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FANTASIA 2013: Capone goes old-school J-horror with THE COMPLEX and is floored by BIG BAD WOLVES!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Montreal here for the Fantasia International Film Festival, a long-running and truly massive genre-centric event that lasts about three weeks (I'm here for about a week of that). I just wrapped up Day 3, during which I went for a little old-school J-horror, and a new-school revenge thriller from Israel. Enjoy…

All I needed to know was that Japanese horror pioneer Hideo Nakata (RINGU, DARK WATER) had returned to his old scary stomping grounds with a new film entitled THE COMPLEX, and I was there. But like many visits home after a long absence, things aren't exactly how we remember them. Things look more or less the same, but they somehow feel different with so many years gone by. There's still a creepy kid and ghosts that seem intent on scaring people to death or pushing us mere mortals into a psychotic break. There's a cute school girl named Asuka (pop star Atsuko Maeda) who has just moved with her family into a new apartment complex, and right on cue, the first night in the place, the girl hears strange and freaky noises coming from the unit next door that she is told is occupied by an old man.

It doesn't help that in the morning, the old man's alarm clock goes off at 5:30am, waking up Asuka much earlier than she'd intended. Soon after, she finds the old man's door unlocked and goes in to deal with the alarm clock situation when she makes a grizzly discovery that sets off a series of events in her life and the life of Shinobu (Hiroki Narimiya), a man she meets who believes her stories of what she's heard and seen, since he is knowledgeable in the ways of the spirits.

While it may appear that THE COMPLEX is yet another in a long line of Japanese-style ghost stories, the more interesting tale Nakata is telling has more to do with Asuka's fragile psyche and how her instability is fueling many of the strange goings on in the two apartments. But the sad truth about the film is, there's very little here we haven't seen before, especially in the build up. And while the movie rallies a bit into some pretty bizarre, hellish territory--courtesy of a tricky little spirit who can assume the identity of any dead person--it all feels way too familiar.

By the end of the story, a battle to save Asuka's soul is in full swing, and the visuals Nakata creates in depicting this are certainly interesting, if not especially terrifying. I mentioned a freaky little boy, and I wish I knew the young actor's name who playing the little guy, because he throws a nasty, threatening look about as well as any child performer I've ever seen, especially in THE COMPLEX's final scenes. I wish I had better news to report about this one. While it's certainly never dull or uninteresting, it's also incredibly derivative of the director's previous work. I guess if you're going to be unoriginal, it's okay to borrow from your own unique style, but that doesn't necessarily make it any more worthy.

I've been fortunate enough in recent years to take in quite a few new films from Israel, but I promise you, no Israeli filmmakers are making movies like the writing-directing team of Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado (who made the fantastic 2010 horror offering RABIES), whose latest offering, BIG BAD WOLVES, was just announced in the first wave of titles playing at Fantastic Fest in September. These filmmakers have a subversive, smart, sometimes viscous streak running through their work that is sadly lacking in so many works from their part of the world, or any part of the world for that matter.

The film opens with three children playing a game of hide and seek in an abandoned building in the woods. When the game is over, one of the little girls is still missing, and before long the police are called in. We're told this is latest in a series of horrific child disappearances in the community (which eventually leads to a body found days later), with the chief suspect being local teacher Dror (Rotem Keinan, who looks so much like a kid killer/rapist that there's no way he could be the guy--too obvious). When a particularly aggressive cop named Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) is assigned to follow Dror, he decides to enlist the help of some off-the-books "interrogaters" to help snatch the suspect instead and acquire information in other ways about the missing girl, whose father is friends with the local police chief.

Not long after the torture of Dror, an anonymous tip tells the police the location of the girl's body, which, like the other victims, is missing her head and has all the signs of being horribly sexually brutalized. Miki is immediately taken off the case for spooking the suspect and possibly forcing him to kill the girl sooner for fear of being discovered. But that doesn't stop the cop from continuing to follow his prime suspect anyway. What he doesn't realize is that someone else is following him, as he tracks Dror.

Pretty soon, both Dror and Mink are taken prisoner by an unknown third party that turns out to be the dead girl's father, Gidi (Tzahi Grad), who enlists Miki in upping the extreme methods of questioning. He believes the only thing that scares a maniac is another maniac, and he devises a plan to to everything to Dror that was done to his daughter. Did I mention that the film has quite a few darkly comedic moments, and that it wouldn't be much of a stretch to call the film one of the darkest dark comedies in recent memory?

Earlier in the film, we sees Gidi buying a cabin in a remote part of the woods, surrounded by Arab villages, with residents that tend to keep to themselves. At first, before we know his identity, we suspect him of being the actual child murderer, and on more than one occasion, the film does force us to doubt our beliefs as to the guilt or innocence of a couple of characters.

When the three men arrive at Gidi's soundproof cabin, the real work in finding his daughter's missing head begins. Combining brutal interrogation techniques to extract information with somewhat funny dialogue from the two captors (and later from Gidi's elderly father, played by Dov Glickman, who arrives unexpectedly) may not seem like the most obvious choice for a comedy, but the filmmakers have a keen sense of when going to far can be funny and when it can be distasteful. They also keep us guessing whether Dror is in fact a serial child-killing monster. Most impressive is the way the film ends, and the absolute sinking feeling the ending gives us. I'll say no more.

BIG BAD WOLVES is a ruthless mind-fuck of a film that tests our limits, and makes us question under what circumstances (if any) this brand of torture is appropriate. It also kept me completely enraptured, wondering where the hell this ride was going to take me. Lines are drawn and erased; others stay firmly in place. Blood runs freely as time goes on. The film, like its characters, is unhinged in the best possible way. I can't wait to see this movie with a crowd again to hear the audience react, to see who makes it to the end and who abandons ship. You're never seen anything quite like this before, but I'm hoping it's the start of something new. It sure feels that way.

-- Steve Prokopy
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