Reporting Directly From The New Zealand International Film Festival #6

It must be a horrid thing sitting in the dark through hundreds of thought-provoking films from all over the world just to pass judgement for the benefit of Witchdoctor readers. We gave PAUL ROSE this most demanding of jobs.

 

Vivarium

A young woman, Gemma (Imogen Poots) and her fiancé (Jessie Eisenberg), are in search of their first home. A nice house in a nice street in a nice suburb where they can start a nice family. She’s a schoolteacher and he runs a gardening business.

One day they enter a real estate office which is marketing the new subdivision of Yonder with the tagline, “Quality Homes. Forever.” The very peculiar sales agent, Martin (Jonathan Aris) convinces them to visit Yonder so they can see this perfect subdivision for themselves. They agree to follow Martin in their car.

Arriving, we see that Yonder consists of street after street of identical houses with identical gardens. Every home is painted mint green and every section astro turfed. Martin takes the couple on a tour of number 9, where each room has a painting of the room itself hanging on the wall. While the couple are looking over the back yard the sales agent disappears. Realizing his car has gone, they decide that Yonder really isn’t for them and they jump in their own car to go home. This is when the Vivarium takes a sinister turn. They drive around for ages trying to find their way out, but every house and every street looks exactly the same. Eventually, after nightfall, their car runs out of petrol and stutters to a halt outside of number 9. They are back where they started. They spend the night.

Vivarium reviewed

The next morning they discover a cardboard box in the front yard which is full of provisions. They eat breakfast and set out on foot to find a way out. This is when they discover that they appear to be the only people in the suburb. By the end of the day, having walked for kilometres, they find themselves once again outside number 9, and so begins the repetitive nightmare. They are stuck in a suburban hell.

One day, after walking the streets and, as always, arriving back at number 9, Tom burns down the house. The next morning they awaken in the street only to discover that the house has been completely restored and there’s a cardboard box in the front yard. This box is not like the others, it doesn’t contain provisions; it contains a baby and a note stating, “Raise the child and be released.”

What follows is a descent into suburban madness. I don’t want to give much more of the plot away, but I will say that the baby grows into a child in a matter of weeks and is not a normal human baby. Tom starts to dig a hole in the front yard, which becomes an obsession, leaving Gemma to look after the boy child, which nearly sends her over the edge.

Vivarium is Irish Director, Lorcan Finnegan’s second feature film and he cites Kiwi Geoff Murphy’s Quiet Earth as an influence. If you’re a sci-fi fan who likes cerebral fare this one’s for you; if you’re more into intergalactic space travel and weird aliens I’d avoid Vivarium, which is more Twilight Zone than Star Wars. The film has a unique visual style and a colour palette reminiscent of a Wes Anderson film, and both Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots put in solid performances as the two leads. Rating – 7/10

Under The Silver Lake reviewed

Sam is a 30-something slacker who spends a lot of his time smoking weed and spying on the other residents of his apartment block. His rent is overdue and he’s days away from eviction. While spying on his ageing, always topless parrot-lady neighbour, he spots a mysterious blond and her dog sunbathing next to the apartment block’s swimming pool. Her name is Sarah (Riley Keough) and she invites Sam into her apartment, where they get stoned and watch television and discuss the headline grabbing story of a dog serial killer who is killing dogs in Los Angeles.

The next day Sam – played by a terrific Andrew Garfield – knocks on Sarah’s door, but discovers that she has moved herself, her dog and all of her belongings out of the apartment overnight. Intrigued, he breaks in and discovers a shoe box in a bedroom cupboard which contains a Polaroid and a few mementos. There’s also a strange double diamond drawn on a wall. What does it mean? He has to know. He continues to spy on the apartment and lucks out when another young woman turns up and takes the shoe box away with her. He follows, and so begins the search for Sarah.

Under The Silver Lake reviewed

Sam embarks on a surreal quest that takes him and the viewer on a very wild ride where nothing is as it seems. There are messages on cereal boxes, in computer game magazines, in Sam’s calculations on pizza box lids. There’s a running gag about skunks. We see him at exclusive Hollywood poolside parties, the home of the eccentric author of Under The Silver Lake, the zine which gives the film its title; and we see him on mountaintops and inside a dead billionaire’s mansion. There’s a guide to the underworld who wears a Burger King crown, a band called Jesus and the Brides of Dracula, whose tracks contain subliminal messages, a menagerie of beautiful blonds, succubuses in owl masks and a dog called Coca Cola. And that’s just for starters!

David Robert Mitchell’s Under The Silver Lake has divided viewers and critics alike. The first hour plays homage to Hitchcock and Raymond Chandler; it’s a stylistic  LA film noir mystery and it works. The rest of the film is, to be honest, a bit of a mess, but it comes across like David Lynch on acid and of course, that’s not a bad thing. It’s actually a mess worth watching.

Under The Silver Lake reviewed

In Under The Silver Lake, Mitchell certainly shows that he’s not short of ideas; in fact, he may have too many. Yes, the film is all over the place. Yes, there are some threads that go nowhere. Yes, it’s a hundred and forty minutes long, but all of that aside, I really enjoyed it. Mitchell will one day make great movies. Under The Silver Lake won’t be one of them, but it will be seen as the film where the young director earned his stripes, and where he experimented and honed his craft.

I almost didn’t make it to Under The Silver Lake as all I had heard were bad reviews and my screening was at the Academy, which doesn’t have  the most comfortable of seats. Fortunately, I took the advice of a colleague who told me to just go along for the ride and don’t even try to solve any of the puzzles that the film throws up. Rating – 7/10

Fly By Night reviewed

Fly By Night is a Malaysian crime thriller involving a scam by a gang of airport based taxi drivers who extort money out of their passengers.

The crime gang is led by the Boss (Sunny Pang) and includes his younger brother Ah Wai (Fabian Loo), his best friend Gwailo (Jack Tan), and a family friend and recently released ex-con Ah Soon (Eric Chen). Ah Wai’s wife Michelle (Ruby Yap) works at the airport and is able to give the heads up to the drivers of wealthy marks they may be able to blackmail later. The drivers note the name and drop off the address of the passengers and how they may best be exploited for cash later on.

The scam is tried and true and the gang manage to stay under the radar of the police and accumulate money at a modest pace, but Ah Wai is ambitious and greedy and is always arguing with the Boss, who insists on careful planning and researching the targets. A sloppy mistake by Ah Wai draws the attention of Kamal, a dodgy policeman, and the Boss decrees that they lie low for a while. Ignoring those orders, Ah Wai and Gwailo carry on with the airport scam and blackmail Reanne (Joyce Harn), a jilted mistress. The boys, instead of laying low, go on a spending spree which ends up with them on the wrong side of Jared (Frederick Lee), a psychotic and very violent gangster.

Fly By Night reviewed

Eventually, the whole gang become the target of the police, the gangster and Reanne, the jilted mistress – who is scamming the scammers – and things go downhill for all of them very quickly.

A solid directorial debut from Zahir Omar, Fly By Night is not for the squeamish, as things get very violent in Kuala Lumpur’s underworld, especially after dark.

A thoroughly entertaining crime thriller, Tarantino-like at times, there are some real adrenaline rush moments, some fantastic chases through the city streets and some violent scenes that will have you squirming in your seat. A wild and very satisfying ride. Rating – 8/10

 

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