SFFF Day 3 – Hard Knock Lives

‘Stead of treated, the kids were getting tricked on Day 3 of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival. Certainly the SFFF’s most celebrated film was Issa López’s festival darling Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017). MMC! has discussed López’s film on more than one of occasion, and so we’ll take its greatness as read and briefly discuss Jérémy Comte’s Fauve (2018), a Canadian short that feels tailor-made to open for Tigers. A Special Jury Prize-winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Fauve concerns a pair of boys exploring a surface mine who “sink into a seemingly innocent power game with Mother Nature as the sole observer.” The short brings to mind Gus Van Sant’s Gerry (2002) and a very specific John Mulaney joke about an impression he had as a child, but these glib comparisons belie the truly heartbreaking nature of Comte’s film. Fans of Tigers would be well served to seek out Fauve.

Skye Borgman’s true crime documentary Abducted in Plain Sight (2017) is a conventional doc about a very unconventional criminal case – the kidnapping of twelve year-old Jan Broberg by her neighbour and parents’ best friend, Robert Berchtold. Despite these events being more than 44 years-old and being the subject of national attention at their time and later of a book written by Broberg’s mother, the case seems little known now and the documentary operates best as such. Sufficed to say that Abducted in Plain Sight involves kidnapping, infidelity, pedophilia, brainwashing, aliens, another kidnapping, multiple FBI manhunts, the CIA, blackmail, bikers, and arson (all usually appearing in the most unlikely of instances). The documentary epitomizes the “stranger than fiction” maxim and Borgman’s careful construction keeps viewers on their toes, leading the film’s audience to a shocking event and then winding back to trace that thread into yet another shock. Abducted in Plain Sight could easily become of carnival show of small town naiveté, insidious predation, and general absurdity, but the documentary avoids this trap through the firsthand accounts given by family members and law enforcement that reveal the trauma and pain that Berchtold inflicted on the Brobergs and with which they continue to live, never allowing the lunacy of these events to become divorced from their real human costs. This is a story unlike any other and arrives on Netflix in January.

Sponsored by the Shudder streaming service, Satan’s Slaves (Joko Anwar, 2017) is an expertly made and high affective feature that serves as a prequel of sorts to the 1980 Indonesian horror film Satan’s Slave. The film concerns a family caring for their dying matriarch who is haunted by terrifying visions from her deathbed. When she eventually passes and the father returns to the city to make plans for his family, their four children are forced to defend themselves from the supernatural forces at work in their country home. Satan’s Slaves is a chock-a-block horror film that seems to overflow with references to every canonical horror film imaginable and that might seem like a slight, a criticism that Satan’s Slaves is little more than a Indonesian sizzle reel cribbing from horror masterpieces, but it’s not. Anwar creates something that is entirely contained, thoroughly cohesive, and scary. So if you want to see an Indonesian take on Rosemary’s BabyThe Evil DeadPoltergeistThe Ring, The Omen, and The Night of the Living Dead (among others), get a Shudder subscription and watch Satan’s Slaves right now. It’s worth it.

Based on Tilman Singer’s own short film, Luz (2018) is a fascinating art-horror possession movie about a female cab driver being questioned by police under hypnosis and stalked by a demonic force dating back to her time in a Chilean girls’ school. Clocking in at a mere 70 minutes, Luz is briefer than the typical feature film and, in its way, feels more like an elaborate short film, being extremely heavy in its overdetermination and constantly outrunning its own plot. This pace and tone is to Singer’s credit, recalling in the film’s atmosphere the emotionally heightened and uncertain horrors of Andrzej Zulawski. Add to that some beautiful 16mm photography, an evocative period production design that manages to be both drab and occasionally garish, a disorienting sound design, and fearless performances from its entire cast and Luz is an MMC! favourite. A must for arthouse-horror fans looking to get lost in a discomfiting and resistant ambiguity.

Both Teal Greyhaven’s Special Day (2018), about a woman’s monstrous discovery at her 18th birthday party with her family, and Bill Whirity’s Prey (2018), about a young couple on a first date who are stalked and attacked for surprising reasons, were entertaining horror shorts with clear ideas, strong production values, able execution, and genuine scares.  Both deserve to be sought out as well.

The 2018 SFFF has just wrapped up and MMC!‘s posts on the weekend’s screenings are forthcoming. Be sure to check back for those wrap-up reports and go to my Letterboxd list for hot-takes on all the films programmed!

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