2018 Melbourne International Film Festival Recap
Hey, everyone! Welcome to my recap article of the 2018 Melbourne International Film Festival (or MIFF for short), one of Australia’s most prestigious film festivals that my adoptive home city of Melbourne celebrates every year which I attended back in August. Over the course of 18 days (the festival was held between from August 2nd to the 19th this year) MIFF showcased over 358 films of all different types ranging from many countries from around the world. This marks second year covering the festival for TheScreamCast (you can check out my coverage of last year’s festival here and here) and there was definitely no question that this was biggest year that I ever had at MIFF in the pass 6 years of attending it. How so you asked? Well, I watched a grand total of 60 films during the 18 days that it was on, which was a massive step up from the amount of films I saw in 2017 which was 46. Since I saw quite a few genre related films at the festival this year, I thought that I would share my brief reviews on all of them like I did last year in a recap article. So without further ado, here’s my complete recap of the horror, sci-fi, thrillers and action films films that I watched at MIFF 2018…
LET THE CORPSES TAN
DIRECTOR: Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani
PLOT: A grizzled thug and his gang head to an island retreat with a haul of 250 kilograms of gold bullion to lay low; however, a bohemian writer, his muse, and a pair of gendarmes further complicate things, as allegiances are put to the test.
REVIEW: You know what’s funny? While LET THE CORPSES TAN was at the top of my MIFF Viewing list for quite a while but just a few weeks before the festival started, I took it off it at the last minute after I found that the film had premiered on Amazon Prime Video AU. I figured since it was on there, I’d just watch it at home instead of seeing at the festival. However when a whole bunch of my followers messaged me saying that it would be a mistake and that I need to see it on the big screen, I changed my mind and put it back on my list. I’m so glad that I did in the end ’cause I found LET THE CORPSES TAN a really fun ride from start to finish. While I wasn’t a fan of directors Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani’s first film AMER (although I still haven’t seen the their second film THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS yet), I thought that their third feature film a much stronger effort in a lot of ways. Sure the film may lack a bit in terms of character development and a cohesive story, it makes up for it with its sheer fantastic visual style, brilliant sound design, strong acting and very intense action sequences. Plus for anyone who loves the ’70s aesthetic style of filmmaking, Cattet & Forzani perfectly recapture that style extremely well while also giving providing some modern touches to it as well. It’s pretty awesome.
DIRECTOR: Panos Cosmatos
PLOT: In the Pacific Northwest in 1983, outsiders Red Miller and Mandy Bloom lead a loving and peaceful existence. When their pine-scented haven is savagely destroyed by a cult led by the sadistic Jeremiah Sand, Red is catapulted into a phantasmagoric journey filled with bloody vengeance and laced with deadly fire.
REVIEW: Out of all the films that I was excited for seeing at MIFF, there was simply no shred of doubt in my mind that Panos Cosmatos’ film MANDY was my absolute most anticipated film at the festival this year. I’ve been excited for this film ever since it was first announced back in early 2017. After hearing all the amazing buzz fit received rom both the Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals, my anticipation for it went into overdrive. Even though I still hadn’t seen Cosmatos’ debut film BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (I’ve been meaning to though), I just had a really good feeling that MANDY was right up my ally based on what I heard about it. Now having seen it, I can tell you right now that MANDY was everything that I hoped it would be and more. It’s an absolutely fantastic and visually stunning action/horror film that uses its pretty simple revenge plot to make a truly insane psychedelic assault on the senses from beginning to end. The cinematography is breathtakingly (this is a film that *needs* to be seen on the big screen), the score by the late great Johann Johannsson is perfectly sublime (it’s the best film score I’ve heard this year), Cosmatos’ direction is brilliant, there are so many memorable moments throughout and the acting from the cast is superb. While Andrea Riseborough and Linus Roache are great in their roles, it’s no question that this film is Nicolas Cage’s. It’s a phenomenal tour-de-force performance that only Cage himself could deliver. Believe the hype, everyone! See MANDY when it comes out!
DIRECTOR: Nicolas Pesce
PLOT: A man kisses his wife and baby goodbye and seemingly heads away on business, with a plan to check into a hotel, call an escort service, and kill an unsuspecting prostitute.
REVIEW: Even though I first heard about PIERCING back when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year but it wasn’t until I read more about it in the program guide, that I became very interested in checking it out at MIFF. Besides starring Christopher Abbot and Mia Wasikowska, it was an S&M themed horror/comedy that was based on a book by AUDITION author Ryû Murakami and was the sophomore effort from THE EYES OF MY MOTHER writer/director Nicolas Pesce. Just the combination of both that talent and subject matter alone definitely made me very intrigued to see it. While the end result isn’t perfect by any means (I felt the ending was a little too anticlimactic for my taste. You’ll understand what I mean when you see it), I still found it to be found it darkly funny and really enjoyable film that gets more and more twisted as it goes along. What I really liked about it was for Pesce, is that it’s a complete 180 when compared to his debut film. It’s a very colourful, dialogue driven, visually stylistic different and full of dark humour. Plus I also loved his use of themes from classic Giallo films in certain scenes as well (I got excited when I heard the SUSPIRIA theme during a specific sequence). Also both Abbot and Wasikowska were great in the lead roles and they give a lot of layers to their complex characters. Overall PIERCING is a solid horror/comedy that I definitely say is worth checking out for sure.
DIRECTOR: Marco Dutra & Juliana Rojas
PLOT: Clara, a lonely nurse from the outskirts of São Paulo, is hired by mysterious and wealthy Ana as the nanny for her unborn child. The two women develop a strong bond, but a fateful night changes their plans.
REVIEW: Whenever I go through the MIFF program and read up on what films are playing at the festival, there’s always one film among it that I always decide to see just based off it’s unique sounding premise alone. GOOD MANNERS was that film for me this year. Why is that? Mainly it was described as ‘a lesbian themed werewolf musical’. After hearing that description, I knew that I had to see it. While it did potential to be a great film if done way but at the same time, it did also could easily become a mess as well. Luckily directors Juliana Rojas & Marco Dutra were able to put together a hugely captivating, entertaining and thematically rich film that’s a true original in the werewolf sub-genre. While watching the film you can see all the influences that both Rojas & Dutra used to how they wanted to craft GOOD MANNERS (director Jaques Toureur, werewolf films, Disney films, fairy tales etc.). Having all these aspects along with setting it in modern-day Brazil definitely make GOOD MANNERS a unique experience as a film (I loved the use of old school matte paintings for the background scenes). Plus it has two truly great performances at the centre from leads Isabél Zuaa & Marjorie Estiano, who have a terrific chemistry with each other. While it definitely has its flaws (I preferred the 1st act compared to the 2nd act, where it takes a turn with its plot and became a standard werewolf film), GOOD MANNERS is still a wonderful gem that horror fans should seek out.
MURDER ME, MONSTER
DIRECTOR: Alejandro Fadel
PLOT: Rural police officer Cruz investigates the bizarre case of a headless woman’s body found in a remote region by the Andes Mountains. David, the husband of Cruz’s lover Francisca, becomes the prime suspect and is sent to a local mental hospital. David blames the crime to the inexplicable and brutal appearance of the “Monster.” Cruz stumbles on a mysterious theory involving geometric landscapes, mountain motorcyclists and a mantra stuck in his head: Murder Me, Monster.
REVIEW: You know what? I’m not going to lie. One of the reasons why I wanted to check out MURDER ME, MONSTER at MIFF this year was mainly because of its title. Seriously how can you not want to watch a film that has a really awesomely striking title like that? Honestly I didn’t even care what it was actually about, I just had to buy a ticket for it just for the title alone. Other knowing that it was a horror film from Argentina, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. After watching it… Oh, man. It really was *not* what I expected at all. If I had to describe what it was like overall: imagine the film ONCE UPON IN ANATOLLIA as a creature feature, then you will have MURDER ME, MONSTER. While the film itself is a mix bag and suffer from quite a number of problems (it’s overlong, the pacing is rather slow and sluggish, the story can be a little dull and muddled at times etc.) but at the same time, I kind of dug it due to how atmospheric, creepy and truly bizarre it was as well. Plus it has without a doubt one of the most WTF final 15 minutes that I have seen a film quite a while. That ending alone is just worth seeing the film alone (plus it has one of the most original monster creations that you’ll see in a recent film). Overall I can definitely see why it has had a polarizing reaction from everyone (I think I’ve seen more hate for it than love), I personally found it a unique and intriguing monster film.
TOWER. A BRIGHT DAY
DIRECTOR: Jagoda Szelc
PLOT: Mula lives with her family in the country. Just before her daughter’s First Holy Communion, Mula’s long lost sister pays them a visit. The family believes in reconciliation, but Mula has her reasons to feel afraid of Kaja.
REVIEW: After first reading about writer/director Jagoda Szeic’s debut film TOWER. A BRIGHT DAY in the MIFF program guide, I wrestled back-and-fourth whether to include in my viewing list. While its premise did sound intriguing, it didn’t really entice me enough as other films did at the festival. What did make me put on my viewing list finally in the end was that her debut had a lot of comparisons to the films of my favourite directors working today Yorgos Lanthimos (DOGTOOH, THE LOBSTER, THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER). So how was it? Yeah… I’m just going to come right out and say it… I hated this film. I really, really hated it. While I does have some pretty eerie atmosphere, unnerving moments and a couple of okay performances sprinkled throughout, TOWER. A BRIGHT DAY was an absolutely dull and pointless psychological horror film that was too frustratingly ambiguous for its own good. Don’t get me wrong I love a good ambiguous film as much as the next person, sadly Szeic wasn’t able to provide anything interesting with the story that she was trying to tell (seriously if you asked me to explained what I think was going on in the film, I wouldn’t be able to). It has so much build up that ultimately leads to nothing in the end.
YOU SHALL NOT SLEEP
DIRECTOR: Gustavo Hernández
PLOT: A young theatre actress agrees to participate in a new stage play of a famous dramatist, without thought for the consequences.
REVIEW: Here’s a question: have you ever seen a film that you know for a fact has a truly original premise but sadly the end result wasn’t able to fully capitalise on it? I think that it’s safe to say that we’ve all seen many films like that in own time (I know that I have that’s for sure). Sadly you definitely out the Spanish horror film YOU SHALL NOT SLEEP (the latest film from Gustavo Hernández, the director of the interesting but flawed ‘single take’ original 2010 horror film THE SILENT HOUSE) on that list of missed opportunities as well. It’s a shame because there is truly a great idea at the centre of YOU SHALL NOT SLEEP, sadly the execution of it is just so badly handled in every way. It could have easily have been a truly creepy psychological/haunted asylum film, unfortunately its was let down by an awfully written script, laughable plot twists that don’t make any logical sense, massive plot holes, lazy jump scares and worst of all being completely boring. The talented cast does try their best with the material they are given, unfortunately they all completely wasted in their roles (although Belen Rueda, the lead in other Spanish horror films like THE ORPHANAGE and JULIA’S EYES, was able to rise above the material with her performance). There’s no doubt that YOU SHALL NOT SLEEP is one of the my least favourite films I saw at MIFF this year.
KNIFE + HEART
DIRECTOR: Yann Gonzalez
PLOT: Paris, summer 1979. Anne is a producer of gay porn at discount. When Loïs, her editor and companion, leaves her, she attempts to reclaim her by turning a film more ambitious with the flamboyant Archibald.
REVIEW: When MIFF announced their first wave of films that would be playing at the festival, one of the first films to catch my eye was Yann Gonzalez’s film KNIFE + HEART. Like a lot of films that were screening at MIFF, I never heard of it prior to its inclusion to the festival. What sold me on checking out was that described by some critics as a ‘Dario Argento/Brian De Palma influenced campy slasher film set in the ’70s gay porn scene’. Just like I like did with GOOD MANNERS, how could I not watch a film that has a premise like that? I really had high hopes for it but unfortunately, the end result didn’t really work for me. While it does indeed start off very strongly in its first half with its campy fun tone (you know what type of film you’re watching when the killer’s weapon is a switch blade in the shape of a dildo), visually stunning ’70s-esque aesthetic style, great electronic pop score and its many homages to the films of Argento and De Palma but sadly once it gets its second half, it runs out of steam and becomes less interesting as it goes along. While it’s definitely the type of film that I can see getting a bit of cult following once it gets officially released, it just didn’t really work overall as a whole for me due to that disappointing second half.
THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD
DIRECTOR: Dominique Rocher
PLOT: The morning after a party, a young man wakes up to find Paris invaded by zombies.
REVIEW: While I can definitely see why some people are kind of getting sick of zombie films these days, every now and again one will come along that tries to attempt to do something a little bit more interesting with its premise to make it stand out from the crowd. I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD (man, that is great bloody title) over the pass few months now and when I heard it would screening at MIFF, I knew I had to check it out. Especially after hearing it was basically a zombie version of CASTAWAY or ALL IS LOST. So how was it overall? While I’ll admit that it isn’t the original zombie film that you’ll ever see and it does take some leaps with logic on occasional, I still found it quite an engaging and thematically rich one overall. What made the film work very much for me was the truly stellar performance at the centre of it from lead star Anders Danielsen Lie (an actor who’s been on my radar since I saw his powerful turn in the film OSLO, AUGUST 31ST). This is his film from beginning to end and he was able to psychologically put us into the mindset of what his character is going through in it quite brilliantly. First time director Dominique Rocher did a really good job with his debut feature. Sure it isn’t a perfect film by any means (parts of the script could have been worked on a little more), THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD is still a solid and well made zombie film that I say is worth a watch for sure.
THE FIELD GUIDE TO EVIL
DIRECTOR: Agnieszka Smoczynska, Katrin Gebbe, Ashim Ahluwalia, Calvin Reeder, Can Evrenol, Peter Strickland, Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz, Yannis Veslemes.
PLOT: A feature-length anthology film. They are known as myths, lore, and folktales. Created to give logic to mankind’s darkest fears, these stories laid the foundation for what we now know as the horror genre.
REVIEW: Over the pass couple of years the anthology sub-genre has become hugely popular among many horror fans. While the quality of the films themselves has been all over the place (for every really good or great one, there’s at least one mediocre or bad one), I always look forward to checking them out when they get released and THE FIELD GUIDE TO EVIL was definitely no exception. Especially since after hearing that it was being produced by the makers behind THE ABCs OF DEATH series and have segments made by the directors behind acclaimed horror films like BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, THE LURE, GOODNIGHT MOMMY, BASKIN and many more, so this one had a lot of potential. Unfortunately despite all the great talent behind it, this was a huge disappointment for me. The main problem that I had with the film is suffers from the exact same problems that have plague a lot of recent anthology films lately. It’ll have a least two segments that were genuinely good (the shorts from Veronika Franz & Severin Fiata’ and Peter Strickland were the main highlights) but sadly all the rest ranged either from being either mediocre, uninspired or just plain bad. It’s a real shame since the premises for all the shorts were actually really unique and interesting. Overall while I’m sure that THE FIELD GUIDE OF EVIL will definitely have its fans, sadly it just didn’t live up to the great potential that it had.
HAGAZUSSA: A HEATHEN’S CURSE
DIRECTOR: Lukas Feigelfeld
PLOT: In the 15th century, a young goatherd living alone in a mountain hut feels a dark presence in the woods.
REVIEW: Every year there is always that one very specific film that I’ve been wanting to see for so long that I literally hope and pray gets chosen to screen at MIFF. That film for me this year was HAGAZUSSA: A HEATHEN’S CURSE. I’ve been highly anticipating this film ever since I’ve been hearing friends and fellow critics rave about it at multiple films festival over the year. Especially when I found out that this was first time writer/director Lukas Feigelfeld made this as his student film for film school. To say that I was hyped for this film would be a massive understatement. Now having finally seen it, was HAGAZUSSA: A HEATHEN’S CURSE able to live my expectations? I would say that it definitely did. While it won’t be for everyone due both its slow burn pace and ambiguous nature, I personally found it to be a truly unsettling and atmospheric arthouse horror film that had me really absorbed with it from beginning to end with its unique story and striking visuals. I must admit that it did take me a while to get into it since I honestly wasn’t sure what was going on at first but once started thinking about it once it was over, something clicked and it all came together for me. I can tell you know that ever since that screening, I haven’t stopped thinking about it. It’s the kind of film that lingers with you long after you’ve watched it. I can’t wait to see what director Feigelfeld does next!
TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID
DIRECTOR: Issa López
PLOT: A dark fairy tale about a gang of five children trying to survive the horrific violence of the cartels and the ghosts created every day by the drug war.
REVIEW: I’ve hearing a lot of really good things about writer/director Issa López’s Mexican coming-of-age horror/fantasy TIGERS NOT a afraid for quite a while now so when I saw that it had been included at MIFF this year, I definitely made sure to put it on my viewing list. What made me very interested in particular to check it out was hearing people say that the film reminded them of director Guillermo del Toro’s films like THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE and PAN’S LABYRINTH in how they incorporated horror/fantasy elements to the backdrop of real world events (while del Toro’s were set during the Spanish Civil War, Lopez’s film is in modern-day Mexico during the drug wars). So how was it overall? While I don’t thinks quite on the same level as similar films of its type (especially del Toro’s best work), it’s a still a really compelling, hard-hitting and moving gem that does a great job mixing horror, fantasy, crime drama and coming-of-age story together into something that’s feels like its own thing. Plus at the centre of it you have some truly phenomenal performances from the film’s young cast, who I thought really elevated the film in so many ways (they’re up there for me as one of the best child actor ensembles I’ve seen since the 2017 version of IT). While there are some contrivances with its story and some of the CGI is a little iffy, TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID is still a great horror/fantasy that definitely makes Issa López a filmmaker to watch in the future.
DIRECTOR: Gaspar Noé
PLOT: Young dancers gather in a remote and empty school building to rehearse on a cold and wintry night. The all-night celebration soon turns into a hallucinatory nightmare when they learn that their sangria is laced with LSD.
REVIEW: “Well… That was a trip. Literally and figuratively”. That was very first thought that came to my mind when I finished watching the latest film from controversial director Gaspar Noe (IRREVERSIBLE, ENTER THE VOID). While I’m not really a fan of Noe as a filmmaker by any means but I must admit that after hearing critics proclaim CLIMAX as mixture of ‘STEP UP meets MOTHER!’, it went straight to the top of my most anticipated list just on that comparison alone between those two very completely different films (for someone who doesn’t really like Noe, that’s saying a lot). Now having seen the film for myself, I can safely that CLIMAX is absolutely 100% accurate to how it has been described as by everyone. While it is probably his most *tamest* film he has made yet when compared to his previous work, CLIMAX is still very, very much a Noe film through and through. It’s extremely dark, disturbing, unnerving, dirty, visually stunning, unique, indulgent, wild, flawed, problematic, gruelling etc. In fact I would even say that this may be in fact his best directed film to date (the first major dance sequence in particular is p there one of the best scenes that I’ve seen this year). Overall CLIMAX is definitely a one of kind insane and intense experience of a film that definitely needs to be seen on the big screen. It definitely won’t be for everyone but man, it’s an absolute trip that you won’t forget in a hurry.
Well, that’s it. That’s complete rundown of all the genre films that I saw at MIFF 2018. Also if you’re interested on hearing my thoughts on all the non-genre films that I watched at the festival, you can listen to my audio reviews of all them at the Super Network here. I can’t wait to do it all again next year. Bring on MIFF 2019!