The Guest (TIFF 2014 Review)

Dir: Adam Wingard

The Guest has so many familiar elements of VHS-era classics that it’s a wonder the end product feels as fresh and vibrant as it does. Credit writer-director team Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard, as they strike gold in their third collaboration together (after 2010’s mumblecore horror pic A Horrible Way to Die and 2011’s clever slasher You’re Next) and transcend 80’s fetishism to create an entirely new beast that’ll have midnight audiences cheering.

The film opens with David (British actor Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey) arriving at the Peterson homestead while claiming to be a fellow soldier of their late son Kaleb. Mother Laura (Sheila Kelley) is quick to warm to this surrogate son and invites him to stay in Kaleb’s old room. Father Spencer (Leland Orser) is hesitant at first, but soon finds in David a drinking buddy with a sympathetic ear to his failed career ambitions. Well ingratiated into the family, David soon stands up to bullies who have been terrorizing teenage son Luke (Brendan Meyer) in a raucous barroom confrontation that combines (more…)

Haemoo (TIFF 2014 Review)

Dir: Shim Sung-Bo

Haemoo (meaning “Sea Fog”, the film’s original working title) is a hybrid of sorts – a fast-paced, allegorical seafaring adventure that takes a turn towards the grim and gripping around halfway through. The Korean actioner comes from first time director Sung Bo Shim, with producing and co-scripting duties handled by the celebrated Bong Joon-ho (of The Host and Snowpiercer fame). Unpredictability married to strongly wrought (but sometimes broad) characters are Haemoo’s stock-in-trade, and they serve the story well by creating a lasting impression that lingers long after the final reel ends.

Kim Yun-seok portrays the down-on-his-luck Capt. Kang, whose fishing boat, love life and luck have all run aground and seen better days. Desperate and debt-riddled, he makes a last-ditch deal with the local heavy to transport illegal immigrants from China to South Korea. Along for the ride is his ragtag crew, most of whom are given a single defining trait (i.e. naïve, conniving, sex-starved) but are gradually fleshed out over the course of the film. After the crew of the Junjiho is given their share of the earnings and brought into the fold by their captain, they hesitantly set about (more…)

The World of Kanako (TIFF 2014 Review)

Dir: Tetsuya Nakashima

The brutal Japanese thriller The World of Kanako seeks to shock and destroy with its stylish pastiche of American grindhouse trends. Cribbing liberally from film noir, 70’s exploitation, Robert Rodriguez’s anti-heroes of Sin City, and Tarantino’s talky scenes intercut with shocking violence, Kanako  is drenched in even more sin and far less redemption than its forebears. The result is a mixed cocktail of blood and style that is both inebriating and toxic.

After some dizzyingly edited pre-credits scenes set the tone of the film (nauseatingly violent and heavily noir inflected), a whiplash credits sequence – all 70’s cool and throttling guitar – sets an impossibly high bar that the film itself has a hard time following. In the centre of this exercise in excess is Kôji Yakusho as Akikazu, a disgraced former cop and current P.I. tasked with tracking down his estranged teenage daughter, Kanako. The plot is often a mere excuse to string along a series of beatings, intimidations, betrayals and revelations. The end result can be (more…)

Clouds of Sils Maria (TIFF 2014 Review)

Dir: Olivier Assayas

Clouds of Sils Maria is the latest from French auteur Olivier Assayas (Something in the Air, Paris, je t’aime). The film finds Juliette Binoche thoroughly engaged and in top form in a layered narrative that reflects on aging, art and how the two intersect. Binoche is Maria Enders, an actress in her middle years that came to fame as the lead in a play called Maloja Snake. She was once the seductive ingénue, in the play and otherwise, and is now asked to return to the play as the older female character who is blinded by her lust.

Kristin Stewart plays Maria’s assistant Valentine, and they both retreat to picturesque Sils Maria, Switzerland to prepare for the role. The plotline of Maloja Snake is mirrored in Maria and Valentine’s interactions, and the play and these women’s lives become increasingly intertwined.  With much hinted at but not shown, answers and meaning are illusive in the film.

In addition to this narrative trickery, Assayas references both Binoche and Stewart’s real-life personas to add another meta-layer to the story as a whole. The allusions and winking references are (more…)