Bakuretsu mashin shôjo – bâsuto mashin gâru [Rise of the Machine Girls] (2019)

Bakuretsu mashin shôjo – bâsuto mashin gâru
Director: Yûki Kobayashi
Writer: Yûki Kobayashi, Jun Tsugita
Based on: characters created by Noboru Iguchi for The Machine Girl
Cast: Himena Tsukimiya, Kanon Hanakage, Tak Sakaguchi, Toshie Negishi, Rie Kitahara
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 26.9.2020
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Content Note: sexism, ableism

Plot:
Ami (Himena Tsukimiya) and her sister Yoshie (Kanon Hanakage) struggle to get along. They earn their living by performing acrobatics together, hoping to stave of having to sell more body parts to Dharma Corp. What Ami doesn’t know is that after hourse, Yoshie exchanges her prosthetic arm for a machine gun and fights for justice on the streets. When assassin Tetsuya (Tak Sakaguchi) comes to watch their show around the same time that Yoshie’s campaign starts to strike very close to the heart of Dharma Corp, things start to become dangerous for all of them.

Rise of the Machine Girls makes a very clear case for one thing: movies of its kind seem to have run their course. This particular subgenre (I will dub it “out of control Japanese movies” for now) is in dire need of fresh material. Or at least Rise of the Machine Girls is.

The film poster showing the main characters, all armed, in front of a bright pink background.
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Saint Maud (2019)

Saint Maud
Director: Rose Glass
Writer: Rose Glass
Cast: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Knight, Lily Frazer
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 25.9.2020
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Content Note: saneism

Plot:
Maud (Morfydd Clark) is a nurse who works with dying patients at their homes. She just got a new case – actor Amanda (Jennifer Ehle). Maud goes about her work quietly and diligently, but when Amanda takes an interest in Maud’s religious beliefs, pious Maud sees it as a sign that she is supposed to save Amanda’s soul. With Amanda’s death quickly approaching, there is an urgency to that mission that Maud can’t escape.

Saint Maud is an atmospheric film with great performances. Your mileage will probably vary on the religious themes, but I thought that the film handles them very well.

The film poster showing Maud (Morfydd Clark) her arms spread wide, wearing a w hite sheet and a big cross around her neck in front of a completely white background.
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Andâ yua beddo [Under Your Bed] (2019)

Andâ yua beddo
Director: Mari Asato
Writer: Mari Asato
Based on: Kei Ôishi’s novel
Cast: Kengo Kôra, Kanako Nishikawa, Ken’ichi Abe, Yûgo Mikawa, Ryôsuke Miyake
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 25.9.2020
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Content Note: stalking, domestic violence, abuse, rape

Plot:
Mitsui (Kengo Kôra) leads a lonely life and seems to be generally entirely forgettable – most of the people around him barely remember having met him. There was only Chihiro (Kanako Nishikawa), long ago, who went on a date with him and actually seemed to care for him. Mitsui tracks her down and quickly becomes obsessed with her again. When watching her from afar isn’t enough for him anymore, he starts to hide in her apartment – and becomes a witness to the abusive relationship Chihiro has with her husband (Ken’ichi Abe).

Andâ yua beddo might as well be called The Incel Movie because it absolutely, perfectly fits with the narrative that incels like to tell themselves and the world. And if that wasn’t enough to steer clear of it, it’s also repetitive and simply exhausting.

The film poster showing Mitsui (Kengo Kôra) lying under Chihiro's (Kanako Nishikawa) bed, watching her legs walk past.

[SPOILERS]

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Spiral (2019)

Spiral
Director: Kurtis David Harder
Writer: Colin Minihan, John Poliquin
Cast: Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Ari Cohen, Jennifer Laporte, Ty Wood, Lochlyn Munro, Chandra West
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 24.9.2020
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Content Note: (critical treatment of) homomisia

Plot:
Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman), Aaron (Ari Cohen) and their daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte) just bought a house in a small town and would like to settle in a more rural life which they hope will be calmer than life in the city. Their neighbors like Marshal (Lochlyn Munro) and Tiffany (Chandra West) seem nice enough, albeit a little overexcited about having a gay couple in the neighborhood. Aaron takes to the community pretty well, while Malik starts to have his suspicions that all may not be quite as nice as it seems.

Spiral obviously uses the horror genre as an allegory about marginalized positions in society and the hatred the marginalized often encounter. Thus, it aims high and has a lot to say, but both the allegorical part as well as the horror part comes unglued in the second half, I’m afraid.

The film poster showing a spiral made of birds over a house drenched in red light, three hooded figures standing in front of it.
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L’état sauvage [Savage State] (2019)

L’état sauvage
Director: David Perrault
Writer: David Perrault
Cast: Alice Isaaz, Kevin Janssens, Déborah François, Bruno Todeschini, Constance Dollé, Armelle Abibou, Maryne Bertieaux, Kate Moran
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 23.9.2020
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Plot:
Esther (Alice Isaaz) and her sisters Justine (Déborah François) and Abigaëlle (Maryne Bertieaux) live with their parents Madeleine (Constance Dollé) and Edmond (Bruno Todeschini) who came from France to find a new life in America. But now that the Civil War is looming, perhaps it would be better, safer for them to return to Paris. But they have to cross the continent first, a dangerous journey for which they hire Victor (Kevin Janssens) as protection and guide. They pack their things and are joined by their maid Layla (Armelle Abibou) for the trek. But soon Victor’s past starts catching up with them in the form of Bettie (Kate Moran), spelling more danger for all of them.

Savage State was announced as a feminist take on the Western genre and, well, it definitely is a Western, but everytime it tried for feminist, things became patently absurd. That it tries at all, though, is probably the only thing that sets it apart from other – and much better – films. I didn’t get anything from it.

The film poster showing Esther (Alice Isaaz) and her family on horses, riding through the desert.

[Slight SPOILERS]

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Fanxiao [Detention] (2019)

Fanxiao
Director: John Hsu
Writer: Shih-Keng Chien, Lyra Fu, John Hsu
Based on: the game of the same name
Cast: Gingle Wang, Meng-Po Fu, Jing-Hua Tseng, Cecilia Choi, Hung Chang Chu, Yue-Ti Liu,
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 22.9.2020
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Plot:
It’s 1962 and Taiwan is under strict martial law. Fang (Gingle Wang) and Wei (Jing-Hua Tseng) wake up in their school campus, but something bad is going on. The campus is abandoned, decrepit and monsters are roaming the halls. It seems all tied to the secret book club run by teachers Mr Chang (Meng-Po Fu) and Ms Yin (Cecilia Choi) where Wei and others read censored literature. Apparently the police caught up with them and that is very bad indeed.

Fanxiao is a visually distinct, political film that knows how to use the horror genre to tell its challenging narrative. I was really impressed with it.

The film poster showing Fang (Gingle Wang) holding a candle in a dark school hallway littered with paper.
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Perempuan Tanah Jahanam [Impetigore] (2019)

Perempuan Tanah Jahanam
Director: Joko Anwar
Writer: Joko Anwar
Cast: Tara Basro, Ario Bayu, Marissa Anita, Christine Hakim
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 22.9.2020
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Plot:
Maya (Tara Basro) and her best friend Dini (Marissa Anita) are both toll both attendants, struggling to just get by. After Maya is attacked on the job by a stranger who calls her by another name, they decide to change work and try to open a clothing store. But things don’t really get better. Until Maya uncovers some information prompted by her attacker that makes her realize that she might have a big inheritance in the country waiting for her. Maya and Dini pack their bags to figure everything out. But when they arrive in the village, things turn decidedly strange.

Impetigore has very strong elements, but a story that was absolutely confusing for me. Maybe I just lacked cultural context, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, so the film mostly left me with questions, and not really in a good way.

The film poster showing Maya's (Tara Basro) face, only instead of her eyes are two upside down heads.
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Los Que Vuelven [The Returned] (2019)

Los Que Vuelven
Director: Laura Casabe
Writer: Laura Casabe, Lisandro Colaberardino, Paulo Soria
Cast: Lali Gonzalez, María Soldi, Alberto Ajaka, Edgardo Castro, Javier Drolas
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 21.9.2020
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Content Note: [critical treatment of] racism, colonialism

Plot:
On a maté plantation in the middle of nowhere at the beginning of the 20th century, Julia (María Soldi) should have a good life as she is married to the plantation owner, Mariano (Alberto Ajaka) and she is raisind a sweet son. But something about the relationship they have with the boy is off. And some of the plantation workers, pretty much slaves, come back down from the mountain in a weird trance and calling for a child. Maybe there is something to the stories about the Guaraní goddess Iguazú who is said to live in the mountains. And it is somehow all connected to Kerana (Lali Gonzalez) who used to work on the plantation.

Los Que Vuelven is an interesting and atmospheric look at colonialism in Argentina, but it might be a little too nice to white women and it did get a little too muddled towards the end. Still, it’s definitely worth watching and discussing.

The film poster showing a woman's profile superimposed over a misty forest.
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Pelikanblut [Pelican Blood] (2019)

Pelikanblut
Director: Katrin Gebbe
Writer: Katrin Gebbe
Cast: Nina Hoss, Katerina Lipovska, Adelia-Constance Ocleppo, Murathan Muslu, Yana Marinova
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 20.9.2020
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Plot:
Wiebke (Nina Hoss) runs a horse stable where she trains police horses. She lives with her adoptive daughter Nicolina (Adelia-Constance Ocleppo) and things are going really well. Since everything is so harmonic and business is taking up, Wiebke decides that she wants to adopt another a girl. As a single mother, she has to go to Bulgaria – as she already did with Nicolina. She and Nicolina find Raya (Katerina Lipovska) there and take her home. But with Raya, Wiebke may have gotten more than she bargained for.

Pelikanblut is an excellently made that speaks a lot of truth about adoption and traumatization, but uses it, unfortunately, to push the sacrificing mother image a little too hard. Still, most of it was so extremely good that I’m willing to forgive even the parts I strongly disagreed with.

The film poster showing Wiebke (Nina Hoss) carrying Raya (Katerina Lipovska) as if she was a baby.

[SPOILERS. They are vague, but may still take too much away.]

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VHYes (2019)

VHYes
Director: Jack Henry Robbins
Writer: Nunzio Randazzo, Jack Henry Robbins
Cast: Mason McNulty, Rahm Braslaw, Jake Head, Christian Drerup, Kerri Kenney, Mark Proksch, Thomas Lennon, Courtney Pauroso, Charlyne Yi, Madeline Zima, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 20.9.2020
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Plot:
Ralph (Mason McNulty) gets a VHS recorder for Christmas. He grabs the next tape he finds – unfortunately, apparently, his parents’ (Jake Head, Christian Drerup) wedding tape – and starts recording whatever he finds of interest, from his adventures with his best friend Josh (Rahm Braslaw) to the usually forbidden to him late night TV – where he learns about a haunted house in town.

VHYes is a beautiful love letter to TV of the 80s, and VHS, managing a unique blend of funny and unsettling that I absolutely loved. I think it was one of my favorites of this year’s festival.

The film poster showing a VHS tape with "Ralph's Tape" written on it, as well as a collage of various film characters.
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