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Toronto International Film Festival 2017 - UPDATE #6

Directed by Robin Aubert

An intriguing if not-entirely-successful spin on the zombie genre, Ravenous follows several survivors of an apparent zombie apocalypse as they band together and embark on a perilous journey. Filmmaker Robin Aubert delivers an impressively distinctive opening stretch that holds plenty of promise, as Ravenous kicks off with what seems to be a series of sketches detailing individuals' coping strategies for their perilous situation (eg a woman calmly hacks a zombie on a suburban street, an older man seeks shelter in an dense forest, etc). It's a unique beginning that leads into what's essentially an art-house spin on The Walking Dead, as the bulk of the narrative follows the protagonists as they attempt to travel from point A to point B - with Aubert displaying no loftier goal than to portray the hardships that come along with this kind of grim landscape. It works for a while, certainly; Aubert has elicited strong performances from his unknown cast, while the movie benefits from a smattering of gruesome, bloody interludes (and this is to say nothing of the absolutely brilliant payoff for a running subplot). There reaches a point, however, at which the constant aimlessness becomes a little oppressive, and it's clear, too, that the movie's final stretch doesn't really work (eg why'd they leave the safety of that place?) Still, Ravenous is an impressive attempt to bring something new to a well-worn genre - although some of Aubert's innovations do fall flat, admittedly (eg what's up with the chair tower?)

out of

All You Can Eat Buddha
Directed by Ian Lagarde

A progressively irritating experiment, All You Can Eat Buddha follows a portly vacationer (Ludovic Berthillot's Mike) as he arrives at an all-inclusive resort and soon begins performing what may or may not be miracles. There's little doubt that All You Can Eat Buddha does hold some promise in its early stages, as director Ian Lagarde immediately establishes an off-the-wall atmosphere that's appealing in its brazenness - with the pervasively oddball vibe reflected in most of the movie's attributes. The film, which initially details the mostly silent exploits of the central character, suffers from a lack of momentum that grows increasingly problematic, however, with the episodic nature of the first half demanding a fair bit of patience from the viewer and ensuring that the movie is only compelling in fits and starts. And although it's difficult not to get a kick out of Mike's early activities - eg he saves a beached octopus - All You Can Eat Buddha begins to adopt an increasingly uneventful feel that's compounded by an egregiously deliberate pace (ie it starts to feel as though Lagarde is purposefully trying to put the viewer to sleep). The film's steep turn downward is eventually triggered by its shift from merely bizarre to flat-out abstract, as Lagarde's script takes a turn akin to 2016's disastrous High-Rise and becomes an unwatchable portrait of civilization coming undone. The degree to which All You Can Eat Buddha subsequently peters out is nothing short of astonishing, and there's almost literally nothing of value to be found in the movie's interminable final stretch - which unquestionably does confirm its place as a disastrous cinematic trainwreck.

out of

Directed by Daniel Kokotajlo

An intriguing story undone by an excessively deliberate pace, Apostasy follows a devout Jehovah's Witness member as she attempts to keep her two daughters ensconced firmly in the notoriously insular community. Filmmaker Daniel Kokotajlo does a strong job of establishing the central characters and their decidedly backwards beliefs, with the promising atmosphere heightened by the low-key yet impressively naturalistic performances from the three leads. It's just as clear, however, that the viewer's ongoing attempts at embracing the spare narrative are thwarted by an almost total lack of momentum, as Kokotajlo delivers a narrative that doesn't progress from scene to scene so much as it crawls - with the filmmaker's tendency to pad out each and every sequence certainly not helping matters. And although there's a pretty nifty and completely unexpected twist about halfway through - it's hard to recall a more "wait, what?" type of moment in recent memory - Apostasy's inability to hold one's attention for more than a few minutes at a time proves disastrous and certainly dulls the impact of the admittedly (and impressively) downbeat conclusion. It's a shame, really, given that the film does seem to present an accurate portrait of a seriously irrelevant religion, with its more eye-opening attributes ultimately transforming it into an almost passable piece of work.

out of

Directed by Nabil Ayouch

An ambitious misfire, Razzia tracks the exploits of several disparate characters in and around Casablanca within the both the distant and more recent past. Filmmaker Nabil Ayouch does an excellent job of immediately luring the viewer into the dense narrative, and it's clear, too, that the initial emphasis on the aforementioned timelines perpetuates the promising atmosphere - with, especially, the scenes involving an '80s school teacher standing as an early highlight. But scripters Ayouch and Maryam Touzani slowly but surely muddy the story by introducing more and more characters, to the point where it becomes awfully difficult to wholeheartedly care about a small handful of these people. (This is never more true than in the case of an affable restaurateur, as it remains impossible to work up any real interest in his somewhat pointless activities.) It is, as such, not too surprising to note that Razzia begins to demonstrably fizzle out as it progresses, although, to be fair, there are a few ongoing highlights sprinkled throughout the overlong running time - including a recurring subplot involving a gay aspiring musician with a Queen obsession. But as becomes increasingly apparent, Razzia has been suffused with far too many rushed storylines that are simply unable to make any kind of positive impact (eg the teenager who makes an unexpected discovery about herself). Ayouch's climactic attempts to tie everything together as the various characters converge fall fairly flat, ultimately, and Razzia does, in the end, confirm its place as a sprawling drama that one admires more than one enjoys.

out of

Directed by Jens Assur

Ravens details the less than eventful happenings on a remote farm in Sweden, with the bare narrative following a grizzled farmer as he attempts to keep the business running in the face of several problematic elements (including a son with aspirations for something different). Filmmaker Jens Assur devotes the early part of Ravens to the daily reality of life on a farm, as the movie, which is dialogue-free for much of its opening stretch, explores the hard work that goes into maintaining the expansive property (ie there's a heavy emphasis on chores and the like). And although Assur does an effective job of developing the uneasy dynamic between the central characters, Ravens' excessively deliberate pace does eventually become somewhat hard to take and one can't help but wish Assur would just get on with it already. The periodic inclusion of unexpectedly gripping sequences (eg the protagonist's encounter with a tree cutter) generally prevents total boredom from setting in, and there's little doubt, as well, that Assur certainly does paint an evocative picture of this isolated, barren landscape (although the recurring mistreatment of animals is awfully tough to justify or stomach). It's ultimately clear, though, that despite its positive attributes, Ravens, which feels much, much longer than its 107 minutes, suffers from a lack of entertaining attributes to warrant anything more than an ambivalent shrug from the viewer.

out of

© David Nusair