Sometimes, film festivals speed by so quickly that there isn’t enough time to publish all of our content. Sometimes, the content is so good that we have to publish it later because we love it so much. This is some of that content.
The Vancouver International Film Festival can sometimes seem like a very pompous affair, with all of its line-ups and pass holders and fancy venues. It can be refreshing when all of the slow-burners are interrupted by a real wild card. Though, in the case of this year’s AAAAAAAAH!, directed by British filmmaker Steve Oram, I might not use the word ‘refreshing’, more likely ‘bizarre’. It was like Coronation Street but with tea-bagging involved. Or a Planet of the Apes directed by Tommy Wiseau. Whichever of the two you can visualize more clearly. In plain terms, the film was violent, graphic, and sexually explicit. The characters carried out their lives like apes, and I do not mean that metaphorically.
After acclimatizing myself to the bizarre grunts and phallic gore as best I could, I saw a very familiar story playing out onscreen. I was watching a family drama, albeit a deranged one. The matriarch of the family ditches her husband and instead gets freaky with a younger man, much to the dismay of her angsty, brooding daughter. While Mom has fun with her new suitor, the daughter seethes in the shadows, until eventually she falls in love with an equally despondent fellow. However, happiness can’t last forever. I won’t give away the final bit of the movie, but I will say that healthy familial boundaries are blatantly ignored by all. It’s enough to make you nauseous, to say the least. The characters’ ape-like behavioural patterns are purely shocking at first, but eventually become a sly critique on regression in society and perhaps a comedic version of primal patriarchy. Though, I really can’t say anything with complete confidence. I know there must have been a thematic direction within the film, but I was way too busy trying to forget the array of flaccid members and food spittle. This is not to say that it was a bad film, I just don’t know if I will ever get over it.
A film that I almost overlooked and ended up thoroughly enjoying was Jason Lei Howden’s Deathgasm. I bought my ticket late in the game and went to the mid-afternoon screening at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts rather than the evening one a few days earlier at the Rio Theatre. Even though I might have missed out on the late night atmosphere, Deathgasm was still a serious treat. A very bloody, campy, and obscene treat. Exemplary in its dry, tongue-in-cheek Kiwi humour, this cinematic gore-fest poked the perfect amount of fun at both cult sensibility and metalhead culture.
After the death of his mother, Brodie, moves in with his severely religious relatives and their bully of a son. While finding solace in the local record store, Brodie befriends fellow hardcore fan Zakk, and the two form a band. But when Brodie stumbles across a decrepit sheet of music and the two decide to play it themselves, death and terror reign down on their sleepy New Zealand town in the form of a demon-zombie apocalypse, until only their misfit group of friends are left to defeat the abounding evil. Howden directs the absurdity with skill, and uses genre tropes like low-fi special effects and hyperbolic character to his advantage. However, cult horror is notoriously misogynistic, and though this film tried to break from that pattern, it was not entirely successful. The film contained three noteworthy female characters, one being Brodie’s high school crush turned demon-fighting badass, another a low-ranking servant of hell who eventually usurps the head title, and the third a record store clerk who reads fortunes on the side. They operate in very different spheres and never interact with one another except during the film’s climax, and though they possess a certain amount of agency they still play a passive role in the film as a whole. I knew it was coming, but I still didn’t appreciate the genre sexism. However, apart from those few snags, Deathgasm was still a raucous bit of fun, presenting itself as a very clever addition to the cult canon.