Posted on Sunday, September 22nd, 2019 by Jacob Hall
(Welcome to The Fantastic Fest Diaries, where we will be chronicling every single movie we see at the United States’ largest genre film festival.)
Welcome to Fantastic Fest 2019, day two. In this entry, The Long Walk is a fascinating story that goes on for too long, The Lodge will make you miserable in the best ways possible, The Pool defies logic and taste in ways that are difficult to sum up, and The Mortuary Collection is a fun but hit-and-miss horror anthology.
The Long Walk
There’s no denying the talent of director Mattie Do, a Laotian filmmaker with a keen eye for oppressive visuals and a keen ear for authentic characters who find themselves in impossible situations. And there’s certainly no denying that her third feature, The Long Walk, is the kind of unique and deeply personal film you hope to discover at film festivals like Fantastic Fest. However, you can’t shake the feeling that there is some kind of instant 90-minute classic lurking within this film’s lumbering 115 minute frame. Do’s slow-burn pacing eventually ignites into a horror story worth the time and energy, but the trip is a laborious one that may test the patience of even the most level-headed filmgoer.
Playing like a tragic Frankenstein’s monster cobbled together from pieces of Looper and The Wailing, The Long Walk tells a story of time travel in a science fiction world, even though the biggest story leaps are based in mythology and religion. The spiritual horror of the The Long Walk feels even more unique when set against the backdrop of the near-future setting, where even the the most impoverished have government chips in their arms that contain their personal information and financial records. We’re introduced to this world via a village hermit who gets by on selling scrap, even as the locals whisper about his ability to communicate with the souls of the dead.
After this fascinating table-setting, the plot kicks into gear. It turns out our protagonist can use one spirit in particular to warp the fabric of time, allowing him to communicate with his younger self and shape the past. Will he attempt to fix his life? Will he attempt to repair the damages that left him so broken? Will he transform his already haunted world into something damaged beyond repair? You’ve seen a movie, right?
Do doesn’t allow things to go off the rails soon and your mileage will vary when it comes to whether or not the pace drives you up a wall. On one level, it’s admirable that you don’t realize the characters at the heart of The Long Walk don’t realize how doomed they are until it’s too late. On another, the slow-burn takes so long to even show an ember that you may be fidgeting in your seat, waiting for something, anything, to happen.
The Long Walk is a hard film to write about because either that pace is going to work for you or it isn’t. I admired the originality, the emotion, the atmosphere, and the world Do has crafted here. For many viewers, this is going to be a breath of fresh air. But I can’t help but stare at the fat around the edges and wonder what the more disciplined cut looks like, the one that is a bit more focused and far less meandering.
/Film Rating: 7 out of 10
Here it is: the feel-bad horror movie of 2019 and one of the most impressively made films I have no desire to see ever again. Directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz prove that Goodnight Mommy was no fluke by doubling down on the dread and misery, making a film as chilly and as isolated and as bleak as its setting. The Lodge is emotionally exhausting, a marathon of misery and dread that refuses to offer easy answers as it places you inside the heads of its doomed characters. Many horror movies trap their cast in a snowed-in cabin. But The Lodge traps you in there alongside them.
After a shocking prologue sets the stage, Grace (an astonishing Riley Keough) joins her fiance and his two children at their mountain lodge for the holidays. The kids (Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh) don’t like her, but Richard (Richard Armitage) thinks they just need to get to know each other and this trip will do the trick. Then Richard has to leave on business. It’s only going to be a few days. And then The Lodge starts to lower us into a hell that has been thoroughly frozen over.
Yes, this is the kind of film that will play better if you only know that much. It becomes quickly clear that someone in this cabin is in danger and that someone is threat, but the script withholds its full hand for as long as possible, asking you to empathize with the troubled kids and the traumatized Grace in equal measure. No matter what cards are turned over, it becomes clear early and often that the truth is going to hurt. And it does.
Fiala and Franz aren’t in a hurry, but no moment feels wasted. Every scene is filled with doubt and dread, the tension ratcheting up as social faux pas between the three lodgers give way to more extreme circumstances. The camera so often isolates the characters, emphasizing just how alone they are, before punching into close-ups that suggest either total honesty or bald-faced lies. The film demands that we examine each shot like emotional crime scene investigators, reading each facial twitch something, anything, to ground us back to safety. You won’t find anything.
Seasoned horror movie fans may ultimately find themselves on step ahead of The Lodge, but that doesn’t diminish its impact. Seeing a swing coming doesn’t always cushion the blows. And while this isn’t a journey you’ll want to take more than once, it’s one that will burn itself into your brain as you stumble out of the theater, dazed and hoping to find a warm place to find reality one more.
/Film Rating: 8.5 out of 10
How does The Pool exist? And how do you sum it up for unsuspecting audiences who aren’t prepared for one of the most bizarre movies I’ve seen in a long time? You start with the basic premise, which will have you raising an eyebrow immediately: a man falls asleep in massive swimming pool as it is drained and finds himself trapped. The sun beats down. Food is scarce. No one is looking for him. His insulin shot lies out of reach. And oh yeah, there’s a hungry crocodile in there with him. Writer/director Ping Lumpraploeng is absolutely shameless with this bizarre premise, doubling down on melodrama, excessive violence, dark comedy, poor taste, and a shocking amount of Pizza Hut product placement (a delivery pizza plays a key role in the film and the company’s logo appears among the production companies at the start of the credits and no, I’m not joking).
The Pool rotates between being a high-stress thriller (its best elements), a goofy melodrama about a slacker learning he wants to live, and a taste-free exercise in torturing its characters in increasingly outlandish ways that will leave your head spinning. One sequence, involving the character’s adorably pooch Lucky, nearly incited a riot during the Fantastic Fest screening, as the audience was vocally appalled while also being deeply impressed by the film’s willingness to not only cross the line, but stamp all over it in a way that defies western concepts of what is okay in a genre movie like this. Spoiler alert: dog lovers need not apply.
There’s no denying that the act of witnessing The Pool happen in front of me in a theater full of friends and strangers is an experience I will not soon forget. It’s the kind of ambitious B-movie whose reach exceeds its grasp, but man-oh-man, what a reach. I cannot in good conscience recommend that you seek it out, especially if you like animals staying alive, fingernails remaining where they belong, and women having the right to choose (seriously). But I also promise that you will never, ever forget every moment in its brisk 91 minutes.
/Film Rating: 6 out of 10
The Mortuary Collection
When the credits roll on The Mortuary Collection, one thing is immediately clear: writer/director Ryan Spindell is probably going to be a big deal sooner rather than later. When this film works, it works, showcasing a director with a vision that manages to wear its influences on the sleeve while injecting enough personal touches to feel unique. But when it doesn’t work, The Mortuary Collection lives up to the curse of so many other horror anthologies: the whole is never greater than the sum of its parts, with some segments leaving you blistered by what you’re seeing and others vanishing from the brain as soon as they’re over.
The four stories are connected by goofy connective tissue involving a mortician (Clancy Brown, having a ball) telling a visitor to his establishment tales of the unusual ways people have perished in the nearby town. The stories range from dark and disturbing to silly and fully tongue-in-cheek, bouncing between tones so sharply that you’ll be left with whiplash. Would The Mortuary Collection be a more fully satisfying movie if the segments all shared a similar tone? I’m not sure, but the film does work best when it takes itself a bit more seriously, especially since the most outwardly comedic segment is the most dire of the bunch.
Honestly, the greatest strength here ends up being the greatest weakness. The film concludes with a segment so strong, so clever, so intense and made with so much more nerve than the rest of the film that whole thing ends up feeling unbalanced. After being perfectly amusing for most of its running time, The Mortuary Collection becomes sublime in the last twenty minutes with a riff on the ’80s slasher formula that makes it clear Spindell has a long career ahead of him. But the anthology format is a double-edged sword, forcing you to look at this one exceptional segment, look back at the others, and wonder “Why isn’t the entire movie this good?”
/Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10
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