This is the first year I attended the Maelstrom International Fantastic Film Festival, a weekend-long festival highlighting genres that don’t tend to be selected for more traditional programs.
The festival itself was in its third year, and while I believe previous years tended more towards the horror side of things at least as far as features went, this year included strong features without gore. Which worked out much better for me, because splatter-splatter type horror generally is not my thing.
The opening night film was Midnight Son, which I think could best be called a mumblecore vampire movie. Despite that description, I quite enjoyed it.
It’s about a young man who has structured his life around his rare skin condition which means he cannot be exposed to sunlight. He lives in a basement apartment & works as a night watchman. Of course, just as his condition starts to grow more complex and demanding (hello, coffee cup full of blood!), he meets a young woman with a few problems of her own.
It was a treat to see a vampire movie so removed from traditional mythology, and the low budget style was a good match for Jacob’s underground life, even though it went ever-so-slightly over the top at the end. It is hard to resist some traditional gore!
Boy Wonder was a strong thriller about a boy whose mother was killed in front of him during a carjacking when he was small. Now a teenager living with his recovering alcoholic father, he continues to obsess over finding her killer as well as stalking the city at night as a gritty take on real life superheroes.
He has interesting relationships with the cops at the local precinct, particularly with the outgoing cop who worked on his mother’s case & the lady cop who comes in to fill the retiree’s spot.
The script is tight, the film is very well cast (Bill Sage as the father is particularly effective, I think because I know him best from Mysterious Skin & Precious, both of which bring a clear ick factor), and all threads are brought back together in a satisfying ending.
The poster on the IMDb page for Absentia sells it as totally the sort of movie it isn’t, which is unfortunate, because it was definitely my favorite feature of the festival for its concept, its subtle creep factor, its use of fairy tale, and most of all for its neat inversion of some expected gender roles.
Tricia’s husband has been missing for seven years, and her sister Callie has come to support her as she puts through the paperwork to have him declared dead in absentia.
Once the papers are signed, though, Tricia starts seeing her husband again. Is he still alive? Where has he been? Is she dreaming? What is the deal with the creepy tunnel at the end of the block?
I loved that it starred ladies, that the primary missing characters were men (including the always-creepy Doug Jones) rather than the typical white-girls-in-jeopardy, and that not *once* did someone blame Tricia’s pregnancy for the things she was seeing and feeling. That in particular was a huge thing for me; I kept waiting for someone to blame her visions of her missing husband on hormones, and it never happened.
I strongly recommend it. I raved about it on Twitter immediately afterwards and I still hold to that.
I saw the trailer for The Selling lots during the festival, and it made me giggle every time, which I felt was a good sign.
Richard Scarry (yes, he tells us, like the children’s book author) is a real estate agent who only wants the best for his clients, even if that means talking them out of houses they can’t actually afford. He needs money for his sick mother’s medical bills, though, so he goes along with his friend’s plan to buy & flip a house for profit.
Trouble is, the house is haunted.
The horror-comedy concept works for about 2/3 of the movie, though it gets a little ridiculous at the end. It’s probably worth it, though, just for Richard & Dave’s initial forays into the house, their challenges renovating, and definitely for the open house. It occurs to me now that it might actually have worked better tightened up into a short.
Speaking of shorts, I saw the science fiction and fantasy shorts packages. I was excited about how many of the films were not from the United States. Like at the Sci Fi & Fantasy Shorts Festival, I really enjoy seeing the speculative fiction of other cultures, and often a short is the best length of time to play out an idea.
Best of SciFi: Vorgon’s Lonesome Raid (it isn’t easy being a giant monster), Status (getting a Facebook chip in your wrist doesn’t seem that far away), & Earthship (does the world get better or worse after you’ve been hiding from it for years?).
Best of Fantasy: The Astronaut on the Roof (a meta road movie, which allllmost goes too far with the concept but reins itself in at the last minute), Employee of the Month (finding new jobs for genre characters is challenging, but pole dancing is always an option), Dolls Factory (life *can* be too automated), & The Hollow Man’s Tragedy (what if you had no heart at all?)
I am particularly sorry that I missed the animated shorts package, but my knees can only take so many hours, so I had to miss a few things. Do any of you have favorites from that or the horror set that I should seek out? What did you think of The Melancholy Fantastic?