TIFF ’14 – Day 9: A Taste of Madness

Dan Stevens uses his good looks for evil in The Guest.
Dan Stevens uses his good looks for evil in The Guest.

Early on, my favorite section at TIFF was Midnight Madness. A collection of horror films or gonzo documentaries, it was the place to be if you were a genre fan.

In the last couple of years, the quality of the selection hasn’t been all that solid (Die Cheerleader Die comes to mind). Or could it be the mild thrills of a scary flick couldn’t match the complexity of other TIFF selections.

This year the tide has turned once again. The group is an effective collection of homages (The Editor), new horror (It Follows) and docs about geeky obsessions (Electric Boogaloo, The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films). Here are a couple of more titles for your consideration.

The Guest (USA, 2014): Of all the new generation horror filmmakers (aka “Splatpackers”), Adam Wingard is by far the most interesting. Unlike his peers (Joe Swanberg, Ti West), Wingard movies are thoroughly plotted (courtesy of frequent collaborator Simon Barrett), tremendously amusing riffs on the genre tropes. You’re Next and A Horrible Way to Die are bright spots in a particularly bad decade for terror.

The Guest follows the same trend, with an Eighties-heavy soundtrack to boot. Frequently described as a scary Bourne movie, The Guest take place in a sleepy American town. A family who has recent lost a son in Afghanistan is visited by David (Dan Stevens, Downton Abbey), a soldier who claims to have fought alongside the boy. The grieving mother wastes no time in taking the veteran in and soon David charms everybody in the household… except the sulky teenage daughter (up-and-comer Maika Monroe), who believes something is off.

There is nothing groundbreaking about The Guest, but the material is elevated by a clever script and Stevens and Monroe’s committed performances. Thanks to her work in this flick and It Follows, Maika Monroe is set to become the next Scream Queen, but The Guest’s MVP is Stevens. The former Downton dweller uses his good looks to great effect and has the capacity to go from hilarious to terrifying in the span of seconds. He may have a career outside period pieces after all. Three enhanced prairie dogs.

What We Do in the Shadows (New Zealand, 2014): Jemaine Clement, one half of Flight of the Conchords, co-wrote, co-directed and co-stars in this horror parody that gets a lot of mileage of a premise a thousand times visited. Clement plays one of three vampires who share a flat. Like the polar opposite of Only Lovers Left Alive, the bloodsuckers in Shadows are petty, painfully uninteresting and not all that deep, despite the hundreds of years of experience (they have a chore wheel, for Pete’s sake!)

Clement and frequent collaborator Taika Waititi do a terrific job spoofing the genre without falling in obvious jokes. In fact, the film’s MVP is some guy named Stu, originally little more than an extra, whose character grows to become the silent straight man to a pile of wacky vampires and werewolves. In case you’re wondering, no Bret McKenzie, but Rhys Darby is around for the kicks. Three prairie bats.

That’s it for me folks, I must catch some sleep. Nine days of late nights and early mornings take a toll. See you at the movies.

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.