Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
I may be seeing WOLF CREEK later today. If so, I’ll be sure to pass along my own reactions. For now, though, here’s “Snell” with his take on things:
I was at Sundance presenting a film I worked on and had the opportunity to see 2 world premieres and several shorts. First was the high anticipated Wolf Creek, which was Australian director Greg Mclean's debut feature film and premiered at the Egyptian Theater on Main Street in Park City, Utah. The story of Wolf Creek is based on the true events of 2 serial killers in Australia who hunted tourists. Details from the 2 real-life killers were combined into one character in the film, played by John Jarratt, who lures victims in by offering to fix their vehicles after they mysteriously break down by an enormous and eerie meteor crater. Mclean shocked the audience by breaking several long standing horror film conventions, so much as several people left this world premiere in the middle of the showing from shock and horror. First off, the characters to get drunk or stoned were not the first to die. Also high on the usual kill list are the characters that have sex or have romantic interests. These conventions were not followed and left the audience without guide as to who would survive to tell the story. Also, as the story played out, the viewer has the most hope for Cassandra Magrath's character (the short-haired woman). She initially escapes capture unharmed, frees Kestie Morassi's character (the long-haired woman) and for the majority of the film, is the most resilient and resourceful character. However, she gets caught up in looking at the killer's trophies from previous victims and finds her own photos in a collection. After wasting this time, she's able to start a car, only to be stabbed by the killer who had snuck within attacking distance. It's only a side wound, so the viewer still has hope she's going to make it. She then loses half her fingers in a brutal knife swipe. Hope fades a bit, but maybe she'll make it. The killer picks her up and does a "head-on-a-stick" procedure where a knife is stabbed into her lower spine, paralyzing but not killing her. She falls limp, eyes flickering. This was the point that people starting leaving the theater. One could only imagine the horror of what would happen to her now she was paralyzed, and since she seemed to be the protagonist, all hope is lost. Horror film rules were broken, and the viewers starting losing it. Also to note, the first 40 minutes of the film was dedicated to non-horror character development, which is much more time than standard horror flicks. The viewer really gets to know the people that are later in peril.
After the film, Greg Mclean took the stage to participate in a Q&A session. He immediately apologized to the audience for scaring them so much. Since the Egyptian theater is quite small, I felt comfortable raising my hand and asking the director about a discrepancy in the film. At one point the characters' watches and car stop functioning (with references to that phenomenon earlier in the film being associated with UFO sightings). However, their flashlight was unaffected by the mechanical failures. He replied "I don't know why, it's just spooky," which was received with good humor. The cast then came up to the stage. I hadn't thought ahead to what it might be like to see a cast that had just been tortured and assaulted on screen, and even more so, the horror of seeing John Jarratt, the killer. The audience was visibly shocked to see him accompany the "victims" on stage. They said he was a nice guy, but I was unconvinced as he just stood on stage, quiet and massive. The first comment during the Q & A for the cast was someone who expressed relief that they were all alive and well. The cast kept quiet, except the beautiful and ambitious Kesite Morassi, who spoke about the acting direction being behavior based rather than feeling based. During the filming, she was asking Greg Mclean about what her character was feeling, then to base the behavior on that. He redirected her to an action, for instance "you are running for your life" and the feeling followed. I had the pleasure of meeting Kestie outside the Egyptian theater on Main Street. Very sweet, friendly woman who did a fantastic job of acting scared for her life. Strangely enough, Kestie was much more beautiful in person than on film, and also more striking than her female costar, Cassandra Magrath, who appeared more attractive on screen.
Another premiere that I was fortunate enough to see was The Jacket directed by John Maybury and premiering at the enormous Eccles theater in Park City. This film was dubbed as a psychological thriller which I found akin to Jacob's Ladder without the demons. It centers around a Gulf War veteran, played by Adrien Brody, who "dies" when shot in the head by a young Iraqi boy. He returns to life in the army hospital, which reminded me of the final scene in Jacob's Ladder. He returns home and is shortly hospitalized in a antiquated asylum. Brody's character is subject to a cruel and bizarre therapy of being bound in a straightjacket, injected with severe chemicals, and kept in a morgue drawer for hours on end. During these initially tortuous sessions, he begins traveling in time to the year 2007 (the movie is set in the early 1990's) and falls in love with Keira Knightley's character. This relationship has a Lolita feel to it since Brody first meets Knightley's character as a very young girl in the 90's. There was a theme of redemption and amends in the characters, as the beginning of the movie shows lives and families being destroyed in war, and the rest of the film shows lives and families being rebuilt through Brody's actions. Criticisms I heard from other attendants of the festival included the lack of believability in the asylums conditions and practices since it was the 1990s, references too outstanding to One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest. In defense of the film, I note that corruption of power leading to power-mad behaviors and torture is not something that disappeared. Just take a look at Abu Ghraib.
After the film, director John Maybury and the cast took questions from the 1600-strong debut audience. Most notable was Maybury's own interpretation of the film, which was that Brody's character died in the first 5 minutes in the film when he was shot in Iraq. Also, Brody described his character research as including time in sensory deprivation tanks and consulting with some of the original creators of the cult classic, Altered States.
The animated shorts contained some brilliant and morbidly dark pieces. Most notable was "9", a story of 9 small goggled burlap characters living in decayed urban setting where they scavenge and fight a soul-ucking mechanical/skeleton cat. I was fortunate enough to run into Shane Acker, the creator, at a press party the following night and chat. It restores my faith in humanity when someone this talented is completely level-headed and kind. It took him 4 years to create "9" and it shows. The short is a masterpiece of eerie visuals, haunting music, and a rich story. Screenshots and the trailer are RIGHT HERE.
Next was Ryan, a documentary using audio from conversations between director Chirs Landreth and the fallen animator, Ryan Larkin. The conversations reveal Larkin's original explosion of cocaine-fuelled creativity and his collapse into addiction and alcoholism. The characters are very realistic in the face, but have large gaps in their heads and bodies which allow, for example, the viewers to see the characters thoughts playing on the back-side of their faces. A brilliant approach to a documentary and use of the animation medium. LEARN MORE HERE.
The next short animation to note was Fallen Art, made by Polish director Tomek Baginski. The boundaries of morbidity are pushed as the story reveals military scientist having young soldiers jump to their deaths from a high plank. Their mangled body is photographed then put into a sequence of similar pictures to make a macabre frame-by-frame animation of "dancing" dead soldiers. I revel in watching and making dark content, but this surprised even me. CHECK THIS OUT.
Finally is Forest Grove, a short interactive film in the Frontier/online section of Sundance, featuring the photography of Jim Denault (Boys Don't Cry, Six Feet Under) and directed by Maya Churi. An innovative approach to film using an architect's model as the set and a powerful camera lens to shoot the close-ups and scenes of this plastic world. The story follows a boy named Charlie as he interacts with the residents of a gated community and discovers the dark underbelly of the suburb, similar to films like American Beauty and Happiness. HERE’S A PEEK.