Welcome to the 1st edition of a two part article series in which I’ll be doing mini-reviews for some of the films that I saw recently at the 2017 Melbourne International Film Festival (or MIFF for short as it is also goes by). For those out there who don’t know what it is, MIFF is one of Australia’s biggest and most prestigious film festivals that my adoptive home town of Melbourne celebrates every year. Over the course of 18 days (the festival was held between from August 3rd to the 20th this year) MIFF showcased over 358 films of all different types ranging from many countries from around the world. This year was my 6th time attending the festival and it was without a doubt my biggest one so far. I watched a grand total of 46 films during that two week period, which is definitely the most amount that I’ve ever seen at MIFF. So I thought that I would share my brief thoughts on the some of the films that I watched. While I won’t be reviewing all of them here for these two articles (although I did do that in audio review form over at the other site I also contribute to at The Super Network, which you can check out here), instead I’ll be focusing on horror, sci-fi, thrillers and action films. Plus I’ll even cover a couple of genre-themed documentaries as well. So without further ado, here’s my complete recap of the first batch of genre films that I watched at MIFF 2017…
DIRECTOR: Luke Shanahan
PLOT: After a vivid dream, Maude Ashton returns to Adelaide, certain she now knows the whereabouts of her missing twin sister.
REVIEW: You know what’s funny? Ever since I saw Luke Shanahan’s directorial debut at its world premiere at the beginning of the festival, I honestly still have no idea what to make of it. I don’t know if it’s a good film or a bad film but I do know one thing though, it’s definitely unique film that’s for sure. While I don’t think that it works entirely as a whole, it’s still a creepy and riveting psychological horror/thriller that instantly grabs you from the very beginning to the very end (believe me it definitely knows how to grab your attention within its first 5 minutes). While watching it, I could definitely see all the influences that Shanahan drew from when crafting this film (Stanly Kubrck, Yorgos Lanthimos, David Lynch, Italian horror cinema etc.). It’s a an intereting mix that gives the film an ambitious and one-of-a-kind feel, even if it does feel rather messy at the same time. Despite it’s uneven script, it still delivers in other areas: the cinematography is beautifully moody, the score is amazingly memorable and the cast deliver strong work in their roles. Especially lead Adelaide Clemens, who was great in her duo role of twin sisters “Maude” & “Cleo”. While it’s all over the place with both its tone and story, I still kind of dug RABBIT for how completely insane and unpredictable approach it took. One thing I know for sure, you won’t forget this film after you’ve watched it.
DIRECTOR: Steven Kastrissios
PLOT: A struggling family in Albania, wrestling with tradition, must unite against a mysterious clan’s aggressions, leading to a ‘blood feud’ that is all too familiar in the Balkans.
REVIEW: I must admit that prior to viewing it at MIFF, I actually never even heard of BLOODLANDS until I spotted it in the festival’s program guide. Once I did a bit of research on it, I instantly became very excited for it due to who was the director behind it: Steven Kastrissios. For those who don’t know who he is, his debut film was the 2008 dark Aussie revenge thriller THE HORSEMAN. Since I was actually a big fan of that film, I knew I had to check out this long waited sophomore effort out for sure. Sadly despite my high expectations for it, BLOODLANDS ended up being my biggest disappointment at MIFF. While the film actually starts off pretty strong but as it goes along, it begins to unravel pretty quickly and becomes a boring muddled mess. There are definitely are some really interesting ideas at the centre of Kastrissios’ screenplay, the execution of it was both rather sloppy and poorly handled. Plus it doesn’t help that he takes the film way too seriously for its own good at times. Still there are some slight positives about it: the cast put in some decent, the score (which Kastrissios composed himself) is really well done and visually the film is very stylish and atmospheric. While I still think that Kastrissios is very talented filmmaker whose work I still want to see more of, unfortunately BLOODLANDS just didn’t work on any level for me at all.
DIRECTOR: Florian Habicht
PLOT: A close-knit New Zealand family run the most successful scare park in the Southern Hemisphere; facing their fears so others can face theirs.
REVIEW: When I found out that the documentary SPOOKERS was going playing a MIFF, I knew that I had to put on my viewing list. Being a huge fan of all things horror related, the subject of it was definitely right up my ally. The idea of documentary that would explore New Zealand’s most famous haunted attraction/theme park ‘Spookers’ just really appealed to me and I’m happy that it definitely lived up to my expectations for it. This was a terrific documentary that’s entertaining, insightful and even surprisingly touching as well. Director Florian Habicnt did a great job delving into the history of ‘Spookers’ and how it came to be created owners Beth & Andy Watson, who were surprisingly not horror fans at all prior to creating it. All those aspects of the film were really fascinating but to me what I found the most interesting was the interviews with the park’s workers/actors. It’s these interviews that I feel gave the film its heart and it was moving to hear them talk about how working at ‘Spookers’ had helped enrich their lives and some cases even saved them.. Plus to see them on how they each created their costumes and characters to scare the customers was a lot of fun as well. Regardless of whether you’re horror fan or not, SPOOKERS is a great documentary that definitely offers a lot that I think everyone can enjoy. After watching it, I definitely want to go to visit ‘Spookers’ right now!
BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL
DIRECTOR: Takashi Miike
PLOT: Manji, a highly skilled samurai, becomes cursed with immortality after a legendary battle. Haunted by the brutal murder of his sister, Manji knows that only fighting evil will regain his soul. He promises to help a young girl named Rin avenge her parents, who were killed by a group of master swordsmen led by ruthless warrior Anotsu. The mission will change Manji in ways he could never imagine.
REVIEW: Ever since I first started going to MIFF a few years back, there’s one thing I know for sure: it wouldn’t be one if a film by the legendary Takashi Miike didn’t play at the festival. This year he returned with his latest film BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, which is based on the manga series of the same name. Even though I never read the manga itself, what did make me really excited for it though was that it’s Miike return to the samurai film genre after previous making both 13 ASSASSINS and HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI earlier this decade. Since I loved both those films, I was very eager to how this one would turn out. As you would expect, I had an absolute ball with BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL. Sure it’s a little overlong but it makes up for it by having pretty much everything that you would want in a Miike film, especially with his samurai films: it’s compelling, darkly hilarious, comic booky, over-the-top, gory and hugely entertaining. The action set pieces are just fantastic and I would even wager that they’re just good if not even better than the ones Miike did in 13 ASSASSINS. Plus it has really strong performances from its cast (Takuya Kimura is great as ‘Manji’), clever script that’s offers some great surprises and of course terrific direction from Miike himself. If you are a fan of Miike’s work, than definitely check this one out. It’s awesome ride!
DIRECTOR: Kornél Mundruczó
PLOT: A young immigrant is shot down while illegally crossing the border. Terrified and in shock, wounded Aryan can now mysteriously levitate at will. Thrown into a refugee camp, he is smuggled out by Dr Stern, intent on exploiting his extraordinary secret. Pursued by enraged camp director Laszlo, the fugitives remain on the move in search of safety and money. Inspired by Aryan’s amazing powers, Stern takes a leap of faith in a world where miracles are trafficked for small change.
REVIEW: There were many reasons why I very intrigued to check out JUPITER’S MOON at MIFF but the main one being how it he had described by everyone who had seen it as a ‘superhero film set in the backdrop of the Syrian refugee crisis’. When I heard that description, it definitely peaked my interest because the concept had a lot of potential behind it if done right. While the film didn’t quite live up to its unique premise, I still found it to be quite an engaging film nonetheless. One thing I can say for sure is that this was up there as without a doubt one of the most visually stunning and technically impressive films that I saw at the festival. Director Kornél Mundruczó (WHITE GOD) really delivered on that front and produced some truly spectacular set pieces that made JUPITER’S MOON feel like a true Hollywood blockbuster (you can easily tell that Alfonso Cuarón was major influence on the visual style of the film). However of the biggest flaws that I found with the film was the script, which I felt was rather formulaic at times and didn’t really explore its fascinating themes in a rather satisfying way. Plus it didn’t that of the hand-help camera work did make me feel a little motion sickness. Overall despite its flawed aspects, I still found JUPITER’S MOON to be an ambitious and compelling effort. It’s definitely a film you have see on the big screen for sure.
DIRECTOR: Tyler MacIntyre
PLOT: TRAGEDY GIRLS, a twist on the slasher genre following two death-obsessed teenage girls who use their online show about real-life tragedies to send their small mid-western town into a frenzy and cement their legacy as modern horror legends.
REVIEW: Ever since I first heard colleague/ScreamCast co-host Brad Henderson talk about the slasher film TRAGEDY GIRLS on the SXSW episode of the podcast earlier this year, I became excited for it and I was praying that the film would somehow find its way to MIFF this year. Luckily it did and I immediately put it on my must see list for the festival. Having seen the film now, I can tell that it definitely lives up the hype. This was absolutely terrific horror/comedy that’s equal parts hilarious, gory and very entertaining. Plus it’s also a really clever and dark satire on our social media/fame obsessed culture as well. Co-writer/director Tyler MacIntyre did a really great job with how constructed this film, every aspect of it just simply works. Another key element about TRAGEDY GIRLS that I loved was definitely the performances from leads stars Alexandra Shipp & Brianna Hildebrand, who I thought were absolutely perfect in their roles as the film’s main protagonists/villains ‘McKayla’ & ‘Sadie’. They’re chemistry with each other was absolute dynamite and the film just lit up every time they were onscreen. There’s so much more I could say about the film but what I will say instead is that when does gets released, definitely seek it out for sure. I guarantee that you’ll have a great time with it too.
THE BELKO EXPERIMENT
DIRECTOR: Greg McLean
PLOT: In a twisted social experiment, eighty Americans are locked in their high-rise corporate office in Bogotá, Colombia, and ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company’s intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed.
REVIEW: Being that I am a fan of both filmmakers James Gunn and especially fellow Aussie Greg McLean, I was very curious to see how their collaboration on the horror film THE BELKO EXPERIEMENT (which McLean directed and Gunn wrote/produced) would turn out. They’re both two very district directors who have their own unique style and approach when comes to their own individual films, so the idea of both of them working a film like this was very intriguing to say the least. While the end result wasn’t good as it could have been due to it’s flawed script (it didn’t help that the film has a premise that we’ve seen done before many times before in other films), but it’s still an entertaining, extremely violent and well made film that’s without question *the* most messed up thing that either filmmaker has ever been involved with (mind you McLean directed both WOLF CREEK 1 & 2, which is saying something). It definitely won’t be for everyone due to how dark this film can be at times but that being said though, I actually kind of dug how enjoyably nihilistic and harsh it was. Plus it was fun to see how the all-star talent cast would dispatch each other in various violent ways. Overall while THE BELKO EXPERIMENT is still a solid horror film that I know most fans will get a kick out of, it would have been a bit nice if it was a bit more original and fleshed out too.
Keep a look out very soon for part 2 of my 2017 Melbourne International Film Festival coverage, which will contain mini-reviews for the films 78/52, THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER, MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND, JUNGLE, OTHERLIFE, MY FRIEND DAHMER and THE ENDLESS.