[Fantastic Fest] Review Round-Up: HALLOWEEN (2018), THE PERFECTION, BORDER

By: Nolan McBride

Halloween 2018 2

There are so many movies to see at this year’s Fantastic Fest and only so much time to write about them, so rather than trying to review them all, I am going to cover the movies about which I was most passionate or those I want to make sure everyone puts on their radar. In this edition, it’s the much-anticipated sequel to John Carpenter’s seminal slasher, an unexpected roller coaster of a thriller, and an emotional, fantastical tale about outsiders finding their place in the world.

Film Title: Halloween

Halloween (2018)

How do you follow up one of the greatest horror movies and arguably the greatest slasher film of all time? Filmmakers have been trying to answer that question for the last 40 years with mixed results. Enter David Gordon Green and co-writers Danny McBride (no relation, unfortunately) and Jeff Fradley, along with horror super producer Jason Blum, who have attempted to not only modernize one of the most iconic killers in all of horror but to truly continue the story of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). In my opinion, they’ve found their answer to the above question and it’s a good one.

I think Green and his collaborators knew how difficult it would be to make Michael Myers as scary as we was in the original, to capture that magic again, so instead they opt to make him more vicious. Nick Castle is back in the blue coveralls and Shatner mask for the first time since the original and he’s more inhuman than ever. A character jokes early on that what Laurie experienced on the night of the “babysitter murders” was fairly tame by modern standards. As if this throwaway line were a prompt, Michael Myers responds in kind by upping the body count significantly. However, the takeaway shouldn’t be the number of kills (though there are many) as much as the idea that no one is safe — a point emphasized by the first onscreen kill. Michael’s rampage is full of moments both brutal and satisfying, making you simultaneously wince at the savagery and cheer for the glorious gore.

Laurie Strode’s characterization will at first feel familiar to her portrayal in Halloween H20. She still struggles with the events of that fateful night, having resorted to vices like alcohol to help her cope. However, as the movie progresses, it becomes clear that this Laurie is not living in fear. She has met the boogeyman and has spent the rest of her life preparing for his return, even at the cost of her relationship with her daughter and granddaughter. In a Q&A after the film, Jamie Lee Curtis spoke of the idea of intergenerational trauma, an idea that hangs heavily over the film and which plays out effectively at the end.

Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, Green & Co. stick to the basics. Halloween (2018) both pays homage to the original — I suspect some will be unhappy with the first half feeling like something of a “requel” of the 1978 classic — and brings something new to the table, especially in its final act. While the movie never scared me to the degree of the original (which scarred me as a child), it’s full of tension and the climax is a nailbiter. The script is also surprisingly funny, yet never causes the movie to lose its edge. A movie weighed down with so much baggage and so many expectations could have easily been a mess. Instead, it’s simple in its approach and well-balanced in execution. It may not redefine the genre, but I think it will please diehard fans and serve as an entry point for new converts.

The Perfection

The Perfection

I absolutely loved The Perfectionthe new thriller from director Richard Shepard, who previously made the underseen (and quite fun) crime comedy The Matador. I can’t remember the last time I was so consistently and pleasantly surprised by a movie and it remains the highlight of the festival for me. I had no idea what to expect going in and every time I thought I had a grasp on where it was going, the movie changed gears (and sometimes even genres). It’s the definition of a cinematic roller coaster, throwing you for a new loop with each of its four distinct chapters. If you’re the type of genre fan that’s willing to take a chance on an unknown quantity, I’d recommend reading no further, avoiding any trailers, and putting this at the top of your must-see list.

For anyone looking for a little more context, The Perfection follows a cello prodigy played by Allison Williams (Get Out) who, after losing the ill mother she gave up her dreams to take care of, travels to Shanghai to rejoin the music academy which previously trained her and befriends the younger rival (Logan Browning of Netflix’s Dear White People) who achieved the fame that should have been hers. Williams and Browning’s performances are electric and they have a great chemistry even at times when they are working against each other.

I won’t go any deeper into specifics of the plot because you really should discover where the film goes on your own. It’s something of a thematic cousin to Aronofsky’s Black Swan, touching on the lengths that performers will go to in order to achieve greatness. The way this idea plays out, however, is completely different. It’s a little sleazy, a lot crazy, and a wild ride that you should take as soon — and as blind — as possible.

Border

Border

The last time a filmmaker adapted the work of John Ajvide Lindqvist (Let The Right One In), it resulted in one of the best horror movies of the 2000s. Two aspects that made that movie so special were the humanity of its monster and the tender love story between outsiders. Both of these qualities apply to Border, the new supernatural romance based on a short story by Lindqvist and directed by Ali Abbasi (Shelley).

Eva Melander plays Tina, a Swedish customs officer with the preternatural ability to sniff out even the most well-hidden contraband. Her discoveries are often accompanied by disparaging remarks about her unconventional appearance, which she has been told is due to a chromosome deformity. Tina’s life changes after befriending a passenger, Vore (Eero Milonoff) who bears a striking resemblance to herself and who is hiding something her super senses can’t identify. Through this relationship, Tina embarks on a journey of self-discovery and comes to a greater understanding of herself.

The performances by Melander and Milonoff are subtle and powerful despite being carried out under heavy layers of latex. The story is poignant, bringing me to the verge of tears at a couple of different points. Surprisingly, the moments that moved me most were happy ones, times when it felt like Tina had found her place in a world in which she long felt like an outcast, as well as a companion with which to share her life. The movie depicts a nuanced understanding of gender and sexuality and features a sex scene you’re not likely to forget. In short, it makes beautiful that which we’re often told is ugly or unattractive.

Border incorporates elements from folk and fairy tales without ever being a fairy tale itself. It is grounded in the real world but — like the best genre cinema — uses the fantastical to develop its themes. At the heart of the story is Tina, whose compassion keeps herself and the story from succumbing to the darkness that surrounds her.

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