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I have frequently written about my admiration of Slamdance and the crew responsible for that fest, especially Annie Jeeves and the PR team there. This year, I’ll likely be reviewing even more films from the fest. We’ll start with these two:

FURSONAS

Dominic Rodriguez’s FURSONAS takes a somewhat insider’s look at furries via interviews with people who are part of the community and footage from the conventions, gatherings and television appearances made by some of the more “visible” members. However, what begins as a series of quirky profiles designed to take the mask off (literally and figuratively) quickly takes a turn into something delving much deeper into the collective psyche of the furries regarding their sensitivity and sometimes defensiveness about outsiders’ perceptions of them, and what is arguably an unexpected reveal into the group’s stringent efforts to police themselves to guard and protect that image.

FURSONAS is a documentary that plays on a couple specific levels: one, the profiling of the individuals or couples that are furries, and then two, a film that emphasizes the issues within that community. In the beginning, the film almost does its job too well showing how “normal” the people under the raccoon or fox heads are, as they frankly, come off a little mundane and boring. However, as we get further on the inside, the furries begin complaining about Boomer, an eccentric (even for their sensibilities) who lives his life as a dog, and describing their collective angst over the incorrect belief and obsession by outsiders that this entire thing is about sex in animal costumes. Then – as they say – shit gets real. There is a little concern and distraction as Rodriguez allows himself to get involved to the point where he is on camera himself, but he wisely limits that involvement so the audience can focus on the furries and their issues. If you have never heard of furries before, then the film should satisfactorily serve as an intro, and if you are one of those that think it’s all about the sex, then it should effectively enlighten you there, as well.

Expected Real World Reaction: Curiosity factor should really work in the film’s favor on the VOD side of things, and has a good shot at some nice art house play as well.

THE LESSON

Ruth Platt’s THE LESSON follows a high school teacher’s descent into madness after he is pushed too far by the cruel delinquents in his class. Mr. Gale does not go alone though, and he kidnaps two of the worst offenders, including Fin, a troubled student who lives with his older brother and carries on a flirtation with his brother’s girlfriend, Mia. Once captured, beaten, and secured, Mr. Gale finally has the punks’ undivided attention and proceeds to instruct them on the finer points of his curriculum, from the definitions of empathy and totalitarianism to analysis of Milton and William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies. Fin finally starts retaining the lessons thanks to an inspirational nail gun session. Meanwhile, concerned about his absence, Mia goes looking for Fin, having no idea she could wind up joining Mr. Gale’s grisly workshop “classroom.”

An effectively executed horror thriller, THE LESSON seems to want to have its torture porn cake and eat its high-minded intellectual viewpoint, too. In fact, few genre films would allow the amount of screen time and script space devoted to the actual scholastic lessons being given as well as Mr. Gale’s lesson asides commenting further on those lessons. I wouldn’t say the discussion points are merely intellectual sugar that makes the brutal beatings go down, but they are close to that for audiences who insist on wanting something more than the gore to entertain them. However, much less satisfactory is the “free pass” given the character of Fin, who really has nothing to redeem him unless you happen to find him dreamy in a Euro-Tiger Beat sort of way. Also, the shallowness of his budding romance with Mia will likely have more than a few people cheering on Mr. Gale.

Expected Real World Reaction: The film delivers the goods on the gore front solidly enough to keep the genre hounds happy so VOD play should be solid.