For 2018, Fantastic Fest played host to over 100 horror, sci-fi, and action-themed feature and short films, and Daily Dead had the opportunity to see numerous titles while in Austin for all the movie-related festivities. For today’s review round-up, here are my thoughts on the supernatural-driven tale of Indian horror, Tumbbad, the psycho-sexual thriller Cam, and Winston Azzopardi’s survival horror film (with a twist), The Boat.
Tumbbad: I feel slightly uncultured, but Tumbbad from directors Adesh Prasad and Rahi Anil Barve is my first foray into Indian genre filmmaking (save for some over-the-top clips from some ’80s movies I viewed in passing while at various Drafthouses over the years), but based on their efforts here, I’m an instant fan, and I hope Tumbbad leads to more projects for this directorial team, because they both prove that they have the chops to deliver lavish, concept-heavy themes without sacrificing all the fun stuff that comes along with watching a horror movie.
The story setup here is that there is an evil god lurking deep below a broken-down colonial estate located in the rural village of Tumbbad, who has spent an eternity protecting an infinite stash of gold from those who succumb to their own greedy desires. Vinayak’s family has spent decades guarding the decrepit homestead, and when it becomes his time to step up and make sure this secret fortune and its dangerous protector remain hidden away from the world, his own desire for a better life gets the best of him, and he sets out to trick the beast into giving up some of the gold. It works the first time, which allows Vinayak to establish himself as a man of means, but as his thirst for wealth begins to take over, he embarks on a dark and dangerous path he may not be able to escape when all is said and done.
While it could use a little tightening in terms of its story, Tumbbad is a haunting and timeless exploration of just how badly greed can corrupt any of us, and we see that perfectly embodied in Vinayak’s journey throughout the film, where he makes some pretty horrendous decisions because of his need to posture as a respected figure in his small community. I really enjoyed the film’s rich mythology created by Prasad and Barve, and while Tumbbad is pure classic horror through and through, its finale is ambitiously crazy, and in some ways, it reminded me of The Descent meets The Evil Dead. I’m not sure what the distribution plans are for Tumbbad, but I do hope someone nabs it, as it’s a deserving entry for what seems like a new era in Indian horror.
Movie Score: 4/5
Cam: Cam is a movie that has been on my radar for a while now, after its screening at Fantasia in July. Centered around the world of camgirls and those who love them (and maybe love them too much), the film follows Alice (Madeline Brewer), who performs online as Lola, and she’s obsessed with becoming one of the best cam girls out there, as her shocking cam shows continues to build an audience within her digital network. Despite her ambition, Lola has a moral code she sticks to when she’s performing, wanting to get ahead in her online career strictly because she worked hard for it, and it helps her connect with her devoted fanbase, who help raise her profile through their interactions and tips. One day, Alice tries to log on to her account, but discovers that someone else has taken over her channel, and the “new Lola” isn’t afraid to break all of the “real Lola’s” rules, which drives Alice to the brink as she desperately tries to reclaim her identity.
For as much as it is a cautionary tale for all of us out there who live a significant portion of our lives online (myself included), Cam is also an intriguing study of a woman who just wants a better life for herself, and while most of the outside world would be disapproving of her profession, Alice still remains the sweet and lovably optimistic girl that her friends and family have always known. All of this hinges on Brewer’s performance in Cam, and the actress soars in the role that not only will charm you, but also provides viewers with a sympathetic look into the modern sex industry and thoughtfully humanizes the cam girl industry, which I really appreciated. Alice might be engaged in an industry most of us don’t really understand, but Brewer’s performance makes her character’s plight so very relatable, regardless of what you may do for a living.
That being said, my biggest issue with Cam is its finale, as I thought it ventured into a place that felt woefully out of line with everything that preceded it. Some may disagree, and I respect that, but considering how grounded the previous 80 or so minutes of Cam felt, the conclusion seemed slightly disjointed to me. There’s no denying that first-time feature filmmaker Daniel Goldhaber has created something special with Cam, though, regardless of what happens in its final moments, and I look forward to seeing whatever he does next (the same goes for Brewer as well).
Movie Score: 3.5/5
The Boat: Going into The Boat, I thought I had the story pegged after doing a little reading up on the project, but the more time we spend on the titular vessel, it becomes very apparent that director Winston Azzopardi isn’t looking to give us a typical survival story, and I completely enjoyed the journey he takes us on once The Boat shifts into high gear.
The Boat starts off with a sailor (played by Joe Azzopardi) setting out aboard his own small boat, and he crosses paths out on the water with a mysterious sailboat without anyone on board. He hops aboard to try and figure out what happened and to radio for help, but a string of misfortunate events, coupled with a horrendous storm at sea, puts this sailor’s life in jeopardy repeatedly. From there, The Boat takes something of an intriguing left turn, one that would ruin some of the surprises that await audiences in the future. Suffice to say, if you think you know where The Boat is heading, I’m here to say that you couldn’t be any more wrong. The survival story of a man battling against the elements becomes something more akin to a story you’d see on an episode of The Twilight Zone, and I feel like that’s what I enjoyed most about it. When you watch hundreds of movies every year, you just want a filmmaker to surprise you every now and again, and The Boat delivers up a few clever twists that kept my curiosities piqued from start to finish.
A brilliant thriller that relies on natural elements and in-camera gags to build its rollercoaster at sea, The Boat is a film that cleverly turns some of the film’s elements, like water and the ship itself, into a ferocious monster that forces our protagonist to exhibit some quick thinking in order to survive his unbelievable experiences upon a sea-faring vehicle. And considering we get very little backstory or insight as to what is driving this guy, Joe Azzopardi does a great job of drawing us in to his plight, making for a compelling performance that is wholly necessary to the success of The Boat. Oh, and the film is also the first horror movie to come out of Malta as well, and that is a pretty rad accomplishment to boot.
Movie Score: 4/5
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