SUNDAY MAY 28, 2017
 
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TIFF13 DAY 5: STILL ALIVE
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If you thought TIFF would end in five days, then I’m afraid you were five days off. We’re halfway through and the fest is still in full swing. Today, we’ll take a look at 12 Years A Slave and the new Canadian horror flick Afflicted.

12 Years A Slave

12 Years A Slave will probably be the most difficult moviegoing experience that you’ll sit through this year, but in this case, that’s a good thing. There have been many films made about slavery before director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) got his hands on the material, but none have been quite so visceral. The story is simple, the emotions universal, and yet there’s something about the way McQueen slowly drags his protagonist and the audience into the depths of the depravity of slavery that is almost indescribably powerful. Some images are familiar, but the emotional impact is unlike anything else.

Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as a free and successful black man living in the North in the pre-Civil War United States. After sending his family away for a brief holiday, he’s invited to do a job by a pair of strangers, who get him black-out drunk and leave him shackled in the morning. Ejiofor awakens a prisoner of slave traders and is quickly stripped of his name and sold. As the title suggests, 12 years of torment follow, first at the hands of a sympathetically abusive Benedict Cumberbatch and then from Michael Fassbender’s psychotically religious and sexually abusive “nigger breaker.” It all plays out fairly matter of fact. There’s little moralizing and no sentimentalizing. McQueen wants the images, action and people to speak for themselves. It works. It’s devastating.

The film is brutal and unrelenting in its depiction of the physical and emotional violence of slavery. There’s little relief once Ejiofor’s journey begins, nor should there be. That doesn’t lend itself to much entertainment value, but it is an entirely appropriate and deeply affecting approach. Obviously, no movie can put an audience through the experience of slavery, but 12 Years A Slave at least captures a tone of hopelessness and misery that will impart a small fraction of the turmoil on its viewers. It might be the most powerful movie ever made on the subject, filled with incredible performances and nauseatingly effective sequences. As much as I dislike the label, this is an important film – one that viewers should force themselves to experience despite being guaranteed to leave the theatre an emotional wreck. That all may read like hyperbole, but it’s also true.

 

AfflictedAfflicted

Every year TIFF’s Midnight Madness program tends to introduce the genre movie loving masses to a big new player in the horror game and this year’s breakout filmmakers just might be Vancouver buddies Clif Prowse and David Lee. As co-writers, co-directors and co-stars, the first-time directors find a way to breathe a little life into both the much mangled found footage genre and the blood sucking vampire flick. Even though Afflicted is beset by many of the problems that most debut films/filmmakers share, it is a blast of entertainment filled with remarkable set pieces and plenty of clever twists on old formulas.

The filmmakers star as loose versions of themselves embarking on totally rad Eurotrip, bro! David recently contracted a fatal brain tumour that kicked off the trip, while Clif is a budding filmmaker who brings the finest prosumer film equipment he can afford. Everything seems to be going so well…and then David meets a lady who leaves him convulsing in a hotel room with gnarly wounds and some sort of infection. At first neither twentysomething is sure what happened and the film goes the body horror route with David spewing liquids from every orifice and developing peculiar skin conditions. Then he works out that his newfound insatiable hunger is for blood and, well, you can probably gather where things are going from there. Throughout it all, David and Clif keep on filming and Clif’s sudden condition and powers lead to some pretty wild footage that has viral video potential to say the least.

Afflicted wants to be An American Werewolf In London for the iPhone era and almost succeeds. It’s never quite as funny as it wants to be, but it is quite clever and has some incredible set pieces. With a strap-on camera written into the script, the film is filled with building-hopping single take action sequences that are absolutely remarkable for a pair of first-time directors. At it’s best, the film is as impressive as Chronicle. At it’s worst, it’s just another average found footage horror flick. However, the film never outright fails and is filled with enough good ideas and skillful sequences to suggest that Prowse and Lee will be mainstays in the genre film community for quite some time.

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