Best of the Imagine Film Festival
Mr.Frank's favourites from this year's Imagine Film Festival
Once again, the Imagine Film Festival takes up its two-week residence in Amsterdam’s EYE Film Museum and promises to ‘open the minds’ of the thousands of cinema-goers who flock to the event. Whereas other festivals might focus on more art-house offerings, Imagine proudly boasts a programme of science fiction, horror, and action movies. Now in its 25th year, Imagine is one of the most prominent film festivals in the Netherlands, and Mr.Frank once again braved the crowds and sold-out shows to bring you our festival highlights – four unmissable films guaranteed to thrill, horrify, and inspire thought in equal measure.
Maybe the ‘biggest’ film of the festival, Jordan Peele’s directorial debut more than justifies its critical and commercial success. And like all great horror movies, Get Out amplifies our real-world worries and insecurities, pushing them to their fantastically terrifying extremes. The plot is deceptively simple, as Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris travels to meet his girlfriend’s parents. The only complication being that Chris is black, and he suddenly finds himself in the midst a community which is very, very white. While the final act descends into familiar (and satisfyingly grizzly) horror tropes, the film’s first half is arguably more unsettling, as Chris navigates an environment of toe-curling white liberalism. The parents’ neighbours are desperate to prove how right-on they are (“I'd have voted for Obama a third time if I could have!”), while betraying a deeply-entrenched racism and fetishisation of the black body.
As darkly hilarious as it is genuinely scary, Get Out holds a mirror up to the complacency of the white middle classes, and deserves to be seen by all.
One film that should definitely not be seen by all is Kuso. Directed by Steve Ellison (better known as electronica-jazz genius Flying Lotus) and co-written by David Firth (remember Salad Fingers?), Kuso is relentlessly, gleefully gross. Not gross in the sweet-natured Farrely brothers sense but gross in the having-sex-with-a-sentient-neck-boil sense. Needless to say, it’s not for everyone.
Set in the aftermath of a terrible earthquake, Kuso is a collection of very loosely interlinked vignettes, each focusing on a particular act of extreme depravity. It would be easy to dismiss the film as pure puerility - there is no particular plot or resolution to speak of - but Kuso is genuinely unique. Indeed, there is something admirable in its laser-focused vulgarity and, amid the frequent explosions of bodily fluids, there is the occasional image of startling beauty. For the strong-stomached, Kuso is a hilariously twisted lucid nightmare, and currently the only way to see George Clinton shit out a giant animatronic cockroach in graphic detail.
Continuing Ben Wheatley’s winning streak of splattery and scabrous genre filmmaking, Free Fire is the British director’s most ‘mainstream’ movie as well as his most stripped down and elemental. Set in a single location and playing out in mostly real-time, Free Fire is and extended ode to Reservoir Dogs and the work of Sam Peckinpah. Whereas other action movies might build to the climactic confrontation, Free Fire jettisons any superfluous exposition and revels in its single, sprawling shootout. Set amid an IRA arms deal gone very wrong, Free Fire traps the viewer along with its characters, never straying outside the central warehouse.
The result is a concentrated dose of cathartic violence, its sense of menace and brutality offset by Wheatley and screenwriting partner Amy Jump’s nimble wit. As loyalties and fragile allegiances begin to fracture, the film becomes increasingly frenetic, the camera zipping around the enclosed space like so many bullets. The script is razor sharp as the all star-ensemble cast (Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Sharto Copley, Michael Smiley, Armie Hammer, Sam Riley etc.) trade an endless stream of insults and profanity. As much as it is a postmodern deconstruction of the action movie as it is a B-movie conceit stretched to the limits of self-indulgence, Free Fire is a flashy, funny thrill.
There are beautiful, inspiring and profound movies… and then there are films about men getting spectacularly stabbed, shot and crippled. Headshot is proudly of the latter category, and would make a perfect double bill with Free Fire (both were screened on the same day at Imagine). Directed by Indonesian duo the Mo Brothers, and featuring Iko Awais as both star and choreographer, Headshot is a lethally-efficient slice of martial arts joy.
What little plot there is (a running theme here…) is merely a cipher to facilitate Awais’ amnesiac protagonist punching, kicking, and biting his way through a series of increasingly-violent encounters with a shadowy criminal organisation. So far, so cliché – but Headshot excels through the sheer exuberance of its action. Characters dance through the relatively humdrum locations with an almost balletic poise, and every blow lands with a visceral thump. This is a film in which pain is dealt readily yet responsibly, while the handheld camera is as much a participant as the finely-tuned stars. As Awais’ memories and abilities gradually return, the direction becomes both more fluid and more frenetic, with the camera literally thrown around rooms and in and out of moving vehicles. The stripped-down plotting ensures the action stays legible, and the Mo Brothers put their actors’ physicality front-and-centre. It’s easy to dismiss this sort of filmmaking as hollow adolescent fantasy, but at its best, Headshot resembles a Chaplin-esque ‘pure cinema’, showcasing the limitless physical talents of its cast, with scant assistance from CGI or any cinematic sleight-of-hand. For all its admirable ridiculousness, Headshot is a very real film.