The last few weeks have felt like an endless marathon for this writer, trying to keep up with a myriad of cinematic delights, including this latest batch of films I saw while at the 2017 Fantastic Fest last month. Read on for my thoughts on this trio of amazing indie movies, including first-time feature filmmaker Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge, My Friend Dahmer from Marc Meyers, and Let the Corpses Tan by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani.
Revenge: It’s no secret that the decision to attend Fantastic Fest this year came with some controversy attached to it, especially in regards to the issues of sexual assault and the way women can be, and have been, treated by society. And for Fargeat, she embraced this controversy with her bold decision to still screen her film Revenge in Austin, and I have to say, I am SO glad she did. In what seems like your typical vengeance-fueled setup, Fargeat surprises us again and again in Revenge, making it one of the most essential genre films with a message that’s both timely and timeless.
The film starts off as we meet Richard (Kevin Janssens), a wealthy middle-aged businessman who is off for a weekend away, first spending a few days with his side piece Jen (Matilda Lutz) and then rolling that into his annual hunting trip with his “boys” (played by Vincent Columbe and Guillaume Bouchede). But when Jen is attacked and raped by one of his friends, she demands that Richard do something about it before she reveals his dirty little secrets to his wife, ultimately threatening his (selfish) way of life. But rather than do the right thing, the philanderer decides to kill Jen, and make her death look like an accident as to avoid any suspicion. What he and his buddies don’t anticipate is that Jen miraculously survived the attempt on her life, and she’s not about to take their atrocious misdeeds lying down.
The hard thing about making a successful rape-revenge movie is finding a thoughtful way to navigate your ideas through such treacherous storytelling terrain. So many films have mucked it up badly over the years that I personally find this sub-genre in particular one of the hardest to “enjoy” (or find entertaining?), because there’s just so much unpleasantness whenever directors don’t fully comprehend the purpose of these types of films. But man, does Fargeat get it, though, and not only does she wholly embrace all the tropes that accompany this type of story in Revenge, she also squarely turns every single one of them on their head, resulting in a visceral and thrilling viewing experience.
The overall sum of Revenge is absolutely triumphant, but it’s all the moving parts that Fargeat manages in her cinematic tale of redemption and retribution that makes her ambitious efforts here so impressive. One of the first things I noticed was that she had cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert alter his shooting style of Jen, starting off provocatively to demonstrate her character’s initial “eye candy” status in the eyes of these me, to then shooting Lutz in a style that visually reflected her character’s transformation and her prevailing will to survive, and triumph, at any cost. Fargeat also utilizes a lot of pink and blue hues throughout Revenge, which I’m guessing is her visual nod to the notion of “boys” and “girls,” but for as much as her film is scorchingly vibrant in a variety of hues, her blood-soaked finale is painted in nothing but crimson, featuring one of the most insane one-location shootouts I’ve ever witnessed in a film.
Shudder recently acquired Revenge and I do recommend folks give it a view, even if you find the subject matter at hand particularly hard to handle. Fargeat’s unforgettable exploration of sexual violence and its repercussions is something of a stunner, both on a physical and emotional level, and is without a doubt a film whose message is so very needed in this day and age.
Movie Score: 4/5
My Friend Dahmer: Chances are, many of us have those stories about folks we grew up with who eventually went on to gain a bit of notoriety, either as actors, musicians, writers, or even professional athletes. But what it if you spent your formative years with someone who turned out to be a serial killer? That’s what happened with John “Derf” Backderf, who was a classmate and pal of Jeffrey Dahmer’s back in high school during the 1970s. He wrote a brilliant graphic novel about his experiences, entitled My Friend Dahmer, and filmmaker Marc Meyers recently adapted the book into a stunning cinematic effort that’s anchored by a haunting and unforgettable performance from Ross Lynch in the titular role.
While his heinous actions may have solidified his place in history as one of the most disturbing people to ever walk this planet, My Friend Dahmer shows us just how ordinary the serial killer’s path in life started off as an awkward teen growing up in a small town in Ohio. Dahmer, not one to really fit in, begins “acting out” while at school, catching the attention of “Derf” (Alex Wolff) and a few of his pals who invite Jeffrey to become part of their group. They continue to hang out throughout the next few years of high school, but we watch as Jeffrey’s mental state begins to deteriorate due to a multitude of issues, alienating him from his friends and sending his violent urges into a horrific tailspin. Sure, we know how this story ends, but My Friend Dahmer still remains a thought-provoking character study that will stick with you for some time after, all the same.
What’s so interesting about My Friend Dahmer is just how average the titular character was during his teenage years. Sure, he was awkward, but so were a lot of other kids, and we see how his pranks actually elevated Jeffrey to an almost cult-like status amongst his peers (they even start a “Dahmer Fan Club” at one point). But then, as his pals get older and more interested in girls and growing up, a sadness sets in with Dahmer as he realizes that his friends aren’t nearly as interested in spending time with him, as they’ve lost interest in his shenanigans and he relates to them on very little else.
Dahmer’s home life was equally sad, as we learn that his mother (played by a wonderfully unrecognizable Anne Heche) struggled deeply with mental illness, and his father (Dallas Roberts) could hardly handle the enormous responsibilities of two kids plus a wife who couldn’t be trusted alone, as well as a full-time job, and we see the toll of how such a challenging familial situation continuously ate away at Jeffrey’s already fractured psyche.
Something else I noticed about My Friend Dahmer is that it never tries to point any fingers at any of Jeff’s classmates or his parents, simply because even though he may have been a little “off” (in terms of what other characters witness, not necessarily the other material of Dahmer off by himself, because there are certainly numerous red flags in various solo scenes), there wasn’t really anything that would have indicated that this kid would grow up to become one of the most infamous serial killers and cannibals in the US.
Sure, Dahmer was fascinated by animal bones and organs, but most could chalk that up to “scientific curiosity,” and because he was mostly neglected by his parents, who spent most of their time focused on each other (or in the case of his mom, herself), Jeffrey and his dark proclivities moved about relatively unnoticed. His friends just figured that Jeff was a “spazz” (because of his humorous outbursts), but had no idea that just beneath the surface, there was a dangerous sociopath lurking.
Could Jeffrey Dahmer’s reign of terror have been prevented? It’s hard to tell, and My Friend Dahmer isn’t really here to make any assumptions about such possibilities, because the sad reality is that at this point, it doesn’t matter. Dahmer grew up to become a monster, leaving nearly 20 victims behind, and knowing that eventuality only heightens the hopelessness we see surrounding Jeffrey as he begins his startling descent into madness. My Friend Dahmer serves as a portrait of one ordinary teenager who grew up to be anything but, and Meyers' deeply affective examination of teenage angst makes for a cinematic story that’s both strikingly moving and wholly memorable.
Movie Score: 4/5
Let the Corpses Tan: Like a bullet-ridden fever dream, Let the Corpses Tan is the latest blistering effort from Belgian filmmakers Cattet and Forzani, whose previous films Amer and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears were equally powerful celebrations of hyper-stylized exercises in filmmaking. There’s no doubt that this duo set out to make movies that are so distinctly theirs, and yet there’s something about their approach that makes any of their cinematic stories feel just as timeless as the films they continue to tip their proverbial directorial hats towards, and that’s not an easy line to walk as you forge your own path as a storyteller.
Based on the 1971 novel of the same name, Let the Corpses Tan feels perfectly in line with the era in which its source material was released, with every frame dripping in a giallo-meets-spaghetti-western vibrancy and a palpable sense of swagger. The story follows a group of thieves led by Rhino (Stéphane Ferrara), who steal 250 kilos of gold doubloons and hole up at a remote set of ruins run by Luce (Elina Lowensohn), a powerful and evocative painter who relishes watching the worst come out in people out of her own perpetual malaise. The robbers almost get away with their caper, until a pair of cops and some other unexpected arrivals show up at their hideout, resulting in an all-out blood bath that tests everyone’s loyalties and leaves bodies strewn everywhere in its wake.
When it comes to visual style, Let the Corpses Tan has more than enough to go around. Gold-spattered cutaways blend with the gritty, aggressive nature of their narrative, giving us multiple perspectives of various scenarios (akin to Reservoir Dogs), which adds to the complexity of the deadly standoff these characters find themselves scrambling to survive. It’s fair to say that Luce is perhaps the most thoroughly fleshed-out character in this film, as we learn of her past activities that include bondage and other taboo sexual fetishes, but that’s not to say that the other characters aren’t given their own moments to shine, either. They are, but it’s clear from minute one that Luce is the queen who rules over this story, and so we spend the most time with her, and Lowensohn makes the most of her screen time.
As far as craftsmanship goes, the editing is meticulous, the cinematography is jaw-dropping, and the sound design takes Forzani and Cattet’s story to a completely different level, as we hear every bone break, the sizzle of every cigarette smoked, and every last gasp of breath taken throughout the deliriously brutal game that the filmmakers are playing with these characters.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Let the Corpses Tan has all the earmarks of a cult classic in the making, so here’s hoping that the often challenging visual prose of Cattet and Forzani can find the audience it so richly deserves. It’s absolutely not going to be a movie for everyone, but for those who relish films that aren’t afraid to push a variety of boundaries, then you’re undoubtedly the perfect target for Cattet and Forzani’s relentlessly frenzied filmmaking sensibilities that are so confidently on display throughout Let the Corpses Tan.
Movie Score: 3.5/5
In case you missed it, check here to read all of our Fantastic Fest 2017 reviews and interviews.