>> Fantastic Fest 2008: Day Five

The Cream (La Creme) / France / Directed by Reynald Bertrand

Synopsis:  A down-on-his-luck family man discovers a facial cream that makes others see him as a celebrity.

I like surprises like this at a film fest–the indie movies with little-to-no hype, that you walk out of feeling 100% satisfied.  La Creme is effective, balancing a farcial conceit with just enough reality to make it into something special.  The clever concept and the fresh take on celebrityhood seem primed for an Americanized remake, and when that inevitable day comes, I hope people watch the film that inspired it.

7 on a 1 to 10 scale

The Substitute (Vikaren) / Denmark / Directed by Ole Bornedal

Synopsis:  A sixth-grade class is terrorized by their cruel substitute teacher, secretly an alien disguised as a human.

Bornedal’s The Substitute is a great piece of entertainment and accessible enough for the anti-subtitle “I don’t like foreign films” person in your life.  How can anyone not be entertained by this cast of kids and this memorable villain, played by Paprika Steen?  She’s an unflappable phony, with a mile-wide mean streak, and mental powers to boot, and she makes a great foil against this cast of pale-faced Nordic pre-teens.  They’re one of the best ensembles of kids I’ve ever seen.  There are some bumpy plot holes towards the end of the film, but The Substitute is such a crowd-pleaser, so funny and exciting, that those holes are easily overlooked.

7.5 on a 1 to 10 scale

Sauna / Finland / Directed by Antti-Jussi Annila

Synopsis:  In post-war Eastern Europe, Finnish and Russian delegates arbitrate a new border as they travel north through the country, before coming across a mysterious village and the secrets of a sauna nestled in the middle of a swamp.

This atmospheric, creepy “thinking man’s” horror film is the kind of movie that you really hope develops an audience, even a cult one, because it’s totally deserving of the attention.  The unusual time period and setting, along with gorgeous, stark visuals and fantastic production design are all part of what makes Sauna a must-see.  It has an ambiguous approach to horror, giving you just enough information to buy into the story, without anything being explicitly spelled out for you.  In Sauna‘s case, this works remarkably well.  The story is basically a redemption tale of a merciless, lifelong soldier looking for direction after the end of a war, and as long as it tells that specific story well, and it does, then detailed explanations of all the supernatural goings-on in the film are inconsequential.

8 on a 1 to 10 scale

Deadgirl / USA / Directed by Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel

Synopsis:  A motley group of teenagers find a nude zombie girl chained to a table in an abandoned asylum, where they allow their sexual desires take them down a nightmarish path.

I don’t think any subject is taboo when it comes to horror, even necrophilia, but I take offense at a movie that handles its subject with no emotional resonance whatsoever, or, worse yet, handling deadly serious material with a winking, nudging “ain’t this messed up?” attitude.  Deadgirl is one of the most annoying movies in recent memory, filled with unpleasant characters in underdeveloped situations, spouting inane dialogue, where every sentence is punctuated with the word “man”.  The concept offers a different take on the zombie film, but the execution is simply so grating–bad acting, weak screenplay–that I can’t recommend it.  I wanted every scene to end quickly; every character to please, stop talking.  This is an incredibly weak movie about potentially strong stuff.  Total swing and a miss.

3.5 on a 1 to 10 scale



  1. I thought DEADGIRL was the best thing at this years fest, and one that wasn’t at all what I expected based on some of the blurbs. Truly disturbing, but in ways that respected the audience for once. (its been a while since an American horror movie did that?) i know it’s going to be tough for some people to get over the taboo subject, but what made it great for me was exactly the opposite of everything you state about it. I guess it’s a hate it or love kind of movie. I couldn’t find anyone in the middle on this one. but the folks that dug it, I think really, really, really dug it

  2. I am honestly surprised by the number of people that loved Deadgirl. Maybe it is a love/hate film, but know that it wasn’t the content that made me hate it, but the execution. Que sera, sera, I guess.

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