Fantasia International Film Festival is upon us once again and I am hard at work uncovering genre gems to share with you. This year’s twentieth anniversary of the fest brings an amazing crop of films and I’ll be posting round up reviews of the highlights every few days throughout the festival. Let’s have a look at some of what played the first weekend:
Bed of the Dead
Dir; Jeff Maher
Even if you claimed that Bed of the Dead was absurd and gratuitous (it is), and that the plot doesn’t make a lick of sense (it doesn’t), you cannot argue with the originality of the premise. I can honestly say I have never seen a set up quite like this: Two couples go to a private sex club and rent a room with the idea of having a birthday orgy. It doesn’t quite go as planned, not just because the women back out at the last moment, but because the bed was made from a tree that was used to hang people for satanic sacrifices and it’s evil! The story starts in the aftermath and we cross cut back to how the evening went down. Once they’re on the bed, the film is a gory slasher, a haunted house (haunted bed?), and some kind of like ‘sharks in the water’ film all in one.
I was highly skeptical and perhaps a little dismissive of Bed of the Dead when it started, but I have to say Director Jeff Maher won me over. He takes what could be a pretty standard direct-to-netflix splatterfest and weaves in real interest and intrigue. Some cool plot twists, a lot of genre love, and good production values make this a stomach-turning horror gem. Best of all are the practical gore effects, even horror veterans will wince as people are maimed and pulled apart like bread.
Dir: Takashi Miike
At the end of the century, facing overpopulation, humans begin a terraforming project on Mars that involves greenhouse gas, moss, and cockroaches. Five hundred years later, amid plans to start colonization, a ship full of criminals is sent on a one way trip to the red planet. When they arrive, the crew learns that the cockroaches have evolved into eight foot tall, caveman-like monsters and that they have been sent to exterminate the roaches. They are able to make war because their benefactor has covertly genetically modified the crew to have insect superpowers themselves. An injection helps them mutate into different human-insect hybrids with specialized skills (firepower, sting, hard shell, etc).
Watching bug-superheroes fight Martian cockroaches to a heavy metal soundtrack is exactly as over-the-top and awesome as it sounds. This is a well-crafted genre soup that has something for everyone, epic interplanetary conflict, martial arts, monsters, it’s a visual spectacle. Director Miike presents a sci-fi world whose design is heavily influenced by other famous films. Shots, costumes, and effects are lifted whole from films like Blade Runner, Starship Troopers, District 9, Alien, Fifth Element and Pacific Rim just to name a few. However, these homages service a colorful and exciting adaptation of the Japanese manga. Miike’s strong storytelling and sense of fun make Terra Formars an amazing action adventure that could stand up to any summer blockbuster.
Dir: Geoff Rednap
Bob is just your average northern Canadian mill worker, except for the fact that he is turning invisible. Rather than all at once, he’s disappearing in pieces, leaving bones and muscles exposed and in some cases, parts appear disembodied. His divorced wife is having trouble dealing with his teenage daughter, so while Bob is moonlighting as a drug smuggler, he decides to drop in on her and reconnect. While he’s there the daughter decides to investigate the insane asylum that Bob’s father was imprisoned in and she does not return. Bob must then go on a frantic search to find her.
If it sounds like there’s a confusing and convoluted number of disparate plots stacked on top of each other, there are, and almost no effort is made to bring any one of them to the front. There are a lot of great moments in The Unseen, but the film is bogged down by a story that is overlong and unfocused. For over the first half of the film it’s hard to tell which genre you’re in, let alone what the plot is supposed to be. The characters are also all weirdly drawn in the same way; super angsty and confrontation throughout for no real clear reason. It sets a tempo for the film that is stuck on one emotional note and it doesn’t take long to become ridiculous.
The effects in The Unseen must be called out as really top notch. Bob’s slow dissolution over the course of the film is CGI masterwork. The visible bits of skull and organs are gasp inducing, but used in just the right amounts so as to be effective but not gratuitous.
Adam Ruhl is a writer and life long Cinephile. He is the Executive
Cinema Editor of Pop Culture Beast’s Austin branch; covering festivals,
conventions, and new releases. When not filing reports, Adam can be
found stalking Alamo Drafthouse Programmers for leads on upcoming
DrafthouseFilms titles. Adam once blocked Harry Knowles entrance to a
theater until he was given extra tickets to a Roman Polanski movie.