Sitges Film Festival 2009: Amer, The Loved Ones, Doghouse, More

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Sitges Film Festival 2009: <em>Amer</em>, <em>The Loved Ones</em>, <em>Doghouse</em>, More

What you do in Sitges, Spain, during the annual Festival Internacional de Cinema Fantàstic, is pretty much this:

Wake up at 7:30 a.m. Eat breakfast. Hit first movie at 8:30 a.m. Continue throughout day. Break for late-afternoon nap, snack, interview or hang in the lobby bar of the Hotel Melia. Go see more movies. Go to dinner. Go drinking. See a movie (maybe). Go to the late-night party that usually begins after 1 a.m. Get back to room about 4:30 a.m. (with luck). Wake up at 7:30 a.m. And repeat.

For seven or eight days straight.

If your eyeballs haven’t popped out or you haven’t keeled over by then, you’re a man among zombies. After a week of soaking up horror, sci-fi, suspense, action, animation and other genre pleasures, here’s a short list of what impressed me the most.

BIGGEST DISCOVERIES: Tie: Amer and The Loved Ones. The Belgian-made Amer is a phantasmagorical valentine to the Italian giallo movies of the 1960s and early ‘70s: scintillating, stylish, sinister and, above all, sensuous. The nearly-wordless feature debut by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani is keenly attuned to amplified sighs and whispers, tiny white hairs springing from exposed female bellies, seductively parted lips, and eyeballs that dart furtively or burn holes with the intensity of their gaze. The Loved Ones, Sean Byrne’s tortured-teen coming-of-age flick crosswired with touches of Carrie and Texas Chainsaw, is another fine addition to the canon of Australian horror. The film’s generic elements are playfully jumbled so that moments of extreme graphic insanity collide with bits of sex comedy and dark pathos.

BEST EVOCATION OF 1970s GENRE AESTHETICS: Moon and The House of the Devil.

BEST ZOMBIE MOVIE: Doghouse. Jake West’s “zom-com” offers a laddish twist on Shaun of the Dead themes as a gang of mates leave their screeching wives, girlfriends and significant others for a weekend at a remote country village, where they intend to get plastered and misbehave with a friend who has been jilted by his fiancé. Trouble is, the quaint little town has become a literal man trap, as a mysterious virus has turned all its women into savage cannibals hungry only for bloke-flesh. Much of the humor abides in this graphic-novel adaptation’s endless iterations of female- archetypes-as-male-hysteria and boys-will-be-boys absurdity. It’s a good-natured romp that may even be slyly feminist, underneath the male-bonding bravura.

WORST ZOMBIE MOVIE: The Horde. Stick with the video game.

KOOKIEST SPLATTER ROMANCE: Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl. Yoshihiro Nishimura and Naoyuki Tomomatsu’s low-budget FX fest is, in its own sweet twisted way, not unlike Buffy the Vampire Slayer as it mixes up high-school romantic comedy with supernatural intrigue. In practice, though, its aesthetics evoke something like The Monkees as reimagined by Herschell Gordon Lewis—shot through with ripping satire of Japanese societal conventions and youth subcultures. It’s so awesomely over-the-top, it gets you high on its sheer plasmatic verve.

MOVIE MOST DESERVING OF HOLLYWOOD REMAKE: Celda 211. The Catalonian prison thriller was the strongest word-of-mouth hit at the festival, and the foreign-language film best-suited to a US remake. A new prison guard arrives for a tour of a penitentiary as a riot breaks out. He is knocked unconscious and awakes inside a cell as all the prison guards have fled. He realizes he only has one shot at survival: Impersonating a new inmate. Miami Vice heavy Luis Tosar gives one of those performances as Badass, the volatile leader of the revolt – whose friendship is the guard’s only hope as matters escalate beyond what anyone could have imagined.

MOVIE GUARANTEED TO MAKE YOU FEEL ICKIER THAN ANTICHRIST: The Greek-language, domestic sit-com gone horribly, horribly wrong: Dogtooth.

MOVIE CERTAIN TO PROMPT MORE WALK-OUTS THAN ANTICHRIST: Dutch troublemaker Tom Six’s diabolically deranged The Human Centipede.

BEST GUEST APPEARANCE BY A NON-DOMESTIC CRITTER SINCE ANTICHRIST: The iguana that Nicolas Cage’s drug-addled cop hallucinates in that dizzying hit of cinematic nitrous oxide, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.

BEST ONE-LINE THROWAWAY: “Shoot him again. His soul is still dancing.” Cage, ibid.

BEST DESTRUCTION OF TOKYO SINCE GODZILLA: Takashi Miike’s Yatterman, a remake of a 1960s Japanese kid’s show, here gussied up with S&M outfits, subversive sexual overtones and outrageous CGI/animated sequences and – as on the original show – frequent skull-shaped mushroom clouds that decimate everything, only to have everything spring anew after the smoke clears.

TRIPPIEST REINVENTION OF TOKYO AS NEON-SEX AMUSEMENT PARK: Gaspar Noe’s nearly three-hour drug fantasia Enter the Void, for which the director enlisted digital designers to invent a scale model of the city inspired by Disney’s Tron, among other sources.

BIGGEST HYPE: Paranormal Activity.