One of the best parts of being a Cinephile in Toronto is when fall rolls around and all eyes in the movie industry turn towards Canada’s largest city. In addition to the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, Toronto is also home to TIFF, also known as the Toronto International Film Festival. Anyone who’s anyone in the industry descends upon the capital of Ontario to share and take in some of the latest and greatest new films from small indies to massive tent pole blockbusters. I was fortunate enough to catch five different films at this year’s TIFF, and below you’ll find my thoughts on each, ranked from worst to best.
(Dir: Peter Strickland) Unbearably overwritten, overacted, overwrought, slog of a film that has no compelling ideas, horrendous performances and an intolerable sense of self importance. The “plot” deals with a cursed dress that eventually results in the gruesome death of whomever purchases it from a bizarre clothing retailer populated by clerks who speak far too slowly and eloquently to be from Planet Earth. Without getting into spoilers, but the film has absolutely no structure and is set up like an anthology film that only tells two stories, devastating a typical three act structure that most films should have. There is no climax to speak of, and the revelation at the end is laughable and ambiguous in the worst sense of the word. The abstract nature of the movie results in nonsensical scenes that are just weird for the sake of weird. The film is trying to be “Videodrome” with fashion substituting in for television, but unlike Cronenberg’s masterpiece, this film has nothing to say, takes too long to say it, and doesn’t say it well. The fact that this has a %100 positive Rotten tomatoes score is just baffling to me as this is truly one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, completely lacking anything in its favor to recommend it. I just can’t overstate how much I loathed, hated, despised, and bemoaned every minute of this movie more than the previous one, and it took everything I had in me to not walk out.
(Dir: Shane Black) It may be as dumb as a bag of hammers and just as obtuse, but I can’t deny I had fun with this fourth go around with the Predator franchise. This one takes a much bigger comedic approach to the material than its predecessors and is filled with hilarious wise-cracking dialogue from noted smartass filmmaker Shane Black. The action is well staged for the most part and is loaded with hard R rated gore. The film is slightly undone by some pretty terrible CGI, and the main character is bland and undercooked, especially compared to the charming rag-tag group of military prisoners tasked with taking the Predator down and a fantastic human villain. Easy to recommend, but I can’t guarantee you’ll love it, given the nasty critical response the film is getting. If nothing else, it’s better than Predator 2.
The Standoff at Sparrow Creek
(Dir: Henry Dunham) A clever and suspenseful little micro-budget thriller that owes more than a passing debt to Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Taking place entirely in a small warehouse in the dead of night, a local militia unit receives word that a police funeral has been shot up and local police are investigating and closing in on their headquarters. Before long, the unit realises that the exact weapons used in the attack are the same that are missing from their armory. What follows is a tightly written and excellently performed character study as the militia races against the clock to find the shooter and clear the rest of their names before the cavalry arrives. I particularly liked some strong visual cues reminiscent of the Shining and Alien, two other films that deal with group dynamics that are isolated in the face of certain incoming doom. It may lack the humor and levity that made Reservoir Dogs such a crowd pleaser, but it’ll have you constantly guessing while digging your fingernails into the armrest.
(Dir: Sam Levison) A hyper kinetic and lightning paced satire on modern social media, the death of privacy, and the hypocrisy of modern morality, Assassination Nation is a one of a kind film. Following a group of four girls (one a female-identifying trans person played by an actual trans actor, thank you very much!) as they navigate the trials of high school before a massive digital security breach pushes everyone’s private data and conversations into the public eye. While some of the satirical notes may be a little TOO on the nose, the script is clever, the visuals are lively and colorful, the ideas are progressive, the performances excellent, and the soundtrack appropriate. The visual and aural assault of this film perfectly fits like a glove, and the bat-shit crazy third act is a thought-provoking crowd pleaser. A great under the radar indie hit that caught me off guard in the best possible way.
(Dir: Zach Lipovsky) Trust me when I tell you to go into this film knowing as little as possible, other than it’s a near masterpiece. Ironically, I loved this film for its thought provoking ambiguity even though I loathed “In Fabric” for attempting the same thing. The difference here is that the ambiguity is there to build suspense and is in service of character, setting, and story, all things that “In Fabric” lacked. It’s best to not know anything other than the basic premise, which deals with a little girl that is sealed off from the outside world in a decrepit house by her father. The father, played with astonishing depth by underrated character actor Emile Hirsch, simply tells the increasingly curious little girl (a picture perfect Lexy Kolker, who I think has a real future as an actress) that she will be killed if she’s dares venture outside. We as viewers are perfectly inserted into the wide-eyed Lexy’s point of view as the mysteries of the world are no less mysterious to us. At the outset, the film crackles with bizarre ambiguity that is later explained to my extreme satisfaction. As the secrets of the outside world begin to reveal themselves, we’re treated to a thrilling race against time that is equally funny, touching, poignant, and exciting. The only minor complaint is a cheesy final shot that ellicits more a laugh than an exclamation point. This is one of the best films of the year.