I’m working on two hours sleep, and feeling punchy. This is actually my second go round writing this article, because I zigged when I should have zagged and lost my entire write up of Day 2 of SXSW 2012. But I saw some amazing movies yesterday, bought some posters at the Mondo Gallery (Tyler Stout’s WRATH OF KHAN, THE FOUNTAIN, and a Vader poster done all Giger style). I also walked out of a movie, something I've only done three times in my life (and one of them was when my wife passed out, and not through any fault of the movie), and since I did that I don’t feel comfortable reviewing it in any way (or revealing the title). I think now I should have stuck it out to the end, so that I could warn you off, but honestly since I didn’t finish it, it wouldn’t be right. I also saw one of my best friends have what was probably one of the best nights of his life, and I’m so happy for our resident Massawyrm and the premiere of his and Scott Derrickson’s truly excellent film SINISTER last night.
But let’s get to the meat of it, and so onward and upward:
Genuine truth is elusive, ephemeral. Just when you think you have it in your grasp, it slips away like water in the fist. THE IMPOSTER is a story so strange that it takes a documentary to do it justice, because otherwise people would write it off as nonsensical fiction. A young man in Spain claims that he is the lost child of a San Antonio family, but what happens once he leaves Spain for America is only the tip of a truly bizarre tale that makes us question everything and everyone.
There are moments in THE IMPOSTER where as an audience member I felt I had a definitive grasp on what I was seeing, and then the film would drop a nugget of information that would shift the perspective completely. At times I was sympathetic to the young imposter who seemingly wanted nothing more than to escape his world, at times I felt sympathy for the family hoping against hope that this man was truly their child, and then we would discover something that would turn those opinions completely around. Our suspicions change through the course of the film, and nothing is certain.
Credit must be given to director Bart Layton for navigating the twisty narrative; you get the feeling that they want to understand what happened here just as badly as the audience does. THE IMPOSTER is haunting, and the ideas of the movie stick with you far after it ends. These are the kinds of films I look for when seeing a documentary, and THE IMPOSTER challenged me in the best ways that a truly engaging film can do.
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED
I hate to reduce a movie as wonderful and full of joy as SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is to a mere tagline, but here goes – imagine if Wes Anderson directed BACK TO THE FUTURE and you come close to some idea of the fun that this movie provides. Darius (Audrey Plaza) is in a rut, and when she’s not interning at Seattle Magazine she’s looking for a paying gig, but finding something that satisfies eludes her. One day her boss finds a story about a want ad about someone looking for a partner to go time traveling with them on a mission, so Darius, her boss Jeff (Jake Johnson) and Indian intern Amau (Karan Soni) take a road trip to rural Washington State to try to track him down.
Jeff has an ulterior motive in this business trip – an old fling lives out that way that Jeff is interested in seeing again – but once they meet Kenneth (the wonderful Mark Duplass), it becomes obvious that the guy’s a little off. As Darius gets closer to Kenneth for the story, she finds herself genuinely moved and fascinated by him, and begins to grow attached. Is Kenneth genuine, or just a flake? The movie answers that in a fairly definitive way, but the joy of watching these characters interact with each other in quirky but emotionally satisfying ways is the real payoff.
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is directed with confidence by Colin Trevorrow, and the script by Derek Connolly could have been very self-aware and twee, but instead both Trevorrow and Connolly have found universal truths about life and relationships that are not only rewarding emotionally, but hilarious as well. It’s a perfect date movie, and one of the most satisfying romantic comedies I’ve seen in a while. FilmDistrict will be releasing this movie, so you’ll all have the chance to see this joyous movie. Highly recommended.
Full disclosure, if you didn’t know already – the script for SINISTER is written by director Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, better known in these parts as Massawyrm. So, yeah, he’s a part of the home team. Still, I couldn’t call myself Cargill’s friend and not be honest with him if the movie didn’t work. Look, I won’t lie – I dream of getting a script made into a movie. Any writer would. The fact that Massawyrm got it out of his brain pan, onto the written page, and into a movie theater is tremendously exciting to me. But if the movie wasn’t good, I’d be doing him a disservice if I didn’t let him know.
Well, SINISTER is good. It’s very good. While not exploring the underpinnings of the horror genre like THE CABIN IN THE WOODS does, SINISTER does test those boundaries and tweaks genre conventions, and the result is an original, disturbing, and at times quite terrifying horror movie. I think it’s going to be quite successful come release in October, and I could see genre audiences embracing the movie in a big way.
Ellison (Ethan Hawke) is a once-successful true crime writer who needs another hit. His first book, KENTUCKY BLOOD, was a critical and commercial success, but since then that success has eluded him, and he’s desperate to achieve that kind of success again. So desperate, in fact, that he decides to move his wife, son, and daughter to a house that was the location of a rather horrific crime scene – an entire family hung from a tree in the backyard, with their young daughter missing. Ellison figures that if he catches that spark again like his first book, he can save his original house and possibly even his marriage. So when Ellison finds a box in the attic of some Super 8 footage he thinks that this might be just the break he needs.
What’s on those reels is best discovered for the audience, but the film tightens its grip very effectively, and I admit to having jumped several times. The “found footage” aspect of the movie is used extremely well, with all the strengths of that sub-genre and none of the detractions. I yelled out in shock at one sequence, and I love how Derrickson and Cargill treat the audience intelligently while still delivering visceral thrills. Personally, I don’t think Ethan Hawke has ever been better – while much of the movie is him reacting to the strange happenings in the movie, he’s always believable as our surrogate who slowly but surely descends into the depths of true evil. Making a new movie monster is always difficult, but Derrickson and Cargill manage to create something unique and singularly frightening. There are images in SINISTER that are particularly hard to shake.
The movie does have issues. I didn’t quite buy Ellison’s economic desperation – most of us when faced with the events of the film would have bailed early on – and a few scenes of Ellison’s struggles on that front would have added more sympathy for Ellison’s plight. The film relies on jump scares, but they are genuine and not cat-on-the-bed cheats. But there is a slow build to the tension, and there is an escalation in scares as the movie progresses that will play remarkably well for the audience that sees this once it opens this October.
But more than anything I’m so very happy for Massawyrm, who probably had one of the best nights, if not the best night, of his professional career. SINISTER works – it’s genuinely scary, smart, and earns its scares without pandering or silliness. We could do worse than have another Halloween holiday franchise than SINISTER (even though I’m not sure where a sequel could go), and the movie deserves to be seen by horror genre fans the world over.
And that’s it for Day 2! Stay tuned for a review of what is simply one of the best action films ever made. No bullshit, no hyperbole. It simply is.