TIFF Reviews Part 1: Metalhead, The Fake, The Sacrament, Trap Street

TIFF 2013 -

It took me about a week to gather my wits together to organize my thoughts about the films I saw at TIFF and write my reviews. If I don’t do them as I go, I usually find myself in a bit of a haze post-festival, trying to remember which film I saw on what day, not to mention exactly how I felt about said film. There was one day I saw FIVE MOVIES, and let me tell you, it’s going to take a bit to unpack that day of cinema! But for now? My first batch of TIFF reviews are in chronological order and feature a film from Iceland, Korea, China and the US. Enjoy!

Thorbjorg Helga Dyrfjord in Metalhead by Ragnar BragasonSaturday, September 7, 2013 – Metalhead – Iceland
It’s fitting that my first film of the festival was one of my favourites, considering that my final one was my absolute worst (start high, end low?) Metalhead by Ragnar Bragason is a really strong Icelandic drama that follows a grieving family as they deal with the death of their oldest son almost ten years after his tragic passing. The meat of the story rests on the troubled 20ish year-old Hera (a dark and fantastic Thorbjorg Helga Dyrfjord), the younger sibling who was dealt a traumatic blow when she saw her brother essentially die before her eyes, and we follow as she fuels her grief and anger into music, heavy metal music to be exact. The story is set in the early 90s, just as church-burnings started to become associated with death metal in Scandinavia, and while Hera is miles away from truly listening to that kind of music, her grief takes her to some equally dark and destructive places. But this film isn’t all doom and gloom, it’s moving, it’s funny and honestly, it rocks. I don’t think I’ve liked the soundtrack of a film more in many years. Great for people who like the explosively amazing films coming out of Iceland recently, and those who definitely remember a time when metal and music was the only thing that soothed the beast inside. Let’s put some pressure on the distributor of the film to release a soundtrack! Highly recommended.

The Fake, TIFF, Korea
Saturday, September 7, 2013 – The Fake – Korea
From one film about church-burnings to another, The Fake is the latest film I’ve seen from Korea that focuses on the anti in anti-hero and yes, I’m using the term hero with some COMPLETELY MAJOR RESERVATIONS. Our “anti-hero” Min-chul is one that absolutely nobody would rely on; he’s an abusive, alcoholic gambler from a small town whose only goal in life is to make sure his wife and daughter are as miserable as he is. Forever. After an extended absence from home, a time where his daughter is finally able to save up enough money to try to move to Seoul and go to school, he returns and promptly wrecks all her hard work. But as he returns, he also notices the town is recently enthralled by a new preacher and church and giving themselves over financially in the hopes that the church will be there salvation. Not one to believe in a high power, it seems too fishy for Min-chul, and for good reason, it’s a front for an investor who aims to get all of the townsfolk money before jetting off to the next gullible town. While Min-chul has it figured out early on, (probably because of his absolutely despicable moral character and ability to see those same traits in others,) nobody believes him, and through his stubborn drive to prove the church’s guilt, he inevitably causes more pain than they would’ve in the long run anyway. A dark story with absolutely no redemption, but a great example of the Vanguard programming at it’s best (because there were some real misfires this year.) Recommended

AJ Bowen in Ti West's The Sacrament
Sunday, September 8, 2013 – The Sacrament – USA
I previously wrote a review about Ti West’s The Innkeepers when it was at Toronto After Dark in 2011 and I ran to get tickets to The Sacrament the second single tickets for TIFF went on sale. Ti West is part of this unofficial film collective that includes directors like Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next), and actors like AJ Bowen, Amy Seimetz and Joe Swanberg. The Sacrament includes all three of these talented actors, in a tense thriller with a satanic cult at the heart of it. West directs his films very deliberately, while The Innkeepers was more like a slow-burning ghost story, The House of the Dead felt more like a jacked-up 70s horror film and The Sacrament runs like a tight modern documentary-style thriller. We’re dropped into a Vice magazine news story about a photojournalist headed to a remote religious parish in an attempt to rescue his junkie-turned-zealot sister. That is, until arrival when the crew discover that there’s more going on in the makeshift village than they are capable of handling. The “scares” in the film are more through the mounting sense of tension and fear, rather than shocks and screams, and the film was clearly and admittedly inspired by the Jonestown murders, as West tries to explore what type of person would lead people to their deaths and why people would follow. Another major hit for West. Highly recommended

Sunday, September 8 – Trap Street – China
I still don’t know what to think about Trap Street, it’s a twisty little drama that tells the story of a junior public works officer, Quiming, who has a passion for latitude and longitude, an obsession with a charming and mysterious woman, and a curiousity about a mysterious “invisible” street that doesn’t show up on his work’s GPS devices. When all three of these interests somehow converge, Quiming finds himself thrust into some serious trouble with the authorities. It’s a bleak look at a culture that still believes that you are guilty until proven innocent in the eyes of the law, and how easily it is that one false move can completely derail a person’s life. Vivian Qu does some interesting work in this film and I’d like to see her future endeavours. Somewhat recommended.

Next set of TIFF reviews: The Husband (Bruce McDonald, Canada), Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, UK), the abysmal Proxy and Johnnie To’s Blind Detective.

Previous TIFF Coverage – TIFF 2013: First Wave of Tickets

Photos: A Field in England, photo from Film4.com, Thorbjorg Helga Dyrfjord in Metalhead by Ragnar Bragason, Screenshot from The Fake, A.J. Bowen in Ti West’s The Sacrament

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