Fantastic Fest 2012 Capsule Reviews: ‘My Amityville Horror,’ ‘Paris By Night’ and More
Fantastic Fest 2012 in Austin, TX is coming to a close. We've already seen a ton of amazing films that will surely catch your eye as well — 'Frankenweenie,' 'Berberian Sound Studio,' 'Room 237,' 'Lee's Adventure,' 'Miami Connection,' to name a few — in addition to learning some insider details on 'Looper,' 'Universal Soldier' and 'Zero Dark Thirty,' from director Rian Johnson and actor Scott Adkins themselves.
But there are still a few more films that we want to tell you about — 'Hail,' 'My Amityville Horror,' 'Taped,' 'Paris By Night' and 'Everybody in Our Family.' So let's commence with a series of capsule reviews that get right down to the juicy details of each of these Fantastic Fest-premiered works.
Pay witness to a disturbing, disorienting descent into madness, or perhaps even a return to madness. 'Hail,' from Australian director Amiel Courtin-Wilson, is a remarkable documentary-style endurance test about unpleasant people presented in as uncomfortable a manner as possible.
Non-actor Daniel P. Jones is a mess of a man, chewed up by a prison stint and a lifetime of alcohol abuse. He returns unexpectedly to his girlfriend Leanne and they share a tender afternoon. It's only going to go downhill from here.
Danny finds some off-the-books work, but is quickly injured on the job. He starts spending his time drinking beer. Boosts a TV here and there for money. Then lashes out at people, aggression rising, until he's just one cracked knuckle away from exploding. When someone new enters the picture there's a violent incident, though Danny's mind is too hazy to recall the specifics. Still, he's on the scent of blood and there's no turning back.
'Hail' is a difficult sit. It's an art film, in that it has a very singular aesthetic, but it is far from beautiful. I'd say 90% if not more of the film is shot in close-up. The lack of visual orientation is disarming, and no cutaways to exteriors or master shots build to a palpable discomfort. The performances (Danny and Leanne "playing themselves" for the first two-thirds) are outstanding, and feels wholly improvised. I greatly recommend this cinematic experiment, though finding it outside of a festival will be something of a challenge.
'My Amityville Horror'
You never know what kind of demons plague your UPS driver.
Meet Daniel Lutz, the angry, blunt and none-too-articulate man who, as a kid, lived for about a month in the 'Amityville Horror' house. The site of the brutal and perplexing DeFeo murders, this lovely waterside, Long Island home was available for a song in the early 1970s. The Lutz family, hard on their luck financially, moved in, had "supernatural experiences," contacted reporters, got a book deal and then late night cable movies have never been the same.
What are the psychological ramifications of being the "Amityville kid." Turns out, not good. Daniel's stepfather, George, was no doubt a bastard, but the unfortunate, macabre infamy of the situation prevents Daniel from ever dealing with his tragic childhood in any meaningful fashion. The dude really and truly believes that ghosts invaded his home and temporarily possessed him.
While any reasonable observer would quickly brush off the unsubstantiated nature of the "horror," Lutz is enabled by parapsychics and kooks, as he just gets angrier and more removed from reality.
'My Amityville Horror' is a fascinating story, but, alas, not the world's most interesting movie. There isn't much of visual interest and the story becomes repetitive and desultory. This is the sort of thing that may have been better as a longform article than as a film.
'Paris By Night'
A slow-burning policier that smolders a wee bit too cool.
Over the course of one long night, we tour through Paris' seedy underbelly with dirty vice cop Simon Weiss (Roschdy Zem) as he's driven around the city to a variety of bars, nightclubs and brothels by a new partner (Sara Forestier). If you got buzzed off the electrostatic charge of recent French thrillers like 'Point Blank' and 'Sleepless Night' (both of which co-star Zem) prepare yourself for a much different kind of crime film -- heavy on mood and atmosphere, full of beautiful photography of the titular city at the titular time of day, but a bit light on intrigue.
The relationship between Weiss and his driver never really clicks, and in general the whole affair is too quiet and too subdued. Amidst the sleaze and crime, the best scene is one of the simplest: the two cops deal with a rowdy drunk while they're serenaded by a master violinist.
Maybe some of the larger pleasures were lost in translation; a deep understanding of the inner workings of the Paris Police Department's Vice Division feels like a prerequisite.
This paranoid thriller about a pair of married Dutch tourists terrorized on a vacation in South America was one of the most conventional films in this year's Fantastic Fest slate; no wonder Sony already picked up the rights to produce an American remake. In this case, another version might not be a bad thing: the original isn't awful, but it does feel like a missed opportunity.
This time out, the core fear the premise plays upon -- being lost, confused, and pursued in a place where you can't speak the language and the only people who could potentially save are you are the same ones who are trying to kill you -- is left largely untapped (the Dutch couple and most of the people they meet speak English, meaning the communication barrier is disappointingly thin). Stars Barry Atsma and Susan Visser make a convincingly frazzled couple, but writer/director Diederik Van Rooijen keeps awkwardly inserting their marital problems into scenes where they don't belong (is the moment when you've almost escaped the sexual assaulting, murderous dirty cop the best time to bring up your husband's past philandering?).
A few sequences are impressively tense, but others require the characters to switch between geniuses and morons as the narrative demands.
'Everybody in Our Family'
The least Fantastic Fest-y movie I saw -- and one of the best.
It begins as a minimalist slice of life in the style of the Romanian New Wave: a man named Marius (Serban Pavlu) wakes in the morning, sets off on his bicycle, and visits his parents before heading off to pick up his daughter from his ex-wife for a weekend at the beach. But when he arrives, his mother-in-law and his wife's new boyfriend refuse to let him take her -- and that's when things escalate into a moral and marital drama that reminded me of 'A Separation' with the volume (and the claustrophobia) cranked up to eleven. When the family squabbles gets out of hand, they get out of hand in a hurry -- the moment we realize just how brilliantly all of the angst and strife was established and foreshadowed by the seemingly pointless early scenes (the visit to Marius' parents looms particularly large).
This is a big-time low-budget accomplishment from director Radu Jude, who wrings an enormous psychological payoff out of a bunch of people running around a single, cramped apartment.