Toronto International Film Festival 2016 - UPDATE #8
Brain on Fire
Directed by Gerard Barrett
IRELAND/CANADA/95 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Brain on Fire casts Chloë Grace Moretz as Susannah Cahalan, a reporter whose life is thrown into turmoil after she begins experiencing a series of inexplicable mental and physical complications. It's a fairly compelling premise that's employed to consistently underwhelming effect by writer/director Gerard Barrett, as the filmmaker proves perpetually unable to elevate the proceedings above the level of a generic disease-of-the-week drama - with the run-of-the-mill vibe elevated by a repetitive first half devoted primarily to Susannah's escalating symptoms (ie it's all just so one-note in its execution). Moretz's decent yet increasingly hysterical performance doesn't temper the movie's Lifetime-production atmosphere, to be sure, while the able supporting cast, which includes Richard Armitage, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Tyler Perry, is left floundering in underwritten characters that seem to have emerged directly from a template for movies of this ilk. (Only Jenny Slate, cast as Susannah's work buddy, manages to make a positive impact.) It's surprising to note, then, that Brain on Fire does improve considerably as it passes the one-hour mark, as the movie, past that point, concerns itself less with Susannah herself and more with the various doctors attempting to diagnose her mysterious condition - with, especially, everything involving Navid Negahban's charismatic specialist faring far better than one might've anticipated (to the extent that it's impossible not to wish the movie were entirely about his character). The last-minute turnaround isn't enough to compensate for what's predominantly an underwhelming, half-baked endeavor, which is a shame, certainly, given the potential of the film's real-life origins and the effectiveness of its third act.
Heal the Living
Directed by Katell Quillévéré
An unusual, not-entirely-successful drama, Heal the Living details the impact an impending heart transplant has on an assortment of disparate characters - including a compassionate medical specialist (Tahar Rahim's Thomas), a grieving mother (Emmanuelle Seigner's Marianne), and a woman (Anne Dorval's Claire) suffering from a terminal heart condition. Filmmaker Katell Quillévéré, working from a script cowritten with Gilles Taurand, does a nice job of initially drawing the viewer into the leisurely-paced proceedings, with the gripping opening stretch, detailing the exploits of an affable surfer, giving way to a first act that boasts a number of unexpectedly wrenching sequences (eg parents learn that their son is brain dead). The strength of Heal the Living's individual scenes is nevertheless unable to compensate for a decidedly erratic momentum, as Quillévéré's relaxed approach prevents one from entirely embracing the film as a whole (ie there's a distinctly hit-and-miss atmosphere here) - with, for example, many of the interludes involving Dorval's character unable to match the impact of the movie's other subplots. And although the journey of the aforementioned heart from donor to recipient is admittedly quite interesting, Quillévéré dilutes the effectiveness of this arc by peppering it with distractingly graphic heart-surgery footage - which does, in the end, confirm Heal the Living's place as an all-too-uneven piece of work that never quite lives up to the promise of its stellar first act.
Directed by Fien Troch
Treading familiar territory from start to finish, Home details the exploits of several aimless teens and the impact their actions have on the adults around them. It's a been-there-done-that premise that's utilized to sporadically affecting yet mostly underwhelming effect by filmmaker Fien Troch, as the director employs a deliberate pace that essentially (and effectively) highlights the less-than-engrossing elements within her and Nico Leunen's screenplay. There's little doubt, as well, that Troch's emphasis on a myriad of characters and their exploits is an ongoing problem, with the viewer's efforts at embracing the material stymied by an assortment of underwritten, one-dimensional protagonists (ie it's impossible to care or even distinguish between about half of these people). Home does, however, improve slightly as it progresses and as Troch narrows her focus, as the movie boasts a second half that does, at the very least, contain a small handful of engrossing story threads (including a seriously disturbing mother/son relationship). And yet the aimlessness that Troch has hard-wired into the narrative remains an issue throughout, with the movie fizzling out to a demonstrable degree long before it reaches its fairly inevitably conclusion - which, in the end, cements Home's place as yet another misfire from a frustratingly stagnant director (ie Troch's movies tend to boast strong moments lost beneath an excessively slow atmosphere).
Directed by Tony Elliott
A disappointingly half-baked sci-fi endeavor, ARQ follows Robbie Amell's Renton and Rachael Taylor's Hannah as they find themselves caught in a time loop that resets each time they die - with the movie detailing their ongoing efforts at breaking the pattern and, essentially, saving the world. It's not necessarily the familiarity of the premise that triggers ARQ's downfall, as, to employ a fairly recent example, Edge of Tomorrow certainly managed to put a fresh and often engrossing spin on the Groundhog Day-inspired conceit. But filmmaker Tony Elliott proves unable or unwilling to do anything interesting with the genre-specific gimmick, and ARQ quickly settles into a repetitive (but in a bad way) midsection that's both overly claustrophobic and rife with frustratingly tedious conventions (ie those bad guys are just so generic). It goes without saying that there's a total lack of momentum at play here and although writer/director Elliott has given his protagonists end-of-the-world stakes, there's just never a point wherein one becomes wholly invested in the bland characters' success - which ultimately ensures that ARQ fizzles out to a rather distressing degree long before it reaches its admittedly intriguing final few minutes.
Directed by Edoardo de Angelis
ITALY/104 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Indivisible details the low-key exploits of conjoined twins Daisy and Viola (played by real-life sisters Angela and Marianna Fontana), with the movie following the twins as they attempt to decide whether or not to undergo separation surgery. Though filmmaker Edoardo de Angelis kicks the proceedings off with a fairly impressive tracking shot, Indivisible, past that point, settles quite definitively into a low-key, slowly-paced groove that proves impossible to wholeheartedly embrace - with the less-than-enthralling atmosphere compounded by a total lack of standout sequences. It's a shame, really, given that the Fontana siblings are actually quite good in their respective roles, as the actresses, making their acting debuts here, effectively ensure that their lookalike characters are consistently distinctive from one another (ie Daisy is rebellious while Viola is happy with the status quo). The introduction of the film's central dilemma - ie should they undergo the surgery or not? - does nothing to infuse Indivisible with dramatic heft, and it's clear, too, that de Angelis' decision to emphasize silly, tedious subplots only exacerbates the distressingly meandering vibe. The rather underwhelming third act, which throws one needless complication after another at the sisters, ensures that Indivisible ends on as uninvolving a note as one might've anticipated, with the film's failure especially disappointing in light of the massive potential afforded by its unique setup.