By: Paul Farrell
Life in the movie theater grows short, I know this now. For days people have been speaking of the coming end, the veritable theatrical apocalypse. I can scarcely believe that such a life ever could end, such has been the eternity with which it seems to have lasted. Still, I fear the rumors are true that, indeed, Fantastic Fest has nearly reached its final hours. And yet there is still more to talk about. Take Wednesday, for example.
The True Adventures Of Wolf Boy
The common adage seems to be that kids can be cruel. I posit that adults can be too. The world at large seems to be a place that welcomes sameness, viewing those that are different or that identify as such as a threat to the normality to which it so desperately clings. That lack of acceptance can manifest in a multitude of different ways from bullying to lack of opportunity to loss of freedom or, worse yet, life. Such hatred can also seed inside the mind of the labeled outcast his or herself, eating their psyche from the inside out.
The True Adventures Of Wolf Boy follows Paul (Jaeden Martell) — a boy with hypertrichosis, a condition which causes an abnormal amount of hair growth all over his body — as he ventures away from home in an attempt to find his estranged mother and come to terms with himself. He is not without love, as evidenced by his father Denny (Chris Messina), a man who expends no small effort in an attempt to expose his son to the world he’s so keen on hiding away from. But ultimately, Paul needs to discover himself in his own way and on his own terms, not his father’s.
The film is parceled out between a series of hand-drawn interstitials, each depicting Paul in some sort of fantastical situation: fighting dragons, encountering grand royalty, and coming face to face with a mermaid, to name a few. They are presented with elaborately crafted calligraphy, bearing chapter names to match the images, framing the grounded narrative of the film as some storybook epic. The device serves the movie well and often helps to contextualize the allegorical nature of the events on display, as well as paying off in a surprisingly intimate and satisfying manner at the end.
The performances are subtle and grounded, believable and heartening. The movie plays out in much the same manner as many other coming-of-age comedies/dramas that have come before it, but in a more naked, biting way. What helps it transcend the standard fare are the types of characters featured, those typically reserved for quirky side-roles or, frankly, not featured at all as the heroes of this kind of story. Their agency and worth lies at the forefront, presenting the disrespecting world around them as the ones who are truly missing out. It would seem that when you only care about sameness, you rob yourself of that which is unique and beautiful.
The True Adventures Of Wolf Boy is a journey of self, an important lesson on both external and internal kindness and personal understanding. Its cast is wonderful — including a truly great, scenery-chewing John Turturro — and its beautiful message of love and inclusion is especially important right now.
Regardless of what the adage says, I think the more accurate saying would be: people can be cruel. And, if that’s unfortunately going to be the case, I think we can all learn a lesson from Wolfboy and be kind instead. Not just to the world, but to ourselves. After all, there’s a big difference between people and a person, and change starts with the latter.
This year’s Fantastic Fest was a celebration of Mexican genre cinema. Everything — from the festival logo, to the menus, to the decorations adorning the South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse — revolved around that theme and several repertory screenings were programmed to highlight some of the country’s unseen gems.
One such movie was Trampa Infernal (a.k.a. Hell’s Trap), which follows a group of seven twenty-somethings as they venture deep into the woods to hunt down a bear on a bet. The characters feel like an amalgam of western archetypes transplanted into rural Mexico: a handsome leader, a beautiful, strong-willed girl, and an overweight, plucky best friend who also serves as comic-relief.
The opening of the film has an almost comic sensibility, endearing the characters to the viewer and presenting a somewhat exaggerated version of expression. Informed by the slasher boom that this was clearly responding too, there is a self-aware nature to the over-the-top dialogue and somewhat slapstick character reactions.
The strength of the film lies in its crazed, mask-clad Vietnam war vet. Bearing a visage that at first glance appears to be a handsome, very serious Caucasian man with long blonde hair, the killer dwells in caves and wields everything from guns to crossbows to a Freddy Krueger-style glove. His weaponry is so oddly disparate that it leads to an interesting variety of kills and styles of attack that are generally unexpected in a run-of-the-mill slasher.
All told, the film is a fun, interesting take on the subgenre that does admittedly swipe a few familiar tropes (the Freddy glove notwithstanding) but still manages to feel original and relevant as a stand-alone piece. If you’re unfamiliar with Mexican horror cinema and you’re a fan of 1980s slasher fare, I think this one will be right up your alley.
There’s little on this Earthly plain more frightening and mysterious than the fathoms which lie below the ocean’s ever-churning surface. A hidden, unplumbed world of ancient creatures and secrets, many horror films have sought to exploit the wonders of water to incite fear, dread, and larger-than-life uncertainty.
Sea Fever, written and directed by Neasa Hardiman, follows Siobhán (Hermione Corfield), a Marine Biologist assigned to observe a fishing trawler’s catch and keep an eye out for anomalies. Her scientific rigor and pragmatism serve as a stark contrast to the superstitious, familial attitude of the ship’s crew members, and these opposing perspectives come to a head when the ship gets stranded at sea due to what are initially strange and inexplicable circumstances.
The film is brilliantly paced, taking time to introduce the characters and the working family they comprise as opposed to rushing full tilt into the meat of the story. Hermione Corfield is captivating as Siobhán, observing the crew as she would a creature in the water she was attempting to learn more about, never becoming swayed by their beliefs but rather more and more capable of navigating them.
Still, where the film really takes off is with the introduction to what the crew finds at sea (in an area cordoned off by the coast guard). The discovery is large and unknown, something untouched by mankind. What makes the movie unique among films of a similar ilk, however, is that the narrative treats the creature with wonder and awe, not simply fear. Through the eyes of Siobhán, we understand the point of view of a driven scientist as opposed to the narrow-minded scope of a perceived victim. This mindset becomes the driving force of the film and everything that happens after, leading to some brilliant situational horror that will stay with you long after the credits roll.
The film fits into several subgenres, never hovering in one specific narrative place for very long, leading to a story which flies by and never loses the interest of the viewer. It is informed by the creature features that preceded it — think The Thing and Leviathan, for starters — yet stands as anything but derivative. It’s smart, dread-inducing horror with a scientific approach and a vicious, unrelenting bite.
The ocean presents a mass of unfathomable depth, one that we can never control or fully understand. Rather than attempting to master it, Sea Fever concerns itself with why we should respect it.
Sitting alone at night, a drink in his hand and a gun on the couch beside him, Hank waits. He’s tired and sad, lonely as hell, and…uncertain. Something is coming for him — that much is clear. But how did he get there? And how did his life go so wrong?
After Midnight is about love; its capture and its keeping. It follows Hank (Jeremy Gardner), haunted by his past and and being hunted by…something. Whether the thing pursuing him is actually in the woods or merely in his mind doesn’t really matter, not to Hank at least. What matters is that he had known love and now it’s gone missing. Worse yet, in its absence something else has emerged to take its place.
Directed by Jeremy Gardner and Christian Stella, the film is a meditative, quirky, and often dread-filled examination of the many intertwining facets of a relationship. The narrative beautifully weaves in and out of moments from the couple’s life together, showcasing their best times as well as those when differences in opinions and priorities reared their heads and threatened their shared existence.
The film is infused with humanity, brought about by moments of great levity and humor. This overt comedy intermingles interestingly with the deep emotional pain of confronting the repressed reality of the character’s flailing love and serves to keep the audience’s emotional investment very high. Still, the movie never loses sight of its protagonist’s obsession, the visceral terror he feels regarding the mysterious creature so hellbent on his destruction.
All of this serves to create a film which feels distinct and unique. It’s unafraid to spend extended sequences focused on characters talking, highlighting expression over action. It’s a wonderful, heartfelt, and unexpectedly funny film that’s unlike anything else in the genre landscape.
Much like Hank — alone at night, afraid for his life, uncertain of what might be coming for him — After Midnight explores what’s left when what really matters is gone. The answer is a dark hole. A gaping chasm. An avenue by which anything might slip through.