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Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things movie.

Dominic Corry: The best of the Monster Fest

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Movie blogger Dominic Corry looks at the best offerings of the upcoming Monster Fest, which showcases medium-sized films that might have otherwise bypassed theatres.

Prepare to get creeped out at Academy Cinemas' Monster Fest. Photo / Thinkstock
Prepare to get creeped out at Academy Cinemas' Monster Fest. Photo / Thinkstock

There isn't a lot of room in today's cinema distribution model for the medium-sized genre film - inhabiting the space between the art house hit and the multiplex blockbuster is an increasingly difficult task, and most films that do end up going straight to DVD in this country.

Which is why it's so encouraging that Auckland's under-new-management Academy Cinemas is hosting a mini film festival comprised of a wide variety of new genre films - the Monster Fest runs for two weeks from June 6th and offers a great opportunity to see a bunch of films on the big screen that would otherwise most likely have bypassed cinemas.

The organisers were kind enough to allow me to view a selection of the films playing, which I review below. But I'm waiting until the festival itself to see the two films I'm most excited about - the Guillermo del Toro produced break-out horror hit Mama and the monster/booze comedy Grabbers - there's no way I'm passing up the chance to these two on the big screen.

Here's what I thought of some of the other Monster Fest offerings.

Dark Skies is a contemporary thriller that locates itself firmly in the house-bound domestic tradition of recent films like Insidious and Paranormal Activity. It's not a found footage movie (thank God), but a home security camera system does have a role to play.

Josh Hamilton (who seems like he should've been in Dead Poet's Society, but wasn't) and the ever lovely Keri Russell (currently doing stellar work on TV with The Americans) play the heads of a young struggling suburban family whose lives are upended by a series of bizarre night time occurrences involving their two young sons.

The twist here, which isn't really a twist if you know the title of the film, is that the culprits aren't ghosts, but aliens. While there's very little here that hasn't been extensively covered in The X-Files, Dark Skies still managed to get under my skin with its well-sustained sense of unease and layered character portraits.

The stark sense of design may have been forced by the film's relatively small budget, but it works for the film. The Spielbergian child-peril is effective, and the film is nicely put together by writer/director Scott Stewart, a former top special effects guy who previously directed the decidedly more bombastic Paul Bettany-starring apocalyptic action thrillers Legion (2010) and Priest (2011).

Those two earlier films suffered from a Paul W.S. Anderson-esque bland generic flavour, but the way he gussies up the familiar elements in Dark Skies with atmosphere and style demonstrates that Stewart may indeed have something interesting to offer as a director.

Horror and supernatural films used to be worth watching simply because they existed - any achievement in this disrespected genre was worthy of attention because somebody cared enough to get it made.

This of course doesn't apply to today's saturated horror landscape, where 99% of the output is wholly turdful. But I still apply this thinking to horror or supernatural films from Europe - whereas the American horror film has long since scraped the bottom of the barrel (with exceptions of course) there remains a wealth of folk tales and creepy weirdness to discover in films from the continent.

I hold up Thale, a quietly effective offering from Norway, as evidence of this - it more or less succeeds by simple virtue of being a European film - it's easy to imagine it falling flat as an English language movie.

It's about two clean-up crew workers clearing the house of an elderly man who's been found dead. In his basement, they discover a strange young woman who they theorise is a Huldra, a nymph-like character from Scandanavian folklore.

The film doesn't offer too many surprises, but its characters a very well-drawn and the resolution is pretty cool. It reminded me (in a good way) of Sennentuntschi, a fascinating 2010 Swiss supernatural film for which there appears to be no subtitled trailer online.

With clips for everyone from The Rolling Stones to Beyonce to Lady Gaga on his resume, Swede Jonas Akerlund is one of the most prolific music video directors of the modern era. It's easy to imagine hyper-slick, hyper-kinetic films like Armageddon or Panic Room as being the typical output of a music video-helmer turned film director, but Akerlund's new day-glo black comedy Small Apartments feels equally rooted in music videos, and couldn't be more different to the other films mentioned.

It's an intensely visual film, and while a lot of the visuals are comprised of artful awfulness, the film never stops being captivatingly colourful.

Little Britain's Matt Lucas stars as a simple guy living in a crappy LA apartment complex whose life takes a turn for the dramatic when his awful landlord (played by the reliably scummy Peter Stormare) dies in his presence.

Factored into his world are fellow tenants, like the eyeliner-festered stoner played by Johnny Knoxville and the troubled nymphette played by Juno Temple. The surprisingly dense cast also includes Rebel Wilson; James Marsden; a sombre James Caan, and most bizarrely, Billy Crystal in his best role in years.

Crystal demonstrates a quiet empathy here that serves him well - if nothing else, this film shows that the eternal ham can shine in small character roles.

I really enjoyed Small Apartments - this is what happens when music video directors don't make blockbusters, and I like it.

Crime thriller Welcome To The Punch is the latest in a string of 2013 films to showcase London in a strong light. It's also writer/director Eran Creevy's follow-up to his breakout 2008 DIY thriller Shifty, which apparently impressed Ridley Scott enough to make the man behind Blade Runner and Alien want to produce Creevy's subsequent film. And what a film it is.

James McAvoy plays a driven copper who sees his chance for redemption when the bank robber he allowed to escape three years earlier (the ever-reliable Mark Strong) returns to London.

It's difficult to say exactly what Welcome To The Punch gets right that so many other contemporary British crime thrillers get wrong, but it definitely lived up to the 'Heat in London' tag that's followed it.

There's a Heat-like mythic quality to the proceedings here that is backed up by a witty script; a superbly confident sense of visual style and a raft of top British actors doing some of their best work - the film features star character turns from Peter Mullan; Andrea Riseborough; Jason Flemyng and Shifty's Daniel Mays.

With a local's appreciation of the geography, it easily outdoes Fast and Furious 6 in terms of London-based car chases, and McAvoy builds on his frenetic recent turn in Danny Boyle's Trance. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Welcome To The Punch - it deserves a wide audience, and I'm already willing to call it a modern classic.

Other films of note screening at the Monster Fest include The Death and Resurrection Show - a doco about English art punk rockers Killing Joke and their legendary frontman, Kiwi favourite Jaz Colman; The Collection, the ante-upping sequel to 2009's minor horror breakout The Collector and American Mary, a body-modification horror I am defintiely too chicken to watch.

For session times and more info, check out the Academy Cinemas website.


Heading to the Monster Fest? What are you looking forward to? Comment Below!

Dominic Corry

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things movie.

One of New Zealand's most vocal and enthusiastic film critics for over ten years, Dominic's cinematic opinions can also be heard on radio and seen on television. His list of favourite movies is always evolving, but is generally likely to feature The Lady Vanishes (1938); Vertigo (1958); The Parallax View (1972); Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978); Aliens (1986); Midnight Run (1989); Metropolitan (1990) and Primer (2002). He also reviews snack food.

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