For all of the heady titles a fancy fest like Tribeca boasts, there’s also a nice bit of midnight movie material floating around. Two standouts grabbed my attention, albeit for very different reasons. One is a bizarro bit of dark folklore from deep within the Baltic states. The other is an old-fashioned supernatural yarn set in rural America in the mold of The Twilight Zone. Both are great examples of how a discerning festival can find sublime treasures even in the over-trodden tropes of fantasy flicks. Don’t get comfortable, these spine-tinglers are going to reach for the weirdest part of your brains and give you a nightmare or two!
First up is the enigmatic entry from Estonia, November, directed by Rainer Sarnet. Based on that nation’s popular book Rehepapp by Andrus Kivirähk, this film is a lush and lovely mash-up of all sorts of dark ages shadows and beasts, captured in glorious black and white. On this trip, you’ll enter a world populated by ghosts, werewolves, Satan, giant chickens, and one of the weirdest monsters ever – the kratts. These super-creative amalgams of garden tools and demonic alchemy are truly a terror to behold, and in totally trippy way. I won’t pretend to tell you I could follow the story exactly. It was kind of like the Eastern European version of The Big Sleep in that way: all over the place, crap happening too fast, but all looks and feels so cool, you kind of don’t care. The haunting cinematography is the stuff of the most gothic visions, garnering a well-deserved top prize in the category at Tribeca (congrats to DP Mart Taniel). Kudos to the art director as well. You really feel the grit of mediaeval peasant life in this one. Places are so exquisitely dressed, dirty and destitute, the audience will be able to smell the ambiance permeating from the film.
This is pure cult movie material of a higher order meets old world dark woods, at least in visual terms. I’d gladly play it on the walls during an acid party and watch everybody quickly lose their minds and curl up into a ball in the corner. It’s eye candy for the supernatural crowd, filling your hallucination centers to the brim. The classic silent work Haxan comes to mind in comparison when ruminating upon the grotesque pastiche, with touches of the more recent The Witch. Every frame is brimming with macabre creativity and a keen sense of design. If you can suspend your need for easily-cohesive narrative flow, and you love visions of degradation and madness, then for you it will always be November.
Our second selection is a far more conventional sci-fi piece whose core idea is actually pretty novel. The Endless explores the psychology behind the people who end up joining messed-up modern-day cults. Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson co-directed and star in the film as two brothers returning to the back country California desert ranch where their old religious clan still lives. They’re divided in their longing to return to this kooky group or go back to their drab and meaningless “normal” lives. But as they reconnect with their old friends, weird happenings start to manifest one after the other. For the first act or two, it seems like the devotees are using parlor tricks to masquerade as supernatural intervention.
As the film progresses, the other shoe drops and suddenly we are in a very X-Files type of situation (but not the UFO/alien kind). No spoilers here, except to say that even diehard fans of the genre will find some pretty cool ideas that haven’t been seen much before. The nature of the truth behind what’s going down is fairly original and the dangers within are not the kind you would expect. It all comes as refreshingly surprising, even if other elements of the filmmaking aren’t quite as strong. The Endless is a solid outing for folks who enjoy stuff like 10 Cloverfield Lane. It’s sure to generate good nerd conversations about physics, extra-dimensional shenanigans and stuff – a fun ride for the fantasy heads in your life. And the tragedy of the victims will leave you totally freaked out. It’s a weird sort of Rod Serling hell-scenario they are stuck in. I’m glad I got out alive!