Monday 16 October 2017

London Film Festival 2017 - Cult

The Cult section was a welcome addition to the London Film Festival 5 years ago, a further proof that genre cinema is becoming more accepted (although certainly not more mainstream!). Bloody, unusual or just downright weird, this year's cult strand was a big hit.

The Endless by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead

Directing duo Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead made a big impact with Lovecraft-esque romance Spring (2014), which was already presented in the London Film Festival cult strand, and was called one of the best horror films of the decade by Guillermo Del Toro. Before that, the two indie directors' debut, Resolution, a lo-fi oddity, had become a cult classic among the most enlightened cinephiles circles.

With The Endless they take centre stage, as the writers, directors and leads, and are not afraid to give a less than favourable characters! Having escaped a weird cult where they grew up, and struggling to survive in the real world, with Aaron (Aaron Moorhead) in particular, longing for their previous, easier lives. All it takes is one random tape, seemingly sent from their old cult as an invitation of sort, for them to go back, with Justin (Justin Benson), hoping this will provide them with closure.

The Endless is a tricky film to review as it is one whose treasures you do not want to spoil. It is a rarity, a film that I would dare you to guess the path it is going to take, in terms of actual genre and narrative development. It is genuinely unnerving, particularly since the source of its sense of menace is hard to pinpoint and is not afraid to brace some fairly heavy themes,  about the power of art as a key to immortality. As such, it connects with their first film Resolution in unexpected ways. Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead have singular voices and a unique, precious talent in the world of indie genre cinema.

Let The Corpses Tan by Helene Cattet & Bruno Forzani

Belgian directing duo Helene Cattet & Bruno Forzani pushed the boundaries of limits of experimental cinema so far with their previous film, giallo tribute The Strange Colours of your Body Tears, that one had to wonder where they could go from there. Some directors with a unique style often run the risk of repeating themselves but thankfully, no such things happens with Let The Corpses Tan.

Still a genre film, but this time turning their attention to Italian westerns (as well as the sub-genre of Pastis noir), the story is almost straight-forward. In it, a gang of criminals on the run after a bloody heist, seek refuge in the remote retreat of an eccentric artist (indie muse Elina Lowensohn) and her boy-friend, taking a few hostages along their way and with two cops on their trail.

Thos new film might be more straight-forward narratively, but it is still a unique, dazzling proposition, all the way to the visual fireworks of the third act. The film is adapted from a novel which lays out the action almost minute by minute, a style that the directors follow and which suits their attention to detail perfectly. It gives the film a clarity and sense tension that really shows similarly theme shoot-out snooze fest Free Fire (2016) how it's done.

Rift by Erlingur Thoroddsen

Gay Icelandic ghost stories are far and few between, in fact, this may well be the first film to belong to that subgenera, making it all the more precious and unexpected. In Rift, Gunnar receives a phone call from his ex boy-friend Einar, begging him to join him in the secluded cabin he has moved to. Fearing the worse for his mental state, he decides to stay with him a few days, during which old wounds and recriminations come back to the surface, while things go bump at night, and a presence is seemingly lurking outside.

It does not take much to make Iceland looks atmospheric. Director Erlingur Thoroddsen did not pick a postcard perfect location however, one that feels resolutely normal to the locals, yet still very evocative and isolated for outsiders. He also takes his time and keeps the audience guessing as to what is actually going on, thanks to a skilful mix of genres. Its study of a relationship has surprising depth, helped by the committed performances of the two leads. There is a real sadness to it all, a sadness about what could have been, how time ruins everything, as well a sense of pervading loneliness, a impression that is addressed in unexpected way by the script as the story develops.

There are echoes of Don't Look Back in the way the supernatural (or is it?) is used in the background of a decaying relationship, but Rift is very much its own thing, a genre hybrid that works perfectly.

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