Fantastic Fest Mini-Reviews – Part 1


Not every film can get an in-depth review, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have anything to say. Here are some thoughts from screenings we attended.

Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses focuses on the small, dark area where demonic possession and mental illness intersect. Cut from the same cloth as films such as Requiem and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, it explores a real life story in which a women seemingly afflicted by an evil force is denied the medical treatment she needs as her family attempts to heal through their faith. In this case, it is a close knit New Zealand community of Wainuiomata. Billed as a documentary, the majority of the film is a cinematic reenactment of the events, with talking heads both real and dramatized parsed throughout. In attempting to save Janet, her family succumbs to mass hysteria fueled by their Maori beliefs. The first third of the film can feel like a drag, but once you settle into its rhythm and the emotional toll of the ordeal becomes palpable, the film shines. It’s scary to watch, not because of the possession-plot, but seeing how all of the family becomes complicit in the delusion. The complete absence of rationality tragically leads to Janet’s death at her family’s hands.

Jungle Trap‘s history might be more enthralling than the film itself. Shot on video by James Bryan in 1990, it was never edited, scored, or released until now. Upon discovering its existence, the folks at Bleeding Skull sought to have it finished. We’re all better off for their efforts. Make no mistake, Jungle Trap is a bad film. The plot involves some academics traveling into a remote part of the Amazon to retrieve an artifact. A hotel was built in the area in the past, but was destroyed by the indigenous people. Much to the surprise of those on the expedition, the hotel is still in tact and seemingly staffed. Nonsense ensues, but it’s delightful nonsense. The micro-budget charms of movie shine in every scene, from the amateur actors to the sets that look to be constructed with cardboard. What it lacks in sophistication, it makes up for in wild ambition. It’s a movie I can’t wait to show people for no other reason than hear them say, “Why are we watching this?”

Playground is the most nihilistic piece of exploitation masquerading as political statement since A Serbian Film. This first time fictional feature from documentarian Bartosz M. Kowalski wants to use cruelty and brutality to make a point about the state of Poland but falls short due to a heavy-handedness that robs the shocks from any meaningful impact.