Marchant at TIFF, Day Four

September 10, 2018

TIFF 2018: Day 4


Films: 3
Best Film of the Day: Hotel Mumbai (pictured)

Standoff at Sparrow Creek: A high-paranoia, psychological thriller from first time feature director Henry Dunham, the film is crafty enough to keep your interest, and taut in just the right places through the first couple of acts, before things begin to get floppy at the end. A police funeral is interrupted by a lone gunman opening fire in a small, unnamed Midwestern town. Spooked, a local militia group convene in their warehouse headquarters to determine the best way to handle the fallout, only to discover that one of them appears to have been the actual gunman. What ensues is a cat-and-mouse affair, with former cop Gannon (James Badge Dale) leading the interrogations, while trying to protect an UC cop (Brian Geraghty), determining the culprit from a host of possible suspects, including a former white power supporter (Happy Anderson) who holds a serious grudge against the cops; and a nearly silent creepoid (Robert Aramayo), who seems to tic off all the boxes for lone gunman profile. Dunham keeps his scenes impressively tight, which adds to the tension, but towards the end, plot tendrils begin to fray and you can see more of the narrative construction than he intends. Considering the subject matter, despite the entertainment factor seeing the militia men get overwhelmed by their paranoia, Dunham steadfastly holds the line politically, which seems a bit of a wasted opportunity.

The Wind: I had high hopes for this Emma Tammi-helmed western horror mash-up, but alas, it simply doesn’t work. For one thing, the mise-en-scene is distractingly poor, with costumes appearing clean and pressed straight off the rack, blood make-up that looks decidedly fake, and props that seemingly were bought at a Lowe’s earlier that day; for another, the script, by Teresa Sutherland doesn’t make the most of its promising set up. A married couple, Isaac (Ashley Zuckerman) and Lizzy (Caitlin Gerard), living way out on the frontier contend with a set of distant neighbors (Dylan McTee and Julia Goldani Telles), who move in and promptly become unglued, and, after a bad miscarriage results in the suicide death of the wife, forces Isaac to take the grieving husband back to the train station, which leaves Lizzy on her own in an increasingly disharmonious frame of mind. Convinced that a demon lives in the land around them, Lizzy finds her livestock murdered and devoured, and is tortured by various visitations that leave her, more often than not, unconscious. With its eerie prairie setting and strong material, you would hope that Tammi would be able to curtail the energy and produce something at the very least visually striking, but the film suffers from greyed out exposure far too often, and what’s there can’t save the rest. A stinging disappointment, I’m sorry to report.

Hotel Mumbai: A significant reason as to how terrorists have been so effective in the 21st century is their recon and intel in choosing a target: The terrorist leaders have consistently found gaps in the system of international security, and either by surprise, or superior planning, have become deadly successful. Consider the sorry state of the security “system” in Mumbai, and specifically at the world-class Taj Hotel there: So poorly prepared they were for such an attack that the closest special forces unit was some 800 miles away in Delhi. When 10 terrorists invaded the populous city in 2008, the police force there was woefully inadequate to stop them, a major factor in the 164 deaths the terrorists accounted for, along with more than 300 wounded. With his first feature, Anthony Maras has made a taut, galvanizing recreation of the attack on the hotel, in which a small squad of terrorists snuck in and lay siege on the place over the course of many hours, opening fire on anyone they could find, systematically going room to room to eradicate what they deemed the Imperialist swine who had deprived their families of wealth and success. Working from a script he co-wrote with John Collee, Maras focuses in on a swath of the victims, including a wealthy Arabic woman (Nazanin Boniadi), her American husband (Armie Hammer), and her baby’s nanny (Tilda Cobham-Hervey); one of the servers (Dev Patel) and the head chef (Anupam Kher) of the hotel’s swanky restaurant; a pair of Aussie backpackers (Natasha Liu Bordizzo and Angus McLaren); and, to some degree, the attackers themselves (including Amandeep Singh, Suhail Nayyar, and Gaurav Paswala). This is not an insignificant point: Maras has made a film about terrorists in which each of them has a name and recognizable face. They aren’t a pack of swarthy, indistinguishable villains, in other words, they are made just human enough – so much so that one such terrorist (Singh) makes a desperate phone call home in order to tell his parents how much he loves them, while suppressing his tears – so we can’t fully discount them from the human race. True, their point of attack was a glorious five-star shrine to capitalism, which makes most of the guests, including a Russian oligarch (Jason Isaacs), in the class of super-wealthy, but such events reduce everyone to the same, terrified level. In the halls and conference rooms of the Taj, protected by a good portion of the staff, who refused to leave their guests, the class lines were deeply blurred. The film effectively gives you the sense of horror and chaos in such a terrorist event. Given the number of survivors the staff helped protect (many with their own lives), you could call it a testament to the human spirit, but you’d be badly missing the point.

Tomorrow: We’re heading to the home stretch, but there are still a bevy of high-prestige films I will need to check out, beginning with Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk, based on the James Baldwin novel; possibly Gaspar Noe’s latest psychopus, Climax; Peter Strickland’s much anticipated In Fabric; Alfonzo Cuarón’s Golden Lion winning ROMA; and close it out with Claire Denis’ High Life.

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