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(Fantastic Fest is still going in Austin, Texas, and our intrepid reporter Brian Salisbury is bringing us the highlights of what he's seen at the world's largest festival dedicated to genre movies. For everything else Brian has been up to, check out all of his reports here.)
A young married couple suffers a tragedy and seeks a reprieve from their shattered lives. They retreat to a cottage on a remote island to clear their heads. They believe they are totally alone until a wounded man in military fatigues collapses on their front lawn. Upon regaining consciousness, the man tells them of the sudden spread of a global pandemic that has claimed millions of lives. He insists they must board themselves inside the cottage to prevent those infected from gaining entrance. But is he telling the truth?
Conceptually, Retreatholds a great deal of promise. The idea of a viral outbreak is frightening enough and the added paranoia factor had the potential to inject new life into a convention bordering on stale. But Retreatis more interested in bludgeoning audiences with ankle-deep melodrama than fleshing out any decent suspense. I had seen characters speak in subtext before, but Retreat doesn’t even trust you enough to stop there. It actually resorts to having Thandie Newton typing the subtext across a computer screen in a game I like to call, “follow the bouncing exposition.”
Cillian Murphy, Thandie Newton, and Jamie Bell are three talented actors, so when I see their stiff, one-note performances that go nowhere throughout the course of the film, it isn’t difficult to understand that the direction is what’s at fault here. Bell’s character telegraphs his motives from a mile away and yet these two dunderheads still dance to his tune the entire way. In fact, none of the decisions of any of the characters falls within the confines of any logic making it impossible to empathize with them. In the end, the story is wrapped up in such a way as to rob it of any remaining shred of intrigue or emotional complexity.
After the apocalypse, a group of survivors wanders the wasteland that was once this country. They find an abandoned house, which they plan to exploit for shelter, food and fortification. It seems a large faction of the surviving population has collected into tribes of vicious cannibals, and our intrepid heroes must always be on alert in order to avoid becoming their next meal. When the house as well as one of their team members are revealed to harbor dark secrets, it becomes evident that they may have made a fatal mistake in taking refuge here.
I am an absolute sucker for post-apocalyptic cinema, but The Day is a cataclysmic mess. The story is overly simplistic, but lingers on empty moments as if they carry some sort of deeper metaphoric meaning. At no point is the origin of the apocalypse explained so we are left guessing as to how the set pieces fit together. The characters are as one-dimensional as they can be and the tension is diluted by the fact that we don’t connect with any of them. The Day also features some of the worst CG kills in recent memory. Sure it’s a low budget production so certain shortcomings can be forgiven, but why make the decision to be explicit with violence in light of those shortcomings? There are creative ways to get around the budget and still allow a film to be effective. The Day seemed utterly disinterested in spending any time on this creativity.
A family that has been in a state of disconnect for several years reunites for a dinner party. Everything seems to be going swimmingly, apart from a few squabbles, until one of the brothers notices something out in the yard. Suddenly, the evening becomes an onslaught of unimaginable terror. Masked killers begin invading the house and the family struggles to keep everyone alive.
You’re Next was one of the most highly anticipated films of the fest this year. Having blown through Toronto like a force of nature and featuring performances from Fantastic Fest alums AJ Bowen and Ti West, the expectations for this film were incredibly high. You’re Next pulverized those expectations upon the blunt edge of an axe and left the crowd cheering for more. It is paced like a rolling boulder that, once it gets going, will not be stopped until the final bloody curtain. The story is chilling, the kills are inventive and brutally entertaining, and the characters are fully realized. You’re Next instills a great deal of hope in horror fans that we don’t have to resign ourselves to a fate of nothing but remakes, sequels, and prequels. Independent horror is alive and kicking the asses of convention.
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