I can’t begin to describe what a good time reviewing/ attending the seventh annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival was this year.
The Bloor consistently manages to keep things interesting with its selection which cover equal portions of genuinely scary, goofy and creative pieces. My final coverage includes reviews for A Fantastic Fear of Everything and Game of Werewolves.
Until next year!
A Fantastic Fear of Everything
Director: Crispian Mills, Chris Hopewell
Running Time: 100 minutes
One of the reasons I stopped probing Wikipedia’s “Serial Killer by Country” list was because, although morbidly fascinating, reading about so many gruesome murders completely creeped me out. I guess this is why the latest Simon Pegg horror-comedy vehicle A Fantastic Fear of Everything was so relatable and enjoyable for me. Co-directed by rocker Crispian Mills and music video director Chris Hopewell, A Fantastic Fear of Everything is a Poe styled joke movie about a paranoid writer whose copious research on serial killers for a novel has made him a hilariously fun wreck to watch. Laden with groovy music and eye catching slow motion sequences, the directing duo deliver a cute film that at time gets lost but eventually manages to find its way.
Jack (Simon Pegg) is a small time author preparing to write about Victorian serial killers. His room looks like an imprisoned IRA member from Hunger’s jail cell and his long beard and uncombed red locks paint him something like a full blown OCD Howard Hughes. Constantly fearing for his life, Jack hardly ever leaves his room or house and has horrible nightmares that a masked madman will eventually get him. Offered a golden chance with to meet with a major publisher, Jack finds himself struggling to finally overcome his crippling agoraphobia. Running around with a kitchen knife super glued to his hand and eventually tied up in the basement hide out of a goofy wannabe serial killer, A Fantastic Fear of Everything proves one hell of a fearfully funny ride.
Based on Withnail and I writer and director Bruce Robinson’s novella Paranoia in the Launderette, Mills and Hopewell’s adaptation of Robinson’s ground work is formidable. From early on, you can’t ignore the movie’s great use of sound. Blaring everything from Ice Cube to Pegg’s own voice on his ‘Uzilicious’ gangster rap mixtape, one of the smarter things that this Victorian styled farce does is make its sounds stand out just as its rich visuals.
Hopewell – director of music videos for bands like Radiohead, The Killers and Franz Ferdinand – has a clear influence on what we’re seeing. When the film begins, Jack appears to be just a paranoid, dirty under wear clad man haunted by his own delusions. But through cool slow motion sequences and creative camera angles, Hopewell yanks us into Jack’s world of insanity so we can share his viewpoint of madness.
One of my favourite things about this movie is that the directors aren’t afraid to take a detour every once in a while to spice things up. Like, when Jack gazes off into his serial killer diorama and the box and the set comes to life in a stop motion cartoon segment. I really dig these deviations, as they are responsible for keeping this already unusual tale’s plot kicking.
Yet, for all the stop motion scenes and very enjoyable musical sequences this film has—watching Pegg perform a gangster rap ballad is just as mind blowing as it sounds—it seems like A Fantastic Fear of Everything has a fear of truly committing to its plot. It takes quite some time to progress with the ideas of this film and for a while it feels like Mill’s and Hopewell may be more stuck in Jack’s filthy apartment than they realize.
The movie’s main girl Sangeet (Amara Karan) is well acted and makes for a smooth on screen chemistry with Pegg’s insanity, but unfortunately Karan is only in the latter half of the film–a neglect of tremendous talent.
Maybe a conscientious commentary on the highly distracted nature of all writers, or, just an excuse to watch Pegg parade around in dirty underwear, A Fantastic Fear of Everything maybe a bit confused of its own purpose but it’s well-crafted dark humour more than atones for its misgivings.
Game of Werewolves
Director: Juan Martinez Marino
Running Time: 98 minutes
Spanish director Juan Martinez Moreno’s second feature film Game of Werewolves attempts to form a hybrid comedy-horror film with inklings of The Shinning, but instead, Moreno only achieves the low budget badness of a Goosebumps episode. Moreno (who also wrote) says that he was inspired by older werewolf films likeAn American Werewolf in London and chose to use traditional make up and special effects. In an industry dominated by the cost and labour effective qualities of everything computer generated, Moreno’s earnest intentions seem endearing. But with a languid story that could only fly with the dwellers of the one horse town the movie is set in, I’d choose crappy 1990’s styled CGI over this any day.
Prefaced by an animated parable, we learn that the Marquise of the Marino family from the village of Galicia forced a traveling gypsy to have sex with her under threat of death. The Marino’s are cursed in return and the Marquise’s later born son turns into a werewolf when he is ten years old. This all happened in 1910, and 100 years later we see failed writer Tomás (Gorka Otxoa)—the of the Marino line—return to Galicia to receive what he thinks is a reward. While in Galicia, Tomás is determined to finish writing a novel. But after waking the long slumbering werewolf of Arga, Tomás and his dopey buddy Calisto (Carlos Areces) only find themselves fighting to put an end to this curse.
After stumbling through an overlong running time, it’s obvious Moreno didn’t take the time to ask himself realistic questions before he pumped out this exercise in boredom. The idea of a lame novelist held up in a creepy old town is intriguing on paper, but unlike other festival favourites like Alex Chandon’s Inbred which monopolizes on the run down visuals of an isolated no man’s land, Moreno does little more than use its rustic setting as only a muted back drop for its lacklustre plot.
I brought up Goosebumps for an important reason. Moreno tries to fill Game of Werewolves with quaint, innocent humour, like the kind you’d see in kiddie horror TV shows. We watch Tomás act like a goofball and tell silly stories about himself peeing his bed and sleeping with his parents after being scared as a teen. Cute, yes, but the incredibly bone-headed naiveté Tomás becomes endearing once he and Calisto—who walks, talks and looks like every film’s typical comedic relief—start getting chased around by growling Werewolves. The movie degenerates into a live action and unbearably prolonged Tales from the Cryptepisode with 0 percent of the same whimsical morbidity.
The look of Moreno’s ‘old school’ werewolves are also a serious let down. I understand that Moreno makes this movie with fun intentions, but no matter what calibre of horror-comedy you’re trying to produce it always pays to at least make your monsters are something to look at. The werewolf in Game of Werewolves just looks like a tall guy wearing a furry suit and a dollar store Halloween mask.
An unfortunate closing to the tremendously entertaining seventh annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival, the short comings of this bummer-of-a-werewolf film make me appreciate the cheap, yet now clearly adroit, horror of TV shows like Are You Afraid Dark?