Wednesday 29 October 2008
Toronto After Dark 2008 - "Home Movie"
The honour of creepiest film of Toronto After Dark this year definitely goes to Christopher Denham's "Home Movie". Under the guise of found footage, the entire film is shot from the point of view of one of the members of a family (whoever happens to be filming with the family camera at a given time) - Dad (a pastor), Mom (a child psychologist) or one of the kids. Via moments taken mostly from holidays or special events when you would want to preserve some memories, we slowly see the children become more and more evil. A very cold-blooded evil. They crush a frog in vice grips. They crucify their cat. Then they set their sights on their parents. And the atmosphere becomes stifling.
Because of their jobs, it seems that the parents don't spend a lot of simple "quality" time with their kids. Adrian Pasdar nails the annoying "I'm such a comedian" father (a little too well - he was starting to bug the hell out of me) who likely is so busy with his congregation that the only time he spends with the kids is when he's videotaping them - so he's gotta make it look great for the camera. Mom deliberates about what to do with other kids and sometimes uses the camera to record her own case files. It's only really after the family has moved to a secluded house do the kids start to act bizarrely. Because of the nature of the behaviour, Dad wants to perform an exorcism, while Mom wants to treat with medication. Their approaches towards their children seem to follow along with how they would treat a patient or a parishoner. They seem to have forgotten how to actually "parent".
The danger with these types of films is that you have to be willing to believe that what is caught on film is all by accident - that someone with a camera would be willing to continue filming even with horrendous things happening around them. In this case it works and it works very well. Several of the disturbing moments are actually cut off as the parent filming suddenly jerks the camera or turns it off at the realization of what they are seeing through their viewfinder. There's likely some moments later in the film where you could probably question why the taping continues, but it doesn't matter - by then you've bought into the concept and you're waiting for what will happen next. Some of the most effective moments are the quick pans to one side of the room followed by a quick pan back to something new in the frame - perhaps both children standing there when moments ago they were lying down.
A walk through a few rooms late at night can be enormously tense and whether it pays off in a sudden fright or not, it keeps you right on the edge. Partially, that's due to the early slowness of the film that takes its time building the behavioural patterns of the children. It's also due to some terrific camerawork which very naturally pulls in the elements required into the frame. The concept's conventions get toyed with even more as the video you are watching will suddenly reverse itself or fast forward to later in a scene. There's even a few sections where another scene is edited in while the initial audio continues. It's a great trick especially when you understand why it's taking place.
But it's all about the atmosphere. The creepy, dread-filled atmosphere.
A reversal of sorts was the theme for tonight's opening short film "Auburn Hills Breakdown". Instead of the fish-out-of-water experience of urbanites being stranded in the back country woods, the film shows a hillbilly-esque family with car troubles in an upscale neighbourhood. They stumble upon a huge suburban style house and are invited in by the typical, if kinda disturbing, man and woman of the house. There's some nice touches that indicate there may be more behind the facades of the homeowners while the humour comes in both expected and unexpected ways as the back woods folks try to understand the environment they are in.