Toronto International Film Festival 2015 - UPDATE #9
The Devil's Candy
Directed by Sean Byrne
USA/90 MINUTES/MIDNIGHT MADNESS
Sean Byrne's superb followup to his 2009 debut The Loved Ones, The Devil's Candy follows Ethan Embry's Jesse as he moves his wife (Shiri Appleby's Astrid) and daughter (Kiara Glasco's Zooey) into a remote country home - with complications ensuing as the house's mysterious (and bloody) past eventually comes to wreak havoc on the three characters' lives. Writer/director Byrne has infused The Devil's Candy's narrative with a decidedly deliberate feel that proves effective at building a sense of ominous dread, with the seemingly predictable nature of the movie's setup taking a handful of completely unexpected left turns. (It is, for example, not unreasonable to expect that Embry's character is destined for an Amityville Horror/The Shining-like personality transformation, but this thankfully never happens.) Byrne's impressively strong filmmaking chops pave the way for a series of electrifying sequences, including a striking moment wherein a young boy is pursued and attacked by the movie's sinister, hulking villain (Pruitt Taylor Vince's Ray). It's impossible to deny, however, that The Devil's Candy does suffer from a somewhat pronounced lull in its midsection, as the otherwise propulsive storyline reaches a point at which it essentially plateaus prior to the third act's kickoff. The effectiveness of said third act ultimately ensures that the movie ends on a spectacular and thoroughly engrossing note, and it goes without saying that Byrne has confidently cemented his place as one of the horror genre's most promising and talented up-and-coming filmmakers.
Directed by Guillaume Senez
Keeper follows teenage couple Maxime (Kacey Mottet Klein) and Mélanie (Galatea Bellugi) as the latter's pregnancy forces the pair to grow up quickly, with the majority of the movie detailing the impact the impending baby has on both characters' lives as well as the lives of their various family members. (Mélanie's mother, for example, is vehemently opposed to the idea of keeping the child, while Maxime's parents offer to provide help in raising it.) It's perhaps not surprising to note that Keeper boasts a deliberate pace and a decidedly gentle directorial hand, as filmmaker Guillaume Senez's low-key sensibilities prove an effective (and appropriate) complement for his and David Lambert's quiet screenplay - with the movie comprised of one sedate, character-building sequence after another. The movie's aura of authenticity is heightened by the stellar performances of the two leads, although it's just as clear that Klein's character remains difficult to wholeheartedly sympathize with until around the halfway mark (ie prior to that point, he just comes off as an entitled douchebag). Keeper does, however, benefit from the sporadic inclusion of impressively electrifying sequences, with the best and most apt example of this an argument that ensues between Maxime and Mélanie's respective parents over what should happen with the impending baby. Senez's increasingly meandering modus operandi ensures that the film does begin to fizzle out as it approaches its conclusion, and it is, in the end, finally clear that even at an hour-and-a-half, Keeper manages to outstay its welcome by at least 10 minutes - which does confirm the movie's place as a gritty yet erratic drama that succeeds mostly as a showcase for several above-average performances.
The Mind's Eye
Directed by Joe Begos
USA/87 MINUTES/MIDNIGHT MADNESS
The second film from Joe Begos (following 2013's Almost Human), The Mind's Eye follows a drifter (Graham Skipper's Zack Connors) with mind-control powers as he's ultimately forced to battle a diabolical doctor (John Speredakos's Slovak) and his army of telekinetic assassins. It's an appreciatively tongue-in-cheek premise that's milked for all its worth by writer/director Begos, as the filmmaker employs an unabashedly broad sensibility that's reflected in virtually all of the movie's attributes. (The soundtrack is an especially potent example of this, with Steve Moore's propulsive, pounding score infusing even the most minor of sequences with an irresistibly epic vibe.) The blistering pace - ie the opening half hour almost feels like the climax in terms of its execution - is impressively sustained for the majority of the film's appropriately brief running time, and while Begos' low-rent aesthetic is occasionally a distraction (eg a crew member can easily be spotted in a car's rear-view mirror), The Mind's Eye benefits substantially from the ongoing inclusion of captivatingly over-the-top kill sequences - with the movie, it often seems, attempting to set a record for exploding heads. By the time the ludicrously entertaining final stretch rolls around, The Mind's Eye has definitively established itself as one of the most engaging Midnight Madness titles to come along in some time and it is, to be sure, impossible not to wonder what Begos could accomplish with a bigger budget.
Directed by Nitzan Gilady
An utterly charming little drama, Wedding Doll follows Moran Rosenblatt's Hagit, a kind young woman with a mild mental disability, as she attempts to cope with a wide variety of changes in her personal life (eg sudden unemployment). It's immediately clear that filmmaker Nitzan Gilady is in absolutely no rush to tell this low-key story, as Wedding Doll unfolds at an unapologetically deliberate pace that confirms its place as a subdued character study - with this vibe generally faring better than expected mostly because of Rosenblatt's consistently enthralling, star-making turn as the almost ludicrously sympathetic protagonist. And while the movie's periphery figures are initially a little too one-dimensional and stereotypical, Gilady does an effective job of slowly-but-surely infusing these people with decidedly compelling attributes - to the extent that they almost become as engaging as Hagit (but not quite, of course). Despite its positive elements, Wedding Doll never quite manages to become as spellbinding as Rosenblatt's magnificent performance - with the film's pervasively meandering atmosphere resulting in an uneven feel that tends to prevent one from wholeheartedly connecting to the narrative. There's little doubt, however, that the movie benefits from a closing stretch that's far more captivating than anticipated, and it is, in the end, clear that Wedding Doll heralds the arrival of a fairly major new acting talent.