Thursday, 23 November 2017

Red Spring

Blood in the Snow Film Festival is an annual film fest held in Toronto with a mandate to support, promote, and exhibit independent Canadian horror, genre, and underground film.

Opening the Blood in the Snow Film Festival was Red Spring, a vampire movie that plays like a zombie film. The first time I encountered this type of treatment was Jim Mickle’s Stake Land. Personally, I thought it worked great and I’ll admit I’m surprised the idea didn’t catch on. That’s good news for Red Spring because now it means Jeff Sinasac’s movie doesn’t play like just another vampire flick.

The vampocalypse happened at some indistinct point in the past. Not so long ago that our heroes have settled into their new lives in the new world, but just enough time has passed that the government’s failure to save its people is still a raw, open wound. After the vampocalypse, the few humans left in the world have to keep moving lest they become food for the undead. But life on the road is tiresome and ultimately pointless; there’s nowhere you can go where the vampires won’t eventually find you. This bleak outlook underscores much of the film, but thankfully stops short of being overwhelming nihilistic.

The film beings with the aftermath of a vamp attack on a government shelter, in which dozens of folks were slaughtered. Enter Ray, who is looking for his wife and daughter, and who stubbornly chooses to believe they’re not dead. Any other zombie film would follow Ray as he desperately searches for his family, risking everyone (and everyone around him) in the process. But Red Spring isn’t any other zombie movie, and Ray leaves the shelter to join his fellow survivors in the relative safety of their van.

Each person in the van has been given the opportunity to learn the fate of their loved ones, Ray being the last in line as his personal journey means traveling to Toronto, deep into vampire territory. The rag-tag group successfully books it out of town before sunset, and somewhere between Toronto and nowhere they pick up another survivor, Vicky.

Vicky’s headed to Kincardine, where she plans to wait out the end of the world, and she invites the others to stay with her. Vicky’s reasoning as to why everyone would be much better off cooling their heels in Kincardine rather than freezing their asses off way up north is some of the best reasoning encountered in any contemporary vampire or zombie movie. Unable to counter her logic, self-appointed team leader Mitchel accepts her offer and the group settles in but not before an unfortunate run-in with a familiar gang of vamps.

What happens next is all pretty straightforward, if a touch predictable at times, all of which reaffirms Red Spring’s cinematic influences. Zombie films are tragedies, and Red Spring is no different in this regard. But rather than position its vampires as mindless, food-motivated monsters, creator Sinasac has bestowed upon them some brains. Vampires can drive and shoot, they can speak and write, and are capable of organized, linear thought. In fact, the vamps’ high-functioning abilities are what led to the fall of civilization. Unfortunately, this vampocalypse backstory clashes somewhat with the vampires present on screen who appear to be little more than bloodthirsty pack animals.

That’s not to say Red Spring isn’t entertaining, and the film does succeed where so many others fail—it’s sad when people die. Is it a touch too long? Yes. Does it deliver a better zombie-type plot than many zombie movies? Also yes. Red Spring’s uncommon approach to the genre is a refreshing change for anyone who’s tired of the same old zombie movie or vampire film or both.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Death Note (2017)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Death Note. Except for, you know, everything.

Okay, to be fair, the film looks good (for the most part). It's well shot, properly lit, and nicely edited together, but all that style can't make up for the badly-told story that is the substance of Death Note.

I can sum up the film's problems thusly: Montauk is on the east coast.

Montauk, which is where L comes from, is a small community on Long Island. I know this because I spent a few summers there as a kid. It's a beach town, sandy and flat. The Montauk that appears in Death Note is deep in the forest, and the secret institution in which L was "born" is lies in the shadow of a mountain. Death Note was filmed in BC, and although I'm not intimately familiar with the province's geography, I'm pretty sure nowhere in BC could ever be mistaken for Long Island. And still no one thought to change this one minor plot point. The only reason L has to be from the east coast is so that Watari can waste his time traveling across the country (by train!). The clock is ticking, and Watari only has 48 hours to learn L's true name. Death Note is set in Seattle, but what the filmmakers don't understand is that it'll still take a while to get to Oregon or Idaho or the BC interior. Fuck, maybe even West Virginia--the geographic profiles are similar enough. Have any of them ever driven through the mountains? It takes time. But no, the film insists on trying to pass off west for east and this lazy oversight exemplifies why the movie--or more precisely, the story--kinda blows.

Another terribly-conceived moment comes right at the start of the film when Mia is smoking at cheerleader practice. Smoking. Even if her character did smoke (which I don't think she does because she never smokes again after this one scene), she wouldn't smoke during practice. I know I'm talking about unrealistic scenarios in a film about a magical killer book, but Death Note is set in the real world, and in this reality teens don't smoke on school property while practicing their sport.

Death Note starts off relatively strong, with the book quite literally falling out of the sky and into Light's life. He doesn't waste any time making good use of his new power, and movie hurtles along at a breakneck pace. And then everything comes to a screeching halt when L takes over the narrative. All that fun and exciting forward momentum runs up hard against L's investigation into Kira, and what could have been a tense thriller is instead a profanity-leaden PG13 drama.

Any sensible person in Light's situation would try to steer the investigation one way or the other, pitting their intellect against L's. Instead, Light lets himself get baited because this is no longer his story. To make matters worse, I'm not sure the movie itself is even aware that Light is no longer in charge. For the majority of the film's running time, Mia and L wrestle for narrative control, which is a huge problem for us because this film is really supposed to be about the moral ramifications of having power over life and death.

The whole thing comes to a head when Mia tries to strong arm Light into relinquishing the death note. One contrived chase scene later, we have our final showdown between the two teenaged lovers. Wait, what? Yeah, you read that right. The film ends not with Light and L facing off, not even with Light and Ryuk, but with a crazed girl lusting after power and her boyfriend's convoluted plan to undermine her. The film's eleventh hour attempt to give Ryuk some semblance of control over events is laughable at best. At worst, it's final proof that the filmmakers don't understand how to craft a story.

And what's with Light's hair? Either hire a blonde actor or commit to the dye job. Yeesh.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Map It! Canadian Mass Murders

Canada is no stranger to crime, including spree killers and mass murders. Zoom and click on the map to learn more about mass murder in the Great White North.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Map It! Canadian Serial Killers

When most people think of Canada, they think maple syrup and Mounties. And yeah, it's got a lot of both. It's also got crime. Awful, international-headline-making crime. Like that guy who cut off that poor man's head. Or the maple syrup heist of 2012.

Learn more about Canada's dark side--specifically its serial killers--by panning, zooming, and clicking on the map below.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Toronto Cons 2017

A map of conventions taking place in Toronto this spring, summer, and fall.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Kong: Skull Island

When I first saw the trailer for Kong: Skull Island, I joked about how it looked like a cross between a monster movie and Apocalypse Now. Turns out I was right on the money.

Just days after Nixon announces America's withdrawal from Vietnam, a team of researches under military escrot heads to the mysterious Skull Island in the western Pacific Ocean. Shortly after their arrival, the Landsat and Monarch scientists get to work mapping the island's geology. Their efforts raise the attention and ire of Kong, a giant gorilla who makes short work of downing the team's squadron of helicopters. Split into two groups, the survivors are on different paths: the civilians want to get off the island; the soldiers want to kill Kong.

For being a big, dumb monster movie, Kong: Skull Island is surprisingly nuanced. That's not suggest the film is at all subtle about its themes (it isn't) but it successfully captures the politics and ideology of the era. Sure, it overstates things at times--to wit, the animosity between the anti-war photographer and the commander--but the film is as much about the folly of war as it is about giant monsters.

Which brings me to Apocalypse Now and its source material, Heart of Darkness. Instead of a half-crazed army colonel, Skull Island features an obsessive lieutenant colonel, a soldier without a war. Echoes of Conrad's Marlow are found in Lt.-Col. Packard. Packard finds an enemy in Kong and insists his mission is to kill the giant primate. Packard's self-induced obsession is similar to Marlow's mild obsession with finding and meeting Kurtz.

Complicating this reading of Skull Island is the presence of a character named Marlow who's been living on the island for the past thirty years, having been marooned during WWII. This Marlow is a jovial fellow who made friends with the natives and serves as a kind of guide to the newcomers. Although he would make a fine parallel for Kurtz (minus the insanity), he welcomes the opportunity to return home, and is really nothing like his namesake.

There's also a character named Conrad. Just in case you weren't sure about the whole Heart of Darkness thing. And then there's the Japanese poster which makes it absolutely clear we're dealing an Apocalypse Now-with-monsters scenario.

If, like me, you were disappointed with Godzilla's misunderstanding of its own subject matter, you'll be pleased to hear that Skull Island knows exactly why people go to see monster movies. The human drama drives the narrative, but doesn't overshadow the monster. Indeed, Kong takes up a lot of the screen and his fights--and there are many--are easy to watch an appreciate.

Godzilla "fans" will notice a tie-in with that movie, but the real treat comes at the end of the film where, in a post-credits scene, the audience gets a taste of what's to come.

I hesitate to suggest that Skull Island is better than it has any right to be but still it's more fun and entertaining than expected. The film's second trailer, released just days before the premier, is a master class in editing and the film manages to deliver on its promise of thrilling adventure. Skull Island itself is beautiful and terrifying, and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts' patience with the camera means we get to see and experience all of the island's wonders. Moreover, the movie is violent and gross in a really satisfying way; a true creature feature.