Saturday, October 01, 2016

NYFF ’16: Genre Shorts

It is generally accepted as fact psycho-stalkers are always scarier when they are German, but cult leaders are still creepy even when they are woolen-wearing British matrons. Prepare to have your suspicions reconfirmed when the 54th New York Film Festival takes horror and dark thrillers international—and also succinctly to the point—with Shorts Program 3: Genre Stories, which screens tonight as part of the fest.

Charles Dickens’ supernatural yarn The Signalman has not been filmed very often. The last time was probably a 1970s BBC Christmas special starring Denholm Elliott (Yuletide ghost stories are a big deal over there). However, Daniel Augusto still assumes everyone knows the story, because he dispenses with the narrator character (who would otherwise explain what is going on) and mostly implies rather than shows the events of the story. Still, it is an undeniably moody and evocative piece, lightyears more enjoyable than his recent feature, Paulo Coelho’s Best Story.

Things get seriously serious with Johannes Kizler & Nik Sentenza’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You. Yes, there is a slasher home invasion film at NYFF, so sit up and pay attention. Basically, Eyes Off plays like the prologue to a Scream movie, but those are always the most memorable sequences. A mother and teenage daughter are arguing over her absentee father, but they are not alone in their tony modernist McMansion. Things proceed exactly as they always do, but you have to give Kizler & Sentenza credit for their slick, tight, tense, and brutally effective execution.

People die all the time in Jack Burke’s New Gods, but it is really more of a cult-themed psychological drama than a horror film. Still, you really wouldn’t want to be there either. Rosemary looks like a high school art teacher, but she rigidly commands the agrarian collective known simply as “The Community.” That means no medicine for those who are sick. They are to simply make their peace and shuffle off, unless you happen to be especially useful to Rosemary. In that case, exceptions can be made. Unfortunately, the hard toiling Sophie is running a fever, but she has no special skills. The premise and climax of New Gods could most likely sustain a feature length treatment, but Burke’s remarkably economical narrative feels fully rendered and satisfactorily self-contained in its current short subject format.

Evidently, in Luxembourg, they have a baby-tooth hoarding mouse instead of the Tooth Fairy. We’re much better off than the Benelux nation, as a grown fanboy dad and his son will learn when they come face to whiskered-face with the ferocious rodent in Pascal Thiebaux & Gil Pinheiro’s Pearlies. While cleaning out the late grandmother’s flat, father and son inadvertently cause the loss of one of the mean little creature’s prized teeth, so he will take a replacement the hard way. With its richly detailed sets and over-the-top dark humor, Pearlies has the look and vibe of early Tim Burton or early Sam Raimi, making it quite a macabrely amusing confection.

The ringer of the programming block is also a real downer. After enjoying all the previous genre goodness, Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s What Happened to Her sets out to guilt trip horror and police procedural fans by rubbing their noses in images of naked women corpses, as seen in films and TV shows. Of course, viewers are not supposed to enjoy those images. Rather, they are priming us for future payback.  It is sort of like That’s Entertainment for floating bodies, but instead of music we hear a voice-over interview with a former extra who found her corpse portrayal physically uncomfortable and emotionally demeaning. It is might have been an unpleasant gig, but it is hard to see it haunting her, like more conventionally explicit sex scenes. Regardless, it is almost perversely amusing to see the axe-grinding docu-supercut sharing the bill with Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.

Indeed, the shorts preceding Happened mostly celebrate the tradition of genre filmmaking in rather entertaining ways. As a result, Shorts Program 3: Genre Stories is quite a mixed bag, but it is front loaded with enough reputable and guilty pleasures to earn a recommendation for horror and dark thriller fans when it screen tonight (10/1) and Monday night (10/3), as part of this year’s NYFF.