Crimes Against Humanity
First we have the directorial debut of Jerzy Rose, Crimes Against Humanity, which won the festival’s Best Feature prize. The main character is named Lewis, and he is a complete and utter asshole. He is a compulsive liar, and is emotionally and verbally abusive to his psychologically unstable girlfriend Brownie. The plot follows Lewis as he works with a private detective to investigate “Satanist” professors at the university he works for, as well as a series of unfortunate and highly unlikely mishaps that force Brownie to reevaluate her life.
Alternatively pointedly realistic, comically absurd, and occasionally surreal, Crimes Against Humanity is a quirky but entertaining film. The film will go back and forth between the totally mundane and everyday (job-hunting, friends chiding each other for their failings, the consequences of gossip and rumor), and the utterly surreal (the spirit of “Mother Earth” appearing before a depressed and hospital-confined Brownie, and telling her she can’t feel bad for herself because poor kids in Africa have it worse). The film doesn’t really have a point in the traditional sense, but that only makes it feel more like the ordinary life it is satirizing.
Created by Spanish director Aram Garriga, American Jesus is a journey through the Christian churches of modern day America, in their bizarre and varied wonder. The film covers everything from televised evangelical mega-churches, the snake-handlers of Texas, surfer churches in California, biker churches in New York, and some even stranger ones. The filmmakers seemed to go out of their way to find the most unusual and unique Christian churches in the country, although they leave out most of the widespread ones; any Catholic churches are conspicuously absent for example.
Regardless of my or your own spiritual beliefs, this movie is a fascinating exploration of the sheer diversity of Christian faith. As a humanities and social science student, I was absolutely captivated. Granted, the movie does take some pot shots at some of the more extreme pastors and priests it interviews, but it’s nothing you wouldn’t hear in any stand-up routine. If you’re one who gets easily offended or takes your faith very seriously, this may not be for you. However, if you’re interested in seeing very different and unique perspectives, and forms that faith and spirituality can take, then American Jesus is your salvation (sorry, the pun was too tempting).
Created by first-time directors Michael J. Epstein and Sophia Cacciola, Ten gets its name from the number of cast members, all female. Taking place in the early 1970s on an isolated island off the coast of Cape Cod, it follows its cast as they spout half-baked philosophy, get naked and are mysteriously killed off one-by-one by a masked killer with a penchant for pig and butcher imagery. Hilarity ensues.
Or at least, that’s what supposed to happen. Meant as homage to cheesy 70s horror movies, it is often intentionally bad for comedic effect. Even more often, however, is when it is unintentionally bad for even greater comedic effect. The writing is trite and cliché, the plot makes no sense, and the acting is amateur, stilted, and just generally atrocious. Even worse, the film abruptly switches genres three quarters of the way through to a parody of 70s spy films, with all the clichés and worn-out tropes you would expect, including Bond villain stupidity, ridiculous genre-blindness, and extremely bad Russian accents. This in itself wouldn’t be bad if it improved the quality of the film. Sadly, it doesn’t; this section of the film is just as badly written and acted as the horror portion, and the complete lack of foreshadowing of this genre-shift makes it feel forced and artificial. All that being said, this film does succeed at its objective of making the audience laugh, but like grade school bullies, we’re sadly laughing at it instead of with it.
Jeremy Sauliner’s second film (following his 2007 debut Murder Party) Blue Ruin follows a homeless loner named Dwight, who discovers that the man who murdered his parents is set to be released from prison. He decides to seek vengeance. However, the film is less about the revenge itself and more about the consequences of both Dwight’s and the other characters’ actions. The key to this film is the subtlety within it; less is more when it comes to both dialogue and violence. Carried by Macon Blair’s wonderful performance as Dwight, Blue Ruin walks the line between expectation, surprise, and a bit of black humor, making it the first thriller film that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed in quite a while.