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Toronto International Film Festival 2017 - UPDATE #10

Directed by Sergio G. Sánchez

An almost comically by-the-numbers ghost story, Marrowbone follows four siblings as they’re moved into a remote country estate that, it quickly becomes apparent, is already occupied by a mysterious spirit. There’s no denying that Marrowbone is extremely slickly and competently made - the movie, if nothing else, looks pretty great - but filmmaker Sergio G. Sánchez proves hopelessly unable to capture the viewer’s attention (even fleetingly), as the director, working from his own screenplay, delivers an excessively stale story that’s rife with hackneyed elements and one-dimensional, tedious characters (ie none of the four leads manages to make anything resembling a positive impact). Sánchez exacerbates the terminally uninteresting vibe by emphasizing sequences and subplots of an aggressively underwhelming nature, with the running time, which feels much, much longer than its 110 minutes, padded out with such eye-rollingly tedious elements as a silly love triangle and scene after scene of characters freaking out over weird noises in the house. (Sánchez even doubles down on the unpleasant atmosphere by offering up an entirely needless bit of animal cruelty.) By the time the “shocking” third-act twist rolls around (which is clearly telegraphed in the movie’s opening half hour), Marrowbone has undoubtedly cemented its place as a seriously worthless chiller that wears out its welcome virtually from the get-go (and let’s not even get started on the seemingly endless concluding stretch).

out of

Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura

Downrange follows a carful of friends as their innocuous day trip takes a deadly turn after they’re targeted by a malevolent sniper, with the movie, for the most part, detailing the characters’ continuing efforts at surviving (and, eventually, escaping) their well-hidden assailant. It’s a pared-down premise that’s employed to generally positive effect by director Ryuhei Kitamura, and there’s little doubt that the filmmaker does a good job of cultivating an impressive atmosphere of suspense from the outset - with the movie’s murder-free opening stretch leaving the viewer on edge and wondering when the first kill will occur (and to whom). It’s equally clear, however, that the movie, perhaps predictably, segues into a decidedly erratic midsection, as Joey O'Bryan's screenplay spends a lot of time focused on the protagonists’ less-than-proactive exploits (ie there’s a lot of sitting around and plotting). Kitamura effectively peppers the proceedings with compelling jolts, though, with, for example, one figure’s attempts at fashioning a makeshift shield so he can start the car certainly standing as a tense highlight. It’s clear, too, that Downrange benefits from a proliferation of relatively interesting protagonists, while the movie boasts an unexpectedly enthralling final stretch that ensures it ends on an impressively memorable note. Such positives ultimately compensate for the fact that there really isn’t enough here to comfortably sustain a full-length feature, and yet as far as gimmicky horror premises go, one could certainly do a whole lot worse.

out of

55 Steps
Directed by Bille August

Based on true events, 55 Steps follows Hilary Swank's Colette Hughes as she agrees to take on the case of ongoing mistreatment at a well-regarded mental hospital - with the movie detailing the trial that ensues and also Colette's growing friendship with her less-than-stable client (Helena Bonham Carter's Eleanor Riese). It’s a relatively interesting story that’s given the movie-of-the-week treatment by director Bille August, as 55 Steps suffers from a pervasively styleless sensibility that’s reflected in its various attributes - with August's bland, washed-out visuals certainly ranking high on the film’s list of less-than-impressive attributes. And although Bonham Carter's performance is far from subtle - this is the type of work for which the term “scenery chewing” was invented - 55 Steps benefits greatly from the inherently engrossing nature of its true-life storyline. It’s just a shame, then, that scripter Mark Bruce Rosin has riddled the narrative with often eye-rollingly hoary elements (eg Colette is too busy with her work to have a personal life, etc), and there’s little doubt, as well, that the tear-jerking bent of the movie’s final stretch comes off as too shamelessly manipulative to really make an impact - which ultimately cements 55 Steps’ place as a sporadically effective yet all-too-middle-of-the-road docudrama.

out of

In the Fade
Directed by Fatih Akin

Filmmaker Fatih Akin's most high-profile effort to date, In the Fade follows Diane Kruger’s Katja as she attempts to cope with the sudden deaths of her husband and young son in a terrorist bombing. It’s a compelling premise that’s employed to watchable yet somewhat underwhelming effect, as Akin is, for the most part, unable to cultivate the intense atmosphere one might’ve anticipated - with the film primarily coming off as a deliberately-paced story of grief and moving on. In that respect, In the Fade generally works; Kruger’s searing performance is alone enough to keep things interesting, while Akin peppers the narrative with a handful of engrossing scenes and interludes (eg an attorney delivers an impressively impassioned speech concerning the injustice of a particular situation). It’s just as clear, however, that Akin's erratic screenplay contributes heavily to the less-than-consistent vibe, as the writer/director places an ongoing emphasis on sequences that seem to go on longer than entirely reasonable (eg the courtroom stuff is ultimately a little on the excessive side). And although the movie’s final few minutes, inevitable as they may be, do manage to pack a palpably grim punch, In the Fade is ultimately more effective as an actor's showcase than as a fully-realized drama.

out of

© David Nusair