Phoenix Film Festival 2019 posters

2019 Phoenix Film Festival – Day 5

Events Movies Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Hola! Hal Astell here from Apocalypse Later. Here’s my coverage of day five at the 2018 Phoenix Film Festival (PFF) and International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival (IHSFFF).

Two more IHSFFF showcase features for me tonight, as tends to be the case during weeknights between the two big weekends. Both were zombie movies, as it turned out, but they really were the best of times and the worst of times.

One Cut of the Dead

Things started off very well with One Cut of the Dead, which itself didn’t start very well but for very good reasons, and the meta nature of that is entirely appropriate to where the film went.

It really is a special film, which deserves the unexpected success that it’s found. It was made for only $25,000 and was shot in eight days with a cast of unknowns who apparently paid to be in the movie because it was part of a film workshop at a Tokyo drama school. It opened with a six day run in an art house theatre but went on to earn a thousand times its budget in profit, becoming the seventh highest grossing film of last year in Japan, ahead of the latest Pokémon movie.

It begins with a gimmick: the opening scene is a single 37 minute take, as a film crew shooting a zombie movie are apparently attacked by real zombies, something that makes the insane director happy because it’s the only thing to get a realistic response out of his leading lady. He insists that the camera keep on rolling, even throwing zombies into the water filtration plant that his cast have secured, just so he can get more footage.

I’m arguing with myself over how to proceed, because it may or may not actually be appropriate to throw out a spoiler here. I’ll err on the side of caution and not tell you how the film changes completely after that initial long take, so that you can discover it while watching it, like the rest of us. Trust me, you want to see this movie. You can thank me later.

What I will say is that it’s a film not just of three acts but three genres. I appreciated the first, though it has obvious problems, and can happily say that all those problems are explained in glorious fashion during the next two acts. There are reasons behind everything we see, just not the reasons you might expect.

In fact, hopefully they aren’t the reasons you expect because, like me, you may find yourself unusually engaged in questioning the picture and trying to figure out not only what’s going to happen next but how certain things aren’t going to happen next, how we’re going to get where we’re going and what has to change to make that possible. It’s a puzzle and we’re all going to figure out some of it ahead of time but far from all of it.

The only negative comment I can throw out is that there are a few scenes with notable shakycam and motion sickness is never a good thing to have in a movie theatre. However, I’ll counter that by pointing out that, once again, there’s very good reason for the shakycam scenes and the filmmakers should definitely have done exactly what they did. Just be warned if shakycam affects you.

Trust me, you want to see this. It’s ingenious. It’s fantastic. And it’s not like anything I’ve seen before. Is that recommendation enough?

Redcon-1

If things started well with One Cut of the Dead, then they continued well with Redcon-1, at least for a little while.

This British feature has its zombies overrun London in fuzzy but effective fashion. There’s been a prison riot, a dangerous criminal escaped and his hostage bit him. That somehow prompts a virus to spread throughout the city, which is rapidly descending into chaos, so the military will destroy everything within the quarantine zone in 72 hours time, in a desperate attempt to contain it.

Before that happens, they send in a crack team of British and American soldiers to locate and retrieve Dr. Julian Raynes, who may have been involved with the virus and so may be able to help create a cure. He’s the only hope, and so, by extension, are our team.

While there are conveniences early and often, I quite liked this for a bit. The soldiers, a combination of SAS, paras and US rangers, seem to know their stuff and their takedown of many zombies within a block of flats is a lot of fun, even if they apparently got their skills from the Mortal Kombat school of soldiering. The zombies are neatly varied. I’m rather fond of the idea of bondage zombies, apparently. I haven’t seen that before.

There are other good aspects too. The empty streets of London are shot well. The team leaving two schoolgirl survivors on a roof because their rescue is not part of the mission is cold but well handled. The effects work is solid, making us wonder if this was created as a demo reel. The captured zombies back at HQ looked interesting too. While I had some misgivings, I also had hope. There’s promise here and I enjoyed the first twist when it showed up.

But then it slowly descended into the easiest movie of all time for hatchet man critics to savage, especially as the second half of a double bill. Sure, we had One Cut of the Dead. This is One Movie of the Dead That Should Have Been Cut. Not only is every cliché known to zombie movies here, the film invents some more. How do you invent clichés?

The team isn’t merely appropriately diverse, it’s a complete collection of action stereotypes: there’s the tough black lead, the tough chick, the tough Asian with a samurai sword, the tough American in a cowboy hat who plays a sensitive guitar, the tough asshole of a traitor, etc., half of them with facial scars. Every death is a glorious sacrifice because death is what defines a warrior.

Some sacrifices are just plain stupid. If it’s known that this virus can be transmitted by blood splatter, who takes on a zombie army with a chainsaw? Never mind all those heroic sacrifices, the toughest guy here is the biker who rolls steadily forward into a zombie horde showdown in his frickin’ wheelchair. That’s about as tough as it gets! Or as stupid.

The plot conveniences breed like tribbles until everything we see is a plot convenience. I actually started trying to figure out how the filmmakers would turn the things that didn’t seem like plot conveniences into plot conveniences (and they did every time). Never mind unlimited ammo, where did all these people find guns? This is London! Even schoolgirls have frickin’ guns in this movie! I’ll even complain about the gratuitous shower scene. C’mon, is that nipple ring regulation?

There are more endings than The Return of the King! In fact, this was worse because the PFF schedule lied to us about it being an hour and a half (it’s almost two hours and feels like four) with the entire second half made up of nothing but endings. I made it through The Return of the King OK but I had to take a bathroom break during this. Hey, maybe I missed another cliché. Or another drawn out montage. Sadly I didn’t miss any testosterone fuelled heroic sacrifices. I counted those.

And the zombies… whether you think you might appreciate this (you won’t) may come down to whether you’re OK with the zombies. People argue about if zombies should be fast or slow (these are fast). Who’s OK with zombies who herd non-zombies into containers? Zombies who fight with nunchucks? Zombies driving frickin’ tanks?

The bad news is that this is the worst showcase feature I’ve ever seen at IHSFFF during Monte Yazzie’s tenure as Festival Director and he’s been in charge for four years now. The good news is that it’s not the worst of all time. This is better than Monster Brawl, for example. It might be better than Betamax too. I’ll have to think about that. OK, I thought about it. It isn’t. So, second worst IHSFFF showcase feature ever. That’s bad.

Here and there ...

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