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Fantastic Fest Capsule Reviews: The Hive, The Stranger, Horsehead (2014)

Fantastic Fest 2014Fantastic Fest 2014 is coming to a close so here are some capsule reviews for three films that I really didn’t like this year.


The Hive:
Written and directed by David Yarovesky, The Hive is a teen-centric thriller that so very desperately wants to appear smarter than it really is. In the film a young man awakens in a dark room covered in boils and sores, lacking any memory of what happened. Through a series of flashbacks represented as returning memories – some his own, others not – our intrepid young hero, who quickly learns his name is Adam, must piece together the clues he finds over the course of one harrowing night before whatever has infected him claims his memories and his life.

This is the rough and dirty summary of the film’s plot, but the nature of the film is far more convoluted. The first half is comprised mostly of Adam’s memories of his time spent at camp leading up to his current predicament, spliced in with fleeting memories belonging to others. As it unfolds, it all begins to coalesce into something relatively coherent but entirely too convenient for the purposes of the film. Nothing feels organic with Adam’s role in recovering his lost memories and discovering what happened relegated to little more than shutting his eyes. The Hive is a mostly muddled film with poor acting that earns a few moments of respite thanks to a few sporadic moments of humor.


The Stranger:
Produced by Eli Roth and Nicolas Lopez, the team behind Aftershock and The Green Inferno, and directed by Guillermo Amoedo, The Stranger focuses on a mysterious man (Cristobal Tapia Montt) who returns to his hometown after being away for sixteen years, only to learn that his wife, Anna (Lorenza Izzo), who left his life for unknown reasons, has passed. After being rescued from the sadistic Caleb (Ariel Levy) and his police office father De Luca (Luis Gnecco) by the young Peter (Nicolás Durán), it becomes clear that The Stranger is not entirely human. His arrival sets off a chain of events, prompting Peter to slowly learn this history of this man, all while trying to avoid the dangerous father-son duo.

The level of “bad” that The Stranger operates on reaches levels reserved for made-for-TV movies. Poor acting made worse by bad ADR plunges the movie into The Room-like territory at times as the actors stumble their way through a weak script. Apparently shot using resources left over from Roth and Co.’s previous productions (dubbed “Chilewood”), the soap opera-like plot and performances do little to make one have any faith in their future productions.


Horsehead:
The opening scene of Romain Basset’s Horsehead seeks to suck you in to what initially gives off the impression of a dark, violent, and surreal plunge into the world of lucid dreaming and sleep paralysis. Echoing Henri Fuseli’s infamous painting “The Nightmare,” the opening is arguably the best part of the film, which follows a young woman’s quest to seize control of her nightmares and get to the bottom of a mystery that plagues her family.

An incomprehensible fever dream of a film, Horsehead boasts stunning visuals and (mostly) solid performances but is ultimately little more than a jumbled mess of style over substance. Nigh incomprehensible at times and wearing its influence on its sleeve – at one point the protagonist calls her deceased grandmother an “Old Hag,” which is one of the more familiar names for the phenomenon of sleep paralysis – Horsehead fails to live up to the potential of its subject matter.

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Brad McHargue