Monday, January 02, 2017

VODepths: 'Be My Cat,' 'The Devil Lives Here,' 'Honeymoon'

Be My Cat: A Film for Anne (Adrian Tofei, Florentina Hariton, Alexandra Stroe, dir. Adrian Tofei) Romanian filmmaker Tofei is the writer, director, star, producer, editor, production designer, cinematographer, casting director and sound designer of this micro-budget found-footage horror-comedy, which he also distributed and marketed himself (this is yet another movie that I was sent directly by the filmmaker). It seems to have worked, because by this point the movie has gotten more publicity than something at this level usually achieves, including a handful of Rotten Tomatoes reviews. Tofei certainly put a lot of passion into this ridiculous movie, in which he plays an aspiring filmmaker obsessed with Anne Hathaway (and in particular her portrayal of Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises), who decides to make a demo reel of a movie he plans to direct (titled Be My Cat), in order to entice Hathaway to star in it (spoiler alert: Anne Hathaway does not appear). This involves hiring and then murdering three local Romanian actresses who sort of look like Hathaway, in a scheme that doesn't make much sense. Tofei is maybe a little too good at playing a creepy weirdo, because his character becomes annoying very quickly, with his verbal tics (he says "Oh my God" seemingly hundreds of times) and close-ups of his own face. The story builds to some disturbing moments but then stalls out with an anticlimactic ending. Even if the movie is kind of a mess, I give Tofei credit for ambition and determination. Available on Vimeo.

The Devil Lives Here (Pedro Carvalho, Clara Verdier, Pedro Caetano, dir. Rodrigo Gasparini and Dante Vescio) Inspired in part by Brazilian folklore, this atmospheric horror movie is a bit incoherent, but it delivers on creepiness even when it doesn't make much sense. The basic setup is standard horror-movie material, as four young friends travel to a remote vacation home and summon an evil presence they don't really understand and can't contain. The filmmakers introduce a few seemingly unrelated threads at the beginning of the movie, and it takes a little while to recognize the flashbacks of a sadistic plantation owner and the slave he tortured, and how those relate to what's happening in the present day. But the movie eventually sticks to its single time period, as that long-dead slavemaster returns, when the descendants of the slave who led a rebellion against him fail to prevent his spirit from being revived (I think). There's a lot of other confusing mythology that seems to change from moment to moment, but directors Gasparini and Vescio do a good job of building tension and putting every character in real danger, and the villain is genuinely scary, especially once his eventual plan is revealed. With its connections to dark chapters in Brazil's history, this movie probably has greater resonance for native audiences, but even without understanding all of the context, it's still pretty unsettling. Available on Amazon.

Honeymoon (Hector Kotsifakis, Paulina Ahmed, Alberto Agnesi, dir. Diego Cohen) This grim, distasteful Mexican horror movie is pretty much just straight-up torture for 90-plus minutes, as a lonely doctor kidnaps his pretty neighbor and keeps her in a dingy basement as his "wife." Other than a creepy fake marriage ceremony, however, the movie doesn't do anything with the idea of the two being fake-married, and the doctor's motivations for fixating on this particular woman are never really clear (aside from a climactic twist that only makes things more confusing). Both major characters remain complete ciphers, with no personality traits other than abductor and abductee. The majority of the movie takes place in the single basement room, where Isabel (Ahmed) acts out or attempts to escape, and then Jorge (Kotsifakis) punishes her. It's repetitive and gruesome, as he pours acid in her mouth, removes the skin from her fingers, breaks her bones, rapes her and administers electric shocks. There's no message or broader thematic concern here; it's just this guy torturing this woman, followed by a sloppy twist ending. Not only that, but the production values are quite poor, with dialogue that is often hard to hear (although watching with subtitles alleviates that problem) and a terrible overbearing score that often overpowers the action. I kept waiting for some kind of development that would take the story in an interesting or thought-provoking direction, but director Cohen and screenwriter Marco Tarditi Ortega just wallow in sadism for 96 uncomfortable minutes. Available on Netflix.

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