Over the course of its eight-day run, Fantastic Fest 2018 played host to over 100 feature and short films, and Daily Dead had the opportunity to screen numerous titles while in Austin for all the festivities. Here are my thoughts on three wildly different films I had the opportunity of seeing: Jeremy Saulnier’s Hold the Dark, Luz from up-and-coming director Tilman Singer, and the latest from The Greasy Strangler’s Jim Hosking, An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn.
Hold the Dark: For his latest movie, Jeremy Saulnier re-teams with Macon Blair to bring William Giraldi’s novel Hold the Dark to life, and while the adaptation features strong performances, stunning cinematography, and perfectly showcases Saulnier’s keen abilities as a storyteller who never shies away from provocative and challenging material, as a whole, I just never really connected with Hold the Dark as a viewer, and its rumination on the natural order of violence just left me cold. It’s an incredibly well-made movie, but it’s just not a movie for me.
Hold the Dark is something of a mystery thriller centered around the deaths of several small children living in a remote Alaskan village, which shocks the small community, as the residents believe a pack of wolves are the culprits behind the violent deaths. One day, Medora Slone’s (Riley Keough) son goes missing after playing in the front yard, so she asks author and wolf expert Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) to help figure out what happened to her son, so that she can provide her husband, Vernon (Alexander Skarsgård), with answers once he returns from duty over in the Middle East. But as Russell sets out to find the pack of lupines behind these horrific acts, he stumbles into something far more sinister happening than he could have ever imagined.
At its core, Hold the Dark is a movie about violence and how isolation often begets violence, and while these are two of the major things explored in the film, it never quite has anything of real value to say about how these things are connected. In terms of characters, Hold the Dark perfectly showcases the talents of Wright, Keough, and Skarsgård, but the script plays it way too cryptic about just who these people are and why we should invest in them in the first place, ultimately making for something of an empty viewing experience. Also, early on when we meet Vernon overseas, there’s a sequence where we watch him violently disrupt another US soldier as he rapes a local woman, something that is supposedly meant for us to think of him as “heroic,” but you know, I’d just love if we could find new ways to establish cinematic heroes without having to rely on sexual violence to get the job done.
On a technical level, there’s no denying that Hold the Dark is easily Saulnier’s most ambitious film to date, and he proves once again that he is among one of the finest filmmakers of his generation. He quickly establishes an atmosphere of dread and emotional detachedness, with the cinematography from Magnus Nordenhof Jønck elevating the film’s mood beautifully. The sound design also ends up being a crucial component to Hold the Dark, particularly during a harrowing shootout sequence where bullets and blood flow freely. But all these brilliant touches, as well as a trio of strong performances, just weren’t enough for me as a viewer, and while I can acknowledge that there’s a great level of talent on display throughout Hold the Dark, it’s my least favorite project from Saulnier thus far. Others will definitely get more out of this movie, but it just was not my cup of tea.
Movie Score: 3/5
Luz: When it comes to obsessive demonic love stories, Luz is certainly one of the most unique I’ve ever seen, and is an experience that is best enjoyed knowing very little going into it, so I’m going to err on the side of brevity for this review. As a whole, though, Luz is a movie that feels difficult to describe and pin down, but to me, the best descriptor I could come up with was that Singer’s school-project-turned-festival-sensation is comparable to a young Brian De Palma if he decided to make Demons and set it inside of a police station (and added some slight Lifeforce flourishes in the mix for good measure).
As a filmic experience, Luz is completely hypnotic and unsettling, with Singer’s use of 16mm film adding so much to his overall cinematic vision. Most of the running time in Luz is spent focused squarely on the titular character (played by Luana Velis) as she recounts various experiences with a demonic presence that is hellbent on connecting with the young woman. Some of the scenes play out while Luz is under hypnotherapy, and we watch her physically re-enact her experiences as she’s prompted by an on-call psychologist (Jan Bluthardt), and while the whole exercise could have come off as silly to watch, the way Singer approaches the material makes all the difference. It’s a calculated risk, but one that pays off in some truly unexpected ways.
Because Luz is a project that Singer did as part of a school project, the one downside to the film is the fact that its 70-minute runtime doesn’t give us nearly enough time to revel in the hauntingly offbeat mood that draws viewers in throughout Luz. It was recently announced that Screen Media has nabbed it for distribution, and part of me wishes that they would give Singer some money to further expand his efforts on Luz, as there’s a lot of potential on display that could be further mined if the young director was provided with some extra resources. That being said, I still feel like Luz is undoubtedly a worthwhile experience for genre fans, as it is easily one of the most innovative genre throwbacks I’ve seen in quite some time, so if you do get a chance to see it down the line, I think it’s worth your time (especially on the big screen).
Movie Score: 3.5/5
An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn: With both The Greasy Strangler and now An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn under his directorial belt, there’s no denying that no one makes quirky comedies quite like Jim Hosking. That being said, they’re certainly not movies made for mass audiences, but that’s what makes his films so bizarrely endearing to me—they’re not afraid to march to the beat of their own idiosyncratic drums, and that is something I will always appreciate as a viewer. That being said, An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn does suffer from some tonal unevenness, and a comedic rhythm that some people might not gel with. While watching, I was completely lured in by its central story about a woman frustrated by her marriage, who is in search of a real emotional connection, and ends up finding it in the most unlikely of places.
Lulu Danger (played by the always delightful Aubrey Plaza) is at something of a crossroads in her life: she’s just been fired from her job by her husband, Shane (Emile Hirsch), of all people, and the event has only exacerbated just how unsatisfied Lulu feels about her life. Facing some economic difficulties, Shane decides to rob Lulu’s brother, but after the heist goes horribly and the world’s worst hitman (Jemaine Clement) shows up on their doorstep, Lulu decides to run off with the assailant after she learns that her enigmatic ex, Beverly Luff Linn (Craig Robinson), is playing a mysterious show that’s being held at a local hotel. From there, even more hilarity ensues.
While the film might have benefitted from some fine-tuning, especially when certain jokes don’t quite stick their landing, An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn is still endlessly delightful, and the film soars whenever Plaza and Clement are on screen together. Despite the fact that Hosking likes to revel in absurdity sometimes, there’s a real emotional core to his latest film that makes it hugely relatable, even when his characters are doing these often outlandish things, which I think is the biggest difference between The Greasy Strangler and this project. The comedic talent that Hosking assembles for his latest movie is an embarrassment of riches as well, as they fully commit to living in this oddball world of An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn, which really elevates the story from being just something of an exercise in eccentricity. As mentioned, Hosking's caper comedy isn’t going to be for everyone, but I easily succumbed to its irresistible charms.
Movie Score: 3.5/5
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