Monday, July 26, 2010

Fantasia Day 17 - If a Tree Falls

This was my Saturday night midnight showing at da Sève and I've been putting it off. I am an overly critical asshole usually, until I know people involved and am aware of a good faith effort, than I become way too nervous about hurting people's feelings. I met the guys behind If a Tree Falls (and Neverlost) in the hallway of da Sève and they seemed like really cool, nice guys, trying to promote their film. I was psyched for If a Tree Falls because I was hoping for some crazy midnight madness.

I am not a big aficionado of the genre that has manifested itself as "grindhouse". I arrived in New York just as that great era in Times Square was coming to a close. Disney had not yet taken it over, the sketchiness was still there, but there were only one or two theatres left and they were showing mainly second run mainstream movies. Growing up in Nanaimo, video stores did have a pretty good selection of weird and nasty stuff on VHS, but we were too young to know what we were looking for beyond the chop-sockey films and only got a small taste. Since then, most of my education has come from magazines, websites and books by fans who wrote lovingly and richly of the period. The best and most entertaining resource for me is Robin Bougie's Cinema Sewer. It doesn't only deal with grindhouse films, but it has a ton of info on the movies themselves and their history. I strongly recommend it (it's a monthly magazine, but you can get the collected back issues in two volumes, which I found at Fantasia a couple years ago), as well as his fun website.

I understand that If a Tree Falls was meant as an hommage to grindhouse films and I was looking forward to seeing that through a Canadian lens. The story is about two guys and two girls on a road trip to the Maritimes. They get attacked by a group of baddies wearing stocking masks and are then harrassed and tortured silently for the bulk of the movie.

Here is what was good: the look and sound, particularly in the beginning and end really capture the low budget style of the films it is mimicking, the masks are really creepy and well done, there is a bit of okay gore at the end.

That's really it. The major problem is that it is boring. The bulk of the movie is the victims being badly tied up and the stockingheads slapping them in the face lightly over and over again. There is also a lot of one woman whimpering and crying (which is pretty in genre). It just goes on and on and nothing really happens. You have no idea why they are doing it and you just don't care. Another problem is that it is filmed in Ontario and there is nothing really threatening in Ontario. Now if these were some Smithers logger rednecks or psycho Kootenays dope farmers, there might have been some real menace. Instead, it looked like the protagonists had been kidnapped by a bunch of ironic Roller Derby fans with their weird little black dancer shoes and long cut-offs. I know there was a lot of weird pacing and lack of plot in the old grindhouse movies, but there was also a lot of chaos. Crazy characters, random bursts of action, nudity were the things that audiences wanted and they got them, usually at a relatively rapid fire pace. Check out the winning fake trailer of the Grindhouse movie contest: Hobo with a Shotgun (which I've heard is being made into a feature). Perhaps there is some revisionism going on here, but I'll take it if it means a more entertaining film.

So I applaud the effort and I hope that these guys can get some money together to keep working, but they are going to need to tighten up and start inserting some chi into their movies before I'll go check out another one.

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