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By Noah Lee | September 29, 2011

There should be a term for when the brain shuts down and everything you’ve done over the past week becomes a dream. That’s how I felt on Day Six of Fantastic Fest. At this point you’ve answered the question to “what’s the best thing you’ve seen” more times than you can count and the answer might be different every time. Even the best movies can start to become a blur, but I was lucky enough to see another film that will easily crack my top ten of the year and certainly one of the tops of the Fest. My day was made up of a French thriller in a nightclub, a wacky Japanese crime film, a true life story of an Australian serial killer and a lo-fi DIY sci-fi comedy from Canada.

Sleepless Night tells the story of a dirty French cop, Vincent (Tomer Sisley), who steals a large batch of drugs from a night club owner, who is intent on passing that bag to another high ranking kingpin. Pissing the guy off, he kidnaps Vincent’s son and what proceeds is a series of f**k ups that leads to a thriller that unfolds in what may be the world’s largest nightclub ever. Only hindered by characters that seem to make the most unwise choices possible, Sleepless Night is a taut, exciting film that utilizes its close quartered confines to ramp up the tension as Vincent races to rescue his son whilst avoiding the internal affairs team and two sets of gangsters. There’s nothing plot-wise that anyone will find shocking, but it’s a well made movie and entertains for its length.

I’m unfamiliar with Katsuhito Ishii’s other works but if they’re as crazy as his adaptation of the manga Smuggler, I really have to track them down. At its very basic, it tells a story of the misfit actor Kinuta (Satoshi Tsumabuki) who takes on a job as a truck driver to pay off his debts to a loan shark. Unfortunately for him and his two coworkers, the job requires them to transport a near superhuman assassin, Vertebrae, to a mob boss.

An unusual mixture of extreme gore, comedy, drama and about a dozen other things, Smuggler is a mish mash of insanity. For me it totally works and I never found moments of boredom within, or was ever really confused, but upon exiting I did hear some people not caring for the torture scenes or finding it too disjointed. It may be so, but it proceeds with a head down assurance that, if you hang on for the ride, is worth the price of admission… once you catch your breath at the end.

I unfortunately missed a third slot movie as I needed to get home and get some laundry done. While there I did get to watch the Rabies screener, however. Having seen the movie when it aired online as part of the TriBeCa lineup a few months back, I was already a fan. I was nice to revisit it and check out this “everything goes wrong” tale and Israel’s first horror movie. It made quite a splash at Fantastic Fest and is currently making the rounds on the festival circuit and will hopefully get a justified pick-up soon.

Rushing back to the theater, I got there just in time to be seated for Snowtown. Chosen for the festival from Cannes, it was introduced as a movie that had a large walkout due to it’s graphic depictions about Australia’s most notorious murders of eleven people near Adelaide. Told in a beautifully shot, stark and quiet manner with a superbly stunning soundtrack (I immediately purchased it off iTunes after), the movie is told mostly from the viewpoint of the young Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway).

A survivor of sexual abuse from both his older brother and neighbor, who also abused his brothers, Jaime is quite withdrawn and stoic. That is until John Bunting (Daniel Henshall) comes into his family’s life, a new boyfriend to his mother. John takes Jaime under his wing and, as we’re clued into the depravity of John’s feelings towards not just pedophiles, but also homosexuals, drug users or anyone he finds deviant during graphic talks at neighborhood dinners, we find that eventually John, with the help of his two close friends, has decided to casually commit murder. He takes Jaime under his wing and it’s then that they all becomes conspirators in the murder, extreme torture and subsequent disposal of bodies of eleven people in barrels.

Reminiscent of Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, director Justin Kurzel has chosen to let the tensions build through sparse shots and subdued dialogues paired with one of the best soundtracks this year. A beautifully told tale, Snowtown is absolutely captivating and has rocketed to the top ranks of my favorite films of 2011. It’s an absolute knock out.

The final film of the night was a movie on the complete opposite spectrum. Manborg is brought to us by Steven Kostanski, the head of the Canadian collective Astron-6, well known on the Internet for their distinctly lo-fi film making techniques and the short Lazer Ghosts 2. A glorious mixture of claymation, computer graphics, excellent practical effects, make-up and a DYI ethic that’s above and beyond most science fiction movies being produced in people’s back yards, Manborg is a total hoot.

In the future, where Hell has risen up and taken over the Earth, during the human rebellion, one man loses his brother and is shot down. Rebuilt, Robocop-style, as part android, part man, Manborg (Matthew Kennedy) is sent to fight in the arena with Number One Man (Ludwig Lee), Justice (Conor Sweeney) and Mina (Meredith Sweeney) against the forces of evil. Eventually breaking out and hunted down by The Baron (Jeremy Gillespie), they fight for the survival of Earth.

It takes a moment to get into such a low budget film but once I embraced their aesthetic and we were introduced to Justice, I was laughing so hard I had tears streaming down my face. The characters of Justice and The Baron are easily given the best lines in the movie and their appropriately ham-handed acting only ramps up the stupidity. I don’t say that as a negative either, this isn’t high art, but it’s certainly fun. I would love to see this crew get Manborg on Adult Swim, as its outlandish settings, characters and quick runtime of an hour are a perfect fit.

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