Editor’s Notes: The following capsule reviews are part of our coverage of the 2015 Fantastic Fest. For more information on the festival visit fantasticfest.com and follow Fantastic Fest on Twitter at @fantasticfest.
Dir. Oz Perkins
This is a difficult film to get into. The cast is quite the hook: Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka, Lauren Holly and James Remar. The film is shrouded in mystery, told as a montage of images that don’t always make sense. It’s completely fine to tell a story out of sequence, even keep your audience in the dark but this film is obnoxious in its structure.
There are two stories being told from the beginning of the film. We’re introduced to an all-girls boarding school with Kat (Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton) at the center of the story. The girls are preparing for a visit from their parents, and a week-long break with family. Both sets of parents for both girls cannot make it for various reasons. Stuck at school to their own devices, Kat and Rose pass their time in the cold wintery town of Bramford, Ontario.
While that story kicks off, we’re also introduced to Joan (Roberts). She’s on her own and thanks to the kindness of an older couple (Played by Remar and Holly), she tags along on their way to Bramford, Joan intends to visit the town next to Bramford.
As mentioned before, the intentions of all parties involved isn’t made clear. This wouldn’t be a cinema sin if the characters had any depth or a hook of some kind. But we’re merely treated to snippets of the narrative and the film tells you the story in the final act anyway.
Part of the downfall of the film is that it feels like the framework centers on the blaring score. The score tells you how to feel and how to react. The score holds your hand and says, “Be confused here, be scared here, be moved here.” The actors involved are more than capable of moving audiences on their own but a decision was made to leave all of that to the score.
At the end of the day this film feels as cold as the weather in the film. The film flirts with an interesting concept toward the end but I was so far removed that it was too little, too late.
The Keeping Room (2014)
Dir. Daniel Barber
Set in 1865, this American South tale is bleak and full of dread. An opening quote speaks to the cruelty of war. The film opens with a total gut-punch, two Yankee soldiers murder innocent civilians because they happened to be there. This film is not for the faint-hearted. We first meet Augusta (Brit Marling) out on a hunt. She is comfortable with her surroundings and the audience immediately realizes that she can handle her own. Louise (Hailee Steinfeld) is the younger sister, she slept in and is reluctant to work while their slave Mad (Muna Otaru) is on-site.
The film is given plenty of time to breathe. The audience is a fly on the wall to these characters. We don’t know what is going on right away, but it all becomes clear through minimal dialogue and body posture. The basics of filmmaking are evident early in this film and it pays dividends, holding the audience’s attention, keeping us wanting more. The setup introduces the two soldiers: Henry (Kyle Soller) and Moses (Sam Worthington). Their path of destruction leads them to the three women.
This is a slow-burn, tension-filled western where tension is often cut with the sudden, and gut-wrenching sound of a rifle blast. The tension is so effective because of the well-written characters and terrific performances all around. Marling stands out from the rest, she’s always a consistent performer. She demands your attention, it’s so easy to watch her work. Otaru grounds the film with a deeply moving performance. Worthington continues to impress with a supporting role, it seems he works better in smaller doses.
Cinematographer Martin Ruhe does a fantastic job of capturing beautiful images. The aesthetic of this film is nothing short of stunning. It’s an interesting contrast because the audience witnesses an ugly side of life.
Director Daniel Barber and screenwriter Julia Hart strip away all the fat in this taut film that wastes no time. The sheer darkness of this world is reminiscent of The Road (2009). Not exactly the feel good movie of the year, but sometimes it’s enjoyable to watch a movie that looks beautiful, has solid performances and punches you in the gut over and over.
Lazer Team (2015)
Dir. Matt Hullum
Set in Milford, TX this film from Rooster Team aims to tickle the funny bone in the style of Broken Lizard (Super Troopers, Beerfest). A group of off-beat guys stumble upon an alien spacecraft that was meant for Earth’s champion. The spacecraft contains a shield gauntlet, a laser gun, speed boots and a helmet. The dim-witted characters try on the parts of the suit and each piece gets moulded to their body. Little do they know that in five days, an alien champion will come to Earth to fight to the death and mankind will lose planet earth.
With the groundwork in place this film goes through the motions of training the unlikely heroes, much like Michael Bay’s Armageddon. The unfunny training montages all feel familiar and cliché. It’s unfortunate because the premise has a lot of potential, instead the audience is treated to low brow humor that includes a circle jerk joke. The rest of the film goes through the motions: group of fuck-ups will not win, they find a way to work together and voila they’re one unit.
Michael Jones is a bright spot in this film. His comedic timing is terrific. Gavin Free also delivers some laughs as the man with the helmet. Woody (Free) starts out with very funny visual humor. He has a mullet, he’s very thin and very stupid. The helmet progressively makes him smarter and his idea of intellect means he adapts a British accent. It feels like each character is given equal screen time, it’s unfortunate we didn’t get more of Jones and Free.
Outside of sporadic humor from Jones and Free, this film repetitively misses the mark. Punch lines lack any oomph and fizzle at the conclusion of every scene. There are running jokes that weren’t funny the first time but the audience is punished with them relentlessly. Enjoy seeing a guy get tazered? Enjoy, because you’re going to witness that a bunch in the opening 15 minutes!
Lazer Team will likely have a niche audience due to the massive following built by Rooster Teeth. It’s unfortunate that their first feature effort isn’t as funny as it should be. If this looks like your cup of tea you will probably see it, the trailer does nothing for you go ahead and pass.