Trial by Fire
The film plods at points, trudging along, and there are a few misguided narrative "devices" tacked on, but still, "Trial by Fire" bristles with anger.
From Finland comes “Heavy Trip,” a metalhead slacker comedy that descends from “Wayne’s World” and “Airheads,” but without looking like a studio trying to sell "cool." Like another Fantasia comedy you should keep an eye out for, “Mega Time Squad,” this movie flies its geek flag proudly, which here includes some extended musical performances of death metal, someone getting doused in animal blood, a viking ship full of vikings, and more.
If you’ve ever responded “that’s so metal!” after something ridiculous has happened, “Heavy Trip” might be your cup of tea. It’s a cartoonish ensemble comedy about a band of very gentle spirits with long hair, who love playing music that sounds like the gates of hell being slowly dragged open. The lead singer of the group, known as Impaled Rektum, is the couldn’t-hurt-a-fly Turo (Johannes Holopainen), who is shy about performing for people other than his bandmates. They usually play covers in a basement, but when the grinding of a piece of machinery inspires a melody, they have their first song, which leads to a possible chance of playing a big festival in Norway.
The premise is a bit light on plot, and the cartoonish characters are kind of one-note in that the script doesn’t do enough with them. But “Heavy Trip” takes its full form as a death metal “Blues Brothers” by the third act, when the crew finally hits the road; one of the characters even says “We’re on a mission from Satan.” The hijinks get even crazier, and the silly characters make for bigger gags. In turn, "Heavy Trip" achieves the status of bonafide crowd-pleaser, for a crowd that isn’t normally acknowledged with such detail and warmth. In one of my favorite details about the movie, “Heavy Trip” knows that while metalheads might listen to music that directly concerns death and destruction, they can be the sweetest and silliest of music fans.
Among its world premieres, Fantasia introduced the world to one of the latest joints produced by horror masters Blumhouse, Sonny Mallhi’s “Hurt.” It’s a movie that I’d only recommend to horror buffs who like to engage the conversation about the very purpose of a horror movie, but even then I don’t think they’re a guaranteed sell. The project has been engineered by director Sonny Mallhi (who co-wrote it with Solomon Gray) to toy with audiences’ expectations when it comes to film violence, masked killers and the like, if not accuse them of what they think is going to happen. It’s safe to say this tedious experiment is not for viewers who want the usual thrills, even if it does have a crafty twist at the end.
“Hurt” is the kind of experiment that starts with a gotcha ten minutes in—you have actually been watching someone watch a horror movie, a “Texas Chain Saw Massacre”-looking thing that claims to be based on a true story. It’s that line of reality and fantasy that “Hurt” tries to play with when it comes to its main set-piece, a Halloween-time funhouse in the woods where a woman named Rose (Emily Van Raay) and her veteran husband Tommy (Andrew Creer) encounter different horror imagery: murder, monsters, women being trapped. Something seems off, you might think as a viewer, and Mallhi is riffing on violent artifice in a way that doesn’t seem fully articulated. “Hurt” becomes tasteless, however, when it starts making a true horror story out of Tommy’s PTSD, as if it were a grand examination of that cringeworthy line from Noah Baumbach’s “Greenberg”: “hurt people hurt people.” Tommy disappears from Rose on that night, and then people start to be hunted.
Whatever the commentary is that “Hurt” ultimately wants to make, its acting is too rough around the edges to get us involved in whatever dimension the story is in, and the plotting so bare that it’s hardly a slow burn. When things do get crazy in its final act, the story has to pull the viewer by the nose and then slap you on the wrists for what you were anticipating. It’s bold but in a reckless way. Lacking poignancy in its different way of trying to thrill an audience, there’s little reason this experiment couldn’t have been half as long.
Another movie that made its world premiere at Fantasia, “Our House,” starts as a sibling drama and turns into a scantly spooky haunted house tale. In “Our House,” Thomas Mann has a few strong passages as a young college student who brings about a strange presence in his family home. The way that “Our House” gets to this familiar set-up might be the best—the family home in question has become emotionally barren after the two parents die, and now the college-age Ethan (Mann) must take care of his two younger siblings. As he enters into a new maturity, while mourning the loss alongside his brother and sister, he remains fixated on an invention that he hopes will create wireless electricity.
As it follows this family and his project, the movie has the air of an Amblin project, especially in its surprisingly wholesome nature. There’s a noticeable craft to these emotional moments that make way for science that gets weirder and weirder. Especially as Ethan tests this machine of which we soon start to understand of its full abilities, director Anthony Scott Burns builds tension in certain moments when the machine is ramping up, cutting back and forth between the actions of different siblings. But then the movie as a whole only gets weaker when it should be the most tense.
With sincerity kind of holding everything together, it’s dispiriting when "Our House" becomes more of a rote haunted house movie. The tropes that it does bring in (like Ethan’s younger sister being playful with ghosts, and then later on, a spooky doll) aren’t challenged so much as convenient. It’s nice to see a horror movie work with a terror that’s more family oriented, while dealing with grief. But it's strange that these creative sparks would lead to something so conventional.
It’s not cliche to start turning into a whole other animal during adolescence, but watching “Blue My Mind” might have you think that. Writer/director Lisa Brühlmann’s film is a tedious burn about a young woman’s gradual change, like an A24-branded coming-of-age title with a metamorphosis that’s heavy on its metaphor.
Hitting familiar beats for movies that involve innocent young people in the hell of high school, it tells of a woman named Mia (Luna Wedler) who fails to fit in with her classmates. In a bid to be liked by the bratty popular people, including queen mean girl Gianna (Zoë Pastelle Holthuizen), Mia starts to practice things outside of her comfort zone, like partying and having sex. But as she begins to let peer pressure steer her identity, she starts to notice that her body is changing: her feet start becoming webbed, and she has a craving for fish. It’s a nightmare for Mia, in part because of its randomness, but also because she doesn’t want to be seen as extremely different than her peers.
“Blue My Mind” boasts a few discomforting moments of body horror, especially as she tries to alter her body from its progression. But its parallel story is of the usual beats of peer pressure, awkward maturation and it leads to an empty climax. More than Wedler’s performance, Holthuizen’s act as someone who goes from being completely intimidating to the exact opposite offers a bit of emotional resonance, but it’s not enough for the movie as a whole. The script’s predetermined nature leaves the viewer colder than they should feel.
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This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
A tribute to Doris Day.