The penultimate day of the LFF held a goopy surprise, a gloomy misfire, and sour cynicism, topped off with a remastered 1979 classic.
The end of LFF is almost upon us, and though Day Ten had a few more films that affected in ways that weren’t entirely positive, it still stirred emotions and responses with unforgettable and unnerving symbolism.
To get to the heart of why I found Nocturnal Animals (C+) so frustrating, one has to look at the mazelike film-within-a-film structure. Starting off interesting enough, Tom Ford’s second feature begins with Amy Adams’ gallery owner Susan receiving a manuscript from her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man she left 20 years prior and hadn’t heard from since. Without expectation, the film suddenly shifts gears. Reading the novel at home, Susan envisions the story of a man and his family whose holiday takes a seriously unpleasant turn, at the same time recalling her past. This tangling narrative moves at such frenzied speed, hopping between the three with various degrees of success. There’s a sense of urgency can be found in the fictional story that simply isn’t there in the founding narrative, making the present-day story and the flashbacks feel almost entirely trivial. Amongst all this joyless meta-melodrama is a much stronger and coherent film, but it’s hard to pick the moments that fully work when they’re all so disparate. Certainly, the main cast all pull their weight, wringing conviction out of their hammily scripted roles: Shannon’s wry Marlboro Man sheriff and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s unsettling delinquent getting the best of it, but Adams and Gyllenhaal’s story (both in the past and the veiled fiction) are too indistinctive of character to be of any perceptible merit. Each branch has a solid few minutes of storytelling (their first date in the past is an authentic meetcute; Susan’s phone call in the present reveals subtle hints of infidelity, and the highway scene in the fiction is extremely stressful), but none coagulate into a satisfying conclusion. Nocturnal Animals ends with Susan waiting at a table for something that may not come, and that’s wholly representative of my feelings when watching it.
Recently, I saw my first Xavier Dolan film (Mommy) and was impressed by the wildly talented director’s vision to tell his story of a fractured relationship maternal relationship, so to say I was looking forward to It’s Only The End of the World (C-) is a slight understatement. Featuring a pretty terrific ensemble in Léa Seydoux, Vincent Cassel and Marion Cotillard, Dolan’s adaptation of Jean-Luc Lagarce’s play dwells on the past and basks in verbal contradictions that don’t so much simmer until boiling, but explode right from the off. Taking a one-to-one conversational approach, Gaspard Ulliel’s Louis speaks to each family member individually to reconnect, and deliver some life-changing news. This format of isolating each character offers little-to-no momentum to the story: brothers and sisters only exist when in the frame: their lives seemingly ceasing when not included in the expository scenes of Louis’ past. This confinement to one character at a time (not including those rancorous group slanging matches) stripped the film of personality, so that when they did have something to say, their relationship with Louis and the audience were mostly nonexistent. Dolan and cinematographer André Turpin’s camerawork – though similar to Mommy – was nauseatingly claustrophobic: persistent close-ups of despondent characters bursting into unsympathetic bullying became hard to endure. Similarly, Dolan’s choice of music continues to be a curious distraction: an eye-rolling Moby track here, or the utterly bizarre choice of ‘Dragostea Din Tei’ (aka the Numa Numa song) just didn’t work and implied a lack of discipline with a blatant disregard for context. It’s a clattering piece of work, loud, obnoxious, and by the end, seriously unsatisfying, and it’s such a shame that a cast as solid as this was wasted.
Having no prior knowledge of The Void (B) was today’s saving grace. The only piece of marketing I’d seen was the image above: cloaked, cult-like figures lingering in the dark. It’s a mysteriously chilling image, and one that perfectly fits this energetic, bloodthirsty horror. Set in a small-town hospital during the skeleton shift, a group of doctors and patients are barricaded in by a mystical crowd of masked shapes, all with a sinister triangle emblem on their hoods. Once a few more characters are introduced, the film takes one swift turn after the other, ratcheting up the tension and fearful imagery until a nightmarishly goopy end. It takes a lot to unnerve me, but I think the make-up department did just that with their creatively hellish viscera and sickeningly visual gore: using an absolute bucketload of practical effects invigorates the narrative threads that threaten to drag it into boring genre territory. The Void is a persistent shock-show, and a terrific exercise in reverential homage, yet even with these soaring influences (The Keep and Prince of Darkness to name two), Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski manage to sidestep their cardboard characters and stiff, expository dialogue with a passionate dedication to repulse.
The last film of the day – and also the last cinema viewing of the LFF – was JJ Abrams’ remastering of Don Coscarelli’s slow-burning, menacing horror Phantasm (B). Using offbeat dream logic, the uncomplicated plot runs with one peculiar idea after the other idea – and while they’re mostly separable – this giddiness of the unexpected makes it such a joy to watch. One scene follows the other without causality or even necessity, but it does so at such a relentlessly curious pace that even the moments that don’t stick are so fitfully inventive that it really doesn’t matter. Angus Scrimm and his flying, weaponised orbs are iconic, and for a very good reason: both are in it for a tiny portion of the brisk runtime, and yet both make a lasting impression because of their suited context. The rest of the cast, though corny and stilted, do a great job with the ludicrousness of the story: a great core trio with an unquestionably authentic closeness, the three of them face off against the Tall Man (Scrimm) with a lively toughness that brings the themes of family and friendship to the resolve. Where it takes a sharp turn into Kubrickian style sci-fi, lesser films would have collapsed under the weight of its lofty, planetary implications, but not Phantasm. A great fun way to end the main portion of the festival, and a truly gorgeous 4k restoration of this campy, low-budget schlock horror.
There’s just one more day of coverage to go for this diamond anniversary of the LFF, and with three films left on my selected programme, it’ll hopefully be another varied and stimulating day of film.
The Void/Phantasm illustration header by cal.con.
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