Review: Second day of scares from Nightstream
Review: Nightstream day 2
After a successful start to things on Thursday, Nightstream Film Festival brought more spooky scenes to horror junkies last night. Though fans can stream movies from the festival now through Sunday, they can also check out our daily reviews and recaps. Today, our staffers share their thoughts on the films Jumbo, Anything for Jackson and Survival Skills.
Objectophilia is a form of sexual or romantic attraction focused on particular inanimate objects, said Webster’s Dictionary in a recent interview. If we’re going to do some research to understand Zoé Wittcock’s first feature film, Jumbo, we better give a voice to the inanimate. Wittcock’s drama surrounds a love story between Jeanne, a janitor at the local amusement park, and the park’s newest ride called Move It. (But his close friends call him Jumbo.) The painfully shy and bizarre Jeanne is played by Noémie Merlant, who starred in Portrait of a Lady on Fire in 2019.
This love story picks up strange and takes it for a ride, literally. There are multiple moments in the film where I had hopes the overbearing awkwardness would break, but they trudge on — usually involving a scene with Jeanne enduring the burden of interacting with other humans. Jeanne’s mother, Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot), usually offers some comedic relief whether she be talking about her vibrator or her ex husband, Jeanne’s father. It becomes obvious that Jeanne’s father has been out of the picture for a long time, and perhaps that contributes to her aggressive objection to any and all male attention.
Two of the stars that emerge from the film are its cinematography and score. Thomas Buelens captures stunning shots that make you almost forget that the main character in the film just had sex with a rollercoaster. (Key word: almost!) Thomas Roussel assembled the film’s soundtrack and his shout out is fully reliant on the Belgium new wave music included in the first and last scenes. The moment “Fly” by Machiavel, a 70s Belgium alternative rock band, begins to play it feels as if Roussel is letting the audience know the coast is clear and the movie is over.
– Emily Ehle
Anything for Jackson
Grief has long been an entry point for horror movies – from Don’t Look Now and Pet Sematary, to recent additions like Hereditary and Midsommar, filmmakers have mined death and the grisly process of letting go to examine universal human fears. Add to that list director Justin G. Dyck’s Anything for Jackson, an old school spookfest that is at once touching and terrifying, and a film that is both an ode to its influences and satisfyingly original.
The film opens with an abduction – Dr. Henry Walsh (Julian Richings) and his wife Audrey (Sheila McCarthy), by all accounts a mild mannered, upstanding older couple, have kidnapped pregnant Shannon (Konstantina Mantelos) in hopes of resurrecting their dead grandson Jackson, who died in a car accident. The couple’s daughter killed herself, unable to deal with the guilt from losing her son – and so they seek out a local satanic cult in order to heal the pain and bring Jackson back.
With Shannon tied up in the bedroom, we follow Henry and Audrey as they cover up the occult happenings – it’s a sort of reverse Rosemary’s Baby, instead of spending most of our time with the victim, we get to know the villains, as it were, as they attempt to “keep up appearances” and fumble through the demonic rites. Dyck paints a portrait of a grieving couple that is both sympathetic and intriguing; Keith Cooper’s scripting is well-paced and cleverly plotted, drip-feeding details as the tension mounts and the plan goes increasingly awry.
Anything for Jackson is jam packed with inventive, impressive set pieces – it’s part haunted house movie, part possession picture, part splatter feature. And captured by Sasha Moric’s elegant, gloomy photography it’s a nod to classic horror moviemaking, relying on practical effects and John McCarthy’s gothic score to tighten to screw.
And what’s more important here is the excellent work being done by the cast, each of them sketching out characters whom we not only understand, but care for despite conflicting objectives. Even minor appearances leave lasting effects – Yannick Bisson as handyman Rory has some standout moments, including a sequence with a snowblower that recalls Fargo’s famous woodchipper.
Though I’m not entirely sure the ending works here – I was left feeling the taste of other demonic films in my mouth (Ti West’s House of the Devil, with its similar open-ended finale comes to mind) and director Dyck and writer Cooper throw so many ideas at the screen that Anything for Jackson threatens to buckle under the weight of its ambitions. But that messiness might just come with the territory. Grief makes us monsters, the film seems to say – and that’s never a pretty sight.
– Matthew Nerber
Survival Skills follows optimistic rookie cop Jim Williams during his first year on the police force. First framed as a painfully corny training video from the 1990s, Jim’s idyllic world of Middletown, USA, is introduced through a television set, an omnipresent narrator guiding the journey. The aesthetics are nostalgic and the performances start off as cheesy, director Quinn Armstrong lulling viewers into a sense of comfort during the first act. But as they fall deeper into his campy world, the comedy turns bleak.
Vayu O’Donnell spins Jim into a RoboCop who wants to do everything in his power to protect and help the people in his community—think Janet from The Good Place with a gun. He builds Jim up as an earnest and caring rookie who becomes a downright heartbreaking figure by the film’s final moments. Coupled with a strong screenplay and artistic vision, the performances of Survival Skills help push it beyond the initial cheesiness.
Jim and his partner Allison respond to a domestic violence call early in the film, the case becoming pivotal to the central theme. After voicing his displeasure of being unable to help, Allison—far more worn by her time on the job—reminds Jim of how the justice system works. He slowly inserts himself in the lives of the victims, pulling strings and making exceptions to the rules trying to protect the two women. As his objectivity becomes blurred, the perfect facade the narrator built for Jim slowly falls away, exposing the rotting support beams of the American justice system.
Without a solid support system, the rookie cop slowly spirals as he walks the tightrope between upholding his duty to protect and serve and following department procedures. “Often we try to save other people from the things we are afraid of ourselves,” the police chief tells Jim. “So this need to save everyone is simply an embodiment of your own protective instincts.” The whiplash change from comedy to drama hits hard, leaving viewers unsure of Jim’s fate as he pursues his new mission.
Armstrong uses his debut feature to expose ways our justice system fails those working the system and those the system is instilled to protect and police. While the film could dig deeper, issues with the American justice system are far too vast to explore and critique in just 84 minutes. Survival Skills tricks you into expecting one film and ends up transforming into a more complex and upsetting story. Come for the camp, stay for the exploration of systematic failures.