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TIFF: Sea Fever

The ocean depths hold many secrets. Marine biologist Siobhán (Hermione Corfield) has devoted her young career to studying the patterns of ocean life in an effort to take the mystery out of the sea. Little does she know that a sea creature awaits her, beyond the scope of anything she has ever studied or could ever know.

Siobhán joins a fishing trawler manned by married couple Freya (Connie Nielsen) and Gerard (Dougray Scott). Fisherman are incredibly superstitious and Siobhán’s red hair is a sign that they’re in for some bad luck. Also on the vessel are a trio of fisherman Sudi (Eli Bouakaze), Johnny (Jack Hickey) and Ciara (Olwen Fouere) as well as fellow scientist Omid (Ardalan Esmaili). Siobhán is quiet, serious and anti-social and the spirited Johnny starts to bring her out of her shell. The bad luck rears its ugly head when a luminous creature that spews a blue slime, latches its tentacles onto the boat. Siobhán, the only one on board equipped for scuba diving, meets the creature face to face. The shipmates soon learn that the creature has wiped out the crew of another trawler and they’re next. One by one the creature exposes its blue slime into open wounds, laying its eggs that explode out of its victims. Will the crew be able to escape in time before the creature infects them all?

Sea Fever feels both classic and brand new. It’s in the same vein of those classic sci-fi thrillers where the creature serves a vessel to help tell a very human story. Writer and director Neasa Hardiman offers a slick and emotionally devastating story. There are so many themes that come bubbling up to the surface. Man versus nature, fear of the unknown, the importance of social bonds, and self-sacrifice for a greater cause.

There are no stereotypes. Everyone is their own character, true to themselves and not a pawn for the sake of the story. Siobhán is a fascinating protagonist and Hermione Corfield does her justice. Studious, smart and emotionally distant, we see her grow over time as she becomes the film’s hero. It’s great to see what a woman director/writer can do with a science fiction story featuring a strong female lead. Sea Fever had me enthralled. I usually don’t go for this genre but I’m glad I took a chance on this film. It’s thrilling in a quiet way. It’s not splashy, doesn’t depend on elaborate action sequences or fancy special effects (although the special effects it does have are pretty slick). Instead it latches on to its characters and won’t let go.

Sea Fever had its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival as part of their Discovery series.

Nothing Really Happens

“Ohhh. You’re at a crossroads.”

Behth

Dave (Adam Edwards) drifts through life just going through the motions day in and day out. He’s the face of Mattress Temple, the mattress store he inherited from his dad. When he’s not at work he’s at home having awkward interactions with his emotionally distant wife Jess (Lindsay Gustin). One day everything changes. He learns from his sole employee Miguel (Sami Ismail ) that the health department investigated a bed bug infestation and shut down the store until further notice. Someone is leaving mysterious piles of poop in his neighbor Carl’s (Joseph Graham) yard. A strange old woman is lurking behind trees. Jess seems more disconnected from Dave than ever. Dave decides to take up smoking and has an odd encounter with an angry store clerk Behth (Anna Tran). Then there are the glitches in time, mysterious globs of blood, a urinal that serves as a time portal and a deer man who appears out of nowhere. Half way through Dave’s journey everything resets and we discover that nothing really happened. Everything is back as it once was but Dave starts to question what was reality and what was a figment of his imagination. It turns out that his well-meaning but misguided friend Randy (Bobby Dornbos) has put him through subconscious coercion therapy and tries to reset the damage of the first go ‘round. Dave struggles to make sense of what has happened or hasn’t happened as he uncovers even more confusing secrets about his reality.

“Do you think people notice how unaware they are?”

Randy

Nothing Really Happens is a quirky, offbeat film that blends The Matrix with Eternal Sunshine on a Spotless Mind. This Houston-based indie is writer/director Justin Petty’s film debut. It’s part science fiction, part comedy, part horror and 100% weird. You have to be in the right head space for this film otherwise it can overwhelm you with its peculiar brand of storytelling. The film serves as a metaphysical exploration of how disconnected we are as a society. Throughout the story there are various truth bombs dropped on the audience that make us pause and wonder if we’re really present in our own realities or if we’re detached like Dave. 

Nothing Really Happens is available on Amazon Prime, Tubi, Google Play, YouTube and iTunes. Visit the official website for more information. 

Starfish

“People are going to die anyways. Their stories don’t have to.”

Aubrey

If you could turn your grief into a horror film, what would it look like? A.T. White’s new film Starfish transforms the mourning process into a cosmic and post-apocalyptic drama that is as quiet and spare as it is fraught with tension and mystery.

After the sudden death of her best friend Grace (Christina Masterson), Aubrey (Virginia Gardner) travels back to her hometown for the funeral. The small town seems even smaller one day when Aubrey wakes up in Grace’s apartment to discover she’s the only one left. Extra-terrestrial creatures had invaded and killed everyone in town and possibly everyone else on earth. It isn’t until she comes face-to-face with one of the deadly creatures that she hears another human voice by way of a walkie talkie. Before Grace passed away, she uncovered a series of mysterious transmissions by which the creatures transported themselves to earth. Through a series of mixtapes she created a way to save Aubrey and save the world. The voices through the walkie talkie help Aubrey but eventually she must face the barren landscape and escape the creatures on her own. 

Starfish was written, directed, edited, produced and composed by A.T. (Al) White. This film is quite unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. It’s more of a mood than it is a cohesive story. White plays with different mediums and one scene is even told through animation. We’re never quite sure if what we’re seeing is reality or Aubrey’s dissociation as a result of her grief. I love how the film plays with our perceptions, distorts the story and both confuses and intrigues us at every turn. One beautiful shot projects an imagined scene on the ceiling. Another scene takes Aubrey out of her reality and onto a movie set where she sees a version of herself talking to a director and surrounded by a film crew. Very meta. The time setting is left ambiguous but there are some clues in the technology used including an old TV set, the FM/AM radio that receives the mysterious transmissions, a rotary phone, cassette tapes, etc.

Overall the film is quite intimate. We never stray far from Aubrey as she guides us through her world. The star Virginia Gardner is up to the task and delivers a beautiful and haunting performance. 

I interpreted the film as a metaphor for grief and mourning. When someone you love dies, it feels like they’ve abandoned you and you’re left to fend for yourself. I know I felt this way when my father passed. What they leave behind, in the case of Starfish it’s the mixtapes Grace leaves Aubrey, helps us get through the pain and the days to come. I could identify with the themes of loneliness and abandonment. 

As someone who doesn’t watch horror, I found this one to be manageable. There was enough to frighten me but not too much to overwhelm. It’s a film both horror enthusiasts and avoiders can appreciate.

Starfish is available on digital VOD through iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, FandangoNow and other platforms in select territories. The film is dedicated to Sayako Grace Robinson who passed away in 2014 and all profits the director makes from the film are to be donated to cancer research.

Maniac Landscapes

Maniac Landscapes is a hypnotic dream. One could even call it a beautiful nightmare. Windows serve as portals through which ethereal sources of light and energy feed the flowering pants below. These life forms snake toward the light, their buds opening dramatically. Streams and drops of liquid fall from an unseen source. Shades of red, pink, blue and purple are set against an infinite black landscape. In the background we hear ghostly sounds that are indistinguishable and haunting. The scene shifts when a skeleton appears, reconciling life with the concept of death. 

Maniac Landscapes is a 7-1/2 minute short film written, directed, edited and animated by Matthew Wade with sound design by Jacob Kinch. It is co-produced by Wade and Sara Lynch. Their short Eyes at the Specter Glass recently premiered at Slamdance (check out my review here). Wade describes the film with the following synopsis:

“As disembodied cries move through the rooms of a house, their emotional intensity provokes a reanimation of the dead, cosmic shifts, and the manipulations of time and place.”

Inspiration came to Wade from a series of dreams which he then interpreted into this this film. He gives it “a kind of dream logic in its final presentation.” It’s quite a surreal experience, as was Eyes at the Specter Glass and I’m looking forward to more from this innovative filmmaker.

If the events in the film were from my own dream, I’d interpret them as representations of the creative forces within us. The light, the liquid and the sounds are all sources of inspiration and the plants would symbolize the growth of ideas and the formation of our creative endeavors into their final artistic form. The skeleton’s presence would be thematic of how we take from past creations and breathe new life into them.

Maniac Landscapes premiered at the San Francisco Film Festival as part of their Best Animated Short competition line-up. It’s also part of the upcoming Alchemy Film and Arts Festival that takes place in Scotland next month.

Slamdance: Eyes at the Specter Glass

Eyes at the Specter Glass: A Cosmic Horror is a visual and auditory experience that requires your patience, your passivity and your attention. Set in the cosmos, this short film is composed of shifting and moving shapes that start off in black and white and then morph into beautiful blues, pinks and purples. If I were ever abducted by aliens, I can only imagine it would look, sound and feel a little like this. This film envelopes you in darkness, light and sound. There is no overstimulation here. Everything is gradual and paced to allow you to soak everything in. 

This 11-1/2 minute short film is directed, animated and scored by Matthew Wade with music mastering by Jacob Kinch. According to Wade, Eyes at the Specter Glass is about the “perception of reality and how we catalog life events through memory, bias and time.” The macrocosm of the universe is told through the perspective of the individual. 

Eyes at the Specter Glass is an experience worth your while if you allow yourself to submit to it. I could see this film as an installation at a museum, as long as it could be viewed in an enclosed space. 

Eyes at the Specter Glass premiered at Slamdance 25.

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