Director: Sion Sono
Two years ago, Sion Sono graced the world with Why Don’t You Play in Hell, a cinematic opera of Yakuza bloodshed and satire that passionately rocked all who saw it. Since then, he’s made and released numerous other films, varying in praise, but none intrigued me (and his fans) more than Tag, a film seemingly simple in concept, but very apparently perfect terrain for the man: Japanese high school students and those around them being comically killed en masse. But it’s not that simple, no. Tag is (withholding spoilers, best you go in blind) a marvel of sci-fi and drama equally comedic and wrenching. Time and space are warped to deliver the story of Keiko, a girl battling fate and its very literal, violent responses to her independence. As she traverses a web of confusing and surreal nightmares, Sono’s direction and his wonderfully chosen soundtrack turn them to dreamscapes with the presence of Keiko’s rebellion, her refusal to accept the fact that her path is determined. You’ll love what you’re watching every second you’re watching it, no doubt.
Director: Agnieszka Smoczynska
The process of coping with identity and judgement both sexual and social is explored in The Lure, a gorgeously dark musical equal parts lavish and moody. Lights shimmer off of water, blood, and skin, and your eyes can’t leave the screen as the leads, a pair of homicidal teenage mermaids, glide across nightclub stages, rooms, and water alike in near-perpetual song. It’s Agnieszka Smoczynska’s directorial debut, and she puts you in a front row seat for your own, personal Broadway show that effortlessly frames what’s grotesque in a graceful light. The music is as catchy as it is entrancing, too, wowing you with its stage-set numbers and bathing you in the morose, grim waters of youthful confusion with the others. By the end, you’re reflecting on this aquatic coming-of-age tale with the same adoration you’d feel toward other masterworks of similar (thematic) subject matter. It’d be a crime to miss this.
Where Have All the Good Men Gone (Hundeliv)
Director: René Frelle Petersen
Family drama feels utterly Shakespearean in Where Have All the Good Men Gone, a film powerful on multiple fronts. We follow sisters Sofia and Olivia, running from a degrading life of verbal and physical abuse toward a promising, more hopeful future with Sofia’s biological father, whose existence they’ve recently discovered. Watching them on this journey, we can see both the sisters’ unwavering optimism and the fragmented psyche of Sofia’s father, a result of PTSD we can gather is, itself, a result of isolation. If there’s one grand statement to be found here, it’s that separation drives the mind, body, and soul mad in equal measure. Director René Frelle Petersen frames all of it with grace, intimacy, and crisp filmmaking that makes for an entrancing viewing experience. Put this one on your radar.
The Night Stalker
Director: Megan Griffiths
This account of serial killer Richard Ramirez and his murderous rampage in California during the mid-80s utilizes a fictional, interview-the-killer-to-explore-his-history narrative to effects both underwhelming and rewarding. What separates it from the pack, however, is how deeply it weaves the past of the interviewer into the past of the interviewee, as the one doing the questioning (Kit, played very well by Bellamy Young) finds that she can’t forget how profoundly Richard (played exceptionally well by Lou Diamond Phillips) influenced her life and identity. That’s what’s being explored here, aside from real events, the monstrous burden of influence and how it warps our perceptions of our actions and surroundings. It often feels like a crime procedural (something you’d see on TV), but feels pretty snug in that role, and is definitely worth a watch.