Believe it or not, we are halfway through 2019. We’ve seen Brie Larson kick ass as Captain Marvel, we’ve witnessed the end of an era with Avengers: End Game, Julia Hart gave us a new kind of superhero film in Fast Color, Ari Aster has scarred us all with Midsommar, and Olivia Wilde has given us the teen comedy we’ve been waiting for with Booksmart. It’s already been a wild year for film, and we still have five months left. With that in mind, here is Much Ado’s favorite films of 2019 so far and why we love them.
Booksmart, dir. Olivia Wilde
‘The night to end all nights’ is a tagline often found attached to tales of raucous frat bros, to the pursuit of the loss of their virginities, and to their final evening of partying, which comes just before the dawn of adulthood. Rarely, in teen comedies that revolve around sex and physical frankness, is said semi-mythical night centered on two rather awkward high school girls. More often than not, it has been the boys in Superbad and American Pie that have not only been permitted but openly encouraged to discuss their sexual desires, appetites, and experiences without so much as a hint of a blush on their cheeks. In Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart, this kind of agency is transferred from the obnoxious characters found in the aforementioned teen classics and awarded to Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein): two friends on the eve of high school graduation, for whom discussion of Malala Yousafzai and intersectional feminism sits as comfortably in conversation as the topic of masturbation. After realising that they have spent their entire adolescence burying their heads in their studies — in a fruitless attempt to gain the upper hand over their popular peers in search of places at prestigious universities — Molly and Amy decide that they must embark on the wildest evening of all if they are to truly ‘experience’ teenage-hood. And thus, absurdity, wild goose chases, and chaotic sexual encounters ensue.
Last year, I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD as many of us know it. While the label was slapped on me at 25, I think I’ve been dealing with it in at least some form for most of my life. Simply put, it is a disorder where people have obsessions and compulsions. It can be quite nebulous in its manifestations, but when it comes to onscreen depictions, OCD is seen as a fear of contamination and a need for cleanliness. Characters such as Tony Sheloub’s Monk from Monk or Jack Nicholson’s Melvin from As Good As It Gets are prime examples of stereotypical representations of OCD; they must wash their hands constantly, they obsessively count, they can’t step on cracks in the sidewalk, they are afraid of everything. These rituals and fears then make them weird and their OCD makes them unrelatable. But that’s not how OCD manifests for everyone; for some people, contamination fears are a large part of their compulsion. That’s not the case for me. If I never have to hear someone say to me, “but you’re messy, you can’t be OCD,” I’d be so elated. My OCD is much more internal, meaning I don’t have many visual compulsions. My mind is constantly flooded with obsessive thoughts about harm coming to myself and others, which means I’m always trying to find ways to avoid that harm. This can manifest through planned walking routes, constantly checking the oven, counting my steps, biting my nails, the list goes on and often changes depending on my stress levels.
A large part of figuring out how to cope with my OCD has involved recognizing the deeper meaning of my personal relationship to the horror genre. Horror has always been a part of my life. I have devoured horror films and books since an inappropriate age, finding a strange solace in the violence. Slumber parties always involved horror movies. I owned almost all of R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike’s books. I watched horror trailers obsessively. I dove into the world of pirated movies so I could watch the latest horror indies. It’s always just been part of who I am, so when I was diagnosed with OCD, I didn’t think at all about how this could link to my love of horror.
Animated horror is often only found in either anime series, such as Parasyte and Death Note, or children’s films, such as Coraline and Monster House. It is shocking that there aren’t more animated horror films, as the medium lends itself so well to horror as strange monsters and creatures can be more easily actualized onto the screen. Animation lends itself even better to body horror, where the human body can be warped and torn apart in even more demented ways. Director Eric Power fully taps into this potential with his animated horror feature, Attack of the Demons.
It is 1994 in Barrington, a small Colorado town known for their Halloween music festival. Hundreds of tourists flood the town, and with those tourists come a few cultists seeking humanity’s destruction. While cultists work to awaken a massive demon, three high school friends are reunited. Kevin, who has stayed in town, sees old classmate Jeff and tries to start a friendship. As they head to dinner together, they also run into another old classmate, Natalie, who’s attending the music festival. As they reconnect and reminisce, the cultist eventually gets access to a microphone and unleashes a chant, which begins the demon’s awakening. The entire town of Barrington, except these three friends, are infected. Kevin, Jeff, and Natalie must band together to fight back against the apocalypse and save the world from an icky demonic death.
The Fourth of July, the day of America’s independence, is a day full of red, white, blue, hot dogs, sun burns, and beer. It’s an excuse to have the day off to go to the pool, cook outside, and relish in the summer sun. But, it’s hard to celebrate America with our current track record of human rights issues on the U.S.-Mexico border. Gigi Saul Guerrero addresses this reality in Culture Shock, her feature film debut and the Fourth of July installment of Hulu’s Into the Dark film series. Guerrero contrasts the idyllic nature of the Fourth of July picnic against the real lives of those trying to come into the United States to show what the real American dream looks like: dark, dirty, violent, and fueled by the capitalist machine.
Home invasion films such as Funny Games and The Strangers have confronted us with the very real possibility of the destruction of the domestic space through graphic violence. Blood splatters the walls, windows are shattered, women scream, and men gasp for breath as they try to defend what’s theirs to protect. But director Sara Summa wants to defy all we know about the violent home invasion film. In her feature film debut, The Last to See Them, Summa completely deconstructs the violent subgenre to create a film full of dread and melancholy.
We know the typical possession movie song and dance. A priest is going through a crisis of faith. He gets a call from the Catholic Church about a possession. He begrudgingly packs up the holy water and Bible and hops on a plane. After enduring an intense battle with a demon, he realizes his faith in God (unless the demon gets him first, which does happen). It all ends in a nice little package with the Devil defeated and the evil contained. The Exorcist did it first, and best, so how can the subgenre grow? Well, Emilio Portes’ Belzebuth offers a breath of fresh air to the stale possession film, weaving a new, and dark, narrative about the neverending battle between good and evil.
Belzebuth begins in Mexico with the birth of a little boy to police officer Emmanuel (Joaquín Cosio) and his wife, Marina. The two parents gush and coo over their new baby, carefully examining each of his fingers and toes. Emmanuel gets unexpectedly called into work, but promises his wife he’ll be right back. Little does he know that this is the last time he’ll see his son. As his son is laid down in the nursery, a new nurse comes in for shift change. But something doesn’t seem right as her eyes dart around the nursery and she seems extremely on edge. Suddenly, she begins massacring the nursery and kills every baby, including Emmanuel’s. It is an extremely violent way to start off such a film, but it sets Belzebuth’s tone perfectly. This isn’t going to be a cookie-cutter film that hides violence. Rather, it is going to kill as many children as possible to show what true evil can look like.
Every year, Fantasia International Film Festival showcases some of the best and most unique genre films out there. Horror, thrillers, sci-fi, Fantasia has it all, and this year is no different. In anticipation of the festival, which lasts from July 11 to August 1 in Montreal, we’ve rounded up some of the films directed by women that will be shown throughout Fantasia.
Brazilian director’s Gabriela Amaral Almeida second film, My Father’s Shadow, will have its North American premiere at Fantasia 2019. The film follows Dalva, a young girl who is trying to summon her mother’s spirit to help quell her father’s depression. She’s inspired by George A. Romero and given a little encouragement by her aunt. Almeida mixes traditional horror with contemporary Brazilian issues to create a poignant story that reflects the horrific nature of our contemporary moment.
Perhaps one of my anticipated films of Fantasia is The Deeper You Dig, a film directed by John Adams, Toby Poser, and their daughter Zelda Adams. It is a DIY supernatural film that was directed, written, and scored by this family unit. They are also the film’s stars. It revolves around a daughter, a mother, and a stranger after a roadside accident. I’m excited to see the work of these three people and what art they created with their limited resources.