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Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water

TIFF17 Day Five

The Seen and Unseen, The Shape of Water, Black Cop, and Vampire Clay

Sep 12, 2017 By Jason Wilson Web Exclusive
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Indulge me a moment while I step up on a soapbox. One of my biggest pet peeves about going to the cinema, something that is occasionally amplified during festivals, is audience behavior. After Twitter was aflutter the other day about the suggestion that some theatrical screenings would be better served if texting and talking were allowed, my eyes nearly rolled all the way out the back of my head. Instead of trying to preserve the experience of seeing a film without distractions, we should cater to those who disrupt the experience for others? This is insane. You can scroll through tweets and respond to emails after the movie or from the comfort of your couch.

Another thing that drives me up the wall, and this is more pervasive at press/industry screenings, is the abundance of walk-outs. I’ve witnessed people getting up five minutes into a film to leave. They literally spent more time in the cinema waiting for the movie to start than actually watching the movie. Then, there are those who walk out after sitting through the bulk of a movie. By that point, just suck it up if you’re not liking it and finish what you’ve started.

Look, I know the festival schedule is tight at the best of times and that there is a lot of choice to parse through, but the walk-outs are such an annoyance for those remaining.

I encountered both in my second screening of Day 5 at TIFF, Kamila Andini’s The Seen and Unseen. Now, this is not going to be a movie that works for everyone or captures their imagination. It’s easily the quietest film with the least amount of dialogue I’ve seen during this year’s festival. The pacing is very deliberate (some would say boring, as evidenced by the constant flow of foot traffic) and it doesn’t always warrant it. But, it’s unfortunate that so many seemed to dismiss it outright. The story follows twin siblings Tantri and Tantra, a girl and a boy. Tantra develops a neurological disorder through a bump on his brain that is slowly killing him and has rendered him blind, deaf, and motionless. Tantri visits him in the night and he comes to life as they connect as only close siblings can-though it’s suggested that it’s all in her imagination.

The Seen and Unseen explores a young person’s discovery of grief and mourning as Tantri watches her parents quietly deal with the pending loss of their son. In a brief flashback, Tantri prepares a fried egg for her rice and gives the yolk to Tantra. Simple visual storytelling that reveals insight into their dynamic, and it’s followed up by a moment when Tantri, in the hospital, peels open a boiled egg and discovers the yolk to be absent. It may be a little on the nose, but it’s effective. The pacing does take a toll, and it’s almost needlessly ponderous, lingering just a bit too long in several scenes. Still, I hope it finds its audience.

Guillermo del Toro’s latest, The Shape of Water, suffered from no problems such as walk-outs. I wouldn’t be surprised if this wins the annual People’s Choice award for the entire festival. It deserves its accolades and will sure to be a crowd-pleaser when it comes out in wide release in December. Sally Hawkins is Eliza, a mute who does janitorial work at a government facility housing a top secret entity-a sea monster from South America. She forms a bond and plots to free him when it becomes apparent that the government officials keeping him captive are going to kill him in an attempt to mine knowledge in the space race.

It’s a monster movie and a love story as well as an exploration of female sexuality. Eliza is depicted as a sexual woman from the beginning, and while she is nude on several occasions the scenes are shot not with voyeuristic titillation bubbling beneath, but with a certain matter-of-factness that is refreshing in a Hollywood film. Not all of the story arcs are as well-developed as the primary thread of Eliza and her relationship with the sea-man. The three male co-leads, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, and Michael Stuhlbarg have excellent moments, but the film meanders a bit too much and offers little more than some extra textures. In the end, the film may be marginally better for including these, but it’s clear the interest is primarily with Eliza…as it should be.

The Shape of Water is beautiful, as a del Toro movie will be, and while it could easily be perceived as a fairy tale, it’s definitely not for children. In many ways, he’s blending the worlds of Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy, and he mostly succeeds. Prepare for tears.

As audacious and compelling as Cory Bowles’ Black Cop is, it’s also a bit ramshackle and muddy. Perhaps it’s the point. This is far less a traditional narrative than it is a slam-poetry infused diatribe against the ills of racism and profiling. That’s not to say there isn’t a story. The titular cop (Ronnie Brown Jr.) is a police officer in an unnamed city who gets harassed when off duty by other-white-cops. This sets off a series of events on his next shift where he turns the tables on white society by performing the same kind of outrageous acts that are arbitrarily cast upon people of color on a daily basis. These sequences are intercut with scenes of the anonymous officer in front of a black background running through his philosophies and backstory. Black Cop is a film that should grab you both for its form and its critical and depressing relevance.

Finally, Vampire Clay is set to close out Midnight Madness this year, but I saw it a little early. A young student finds a mysterious bag of clay at an isolated arts school in Japan. The clay has a mind of its own once it’s used and it comes to life to feed off the students. “This is dumb,” an astute audience member shared. What Captain Obvious may have missed is that there is no possible way the absurdity of Vampire Clay was lost on its creators. I find people who are hyper critical of horror often say “this isn’t scary” or “that’s unrealistic,” when that’s hardly the point. A horror movie doesn’t have to actually be scary to be good, and it certainly shouldn’t have to be realistic…except when it comes to character. And the unfortunate thing is the characters just aren’t here. The reason I liked The Ritual earlier in the festival was largely because of the time given to the characters. Vampire Clay relies too heavily on its absurdity, gives a touch of development, and then gets weird and stays that way. I don’t care that the effects are a little shoddy, I care that the people are. Disappointing, but it will be a hoot in the crowd on closing night.

Catching up with Ruben Ostlund’s The Square and S. Craig Zahler’s follow-up to Bone Tomahawk: Brawl in Cell Block 99.

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