September 2003

Expiration

ExpirationTaking place over the course of a single night in Montreal, Expiration follows the intertwined stories of several characters.

The film starts in small town Canada when Niki (Erin Simkin) tells Sam (Gavin Heffernan) that she’s pregnant. She then drops her bombshell and tells Sam that he’s the father.

Sam responds by trying to do the decent thing and invites Niki to night in the city in order to propose to her.

Rachael (Janet Lane) lives in Montreal and delivers drugs for a living. On the same night, she has a special delivery to make.

On the night, Rachael and Sam are among the victims of a hold-up in a convenience store and their lives become entangled as they try to recover what was stolen from them, journeying through parts of Montreal that neither of them imagined could exist.

Niki, awakening in a now Samless car, assumes she has been abandoned by her nearly boyfriend. Disoriented and without the keys to drive home, she too steps into the streets of Montreal and quickly finds herself in trouble.

Fortunately for Niki, she is rescued by Julia (Denise Depass), a prostitute and mother trying to strike an impossible balance between a need for an income and the need to support her daughter. Niki’s night becomes entwined not only with Julia’s but also with Julia’s wayward daughter, Naomi (Yetide Bedaki).

All of these characters are on a journey, lost and looking for a direction and Expiration follows them over the course of the night as they try to find some sort of meaning in their entangled relationships.

Expiration does get off to a bit of a slow start, but as the story unfolds the strength of the script becomes apparent and the film becomes thoroughly engrossing.

This is helped immeasurably by the ability of the actors involved. Director, Gavin Heffernan has done an excellent job of finding a group of very talented unknowns, all of who deliver performances that are both consistently believable and genuinely moving.

And the performances are vital, given that this is a film that really does centre on the characters – all of them lost, out of their depth and trying to make some sort of sense of their lives. And it’s this search for meaning that not only draws the characters together but also underlines the way in which the characters, despite their diversity, have far more in common than any of them would like to admit.

This could have been a very downbeat film, but it isn’t. A dry humour runs throughout as the characters chart their respective courses and the conclusion of the film is as uplifting as it is inevitable.

Expiration has a great script that deals with people, their relationships, their hopes and their fears and is amply supported by a cast of excellent actors. It really is one of those films that can be watched over and over again.

Horror

HorrorMost horror films these days simply aren’t horrific, relying instead on more and bigger gore effects to make the audience jump, each jump followed by a joke so we can all relax again. The makers of these types of film also display very little respect for the intelligence of the audience by insisting on spoon-feeding every plot point to you, often repeatedly.

Horror isn’t like most horror films.

Instead of giving you the usual jump/laugh formula, writer/director, Dante Tomaselli builds a surreal and non-sequential nightmare of events and images that leave you unnerved and disorientated. It also leaves you reaching for the ‘play’ button as soon as the film has ended if only to get your mind around the wealth of ideas and themes thrown at you throughout the film.

There are two major plot threads running through the film.

The first revolves around a group of teenagers who on escaping from a drug rehabilitation centre immediately start to treat themselves to a collection of magic mushrooms, beer and pills given to Luck (Danny Lopes) by the previous days visitor - the, frankly bizarre, Reverend Salo (Vincent Lamberti).

The second plot thread centres on Grace Salo, the daughter of the Reverend Salo and his equally bizarre wife (Christie Sanford). Grace’s only source of comfort is her grandfather, the elder Reverend Salo (The Amazing Kreskin) who may or may not be alive and who certainly isn’t all that he seems.

The teenagers run into trouble and head to the nearest house, which happens to be home to the Salos. It’s here that Luck shoots both the Reverend and his wife, unleashing a bewildering array of horrors…

In a lot of ways, Horror follows on from Tomaselli’s earlier film, Desecration with many of the themes from the earlier film (repression, drug use, family dynamics twisted beyond dysfunctional) being further explored.

On a technical level, Horror is a big step forward. The characters and situations are more interesting and the actors (many of them the same as for the earlier film) put in much better performances. The film also has a much stronger ending.

In fact, the ending of this film thoroughly blew me away. Not only does it make sense within the context of the film but it also adds a whole layer of understanding to what has gone on before.

It’s also worth mentioning the soundtrack which is never intrusive but always there – hugely adding to the unnerving atmosphere of the film. In to the director’s commentary, Tomaselli describes the soundtrack as being 50% of the film and this attitude leads to a very effective merging of the visual and audio into a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts.

It’s difficult to talk about the plot and structure of the film without giving too much away, so I will limit myself to noting that Horror is even less linear than Desecration.

But telling a straightforward story is not the primary intent of this film and the dreamlike logic is amply supported by the hallucinogenic imagery. And again, it’s tempting to go into detail but to do so would lessen the effect of these images when you first see them – and some of them really did make me sit up and take notice. Not all of the images are explicitly frightening, but they do combine to keep the viewer both disorientated and unnerved.

Horror is streets ahead of the vast majority of horror films released these days and if you want to see a film that engages your imagination and really gets under your skin, I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

Killers

KillersCrime films often strike me as one of the most difficult genres to work in. On one hand, any film needs to have characters that are at least interesting and preferably sympathetic, in order to hold the audience’s attention. On the other hand, it’s generally very difficult to generate a great deal of sympathy for drug dealers and hitmen.

It’s a difficult balance to strike, but it can be done. In Perdita Durango, for example, you find yourself drawn into the lives of Perdita and Romeo Dolorossa so that, no matter how perverse they become, you still find yourself caring about what is happening to them and wanting to know how things are going to pan out.

Lethal Force is another example of getting it right. If it wasn’t for the fact that the characters of both Savitch and Frank are well enough drawn to keep the audience interested in what happens to them, all the humour, style and violence in the world wouldn’t save it.

Killers tries to position itself in this territory, going so far as to clam to be In the same tradition as Reservoir Dogs.

This is true in the same way that Night of the Living Dead is in the same tradition of Biker Zombies from Detroit. Both films have zombies in them. And… that’s it.

Killers and Reservoir Dogs are both films about criminals. And… that’s it.

Where Reservoir Dogs is loaded with sharp, funny, fast-moving and heavily laden with pop culture references, Killers… isn’t.

The characters in Reservoir Dogs are well drawn, interesting and (in the case of Mister Orange and Mister White) sympathetic. The characters in Killers… aren’t.

And finally, the plot of Reservoir Dogs is both coherent and entertaining. The plot of Killers… isn’t.

What plot there is revolves around a group of bikers who manage to get their hands on some stolen drugs which they intend to sell. While counting their profits in an abandoned warehouse, the original owners of the drugs turn up…

It’s quite a simple, straightforward premise and could easily have given rise to a tense little thriller. All the elements are there; a group of opportunists trapped in a warehouse while the professional gangsters proceed to methodically hunt them down. The opportunities for a deadly cat and mouse game as the bikers try to find a way out are almost endless.

Unfortunately, none of that actually happens.

Instead, we have a bunch of thoroughly unlikeable bikers who, on realising their predicament start behaving both inconsistently and stupidly. It’s impossible to tell who is supposed to be the hero or heroine and who is just canon fodder until the bodies have piled up – a case of if he’s dead he wasn’t the hero.

The gangsters are no better. Inconsistent, erratic and completely incompetent - if real criminals were anything like these people there wouldn’t be any unsolved crimes.

This film simply fails to work on every level – the editing is distracting, the dialogue is unbelievable and the tension is non existent.

I have to admit that I wasn’t motivated to yank the DVD out of the player and start jumping up and down on it, but that’s the best thing I can say about this film.