Toronto Film Festival – Day #2 – A Viggo and Charlize sandwich between crazy-ass Spanish and Australian Horror buns

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on September 13, 2009

So, I decide to start my second day at TIFF with the Spanish film, REC 2. Now, for me this is a highly anticipated sequel (as they say in PR land). But there’s no one in the theatre. I mean it is seriously sparse with reviewers in here. I don’t get it, because I really liked the first film. Hunted a PAL DVD of it down at a Fangoria convention and felt like I was buying contraband the way the transaction went down, but it was worth it. Just a solid shot of virus-laden zombie-fied paranoia-filled, claustrophobic, no holds barred horror adrenaline delivered straight to your region-free machine (in my case).

So, I was genuinely curious as to what Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza were going to come up with for their second visit to the quarantined apartment building filled with rabid zombie tenants.

The film picks up immediately where the last film left off, where the television hostess that suffered and struggled through the last film was the “last man dragged off”. Literally.

And then we cut to the SWAT team getting locked and loaded as they race to the scene of the whatever-the-hell-it-is they’ve got sealed up in there.

So it’s the ALIENS treatment, right? The cops are all cocky with their firepower and body armor and ignorance of the horror that lies in store. That always spells a good time. And, of course, the idea is that we are watching recorded footage so they have to tell each other over and over “Record everything!” So we’ll be fine with the fact that they are focusing on the auto focus while trying their best to keep from getting bitten or something – rather than throwing the camera at one of the crazies before running away from it while peeing down their leg.

“Record everything!”

You almost expect someone to reply, “What about when I getting killed?” Stern answer: “Record everything – ESPECIALLY while you’re getting killed!” But our directing tandem knows you’ve seen this bit before so they’re gonna give you a little extra. And that is…

Picture-in-picture horror.

That’s what I’m talking about! I get to watch one isolated group fight for their life while keeping tabs on the other unfortunates surrounded by gory monsters with the munchies in another part of the building. Fun!

Anyway, the SWAT guys are escorting some Health Official into the building to find out what the source of the plague is so they can stop it, blah, blah, blah. Okay, fine, we’ve got our excuse, let’s go play with the bad things.

And no sooner do the SWAT guys get into the penthouse apartment where the doctor lived that launched this little plague when our health official reveals he is actually a priest and that we don’t have the zombie virus version of the common code – no, this is actually a biological extension of demonic possession.

That’s right, the devil’s virus. What will The Vatican think of next?

But before we can dwell on that silliness, a zombie kid attacks from the ceiling (check your ALIENS’ playbook) for a thrill ride scene to throw you right out of your seat. And that’s the beauty of this film. Is it ridiculous as all get out? Yes, of course, it is. But it’s full of ideas, madly derivative, or not. And it keeps them AND the adrenaline-fueled gore-ified action coming. And coming. And more coming around the corner. Think you’ve seen every way there is to kill a crazed zombie person? How about by bottle rocket?! How about a demon zombie that can do impressions? What’s that you say? Okay, but other that Rich Little? Anyway, REC 2 successfully does that even up to the very last shot. Which, I won’t spoil for you. Just get the popcorn, strap yourself in and enjoy.

Next up is John Hillcoat’s film of Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD. Your first image of Viggo Mortensen’s ashen, skeletal face of survival basically asks “Would like some cream with your bleak?”

I’m sorry, I meant to say “Would you like some cannibalism with your bleak?” And I hope your answer is yes, because apparently when the neo-cons get done playing nuclear Frisbee with the rest of the world then scorched earth means nothing left to eat.

But each other.

“Are we still the good guys?”

This is a question that Viggo’s character’s son frequently asks throughout the film. In other words, have they still managed to hold on to their humanity despite the fact they are starving. And not just for food. Frequent flashbacks to the time when their nuclear (pun very much I intended) family included Charlize Theron’s mother character – both pre-disaster and post-disaster add to the gut-wrenching heartbreak the father and son endure. But they continue on, painstakingly making their way to the coast, trying to find food and steering clear of other people that might want to eat them along the way. Occasionally, they’ll happen upon a bountiful harvest of canned goods or maybe a can of Coke (which apparently, just like cockroaches, will be one of the few things to survive the apocalypse) or a kindly old coot (an unrecognizable Robert Duvall), but this imagining of what that kind of future holds contains no kindness. At one point Mortensen asks Duvall’s old man character, “Ever wish you would die?” And his reply sums it up: “No. It’s foolish to ask for luxuries in times like these.”

So, we’re left to ponder what would keep us going and clinging desperately to life. And wonder if a father’s love for his son and his stalwart sense of hope for something, anything – would be enough. THE ROAD takes the bleakest, most arduous path to pose that question and it is an endurance test to be sure. But ultimately, I think it’s worth asking.

After the screening, I ran into Joe Leyton, longtime (and I mean, loooong time…) film critic for Daily Variety and as more than a few film legends would attest: THE film critic for the state of Texas. He is a true professor of film, has talked to or interviewed everyone at some time during the last thirty or so years, and can speak at length about the entire package – and do so lovingly and entertainingly. So it was very cool to have a nice long conversation with him with anecdotes abounding. Those meet-ups and subsequent conversations are one of the things that make going to film festivals a constant thrill for me.

The final film of the day was the Australian thriller, THE LOVED ONES. Directed by Sean Byrne it’s your basic awkward girl with a crush on the unattainable cute boy has daddy abduct him for her own private DIY prom…uhmm, story.

Now, the object of her obsessions has his own issues, having caused his father’s death by wrecking the family car while trying to avoid hitting what turns out to be one of our girl’s previous “boyfriends”.

So, now he can work out those feelings while he tries to escape teenage MISERY. And as he tries to mollify her to stay alive and buy time to attempt an escape, daddy is making moony eyes at his lethal little girl while princess makes loony eyes back at papa.

Let’s just say it out loud: Australians know crazy.

And Byrne is not shy about letting his crazies play. A little fried chicken meal with the happy couple, daddy and a lobotomized mommy, a little alternate hardware use with a hammer and a power drill, etc. And, of course – what do-it-yourself prom would be complete without carving your initials surrounded by a heart in your date’s chest and then salting the wound – literally?

Trust me, there’s more. All kinds of dance with a teenage psycho girl more. And under a sparkly disco ball.

Which is exactly as it should be.



Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on March 25, 2009

There are horror films that take your breath away with scares and surprises that come at you from out of the dark and then there are the films within the genre that can make you gasp with shocking images and displays of gore. Paul Solet’s GRACE is the rare and artful film within the horror arena that works on the viewer’s sense of foreboding and impossible dread. Horror works best when it can tap into the primal – and there is nothing more primal than the urge to reproduce. And it is that desire to have a child that drives the horror of this film. Yes, there are scares and yes, there will be blood – but that’s so much window dressing to what really drives this thing: a woman that wants a baby. A woman that wants to have that baby so badly that, after a tragic accident and against all physical and natural laws, when it arrives stillborn, she wills her infant girl to life. And we all know deep inside that when you reject the natural order of things, there more than likely will be hell to pay – literally. And that is genuinely frightening.

1. GRACE began as a short before it became a feature film. But what was originally the genesis of the idea?

When I was about nineteen my mom told me I had had a twin that died before birth. That was the personal genesis of the story. The subject matter just became intensely compelling to me on a very intimate level. The idea itself, though, came during a conversation where someone told me it’s real medical science that if you lose your unborn child, sometimes, if labor isn’t induced, you’ll actually carry that child to term. To me, even as a man, the idea of carrying your own dead child to term was such a potent kernel of horror, the script came quite naturally.

2. Describe how Adam Green (HATCHET) was instrumental in getting GRACE (the feature version) made?
Producer Adam Green has been a selfless champion of this project since he read the script. He saw the short at a Fangoria convention in 2006. He’s a very busy guy but he liked it enough that when some mutual friends from the website Icons of Fright told him he should read the feature length version of it, he agreed. He loved it, and reached out to. I met with him and his partners at Ariescope, Will and Cory, and we all hit it off extremely well. Adam and his Ariescope posse began a year long mission to find the right home for the film. In the end, Anchor Bay proved to be the perfect place for the film. Adam had had such a great experience with them with HATCHET and SPIRAL that they were already family. Adam has been a guardian angel to me and this film since our first meetings, all through production, and post and now into GRACE’s birth at festivals from Sundance to SXSW and now to AFI DALLAS.

3. What is the best thing about having your film at AFI DALLAS?
AFI DALLAS has an outstanding reputation as both a film lovers’ festival and a place where the spirit of independent filmmaking is treasured and celebrated. That’s the kind of environment that feels like home to me, and to a film like GRACE. It was precisely that kind of independent spirit that enabled us to thrive even under the constraints we had, and to be able to
participate in a festival that gets that is an absolute joy.

4. Eli Roth (CABIN FEVER, HOSTEL) was your camp counselor when you were younger. How old were you at the time and did you hear the best campfire stories ever?
I was about eleven when I met Eli. He did better than campfire stories, he actually directed all the campers in a short movie called SUSHI where we take over the camp and murder all the counselors. The kids fed the staff poison ivy and shot them with those plastic bows, and then finally, he had one of the weirder kids, who was always telling these bizarre jokes that didn’t make any sense, kill everyone by a barrage of bad humor that caused us all to seizure and hemorrhage blood out of our ears. He used the RE-ANIMATOR soundtrack, too, another stroke of genius. He was an awesome counselor, as were his two brothers, and has been a really generous mentor and friend to me.

5. You actually had some meetings with people regarding GRACE early on in the process and described that experience as similar to the film THE PLAYER. What was the worst idea someone suggested to you as they gave you their notes?
When I first got to LA about four years ago, I had just written the GRACE feature. People started reading it and liked it. I got some offers to purchase the script, but no one was prepared to take a risk on letting me direct because I hadn’t done a feature before. One of the guys I met with brought in the director he wanted to attach and the guy started pitching me some pretty asinine ideas. I knew I was walking when he pitched me “The car drives off the road, right? And right through the middle of a devil worshipping ceremony! Naked girls everywhere…” He was also a winker, which creeped me out. Just so classically sketchy.

6. A genre-friendly website named you Mr. Febru-scary at some point. Did you have to do a photo spread or do a calendar or something because of that?
Yes, it’s true. I didn’t have to do any shirtless pictures or anything. But Adam Green had been the Mr. Scary a previous month that year, and I think he actually did some beefcake pics for them. And my other friend, Chris Garetano, a filmmaker from NY, won for another month. I’m tempted to start a rumor that he did full frontal nudity, but he might like that too much. So at the end of the year, we were all in competition for Scary Stud of the Year. I don’t think any of us won, though. There would have been copious ballbreaking had only one of us been a Scary Stud, but as it is, we’ve got nothing on each other. It’s actually a cool little site called Pretty Scary, run by women genre geeks. Some genuinely good reporting. Not just shirtless (Adam) Green pics.

7. Seriously, kids in your future?
Absolutely. I love kids.

8. If you couldn’t make films, what would be your second career choice?
The only things I feel even close to as passionate about as I do film, are animals and bicycles. I used to train dogs, and that really is a pretty amazing job, so I could do that. I also used to love working as a bike messenger back east. I’m still riding around on track bikes in traffic every chance I get, so it wouldn’t take much convincing to get me to start letting someone pay me for it again. But the reality is, even if I couldn’t have a career making movies, I’d still be making them every chance I got.

9. What was the last film that genuinely scared the crap out of you?
It’s not a horror film, but Kathryn Bigelow’s THE HURT LOCKER rocked me. She knocked that film out of the park.

10. Popcorn or candy?
If I’m really limited to those two choices, I’m going popcorn, but I’m all
about ice cream during my theater going experience. Even if I have to sneak in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.

Did someone get to keep the old-school breast milk pump from the film or are you holding on to it for the Fangoria Hall of Fame?

Are you kidding me?! There’s no way I would ever let anyone have that pump. That thing is on my living room table. I made GRACE so I could put that on my living room table. Although, I have a suspicion it’s the reason I’m still single.

GRACE screens Friday, March 27 at 11:59PM @ Magnolia 3 and Saturday, March 28 at 10:30PM @ NorthPark 7.
Paul Solet will attend both screenings and will participate in a Q&A afterwards.