Toronto After Dark 2013 – 3 film reviews

I attended a few screenings at this year’s Toronto After Dark film festival, now being held down at the Scotiabank Cineplex rather than up at the Bloor (a bummer, as the Bloor is walking distance for me!). I was a little underwhelmed this year, unfortunately – but ended up on a high note with the film I saw last night, Willow Creek. Read on for my thoughts on what I saw (remembering these are my own thoughts, and I’m not a professional film critic, thanks).

Odd Thomas

This is a sort of the Sixth Sense meets Dead Like Me with a dose of Supernatural mash-up. Yelchin is a fine lead, and Dafoe made a great straight man. Addison Timlin, cast in the romantic partner role of Stormy, seemed to have fun with the sassy, care-free character. And there was a nice surprise cameo from Patton Oswalt.

As far as story and flow, it felt a little like extended TV episode in its scope – stretching a little too far for its own good, this would have done better in the arc of a TV show. Script-wise, I was disappointed in the role and portrayal of women, overall – it got worse the more I pondered it. Young, beautiful and scantily clad in general, no spectrum to show me it wasn’t just a male gaze operating, and there was something real and important going on with these women. Female characters weren’t shallow, but still defined mostly by their relationships to men in the film, which genre films sadly often lean toward.

3 out of 5

Last Days on Mars

The casting and production behind the Last Days on Mars was really strong. The writing was pretty solid even, with a nice balance between characters (male and female). There was drama, action and suspense, none of it trite or really boring. But the story just wasn’t anything groundbreaking – alien life infecting humans, it just happened to be on Mars. I suppose a change of scenery was nice, but it didn’t make the movie really pop out for me. The cinematography was well done, despite some dark & confusing moments in the fight scenes (I felt that was pretty realistic though – I don’t expect well-lit disasters as the backdrop to a fight, in this instance).

What frustrated me more than anything, and actually impacted my enjoyment of this film more than anything else was the terrible, terrible sound mix. Sound effects and score were very often mixed louder than the dialogue which meant that I missed out on a lot of little details of conversations and the marks were missed when it came to the emotion and gravity of some moments because of it. So, despite strong casting and terrific acting, those people were let down by a technical failure. If it was just this particular copy of the film, I hope it’s going to get fixed if this gets a wider release.

2.5 out of 5 (it’d be just 2 if it weren’t for the strong cast)

Willow Creek

Although this is another found footage film, I was interested after watching the trailer, and the idea of them searching for something that’s so pervasive in cryptozoology – everyone knows of the Bigfoot myth. In his introduction, director Bobcat Goldthwait actually spoke about his initial intention to make a Christopher Guest-like comedy surrounding it, but after visiting the area and meeting the locals felt that a suspenseful found footage movie would work far better.

It’s got a slow burn – you see the couple arriving up at Bluff Creek/Willow Creek where some famous sightings have occurred. They interview locals (many of them actually real people, not actors) , drive around and visit locations on the road and in town and generally give you a sense of the setup of what they’re getting into. Some people don’t believe at all, there’s some quirky locals who do, and then there’s some sinister undertones of don’t go out there, it’s dangerous (and not just because of bears/mountain lions).

Eventually once the couple heads out into the more remote areas, the tension starts building. Even though it’s ‘found footage’, the edits are done pretty well and there’s a particular scene in their tent that is focused on just them and their emotion/reactions. There was one point where I was SO tense I had my hands up to my face, and the look on the two main actors faces was amazing, pure terror. (It helps that Goldthwait actually had them out in the middle of the bloody forest in the night – I’d have peed my pants.)

It leans heavily on the imagined terror – not actually seeing any monsters – and it does it well, especially with sound. (Incredibly well in the frightening climax at the end). There’s a little humour in the film (moreso in the earlier parts, but still present), which balances things nicely. The scenery is beautiful, and the shaky-cam effect isn’t too problematic as with most of the found footage genre. I’d say if you like to be scared, you should see this film! It’s not terribly unique but it’s a good watch.

4 out of 5

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