SXSW Film Reviews: "Lovely Molly," "The Tall Man," "Eden," & More

SXSW Film Reviews: "Lovely Molly," "The Tall Man," "Eden," & More

Reviews by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

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Lovely Molly

Director: Eduardo Sanchez
Stars: Gretchen Lodge, Johnny Lewis, Alexandra Holden

Modern-day horror doesn’t get much creepier than Lovely Molly, the latest effort from Eduardo Sanchez, one-half of the team behind 1999’s The Blair Witch Project. Which is, of course, a classic, but it’s perfectly in line to say that Lovely Molly is Sanchez’s best film to date. Pitch-black in its darkness and slickly ambiguous, the best genre film currently showing at SXSW moves along at an incredibly unnerving pace, slithering its way along until reaching a completely satisfying payoff.

Newcomer Gretchen Lodge is dynamite as the titular Molly, a newlywed who moves into her family’s old, spooky home with her new husband (Sons Of Anarchy vet Johnny Lewis); there, memories of her deceased father and the horse stable nearby settle into her mind, triggering a violent mental breakdown. Is it possession? Or an old drug addiction resurfacing?

Sanchez drops several clues for every possible explanation, along with seriously effective deaths, hints of the supernatural that aren’t telegraphed, and several haunting set-pieces, one of which keeps nails bit as Molly hears an unseen someone crooning a macabre tune.

Lovely Molly gets under your skin from its first moment through its eerie conclusion; it’s sophisticated genre material, and deserves to be this year’s Insidious if given the right marketing push.
Grade: A

Compliance

Director: Craig Zobel
Stars: Dreama Walker, Ann Dowd, Pat Healy, James McCaffrey, Bill Camp, Philip Ettinger

Sitting in a theater, watching writer-director Craig Zobel’s gut-checking Compliance, there’s an instantaneous reaction that will no doubt befell most viewers: You’ll wish you could jump into the screen, grab the characters by their shoulders, and yell, “How can you be so stupid?” But, then again, who’s to say that we’d act any different if put in the film’s random, realistic, and despicable predicament.

And, to think, Complianceis based on a real event. A young, pretty fast food employee (here played by Dreama Walker) who’s subjected to bodily violations and perverse humiliations after a prank caller (Pat Healy) pretends to be a cop and tells her stressed-out manager (Ann Dowd) that she stole money from a customer. As the phone call continues on for over an hour, Walker’s innocent character remains helpless against the scared-by-authority folks doing terrible things under the guise of the law.

Complianceconsistently veers into blatant misogyny, and some of the actions feel unbelievable, yet Zobel sets the stage commendably well and layers his characters with multiple dimensions, giving an otherwise abhorrent experience unavoidable resonance.
Grade: B+

The Tall Man

Director: Pascal Laugier
Stars: Jessica Biel, Jodelle Ferland, Stephen McHattie, William B. Davis, Samantha Ferris, Katherine Ramdeen

One of the most ambitious and genuinely shocking horror debuts ever, French filmmaker Pascal Laugier’s foreign-language risk-taker Martyrsgarnered a divisive reputation for its mid-game switcheroo: What starts out as a visceral home invasion flick suddenly turns into an existential meditation on life’s greatest mystery (which we won’t spoil here). It’s such a ferocious intro for Laugier’s career that anything he does in its wake is immediately worth a look. After the disastrous, epic fail that is The Tall Man, however, Laugier’s sophomore production, that the man who once had carte blanche is now wobbling on cracking ice.

Like Martyrs, The Tall Man(also written by Laugier) takes a hard left turn around its halfway point, but here it’s a turn from flat, un-scary horror to heavy-handed social commentary. Jessica Biel, duller than ever, plays a mother who’s young son falls prey to the town of Cold Rock’s infamous “Tall Man,” a ghostlike figure that abducts local children, which, in and of itself, isn’t a bad premise. And Laugier wastes little time getting into the heroine-versus-villain smackdown, staging a super-charged chase sequence that hits fast and hard. But it’s all downhill from there.

Once The Tall Man’s real agenda is divulged, Laugier’s folly descends into a crescendo of ineptitude. There’s an overlong, expository explanation of the twist, a series of non-endings that drag on and on, and a laughably serious monologue from Biel, who can’t save face despite having a gorgeous one. By the time The Tall Man’s unexpectedly optimistic, non-horror final moments wrap up, fans of Martyrswill be left wondering what in genre’s name happened to the once-promising director. And reeling in shock at a heinous thought: Pascal Laugier, the guy responsible for the Clive Barker-like Martyrs, has become M. Night Shyamalan.
Grade: D

Eden

Director: Megan Griffiths
Stars: Jamie Chung, Beau Bridges, Scott Mechlowicz, Matt O’Leary, Mariana Klaveno

There are still five screening-filled days left in the SXSW 2012 Film Festival, yet it’s tough to think that we’ll come across a delightful revelation as big as Jamie Chung’s performance in the excellent, hard-edge drama Eden. The beautiful actress’ post-Real World days have been spent populating unbearable comedies (Grown Ups, The Hangover Part II) and providing eye candy in critically panned action flicks (Dragonball: Evolution, Sucker Punch); given her first chance to hold down a leading role in Eden, though, she rises to the occasion in eye-opening ways.

And she’s been given one hell of a role to inhabit. Based on the real-life experiences of Chong Kim, Edenfollows a sweet, naïve, brace-faced Korean-American teenager (Chung) as she’s kidnapped, placed into a secret prostitution ring, and forced to work her way up the ranks, from sex provider to glorified receptionist, for over a year.

Griffiths and screenwriter Richard B. Phillips present the underground world of human trafficking with unflinching harshness; one scene, in which Chung’s raised arms are cuffed and a whip comes out, is especially disturbing. Fortunately for Chong Kim, whose bravery in sharing such a horrific memory is admirable, her decision to relive her 1994-1995 nightmares is rewarded by Griffiths’ superb and nuanced direction, Phillips’ expertly paced script, and Chung’s fearlessness. In terms of SXSW, Eden is the fest’s most pleasant surprise thus far.
Grade: A

King Kelly

Director: Andrew Neel
Stars: Louisa Krause, Libby Woodbridge, Roderick Hill, Will Brill

Considering that the film industry is currently obsessed with found-footage movies, the notion of “shooting” a movie with only camera phones seems like the next logical step. Andrew Neel’s profane, sexually explicit King Kelly, presented in back-and-forth perspectives from two best friends’ iPhones, is that step, albeit one with one of the most unlikeable protagonist imaginable, no semblance of a firm narrative direction, and lapses in characters’ judgments that make suspending one’s disbelief impossible.

Before the opening credits roll, King Kellycommands attention, greeting viewers with its main character, the provocative teenage Kelly (Louisa Krause), as she blesses her loyal PeepRoom.com visitors with a masturbatory, topless show. The perverts watching comment with hilarious one-liners and clever GIFs, and, for a moment, King Kelly taps into a side of the Internet that’s rarely seen in film. But then we get to know Kelly, an insufferably obnoxious airhead who disrespects her family and manipulates boys through flirtation.

And we’re stuck with her for King Kelly’s entirety, seeing the awful chick botch a drug deal, snort coke with a horny cop, and inspire tragic gunfire. And here’s the frustrating thing about it: Neel plays it all for Superbad-with-more-edge laughs. Mission flopped.
Grade: C

Reviews by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

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Tags: sxsw, sxsw-film-festival, jessica-biel, horror, jamie-chung
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