Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2014 Fantastic Fest. For more information on the festival visit fantasticfest.com and follow Fantastic Fest on Twitter at @fantasticfest.
Dir. Jennifer Kent
Anchored by a stellar performance by Essie Davis, The Babadook is a creepy, nightmarish tale packed with plenty of twists and turns to keep its audience invested. Davis plays a widow whose young boy Samuel is nowhere near recovering from the death of his father, a problem that only worsens when a book filled with violent images and sinister monsters inexplicably appears on his bookshelf. Strange things begin happening around the house, ultimately culminating in one of the best haunted house scenarios in recent memory. First-time director Australian director Jennifer Kent succeeds in creating an overwhelming sense of dread and terror by showing as little as possible. There’s some really great writing on display here, from the way the film handles the mental illness metaphor permeating the entire story to the refreshing way it provides its young character with a complete arc. Cinema needs more directors like Jennifer Kent. Hopefully she’s here to stay.
The Duke of Burgundy
Dir. Peter Strickland
One of the kinkier films to play Fantastic Fest this year, The Duke of Burgundy finds a pair of lesbian lovers searching for ways to spice up their love life that ultimately involve some form of punishment. This a strange, involving film with two magnificent lead performances by Sidse Babbet Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna. Both of their characters are intriguing but not often as penetrable as they should be. Thankfully, there is enough examination of the inner workings of a relationship to make for interesting drama. As the movie delves deeper into its 120-minute running time, director Peter Strickland of Berbian Sound Studio fame becomes less interested in telling a story and focuses more and more on the atmosphere of the film. But what atmosphere!
In Order of Disappearance
Dir. Hans Petter Moland
Rarely have vengeance tales been as hilarious as Hans Petter Moland’s In Order of Disappearance. Stellan Skarsgard stars as Nils, a Norwegian snow plower who sets out to kill the gangsters responsible for the death of his son. From the man who carried out the deed to the man who ultimately gave the order, Nils works his way up the chain of command to ultimately kill everyone responsible for taking his son’s life. Skarsgard is great, but it is Pal Sverre Hagen who steals every scene as the crime boss known as “The Count,” who is just trying to hold his business and family life together but has absolutely no success doing so. There’s a surprising amount of dark comedy given the subject matter, a facet of the film that eventually is a disservice to the overall story. For all the comedy present in the film, there is very little time devoted to Nils’s journey. What we are shown is powerful stuff, but it isn’t enough.
Dir. Juanfer Andrés, Esteban Roel
An agoraphobic woman in 1950s Spain takes in her upstairs neighbor who fell the down the stairs but refuses to let him leave. Adamant that her sister remain under her strict control and intent on keeping this man in her apartment through any means necessary, things quickly devolve into bloody chaos. Shrew’s Nest is a film containing many scenes heavy on dialogue, many of them going on far too long. The mystery underlying the entire film keeps one engaged when the limited characterization fails to do so. Worth the watch for the twist and psychological factors at play.
Dir. Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Lou Taylor Pucci is one of those rare breed of actors who has the ability to be magnificent and compelling no matter the material he has given. In recent films like Evil Dead and The Story of Luke he has been one of the highlights of an otherwise dull or frustrating film. In the case of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s Spring, not only has Pucci been placed in a really great film, but he delivers his finest performance yet. Pucci stars as Evan, a man who runs away to Italy to get a fresh start on life. A newly christened orphan and on the run from the law, Evan immerses himself in the culture of Rome and spends his free time chasing the beautiful Louise (Nadia Hilker), a girl who isn’t all she appears. Pucci and Hilker are great together, birthing the genre movie version of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. By refusing to conform to a conventional method of storytelling, Benson and Moorhead have crafted a truly original work that not only succeeds in keeping us guessing until the very end but does so in a way that makes us become completely embedded in Evan and Louise’s love story and their existential crises as well.