Hannibal here. I promised you last year that I?d return from my permanent state of hibernation to bring you the news on the 20th Brussels International Festival of Fantasy, Horror and S-F Film. And this is just what I?ll do.
As usual, the festival takes place between the 15th and 30th of March and this year more than ever, the films are very diverse with a lot of films from Asia and Europe. The weird thing is, that I?ve liked all the films I?ve seen so far, so forgive me for being overly positive. The festival has been very kind to me so far ?
Let?s get down to it:
the opening film of the festival was Mark Pellington?s The Mothman Prophecies, but since it has already been released in the States I won?t go into it any further. I really enjoyed it and I thought it was a well-directed and exciting horror-thriller which unfortunately was let down a bit by a so-so ending. Still: 7/10
Mamoru Oshii's AVALON
The first ?big? film of the festival was Mamoru Oshii?s much-hyped Avalon. Oshii himself was present at the screening and introduced the film to the audience. He even played a clip from his fantastic Ghost In The Shell and even though we didn?t understand one word of his introduction we cheered on his every sentence. Great guy!
Onto the film then. Avalon takes place in a similar apocalyptic future as Blade Runner or Judge Dredd. The cities are drab and depressing and the only thing that keeps the people happy is a new virtual reality war-game called Avalon. There even are some professional players, who make a lot of money playing the game. Ash is one of those players. Her life is really crappy and the only thing besides playing Avalon that makes her happy is cooking elaborate meals for her dog. One day, Ash hears something about a secret level hidden in Avalon, and she decides to form a posse in order to finish the game and enter the hidden level, but first she has to do some big battle with many different virtual enemies. And who?s that cute little ghost?
This film really amazed me. The story reminded me somewhat of The Matrix, but with a twist. There is a lot of cool gunplay and the battle-scenes are very exciting. Virtual enemies, when killer, dissolve into 2d images, which looks really cool. The overall visual style is awesome, Oshii uses a lot of greys, blacks and browns, and near the end of the movie there is a change of style that can only be called a stroke of genius. The story, acting, and special effects are all very well done, and the fact that this film is in Polish (!) only adds to its overall strangeness. Watch this film, it?s absolutely fantastic. 8/10
After the screening, Oshii did a Q&A with the audience, which was pretty neat (and kudos to the translator), but he didn?t reveal anything shockingly new. When asked what his next project will be, he said that he is working on something right now, but he can?t tell us what it is because his producer had sworn him to secrecy. Bummer.
The second film of the night was Argento?s new film Sleepless, but I missed it so I could attend the Q&A with Oshii. Maybe someone else can fill us in on that film.
SERIES 7: THE CONTENDERS
The last film of the night was the stunningly original Series 7: The Contenders, a fantastic film that really blurs the line between fiction and reality. The film felt so real that halfway through it I felt dirty and wanted to change the channel. It?s like watching America?s Greatest Police Chases and realising you actually like it. Great film 8.5/10
The next film I caught was Kiyoshi Kurosawa?s KaÃ¯ro (aka. Pulse). It?s an absolutely terrifying and very entertaining ghost-story that takes place in modern-day Tokio. It all starts with a mysterious suicide of a young boy. His friends are desperate to find out why he killed himself but they don?t have to search very hard, the answers start presenting themselves. It appears that ghosts are roaming through the city. They are everywhere and manifest themselves in dark places and on computer screens, which altogether makes for the most terrifying movie experience I had since The Blair Witch Project. Especially the first half of the movie scared me half to death. The tension was unbearable even though there were no shocks or boo!-moments. I can?t really explain what it was that scared me so much, but I guess it was the movie?s unpredictability. The ghosts could appear at any given moment, and even in broad daylight you?re not safe. Besides, any film in which ghosts can be contained rooms secured with red tape, is bound to be original. Kurosawa really outdid himself with this film, it?s merely a shame the movie becomes somewhat ridiculous near the end, when he tries to explain what it is that causes the ghosts to appear. Still, a very well-made film with a lot of tension and some (un)intentional humour (it?s really funny to watch a kid trying to install a Japanese version of Windows) and the audience seemed to enjoy it. So did I. Check it out: 7/10
Next up was Bill Paxton?s first directorial effort Frailty. Along with the film, he sent a lengthy video in which he introduced the film and discussed its themes. It looked as if he was really proud, and he should be, since it was a very well-made, but slightly predictable thriller, in the same vein as A Simple Plan, The Gift or Night Of The Hunter. Matthew McConaughey plays Fenton Meeks, a man who claims to know the identity of the notorious serial-killer the ?God?s Hand Killer?. Local policeman Powers Boothe sits down with him so he can tell the story. Fenton tells him of his youth, and how one day his dad (Bill Paxton himself) had a vision in which God told him to ?find demons and kill them?. Fenton and his younger brother Adam have to help their dad with his terrible mission. Adam is soon won over by Paxton?s vision but Fenton believes his dad had gone nuts.
The story is told in flashbacks and had a lot going for it. The characterisation of the father and his two sons is very well done, and even though McConaughey is credited first, it?s actually Paxton who has the biggest part. But?s it?s the two young kids (Matthew O?Leary and Jeremy Sumpter) that really shine. Halfway through the movie there is one terrifying scene in which the father orders his boy to kill an alleged demon with an axe. The way this scene is acted and shot is really awesome, just watch the horror on the young boy?s face. Great stuff. Obviously, as we near the end, the plot thickens, and there is a twist-ending, that unfortunately we see coming. Still, kudos to Paxton for and I?m looking forward to his next film. 7/10
Onto the last two films in part 1 of my report. First up, there was the Hong-Kong actioner Fulltime Killer. The film tells the unoriginal story of two rivalling hitmen (a newbie and a seasoned professional) who battle it out for the love of a woman. So far so blabla, but the story wasn?t really the point. It was about ACTION, and in that area, the film really delivers. There are couple of highly stylised shootouts (in a train station, the on a parking lot, ?) a lot of posing and running around with guns, and a couple of very beautiful women, in short: your typical Hong-Kong action film. Great fun, but not very original. 6/10
THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE
The last film was Guillermo Del Toro?s perfectly wonderfully stunningly fantastic El Espinanzo Del Diablo (aka. The Devil?s Backbone). I liked this film so much, I can?t describe it in words. The story, the mood, the photography and the acting were perfect and even though I couldn?t understand it all (the film was subtitled only in French), it was one of the best films I?ve seen in a long time. It reminded me a bit of The Sixth Sense and The Others, since it was more of a classic ghost story. There were a few good shocks, but to me it were the beautiful dialogues that stood out. Spanish was the perfect language for the film, since it added to the mood, much like Polish did to Avalon. I can?t wait to see this film again with English or Dutch subtitles. People, check this out!! 10/10
This concludes part 1 of my festival report, I?ll be back in a week or so with a write-up on the rest of the film I?m planning to see. They?ll be showing Itchi the Killer and Versus next week, so that may be of some interest.
Until next time, take care of yourself,
(currently residing in Brussels, Belgium)