Saturday, October 10, 2009

DCAPA Film Festival - Machines Dreams and Screams

What a night. I attended "Horror Night" at DC's APA Film Festival. It was an evening of very dark and disturbing, yet fantastic short films. It was quite a program--a catalogue of the perverse and twisted. But sometimes it's fun to get a taste of your evil side. Although I was tossing and turning all night after watching this collection.

Movie: Adobo
My Rating: 3 stars

This is a naughty little film directed by Joe La Rue. I guess the theme is using your culture's traditions to solve your little, everyday problems. It also serves as a guide for behavior if you are the crazy, witch lady in the neighborhood. I suppose the best thing about this story is how surprisingly evil it turns out to be. When the film starts, it seems to be a light story about the difficulties of getting along with one’s neighbors because of cultural differences. But about half-way in, this story takes a turn toward the more sinister. As the lead actress goes about her daily tasks, the film creates a feeling of dread that sneaks its way into your gut before you even realize it’s there. By the end, the audience is left staring at her in disbelieving horror. A very quirky idea.

Movie: Broken Rainbow
My Rating: 3 stars

This film was totally awesome…. in the most demented sense of the word. Chia-Chien Mai directs this animated short, where colors are psychedelic, animal characters are anthropomorphic, and the rules of cause and effect follow video-game logic. Viewers follow the journey of a man-sheep who is leaking his rainbow blood. While his clinically depressed friend is imprisoned, he is on a mission to solve his problems. His dream-like excursion takes a few unexpected, and mildly disturbing twists and turns. There were definitely multiple points during the very short film where I was thinking: “Well, this can't end well.” There were elements in the plot so alarming and deranged that every jaw in the audience collectively dropped. I guess my favorite part about this film is that it is awash in irony. This is a very dark story, full of messages of death, and the futility of one’s actions. Yet, the film is presented in the brightest, most cornea searing colors—colors a kindergarten girl would gravitate toward. Definitely a strong showing.

Movie: Hector Corp
My Rating: 5 stars

This was probably the most technically accomplished film of the evening. It is a very sleek, animated and live action combination short film directed by Gary Lee. The story is a mischievous look into the dirty little secrets of big corporations—namely, the creative and nefarious ways they keep operating costs down…..and how they deal with those messy layoffs. And what theme could be more timely in these rough economic times? Everyone has their own genre of horror that really gets to them, and I would say that this is the kind that most scares me: the paranormally animated toy. I used to lie awake in bed when I was three, fearing that the second I closed my eyes, my dolls would come awake and get me in my bed. Anyone with a doll phobia had better sit this one out. Not really. While this film is creepy and suspenseful, it is definitely light-hearted. An excellently-conceived film.

Movie: Hangar No. 5
My Rating: 2 stars

This is a classic robot chase film directed by Nathan Matsuda. And it follows the well-known formula pretty religiously: 1) Characters are poking around where they shouldn’t be, 2) Characters engage in reckless behavior and attract the attention of guard robots, 3) Hilarity ensues. There are a lot of great things about this film. The acting is funny, the effects are pretty impressive, and the editing is strong. However, I would have liked to have seen a little bit more creativity with the writing. Short film allows filmmakers to explore eccentric themes and unconventional plot twists. This isn’t the medium in which to play it safe.

Movie: Machine With Wishbone
My Rating: 3 stars

This dreamy, experimental, little short is directed by Randall Okita. He creates a dream world of freely moving machines wandering through bleak, empty spaces. In my mind, this film is open to interpretation by the audience. Since the film is so abstract, viewers can imbue the action with their own meaning. The mood I got from this film was one of the futility of human endeavor, and the feeling of isolation this causes. These robots go about their own little business in their empty world, independent of other beings. Each robot seems very intent on accomplishing its own little task (pushing around a wishbone, in the case of the film’s protagonist), yet these chores seem devoid of any meaning to outside viewers. I’m sure other members of the audience have their own interpretations, but the film elicited a very melancholy feeling in me. If this is the aim, then I’d say this film is successful.

Movie: Speechless
My Rating: 4 stars

Every man’s nightmare! Waking up to learn that you have lost control of your ability to speak….and that someone may be manipulating you! And even more sinister, watching your distress. Anxiety mounts as plot unfolds. This fun, little tale of terror was directed by Zhibo Lai. It is definitely a story about panic caused by the loss of control. This film is tightly edited, the acting is tone-perfect, and the plot concept is clear and well-developed.

Movie: The Woman Who Wasn't There
My Rating: 4 stars

This film was a very stylish, and very creepy take on the old school J-horror genre (or more appropriately, Korean horror). A good, classic haunting, directed by Young Min Kim. Kim expertly achieves a vintage look with the film quality, score, and cuts, and especially the coloring. This mood enhances the story of the murdered girl, whose ghost is haunting man who tortured her, and the motel room where it happened. The acting in this film is some of the creepiest I have every experienced. The serial killer, played by Ed Aristone, is depraved in the most chilling way possible—he is calculating and deliberate. Nothing is a crime of passion. It is all very planned and premeditated. You can see his intentions and the relish he gets from pondering them on his face. The murdered girl, played by Denise Figueroa, has two roles: the victim, and the haunter. As a victim she displays such raw terror that the audience began to feel uncomfortable. And as a ghost, she creates an atmosphere of pure, untiring menace. This film is a success. It is able to communicate all these feelings and themes in a very short period of time—around 5 minutes. This speaks to the power of the expert acting and skilled editing.

Movie: What You Eat
My Rating: 5 stars

This is probably the most grotesque film of the evening. This short film is directed by Jennifer Liao, and it explores the concept of discipline taken too far. It shows the consequences of adopting inflexible rules in childrearing. The story takes place in some rural, back-woods, kind of place, where a single father is raising his son very strictly. His rule is, “If you kill something, boy, you have to eat it.” It doesn’t matter what it is, or the circumstances of the death. This rule is to be obeyed. I think we can all see where this concept is headed, and it is nowhere pleasant. The story is ominous. The audience knows where it is going, is dreading it, and is powerless to stop it. It elicits raw, human horror. In addition to being so ghastly, this film is actually very visually beautiful. It is filmed with deep, saturated colors, austere sets, and very cold, sober acting. A great film. Probably my favorite of the evening.

Movie: Yellow Light
My Rating: 5 stars

This film packs so much into such a small space. The audience experiences the whole range of human emotions in such a short period of time, which is deeply disorienting and disturbing. Ryan Tse directs this short film about a man’s descent into depression and mental illness after watching his only friend’s life progress as his stagnates. The mood in this film is alternately frantic and despondent—hilarious and terrifying—claustrophobic and unconstrained. I found myself laughing at the same time my skin was crawling. But throughout, the film has an aura of very deep sadness. The film highlights the very personal and self-imprisoning nature of mental illness. My favorite part about this film was the unsettling feeling that you aren’t exactly sure how much time is passing. The main character goes about his “routine,” preparing his tea, contemplating his novel, thinking about his friend, and duly tearing off calendar pages. But viewers get the sneaking suspicion that his mental state is affecting his perception of time. His mind is as stalled out as his novel and he will end up dying in this prison he has created for himself without ever realizing what has happened. I may be reading a lot of my own fears into this film, but that’s what a great film does. It makes you more aware of your own subconscious thoughts. A winner.

Movie: I Don't Sleep I Dream
My Rating: 3 stars

This is a good, old-fashioned morality play. J.P. Chan directs this short film, which delves into the tortured psyche of the guilty. This is a guilt that creates feverish nightmares and cold sweats. The main character is a frivolous woman who flees the scene of a car accident she causes. But her guilt begins to gnaw at her conscience and she slips into nightmares. A modern Tell Tale Heart, if you will. The dream logic alone is distressing, but the imagery is simply terrifying. I think that the special effects are the strongest aspect of this film. Very attention grabbing and bone chilling. A strong showing.

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