I can't believe it's already twenty years that I'm hosting Q&A sessions with filmmakers at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFFF). Over the years the festival has changed locations a couple of times, the audience has become more rambunctious than ever, and filmmakers are now obliged to sing on stage. What remains, however, is the number of awesome people I meet here every year (I made more friends at this festival than at any other place in the world) and how I always go back home feeling recharged and motivated to work on my own projects. And, of course, I saw lots of films, most of which I enjoyed, though only two of them really stood out. Here's a little overview.
A food critic investigates clandestine restaurants and is challenged to re-evaluate what he eats. Is it reasonable to pay a month's income for rare caviar and kobe beef? Is the taste of fugu really worth risking your life for? And what would you if given the possibility to try human flesh? Action and gore are absent in favor of internal conflicts, and the result fascinates from start to finish, mounting in intensity as the film progresses. One of my favorites of this year's BIFFF.
An artist who works with human bones slaughters a family. The mother survives, searches for five people in need of an organ donor, and promises her own organs in exchange for helping her execute her revenge plan. Clever and well-made Korean thriller.
Aux Yeux Des Vivants
The third and best film from Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury (Inside, Livid) imagines a traumatic episode in Stephen King's childhood. This results in an atmospheric slasher with one creepy killer, and many references to Stand By Me and It. Other positives include the clean direction and set-design.
Friends vacationing in Montenegro visit a seemingly uninhabited island that once served as Mussolini's concentration camp. Beneath the ruins lures a beautiful siren that regularly turns in a hideous monster, and a man that will do anything to protect and feed her. Trashy and not always well-written, but more fun than any other movie I saw at BIFFF. Reminiscent of Dagon.
Let Us Prey
Solid, violent thriller in the vein of Assault On Precinct Thirteen and Storm Of The Century. The twist at the end is what sets Let Us Prey apart from said examples.
The Quiet Ones
A mad scientists and his helpers try to create a poltergeist out of a mentally unstable woman, and succeed. Not innovative for a bit, but good suspense.
A ghost and a woman befriend each other and have long conversations about lost love and the pains of life. The concept works and the misty Welsh landscapes are highly atmospheric. What ruins the film though is the ridiculous white painted ghost and the slow pacing. Otherwise, promising debut.
The toy animal masks of the killers in this home invasion movie are so creepy they make Torment stand out from many others in the genre. But why do both killers and victims have to be so dumb?
A teenager participates in a reality TV show that forces him to stay locked inside a shop for an entire week in the hopes to reach 10,000 Facebook fans. Of course, it helps that the evil ghost of a child roams the shelves. Highly enjoyable midnight movie.
Goal Of The Dead
Have you ever thought how football supporters resemble zombies? Benjamin Rocher and Thierry Poiraud have and they took that idea quite literally in their film Goal Of The Dead. The film is divided into two parts (or two films if you'd like), referring to the first and second half of a match. The first part of the movie (directed by Benjamin Rocher) was by far my favorite as it had the best pace, the most character development, the funniest scenes and overall the most surprises. The second half (directed by Thierry Poiraud) was merely a continuation of the first part and resembled many other zombie outbreak movies. A diverting film, even more so because the BIFFF audience, known as the noisiest in the world, behaved liked football supporters during the screening.
"The Apostles is a groundbreaking horror film that re-invents the genre. I believe the audience will compare it to Inception," director Joe Chien says during our Q&A session. His film is groundbreaking indeed... in terms of how bad a film can be. Not only is The Apostles painstakingly boring, the actors are obviously playing against fake backgrounds, and some of the alien make-up is laugh-out-loud silly. As for the Inception part: first the story takes place in the main character's imagination, then it's nothing but a bad dream, then it's an alien conspiracy etc. As a punishment, Joe Chien should be sentenced to watch his own film non stop till eternity.
I have to congratulate Bobcat Goldthwait for making the only found footage film I loved. The difference is that the camera is static which makes us feel much more in the moment than when it's constantly shaking. This is especially effective in a 19 minutes scene in which two characters just sit in their tent listening at the nightly noises and possibly Bigfoot lurking closer. One of the most suspenseful scenes I've seen in a long time.
Altergeist starts as your usual ghost story with a couple of ghost hunters investigating the premises of a winery. After a couple of effective jump scares, Altergeist takes a surprising turn by mixing in another genre. While this is the film's strongest point, it's also its weakest one as it destroys much of what was previously built-up. Fun fact: according to the filmmakers, the bizarre winery murders from the film really happened, except that they were even more numerous in real life.
Two broken families go on a camping trip and are influenced by a woman living inside a lake. A fascinating concept, but they could have done so much more with it in terms of mystery and conflict.
Each segment in this horror anthology centres around a perversion (of family, innocence, technology, ...) and a matching quote by Baudelaire. The entire movie is marked by a dirty, uneasy atmosphere, but as is the case with most anthologies, the quality of the storytelling is uneven. Also, I've only seen a rough cut and some of the most promising segments were missing. Made with the combined efforts of Ruggero Deodato, Sergio Stivaletti, Uwe Boll, Richard Stanley, and many more.
Could have been of the creepier ghost movies of the past few years. Too bad it was so mainstream and predictable.
From the director of The Wisdom Of Crocodiles comes a Chinese 3D movie about a haunted doll. An amusing story, but one you've seen a dozen times already.
Based on both Edgar Allan Poe and Yue Kotegawa, Arcana is filled with many interesting ideas, but the film has been entirely erased from my memory in less than two weeks.
Lord Of Tears
I can't decide whether to find Lord Of Tears fascinating or ridiculous as it is both in equal measures. I loved the grey filtered images and the creepy owl man, but downright hated the artificial characters and silly dances.
All Cheerleaders Die
If Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson pretended this was a remake of The Craft, everyone would have believed them. Thing is, they try to be original by making their cheerleaders deliberately detestable, not realizing they're actually no different than the characters of the movies they're trying to outsmart. How I miss McKee's personal and brilliant early films.
The Afterman 3
I can appreciate efforts like this Belgian, low budget DIY film as it's so different from my usual viewer experiences, but don't try to watch The Afterman 3 if you're even the least bit critical. By the way, I haven't seen the first two films in the series, but apparently the third one was largely an assembly of the previous ones.
Horror Stories 2
I can accept that some films are contrived, but when the filmmakers start explaining every plot twist in this Asian horror omnibus with a "It's just in his head" and "She imagines this because she's dead", I'm done.
I discovered Enemy at the Sitges Film Festival last year and immediately fell in love with it. Now that I watched the film a second time, I'm even more smitten than before. I could say how intriguing this doppelgänger story is and how the actors are cast to perfection, but what I truly love about Enemy is how every image, every line of dialogue has a symbolic meaning, how there are even more layers to this film than I originally thought, and how I can discuss this film for hours and still fail to comprehend it entirely. A true gem.
My overview of the BIFFF can also be read at Cult Reviews.