Fantastic Fest recap, part 2

Second part of my Fantastic Fest recap:

The Passing

One of the interesting things about The Passing is that it’s entirely in Welsh—supposedly the first Welsh-language genre film (the genre in this case being ghost stories, more or less). It’s also very place-specific and beautifully shot, and the sound design is excellent. It’s unfortunate, then, that the movie takes a bit too long to get to where it’s going.

The film starts with a man named Stanley, living alone in a decaying farmhouse somewhere in rural Wales. He spends his days on woodworking projects in the shed and digging a well in the yard—a routine disrupted when he discovers a car crashed in the nearby river, with a young couple inside—Iwan and Sara. The two stay on as Sara recovers from her injuries, and their strained relationship affects Stanley, as well as something else in the house. Obviously this is not going to end well for anyone.

The main problem with The Passing is that the second of the “twist” reveals in the third act presents a fairly severe problem with the story that’s been presented up until that point, having to do with narrative point of view. It’s impossible to discuss that problem without blowing the entire thing; mouseover the text to see more.

Throughout the film, Sara is constantly plagued by visions of drowning, and the final reveal shows that rather than crashing into a river, she and Iwan actually drove into a reservoir. The reservoir used to be a valley, but years ago it was filled in with water, submerging the houses there—including Stanley’s. It becomes difficult, then, to square the idea that the events of the film were some kind of near-death haunting experienced by Sara with the fact that we were introduced to the whole story from Stanley’s point of view. I suppose it’s possible to suggest that Stanley, from whatever afterlife he inhabits, does have a point of view, and that Sara and Iwan blundered into his world when they wrecked their car—but even with that interpretation, the structure of the film doesn’t seem to cohere as well as it could have.

The Boy and the Beast

The guy who introduced this film informed the audience that Son of Saul (a Holocaust drama) “is playing three doors down, and you guys went for the bigger tearjerker”. The Boy and the Beast will stab you squarely in the emotions if you are vulnerable to stories about found families, father-son relationships, and loss of parental figures/role models. The boy of the title, Ren, runs away from home after his mother dies (his father, divorced, is nowhere on the scene) and stumbles into a fanatastical world inhabited by talking anthropomorphic beasts. He’s taken on as an apprentice by Kamatetsu, a foul-tempered bear with ambitions to become the lord of his city, and mismatched teacher-student hijinks ensue immediately.

It starts off as comedy, then in the second act begins to take a turn for the dramatic as Ren grows up, and returns to Tokyo to try and live a normal life—studying, applying to college, and trying to find his birth father. He falls out with Kamatetsu, but soon gets swept back into the politics of the beast world, and discovers a threat to beasts and humanity alike, one that he is uniquely suited to fight.

It’s really a very sweet film, and also beautiful to look at; the opening sequence sets up the background of the beast world with a fairy tale narration and dazzling visuals with shapes made of light; and the rendering of the famous pedestrian intersection in Shinjuku is fabulous. (The film also does a very nice job of showing what that neighborhood looked like at different points in time as well.) And yes, it really was a tearjerker in the end.

The Mind’s Eye

What if Scanners, but fifty times the blood and gore?

That’s The Mind’s Eye in a nutshell, a cheerfully retro, enjoyably trashy film that was made to be like something you’d have gotten off a bottom shelf at Blockbuster Video sometime in the early 1980s. You have people with telekinetic powers (which manifest when they stare at things very hard and start to sweat), a crazy scientist trying to harvest their powers, and epic amounts of cranial damage of all kinds. It was basically exactly the right thing for a Saturday night midnight movie; arguably I was probably too sober to appreciate it properly.

It’s definitely proof that retromania is not a unique phenomenon to music. Everything about this film was pitched in that lo-fi 1980s direct-to-video key, and they certainly got the mood and style right. The script was fairly predictable, and the cast was lacking those one or two really strong character actors like you sometimes got in those 80s films, lending some gravitas to otherwise highly silly proceedings. Still, I got the feeling that at least everyone seemed to have had a really good time making that movie, and it was fun. The soundtrack was also remarkably good (possibly one of the best things about it)—it was composed by Steve Moore, who also scored The Guest (another fabulous retro-style action pleasure, though a significantly better film all around).

(I cannot let this go without noting that I have a major bone to pick with the jury that gave The Mind’s Eye director Joe Begos the Best Director award for the festival. He certainly accomplished what he set out to do, but surely there is no time-stream in which one can objectively say that The Mind’s Eye was better directed than, say, The Witch.)