Rob Stefaniuk’s SUCK and Sook-Yin Lee’s YEAR OF THE CARNIVORE Reviews – TIFF ’09

     September 22, 2009

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Two Canadian indies. Two “Kids in the Hall” alums. Two vastly different genres. Stateside, we all know about the crazy worlds of David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, and the maple leaf filmmakers who make inventive footprints in the world of film. But behind them is a world of indie filmmakers who do a whole lot with very little. We’ve already covered Reginald Harkema’s “Leslie, My Name is Evil,” and now we give you Rob Stefaniuk’s “Suck” and Sook-Yin Lee’s “Year of the Carnivore.” Click through to get a taste of rock ‘n’ roll vampires and sexual, coming-of-age laughs.


Suck movie image (3).jpgSometimes bad films are just too good. They know that they’re not paragons of cinema. They know they don’t have the money, resources, or story to hit it big, and they just have fun with, and make the most of, what they’ve got. Take “Suck” – it’s a low-budget Canadian indie horror film that merges the worlds of blood and guts with laughs and rock ‘n’ roll to make a fun cinematic diversion.

“Suck” focuses on a struggling band who have spent years in the circuit, but keep failing to make it big – so much so that even their manager (Dave Foley) doesn’t want anything to do with them. But then their biggest asset, a sexy bassist named Jennifer (Jessica Pare), gets seduced by a vampire and turned into a bloodsucker. Suddenly, her searing blue eyes and vampiric ways are a godsend, quickly shooting the band to stardom.

Lead singer Joey (played by writer/director Rob Stefaniuk of “Phil the Alien” fame) wants the success, but not the vampiric ways, and he must contend with an entire band who’s enthralled with the idea of becoming part of the undead. As the band members hope to be switched, an afraid-of-the-dark vampire hunter named Eddie Van Helsing (Malcolm McDowell) tracks them, eager to rid the world of vampires and avenge the loss of the woman he lost to the bloodsuckers so many years ago.

Suck movie image (1).jpg“Suck” is a simple and straight-forward story that doesn’t have much depth, but Stefaniuk knows how to pull it into an entertaining experience intermingling the journey with catchy music videos and ridiculous gags. But best of all – there are a whole slew of rock ‘n’ roll cameos that make the experience worth the time. There’s Iggy Pop, Carole Pope, and Alex Lifeson, plus Alice Cooper as a bartender full of sage advice for Joey, and Henry Rollins as a quirky radio DJ. Hell, Stefaniuk even got Moby to play a jerky singer who douses himself with blood on stage – a twist that’s particularly fun since Moby is vegan.

“Suck” is not the sort of horror film that requires you to sit in a dark room and prepare for chills, and it’s not a new genre-defining film like “Daybreakers,” but it is campy fun – cult fare perfect for a few friends and a beer or three.

Year of the Carnivore

year of the carnivore movie image (1).jpgIn an entirely different indie realm comes Sook-Yin Lee’s “Year of the Carnivore.” Rather than a pulpy horror fest, this Canadian comedy explores the world of an inexperienced girl and the musician she has the hots for. But it’s not simply a low-budget romcom. As Lee describes it – it’s “a decidedly anti-romantic love story, and homage to clumsy, young lovers” – and in this case, that means one girl’s quest to gain sexual experience.

Sammy (Cristin Milioti) is an awkward tomboy striving to make a life for herself. She works as an undercover detective at the local grocery store, serving up shoplifters to a boss (Will Sasso) who beats them up to deter them from further violations. Her parents (Sheila McCarthy and Kevin McDonald) are over-protective, and she’s got a good deal of body issues. As a kid she beat cancer, and the disease left her with a bum leg and a small body, so she hides in multiple layers of clothes, yearning to emotionally connect, but not wanting to physically reveal herself.

year of the carnivore movie image (2).jpgAfter getting much too drunk on her birthday, she ends up at Eugene’s place (Mark Rendall). He holds her hair while she throws up, and bit by bit they start to flirt their way to sex, but Sammy makes it impossible. She not only refuses to let Eugene see her, demanding that the lights stay off, but she also falls into a fit of giggles every time he touches her. The morning after, he lays a harsh truth on her – she should get more experience before trying sex again. Taking it to the literal extreme, Sammy starts making opportunities for sexual advancement at every turn – whether that be over-the-top sexual exploration with her married neighbors, or convincing shoplifters to help teach her the ways of lust and love.

As a film, “Carnivore” starts out as a modern “Clerks,” Lee’s treatment of Sammy’s grocery store work a very obvious homage to Kevin Smith’s cult classic. Then, as Sammy dashes off into the world of sexual experimentation, it changes into a mixture of “Shortbus” and “American Pie,” mixing the path of sexual freedom (that director Lee followed when she starred in the controversial film) with the innocence of newbie sex and slapstick comedy. It might toe the line of mainstream indecency, but “Carnivore” knows how to stay in line and not become over-the-top controversial. At times the approach fumbles, but overall, the film manages to stay charming, fun, and fresh within low-budget restraints.

“Year of the Carnivore” is not polished or slick; it has its rough points and the road is bumpy. However, it does, without a doubt, show the promise of a first-time filmmaker and its stars, making for genuine fun in an indie package.

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