SXSW has been the launching place of a lot of great midnighters over the years, including the just released Cheap Thrills. I always make it a point to see as many of them as I can, and at the time they were intended, 11:59 pm as the schedule reads. Although I caught most of them, I’m going to have to skip a few films (because their publicist never responded to my request to send me a link) so they’ll never know if they could have been my favorites. Oh, also, there might be a few spoilers in here, but you’ll forget those by the time you see these, right?
No Need To Stay Up: Among The Living – I was really excited about this film with its easy Stand By Me meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in a carnival vibe premise. Unfortunately, the film never develops and it is little more than excuse for the baddie to kill off each character one-by-one in uninteresting and tensionless ways. I was never invested in any of the three kids, who have next to no personality and though the film looked nice, the pretty pictures kept the audience at an arms length from any true horror or really any excitement at all. The film is frontloaded with a ton of exposition that explains it all, so there is no mystery and I found myself checking my watch for most of it.
No Need to Stay Up: Home – this film had a slick production style and opened with a great teaser, in which a girl sells her soul for a stack of cash and agrees to give birth to the anti-christ. How do you follow that? Well, they never figured it out. The problem is, girl one dies before giving birth, leaving the ‘home’ possessed. Girl two comes to sell the house, finding the ghost of girl one, who attacks her … and kills her. Why? Don’t know. Girl three is girl two’s sister and comes to investigate what happened to her sister, she gets possessed and then has the demon baby. And then gives it up for adoption, and then hunts it down later. And doesn’t kill it. Why? Don’t know. Here is the central problem of the story, selling your soul to Satan only works because you agree to do it. There is a bargain, that’s what making a deal with the devil is, you make a deal, you sign on the dotted line, you seal your own fate. The basic action of this film completely ignores that, it’s like a vampire movie where the vampire don’t need to drink blood. This girl (girl three, who you may recognize as Glee’s Santana) is two people and 25 years removed from a deal she never agreed to, and didn’t even know about. The film does have some nice two second scares but the central premise was so inherently flawed it did not hold together at all.
Flipping Channels, Not Going to Bed: Oculus – This film was really close, and it looks phenomenal. The basic set up is a haunted mirror that drove two kids to kill their parents has resurfaced and the kids, now grown-ups, are going to prove what they saw once and for all. Two solid performances hold the audience through this film, but the main problem is Oculus gets often lost in the past, recounting over and over what happened when they were children. Once we see how the mirror does its thing, all the past stuff is old history and I would have rather spent more time in the present. In fact, the basic twist that ends the film is not really a twist, it is the same thing that has happened about 20 times in the film already, so you get the feeling the characters are just stupid or the screenwriters are at least lazy. It’s a shame because there is so much that works about this film but in the end it just sort of peters out as being the same thing over and over again for the last 40 minutes.
Flipping Channels, Not Going to Bed: Exists – Am I the last champion of found footage films? I just like them. At least when people think they may have found Bigfoot, there is a reputable excuse to leave the camera on all the time – and this works for about a two-thirds of the movie (after that it gets preposterous – even involving a dying person pulling a camera out of a bag and turning it on). But I honestly enjoyed this fun film. And its not one of those films where maybe you catch a glimpse of Bigfoot for a frame in the 50th minute. Bigfoot is all over this movie and Bigfoot is pissed.
Leave the Light On For Me: Honeymoon – when a couple retreats to the woods and spends their honeymoon in a cottage, Paul quickly watches his new wife Bea become something unrecognizable. This was a solid body-snatcher film, with a truly frightening performance from my biggest Game of Thrones crush Rose Leslie (badass ginger from beyond the wall). There are some visually cringe-worthy moments (think Upstream Color worms) but the slow-burn tension through the whole film is the true mood setter. My only argument with the film is the third act is a little slight and just sort of ends. It would have been far stronger if Bea could have fought off the evil inside and her and Paul tried to make a break for it, facing the invaders together – they could have both been taken, or she could have re-succumbed, but as it was, there was very little new in the last 15 minutes of the film.
Late Night Nuggets: Stage Fright – some of the most fun I’ve had in the theatre, although I will admit, as a former musical theatre flunkie, I might be a little biased. The basic premise is a musical summer camp attempts to restage a cursed show, one that killed the mother of the new lead actress. The broad comedy of the camp sequences (think Glee with more of an edge) nicely contrasts with the heavy metal arias of the killer and the rather gory deaths spread throughout the film. It’s a lot of fun and the songs are pretty solid. Also, Meatloaf turns in a great performance as the camp director and former Broadway impresario. Yes, this is a horror film, in the same way Slumber Party Massacre is a horror film. The deaths are bloody and frightening, but what’s really frightening was how much my face hurt from laughing.
Late Night Nuggets: 13 Sins – this was the most satisfying film in the midnighters section. It was truly terrifying at times, very dark, but with a twisted sense of humor and a can’t miss premise. Elliot, struggling to make ends meet and about to tie the knot receives a peculiar phone call, and offer for him to make some money if he plays a little game. The game starts simply enough, like eating a fly or making a child cry, but as the cash prizes increase, the tasks get more and more depraved (in a sense, it’s this year’s Cheap Thrills, but on a much larger scale). The ride we take with him is edge-of-the-seat stuff, basically through the whole film. The film also provides a nice commentary on materialism and ease at which someone will shed their carefully crafted image when provided with a chance to score some cash. The biggest question is left unanswered however, when he has time to charge his cell phone.