November 20, 2014


The first day of the Paris International Fantastic Film Festival kicked off with a cult classic and three first-time feature films that are a promising debut for their respective directors: Time Lapse, Housebound and Nightcrawler kept the audience on the edge of their seats, while Wes Craven‘s A Nightmare on Elm Street, programmed in the Retro category, still manages to scare us witless for 90 minutes some 30 years after its release.

Hit the jump for my reviews.

time-lapse-reviewBradley King’s Time Lapse, the first film in competition, could be an extended episode of The Twilight Zone.  The banal existence of three roommates — a young couple, Callie (Danielle Panabaker) and Finn (Matt O’Leary), and their friend Jasper (George Finn) — changes when they discover a photographic time machine in their missing neighbor’s apartment, located right across their home.  The mysterious machine, invented by their missing scientist neighbor, photographs events 24 hours in advance.  Pretty soon, the trio figures out how to use it for personal gain, betting on the races, until this photographic crystal ball begins to consume them as disturbing images begin to develop.  They become obsessed by the future, examining tomorrow’s Polaroid to mimic it to perfection, not wanting to alter a second for fear of ending up dead.

Co-writer and co-producer BP Cooper was deeply affected when he first saw Back to the Future at the age of nine.  While Robert Zemeckis’ movie explored time travel in a fun way, Time Lapse demonstrates its sinister side.  It’s Marty McFly in another dimension, one where Rod Serling dwells, with a faint hint of Hitchcock’s Rear Window.  “You don’t fuck with time,” repeats Jasper.  No, time — and sometimes timing — fucks them up, destroying their friendship and ultimately their lives.

housebound-reviewThe second film in competition, Housebound, the first feature film by New Zealander Gerard Johnstone, mixes dark humor with horror, and an excellent cast to match.  Kylie Buckness (Morgana O’Reilly) has been getting in trouble since she left home.  The black sheep of the family, the young lady can’t even rob an ATM correctly.  Or rather, get away.  When her partner in crime accidentally hits himself with a hammer while trying to break the ATM and passes out, she explodes the machine, grabs the money but gets caught through a rookie mistake.

The judge orders her to house arrest for eight months at her mother’s home, a verdict that both surprises and appalls Kylie.  And for good reason. Located in some distant isolated village, her childhood home creaks until it makes her crack.  A former halfway house, she soon discovers its walls hide secrets… and perhaps even a phantom.  According to her blabbermouth mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata), evil spirits inhabit the family domicile; according to Kylie’s weirdo psychologist, the noises that she hears are a figment of her overactive imagination.  Kylie, with the assistance of her probation officer, Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), decides to prove otherworldly manifestations are indeed real.

Housebound strikes the balance between funny and creepy, with unexpected twists and idiosyncratic characters.  Morgana O’Reilly’s pugnacious performance as the rebellious daughter – she won’t let her mother and stepfather watch Coronation Street – elicits more sympathy, perhaps because we feel her pain in that dreadful place.

nightcrawler-jake-gyllenhaalThe off-competition Nightcrawler, renamed Night Call for its French release, closed the first day at PIFFF.  Dan Gilroy’s first feature film probes the world of media manipulation in a drama with touches of satire of the media and American capitalism.

Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a petty thief, discovers a new career as a cameraman.  Ambitious and driven, he believes, “If you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket.”  And he finds his ticket in L.A.’s nocturnal underbelly. Flanked by freelance camera crews, who specialize in filming murder and mayhem, Lou infiltrates the dangerous world of night crawling.  He monitors police radios, in search of fires, homicides and other tragedies to film, then sells the footage to the highest bidder.  Lou converts tragedies and accidents into a money machine, and with each new video, his obsession — and his ego — grow.  Jake Gyllenhaal’s compelling performance of a sociopath hell-bent on success gives us the creeps.  Lou who won’t let anyone stand in his way.  Do the means justify the ends?

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