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Bad Horror, Brilliant Indies In Theaters

Hope Madden Hope Madden Bad Horror, Brilliant Indies In TheatersPhoto still from "Possession of Hannah Grace," via IMDb.
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Remember all those movies that came out last weekend? Pickings are slimmer this week, but the indies in town are so great that you should make the effort.

The Possession of Hannah Grace

by Hope Madden

Do you ever watch a movie and wonder how it got that elusive green light? I just did.

The Possession of Hannah Grace is not a terrible movie. It’s not a provocative movie, not a scary movie, not a gory movie, not an interesting movie. It’s just not a movie you’ll be able to keep straight a few weeks after you see it. You’ll be combining what few moments you recall with other movies.

You’ll be wondering, was that Hannah Grace, or was it The Last Exorcism? Did that happen in Hannah Grace or in The Corpse of Anna Fritz? Or maybe in The Autopsy of Jane Doe? And then you’ll just forget this movie entirely. It’s been 20 minutes for me and I’m already struggling to recall the bland details.

In a nutshell, Dutch filmmaker Diederik Van Rooijen’s first English language film follows troubled ex-cop Megan (Shay Mitchell) on her first days in her new routine: nighttime morgue attendant followed by an early morning AA meeting with sponsor, Lisa (Stana Katic).

But on Night #2, things go funny as the corpse of a mutilated, burned and inexplicably naked young woman is brought in. Hannah Grace (Kirby Johnson) is not your garden variety naked, contorted, burned corpse, though.

How do you cast this, exactly? “Hey, how would you like to play the title role in my new movie? You will be nude for 90 minutes and you have exactly no lines. You in?”

The jump scare morgue marathon amounts to a long and very tortured metaphor about addiction. Kudos to Van Rooijen and writer Brian Sieve for setting you up for one of two clichéd endings, and then sidestepping both. Too bad they sidestep clichéd endings in favor of nothing at all.

That’s about what you can expect from Hannah: 85 minutes of not too much — not much point, very little action, not a lot of scares and even fewer answers. But it is indeed a horror film that could be completed with three total locations and a cast of about 10, so, you know, why not go ahead and make it?

Grade: D+

Burning

by Brandon Thomas

Films like M, Vertigo and Chinatown have spent decades taking audiences on twisty narrative rides. These classic mysteries raise thrilling questions, and payoff with satisfying answers. But what if a great mystery wasn’t at all concerned with answering the questions it raised? Chang-dong Lee’s Burning is more interested in the journey than it is the destination.

Jong-Su (Ah-In Yoo) spends his days doing odd jobs and taking care of his family’s dilapidated farm on the outskirts of town. A chance encounter brings Hae-mi (Jong-seo Jeon), a childhood neighbor, back into his life. Through Hae-mi, Jong-Su also meets Ben (Steven Yeun of The Walking Dead), a wealthy, good-looking and mysterious young man. While having drinks one evening, Ben confides to Jong-Su that he occasionally enjoys burning abandoned greenhouses. Jong-Su begins to think that burning greenhouses isn’t Ben’s only secret.

Burning unravels slowly. Two and a half hours seems daunting at first glance, but the twinge of unease hanging over the film keeps you involved the entire time. There’s a sense of dread that is hard to pinpoint, but is also intoxicating.

The film comes alive through the character work. Jong-Su is an open book. He’s miserable, lonely, disappointed and bored. And we get to see it all. He tells Hae-mi and Ben that he’s a writer, but he’s never actually shown writing. He spends hours working his monotonous jobs and pretending to be invested in taking care of the family farm. Jong-Su is a phony, and Ben sees that immediately.

Hae-mi and Ben, on the other hand, are complete enigmas to Jong-Su and the audience. Hae-mi tells Jong-Su stories from their childhood that he doesn’t remember, and eventually finds out aren’t true. Ben’s wealth, job and true motivation are complete mysteries. Knowing next to nothing about these two people that he so admires frustrates Jong-Su to the point of obsession.

For nearly 20 years, South Korean cinema has cemented itself as the industry to beat, creatively. Burning is absolutely no exception. The film owes more to Memories of Murder than it does Oldboy, slowly oozing into your psyche with its methodical and unconventional approach.

It’s easy to be frustrated by Burning as the credits start to role. It offers zero easy answers, and even refuses to acknowledge Jong-Su as an unreliable narrator. By defying genre conventions and expectations, Burning provides an alternative mystery that pops with just as much excitement.

Burning burns ever so bright.

Grade: A

Meow Wolf: Origin Story

by Rachel Willis

If you’ve never heard of Meow Wolf, an 88-minute documentary about their beginnings may seem pointless, but I promise it’s worth it. By the time the credits roll, you’ll be looking into the price of plane tickets to Santa Fe.

Santa Fe, NM is a one of the world’s most vibrant arts centers. Home to hundreds of galleries and dozens of museums, it’s known worldwide for its art markets, events and performances.

And it’s also home to Meow Wolf, an art collective comprising a handful of anarchistic artists who saw too much bourgeois capitalism in the local art scene. Seeking to break away from the idea of art as commodity, these creative individuals banded together to create something new, unique and entirely collaborative.

Using animations, archival footage and interviews with founding members of the collective, directors Jilann Spitzmiller and Morgan Capps create a visually engaging documentary. It would have to be to capture the spirit and brilliance of the art and artists behind Meow Wolf.

The major theme of the film, which is the major dilemma for Meow Wolf, is maintaining artistic integrity while creating a marketable product. From the very beginning of Meow Wolf’s inception, most of the group’s members were opposed to anyone trying to impose too much order into the creation process.

Spitzmiller and Capps document the bitter fights, the fissions within the group, and ultimately, the success when they manage to work together to find common ground. With a collective, each member is involved in the creation process. Each member has a say, and each person contributes to the final product.

Documenting a few of Meow Wolf’s early successes, the film culminates with their most ambitious endeavor: the House of Eternal Return. A 20,000 square feet interactive, immersive art installation, it’s one of the most incomparable and wondrous projects you’ll have the pleasure of viewing from conception to completion on screen.

That George R.R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame helped fund the project only adds to its charm.

Watching Meow Wolf create ambitious, quirky projects is like watching a great band write game changing songs. There are tense moments, fights, losses, but when things come together you’ll come as close as one can to true magic.

Grade: A-

Mirai

by Brandon Thomas

Confession: I’ve never seen an entire Japanese animated film.

Spirited Away? Nope.

Howl’s Moving Castle? Sorry.

Akira? Not even a single frame.

I don’t have any kind of unreasonable hatred for this type of film, but I’ve never had much interest either. Thankfully, Mirai was a nice introduction for this anime novice.

Kun is a typical toddler. He enjoys playing with his toys, looking at books, and being the center of attention to his mom and dad. That changes when his baby sister, Mirai, is brought home. Confused by the changes happening around him, Kun retreats to a world where he is able to meet family members at different periods of their lives.

What struck me first about Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai is how the film doesn’t shy away from letting Kun behave like a real kid. He’s selfish, loud and cannot control his emotions. He’s not the easiest protagonist to like at first. The delightful part is seeing Kun grow, and learn to put these bad behaviors to bed.

Mirai is interested in looking at how difficult it is to be a family. It’s tough for parents to bring home another baby when they already have one at home. Cleaning still needs to be done, dinner still needs cooking, life still happens… and that can cause friction. Likewise, it’s hard to be a kid in this kind of dynamic. One minute, you’re the center of mom and dad’s universe, and the next – you’re not.

Kun’s travels through time via the garden never feel like cutesy spectacle, as each of his meetings is rooted in character. Kun learns about empathy, and that his own parents struggled with things when they were younger. By becoming more in touch with previous generations, Kun is able to fully realize his place in his own family.

Emotional yes, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had with Mirai. Kun finds himself turned into a half-boy half-dog at one point, and takes an exciting motorcycle ride with his great-grandfather at another. There’s a joyfulness to Kun’s interactions with this fantastical world that’s perfectly childlike.

Mirai might lack the belly laughs that accompany a Pixar movie, but the message is just as potent. Once the credits start to roll, that message is what sticks with us.

Grade: A-

Also opening in Columbus:
Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable (NR)
Possum (NR)

Read more from Hope and team at MADDWOLF, and listen to a weekly roundup of film reviews on the podcast SCREENING ROOM.

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