Coverage of Fantastic Fest Day Two is here. I saw five films on day three, all of which I were off my radar before I scheduled them. It was a day filled with pleasant discoveries and a little bit of disappointment. All five films took place at the same theater.
Sound of Noise – Rock Fist Way Up
“Sound of Noise” is actually an extenuation of a Swedish short film made back in 2001 called “One Apartment For Six Drummers.” Since all the actors and the same filmmakers worked on both, it almost serves as a prequel or at least a teaser for the feature.
I don’t know how anyone can watch that and not love it. But if you are immune to its charms, “Sound of Noise” may not be for you.
It tells the story of a tone-deaf cop from a musical family, on the trail of six frustrated drummers who become “musical terrorists” in order to make a grand artistic statement.
I hate to use the dreaded “q” word, but “quirky” is one of the first words that come to mind when attempting to describe this film. Its that certain type of whimsical that just hits some people dead on while frustrating or annoying others. Think “The Gods Most Be Crazy,” “The Wizard of Speed and Time,” and “Amelie.” Personally I loved it and am looking forward to watching it again.
Red Hill – solid rock fist up
“Red Hill” is an Australian modern-day Western that takes place over the course of a very long first day for Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten of “True Blood”), a cop who has transferred to the small town of Red Hill out of consideration for the health of his wife and their unborn child. Cooper finds himself thrust in the middle of a bloodbath, as an escaped convicted murderer Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis) returns to the town to punish those responsible for his incarceration.
Conway is a great villain, and one of the pleasures of “Red Hill” is watching him hunt and trap the officers. He’s always calm and calculating. Cooper is also far from your typical protagonist. He’s a little unsure of himself, and he has a history of hesitation when it comes to firing weapons. The clever ways he gets into and out of trouble over the course of the film is one of its greatest strengths.
Overall, “Red Hill” is an exciting and intelligent nod to classic Westerns that is definitely worth catching.
We Are What We Are – minor rock fist down
“We Are What We Are” was one of the films I most wanted to catch this year based on it being described as “about a dysfunctional family of cannibals.” It starts out well enough an older gentleman walks along a mall, only to cough up a viscous black fluid and collapse. There is a brilliant shot that shows his death and its immediate aftermath as its evidence is wiped from existence along with him. Unfortunately, nothing else in the film approaches that level of craftsmanship.
The film then shifts perspectives to his three teenage children and his widow, as they wonder where their father has gone. There’s talk of a ritual and we slowly learn that they are cannibals. Unfortunately the film never really dives into the meat of their beliefs. Its not completely clear what specifically the ritual is for or why it needs to be done by a certain time frame, etc.
The film also is severely hampered by a poor script that gets mired in repetition as the family has the same arguments over and over again. Which is unfortunate because the actors portraying the family manage to squeeze some great performances out anyway. However, once the “genre” elements do take over the film, the more horrific scenes are staged in such a way that is neither effective nor satisfying.
As it stands, “We Are What We Are” is what it is–a mediocre dysfunctional family drama, fused with a boring horror film about cannibalism.
Rammbock – solid rock fist up
“Rammbock” tells the story a neurotic man who takes a trip to attempt to reconcile with his girlfriend of nine years when a zombie movie breaks out. The German film leans towards comedy above horror, but what keeps it from feeling rote is the way it focuses on the more mundane details of surviving a zombie outbreak that most films gloss over.
Most of its comedy comes from the absurdity of the situations and trying to work them out through logic. It feels refreshing. The oddest detail about the film though has to be its runtime, which is only 59 minutes long. But its the right length for this story and it keeps it from wearing out its welcome.
Stake Land – solid rock fist up
“Stake Land” is a post-apocalyptic vampire movie following a newly orphaned teenager and the gruff older man who takes him in as they travel along in search of a better place.
It may sound a little familiar, but this is a much more serious film than last year’s “Zombieland,” while still containing a healthy dose of humor. It actually plays more along the lines of “The Searchers.” The quiet hero of this film, “Mister” (Nick Damici, who also co-wrote the film), actually reminds me must of the second coming of Warren Oates.
The vampires here are more mindless and animal like, but something that “Stake Land” does really well is explain the different types of vampires including their unique qualities and the ways to kill them. In fact, this level of detail is what keeps the film from ever feeling too derivative. It is definitely a carefully considered world with a wealth of detail in surprising areas. Its take on Christianity as “history,” and the presence of a human villain that does unspeakable things in the name of the cross is also one of the best aspects of the film.
Overall the cast also all give strong performances, including a barely recognizable Kelly McGillis as a former nun. Its biggest weakness is that it feels a little too episodic. But if “Stake Land” was ever turned into a television show, I’d definitely watch.