My Toronto After Dark coverage ends with a grisly horror about the body modification world, a flashy short involving ecstasy and home invasions, and a short about a decomposing officer of the law.
Here are my reviews of American Mary, Trudy, and Bio-Cop. First, the short films.
Trudy (DIR. Bruce William Harper)
Trudy’s the type of film that wants to distract its audience with quick, non-stop edits to cover up the fact that it’s wafer-thin story-wise.
I have no doubt director Harper has made the film he’s wanted to make regarding the visuals. It has a very distinct style that successfully captures club nightlife. In fact, as Trudy starts up, you may find yourself wanting to party with the performers on screen.
However, Harper gets ahead of himself. Even though Harper has this style tamed for the first few moments of the short, the edits get more chaotic and rambunctious and moviegoers can’t help but feel the editor, along with Harper, lost the film’s footing early into the film.
The waters may be rocky but the story still continues. Trudy, after departing from the club with a mysterious man offering drugs, is discombobulated.
Family members are calling her and making sure she arrived home safely and reminding her to be careful.
I guess in retrospect, Trudy could be about a young woman’s rebellion and how it eats away at her causing her to lash out. This would further back up her decisions that come towards the end of Harper’s short. However, I made that connection after thinking incredibly hard about how everything could gel into each other. For a short with as straightforward a premise as that, audience members shouldn’t be having to burn this many calories to piece motivations together.
That said, we end up burning ourselves out trying to make sense of Trudy because a lot of it is underdeveloped. Caitlynne Medrek, the lead actress who plays the title character, seems confused as her character takes on a childlike mentality; almost taking on that type of infantile voice as well. We’d act upon that stature and buy into it except the part has been written in a way that really plays up those adolescent and innocent mannerisms and we honestly can’t believe a woman of that age would behave like that. It’s exactly like one of those situations where a movie has gotten older actors to play high school students.
All in all, Harper’s head needed to be more focused on the telling of the story and making the characters at least a little bit believable rather than shoving strobe lights in our faces.
Bio-Cop (DIR. Steven Kostanski)
Bio-Cop is a riotous blast from start to finish and with a near-perfect run time of five minutes.
The short mocks one of those trailers you would catch on a battered VHS you rented during the heyday of video stories. You don’t have to be part of generation-VHS to appreciate the hard work and the comedy found in Bio-Cop though. If you’re down for a gruesome and hilarious spoof utilizing yucky slime and gore, this is the perfect short for you.
Kostanski has made sure that the visuals all resemble something you would find in film from the ’80s, both in the footage and with the effects that have been applied in post-production. This is one of those cases where it’s hard to critique the film on what it did right on a technical standpoint because Kostanski and his crew have gone out of their way to emphasize the dated filmmaking.
Harsh lighting is a wash throughout and shaky camera movements are abound, but it is all relevant. The drive this crew had to go out of the way to make sure everything was authentic to the type of movie that was being made is astonishing.
As I said as well, the humour is on its A-game. The delivery of each line is highlighted but not in a way where the actors are winking towards the camera, and the practical effects are executed with hutzpah nailing each punchline.
In my first review post, I claimed that Annie and the Dog was my favourite short I saw at the festival. That may still be so. But, as for the short I had the most fun with and the hardest I’ve laughed during the festival, Bio-Cop takes the slimy cake.
I’ve never understood extreme body modifications.
Plastic surgery, sure! I wouldn’t do it myself but if someone wanted to alter a wrinkle here or there or cosmetically fix something minor, go sick. However, to want to manipulate your arm in such a way that looks unnatural and/or unusable, to give yourself horns, or to remove a body part altogether for kicks is something I can’t sign off on.
That said, it’s a great compliment to the Soska’s when I say they’ve made the people who want to carry out these extreme decisions understandable and make these characters’ love and passion for body modifications into something that is incredibly jarring but fully developed.
The film follows medical student Mary, played fantastically by Ginger Snaps’ Katherine Isabelle, as she slowly figures out that student life and a successful financial life aren’t easy to balance at the same time. In order to gain some extra cash, she auditions for a position at a shady nightclub but soon finds herself helping the club owner with a messy situation that calls upon someone with medical abilities.
Word gets around that Mary is competent at these jobs and soon strangers are phoning her up to ask if she would carry out secretive body modifications.
We see Isabelle go through a complete transformation from dedicated student to an intense and on-edge gritty surgeon. Where she starts and where she inevitably ends up because of these shady procedures never feels hammed up. Mary never feels too much like a straight-A do-gooder towards the beginning of American Mary and she never feels like a monster during the falling action. Her character is constantly grounded while allowing the actress to put her own spin on the unique student while being funny and seductive. The Soska duo also deserve a lot of the credit for knowing how to write and direct this lead.
American Mary has a great look to it and utilizes tons of gory practical effects that will have you squirming. The film also feels like it mixes two kinds of horror: psychological horror and torture porn.
But don’t let the torture porn chase you away. The moments where the camera lingers on procedures or different types of torture always feel like they have their place and the scenes themselves never feel needless. There’s also a haunting and alluring fluency when Mary is at work. It’ll make us wince but we won’t be able to take our eyes off the screen.
If American Mary has any criticisms against it though, it’s an ironic one. The scenes may all feel appropriate to the story but the film does feel long – very long – and needs a good trim. I don’t think scenes or sub-plots should’ve been nixed but I came to the conclusion that some of those lingering moments could’ve been shortened down here and there. They may look great, but it shouldn’t get in the way of the story.
American Mary was a superb film to open Toronto After Dark. Even if it wasn’t the opener that night, the film would’ve still kept its super status as a highly effective and well made inductee into the horror genre.
Final Festival Thoughts
I had an absolute blast at this year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival. The festival offered a lot of different horrors, which was refreshing since the mainstream public has been getting nothing but remakes and sequels nowadays (Sinister aside).
If I had to make a final call about this year’s festivities, I would have to say the shorts were more memorable than the full-length features I saw. There were more shorts that I enjoyed that outweighed the ones with flaws.
As for the headlining films, they had some good qualities but, unfortunately, most fizzled out into weak sauce.
For those filmmakers who submitted shorts, you all showed promise (some more than others) and I can’t wait to see what you conjure up next.
Be on the lookout for more After Dark content from our other contributors, an interview with the Soskas hosted by myself, and a review of Steven Kostanski’s latest full length feature, Manborg. All coming later this week on Film Army!
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