Day 6, I wasn’t going to mess around – I put down five movies like they were unruly hookers.
First up, the awesome Rare Exports (8/10). Scandinavians have weird myths, and this one delves into the early Swedish myths of Santa Claus – think less “jolly old Nick” and more “demented goat-beast.” It’s the tale of a boy and his (modern day) reindeer-ranching village as Christmas approaches. Some Americans (those goddamn Americans are always behind it) are blasting up on a nearby mountain, and it appears wolves have eaten all the reindeer… But then you find out that the mountain may be where the natives froze and buried Santa because he was so nasty…. And next thing you know there’s fifty naked old guys running through the snow chasing a little boy. This was a very enjoyable movie, it never goes over the line to slasher horror but you really think that any minute it’s going to…
There was a cool short before it, Unholy Night, that similarly deals with the Icelandic Santa myths, in which there are 13 Santas, one of which is named “Meathook.” You can imagine how that ends up. They want to parlay the short into a film with all 13 Santas. Sounds like a winning idea for a one-season Showtime special to me!
Then it was time for Mutant Girls Squad (6/10), the newest from the three Japanese psychos behind Tokyo Gore Police, Robogeisha, and Be A Man! Samurai School. It’s Troma-esque schlocky gore. I didn’t find it too engaging. It was better than last year’s Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl at least, but there’s only so far the sophomoric imagery takes you – “Girl with a chainsaw coming out her ass” and “Girl with katanas coming out of her breasts” were two of the characters in this flick. It was enjoyable in a middle school kind of way for the first hour, and then I got sleepy.
Next was a real high point, Drones (9/10) – like Office Space, but with aliens! Kinda. A true low budget success, we get a tale of intergalactic domination told only with office workers in cubicles. The writing is the real star here, and the film is clever and engaging. The protagonist, “Brian”, discovers in short order that both his best friend and his girlfriend are alien infiltrators, but from different races that oppose each other… But it doesn’t go all “Bros vs Hoes,” it’s a good-hearted film where the characters pull together. Very, very funny. We all came out of that showing reinvigorated and chatty.
Then we watched The Dead (7/10). Fair warning, the people I was with liked this film less than I did. They shot a zombie outbreak movie in Africa, on the border of Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso. An American military man involved in some brushfire war there gets stranded when a zombie outbreak happens. He travels across the country, teaming up with a local military man for much of the journey.
This film just didn’t have the bite it should have. First of all, “zombie outbreak” is only about a 6 on the 1-10 scale of fucked up shit that happens in that part of Africa every day. The filmmaker shied away from showing any of that, possibly out of ultra sensitivity to the inevitable charges of racism that would follow. (They talked about some of the Internet nimrods that are already tooting that horn; there is absolutely no reason for it but people like to bring themselves some measure of fame by crapping on other stuff.) Second of all, they talked about the transformation of the main character from selfish to altruistic over the course of the film, but the movie I saw doesn’t support that one bit (that he was that selfish, or that he changed). I did like how the people in the movie weren’t all “turn on each other and be more dangerous than the zombies,” that’s such a cliche now; seeing even disparate people band together despite their differences (besides black/white, they were on opposite sides in a war a day ago) in the face of such a threat.
A side note, they started this movie way before Resident Evil decided to have its newest incarnation in Africa, so no copycat charges please. I think some of the problem may be that they just couldn’t get some of the scenes they wanted in the can; between customs delays and bribery and being held at gunpoint and knifepoint and suffering from dysentery, they really had a hellish time trying to make a movie in Africa. There’s a scene where he finds a baby and gives it away to some soldiers about one minute after; the director expressed his frustration that they wanted to do more with that but just ran up against the limits of their time in country.
Finally, we had Rammbock (9/10), a German zombie outbreak movie. A sad sack going to bug his ex-girlfriend gets caught up in an outbreak and he and several other residents of the townhouse barricade themselves in and have to help each other. This film also had a fairly positive view of human nature post-zombie, though there was the one “Mr. Twitchy” who endangers everyone by being a big selfish tool.
I thought their take on the zombie outbreak was a very compelling one. It’s a disease, and the result is 28 Days Later style fast-zombies, but you find out that being bitten isn’t 100% fatal, and that an infected’s immune system might fight it off if they stay calm and avoid adrenaline rush. So you have a reason to not just kill anyone bitten, and a reason to be seeking after sedatives and other McGuffins. It opens up a lot of interesting avenues that the now-traditional zombie disease closes, and I’d be interested in seeing more riffs on it.
It was also clever in that all their attempts for random townspeople to confront zombies with violence end badly – they really have to use their brains, they don’t all go Ash like so many movies depict.
This was one of the best days of the fest! But even better is yet to come…
The Dead has been doing the rounds over here, and a lot of reviews have picked up on some of the weird narrative bits, like the baby, and a scene where the protagonist loses his gun, but there’s no tension because he just waits a bit, then goes and gets it. None of the reviews mention the behind-the-scenes difficulties though, so I’m pleased to discover that it was a case of circumstances rather than just bad film-making.
Oh, yeah. The lead had dysentery for 2 weeks of the shooting… they didn’t get their gear until 9 weeks into a 12 week shooting schedule… The director said his shoulder started acting up from all the times he had to reach into his pocket to bribe people… They all said it was the worst moviemaking experience ever, though they seem jovial about it in retrospect. “Man that sucked, ha ha! Lovely country, shame we kept getting AKs pointed at us!”