Wednesday, 6 September 2017

THE CRESCENT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2017: Lewtonesque Horror in Nova Scotia

Grief shared by a mother and son.

The Crescent (2017)
Dir. Seth A. Smith
Scr. Seth A. Smith, Darcy Spidle
Starring: Danika Vandersteen, Woodrow Graves, Andrew Gillis

Review By Greg Klymkiw

More often than not we choose to confront numbing grief with escape. Facing bereavement head-on is said to be the best way of dealing with the debilitation that loss inspires, but we're all only human after all and it's just so much easier to run away and repress. (And believe you me, repression is not always without merit.)

Beth (Danika Vandersteen) is a beautiful young (recent) widow who hightails it to a remote house at Silver Crescent Beach (outside of Halifax) with her 2-year-old child Lowen (Woodrow Graves, real-life son of producer Nancy Urich and director Seth Smith). They find themselves in a huge, stylishly imposing domicile overlooking the roiling seas of the Atlantic Ocean and live out a quiet existence of walking the beach, playing together and for Beth, a brilliant talented visual artist, losing herself in the creation of gorgeously disturbing pieces generated through the abstract printing process of paper marbling.

From time to time, there are a few residents they encounter. On the surface, these denizens of the remote environs appear relatively benevolent, but given the film's increasingly mounting creepiness and the simple fact that it's a horror film, it doesn't take a Rhodes Scholar to figure out that they might not be who, or rather, what they appear to be.

As the events unfurl in a meticulous slow-burn pace, with plenty of cerebral mind-blowing explosions of visual fireworks, director Smith eventually unleashes all-out, drawer-filling scares and in one delicious set piece, the kind of sickening visceral splatter that horror aficionados will love. It's always lovely seeing a quiet, intelligent horror film that channels the energies and artistry of RKO's master of atmospheric chills Val Lewton (The Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, The Seventh Victim, The Body Snatcher).

If anything, the Lewton picture The Crescent most resembles in terms of both horror and deep emotional resonance is the Robert Wise-Gunther von Fritsch collaboration The Curse of the Cat People. Sometimes there's just nothing scarier and more disturbing than a child's loneliness and grief. And, of course, a Mother's. Lewton knew and pioneered the notion that horror was what we all faced in our daily lives. The Crescent picks up this torch very nicely indeed. Darcy Spidle and Smith generate a terrific screenplay. Writing "visually" is the greatest challenge contemporary scripts face and it's a joy to experience such purely cinematic writing that adheres to the needs of narrative beats and character, but does so with a kino-eye.

The performances in the film are all blessed with the kind of naturalism that is refreshing (artist Vandersteen in her motion picture debut is radiant, the camera loves her), but in particular, toddler Groves steals the show with a child performance to rival that of the extraordinary Victoire Thivisol in Jacques Doillon's Ponette and the astonishing Brigitte Fossey in René Clément's Jeux Interdits, both classic films dealing with childhood perspectives upon grief, to which The Crescent can proudly keep company with, but with, blood - and when it comes, plenty o' crimson ooze.


The Crescent screens at TIFF 2017. If this film is any indication of what we can expect from new TIFF Midnight Madness programmer Peter Kuplowsky in this, his inaugural solo year, I suspect we have a very worthy successor to former longtime MM toppers Colin Geddes and Noah Cowan.