Toronto After Dark 2013 - Day 7

The penultimate night of Toronto After Dark Film Festival (8th for the festival; 7th for me) was Scary Night! The features included were Bobcat Goldthwait's found-footage Bigfoot movie, Willow Creek, and the MKUltra Project-inspired, Banshee Chapter. Both were preceeded by eerie shorts, and followed by great filmmaker Q&As.

Short: The Lamp (d: Trevor Juras)

This one is about online dating and the risks it entails. It begins with a long take in a taxi with two people on a first date. Between the bumps in the road and the awkward conversation, the tension has already begun to build. As the short went on, I had no idea where it was going.  It's eerie, weird, and pretty funny.

Rating: 4 out of 5

The first feature, Willow Creek, was introduced by Rue Morgue and Sasquatch himself, who took some questions from the audience!

Feature: Willow Creek (d: Bobcat Goldthwait)
(Toronto Premiere)

Bobcat Goldthwait departs from his usual brand of dark comedy for this straight-forward found-footage-style horror film. Jim (Bryce Johnson) has always dreamed of visiting the California site where the famous Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot footage was taken in the 60s. He brings his girlfriend Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) along for the trip as they shoot a documentary.

Most of the movie follows the duo around the small town as they meet locals - the friendly, and the not-so-friendly. The leads are so likeable and funny that they're never a bore. Once the spooky stuff sets in, I enjoyed the way the camera is utilized only when it realistically would be, so sometimes the viewer is only given fragments of the action. Plus, there is an impressive long-take that takes up one-quarter of the film's entire runtime. Kudos to the actors on that one.

Personally, I don't find these kinds of films scary, but if The Blair Witch Project was your thing, this ought to creep you out. Much like that film, Willow Creek is minimalistic, straight-forward and restrained in what it shows you. It relies strongly on sound FX and your investment in these characters. I think the actors are fantastic and the town is interesting, but as a horror film, this just isn't my cup of tea.

Rating: 3 out of 5

After the screening, Goldthwait did a Q&A which was, naturally, hilarious. The video is too spoilery to share but here are some non-spoiler highlights:

- The actors were really stuck in a tent in the woods and not told what would happen. Bryce Johnson actually cried he was so scared.

- The film was inspired by The Legend of Boggy Creek, Grizzly Man, and mumblecore.

- Goldthwait, who encountered mountain lions while filming, remarked, "The irony of being mauled to death by a bobcat was not lost on me."

- To "dirty up" one actor, the crew used cinnamon, chocolate, oils, etc. While standing out in the woods, he realized he had just made "a bear donut."

- An audience member asked Goldthwait if he believes in Bigfoot. It was ultimately decided he is an "Apeiest."

- When asked about his next project, Bobcat said he wrote a script about "zombie fetuses that attack an abortion clinic." It's called Ankle Biters.

Short: Master (d: M Falcore)

A man wakes up with a head wound and has lost his memory. He tries to piece together his life based on objects he finds around the house. This one was made by the folks behind one of my absolute favorite entires in the first ABCs of Death contest - "T is for Thread." Unfortunately, I found this one pretty predictable and anti-climactic, though it's shot well.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Feature: Banshee Chapter (d: Blair Erickson)
(North American Premiere)

In the 1950s, the CIA experimented on civilians with mind-altering chemicals such as LSD. It was known as the MKUltra Project. Banshee Chapter uses that bit of dark history as the basis for a horror film. When a writer investigating a CIA-synthesized drug called DMT-19 goes missing, his journalist friend (Katia Winter) sets out to solve his disappearance. She enlists the help of a gun-loving, acid-dropping novelist played by Ted Levine (who is full-blown Hunter S. Thompson in this).

The concept of this film, though derivative of many things, is a great one. It combines hallucinogenic drugs, conspiracy theories, shortwave broadcasts of unknown origin, and H.P. Lovecraft. As a horror film, however, it falters. The scares are cheap, repetitive, and follow that lame J-horror trend of saggy-faces-and-black-eyes. It's a shame, too, because that stuff really cheapens an otherwise interesting movie.

I wish Banshee Chapter had more Lovecraft and less Ringu. There are also some script inconsistencies I cannot go into without spoiling things, but they really brought the film down for me. There is a good movie hiding in there - some kind of cross between From Beyond and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - but it's lost in all the generic stuff horror fans are sick of. At least it's fun to watch Levine chew scenery.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

The subsequent Q&A with the director and producer was informative and interesting, as they discussed the true history of MKUltra and how the creepy shortwave radio broadcasts used in the film are 100% real, which is especially eerie once you know how they play into the story.

 Both features from Scary Night at TADFF have real history behind them that is more interesting than the film itself. I preferred the visual style and concept of Banshee Chapter, but felt Willow Creek was ultimately better executed. Unfortunately, neither film blew me away, but both Q&As were quite good.

Click here for my coverage of CLOSING NIGHT, including reviews of two critically-acclaimed films: Cheap Thrills and Big Bad Wolves (which Quentin Tarantino called 2013's best movie).

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