Kairo/Pulse (2001)

Kyoshi Kurosawa’s “Kairo” is a film dripping in terror that deliberately paces itself as a slow burning end of the world tale. Rather than an all out orgy of gore and carnage, “Pulse” eventually explodes in to something of a last gasp of humanity, and a civilization that ends in a whisper and somber whimper. “Kairo” is written as something of a two act structure where Kurosawa opts for a film that’s episode in the vein of “Pulp Fiction,” and then smashes together in the stunning climax. Much of what we see seems and feels random in many places, and events collide allowing for a cogent unfolding of events that doesn’t just make sense but feels so meticulously planned from square one. What makes “Kairo” so haunting even when the credits have drawn to a close is the way the director opts less for splatter and gore, and more for a requiem that depicts mankind as a stain and nothing more.

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Day of Reckoning (2016)

“Day of Reckoning” is a pseudo-biblical horror movie that teams “Doom,” “Day of the Dead,” “The Walking Dead” and the Roland Emmerich disaster pornos in to one ball of baffling entertainment. “Day of Reckoning” is teeming with potential and actually manages to be entertaining every now and then. When a mining company accidentally unearths a hibernating brood of demonic monsters, the beasts arise from their slumber to begin wreaking havoc on humanity. The monsters are a variety of winged, stampeding, anthropomorphic demons with varying degrees of appearances and habits. Sometimes they’re a random herd of monsters, and sometimes they’re scheming and planning. They can poison people to apparently turn on everyone else, and they have a thirst for human flesh. Best of all they can be taken out by dousing them with enough salt.

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Rock & Rule (1983)

“Rock & Rule” is a wonky, surreal, and entertaining animated musical that feels like Ralph Bakshi, Don Bluth, and “Heavy Metal” magazine were combined in to such a frantic cult gem. The 1983 movie has gone through years of being an underground classic, and has finally been embraced for such an ahead of its time science fiction tale. The animation for “Rock & Rule” is completely out of the box, resembling rotoscoping in many aspects, and opting for character models you don’t often find anywhere else. “Rock & Rule” is a science fiction, punk rock, steam punk tale set many years in the future after world war III wiped man off the face of the Earth. The only surviving species are cats, dogs, and rats. They have evolved in to anthropomorphic mutants, all capable of thought and speech.

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Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn (1983) [Blu-Ray/Blu-Ray 3D]

“Metalstorm” is another one of the Not Brand X movies from the eighties where fans of “Mad Max” were treated to a long list of movies that desperately emulated its formula and aesthetic. If you survey most of the late seventies and eighties, you could probably build a whole sub-genre of post-apocalyptic movies that emulate “Mad Max” and “Escape from New York.” There’s a whole library from various studios who aimed to capture the same success and pop culture momentum as the aforementioned. “Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared Syn” is by no means a bad movie. It is a hokey but fun movie, though. It has all the hallmarks with films of this ilk including a desert wasteland, a hot rod driving “road warrior,” and his blonde babe.

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Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

id4-resOne thing you can always count on with aliens, that no matter how advanced or sentient they are, their primary form of security is always two huge closing doors that slide together and seal as gradually as possible. You assume in their world they’d have laser doors that seal up in a matter of milliseconds, but no. It’s always very slow closing doors that never quite close fast to stop our heroes. But of course they always murder the alien pilots because–they’re obviously not trained to zip through the doors I assume. “Independence Day: Resurgence” is a sequel with such an obvious mission to launch an “ID4” cinematic universe that it’s almost not really worth watching “Resurgence” at all, when you get down to it.

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Hive (2016)

hiveIn the end what will win out and be our undoing will be apathy. It’s the willingness to just sit back and allow evil, to apathetically cling to our faith without challenging those that seek to do wrong. It’s our talent for not doing anything, and allowing injustice. It doesn’t matter what we believe, what politics we subscribe to, but when the world comes literally crashing down on us, we’re all just bugs ready to be squashed. “Hive” is set in a world where its breed of insectoid people have been split and divided by beliefs, religion, and class.

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Stake Land 2 (2016)

stakeland2Fans have wanted a sequel to “Stake Land” since its premiere in 2011, and while the conditions of it being a TV movie aren’t ideal, thankfully the follow up is just as good as the original. Dan Berk and Robert Olsen continue what Jim Mickle started delivering a sequel that’s just as bleak and complex as the original. “Stake Land 2,” once known by the superior title “The Stakelander,” takes off six years after we met the dynamic team of Martin and his enigmatic mentor Mister. Fans of the original will be happy to know that original stars Connor Paolo and Nick Damici return as the characters of Martin and Mister, with the sequel placing a greater emphasis on Martin as an adult. Writer Nick Damici also returns to progress the characters further and does a bang up job opening up this world even further and unfolding a narrative that transforms in to a whole other tale of survival and revenge by the second half.

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Embers (2015) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

embersIn the not too distant future, most of the population has been affected by a neurological disease robbing them of their memories.  While a few people try to retain their minds and stay healthy, the rest of the population is trying to remember and reconnect.

Director Claire Carré co-wrote Embers with Charles Spano and they create a dystopian future where the majority of the population, what’s left of it anyways, has no memories but can function as adults.  This leads to some scenes reminiscent of what it’s like to deal with someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.  These people still care about others but they simply do not remember each other or who they are themselves.  This could have led to a film where it’s difficult to care about the characters or overly schmaltzy, but that is not the case here.  Carré and Spano’s attention to detail and to creating humans and not simply characters brings forth people that are highly flawed yet trying to connect with each other which lead the audience to connect with them.

As the characters do not remember who they are, the two leads are credited as Guy and Girl.  In these roles are Jason Ritter and Iva Gocheva, both of whom give their characters’ memory loss and loss of self a level of dignity as they search for who they are.  Ritter shines in particular as a man lost while trying to help this girl he feels close to and wakes up near every day, not knowing if they are together or not.  His performance shows care and love while being lost and fighting the despair of losing one’s mind.  His performance steals most of the scenes he is in.  Playing opposite Ritter in most of his scenes is Iva Gocheva who plays well with him, their performances complement each other.  The ensemble of the cast does also quite well, but these two stand out the most.

The production design by Chelsea Oliver and art direction by Matthew Lackit and Wojciech Zogala create a future that is both dystopian and realistic.  The environment in which most of the population lives is counter-productive to them figuring themselves out, in contrast, the rich, unaffected people’s places are filled with technology yet colder than the outside world.  The dichotomy of both worlds is carefully calculated and built.  These set or settings bring a lot to the story and the characters.

All of this is put together to create a film that shows a potential future for Earth, one that is not perfect or even all that good, but the good of people shines through.  The representation of the mystery disease feels like something that could happen if humans do not kill each other first.  The film makes its viewers think and does not take them for idiots.  Some of the mysteries are never explained. It’s simply a slice of life with no explanation how we got there or of what comes after.

Fantasia International Film Festival ran from July 14th until August 3rd, 2016 and will be back in the summer of 2017.