructuring expert (nicknamed "The Terminator") fires an employee who had been living in the office for two weeks, he goes into shock as soon as he leaves the building and dies in front of everyone. Before long, this unexplained affliction is widespread, and Marc finds himself trapped in his office building while Julia is at home. After three months, he'll do anything to get back to her, and when they break through the parking garage to the subway, he sees his opportunity. The only problem is that someone already took the only GPS - Enrique. In order to find Julia, he's going to have to make a deal with a man he barely trusts, but what other option is there?

 There was a technical error at the beginning of the film that, for reasons unknown, prevented us from seeing subtitles on every other line of dialogue, so we'd catch half (or less) of a conversation in the first ten minutes, and every time someone would head outside to tell the projection staff, the subtitles would come back on, only to immediately drop out. Eventually they stopped the film and restarted it (and everything worked that time), but it's a testament to how well The Last Days is made that something that disruptive didn't impact the overall film experience.

 Writer / Directors David and Àlex Pastor crafted a story about the apocalypse that isn't directly about how the apocalypse happened. Scattered throughout the film are flashbacks that fill in details about Marc and Julia's life, including one revelation that increases his need to find her, but like The Returned, there's no grand attempt to explain what happens to everybody that keeps them indoors. We see what it feels like to go outside and understand why they're afraid to try, but the explanation remains a mystery. What's more important is how people learn to adapt to this new world, where humanity is crammed together in pockets, unable to contact each other.

 The Last Days is a very well made film that covers a lot of familiar post-apocalyptic tropes in interesting ways and structures the story in such a way that you're always interested to see where it goes next. The surprisingly upbeat ending feels appropriate, particularly when it could have gone in a much darker direction with one or two minor changes. At the heart of the film is the bond between Marc and Enrique, who each have their reasons for venturing out into the unknown, where anyone is capable of anything. While Marc's quest for Julia is the impetus for the narrative, the performances of Gutiérrez and Coronado are the glue that holds The Last Days together, and the film is a fine addition to the post-apocalyptic cinema family. There's even a tiny reference to the Mad Max films during a conversation about whether all of humanity is affected or not. At least, I choose to see it that way - there's a way The Last Days and The Road Warrior could exist in the same world...

 I'm even more worn out today than I was last night, but Sunday awaits, along with the last two Nevermore experiences of 2014. Join the Cap'n tomorrow for Grand Piano and the U.S. short films, They're Coming to Get You, Barbra!

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