2017 Melbourne International Film Festival Recap: Week 2
Welcome back to the 2nd and final 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). After a massive first week of MIFF where I watched a total of 29 films (you can check my mini-reviews of 7 of those films in part 1 of my coverage right here), the second and final week of the festival was definitely at least a little bit more easy-going by comparison since I was only saw about 17 films that week. As great of a week as the first one was, it was actually week 2 of MIFF that I was really the most excited for since nearly all of my most anticipated titles of the festival were scheduled to be screened during that time. Some of which just happened to be genre-related films. Just like I did in part one of my MIFF coverage, I thought I’d share with you my brief thoughts on all of those titles. So without further ado, here’s my complete recap of the second batch of genre films that I watched in the second week of MIFF 2017…
DIRECTOR: Alexandre O. Philippe
PLOT: An unprecedented look at the iconic shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO (1960), the “man behind the curtain”, and the screen murder that profoundly changed the course of world cinema.
REVIEW: Alfred Hitchcock seminal classic PSYCHO is one of my top 10 favourite horror films of all time and if there is a book, film or documentary that takes an in-depth look into the making of it, I will check it out for sure. So it was pretty much a certainty that this documentary from director Alexandre O. Philippe (THE PEOPLE VS. GEORGE LUCAS) was automatically going to appeal to me. However what made this one stand out more compared to other documentaries that I’ve seen about PSYCHO was that it would focusing only the film’s most classic sequence: the ‘Shower’ scene. While the film does cover some stuff that I’ve already knew, I was actually quite surprised that Philippe explored some aspects about the ‘Shower’ scene that I honestly even heard of before. Not just from a film making stand point mind, but from thematic and symbolic level which I thought it was fascinating. Philippe assembled a great line interviewees (Jaime Lee Curtis, Eli Roth, Guillermo del Toro, Elijah Wood and many more) to discuss the scene’s impact and how it changed cinema forever. Plus he was even able to interview Marli Renfro, who was Janet Leigh’s stunt double for the scene. If you’re a big PSYCHO fan, this is definitely one documentary that you don’t want to miss. It’s pretty damn entertaining and insightful.
THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER
DIRECTOR: Yorgos Lanthimos
PLOT: Steven, a charismatic surgeon, is forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice after his life starts to fall apart, when the behavior of a teenage boy he has taken under his wing turns sinister.
REVIEW: Over the pass couple of years, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos has slowly been working his way up to becoming one of the favourite filmmakers working today. Between his previous films DOGTOOH and THE LOBSTER (both of which I absolutely loved), he’s a unique director who’s work is unlike anything that is out there in cinemas at the moment. So in a lot ways it was no surprise that his latest film the psychological horror/thriller THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER was my most anticipated film at MIFF this year. How did it turn out overall? Well, as you would expect, I absolutely loved it! If you ever wondered what a Lanthimos horror/thriller would be like, this film is *exactly* what you would imagine it to be. It is a quintessential Lanthimos film through and through: it’s completely original dark, hilarious, bold, weird and very Kubrick-esque. Plus it has some really great turns from Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman and especially newcomer Barry Keoghan, who’s performance was absolutely chilling. That being said THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER definitely won’t be for everyone and can understand why a lot of people who hate but me personally, it has everything that I love about Lanthimos as a filmmaker. If you go along with its vibe, I think you might dig it as well. For me not only was it one of the best films that I saw at MIFF, it’s definitely one of 2017’s best film for sure.
MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND
DIRECTOR: Ana Asensio
PLOT: MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND is a chilling portrait of an undocumented young woman’s struggle for survival as she finds redemption from a tortured past in a dangerous game.
REVIEW: While there are a lot of ways how I can express how I felt about MOST BEAUTIFUL WORLD, I think the guy who was sitting next me during the film pretty much perfectly summed up out loud what I thought of the film overall as the credits were rolling, “Is that it?”. I could go in depth as to why that it but I’ll just say this though: this film would have worked a lot more better if were just a short film. MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND felt like writer/director/star Ana Asensio only made this film so that she could direct one particular intense sequence but added some extra padding on it to justified it being a feature length film. Granted Asenio actually does a solid job setting up her character of ‘Luciana’ and why she would participate in a terrifying game for the amusement of rich New Yorkers (the film tries to have something to say about that but sadly its pretty underdeveloped), its just leads to rather anticlimactic, frustrating and unsatisfying conclusion in the end. However what does make it watchable is that one certain scene that I’ve been talking about, which is definitely up there as one of the most intense and frightening sequences that I’ve seen in a film this year. It’s a great scene that made me really wish that the film itself that featured it was a lot better.
DIRECTOR: Greg McLean
PLOT: Based on a true story, a group of friends join a guide for a trek into the Bolivian jungle, searching for an Indian village. The men soon realise that the jungle is a difficult place to be.
REVIEW: The MIFF opening night film JUNGLE, which was also its world premiere, was one of two films that WOLF CREEK director Greg McLean had shown at the festival this year (the other being the horror film THE BELKO EXPERIMENT, which already reviewed in part 1 of my MIFF coverage). Of the two films that he was screening, this one definitely was the one that intrigued me the most due to it being McLean’s first foray outside of the horror genre. I was curious to see how this one would turn out ’cause usually when a horror director tries his hand at making a non-horror film, the results can be a rather mix-bag at times. Luckily McLean that didn’t have a problem with that at at all with JUNGLE, which turned out to be a completely riveting, intense and well made survival adventure film. It was great to McLean try something and completely knocking out of the park (don’t worry there are plenty of sequences in this film where he experience as a horror filmmaker shine through). Plus it helps that has a really brilliant turn at the centre of it from HARRY POTTER series star Daniel Radcliffe, who gives one of the most physically and emotionally demanding performances of his career here. Overall JUNGLE is a great and thrilling crowd pleaser that I all think of you out there should definitely check out.
DIRECTOR: Ben C. Lucas
PLOT: Ren Amari is the driven inventor of a revolutionary new drug. OtherLife expands the brain’s sense of time and creates virtual reality directly in the user’s mind. With OtherLife, mere seconds in real life feel like hours or days of exciting adventures. As Ren and her colleagues race around the clock to launch OtherLife, the government muscles in to use the drugs as a radical solution to prison overcrowding.
REVIEW: It’s funny that even though sci-fi films are regularly made in a lot of countries around the world, its actually very rare to see an Australian made one since they’re not really made all that often. Especially if its one that’s developed without the assistance of a major Hollywood studio. Hence it was one of the many reasons I was intrigued to see OTHERLIFE at MIFF, which is the sophomore effort from director Ben C. Lucas (whose debut film was the little seen but really strong high school drama WASTED ON THE YOUNG). While I don’t think its as great as it could have been, I thought it was a solid and engagingly enough sci-fi film. The main problem with the film is that the script (which Lucas co-wrote with HIGHLANDER/BACKDRAFT writer Gregory Widen and Kelley Eskridge, who wrote the novel that the film is based on called SOLITAIRE) doesn’t really do anything that we haven’t already seen before in other sci-fi films. However the ideas at the centre of it are still quite interesting and thought-provoking nonetheless. Plus it’s also anchored by a pretty strong performance from lead star Jessica de Gouw, who’s best know for her the TV show ARROW. If you’re a sci-fi fan, I’d say it’s worth a watch. The film was picked up by Netflix for a release sometime at the end of the year, so you’ll be see it sooner rather than later. I’ll be curious to to hear what you think of it.
MY FRIEND DAHMER
DIRECTOR: Marc Meyers
PLOT: Before Jeffrey Dahmer became a notorious serial killer, he was a shy, alcoholic teen who never quite fit in. Based on the acclaimed graphic novel by Derf Backderf, this is the true, haunting story of Jeffrey Dahmer in high school.
REVIEW: You know what’s funny? I’ve actually have seen the graphic novel that this film is based on in quite a few book and comic shops over the pass few years but I never bothered to pick it up. Even though I haven’t read it personally, I found the concept of the graphic novel, which looks at the teen years of real life serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer from the prespective of one his high school friends, to be rather intriguing one. Surprisingly I honestly wasn’t even aware that it had been adapted for the big screen until I spotted it in the MIFF program guide, so I made sure to put it on my list to check out. What did I think of it? I thought it was terrifically dark coming-of-age film that I thought was both equally riveting and fascinating. Writer/director Marc Meyers did a really job exploring Dahmer’s high school and showing us how it lead him to become one of America’s most infamous serial killers. What really made this film work for me was performance of Ross Lynch as ‘Dahmer’. Even though he has a reputation of being a Disney channel star, I thought that Lynch was both absolutely amazing and chilling in this film. It’s an incredible performance that’s definitely up there as one of the best acting turns in a 2017 film for me. Whether you have read the graphic or not, MY FRIEND DAHMER is a film that I recommend you all check out. It’s pretty damn great.
DIRECTOR: Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead
PLOT: Two brothers return to the cult they fled from years ago to discover that the group’s beliefs may be more sane than they once thought.
REVIEW: I’m just going to say this right of the bat: I really can’t wait for all of you to see THE ENDLESS. Believe me when I tell you that you need to go into it as blind as possible. I could explain why that is but that would go into spoiler territory. What I can say though is that if enjoyed directors Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead’s previous films, you’re definitely going to enjoy this one as well. One of the things I admire about Benson & Moorhead as filmmakers is that they’re films feel so original and unique compared to a lot of horror films out there. THE ENDLESS is definitely no different. It’s a really well crafted sci-fi horror film that I found to be quite an ambitious, compelling and mind-bending experience. Despite being involved with directing, writing, scoring, cinematography and editing of the film, I was very curious to see how they would both Benson & Moorhead would do in the acting department playing as the film’s main characters. Surprising, I thought did they both did a really good job in their roles. Plus their backed by a strong supporting cast as well. There’s a lot more I could say about THE ENDLESS but I don’t want to give away too much. Once it gets an official release, definitely check it out. Again I can’t wait to hear your reactions to it.
Well, that’s it. That’s complete rundown of all the genre films that I saw at MIFF 2017. Don’t forget to check out part one of my MIFF 2017 coverage here and if you like hear my thoughts on all the other non-genre films that I watched at the festival, you can listen to my audio reviews of all them at the other film blog I write for the Super Network here.