Four Horror Films from IFC
High Lane (March 5/11)
High Lane follows four five friends (Johan Libéreau's Loïc, Raphaël Lenglet's Guillaume, Maud Wyler's Karine, Nicolas Giraud's Fred, and Fanny Valette's Chloé) as they arrive at a desolate mountain range within Croatia to do a little climbing, with the gang's fun-loving exploits interrupted by technical difficulties and, eventually, the appearance of a mysterious psycho. It's clear right from the outset that High Lane has been infused with a selection of lamentably underdeveloped characters, as filmmaker Abel Ferry, working from Johanne Bernard and Louis-Paul Desanges' screenplay, is simply unable to transform any of the movie's protagonists into wholeheartedly compelling, individually intriguing figures. There's little doubt, however, that Ferry effectively compensates for this issue by peppering the proceedings with a number of engaging action-oriented interludes, with the highlight undoubtedly an electrifying sequence wherein the quintet attempt to cross an extremely tenuous wire bridge. (The scene, which comes relatively early, is so strong that everything that follows can't help but feel somewhat anticlimactic.) It's only as High Lane morphs into a fairly standard slasher/backwoods thriller that one's interest begins to wane, as the familiarity of the narrative is ultimately exacerbated by Ferry's decision to plunge the proceedings into disorienting (and pervasive) darkness - with the director's ongoing reliance on shaky camerawork certainly not helping matters. Still, High Lane, for the most part, comes off as a perfectly watchable horror effort that benefits substantially from the inclusion of several engrossing stand-alone sequences. (The aforementioned wire-bridge scene alone justifies the movie's existence.)
Left Bank (March 7/11)
Directed by Pieter Van Hees, Left Bank follows recently-injured athlete Marie (Eline Kuppens) as she moves into her boyfriend's flat to recuperate - with the film subsequently detailing the odd happenings that begin to occur in and around his apartment complex. There's little doubt that, for the majority of its running time, Left Bank comes off as a fairly watchable character study, as filmmaker Pieter Van Hees does a nice job of transforming the protagonist into a likeable, sympathetic figure - with Kuppens' striking performance certainly going a long way towards initially capturing the viewer's attention. It is, as a result, easy enough to overlook the deliberateness with which Van Hees has chosen to tell this simple story, with the atmospheric visuals and periodic inclusion of mysterious elements buoying one's interest through the film's more aggressively uneventful stretches. Once the movie passes the one-hour mark, however, the viewer reaches their breaking point in terms of successfully dealing with the oppressively slow pace - as it becomes impossible not to wish that Van Hees would just get on with it and get to the point already. By the time the horror-oriented stuff finally does kick in, Left Bank has long-since cemented its place as an interminable, disastrously overlong waste of time - with the inclusion of a baffling and laughably stupid finale certainly not doing the proceedings any favors (ie it simply doesn't justify the exceedingly lethargic buildup).
The Objective (March 8/11)
From Daniel Myrick, the co-director of The Blair Witch Project, comes this supernatural thriller in which a team of elite soldiers, led by a mysterious CIA man (Jonas Ball's Benjamin Keynes), head out into the Afghanistan desert in search of a possible terrorist, with problems ensuing as the men find themselves confronted by a series of strange, decidedly sinister happenings. It's a reasonably workable premise that's employed to pervasively lackluster effect by Myrick, as the film, which moves at an almost unconscionably deliberate pace, boasts few attributes designed to capture and sustain the viewer's interest - with the pervasive lack of compelling characters standing tall on the movie's list of underwhelming attributes. (Though he's assembled a strong cast of unknowns, Myrick is simply unable to transform any of the movie's protagonists into figures worth caring about or rooting for; they're all distressingly interchangeable.) And while Myrick does a nice job of peppering the proceedings with bursts of short-lived horror (ie two men are vaporized by some kind of a weapon), The Objective suffers from an uneventful midsection that seems to mark Myrick's efforts at returning to the territory (and success) of The Blair Witch Project - as the film primarily follows the characters as they walk from one location to the next (and, of course, encounter a few horrifying objects/landmarks along the way). There's little doubt, however, that Myrick generally fails at achieving the palpable tension of his earlier success, which ultimately does ensure that the film, by the time it reaches its disappointingly vague and surprisingly confusing finale, has established itself as a passable yet rather tedious piece of work.
Sauna (March 11/11)
An abominable, utterly worthless piece of work, Sauna follows two 16th century brothers as they attempt to define and map the border between Russia and Sweden - with complications ensuing as they arrive in a small village that contains, at its heart, a mysterious sauna. Filmmaker Antti-Jussi Annila, working from Iiro Küttner's spare screenplay, has infused Sauna with an oppressively deliberate pace that proves effective at immediately alienating the viewer, with the movie's hopelessly uninvolving vibe exacerbated by the complete and utter lack of compelling (or even mildly interesting) characters. Annila's decision to initially stress the protagonists' unreasonably uneventful exploits - ie the men wander from one barren forest to the next - transforms the film's opening half hour into an excruciating ordeal, and it certainly does seem as though the narrative has nowhere to go but up once the two siblings arrive at the aforementioned village - yet it's during this stretch that things go from bad to worse as Küttner infuses the proceedings with an interminably stagnant feel that's compounded by the ugly visuals and hopelessly subdued performances. The movie, which is capped off by a baffling, laughably pretentious conclusion that's not even trying to make sense, is subsequently unable to hold the viewer's interest for even a sliver of a second, and Sauna ultimately stands as one of the most repugnant and flat-out contemptible cinematic experiences to come around in quite some time.
no stars out of