by Walter Chaw This is what I believe: I believe that men and women are essentially different and that those differences result in perspectives that are necessarily different. I don't consciously privilege one perspective over the other, but I acknowledge that I am not always aware of my prejudices. I think Wonder Woman would have been garbage if a man had directed it; and I think 20th Century Women, written and directed by a man, had beautiful roles for women. It's confusing and it can be exhausting, but at the end of the day, creating an equal opportunity for women and people of colour to tell stories (whether they're theirs or not) can only be good. So...
The Gaze **/**** (d. Ida Jogler)
Ida Jogler tackles sexual harassment in the workplace as a researcher (Siri Miller) at the lab of an unctuous doctor (Josh Caras) is invited into his office after hours for a spot of tea. She wakes up at home, talks to a girlfriend who suggests that maybe she's misreading the signals sent by the likely recipient of the Nobel Prize, gets drunk unadvisedly at a party, and then goes to work to find it all happening again. Ending with and holding on an ugly image and idea, The Gaze is well- shot and performed, even as what I think is intended as catharsis comes off as puerile. I do wish the complexities of harassment weren't presented quite so broadly, though as a quick exercise in wish-fulfillment, it's completely fine.
Lucy's Tale **/**** (d. Chelsea Lupkin)
So self-consciously a take on Carrie that it features a clip from the DePalma film, Chelsea Lupkin's picture centres on the titular Lucy (Irina Bravo) and her tail, which functions handily as a metaphor for her sexual awakening. Zach Fifer is the affable William Katt stand-in, and as Lucy is bullied and discovers that she's maybe telekinetic, the literal tail she begins to grow becomes at once a bad pun and an awkward device that obfuscates. Is the tail sentient? Is it responsible for the bleeding from the eyes? It's not literally clear, even as it's metaphorically crystal, and if the tail is meant to be the thing that distinguishes the film from other things, it doesn't work. Lucy's Tale is high concept that didn't need to be high concept. It's also completely fine.
Nose Nose Nose Eyes! **½/**** (d. Jiwon Moon, South Korea)
A film that would've been better in a world without Audition and the films of Kim Jee-woon, Nose Nose Nose Eyes! details the sad case of a little girl who tries to get along with her strange, distant mother while her father is tied to the bed with eyelid retractors fixed on his face. There's ocular trauma, a nice jump-scare, and some excellent cinematography that captures the deep blues of peak South Korean genre fare. The little girl's betrayal is interesting if mild as twists go, and ultimately there's not a lot there beyond sleekness. For what it's worth, the performances and the squirm moment make its familiarity worth it.
Voyager ***½/**** (d. Kjersti Helen Rasmussen, Norway)
Short, smart, beautiful, and scary, Rasmussen's film posits what would happen if an alien intelligence took the invitations sent into the void on the Voyager probe literally. A strange person (Enok Groven) appears at a remote outpost, is interrogated by a research scientist (Siv Torin Knudsen Petersen), and draws something on a pad of paper before revealing his true self. There's something to it of the mysterium tremens, aligning itself with meditative science-fiction pieces like Arrival and Under the Skin. A particular image of vegetation has lingered with me in the days since my screening, its suggestion at once horrific and, yes, beautiful. It's like Annihilation in that way, too, and I'm now waiting impatiently for Rasmussen to get a feature.
Catcalls ***/**** (d. Kate Dolan, Ireland)
Two women (Cesca Saunders and Edel Murphy) walking at night are harassed by a creep (Martin O'Sullivan) who drives off after he's discovered with his dick in his hand. At home, his long-suffering wife (Sarah Kinlen) is about to pull a double at the hospital when the bell rings and the women reveal themselves to be something other than just two more victims. A sci-fi-tinged revenge fantasy, Catcalls is hampered by terrible "Video Toaster" special effects but buoyed by a couple of very fine moments--including a pair of background reveals that are genuinely effective. Its epilogue is hackneyed, alas, but the framing of some of its set-pieces suggests a real talent in director Kate Dolan.
Puppet Master ***/**** (d. Hanna Bergholm, Finland)
Sort of a take on Nacho Cerda's Genesis, Hanna Bergholm's Puppet Master is ridiculously good when dealing with the titular puppet, considerably less so when it's not. A good thing, then, that most of it is about how a lonesome woman (Merja Poyhonen), looking for connection with a guy she sees in a bar one night (Jari Virman), volunteers herself to be turned into a puppet for his manipulation. It's a little on the nose, sure, but the artistry involved with the puppetry gives it an extraordinary degree of useful uncanniness. It provides perspective on abusive relationships by elevating them to some kind of art. I'm reminded a little of Charlie Kaufman's obsessions with puppets, and Puppet Master at its best approaches the strangeness of Anomalisa. I don't know that there's a second act here, but for what it is, it's worth the ride.
Who's Who in Mycology **/**** (d. Marie Dvorakova, Czech Republic)
A Jean-Pierre Jeunet shrine about a guy (Joel Brady) who takes a passed-out drunk woman (Johana Schmidtmajerova) home as an act of kindness, Dvorakova's film fast becomes involved in askew visuals, Rube Goldberg shenanigans, and Monty Python-esque broad animated slapstick. Indisputably technically accomplished, the piece ultimately outstays its welcome by a few minutes. It's quirk for the sake of it and the film in this block that's most obviously a calling card.
The Old Woman Who Hid Her Fear Under the Stairs **½/**** (d. Faye Jackson)
Sharing a premise with that episode of "The Twilight Zone" where Robert Redford plays Death, this finds an old woman (Sara Kestelman) buying what seems like an Internet scam, and successfully wrapping her fear in an old tin to stick in a storage room. She immediately begins to live her best life, until one night it becomes obvious that living without any fear whatsoever may have the same cost/benefit equation as not being able to feel any physical pain. Sure, it sounds great, but you don't know if you're on fire. A few things happen, the old woman tries to murder her fear, and the final image is either literal or another metaphor...and, you know, it all sort of unravels. Until then, Kestelman does a great job as a person growing older and more vulnerable to those who would exploit her fears, and of demonstrating what could happen to all of us if we could somehow not be afraid. If only its concept were as accomplished as that performance. Fantasia Fest 2018 - Programme: Selection 2018