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Toronto International Film Festival 2013 - UPDATE #9

Miss Violence
Directed by Alexandros Avranas

Miss Violence opens with a striking sequence in which a young girl commits suicide during her own birthday party, with the movie subsequently following said girl's family members as they attempt to cope with the unexpected death. Director Alexandros Avranas, obviously, does a fantastic job of immediately capturing the viewer's attention, and yet, once the surprise of that initial stretch wears off, Miss Violence morphs into a somber and excessively slow drama that seems preoccupied with elements of a less-than-engrossing nature (eg a character looks for a job, another character buys school supplies, etc, etc). The almost unbelievably mundane atmosphere makes it increasingly difficult to work up any interest in or sympathy for the respective characters' continuing exploits, with the arms-length vibe perpetuated by the frustratingly deadpan work from the movie's various actors (ie the lack of emotion here ensures that Miss Violence fails utterly as a portrait of grief). The inclusion of Dogtooth-levels of silliness virtually would appear to cement the film's complete failure; however, there's little doubt that the movie improves substantially in its final half hour - as Avranas, working from a script written with Kostas Peroulis, offers up a shocking plot twist that finally provides context for the head-scratching narrative and helps explain the characters' oddball behavior. It goes without saying, though, that this development arrives far too late to make any real difference, and it is, in the end, impossible to label Miss Violence as anything more than a misguided art-house disaster.

out of

The Strange Little Cat
Directed by Ramon Zürcher

The Strange Little Cat, which documents the mundane happenings in a middle-class German home, is often far more watchable than one might've expected, as filmmaker Ramon Zürcher has infused the proceedings with a gentle, fly-on-the-wall feel that is, at the outset, surprisingly captivating. The lack of character development is initially not quite as problematic as it could have been, with the movie detailing the subdued day-to-day exploits of the household's various residents (eg someone makes a milkshake, two figures engage in a game of Connect 4, etc, etc). There does reach a point, however (and perhaps inevitably), at which the film's pervasive emphasis on mundane events becomes oppressive, as it naturally becomes more and more difficult to work up any real interest in the one-dimensional characters' comings and goings. It's ultimately clear that some context would've gone a long way towards alleviating the movie's otherwise drab atmosphere, with, for example, the mystery behind the matriarch's sour mood, intriguing and full of promise as it may be, going absolutely nowhere (ie there's just no payoff) - which finally does cement The Strange Little Cat's place as an all-too-slight cinematic experiment that just doesn't quite work.

out of

Almost Human
Directed by Joe Begos

The degree to which Almost Human ultimately peters out is rather distressing (to put it mildly), as the movie, directed by Joe Begos, contains an opening half hour that's rife with stellar sequences - including a striking pre-credits sequence, revolving around an alien abduction, that establishes an appealing atmosphere of low-budget horror. (It doesn't hurt, either, that Begos has clearly been inspired by old-school filmmakers like Stuart Gordon and John Carpenter.) The movie's watchable vibe is perpetuated by Begos' emphasis on over-the-top (and appreciatively plentiful) gore effects, and it is, for a little while, relatively easy to look past less-than-polished production values. (There's an amateurish quality to the visuals and most of the performances, for example.) It's only as the film settles into its increasingly stagnant midsection that one's interest begins to wane, as Begos' screenplay suffers from a repetitious feel that's reflected most keenly in the protagonists' respective character arcs (ie one bullies and abuses a series of different figures, while the other attempts to figure out why he's behaving this way). By the time the narrative arrives at its underwhelming final stretch, which seems to consist entirely of panicky people running and screaming, Almost Human has squandered the promise of its setup to become just another generic, shot-on-a-shoestring horror effort.

out of

The Honeymoon
Directed by Jan Hrebejk

The Honeymoon details the problems that ensue for a recently-married couple after an uninvited guest arrives at their post-wedding reception, with the film detailing said guest's continuing efforts at revealing a long-buried secret involving the groom. It's perhaps not surprising to note that The Honeymoon, for the most part, has been infused with a thoroughly low-key sensibility, with the film's opening half hour, revolving around the wedding and initial trip to the country, effectively setting a tone of subdued uneventfulness that persists for most of the movie's running time. There's little doubt that the aforementioned guest's presence provides the film with bursts of energy, however, as it becomes more and more difficult not to wonder just what this guy is up to (ie he's just creepy, for the most part). And although The Honeymoon's midsection has been packed with curiously random bits of business (eg a character gets really, really drunk), the movie picks up with an admittedly unexpected revelation that forces the viewer to reevaluate everything that's come before (ie one's allegiance for certain figures turns on a dime). It's worth noting, too, that the inclusion of an absolutely riveting sequence, in which that uninvited guest explains just what happened, mostly in closeup, perpetuates the film's suddenly engrossing vibe, although, by that same token, it's clear that the whole thing does peter out somewhat in its final stretch (ie there's just too much happening here, and the climactic flashbacks feel like overkill) - which cements the movie's place as a decent little drama that could (and should) have been so much better.

out of

The Station
Directed by Marvin Kren

A strong (if familiar) premise is squandered in this underwhelming horror effort from filmmaker Marvin Kren, with the storyline revolving around the chaos that ensues after several scientists make a shocking discovery at a remote research station in the German Alps. There's little doubt that The Station gets off to a relatively strong start, as Kren, working from a screenplay by Benjamin Hessler, employs a brisk pace that's heightened by better-than-average performances and a smattering of exciting stand-alone set pieces. It becomes more and more obvious, however, that Kren and Hessler simply don't have enough material to sustain a full-length feature, with The Station, once the nature of the threat is revealed, dominated by long, uninvolving sequences detailing the protagonists' efforts at either fixing the problem or escaping from sinister threats. (Kren's overuse of handheld camerawork and rapid-fire editing drains the energy from virtually every instance of the latter, ultimately.) The increasingly meandering atmosphere becomes more and more problematic as time progresses, and it is, by the time the movie arrives at its climactic stretch, virtually impossible to work up any real interest in or sympathy for the surviving characters' exploits. The end result is an almost passable genre effort that's rarely as compelling or engrossing as one might've hoped, which is disappointing, certainly, given the strength of its setup and opening half hour.

out of

Hateship Loveship
Directed by Liza Johnson

Based on a short story by Alice Munro, Hateship Loveship follows Kristen Wiig's Johanna Parry as she's hired to look after a rebellious teenager (Hailee Steinfeld's Sabitha) by Nick Nolte's Mr. McCauley - with the film primarily detailing the consequences of Johanna's relationship with Mr. McCauley's drug-addict son (and Sabitha's father), Ken (Guy Pearce). Filmmaker Liza Johnson has infused Hateship Loveship with an almost extraordinarily low-key atmosphere that holds the viewer at arms length right from the outset, and it's immediately clear that scripter Mark Poirier, despite his best efforts, is simply unable to transform Munro's 50 (or so) page short story into a full-length feature. Johnson, for her part, attempts to compensate for the lack of plot by stretching out every single scene and sequence well past their breaking point, while Poirer's screenplay is likewise littered with padded-out and entirely needless stretches that exist only to extend the movie's often interminable running time. (It's worth noting, too, that the film's excessively subdued vibe is compounded by Wiig's subtle-to-the-point-of-nonexistence performance.) The degree to which Hateship Loveship consistently meanders is nothing short of infuriating, and although the movie improves slightly in its final stretch (ie it's finally about something), it's ultimately impossible to, given that nothing here wholeheartedly works, become invested in anything that transpires through the film's endless 102 minutes.

out of

The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears
Directed by Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani

Unreasonably experimental and hopelessly uninvolving, The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears explores the spooky (and entirely nonsensical) happenings inside a Brussels apartment building - with the film's "plot" set into motion by a husband's discovery that his wife is missing. Filmmakers Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani seem to be going out of their way to alienate the viewer right from the get-go, as The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears is comprised almost entirely of stand-alone vignettes that couldn't possibly be more incoherent and underwhelming. Cattet and Forzani's laughably pretentious sensibilities ensure that the movie, for the most part, feels like an art installation project that's been stretched out to 102 punishing minutes, with the various digressions, including a tedious, headache-inducing black-and-white sequence, all falling completely flat and perpetuating the movie's atmosphere of severe incompetence. The pervasive lack of context ensures that one's continuing efforts at finding something - anything - to embrace here prove fruitless, and it ultimately does seem as though Cattet and Forzani are actively encouraging the viewer to doze off. (For the record, despite my best efforts, I didn't.) The end result is a terminally awful endeavor that's sure to test the patience of even the most open-minded of viewers, with the movie undoubtedly marking the nadir of the festival's lineup this year (or most other years, frankly).

no stars out of

© David Nusair