SFFF Day 5 – The Good, the Bad and the Heavy

The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival’s final day kicked off by wrapping up its body horror retrospective with Philip Brophy’s Body Melt (1993). MMC! imagined an Arrow Video edition of the film earlier this summer, back when word of its restoration began circulating. The film now has a packed Blu-ray release compliments of Vinegar Syndrome, bringing this lesser known wonder to the world. The SFFF paired Body Melt with Chris McInroy’s practical effects-based We Summoned a Demon (2018), a fun and goofy short about a couple of guys who just want to be cool and end up summoning a demon. Overall, a fun way to start the Festival’s end.

Elle Callahan’s Head Count (2018) was a beautifully shot and surprisingly well-acted slice of high-concept horror about a group of college students who accidentally summon a malevolent shapeshifter with deadly powers once it isolates a group of five. It’s a complicated idea that ultimately proves to be not quite complicated enough by the film’s too-soon end (and frankly the movie is a bit let down by a monster that should be scarier on its reveal), leaving Head Count an admirable if not wholly satisfying horror experience. Ironically, it was the preceding short, The World Over (Heath C. Michaels, 2018), that offered a more fascinating high-concept exploration, about a couple who discovers a doorway in their apartment that leads to other realities and to other versions of themselves. Michaels creates an intriguing and disconcerting world in his 17-minutes of running time and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a feature-length version of The World Over playing at fantastic festivals in a couple of years.

The SFFF’s biggest film was certainly Gaspar Noé’s Climax (2018), a punishingly impressive film spectacle that won best film at the prestigious Sitges’ Fantastic Film Festival just days before its screening in the Paris of the Prairies. Noé’s film was preceded by Déjà vu (Le siège and Montreal Boy, 2017), an exceptional and unsettling nightmare about a woman who meets a friend in a diner to recount a recently accomplished sexual fantasy only to discover a disconcerting sense of déjà vu that eventually transforms into a frighteningly familiar dreamscape. The short ably anticipated Climax‘s sexual energy gone sour, then terrifying.

Allegedly based on a true story dating back to the 1990s, Climax portrays a (mostly) French dance troupe whose post-rehearsal party becomes physically and emotionally violent when one of the crew spikes their sangria with potent LSD. It’s a stunning and audacious technical achievement in construction and performance with a particularly wonderful opening dance number (the film’s opening half-hour that I rather adored) and magnificent film credits interspersed throughout its runtime (including an exceptional cast list appearing at the movie’s midway point). It’s probably a testament to Noé’s talents and the film’s immersive power that I hated Climax as much as I did, partly for its pointless abuse and partly for its squandering of an exceptionally talented filmmaker. Much of the love felt for Climax in the Broadway Theatre was for the film as a pure cinematic experience, punishing as it may be, but I found it repugnant, unable to help but dwell upon what Nick Cave might think of this superficial and exploitive film being offered as entertainment. To the extent that some statement is being offered in Climax, something rarely considered by critics or audiences, it likely resides in Noé’s repeated emphasis that the film as a “French” product, however I fear to pull at those threads when considering how Climax seems to present a Benetton ad tearing itself apart with very specific figures assuming the roles of instigators, victims, and assailants. I fear that Climax‘s jubilant, transgressive, and assaultive spectacles merely serve to obscure its cynicism.

Kudos to the SFFF for finding Death Van (Michael Enzbrunner, 2018) to open for Juuso Laatio and Jukko Vidgren’s Heavy Trip (2018). Death Van might have been the SFFF’s most visually imaginative work, an impressive animated short about a space-rock duo touring through a miniature world of weathered children’s toys and who must overcome a fearsome and powerful entity. Death Van was glittering and epic. Heavy Trip was an eventual audience prize winner, demonstrating both the loyalty of metal fans who came out to the show and the good-natured likability of this Finnish comedy. About a group of friends in a basement black metal band and their lead singer’s increasingly unwieldy lie about playing a major music festival, this Finnish underdog story doesn’t reinvent the buddy comedy-wheel but it does consistently hits its marks and seems to do justice to its niche musical genre – that Cookie Monster-voiced cover of “That Old Time Rock and Roll” alone seems to justify Heavy Trip‘s existence. It’s the feel-good, reindeer-grinding, head-banging road movie you never knew you were missing and a sure-fire way to end the SFFF on a positive note.

I’m told that the 2018 edition of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival was its most successful incarnation yet, meaning that this bigger and better version of the SFF with a repertory program and a Cartoon and Cereal Party will likely continue. MMC! loved being on hand once again and thanks must be given to John Allison and all involved. Thanks again and see you next year!

Audience Choice: Best Horror Film

Audience Choice: Best International Film

  • GOLD – Heavy Trip
  • SILVER – Abducted in Plain Sight
  • BRONZE – Crisis Jung

Audience Choice: Short Film

  • GOLD – Gridlock
  • SILVER – Post Mortem Mary
  • BRONZE – Chowboys: An American Tale

Audience Choice: Body Horror

  • GOLD – Videodrome
  • SILVER – Body Melt
  • BRONZE – Society

Special Audience Award

  • Supergrid

My Top Ten!

  1. Knife + Heart
  2. Crisis Jung
  3. Luz
  4. Tigers Are Not Afraid
  5. Chowboys: An American Tale
  6. Braid
  7. Prospect
  8. Abducted in Plain Sight
  9. You Might Be The Killer
  10. Heavy Trip
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