The Horrors of Tribeca 2013 - Part 2: Fresh Meat, Raze, Byzantium, and Four More Short Films
We're back with Part 2 of our 2013 Tribeca Film Festival horror roundup, and while the first sampling provided well defined entertainment, leaving me with no question as to my feelings, this second round left me scratching my head and wondering if I could verbalize my thoughts.
When was the last time you saw a movie and were asked immediately after, “Did you like it?” Probably all the time, right? If the person asking the question doesn’t agree with you, he might ask why, and that takes some thought. This latest batch of reviews required a bit of marinating in my brain juices before I could rant adequately. But I'm ready now so let’s dive in…
It’s a common theme. Take a band of criminals and a seemingly happy family and throw them into a hostile confrontation, the results of which will determine who is truly monstrous. In this case a band of misfit crooks liberate a member of their crew on the way to jail. After an explosion, wacky hijinks, and a bit of bloodshed, the band takes shelter in a quiet suburban neighborhood in the home of seemingly well-off folks. Well-off folks who turn out to be CANNIBALS!!! Dun dun duuuun.
Fresh Meat has a sitcom sort of quality, so much so that we expect there to be a laugh track sounding off within the pauses after each joke. The comedy is very New Zealand-esque in that you could use words like “wacky hijinks” to describe it. Folks flail their arms in confusion, eyes go to maximum width to convey shock and one boy even refers to boobs as “bosoms”. I expected Yahoo Serious to make a cameo as the bumbling police officer at any moment. If the filmmakers had fully embraced an over-the-top scenario (see Dead Alive), it probably would have been very enjoyable, but they seemed reluctant to pull the trigger. Instead, we get jokes that fall flat, situations that are just short of gory enough to applaud and a lesbian story element that the movie itself seems embarrassed to have included.
If we dissected Fresh Meat like a corpse, I’d gut it for an odd origin story of an Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom-esque cult priest seeking immortality and throw the rest to the dogs. The character, played by Temuera Morrison (Jango Fett!), is very likable when he’s being a complete bloodthirsty loon and comes off like a pretentious ass when he is not. I’d like more of the former and none of the latter. At the very least, give me “New Zealand Psycho” with a well dressed, full-of-himself professor who turns out to be a would-be cult leader and eater of hearts. Who doesn’t love to hear someone scream KALIMAAA!!! As a concept for the beginning of a compelling new supernatural baddie, I love it. As a full movie, this one is best left alone.
A group of women wake up in small metal cells and are forced to beat each other down with their bare hands til death. TWO CHICKS ENTER… ONE CHICK LEAVES! As you might expect, these fights are live broadcasted for the entertainment of rich assholes dining somewhere in the distance. To drive these ladies to murder, their hosts provide live feeds of their loved ones, under constant surveillance and at gunpoint. Should a lady lose a fight, her family dies with her.
The majority of the film takes place below ground (we assume) with these women in peril and a forced connection between some of them as they scream through the walls. The challenge for the filmmakers becomes creating new situations and dialogue on a very small stage and not have it become repetitive, boring or in the case of the beat downs excessive. Luckily, they’ve got a very likable cast…
For more read my full Raze review here.
There once was a whore in that oh so British time period when everyone wore frilly things even if they looked like meth addicts. This whore was constantly mistreated by a bad man, but she suffered his mental and physical cruelty so she could provide for her daughter, whom she had left on the doorstep of a woman’s orphanage. Very Les Mis. What happens next, though, has nothing to do with stealing a crust of bread. Seizing an opportunity she knew would only come once, the whore allows herself to be transformed into an immortal, but this tale introduces a new sort of night walker. No sparkling… no bursting into flames at the touch of sunlight… and no pointed teeth to speak of. In their place we get a very stabby thumbnail and a body that is very hard to kill. Sort of sucks most of the romance out of it, don’t you think? When her daughter came of age, she passed this gift of immortality on to her but in doing so broke a cardinal rule of her misogynistic overlords: A woman may never make another immortal. And so the odd family runs across the globe, always pursued by their “kin” and doomed forever to run until they can run no longer.
Fast forward to now. This story and further details are told through our two heroines as the movie trods along - a piece here, a piece there. This is not a tale that’s in a hurry to go anywhere fast. Instead, we get pretty sequences that seem to exist only as raw imagery, offering nothing but maybe one tiny detail. We are very much taking the scenic route. To draw more from this one pager of a plot, you need to listen very closely. Clara (the whore we mentioned), playfully given life by Gemma Arterton, generally falls back to what she knows to survive, which would be whoring. Beneath that sex kitten exterior is a remorseless killer so one might argue THAT is her true nature. She learned very early on that the world is a cruel place and if you don’t take what you need to survive, you don’t survive. Who would know Clara better than her daughter, Eleanor (the very serious, starkly beautiful Saoirse Ronan), and so when Clara gets that glint in her eye, Eleanor simply says the word “don’t”. In one word she conveys that she wishes Clara would not embrace the chaos in her heart and, inevitably, send them running again. In that same respect, when Clara very seriously says “don’t” to Eleanor, she is begging her to abandon the thing her heart yearns for the most: to stop lying and tell someone what she really is. Eleanor wants nothing more than to be accepted, something most teens can sympathize with, but deeper, she sees freedom in truth. All she wants is a chance at as close to a normal life as she can manage. At the root of it all, each woman would like the other to abandon their core instinct. It’s all very deep and quiet and lovely, and if you don’t have a taste for these things, you’ll surely find yourself horribly bored.
With the additional elements of a would-be boyfriend who shambles around like an emo Frankenstein and bleeds like a water sprinkler if a rock touches him, the mysterious men in black who are on Clara and Eleanor’s trail, and the nosey administrators at a nearby school, Byzantium marches on but gains no more momentum than a ball would rolling uphill. It’s funny. Add more blood and chases, and you’d call this a thriller. Take all that out, add a sweet and very realistically played out love story between a teen and an immortal teen, and you’ve got a fairy tale. It’s all about the tone. Byzantium has blood, but it’s not endangering you at all. Byzantium has intensity, but it’s only in the eyes of a girl cursed to stay young forever. If an ultra slow burn with subtle sweet spots and Gemma Arterton wearing fantastically tiny outfits sounds to your liking, sit back and await this movie’s release. If you were looking for a straight-up horror film with all the trappings and a new, highly appealing take on vampires, then you’d best keep on the hunt.
Before the film started, two girls sat next to me. One asked if the other thought the film would be good. The other girl thought hard and replied, “Eh, it’s Neil Jordan. At least we know it will be pretty.” That could have been my entire review.
And now…more SHORTS!!
This one isn’t horror at all, but lots of horror folks are avid video game players so it still applies somewhat. RPG OKC is the tale of two characters from two different role-playing games who strike up a friendship online. Like soon turns into budding love, and amid the turmoil of their respective 8-bit kingdoms, the pair vow to meet. It is ridiculously sweet in all the right ways, hysterical at every turn, and unexpectedly void of rampant gamer references so any viewer will get all the jokes, love all the beats, and settle in for a very satisfying resolution.
Peanut Butter and Jelly
Don’t let the title fool you. The name reads ”possibly comedy amid monster action,” but the actual tone is dark and without any sense of humor. What begins as something possibly new and intriguing devolves into stereotypical monster movie trappings with no surprises or fun to be found. Beneath it all, though, there is a street style I found interesting so I hope to see what the filmmakers can do with an actual script and the time to play things out. PB&J is just a hint of an idea…and one many people have had already.
Grandma Is Not a Toaster
A crazy fun little romp with three family members squabbling over their grandmother’s potential fortune and to whom it should be passed to… but grandma ain’t dead yet! Told from every conceivable viewpoint in pieces that overlap and then offer a bit more, this is like a perversely morbid game of actor-improv-tag, executed with the crackerjack sort of timing you’d see in a hit Broadway comedy. Expand the idea a bit and get it to a stage immediately!
All the bad guys have been gunned down brutally, including their evil master. The hero retrieves a stolen artifact, kisses the damsel in distress, and the pair head off into the sunset. Cue cock rock power ballad and roll credits… then, umm, the pair stop for directions, maybe get something to eat, take a shower, have fever dreams about all the sorry sons of bitches gunned down over a lifetime of adventuring. Epilogue keeps the story going - for better or worse. More for worse, to be sure. It's an excellent concept and I get it - it’s supposed to be about the horrors of a mundane existence after the thrill of an Indiana Jones-esque adventure - but NOTHING HAPPENS!! A little humor goes a long way. This one could definitely have benefited for at least a LITTLE humor.
And that's a wrap! Thanks to the fine folks at the Tribeca Film Festival for access and assistance above and beyond.
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