Horror at SXSW: 'Beast,' 'V/H/S' and 'Lovely Molly' Attempt to Scare the Pants Off Festgoers, but Do They?

Horror at SXSW: 'Beast,' 'V/H/S' and 'Lovely Molly' Attempt to Scare the Pants Off Festgoers, but Do They?

Mar 15, 2012

Beast - Directed by Christoffer Boe - Denmark

It’s always interesting to see a director work with the same themes in a new way. In this case, Beast is another horrific, microscopic examination of obsessive love in the midst of a crumbling relationship, much like Christoffer Boe’s earlier film Offscreen. But, whereas Offscreen was unflinching and straight-forward, Beast is a much more ambiguous, abstract affair.

Boe once again relies on Nicolas Bro to play the obsessive lover (Bruno), pairing him against Marijana Jankovic as his wife Maxine. We catch them at a crucial time in the dissolution of their relationship, with Maxine still allowing Bruno’s increasingly violent sexual advances despite being vocal about their being no chance of reconciliation. She’s keeping a lover on the side, but finds it more and more difficult to leave Bruno, especially as he’s stricken by an unexplained malady that also seems to be driving him mad.

The film is often beautiful and always well-acted, but the subtext is murky at best. Is Maxine the beast of the title as Bruno suggests early on? Is Bruno? And what exactly is going on with Bruno’s stomach? The tension in Beast is heightened with ominous moments of body horror (very reminiscent in tone to Marina Del Van’s In My Skin), but without any particular pay-off to the story at hand. In that way, Offscreen is the more directly satisfying film, but Beast may be the one that most demands a re-examination.

V/H/S - Directed by David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, and Adam Wingard - USA

With V/H/S, some of indie filmmaking’s brightest up-and-comers have gotten together to create an anything-goes found-footage horror anthology film. Sounds pretty exciting, right? Well, V/H/S is not so much a swing and a miss as it is a foul ball - a piece of middling, monotonous entertainment that could’ve used more collaboration and less scattershot “make whatever” philosophy.

As it is, the stories within V/H/S all rely on many of the same tricks, including crappy VHS tracking problems and squelching bursts of digital static, all for effect. There’s also a pervading sense of frat boy “bros before hoes” attitude that colors V/H/S in an unexpected way, making the film, which is already visually ugly, philosophically ugly as well. A more hands-on approach to the project might have co-ordinated the stories in a different way, allowing them to compliment and play off each other, instead of allowing creative redundancies to happen under the guise of complete filmmaking freedom.

The shorts taken on their own might be perfectly acceptable found-footage episodes, but digested as a whole film, packaged together, it becomes a difficult thing to watch. It’s intentional cheapness becomes something that holds it back from greatness. It’s hard to sit through something that’s shot so poorly, but harder still when you know that the people behind it are all truly talented individuals.

Lovely Molly - Directed by Eduardo Sanchez - USA

Lovely Molly is a truly unique horror film, a slow burn, supernatural rumination on the lingering effects of sexual abuse and the self-destruction it can cause. Tim and Molly are newlyweds who move into Molly’s childhood home, a home where her father recently passed. It’s not too long before Molly, with video camera in hand, starts feeling her father’s presence in the house, opening old wounds from her own troubled past.

Sanchez’s goals are lofty. He’s using horror as his brush, but the picture he’s painting is not that of a horror film; but an indie drama. The result is an unusually sophisticated, adult horror film that explores how ghosts of the past can truly damage relationships in an honest, unpleasant way. Dressed up with genre tropes, Lovely Molly’s intentions are not always immediately clear. By the time the film’s profoundly troubling resolution comes around, you begin to realize that Sanchez has created something truly special here -- a subtle genre mash-up that delivers scares and pathos with equal success.

The film is bolstered by a convincing performance from newcomer Gretchen Lodge as Molly. She’s in virtually every scene in the film, and has to run Molly through every emotion imaginable (and some unimaginable). Lodge is a fearless actress, and makes a great case study for how important acting can be in such a maligned genre like horror. This is easily Sanchez’s best work as a director since The Blair Witch Project.

Categories: Features, Reviews, Horror
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