Filmmakers Jennifer and Sylvia Soska make a cameo in "American Mary".
Shiverfest: Late Night Movie Horrors is a creeped-out celebration of Canadian indie horror. This three-feature sampler will be screened at Cinematheque over the next three weekends. Each one of these films is unique, and uniquely scary.
American Mary (August 1-3):
In this gloriously sick shock flick, Katherine Isabelle plays young medical student Mary Mason. After a traumatic experience involving a publicly eminent but secretly sadistic surgeon, Mary drops out of med school.
Needing to pay her bills, she finds herself drawn into the underground world of "body modification," where participants search out taboo surgical procedures that will help their "outsides match their insides."
Filmmakers Jennifer Soska and Sylvia Soska, identical twins from Vancouver, are two very twisted sisters. (The duo also drops in for a double cameo as black-leathered siblings who take bonding to unsettling extremes.) Crossing a potent female revenge fantasy (with echoes of Audition and Hard Candy) with the kind of body horror pioneered by Canadian master David Cronenberg, the Soskas pull off some very nasty stuff.
The horror is offset by a sharp line of comic satire, mostly involving female sexuality and the female body. (Is a bod-mod addict who looks like Betty Boop expressing herself or just molding her face and figure into a male fantasy?) Some of these provocative themes could use a little more follow-through. Still, Isabelle (best known for the awesome feminist werewolf picture Ginger Snaps) is an unforgettable anti-heroine, and she takes hold of this movie with subversive, sardonic Bette Davis-style sexiness.
(After the 9:00 pm Friday screening, filmmakers Jennifer Soska and Sylvia Soska will take part in a double-trouble Skype interview with Winnipeg's Caelum Vatnsdal, author of They Came From Within: A History of Canadian Horror.)
John Dies at the End (August 8-10):
From Don Coscarelli, the guy behind crazed Elvis-meets-The-Mummy flick Bubba Ho-Tep, comes an equally crazed adaptation of the cultie comic horror novel by David Wong (real name Jason Pargin).
Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes play Dave and John, young slackers who seem to have some kind of sideline in gonzo ghost-busting. Dave is relating some particularly surreal paranormal shenanigans during an interview with journalist Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti, doing a very classy drop-by), while John is mysteriously missing.
There are blobs of hilariously yucky horror in JDATE, but the prevailing tone is comic. The blow-your-mind story, which combines drugs, demonology and great gaping holes in the space-time continuum, could be described as a romp, possibly even a caper.
The overlapping, intertwining characters, plots and themes seem to be driven by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle or some kind of quantum brain-melt, and they eventually fall apart, at least in this universe. Even then, though, it's all pretty fun.
The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh (August 16, 17 and 22):
There is a literary, Edgar Allan Poe-ish quality to the title, and this assured feature directing debut from Rodrigo Gudiño, founder of Rue Morgue magazine, definitely eschews gore for old-school, slow-build suspense.
Leon (Aaron Poole) is trying to settle his estranged mother's estate, but instead finds himself becoming unsettled by her shrine-like house and haunted memories of a long-dead father and a rigid religious cult.
Leon seems to have some outside interactions--a phone call to a very creepy security company, a visit from two unseen neighbours. And there seem to be messages from his dead mother (Oscar-winning English thesp Vanessa Redgrave in a standout vocal performance). But there is no one else in the house, and as Leon becomes increasingly unhinged, it's not quite clear what is real and what is not.
Playing with this Polanksi-influenced psychological dissolution, Gudiño also explores haunted house motifs with a prowling camera and some spooky sound design. There is also a creature--barely glimpsed but horrifying in its slinky, dark implications. It all adds up to an unsettling creep that lasts long after the film's ambiguous ending.