Night Visions begins on December 1st and runs until the 5th. I watched ten films from the lineup and came away mesmerized. Here are some of the visions you don’t want to miss this year.
I don’t know who I could recommend Titane to, but I also want everyone to see it.
Directed by Julia Ducournau, who previously made the startling Raw, Titane is a genre-bending acid trip that is equally horrific, titillating, sweet, and repulsive. It’s the kind of film that would make David Cronenberg blush.
The plot isn’t perfunctory, but I hesitate to call it the main draw. It’s about a young woman called Alexia, who has a metal plate on her head, and a fetish for automotive. As she searches for love and family, things start to get very odd very quickly. Describing it in any way goes against its very nature. Titane is at its most powerful when it just lets loose.
At the same time, it’s a work of a singularly gifted filmmaker messing with their audience. There isn’t a single misstep or moment that feels out of place. It’s not comfortable or fun, not in the traditional sense at least, but by god, you’re in the hands of someone who is yanking you by the collar and taking you along for a ride.
I’d hate to call Titane strange because strange feels too small a word for it. Titane is pure emotion pumped directly into the veins; a pulsing ID unfiltered through anything resembling normalcy.
It’s one of the audacious, lurid, sexy, and most original films in years.
One of the most singularly pure visionary feats of film magic, Phil Tippett’s incredible stop-motion silent film is one unique vision after another in a nearly overwhelming barrage of intensity. Yet it never feels overburdened or unwieldy.
Told entirely without dialog, Mad God is an impressionist odyssey into a cyberpunk nightmare, where the world looks like what Hieronymous Bosch has nightmares about.
I remained nailed to my seat throughout the 80-minute runtime, marveling at the direct access into an artist’s subconscious. this is a miraculous effort deserving to be seen on the biggest screen possible. A testament to the dedication and a triumph of the imagination.
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes
Shot in a seemingly single take, Junta Yamaguchi’s dazzling sci-fi yarn starts small and continues to spin out into such a degree of complexity and inventiveness it makes bigger-budget films look puny in comparison.
Two friends running a small cafe in Tokyo discover their webcam sees two minutes into the future. Initially flustered and amused, they start messing with the contraption to see how far they can bend it. Then, things get weird and continue getting even weirder still.
The less you know about Yamaguchi’s humorous thriller, the better. It’s the kind of gleeful exploration of genre tropes that rewards multiple viewings and unexpected thrills. I’ve seen it twice now, and can’t wait to go again.
A single mother and her troubled daughter live on a remote farm, hiding from their violent past. The mother tries to keep life going as normally as possible, but the specter of death looms heavily over their life. Sometime earlier, the girl’s father killed her best friend, sending two families into a spiral nobody recovered from. The mother has a mutually destructive relationship with the cop watching over them, and her connection to the daughter is fragile at best.
One night, two strangers break in, and both mother and daughter face a new danger threatening to destroy what’s left of their family.
I was initially unimpressed with Motherly and spent most of the first twenty minutes almost fighting the movie. I know how these home invasion things go, I thought. What’s there to say anymore? How thrilling, then, that Motherly isn’t just an inventive subversion of the expected tropes, it’s a superbly acted portrait of familial bonds that uses conventions to deliver a gut punch that stays with you for days afterward.
New York Ninja
Initially filmed and left unfinished in 1984, New York Ninja is an oddball mix of superhero films, kung-fu, and exploitation, now meticulously restored by Vinegar Syndrome for a wide release some thirty years later.
The result is a bizarre product of its time, reminiscent of other delightfully z-grade action flicks like Samurai Cop. But the high production value of the edit and score betrays the origins somewhat. A part of the fun with these forgotten bizarro classics is witnessing just how deluded the original vision was, and in recreating it by making things intentionally bad, you lose that spark.
Now, granted, not everything is lost. There’s still more than enough craziness to go around. Not least in the perplexing performance of director John Liu, which defies all explanation. In fact, much of the film is barely comprehensible, yet I dare anyone to look away.
It needs to be seen to be believed. Preferably with friends, at night, and with alcohol.
Prisoners of the Ghostland
Directed by the wildly brazen Sion Sonno, whose incredible Suicide Club spun heads back in the 90s, Prisoners of the Ghostland is a halfway masterpiece that runs out of steam in its second half. Starring the modern-day Klaus Kinski: Nicolas Cage, Ghostland is still a wild enough ride to keep you entertained for most of the proceedings, but I kept wishing it would go even further.
Set in a comic book-styled universe, where genres seem to control entire territories, Cage plays a criminal tasked by the ruler of Samurai Town to find his daughter and return her home safely. As expected, nothing goes according to plan, and the unhinged Cage is set on a road of rampage and revenge before the end.
It delightfully mixes genres with complete reckless abandon, easily leaping from steampunk to western to indescribable Cage-fueled insanity. But there’s constantly a sense that something is held back like the financiers got cold feet midway through. Cage is always good value, and Sonno’s impeccable visuals are captivating. There’s just a sense that this could be so much more.
A Pure Place
Combining fable, condemnation of racial injustice, and an unnerving satire together, writer/director Nikias Chryssos crafts a nightmarish modern fairytale that is at once utterly terrifying and consistently hilarious. Set on a remote island somewhere in Greece, where a cult of cleanliness worshipping adults forces children into making soap for their processions, A Pure Place defies expectation as it does definition.
Anchored by Sam Louwyck in a performance of manic precision, A Pure Place dips and dives between Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, historic cult exploitation, and Lynchian oddity, yet manages to constantly feel fresh. The class structure on the island serves as a wonderful sociopolitical allegory, as the film goes from fantasy to something akin to social realism. While the whole thing constantly flirts with outrageousness, director Chryssos guides this wonderful curiosity with unerring steadiness.
The Scary of Sixty-First
A dull and lazy attempt at provocation shot in 16mm in an effort to evoke the yesteryear look of old Roman Polanski films, while smooching up to the likes of Stanley Kubrick’s lurid Eyes Wide Shut.
I wanted to give it a chance despite a slow beginning and on-the-nose dialogue, but the further the film progressed, the dumber I felt for going along with it. The whole exercise feels smug and glib, and it’s not difficult to pinpoint where the try-hard nature of social media influencer/podcaster/shitslinger Dasha Nekrasova’s picture starts to fall apart.
It’s neither novel nor exciting, and while everyone involved appears to be talented, they’re wasting their time on what amounts to nothing more than elaborate trolling.
Tiny Tim: King for a Day
Heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure, King for a Day is a bright and compassionate vindication for a vaudevillian oddity, who, for a while, seemed destined for obscurity. Read my full review here: https://www.toisto.net/2021/11/30/tiny-tim-king-for-a-day/
Frank & Zed
Combining elements of Jim Henson, Peter Jackson, Willow, and classic adventure films together, director Jesse Blanchard has crafted a wild and brilliantly inventive modern fantasy.
In a fantastic world of monsters and men, a legend tells of an ancient evil destined to return for the ominous “blood orgy,” the doom of all men, when the last of the bloodline in the kingdom falls. Far from the city, Frank and Zed, two very familiar and iconic monsters, live in a sweet and symbiotic relationship away from all others. Misunderstandings abound, and soon the duo finds themselves in a struggle to survive the growing madness of a fearful populace at their gates.
With amazing setpieces and stellar directing, Frank & Zed is a triumphant love letter to a dying art form that constantly dazzles with its inventiveness. Both a throwback to classic 80s adventures and a reinvention of timeless fables, Blanchard’s beautiful fantasy is destined for cult status for anyone who loves the genre.