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Missus Wyrm takes on Fantastic fest titles HOLY MOTORS, AMERICAN MARY and THE COLLECTION!

Hello, dear readers. Missus Wyrm here, with some thoughts on this year’s Fantastic Fest. First off, I will say that I am not a professional film critic nor a movie blogger. I have, however, been attending Fantastic Fest in some capacity since it’s inception, and it is one of my very favorite weeks of the year. How could any red-blooded, genre-loving, movie geek girl not be in heaven at a fest like this? It’s been a whirlwind, as always, but several films have really stood out. I know many others are writing in-depth reviews, so I’ll spare you my rambling and just give some quick snap shots of some of this year’s highlights.

Holy Motors
Director: Leos Carax
Writer: Leos Carax (screenplay)
Starring: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, and Eva Mendes

HOLY MOTORS might well be the best incomprehensible film I’ve ever seen. Written and directed by Frenchman Leos Carax, this wondrously novel film stars Denis Lavant as Mr. Oscar, a wealthy business man who sets out in his limousine for an exhaustive day of appointments. We soon see, however, that these are no ordinary business meetings. Rather, the “appointments” involve elaborate costuming and makeup, applied by Mr. Oscar in his limo, which serves as a mobile dressing room. Between each stop, Mr. Oscar completely transforms his appearance and personality, then steps out into yet another unique and strange scenario, each seemingly unrelated to the ones before. Whether begging on the street as a withered old woman, performing sensual choreography in a motion capture suit, playing father to a shy teenage girl, or running amok in a cemetery and kidnapping a fashion model, Lavant’s Mr. Oscar morphs almost effortlessly from one character to the next, turning out an impressive performance in a highly demanding role.

Interestingly, the interpretations as to the overall meaning of Carax’s film are as varied as Mr. Oscar’s odd assemblage of “appointments.” While one might see the extreme ambiguity as a failure in story telling, I would posit that HOLY MOTORS is not so much intended to tell a story, as to impart emotions. Regardless of what you make of the scenarios that play out in the film or how you believe that they fit together, it is nearly impossible to not be touched by them in some way. Some are funny, some poignant, some disturbing in their oddness, but all connect us in some way to the human experience. HOLY MOTORS seems to revel in absurdist ambiguity, yet never flounders or seems incompetent. Instead, the ambiguity appears intentional, even brilliantly executed, for Carax has created a film that is more about the experience than the story, that doesn’t tell us exactly what to think, but simply gives us something to think about.  

American Mary
Directors: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska
Writers: Sylvia Soska, Jen Soska
Starring: Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo and Tristan Risk

Brimming with ambition, skills, and beauty, surgical student Mary Mason seems to have it all…except where her bank account is concerned. As her mounting debt distracts from her schoolwork, Mary desperately answers an ad for a job at a seedy club, only to end up doing more than she’d bargained for. Forget working her way through med school by stripping, Mary finds that there’s good money to be made in underground surgeries, as long as she’s willing to set aside those pesky professional ethics.

After a traumatic experience involving the professional surgeons and professors she had previously admired, Mary drops out of medical school to pursue an alternative career as an underground surgeon for those seeking unconventional body modifications. As she pushes the boundaries of what she’s willing to do for money, Mary also explores the lengths to which she’ll go to get revenge. Business is good, and Mary seems to be a rising star, but can she keep a handle on things, or is she getting in over her head?

Featuring a stellar central performance by GINGER SNAPS star Katharine Isabelle as the title character and an inspired performance by professional burlesque artist Tristan Risk, AMERICAN MARY is the sophomore effort from the “Twisted Twins,” writers and directors Jen and Sylvia Soska, who first lit up the horror scene with a gritty throw-back flick called DEAD HOOKER IN THE TRUNK. With their second foray into the macabre, the twins have turned out a slick, stylish film that is bolstered by unique subject matter and great performances. Isabelle is always convincing, even as her character transforms from an ambitious but innocent student into a confident, hardened, femme fatale. Not only does her look shift from fresh-faced to glam makeup, but with it, Isabelle subtly shifts Mary’s expressions and mannerisms to match her new identity. Likewise, Tristan Risk also fully embodies her character, Beatress, a dancer who has transformed herself into a sort of real-life Betty Boop. Buried under a pile of makeup, Risk still shines and really bring Beatress to life. The cartoonish voice she adopts for Beatress is a pleasure and truly makes the character.

I found AMERICAN MARY to be engrossing with just enough gore to make me squirm a bit, and just the right touch of dark wit. The subject matter is unique, and I appreciate that the Soskas reportedly set out to portray the body modification community in a respectful - rather than demeaning or exploitative - way. While the story does seem to drag a bit at points, the pacing issues are overcome by the actors’ performances and the overall look of the film, which somehow manages to be both gritty and glamorous all at once. While I did, admittedly, find myself questioning why a med student would do rounds in shoes clearly worn for fashion over function, or attempt a 14-hour surgery in lingerie and heels, I ultimately feel that these style points help make the film what it is, which is a little over-the-top in all the best ways. Whether the style notes are intended to be a character quirk of Mary or are just indicative of the look the Soskas were going for hardly seems relevant. Either way, it works. In AMERICAN MARY, Jen and Sylvia Soska have created a dark, twisted look at the lengths to which people will go to become who they feel they ought to be and to get what they feel they deserve.

Director: Marcus Dunstan
Writers: Marcus Dunstan (screenplay), Patrick Melton (screenplay)
Starring: Josh Stewart, Christopher McDonald and Erin Way

After chilling us with 2009’s tense and terrifying horror, THE COLLECTOR, Marcus Dunstan (director, screenwriter) and Patrick Melton (screenwriter) are back to scare us again with a sequel, THE COLLECTION. This second installment picks up where THE COLLECTOR left off, but provides just enough back-story so as to be accessible without having seen its predecessor. This time, Arkin, the resourceful thief who was abducted in THE COLLECTOR, has managed to escape with his life, but only by allowing the villain to make off with a new acquisition, a teenage girl named Elena. Arkin soon finds himself right back in harm’s way when a group of mercenaries hired by Elena’s wealthy father abduct him from the hospital and force him to help them infiltrate The Collector’s lair and rescue the girl.

While THE COLLECTION continues the story that was set up in THE COLLECTOR, it makes a noticeable shift in scope and tone. Basically, this one goes to 11. Whereas the first of the series certainly had gore, its strength, to me, lay in it’s ability to make me squirm at our protagonist’s encounter with just a single fishhook. It was all about how scary it is to be trapped in an ordinary, familiar house that has been inexplicably transformed into a deathtrap. Conversely, in THE COLLECTION, the setting is anything but ordinary or homey. Much of the movie takes place in the killer’s base of operations, an abandoned building that he’s transformed into what looks like an over-the-top Halloween house of horrors. This time, it’s not about a quiet-but-deadly game of cat-and-mouse, building tension as we fear what deadly traps might lie in wait in a place that should be safe. Rather, the horror here relies on assaulting our senses with bigger, bloodier, and more inventive traps, kills, and settings. The appeal of this sequel is the sheer balls-out scale of it all. Indeed, THE COLLECTION has more characters (i.e. victims), more traps, more blood, a LOT more dismembered body parts, plus some other freaky surprises in store.

I must admit, I did get a bit worried when, at one point, THE COLLECTION appeared to be veering into “torture porn” territory, when we see Elena watching helplessly from inside a trunk as the killer perpetrates unspeakable abuses on other hapless victims. Personally, while I love a good gore fest, I’m not real keen on watching helpless captives be brutalized over and over. Just my personal opinion, but I much prefer a story in which characters try to elude the killer. They don’t have to be successful, but I find the brutality more bearable, the story more dynamic, and the horror more effective, when the victims are given at least a glimmer of hope of escaping unscathed, or at least, with their lives. Luckily, THE COLLECTION does not settle into a stagnant tale of torture. Elena, it turns out, is a survivor. Not willing to give up, she manages to escape the trunk, and what ensues is a thrilling, bloody romp as she, Arkin, and the mercenaries attempt to escape the premises without ending up as permanent installations in the killer’s gruesome collection.  

If you like a bit (OK, a lot) of blood in your horror, you owe it to yourself to check out THE COLLECTION. It hit’s the ground running with what is probably the most inventive and shocking mass kill I’ve ever seen on film, then winds around to a truly satisfying ending. Look for this one in theaters this November.

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