TIFF Report #1 (The Final Girls, Sicario)

Sicario 2

Late Thursday night, on my way back from school before leaving for TIFF early in the morning, I sang my heart out to Demi Lovato’s Cool For The Summer. I hate pop music. I even hate that song. I was so ecstatic to go to the festival that this annoying cacophony was a melody as pleasing as a song from an angel. The tune quickly faded in the morning when I was surrounded by three babies on my 6am flight. I was not singing their song.

After arriving at my hotel, picking up my press pass, and standing in line at the public screening of Son Of Saul, it occurred to me that this is nothing like the festival experience I’m used to. People outside are howling at the slightest glimpses of celebrities, drivers are barking at the congested traffic, and a man in line at Subway growled at an employee because they only had flat-bread left. Toronto has been turned into a zoo and sometimes it’s hard not to be an animal.

The Final GIrls

Case in point: I wanted to lose my TIFF virginity to the acclaimed and revered Son Of Saul, but because I was turned away, I settled for its sleazier counterpart a few blocks down on a corner. The name was The Final Girls (4/10), and to be honest they were annoying, and unremarkable, a waste of a first time. This parody of ’70s slasher flicks like Friday the 13th seems clever for the self-reflexive way it tackles this genre’s misogynistic themes and archetypes but it’s not nearly as smart as it thinks it is.

The Purple Rose Of Cairo-like premise involves a teenage girl, Max, who grieves for her mother, a failed actress remembered only for her role in a b-movie. Max escapes into her mother’s film with a few friends and acquaintances as they attempt to survive until the end credits where they will triumphantly take down the camp’s mythic murderer.

Inevitably, this leads to a few moments of satirical humor where the archetypal millennials act as a foil to the politically incorrect caricatures from the old slasher flick. Those aware of ridiculous genre conventions – like that the killer targets teen girls who have been deflowered – might chuckle at in-jokes similar to when the “slutty” girl is securely padded in a life jacket and oven mitts that have been reinforced with duct tape to halt any threats of a strip scene and thus violence too.
However, the parodying is never thematically or emotionally tied into the story of the daughter’s grief. The Final Girls, a criticism of its stoic and hollow influences, stoops to the level it lampoons.

Funnier than anything in The Final Girls, the most humorous moment of the day was actually when a confused (or drunk) man asked if the rush line was to buy tickets to see Rush. He seemed amazed that hundreds of people would line up in the pouring rain for hours just for a chance to see a movie. But not just any movie – Denis Villeneuve’s latest tour de force, the nail-biting, breathlessly exciting Sicario (9/10).

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Although not mutually exclusive by any means, I think Villeneuve would prefer to consider Sicario more a political statement than a run-of-the-mill thriller. Without a doubt, exploitive genre movies can be political, but oftentimes what makes Villeneuve’s films distinct is their approach to violence. A gunshot, a corpse, a suggestion of torture: violent elements associated with genre are not to “thrill”  but to meditate on their psychological and social impact.

Kate Macer (a fantastic Emily Blunt) is an FBI agent who volunteers to join a task force to stop drug cartels from laundering money and distributing drugs. The desensitized Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and enigmatic Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) head the team while Macer, moral and by-the-book, struggles to justify their illegal and violent techniques that perpetuate the cycle of violence, which allegedly is a deplorable means to a worthwhile end.

From the opening moments, in one of the most disturbing set-pieces I can remember, Sicario starts with taut intensity and never lets up until its tragic and perceptive denouement. The action sequences are deftly conceived from all technical standpoints: the soundtrack’s deafening brass score is haunting, and Roger Deakins’ rapturous anamorphic cinematography ominously hints at the characters’ dead conscience with shots of dead landscapes.

Sharing thematic concerns with Incendies and to a slighter extent Prisoners and Polytechnique, Villeneuve is considering the perpetual and cyclical nature of violence. Grounded in a more political context, his insights from his earlier work are applied to US foreign policy and more specifically how the government deals with Mexican drug cartels, which the film would argue is fascinatingly similar to the cold-war origins of the Taliban.

Films like Sicario make this zoo a little easier. While waiting in line soaking wet from the pouring rain, at least festival-goers can talk about artful achievements, even if we didn’t all shamefully sing Demi Lovato before we came here.

Tomorrow: The Danish Girl, Legend, Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story)

Josh is a film critic who probably spends more time watching movies than you spend not watching movies. His tastes are unabashedly snobby and he tries to watch and promote Canadian films (despite the fact that most of them suck). Josh is currently taking a double major in philosophy and film studies. He also likes to point out why your opinions are fallacious by quoting the definition of ad hominem, ad populum, and ad nauseam. Notice how he just used an Oxford comma? He’s kind of pretentious like that.