Monday, 25 July 2016

THE NEW WORLD - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Malick's Last Real Movie on Criterion Blu-Ray

Terrence Malick's last real movie.
The New World (2005)
Dir. Terrence Malick
Starring: Colin Farrell, Q'orianka Kilcher, Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale,
August Schellenberg, Wes Studi, David Thewlis, Yorick van Wageningen, John Savage

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The New World is the last real movie made by Terrence Malick prior to descending into his "I Talk To The Trees" cinematic dementia which began with the pretentious The Tree of Life and followed by the risible To The Wonder, Knight of Cups (Malick's nadir) and Voyage of Time (it has two versions, both awful, though happily the IMAX edition is very short). For this reason, one must be truly thankful to the Criterion Collection for issuing the gobsmackingly gorgeous "Director-Approved Special Edition" (3-Disc Blu-Ray, 4-Disc DVD) of Malick's haunting and moving take on the Pocahontas story. (This edition includes a terrific documentary by Austin Jack Lynch, especially illuminating in the sections devoted to training the indigenous Native actors in period body language.)

The New World has had a curious release pattern with no less than three different versions of the film. There is a 150-minute cut which played briefly in America to qualify for Oscars (and long available on an Italian DVD), then the contractually-obligated 135-minute cut which was the only one most of us saw for awhile and finally, a 172-minute extended cut that has never been theatrically released.

Luckily, this lovely box set (with gorgeous new cover artwork by Robert Hunt) has all three cuts. I like them all, frankly. The shortest version was all I knew for awhile and it's the sleekest of the lot, while the slightly longer version expands on both poetic qualities and sharpens narrative clarity. The longest is a real treat. Though it has far more early hints of Malick's tree-staring and soulful voiceovers, they are all in service to a compelling narrative.
Pocahontas: Lost in Love.
Many of us are familiar with the historically-rooted story of Native Princess Pocahontas via any number of literary and film renderings (the most horrendous being the animated Disney musical), but Malick has definitely delivered the most vital and successful dramatic look at this fascinating figure.

After some lovely underwater nude swimming shots of the gorgeous Pocahontas, we're introduced to the dashing figure of military man John Smith (Colin Farrell) who arrives, in chains, with a boatload of various rough-and-tumble types from England, all selected to establish the colony of Jamestown, Virginia and to set up a tobacco trade on the rich, fertile expanse of land in America. Smith is about to be executed for insubordination, but saved by the kindly (and in his own way, equally dashing) Captain Newport (Christopher Plummer).

To the dismay of Wingfield (David Thewlis), a snooty bureaucratic martinet with a major hate-on for our hero, Smith is promoted in rank and charged with overseeing the colony. As the new settlers are beleagured with a lack of food supplies, Smith journeys deep into the wilderness to establish positive relations and trade with the Algonquian "naturals".

Enter Pocahontas (Q'orianka Kilcher), Princess and favourite daughter of the tribe's Chief Powhatan (August Schellenberg). She not only saves Smith's life, but engages in much cavorting through nature with him as they fall madly in love. This allows Malick plenty of opportunity for shots of nature, sky and trees.

There's a whole lotta voice-over goin' on, too.

As Smith "goes Native" and learns the ways of the "naturals", there's a whack o' delicious romance and humour in the proceedings.

There is portent, too.

Powhatan warns Pocahontas to never take sides with the colonists, not even Smith. He fears they are all wolves in sheep's clothing (which, uh, they ultimately are). Smith, though, seems true to his commitment to the "naturals" and between he and Pocahontas, both sides are well served.

Until, there is war.
The dashing Captain John Smith.
Smith is eventually charged with leaving on a long, perilous expedition. The glories of exploration are dangled before him by kindly Cappy Newport and he takes the bait. Smith feels, in his heart of hearts, that his destiny is greater than his happiness. Knowing he'll never return, he asks a trusted associate to eventually lie to Pocahontas that he has died at sea so she can move on without him.

When she is informed of his death, she plunges into a grief that borders on madness. She's "rescued" by the ladies of Fort James who begin a process of colonization in earnest and she's transformed into a "proper" Englishwoman. She eventually meets John Rolfe (Christian Bale), a sweet, gentle and oh-so handsome tobacco plantation magnate. He's smitten with her, but she's still pining for the "dead" Captain John Smith. Eventually she acquiesces to Rolfe's marriage proposal.

When Rolfe and his "Indian Princess" bride are invited to England in order to meet royalty and high society, they journey across the pond. Accompanied by her Uncle Opechancanough (Wes Studi), they become the toast of Dear Old Blighty. Whilst gambolling on manicured British lawns, an old flame from her past materializes. John Smith, it seems, is not dead. Will the peace and love she's come to know with Rolfe now crash and burn?

Malick's screenplay, for all the film's poetic meanderings, carries a surprisingly solid romantic narrative arc and the whole experience of watching the film is filled with genuine wonder. The political implications of colonization and indeed, the gradual assimilation forced upon Pocahontas are always present, even though Malick's approach is never political.

He is clearly at the peak of his powers here as a Master Filmmaker and he's smart enough not to let politics get in the way of spiritual rumination on the beauty of nature, the power of love and creating a world that is richly steeped in history. All of this is bathed in cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki's stunning work (he paints with what appears to mostly be natural light), ace production designer Jack Fisk's muscular work creating both the colonial and old world settings of the early 17th Century and James Horner's lushly romantic score (nicely supplemented with plenty of Wagner and Mozart).

The greatness of The New World is paralleled only by the greatness of Malick's best work. It soars with a most remarkable spirit and it's dappled with more than its fair share of pure passion.

And yeah, the picture gives us an amazing opportunity at the end to squirt copious tears, ever-so Old-Faithful-like upon the screen. When he made real movies, Malick sure knew how to move us.


The New World is available on a sumptuous Criterion Collection 3-Disc DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION Blu-Ray with a new 4K digital restoration of the 172-minute extended cut of the film, supervised by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and director Terrence Malick and featuring material not released in theaters, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-rays. Included are high-definition digital transfers of the 135-minute theatrical cut and the 150-minute first cut of the film, supervised by Lubezki, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks on the Blu-rays. PLUS: new interviews with actors Colin Farrell and Q’orianka Kilcher, new program about the making of the film, featuring interviews with producer Sarah Green, production designer Jack Fisk, and costume designer Jacqueline West, Making “The New World,” a documentary shot during the production of the film in 2004, directed and edited by Austin Jack Lynch (this is especially illuminating in the sections devoted to training the indigenous Native actors in period body language), a new program about the process of cutting The New World and its various versions, featuring interviews with editors Hank Corwin, Saar Klein, and Mark Yoshikawa, Trailers, A book featuring an essay by film scholar Tom Gunning, a 2006 interview with Lubezki from American Cinematographer, and a selection of materials that inspired the production.

Monday, 18 July 2016

LA RAGE DU DEMON - FANTASIA 2016 - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Evil Méliès Possessed?

La Rage du Démon (2016)
Dir. Fabien Delage
Starring: Christophe Gans, Alexandre Aja, Philippe Rouyer, Jean-Jacques Bernard, Christophe Lemaire

Review By Greg Klymkiw

It is said that in 1897, famed magician and father of fantastical cinema Georges Méliès (legendary director of A Trip to the Moon and dramatized in Martin Scorsese's Hugo), directed a film so horrifying and powerful that some believed it to be possessed by a demonic force so abominable that it forced audiences into rages of an unholy nature. Thought to have be lost, if not outright destroyed, a print of the film surfaced in 2012. Screened for a select audience, the film inspired similar violent outbursts.

A group of contemporary filmmakers and cineastes were assembled to provide their feedback for La Rage du Démon. Alas, it turns out to be much ado about nothing. The film is such a lame mockumentary, that most of the interviewed subjects aren't able to pull off the charade with anything resembling believability. Worse yet, the mostly dull talking heads affair reveals not much of anything. There are several Méliès clips used with some perfunctory archival footage, but we never buy any of it for a second.

There's never an attempt to provide clips from the abomination itself, presumably because they're too horrifying, but mostly because this woeful low budget affair would not have been able to afford such recreations.

What we're left with is the promise of what might have been a great horror film - a pure shuddery fiction a la Hugo, but sans anything resembling "feel good". This poor, pointless mockumentary leaves us wondering if there ever will be a great picture made within the premise of a long-dead genius having made a deal with Satan, thus delivering a film so infused with evil that its audiences become minions of the diseased pieces of light flickered upon the screen.

La Rage du Démon is not it, but we're allowed to dream about it. Maybe one of the great filmmakers forced into the mock interviews here will deliver the goods.


La Rage du Démon enjoys its North American premiere at Fantasia 2016

DEMON - FANTASIA 2016 - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Polish Dybbuk Terrorizes Montreal

Demon (2015)
Dir. Marcin Wrona
Starring: Itay Tiran, Agnieszka Żulewska

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The dybbuk has always been one of the most bloodcurdling supernatural creatures, yet its presence in contemporary horror films has, for the most part, been surprisingly absent. Rooted in Jewish mythology, it is the spirit of someone who has suffered a great indignity just before death and seeks to adhere itself to the soul of a living person in order to end its own purgatorial suffering. Alas, it causes as much nerve-shredding pain to the spirit as it does to the body of the one who is possessed. Invading the physical vessel in which a fully formed spirit already resides is no easy task and can result in a battle of wills, which not only implodes within, but tends to explode into the material world with a vengeance.

Demon successfully and chillingly brings this nasty, unholy terror to where it belongs, upon the silver screen, as opposed to the natural world. The late Polish filmmaker Marcin Wrona (who died suddenly and mysteriously at age 42, just one week after the film’s world premiere at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival) hooks us immediately and reels us in with an almost sadistically gleeful use of cinema’s power to assail us with suspense of the highest order.

On the eve of his wedding to the beautiful Zaneta (Agnieszka Żulewska), the handsome young groom Peter (Itay Tiran) discovers the remains of a long-dead corpse in an open grave on the grounds of his father-in-law’s sprawling country estate. He becomes obsessed with this ghoulish treasure lying within the unconsecrated earth of a property bestowed upon the couple as a wedding gift. Not only will the nuptials be performed and celebrated here, but the happy twosome have been blessed with this gorgeous old house and lands as their future home.

Much of the film’s stylishly creepy events take place over the course of the wedding day. Wrona juggles a sardonic perspective with outright shuddersome horror during the mounting drunken celebrations at this extremely traditional Polish wedding. As the band plays, the guests dance between healthy guzzles of vodka, whilst the dybbuk clings to the poor groom, his body and soul wracked with pain.

When Peter begins to convulse violently, the lone Jewish guest at the Roman Catholic wedding, an elderly academic, is the one person who correctly identifies the problem.

Wrona’s camera dips, twirls and swirls with abandon as the celebratory affair becomes increasingly fraught with a strange desperation. Are the guests merely addled with booze, or is the estate a huge graveyard of Jews murdered during the Holocaust?

Is it possible that an army of dybbuks is seeking an end to their lonely, painful purgatory?

Demon raises many questions, but supplies no easy answers. What it delivers, however, is one of the scariest, most sickeningly creepy horror films of the year. If anything, the dybbuk has finally found a home in the movies, and we’re the beneficiaries of Wrona’s natural gifts as a filmmaker, as well as the largesse of this ancient supernatural entity, which so happily enters our own collective consciousness as we experience its nail-biting havoc over a not-so-holy matrimonial union.


DEMON enjoys its Montreal premiere at Fantasia 2016 in Montreal. This review was first published at Electric Sheep - a deviant view of cinema.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

THE LOVE WITCH - FANTASIA 2016 - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Witchy Carnal Gymnastics

The Love Witch (2016)
Dir. Anna Biller
Starring: Samantha Robinson, Gian Keys,
Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Robert Seeley

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Babes, witches, devil worship, black magic and sex, sex and more sex were the mainstay of a lovely sub-genre of 70s Euro-Horror that nobody in their right mind could outright dismiss. American counterparts amongst these garishly-coloured bonbons never quite lived up to the titillation quotient of Euro sleaze masters like Jean Rollin, Jesus Franco, et al, but no matter, director Anna Biller more than makes up for Uncle Sam's lack of quality output with her very own contemporary masterwork of delectably naughty feculence.

Mega-babe Elaine (Samantha Robinson) has left San Francisco and a mysteriously malevolent past behind her. Resettling in a small town in Redwood country at the behest of some "white" witches, Elaine soon unleashes her genuine powers of "black" magic upon a variety of studs. Plenty of carnal gymnastics, nudity and murder follow. We should all be lucky enough to have someone like Elaine to love us to death.

Biller creates a sumptuous, sex-drenched tale, shot in gloriously garish colour (in 35mm no less), parading ritual and rapture in equal measure. Those acquainted with the cinematic world she recreates (with a few new frissons) will have nothing to complain about. Those who aren't quite as abreast of it, might still derive pleasure from this diverting carnal romp. The rest can go to church.


The Love Witch is an Oscilloscope Release enjoying its Canadian Premiere at Fantasia 2016.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

THE EYES OF MY MOTHER - FANTASIA 2016 - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Slaughter Slog

The worst exploitation pretends to be art.
The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
Dir. Nicolas Pesce
Starring: Kika Magalhães, Will Brill, Paul Nazak, Flora Diaz, Clara Wong

Review By Greg Klymkiw

At only 77 minutes, The Eyes of My Mother feels like it's never going to end. It's one of the more disagreeable pictures I've recently had the displeasure to experience. Offensively boring (and just plain boringly offensive), it's a pretentious, nasty and misogynistic art-house-horror slug of the lowest order. What we're essentially dealing with here is a bottom feeder hoisted to heavenly heights by its makers to bamboozle audiences into thinking they're watching something lofty. Worse yet, its makers even think they've created something high-toned, but have, in fact, generated a movie squarely aimed at pseuds who will laud its affectations rhapsodically.

Director Nicolas Pesce is obviously not a nincompoop. He's put his thinking cap on for this one and he's also gifted visually, creating dense monochromatic images guaranteed to stay with you. You won't really want them cluttering your cerebral cortex, but they'll adhere to it anyway, like globs of agglutinative faecal matter tossed against a wall to see if they'll stick.

This sordid slice of rural Americana begins with a mother of Portuguese descent dissecting the head of a cow for her daughter Francisca and removing the eyeballs to teach her little lassie about the wonderful world of vision. (Oooohhhh, this is getting heady already, mais non?) As bad luck would have it, Mom allows a serial killer into the house and when Dad gets home, he discovers Francisca sitting in the kitchen whilst his wife is being hacked and bludgeoned in the bathtub.

No matter. Dad subdues the serial killer and chains him in the barn - still alive, naturally. With Francisca's help, he hauls his wife's body into the woods and buries it.

Wouldn't you?

Mother teaches daughter facts of life:
How to best remove eyeballs.
We flash forward a few years later and Francisca has blossomed into a fully grown babe (rendered in stultifying monotone by actress Kika Magalhães). Dad is constantly morose. One might think it's because he misses his wife, but since he's always watching "Bonanza" on TV, we naturally assume a steady diet of the Cartwright family is contributing to his ennui.

Francisca seems a tiny bit happier. She's surgically removed the serial killer's eyeballs and spends her days torturing and humiliating him. Eventually, when Dad dies and she tires of bathing, then sleeping with his smelly corpse, she gets a might horny and begins to seek ways to satisfy her natural urges.

This leads to her own serial killer-like tendencies coming to full fruition.

Lacking the razzle-dazzle and dark humour of something like Lucky McKee's The Woman (which it bears a few similarities to) and fraught with far too many dull Terrence Malick-like stretches, The Eyes of My Mother is little more than a wank-fest for its director and an even bigger masturbation-o-rama for the aforementioned pseuds amongst both paying audiences and film critics, all of whom want to impress each other with their nonsense-infused justifications for the sheer, nasty, empty malevolence of this horrendous picture.


Lowest Film Corner Rating.
For elaboration on its history, usage and full meaning,
please visit HERE.

The Eyes of My Mother is an Unobstructed View release enjoying its Canadian premiere at Fantasia 2016

Friday, 15 July 2016

IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE - FANTASIA 2016 - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Ti West Goes West

Ti West serves up Sweet Revenge in Texas.

In a Valley of Violence (2016)
Dir. Ti West
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Taissa Farmiga, John Travolta,
Jason Ransone, Karen Gillan, Larry Fessenden

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Who doesn't like a good western? Aside from a few knobs, pretty much everyone likes one. Writer-director Ti West (The Sacrament, The Innkeepers, You're Next) clearly enjoys westerns so much that he strapped six-shooters upon his cinematic mojo and damn well just made one.

And you know what? In a Valley of Violence is a darn tootin' good oater. Mildly revisionist, but mostly straight-up, the picture is replete with nods to Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter, Sergio Leone and Budd Boetticher whilst holding its own as a solid cowpoke revenge programmer.

Paul (Ethan Hawke), a former soldier with a mysterious past, stops in the one-horse Denton, Texas to replenish supplies. Accompanied by his beloved dog, he becomes acquainted with the spunky, sexy Mary-Anne (Taissa Farmiga), the restless little sister of hotel keeper Ellen (Karen Gillan). Local baddie Gilly Martin (James Ransone) moronically picks a fight with Paul and is soundly thrashed by our hero.

As these things must go, Gilly exacts revenge upon Paul, leaving him (and dog) for dead in the desert.

Bad idea.

Paul comes back to town, driven by hate.

The inevitable killing spree ensues.

Travolta's biggest challenge: Idiot Progeny!

West's script is lean, mean and sprinkled with plenty of witty dialogue. As per usual, he displays a first-rate eye for action, editing the picture with hard-driving aplomb and garnering solid performances from his all-star cast. Hawke makes for a stellar and stalwart cowpoke hero, the villains (especially Ransome and Larry Fessenden) ooze the proper amount of nasty Peckinpah-like scum-baggery and the camera utterly adores the spunky Ukrainian-American Princess Farmiga (Vera's lil sissy) who spits her lines out like some perverse cross twixt Maddie Ross and Addie Pray.

The real fun is seeing John Travolta as the town marshall, a beleaguered father to a moron son. Dad doesn't want to kill, but he will if he has to defend the rotting fruit sired from his seed.

In a Valley of Violence might not be the most wildly original western ever made, but it is a damn solid one and offers considerable entertainment value from a filmmaker who is fast becoming one of the most reliable and talented young directors in America.

Finally, no summation of this picture's virtues would be complete without a special nod to Abbie the dog, a sweet animal who delivers a lovely performance. What happens to the dog shouldn't happen to a dog, but no matter. You will rejoice in the sweet revenge on the animal's behalf. It's a bloody beautiful thing.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½ Three-and-a-half Stars

In a Valley of Violence enjoys its Canadian Premiere at Fantasia 2016.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

SHE'S ALLERGIC TO CATS - FANTASIA 2016 - Review By Greg Klymkiw: **** 4 Feature Debut

Can a schlub video artist get to home plate with a mega-babe?
She's Allergic To Cats (2016)
Dir. Michael Reich
Starring: Mike Pinkney, Sonja Kinski

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Every so often, I see a film that reminds me of the joy I experienced during those halcyon days when I produced a whack of no-to-low-budget feature films. The accent was always on the love of cinema, innovation and most of all, cool shit that I and my colleagues would be happy to pay money to see ourselves. Given our collective cinematic predilections, our only nod to "marketplace" was knowing there had to be whack-jobs like us "out there".

My personal credo was thus: If you're making a movie for very little money, it better goddamn well be something that puts you and the film itself on a map. Impersonal "calling card" films had only two results: Making something competent enough that you might end up in regular network series television or worse; not being able to overcome the meagre production value and generating a movie that nobody would want.

She's Allergic To Cats made me happier than happy. From the opening frames to the magnificent cut from a hilariously poignant final image to the first of the end title cards, I found the picture endlessly dazzling, deliriously perverse and rapturously romantic. This is exactly the kind of first feature which an original filmmaker should generate. Writer-director Michael Reich boldly announces his presence with a friendly fuck-you attitude, a great sense of humour and a visual style that should make some veteran directors be ashamed of their by the numbers camera jockey moves.

Though there is no official genre called "schlubs who get to successfully seduce babes", She's Allergic To Cats would definitely be leading the charge if such a thing did officially exist - it's kind of like a Woody Allen picture on acid through the lens of wonky, nutty 80s video art.

Are you a schlub? Don't worry. Babes await you.

Mike Pinkney, the actor, plays Mike Pinkney, the lead character - a schlub extraordinaire who works a day job as a dog groomer and in his off hours, makes retro-styled video art and/or endlessly watches the horrendous, compulsively watchable 70s TV movie with John Travolta, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. These viewings include Mike eating sweet, unhealthy breakfast cereals. His home is also disgustingly infested with rats who seem to devour everything - from bananas to condoms. The landlord's only solution is to eventually "look up" a solution on Wikipedia.

Mike's dream is to make a feature film homage to Brian De Palma's Carrie - with CATS!!! His producer thinks it's the stupidest idea he's every heard. Mike is dejected and persistent all at the same time. Amidst the slacker/McJob existence he leads, Mike miraculously hits it off with Cora (Sonja Kinski - Nastassja's daughter, Klaus's granddaughter) a mega-babe who happily agrees to a date.

Here, director Reich deserves to win some manner of official accolade for creating the most depraved "meet-cute" in cinema history. All I will say is that it involves the incompetent clipping of a dog's nails on the quick, causing them to bleed.

The entire love story is mediated through Mike's filmmaking/video-art perspective. The result is a chiaroscuro-like melange of garish "video" colours, cheesy (though gorgeous) dissolves and plenty of sexy video tracking errors.

Though the film's final actions can be seen from a mile away, "surprise" is hardly the point. There's a sad and deeply moving inevitability to where things go. Reich achieves the near-impossible. We laugh with his main character, we laugh at him and finally, we're given a chance to weep for him.

Yes, on many levels, She's Allergic to Cats is a head-film extraordinaire, but it has heart and soul. This is something of a miracle. Then again, this should come as no surprise. Getting the film made must have been a miracle and what Reich's efforts have yielded is nothing less than revelatory.


She's Allergic To Cats enjoys its World Premiere at FANTASIA 2016

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

AS THE GODS WILL - FANTASIA 2016 - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - Daruma head explosions

As The Gods Will (2016)
Dir. Takeshi Miike
Starring: Shôta Sometani, Ryûnosuke Kamiki, Rirî Furankî

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The ridiculously prolific Takeshi Miike generates a blood-spattered Lewis Carroll-like fantasy from the manga by Muneyuki Kaneshiro and Akeji Fujimura in which a trio of high school students need to outwit a few bizarre entities in order to survive. The first episode is a truly hilarious and vicious adventure involving a not-to-bright daruma doll playing red-light-green-light with a classroom full of adolescents.

Any student caught moving in the daruma's gaze results in their head exploding. Needles to say, there are plenty of opportunities for Miike to focus on cerebellum-popping carnage. Head explosions never overstay their welcome. Unfortunatelty, a few other elements, do.

Alas, the film grinds oppressively after this terrific opening as our hapless heroes are pursued by a huge "waving cat, amongst other other grotesqueries. There's a kind of live-action video gaming quality to the proceedings and things just seem to go on and on for what seems like an eternity.

At four minutes shy of two hours, "eternity" seems to be the operative word here.


As the Gods Will enjoys its Canuck premiere at Fantasia 2016.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

THE DARK STRANGER - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Promising feature debut opens July 15 in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Halifax on Cineplex Theatre’s Event Screens, followed by July 26 release on VOD via Raven Banner Releasing.

The Dark Stranger (2015)
Dir. Chris Trebilcock
Starring: Katie Findlay, Stephen McHattie, Enrico Colantoni,
Jennifer Dale, Mark O'Brien, Alex Ozerov, Emma Campbell

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Art and horror make for strange, but thoroughly appropriate bedfellows in life and art. True artists must be imbued with obsessive, self-reflective and often selfish qualities to create work of both originality and lasting value. Mental unbalance is not a pre-requisite, but comes in mighty handy amongst the best of the best.

The Dark Stranger is a curious and original genre film which delicately blends the elements of family drama, fairy tale (with literal graphic novel qualities) and outright horror (of the psychological and paranormal variety). Call it an everything including the kitchen sink motion picture experience which is buoyed by a superb cast and an overall one-of-a-kind directorial hand.

Katie Findlay in a star-making performance.
The camera absolutely loves her.

Leah Garrison (Katie Findlay, in a terrific star-making performance), is a young comic book artist in recovery from deep depression, a nervous breakdown and self-afflicted cutting. She lives with her loving university professor Dad (Enrico Colantoni) and typically goofy, but equally loving younger brother (Alex Ozerov) in a gorgeous, refurbished old house in one of the tonier (and leafier) neighbourhoods of downtown Toronto.

So, you might ask, what's this babe's problem?

Well, you'd possibly go bunyip too if your late mother (Emma Campbell), an acclaimed artist who passed mega-wads of talent DNA to her daughter, became increasingly agitated, irrational, roiling with rage and finally, exploding like Vesuvius - not only coming close to murdering her daughter, but in despair, offing herself. (It's also possible Leah inherited some wacko-psycho genes from Mommie Dearest to compliment her artistic gifts.)

Yup, I accept this.

During Leah's convalescence, a series of incidents converge to create a heady brew of horror. Witness: an art maven (Stephen McHattie) wishes to mount a show of her late mother's work, a series of nightmares involving an evil entity who serves as both artistic inspiration and tormenter and finally, an explosion of creativity that yields magnificent work, but in so doing, extracts the payment of self-mutilation.

Is this a psychological manifestation of the young Leah's despair, or is it something much more sinister and downright unholy? Or could it be both? Whatever it proves to be, we're offered a slowly mounting creepy-crawly terror that eventually releases a geyser of outright dread.

The Dark Stranger will certainly feel a bit oddball to audiences accustomed to a lowest common denominator story structure. The family drama elements border on an After-School-style special, the fairly tale aspects (reflected by gorgeously animated renderings of Leah's art) feel more suited to that curious blend of Grimm darkness and gentle naiveté inherent in the classic Soviet Gorky Studios fairy tales of the 60s and the horror itself blends David Cronenberg-like body mutilation with dollops of Clive Barker and Italian gialli thrown in for good measure. Add to this mix a dash or two of romance twixt Leah and her father's Teaching Assistant (Mark O'Brien) and the occasional visits from a well-meaning, but alternately annoying and sinister psychiatrist (Jennifer Dale).

And yes, there will be blood.

Veteran character actor Stephen McHattie.
Villain? Or hero? Or both?
In industry parlance, the movie might be seen as a "tweener", a film lodged between genres, but for those with a more discerning eye, the pleasures are varied and in summation finally create a wholly unique experience. At its most basic level, we have a movie with well-shaded characters and a compelling narrative which seems familiar, but takes turns surprising us just when things get too recognizable.

On yet another level, whether consciously intentional or not, the film provides a unique villain - the sort of entity many artists, especially in the film business, must face - the bureaucrat, the executive, the holder of the purse strings - that soul-bereft entity which causes the greatest confusion and turmoil within genuine creative people. Here our villain takes on properties of split-personality-like malevolence. (Like I said, not unlike the aforementioned gatekeepers.)

On one level, I did wish the more naturalistic aspects of the story had been tempered with a slightly otherworldly mise-en-scene to deflect from the more conventional family drama tropes which stick out like moderately sore thumbs. Ultimately though, this potentially fatal flaw is overshadowed. The Dark Stranger gradually and eventually takes hold with a vicelike grip, offering as many moments of genuine terror as it serves up genuine heartfelt emotion.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½ Three-and-a-Half-Stars

The Dark Stranger opens July 15 in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Halifax on Cineplex Theatre’s Event Screens, followed by July 26 release on VOD via Raven Banner Releasing. The film is also scheduled for U.S. ancillary release across all major digital, EST, VOD, streaming, TV and DVD platforms in October by genre distributor, Terror Films.