TIFF Midnight Madness 2015: Occupational Hazards
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TIFF Midnight Madness 2015: Occupational Hazards

Possessed painters, menaced models, stressed super-soldiers, tortured telekinetics and Turkish cops in Hell. Career change has never looked better!

There must be better ways to make a living - Hardcore by Ilya Naishuller - Photo courtesy of TIFF

There must be better ways to make a living. Hardcore by Ilya Naishuller. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

It’s a solid year so far for TIFF’s rock’em-sock’em Midnight Madness series, though you have to feel for the many MM movie characters whose jobs are sending them to an early grave.

Apart from opening night film Green Room which, amid all its carnage and terror, highlights the frustrations of being in a young struggling punk band, the out-of-the-gate sensation has been the Russian/U.S. co-production Hardcore. It’s a hyper-violent first-person fan-service thrill ride that, amid all its carnage and terror, highlights the frustrations of being an amnesiac cyborg soldier. (Admittedly, this may not be a position that one applies for.)

While its paper-thin story is none too original (nor its pervasive casual sexism), the audacity and relentlessness of Hardcore’s delivery—entirely through its central character’s eyes—is fresh and fierce and leaves viewers clutching their armrests. Even if you hate it, and some people will, director Ilya Naishuller is clearly a talent to watch. Hardcore‘s MM debut has touched off a bidding war between Dimension, Lions Gate and Paramount, though some of the splatter will likely be toned down for its hoped-for wide release. Unfortunately, the inexplicable song-and-dance rendition of I’ve Got You Under My Skin will likely remain.

Turkish horror film Baskin, about a macho amoral police squad raiding a Satanic cult and finding themselves in trapped a Hellraiser-esque chamber of horrors, was accurately billed as a slow burn with a blistering climax. Its recursive vision of Hell, alternating between brooding rumination over past sins and bursts of grisly visceral violence, makes for an intense and unsettling experience even if the spiralling narrative’s resolution is over-familiar. It remains a strong feature-length debut for director Can Evrenol, and a great first-ever appearance from Turkey in the Midnight Madness programme.

The late Wes Craven was executive producer of the darkly amusing slasher The Girl in the Photographs, directed by Nick Simon, in which a pair of creepy serial killers terrorize a small-town cashier with artfully staged murder photos mimicking high-fashion magazine shots. The Girl has faint echoes of Craven’s stabby hit Scream—swapping in a snarky portrayal of the fashion industry for the original’s take on TV news journalism. Tone and pacing issues take the film too sharply from comedy to cruelty, and its flirtation with ‘edgy’ misogyny and homophobia sours a few key moments. Plus the notion that local police won’t take the photos seriously as harassment or threat is ludicrous and disturbing, if not entirely out of the realm of reality. However, Claudia Lee displays a flinty wary charm as the cashier Colleen, and Kal Penn is enjoyably repellent as he riffs on notorious photographer-lecher Terry Richardson (thankfully with his pants on—no offence, Kal).

Sean Byrne, director of the Australian cult horror hit The Loved Ones (a previous Midnight Madness People’s Choice Award winner) returned to MM with his first American feature, The Devil’s Candy, about a heavy metal inspired painter who moves with his wife and daughter into one of those suspiciously affordable houses only to find that the killer who once lived there wants to come home and continue his nasty hobby. The film’s parallel concepts—painter channels restless murder victims into his art, murderer plays punishing electric guitar solos to drown out the Satanic voices that drive him to kill—never quite mesh, and the fiery finale collapses on itself. Still, The Devil’s Candy still has its share of unsettling moments that will have you Googling your next home’s history before you sign any papers. (Seriously, does no one ever do that?)

And the boys of Channel 83, director Joe Begos and producer/editor Josh Ethier, bring their Vestron video aesthetic back to Midnight Madness with psychokinetic gorefest The Mind’s Eye, their extra-squishy follow-up to 2013’s lo-fi sci-fi horror discovery Almost Human. In an inspired mashup of psychic horror classics like The Fury, The Sender, Patrick, Carrie and of course Scanners, fugitive Zack Conners (Graham Skipper) surrenders to a scientific facility in hopes of suppressing his troublesome powers and reconnecting with his similarly gifted ex Rachel (Lauren Ashley Carter). Once there he learns that villain-in-charge Dr. Slovak (John Speredakos, serving a veritable honey-baked ham buffet) is using large unpleasant needles to drain their spinal fluid for a serum that will make him more powerful than all of the other psychokinetics combined. This sets up the inevitable but wildly entertaining psychic showdown where Zack and Slovak glare their way into bulging veins, bleeding eyes and, well, you don’t need to be psychic to guess the rest—but it’s a great time all the same.

TIFF Midnight Madness continues every night at 11:59 till Saturday at the Ryerson Theatre (with secondary screenings throughout the TIFF schedule).