Festive Behaviour: LFF
Our man at the London Film Festival, James DC, gives us a roundup of notable films he seen at this year’s LFF
Saturday 10th, 9pm, @ Hackney Picturehouse
I still become genuinely excited when contemplating this film, after weeks of first seeing it, and that, to me, is proof positive that it is an instant classic.
The story revolves around Tina, a 17 year old German girl who sometimes sneaks off to all night techno raves with her mates, in Berlin. She is like many a typical teenager – rather shy and quiet when she is around her parents, but ready to go wild and take drugs when in the comfort zone of her friends. And, par for the course, she seems to be having a few problems with her boyfriend, and the like.
On one particular night she takes a few dodgy pills and ends up vomiting in some bushes, then drops her necklace in the middle of a darkened road. She goes back to pick it up, but suddenly a car comes zooming up and knocks her over at high speed. The others try to revive her, but the film then jars to a whole other scenario, and we are unsure whether what follows, throughout, is just a drug-induced hallucination, or has some basis in the ostensible ‘reality’ of the story (and that is the ambiguous beauty of this finely balanced story).
Later, we see Tina at home, about to go to bed. It is late at night and her parents are fast asleep. As she is getting into bed, she hears unearthly, high pitched shrieks from the basement. She becomes scared, but after searching the house and finding nothing, tries to go to sleep.
A few nights later, the alien noises are back, and she starts to quietly freak out. She cautiously follows the strange grunts into the kitchen and is shocked to see a small, utterly weird, homunculus type creature, which has pulled all the food out of the fridge and is messily eating it off the floor. It then placidly offers her an egg, but she surprises herself by replying that she is allergic to them, as if this were some kind of normal interaction – is she dreaming, or is this apparition actually real?
As the narrative develops, Tina, after initially rejecting it, gradually becomes closer to the creature, be it a figment of her imagination, or not. It follows her around and ends up becoming a sort of companionable familiar. But then, in a nod to E.T., the creature is exposed to the authorities who imprison and monitor it in a secret laboratory, and Tina, distraught, must find a way of rescuing it.
The film’s other main strong point is that it mixes a realistically acted, poignant, unsentimental human drama about devastating grief with the tired tropes of the horror genre to ingenious effect, and does so in such a manner that one is kept guessing as to the real premise and intent of the plot throughout most of the running time – this is a remarkable achievement in today’s over-saturated, anodyne moviescape. And as the sense of awful dread slowly crawls towards its apogee, the barbed, underlying commentary on the insidious prevalence of such corrupt, morally unhinged organisations as Scientology, et al. comes to the fore.
All in all, The Invitation is a horror film with real bite, for a change.
As he recovers at home, he begins to hallucinate – or perhaps remember? odd incidents involving mysterious plots, people and places. After winning a compensation claim worth millions, he gradually gets to grips with his newly acquired disabilities, and, for some unknown reason, begins to hire ostensible actors, set designers and locations, with which to re-enact the troubling visions he has been seeing. As he gives way to more compulsive behaviour, his day to day experience begins to loop back in on itself and progressively merge with the mental world he is attempting to replicate. Ultimately, as his obsessive attention to detail and ‘authenticity’ culminates in death and destruction, reality and fantasy begin to irrevocably blur.
There are a couple of thrilling set-pieces and it is stylishly shot, with some witty scenes (the bit with the cats is very funny) and even if you are left non-plussed by the end, the journey is enjoyable enough and you will be left pondering aplenty as you exit the cinema – which is no bad thing in today’s factory-fed movie culture.
MEN & CHICKEN
Director : Anders Thomas Jensen
Stiff necked , pedantic Gabriel cannot stand his sex-obsessed, pervy brother Elias (played with wild-eyed elan by Mads Mikkelsen), but events conspire to bring them together in order to visit their hermit-like elderly father, who lives on an isolated island called Ork. However, when they arrive they are confronted by three seemingly insane, brutish and filthy men with strange facial deformations, who then proceed to repeatedly batter them over their heads with stuffed animals on spikes, huge cooking pots, and anything else that comes to hand.
Once their anger at being so ‘rudely’ disturbed is quelled, it turns out that the strange, redneck ‘mutants’ are previously unknown brothers to Gabriel and Elias. After a begrudging invitation to stay at the errant brothers’ gigantic, crumbling mansion, it eventually transpires that the ‘mad professor’ father to them all has long been dead and his festering corpse is kept under lock and key. From here, the film zips and zaps from one bizarre scene and plot development to another, all the while based in and around the brothers’ phantasmagorical, Gothic pile and it’s verdant natural surroundings (I do not joke when I say that the incredible house is the actual star of the film).
It sometimes feels like everything has been thrown into the pot of this comedy-fantasy, but the ensuing stew just about works; from the darker, somewhat disturbing – albeit simultaneously funny – aspects of addictive masturbation, bestiality and mental retardation, to eventual redemption via a slew of mentalist slapstick, insights and finally, brotherly love. These elements occasionally feel a bit forced or contrived, but this is all but negated by the constant array of absurd curveballs on offer, and one can’t help but feel sympathy for the deluded, crazy, yet ultimately good-natured characters.
One of the better bizarre comedies, of recent years.
Saturday 17th, 8.45pm @ Vue Islington
The Ones Below is a low key, but quite effective British chiller. Some journalists at the press screening I was at were overly critical of it, and despite the intermittent feeling that we have seen all this before, it is a good little horror, and that is fine and dandy, for what it is. The film riffs on the kind of twistyTales of the Unexpected TV shows of the 1970’s and 80’s (albeit with much higher production values and a longer running time, hence more complexity) and if you go in with a slight nostalgia tainted antenna about you, not expecting anything too revolutionary, you will enjoy this one for how it tweaks the genre staples, in a well crafted, reliable manner.
The plot focuses on a (initially) cheerful, bourgeois married couple who live in a bright suburban apartment and who are just about to have their first baby. All seems to be going just swimmingly, until a new couple moves into the flat underneath, and it turns out that the woman is about to have a baby too. Soon enough, the new neighbours start to get overly friendly, gradually insinuating themselves into the prime couple’s lives and….well, if you are a horror genre aficionado, you can half-guess the rest.
Some of the psychological overtones essay themes of maternal stress and paranoia, as well as – arguably – the more distressing consumer/status neurosis which seems increasingly prevalent nowadays. There are some relatively unsettling scenes, for this type of horror movie. If you have never seen any of Polanski’s horror films, or Andrzej Żuławski’s magnificently unhinged Possession (1981), which this film knowingly references (among others), then you will enjoy this film more than battle-hardened horror fans, like me. All the acting is of a good quality and David Morrissey alternates between subtly creepy and compulsively psychotic, with relish.
Yes; the plot could have been more original, it could have been ‘darker’ and it could have utilised more inventive or stylish film aesthetics, but it basically does what it says on the tin, and provides the requisite sense of unease, and thus entertainment, for such a modest horror enterprise.
I look forward to the director further developing his skills in the next film. Oh, and by the way, you may want to think twice before seeing this film if you are an expectant mother!