SFFF Day 2 Report – Frenemies

The second day of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival leaned into bad behaviour, mostly by men, mostly among (supposed) friends. The program started light with Brent Hodge’s Who Let The Dogs Out (2019), an MMC! favourite of this year’s Calgary Underground Film Festival. Hodge, Alberta-born and in attendance at the SFFF, has found a niche with his self-described “comedy documentaries” like Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary (2018), I Am Chris Farley (2015), and A Brony Tale (2014), and Who Let The Dogs Out further confirms Hodge’s mastery of the subgenre. Devoted to the Baha Men’s 2000 hit “Who Let The Dogs Out,” its myriad authorship claims, and its various legal battles among friends and stranger alike, Hodge distills Ben Sisto’s eight-year exploration and three-hour lecture on the track into a tight, enthralling 62-minute doc. Sisto acts as the song’s scruffy biographer, travelling the world’s music studios, courtrooms, and high schools to trace the origin of the song’s ubiquitous catchphrase. This BOSUD (a “biopic of someone undeserving,” to use Dennis Bingham’s terminology) is a definite crowd-pleaser, being far more fascinating that its novelty subject matter should allow for. The SFFF was the last festival stop for Who Let The Dogs Out as it now transitions to cable and streaming platforms. Look for it on Crave in Canada!

I feel genuinely conflicted about Adam Egypt Mortimer’s Daniel Isn’t Real (2019), a film that may perfectly be itself but may not be for me. The film concerns Luke (Miles Robbins), a mentally ill college student who reconnects with Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger), his childhood imaginary friend and a malevolent influence on his life. The returned Daniel initially brings confidence and success to Luke, but he is obviously unsatisfied with his unseen role and the restraint exhibited by Luke’s conscience. Eventually, Daniel’s demanding, insatiable, and sadistic masculinity is too much for Luke and the film’s mix of psychological, supernatural, and body horror come to monstrous head. Daniel Isn’t Real looks great – performances are uniformly excellent, effects are mostly impressive, and the cinematography looks slick and professional. Still, the film is consistently weighed down by dread, most notably by its score that starts out as oppressively terrifying and never lets up. Schwarzenegger’s oily Daniel is consistently loathsome, being far more Patrick Bateman than Tyler Durden, and his obvious sociopathy (even as a child) robs the film of any nuance. I also struggled with the film’s conclusion, which treads into the realm of dark fantasy, something that feels deserved by its narrative but a bit out of place with the rest of the movie’s tone. If you can bear the weight of Daniel Isn’t Real’s constant and inevitable doom and its somewhat off-kilter ending, then you’re likely to embrace it as a kind of Son of Jacob’s Ladder. I’m not quite there yet.

Rob Grant’s Harpoon (2019) is a pitch-black, single-set comedy-thriller about three friends trapped on a yacht, drifting on the Atlantic Ocean while old secrets and new betrayals are revealed. Hot-tempered and wealthy Richard (Christopher Gray) pounds in the face of his broke best friend Jonah (Munro Chambers) under the mistaken impression that he slept with his girlfriend Sasha (Emily Tyra), then offers a day cruise in consolation for his mistake. Unfortunately, both the boat and the friendships break down, turning their pleasure trip into a claustrophobic contest for survival against dehydration and each other. Harpoon aims at being a type of Shallow Grave at sea, and it does so fairly well. The film’s script builds real tension, its trio of young leads are solid, and the 82-minute runtime means Harpoon doesn’t overstay its welcome. Were Harpoon to be a funnier film, striking a balance between the tone of its main narrative and its sardonic voice-over narration, Grant would likely have achieved something more gleefully black. As it is, Harpoon is an efficiently nifty thriller and a solid watch for those interested in bad people doing bad things to each other at sea.

The SFFF’s pair of short films for day two take the idea of friends turning on each other (in court over song credit, in the mind over control, at sea for “reparations”) and considers it in the context of matrimony. Jan Verdijk’s Wild (2019), winner of this year’s Méliès d’Or for short films, sees a father turned on by his wife and son when he insists on cooking their steaks to an undesirable degree of rareness, then befalls something of an ironic end. Denman Hatch’s Make Me a Sandwich (2019) finds an elderly wife having enough of her husband’s rude demands, resulting in a surprisingly gruesome and unhinged resolution. Both were simple, well-made horror efforts that entertained.

Day three of the SFFF promises ten more shorts including the “She: Female Focused Short Films” section, as well as Andrew Patterson’s Slamdance hit The Vast of Night and Tyler Cornack’s anal-retentive crime thriller Butt Boy. Come back tomorrow for MMC!’s report on these screenings and more!

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