By: Paul Farrell
In the before times, when movies were those things I watched at night with a bowl of popcorn after a long day at work, I recall thinking that a week-long excursion to the movie theater could only ever be a wonderful dream. An unattainable cinematic utopia that was more cruel to imagine than to disregard, for reality would never welcome such a perfect way of life. Then I went to Fantastic Fest. Day 6 brought with it several movies, both old and new alike. Allow me to elaborate.
The Peanut Butter Solution
Unintentional comedy has the ability to affect a movie in several interesting ways. Certainly, an ill-timed laugh at a beat intended to be anything but funny can ruin the experience for you and those around you. However, in some cases, it can signify a different brand of entertainment — an appreciative, affirming interest in something so bizarre and outlandish that it transcends being a bad artistic choice and becomes a good one. Or, at the very least, an entertaining one.
The Peanut Butter Solution is the second in a Canadian film series called Tales For All, which were designed to provide children with uplifting stories promoting agency in the youth. Restored by Severin Films and presented by AGFA, the film was shown with a beautiful new 2K scan that will be hitting blu-ray from Severin in December.
The movie is strange. It follows Michael, a boy who ventures into a decrepit house haunted by the spirits of the hobos who perished in a fire there, only to be so frightened that his hair falls out. The ghost of one of the dead dwelling in the house — feeling bad for the boy since Michael was kind to him once when he was alive — visits Michael and teaches him the recipe for a concoction that will help his hair grow back.
Sound weird? It gets weirder. This is one of those movies which feels populated by aliens instead of actors, people who are desperately trying to emulate human emotions as they’ve seen them in made-for-TV movies or commercials. The story and character choices get more and more outlandish as the movie goes on, making for an incredibly entertaining experience that is wonderful to see with a crowd.
It’s a movie populated by child-run sweatshops harnessing hair for paint brushes, over-the-top villains wearing kid-hair coats, and a little boy who wants the solution so that he can grow hair too…just not on his head. My advice? Get some drinks and some friends, and settle in for the ride.
Some of the best animal attack movies are the simplest ones — driven more by carnal intensity than plot or story. Still, the ones that tend to be the most fun are those that do something extra. They play with characters, subplots, and locations to create strange and disturbing situational horror and outrageousness. After all, as scary as being trapped in an empty pool with a crocodile sounds, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t also come off as a tad ridiculous.
The Pool is a movie that leans in to the ridiculous. It follows Day (Theeradej Wongpuapan) on what has to be the worst day of his life. The movie revels in punishing him, ensuring that no matter what action he decides to take, the outcome is the most inexplicably damning possible. The domino-like effect of his progressively worsening luck becomes akin to comedy, creating a sense of lively levity which drives the grotesque and the horrific that is constantly being inflicted upon him.
The movie is difficult to discuss without giving too much away, and protecting the events of its runtime is paramount as the experience of watching it play out is wholly entertaining and the reason I’d recommend it. Surprise is key, as is letting go of logic and, at times, reason.
It’s a tight and scrappy movie hailing from Thailand, directed by Ping Lumpraploeng, and it certainly makes some odd choices that one wouldn’t typically expect to see in a Western horror film. There are some preachy social politics in there, some incredibly dodgy CGI, and a number of cringe-worthy moments. Still, the overall film just works. It’s a lot easier to forgive such distractions when the movie stands for a fun experience in a hyper-reality driven world. That, and it’s worth considering the fact that it comes from an entirely different social consciousness than what audiences around here are used to seeing.
At the end of the day, if you’re the type of person who hears the description “man trapped in an empty pool with a crocodile” and gets excited, then The Pool is probably for you. It’s a simple animal attack movie that utilizes its confinement to the fullest extent, creating complexity out of simplicity, and a compelling, shocking experience the whole way through. In essence, scary and ridiculous — and I mean that as a compliment.
The Deeper You Dig
The veil which hangs between life and death is often depicted in film with varying degrees of thickness depending on the individual’s adeptness of feeling, or, in some cases, lack thereof. Countless films have attempted to tackle the concept of mediums, exploring the ramifications of communicating with those who have passed on from their bodies but not yet this Earth.
Very few, however, have treated the disembodied exactly as they were in life, of the same agency and the same mind, endowed with that oh-so-distinct capability reserved only for the most capable of mediums. Here is the sandbox in which The Deeper You Dig plays.
Made entirely by a family comprising not just the crew but the cast (Toby Poser, John Adams, and Zelda Adams), the film is a micro-budget affair that feels big in scope and execution despite the DIY reality of its production. Toby Poser is particularly engrossing as a mother who has lost her daughter, seeking the truth of her loved one’s demise by way of her second sight.
The film is incredibly intimate, building fear and dread out of the quiet desolation of the decrepit house Kurt (John Adams) is rebuilding. The structure houses his secrets and his guilt, allowing for more than his torn emotions to manifest and begin to encroach on his psyche. It’s a movie dealing with the cost of one’s selfish decisions and the check that, while able to be deferred for a time, will inevitably come due.
I think most would agree that the veil which separates the living from the dead is not always a clear one and means something different to everyone. We try to secure our metaphorical cloth in different ways — funerals, prayer, cremations, and even by burying it in the ground — but sometimes a several foot hole isn’t deep enough to stop the wind from blowing through the thin fabric; sometimes we must dig deeper.
Still, it seems once the hole is deep enough, the only person likely to end up buried in it is the one holding the shovel standing at the bottom. For, like in The Deeper You Dig, life and death is but a temporary state and, if you’re not careful, your state could change. The veil can drift in either direction after all.
Random Acts Of Violence
Art imitates life — or is it the other way around? It’s a difficult notion to pin down, a back and forth that seems to change direction depending on the person you’re talking to. Some artists create work based on their life experiences, utilizing their canvas of choice to explore those things which either plague them or bring them great joy. However, once created, art takes on a life of its own; its meaning determined by the individual which encounters it, its inspiration in newfound hands.
Random Acts Of Violence follows Todd (Jesse Williams), the writer and artist of a famous comic book, Slasherman. With the comic on the cusp of finishing its run, Todd sets out on a road trip with his publisher Ezra (Jay Baruchel), his publisher’s assistant, and his girlfriend Kathy (Jordana Brewster), who is working on a book based on the same series of murders that inspired Slasherman but with the intention of honoring the victims as opposed to the already infamous killer.
Todd and Kathy represent two sides of the same coin, both leveraging real life tragedy to craft their art. Todd’s grotesque series is presented as being hugely popular but under great ridicule. Throughout the film, he is verbally accosted by those who encounter him, accusing him of profiting off of glorifying violence. His defense lies in his aims of creating something artful, something that allows him and others to work through such horrors in a safe space on the page.
When the killings start up again — this time mirroring the pages of the book Todd has been writing for over a decade — the argument about whether artists have a responsibility to people impacted by the art they create boils to the forefront. The film ventures into some ultra-violent territory, carrying the gruesomeness of Todd’s comic book off of the page and forcing the characters to see the harsh reality of his creations. The scenes featuring Slasherman are some of the movie’s most well-executed, viscerally intense and harrowing, packed with impressive practical effects and no shortage of blood and gore.
When all is said and done, Random Acts Of Violence throws a lot of heady ideas at the viewer, calling into question both the responsibilities of those who act violently and those who react to such violence through artistic expression. Conceptually, this is nothing new, although it has certainly never been rendered with such bombastic horrors as are on display here. Still, while I respect it for trying, the narrative never really arrives at any sort of satisfying conclusion, amounting to a film which feels less receptive to artistic creation than I think it means to.
Art and life have a complicated relationship and I think it’s safe to say they always will. If an artist creates a story that drives an audience member to kill, is that the artist’s fault? Should the art exist in the first place? Where does guilt factor into creation? Questions worth exploring, certainly, but only when the person leading the exploration has something new, interesting, or specific to say. Otherwise they’re only questions, muddying up a movie the seems perfectly content to be an entertaining horror show despite the condemnation it’s so keen on espousing.