Spooky Movie 2012, International Horror Film Festival in Washington, DC

My coverage of the 2012 International Horror Film Festival, Spooky Movie, in Washington DC

Spooky Movie 2012, an international horror film fest running from Oct.12-18th at the AFI Silver Theatre, is a veritable twilight zone of too ghoul for school films. This festival is the thinking horror fan’s Mystery Science Theatre—the films will have you racking your brain for days afterwards, for better or worse.

 In its seventh year of bringing mystery, mischief, and mayhem to audiences, The Spooky Movie Festival delivers impressively on the thrills and chills with 21 features and 31 shorts, including festival standouts “Chained,” “Resolution” and “Excision.” Festival Director Curtis Prather remarked upon how happy he was to have finally landed the festival in the home he had always wanted for it, the AFI in Silver Spring.

One of the breakout films of the festival was “Chained,” the third major feature film by David Lynch progeny Jennifer Lynch, made its U.S. debut on Friday. A tour-de-force ride into the mind of an uber-misogynistic serial killer, “Chained” is the story of Bob and Rabbit [Eamon Farren], the boy whose mother Bob kills and who becomes a servant, a student, and for lack of a better word, a son to him.
 Lynch initially wanted to title the film “Rabbit” to take the focus away from the depersonalizing surroundings of the character and focus on the psychological aspects at play. She described her movie as a “tough watch—a story about how real monsters are made.”

When Lynch first read the “Chained” script, she said it ran too much like “torture porn” (a charge that was often leveled at her for debut film “Boxing Helena” which she made when she was nineteen). Lynch wanted to make a film that ran less like a typical horror gore piece and delved more into “figuring out why he is doing this and the relationship between him and Rabbit.”

The film is shot in a cinema verite/documentary style, essentially showing the world through the claustrophobic lens of Rabbit’s existence. Lynch explained that she likes to make movies about “people obsessed with other people or characters that are forced into an environment they can’t leave. The claustrophobia factor really interests me.” With no soundtrack to the movie save for the creak of floorboards, the thud of footsteps, and the screams of Bob’s victims, “Chained” is mercifully low on the gruesome and ghastly Saw-like sensibilities that have invaded recent horror fare.

In explaining her film’s milieu, Lynch said, “terrible things in broad daylight are much scarier than things that go bump in the night.”As such, the “house gone wrong” that Bob and Rabbit live in is the perfect setting for the father-and-son-like relationship gone wrong that take place in it. Bob’s question “Oh, you are not my son!? Point to one thing in this house that doesn’t say that,” is especially trenchant on so many levels.
“Resolution,” directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead and selected for distribution by the Tribeca Studios, upends a number of horror movie tropes to create a strange amalgamation of buddy flick-meets-Lost. Mike (Peter Cilella) goes to an abandoned cabin in the woods (natch) in a last-ditch effort to get best friend Chris (Vinny Curan) to stop his downward descent down the crack pipe by literally chaining him to a pipe so he can detox for a week. That one week proves eventful as Mike starts finding various eerie antique objects in the house and encounters a series of strangers odd upon odder, including drug dealers, a space cult, and a French gentleman. The greatest aspect of the film is the interaction between Mike and Vinny, which yields comedic gold in its dramedic ways, but also provides a poignant portrait of a deep relationship weather-beaten by the buffeting of…life. Vinny Curan is especially compelling in his portrayal of an addict hell-bent on convincing everyone to leave him alone to his “destiny” which he perceives to be drugs, yet as the week progresses, allows for the possibility that he simply has given up on believing he can beat this. The horror story aspect of the film is almost an afterthought, although Mike’s increasing obsession with figuring out what is happening, eerily parallels Vince’s own addiction. Ironically enough, “Resolution” does not offer one at the end—the ambiguous at best ending will have audience scratching their heads for quite a while, but the film’s theme of “every story has a beginning, middle, and end,” hints at something along those lines.

Escape Fire Film Review

My review of Escape Fire

Escape Fire: The Fight To Rescue American Healthcare, a documentary by Matthew Heineman and Susan Frömke, sets out to not only expose what ails the American healthcare system but also provide what the film posits to be creative solutions. Unfortunately, due to the byzantine nature of the subject matter, Escape Fire develops a strong case of The Corporation-itis: attempting to cover too much ground and sacrificing a strong cohesive story arc in the process.
The film’s title is a riff on the concept of an escape fire, which are lit to clear an area of grass in the face of an approaching wildfire. It creates a safe space with nothing left to burn in it; in other words, an inventive solution to a thorny problem or as the film’s website states, “an improvised, effective solution to a crisis that cannot be solved using traditional approaches.” This begs the question, however, about how “untraditional” the film’s solutions are: prevention rather than disease management, a lifestyle overhaul, and a move away from reliance on medications are ideas quite prevalent in the health-talk zeitgeist and, thus, not particularly innovative. Still, the breadth of topics covered by Escape Fire is impressively thorough: physicians’ fees, inaccessibility of health insurance, prevention vs. mere disease management, over-reliance on drugs, insurance companies’ focus on profit margins at the expense of patient care, patients’ insistence on expensive testing, maximum care, quick fixes, the rise of diabetes as a result of unhealthy eating habits, and the political stranglehold of the health care industry’s lobby.

Despite its penchant for positing truisms and rehashing topics better covered elsewhere, Escape Fire does bring up some great points. For example, the fact that other developed countries spend $3000 per capita on health care per person while the US spends $8000, yet is ranked fiftieth world-wide in life expectancy indicates the disparity between expenditures and actual health outcomes. The film argues that the fee-for-service system currently in place rewards physicians for doing more, expensive-test-wise; on the flip side, primary care in America is in great danger as primary care physicians are barely able to earn a living while specialists earn significantly more. This essentially endangering the livelihood of the people most needed to do preventative care. The film also takes a hard look at the pharmaceutical industry (the US spends 300 billion on drugs annually) and examines the issue from both sides—the almost limitless political power wielded by Big Pharma and the patients’ own penchant for panaceas and quick-fix pill solutions. The section on lifestyle changes and nutrition awareness is no uncovered ground and probably far better covered in other documentaries, but experts are clearly on to something with the fact that nutrition education is currently omitted from medical education. As a result, physicians are unable to advise their patients on such topics.
While interviews with well-recognized experts such as medical journalist Shannon Brownlee and others paint a sobering portrait of a system in dire crisis, it is the personal stories of people caught in it that pack the more poignant punch. The story of Sgt. Robert Yates, returning from combat in Afghanistan with physical injuries and PTSD so severe that he literally clutches a plastic bag full of dozens of medicines next to his chest, is the most visceral commentary on the depth of the problem. His path to recovery through meditation, acupuncture, and yoga speaks volumes about an often unreported story: the Army’s deployment of therapies that more conventional care givers are still reluctant to use. The story of Dr. Martin, a physician increasingly under pressure by Medicare to spend less and less time with her patients (the standard she is told to uphold is seven minutes per patient) illustrates the film’s theme that our “health” system is really a “disease management” system.
Escape Fire may not offer much in the way of outside-the-box solutions and it may be a bit scattered in its approach, but it is startling portrait of a very diseased system.