I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about a pair of films – Rabbit and The Endless – both of which screened at the 2017 Toronto After Dark Film Festival (Oct 17-22). Plus: a brief endorsement for the ridiculous hilarity of Cult of Chucky.
Let’s bitch it out…
Writer / director Luke Shanahan has crafted one of the most surreal films that I have seen this year. The plot, about a woman, Maude (Adelaide Clemens)’s search for her missing twin sister Cleo, isn’t complicated, but its unhurried pace does occasionally make it feel insignificant.
The film opens with a standard horror trope: a woman being chased through the woods by masked men who capture her in a wooded cottage. Cut to the same woman waking from a nightmare in Germany. Pre-med student Maude has a few incidents before abandoning her professional ambitions to return home to Adelaide, Australia in search of her missing sister Cleo, who hasn’t been heard from in a year. What follows is some light detective work as Maude retraces her sister’s steps, first to a trailer park for people on the fringes of society and later to a large mansion that is used as a prison/test site for experiments funded by a cult of fanatics interested in cryptophasia, the unique language and communications skills that often develops in twins.
Audiences who are drawn into the mystery of what happened to Cleo will find the film’s pre-occupation with moody dream-like imagery at odds with its narrative. In truth, it is best to acknowledge that Shanahan’s film is only loosely interested in solving its premise and simply succumb to Rabbit‘s lush visual aesthetic. I’ve taken to describing the film as an intersection between seminal children’s novel Alice in Wonderland and French extreme horror film Martyrs. Although Rabbit features very little whimsy or explicit gore, Maude’s slow descent into increasingly bizarre circumstances with odd and unusual figures mirrors both of the aforementioned works. The film’s revelatory climax, which draws on cults, telepathy, repetition and pseudo-science, is also evocative of both early Lynch and Cronenberg, albeit in more grounded and less fantastic fashion.
Rabbit is an unique arthouse drama with a dash of horror that’s fit for a niche, cult audience. It won’t work for everyone, but those who are willing to invest in Clemens’ dedicated performance and go along with Shanahan’s evocative script and direction will discover a film that lingers in the memory, like a fugue dream that is just out of reach.
Rabbit currently does not have a release date
First, a caveat: Spring, the second feature film by filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, was one of my favourite films of 2014. It was an out of nowhere surprise – equal parts Before Sunrise and gruesome creature feature – and it immediately cemented Benson and Moorhead as ones to watch.
My love of Spring was the reason that I was incredibly excited to check out The Endless, their first new feature in years at Fantasia Film Festival this summer.
Then I missed it and no screener was available. 🙁
When I saw that TADFF had programmed the film, I knew that I had to move heaven and earth to ensure I finally checkedit out when it screened. Boy am I glad I did (Audiences agreed: the film won seven awards at TADFF this year).
The logline is enticing, but deceptive: a pair of brothers who escaped from a doomsday cult return a decade later to seek closure. Justin (Benson), the eldest, feels responsible for the shitty life he and his younger brother Aaron (Moorhead) lead, but he’s convinced that he made the right decision. Aaron, meanwhile, can only remember the positive aspects of cult-life and the mundane realities of their maladjusted life make him eager to go back. So off they go: first for a single night and day, then – thanks to extenuating circumstances – a few days more, despite the fact that something (the people, the place) is clearly off.
Part of what makes The Endless such a fascinating film is that the above description barely scratches the narrative surface. It’s not actually a film about a cult; it’s a film about feeling trapped (by expectations, routine and time). To say more would spoil the fun, but it’s another out of the box surprise by the pair of exceptionally talented young filmmakers.
Benson and Moorhead’s direct involvement in so many technical roles (they also wrote the script, edited the film, and provided FX work) only serves to reinforce how personal their films are. It was no surprise to hear in the Q&A following the film that they value / guard their freedom to craft and execute their own unique material very closely.
The Endless isn’t quite as strong as Spring (or perhaps it’s just a very different kind of film), particularly its drawn out third act that doesn’t quite live up to the early promise. Even in this slight hiccup, though, the reveal about what is truly going on exposes a shockingly well-developed mythology that is only hinted at by the film’s concluding scenes. The Endless is a great, unexpected example of a film that could only exist outside of the conventional Hollywood system, which is why (horror and indie) film fans should seek it out when it comes out next year. This is a film that absolutely begs to be seen and discussed over beers following the screening.
The Endless will be released in the first quarter of 2018
Cult of Chucky
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the absurd delights of Cult of Chucky. I’ll freely admit that I am a hardcore fan of the franchise (I’ve seen the first film, as well as the comedic raunchy delights of Bride of Chucky), but I have always appreciate Don Mancini’s commitment to the series that he created and his proclivity for continuity.
While other 80s horror icons have been led astray and exiled to development hell purgatory, the malicious Big Boy doll with a love for sharp objects and a killer one liner continues to deliver. If you’re not a fan of the series, Cult likely won’t change your mind, but it is a quick and enjoyable watch.
The film definitely works better if you’ve kept up on recent developments (particularly Bride and Curse of Chucky, which introduced new protagonist Nica, played by Fiona Dourif – daughter of Brad, who provides the killer doll’s voice). I went in cold, but didn’t have much difficulty following along.
Logic and character development are in a bit of short supply, but the overall plot is simple: Nica has been institutionalized following the events of the last film and various conspirators hatch a plan to introduce Chucky (or one of many Chucky-possessed dolls, hence the “cult” of the title) into the asylum. You’ll be hard pressed to remember a single character’s name outside of Nica and Andy (Alex Vincent, the star of the original film), but the deaths are chuckle-worthy and in one surprising case – the falling skylight – jaw-droppingly beautiful. Cult of Chucky doesn’t offer up something new for the long running franchise, but what it does offer is consistency and entertainment. As Chucky himself might say, that ain’t half bad.
Cult of Chucky Unrated is now available on VOD and DVD. An R version of the film is available on Netflix.
For all of my TADFF coverage, click here.