Made it to two press shows at EIFF yesterday, followed by Filmhouse’s screening of THE FRENCH CONNECTION, with a Q&A with William Friedkin afterwards, chaired by Chris Fujiwara, the festival director. More on that later. And that was followed by the Art College’s film show, which was followed by a couple pints of Guinness and a probably unwise glass of whisky. Today my mouth feels like it’s had British people holidaying in it.
My first press show was SUN DON’T SHINE, a rather fine lovers-on-the-run movie from writer-director Amy Seimetz. While the influence of BADLANDS hangs over it — poetic, floaty tone, achingly beautiful cinematography, dark underpinnings — the characters are somewhat different. While Malick’s ’50s runaways were psychopathically detached and ill-educated, Seimetz’s are just plain dumb. He (Kentucker Audley) thinks he has a plan to get them out of trouble, but from what I could grasp of the set-up, it wasn’t a very good one. So he’s Ollie — the dumb one who thinks he’s smart. She (Kate Lyn Sheil) is mentally and emotionally a baby: she knows she’s not smart, but she’s not capable of grasping how dumb she really is. So she’s Stan. She also has the best dumb-person line I’ve heard in years, delivered in warm and dreamy tones: “You’re good at planning. I’m not real good at planning, I’m better at being spontaneous.” Yeah, you have a real talent for doing the first thing that pops into your head. That’s a gift.
Although my easy response to stupidity is to laugh at it, but Seimetz also creates sympathy for her screwed-up leads (and her actors are thoroughly convincing), and her ending is really beautiful. And, while most movies go to far in trying to push things to the furthest possible extreme, this one hangs back nicely and keeps things credible. Really a little delight.
“If I stand behind this doorjamb does it freak you out? Have you seen AUDITION?”
Less successful, for me, was LOVELY MOLLY (not to be confused with Sidney Lumet’s LOVIN’ MOLLY), from Eduardo Sanchez of BLAIR WITCH fame. This mines the fertile, post-ROSEMARY’S BABY terrain of “is she crazy or is it supernatural?” and sustains it for maybe the first half, thanks to Gretchen Lodge’s thoroughly committed perf. But the balance is off — unlike BLAIR WITCH (which I haven’t seen since it came out, but liked just fine), this one is about serious stuff — drug addiction, mental illness and child abuse — so the more generic elements are a lot less scary and ultimately provide an excuse for the film not to frighten us. While the film keeps the rapist ghost and mental breakdown stuff in balance, things are good and disturbing, and as the madness explanation comes to the fore, there’s still at least the possibility of deep unease, but then the return of the paranormal craziness cuts the legs from under that. Maybe in the Bible Belt the thing will play differently, because to them, the Lord of Darkness is just as real as abusive fathers and heroine, but it didn’t convince me, and if we’re meant to take that side of it seriously then it’s a very reactionary vision.
The found-footage camcorder stuff is back in there, but it’s only a small part of the movie, thankfully. Strikingly unconvincing, though — the red dot and “REC” sign in the top corner? Really? Come one, Sanchez, you practically invented this shit, haven’t you noticed that camcorders don’t record that? Also, we see shots of the character’s camera, and its little screen doesn’t look anything like what you’re showing us.
There are some decent scares and some anxious moments, so diehard fans may get some kicks out of it, and the cast are very good indeed. But as the horrors mount up, the supporting characters’ failure to call in the shrinks becomes progressively more ridiculous — the ambition to create a proper character-led movie is hamstrung by the way people keep doing silly things for the sake of the plot. Which is where setting up any kind of division between plot and character will get you into trouble.