While this year’s HotDocs features plenty of hard-hitting, thought-provoking features, a couple of crowd-pleasers have made it into the line-up. Here are two of them.
Raiders! (USA, 2015): For most of their teenage years, three kids spent every summer filming a shot-by-shot recreation of Raiders of the Lost Ark. With no more resources than sheer will and gung-ho spirit, the boys succeeded for the most part: The adaptation became a cult film championed by the likes of Eli Roth and Harry Knowles. One scene was missing though: An expensive, complex action sequence at a landing pad involving Indy, three Nazi planes and a hulking henchman.
This hilarious coming-of-age doc Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made follows two of the boys, all grown-up, as they try to complete their magnum opus. The storyline (compelling in its own right) serves as a pretext to revisit the shooting of the rest of the movie. Children of the 80’s, Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos and Jayson Lamb come across as extremely ingenious and phenomenally irresponsible (some scenes involving stunts and fire will give you pause before cracking up).
Raiders! also offers glimpses of growing pains and dreams fading away, which only makes the movie more human and relatable. Four stars.
The Nightmare (USA, 2015): Three years ago, director Rodney Asher interviewed nine people to explore different deconstructions of the movie The Shining. The outcome became the doc Room 237, a tremendously entertaining exercise that gave the same tribune to legitimate readings (the massacre of Native Americans in Colorado as background) and crackpot theories (Stanley Kubrick’s atonement for faking the moon landing). Room 237 was more about cinema as an individual experience than about interpretations, but the outward layers gathered most of the attention.
The Nightmare is shaped similarly, but lacks the overarching undercurrent: A group of people of different backgrounds share a common condition: Sleep paralysis. Not only they awake in the middle of the night unable to move a muscle, every single one recalls a malevolent presence in the vicinity.
While the film creates at times moments of genuine dread, there is little interest in finding a reasonable explanation (or a consistent one, for that matter). Other than insinuating the possibility that mysterious entities covet the subjects’ souls, there is no method to this madness. The Nightmare is undeniably entertaining, but it’s just empty calories. Two stars.