Saskatoon is slightly warming as the week proceeds. I’m reluctant to say this is directly attributable to the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival but after a surprisingly strong Day 2, I see no other credible explanation for it. Including the What the Hell! – Totally Messed Up Short Films block, Day 2 offered 16 different works for consideration, injecting a heavy dose of bizarro randomness into the Festival and creating a decidedly different tone from the previous day’s atmospheric horror extravaganza.
What the Hell! was possibly SFFF’s biggest success thus far, boasting its largest attendance for a short film program in the Festival’s history and garnering its loudest reactions. Festival director John Allison remarked in his introduction that this year’s block of films emphasized weirdness and he did not lie. Bracketing the program was Daniel Moshel’s MeTube: August Sings Carmen “Habanera” (2013) and MeTube 2: August Sings Carmina Burana (2016), a kinky, pansexual, EDM-infused opera spectacle hilariously parodying the phenomena of webcam crooning and flash mob histrionics respectively. Between Moshel’s shorts were a variety able films – Ryan Betschart’s 1-minute nightmare Pudding (2015); Moritz Krämer’s Eat (2012), featuring a supermodel devouring her changing room; the Lovecraftian gross-out When Susurrus Stirs (Anthony Cousins, 2016); and Calvin Reeder’s pink-eye experiment, The Procedure (2016).
Beyond Moshel’s shorts, four films stand out. Paul Briganti’s Greener Grass (2015) provides an acid trip take on soccer mom insecurities and first world problems, bringing Buñuel to the California suburbs. Manoman (Simon Cartwright, 2016) outdoes The Master Cleanse with its tale of Glen, a primal scream participant who vomits up a small, naked, Danny DeVito-like id-monster and then liberates himself through some less than enlightened behaviour. Cartwright’s film is most memorable not for its transgressiveness, but for its wild, self-aware puppetry. The Black Bear (Méryl Fortunat-Rossi and Xavier Seron, 2015) teaches some gory, rollicking lessons about keeping safe from bears, the most important of which is that bears are dangerous even if they look like a plushy, toy store mascot. Zach Lasry’s Seth (2015) may be Daniel Moshel’s only competition in pure randomness, featuring a demented man-child intent on easily impressing his stuffed animal friends and then pursuing a grander goal, impressing his idolized father. Seth is recommended for fans of corn, groin thrusts, and collage art.
Marcin Wrona’s Demon (2015) was a revelation on par with contemporary horror masterpieces like Let the Right One In, It Follows, and The Witch. The film concerns a wedding at a rundown country home in rural Poland that is gradually undone when the groom becomes possessed by a traditional Jewish spirit. While the bride’s father tries to maintain the façade of a happy celebration, tensions rise in the confluence of exhaustion, alcohol, distrust, ethnic prejudices, and secrets lost to history. Wrona crafts an exceptionally dense film with an uneasy, confrontational cinematography and Itay Tiran’s groom is an impressive performance in confusion, uncertainty, and physical abandon, punctuated by his haggard postures and wild seizures. Demon is properly burdened with cultural and historical specificity and stands in a dark shadow cast by a diverse array of films that include The Exorcist, The Deer Hunter, The Firemen’s Ball, The Exterminating Angel, The Shining, and the work of Roman Polanski. A masterpiece.
Geoff Redknap’s début feature The Unseen (2016) infuses a daughter-in-peril crime plot with an original take on the invisible man story – think Taken set in British Columbia and with a gradually vanishing Liam Neeson as an ex-pro hockey player-turned-lumber worker. Redknap, a special makeup effects artist on Star Trek Beyond, Deadpool, and the Supernatural TV series, crafts an effective thriller that sings with some impressive visual effects. It’s an admirable first feature that suggests great potential in Redknap as a director and reminds that Canadian cinema has always excelled in creating thoughtful, original horror-inspired films.
Trash Fire (Richard Bates Jr., 2016) was a surprising success in Day 2’s midnight slot. Entourage‘s Adrian Grenier plays Owen, an admitted asshole whose nihilism originates from his parents’ death and his sister’s disfigurement in a house fire. When his suffering girlfriend gets pregnant, Owen tries to rehabilitate their relationship and agrees to visit his reclusive sister and monstrous grandmother in an effort to reconcile with them. The result is a hilariously venomous family reunion full of judgement, recrimination, and murder. Bates’s positioning of his characters in direct address adds to the film’s harshly acerbic attitude and proves that likability is hardly a requirement to enjoyable cinema.
Day 2 also featured James Cunningham’s Edward Gorey-esque animated short Accidents, Blunders and Calamities (2016), featuring an alphabetized story of animal deaths read as an entertaining bedtime story to some young possums; L. Gustavo Cooper’s slight but effective folkloric horror short The Home (2016), and the straightforward yuletide bloodletting of Do You See What I See? (2015).
Day 3 offers the rock-doc Danny Says, Christopher Lloyd in I Am Not a Serial Killer, the coming of age, Teenage Cocktail, and the one of a kind, neo-trash enfant terrible, The Greasy Strangler. With a very long closing day on Saturday starting at noon and running to its midnight screening, our review of Day 3 may need to wait until Sunday. See you then!