For the last week or so I’ve been lucky enough to watch a lot of impressive films virtually at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (for the rest of my coverage go here filminquiry.com). But for the most part, surprisingly, I haven’t seen a lot genre, specifically, horror films.
Toronto Film Festival’s Midnight Madness, much like other festival that have midnight showings, is for the horrors: the strange and unusual (HELLO!). This year there were two I was able to catch that seemed especially born from a strange and eerie, and different… place: You’re Not my Mother & Saloum. Be on the lookout for both of these directors who are sure to continue to do imaginative work.
You’re Not my Mother (Kate Dolan)
This folktale inspired story intertwines the youthful uncertainty of being a teenage girl, dealing with a loved one who a mental illness, as well as the supernatural/superstitions that come out of small towns and family secrets.
Char (Hazel Doupe) lives with her grandmother and mother, Angela (Carolyn Bracken), who suffers from depression, and seems on the precipice of something bad. At school she has to deal with consistent bullying, that often goes dangerously too far. When her mother goes missing, and then returns, Char can tell something is wrong right away. Like the title suggests, this isn’t the woman -her mother- who left.
Her mother’s behavior continues to grow more unexpected and volatile. There are a few sequences where her actions are more odd than supernatural, and you aren’t sure if it’s mythical or just medical. Most of the film takes places inside the home, really spotlighting domestic discomforts and how any place can really become terrifying given the circumstances.
Kate Dolan‘s directorial feature debut dances a bit between psychological thriller and horror, effectively being terrifying at times, but often choosing a slow build, more tense, reveal. Using the changeling folklore and making it new, there’s an interesting idea at the center of You’re Not My Mother.
Occasionally the film moves too slow, with lulls that would threaten your attention if there wasn’t already an underlying sense of dread that keeps you invested. I think the story takes on a bold idea, but doesn’t entirely commit. I would have loved it if the film went weirder and darker, but still found a lot to appreciate. All of the performances are great, especially Hazel Doupe.
By blending folklore with horror, psychological with the supernatural, and relying on a quiet terror rather than a flashy reveal, You Are Not My Mother builds a creepy base for which the talent to stand on. I always love a good twist of folklore, and there are some scenes that are definitely unforgettable.
While it’s a simple story, it’s still an effective one. You Are Not My Mother utilizes talented performances, a creepy atmosphere, and an unescapable dread. Look out for Kate Dolan, horror-world!
Saloum (Jean Luc Herbulot)
Crime? Horror? Western? Fantasy? Saloum mashes all of these genres up, spins them around, and produces something truly unique. As one of the biggest surprises for me at TIFF this year, this unexpected watch proved to be quite the spectacle.
Saloum is a confident directorial vision that manages to be both bizarre and absorbing. Over the course of its lean run time it manages to reinvent itself time and time again.
It starts with the three mercenaries, the “Bangui Hyenas” Chaka (Yann Gael), Rafa (Roger Sallah) and Minuit (Mentor Ba) along with a drug trafficker. A badass opening scene gives us a quick intro to each of these different personalities. When they escape with millions in gold in tow, they soon realize they have to land their plane unplanned, in Saloum, Senegal. The group then heads to a local camp that is run by Omar (Bruno Henry). What starts off as an unexpected stop, soon switches to a purposeful destination. They aren’t alone here, with a few guests and staff residing, and some buried, dark, secrets.
There’s a lot of inspiration pulled from a variety of film styles and genres while also manufacturing something inventive. Saloum keeps the suspense alive while also making time for humor. The lively scores ensures that the pulse is kept high.
“Revenge is like a River.”
From the very beginning the ominous whisper of revenge lingers in the story, and when it finally comes to a screaming head, the events to follow include a supernatural fight for survival. You remember this is midnight madness, right?! Friend and foe have to team up if they are going to make it out alive. This unexpected group carries terrific chemistry, including Awa (Evelyn Ily Juhen) a mute guest, who proves she has just as much bravura as the rest.
Bursting with energy, Saloum doesn’t shy on being consistently entertaining. It’s not a perfect film by any means, at times feeling rushed, but it manages to create a lively mash up that is easily guaranteed to be something you haven’t seen before. While the film is brimming with talent, Yann Gael and Evelyn Ily Juhen were stand outs to me, though the chemistry of the entire cast, especially within the initial group is notable.
There’s really no waste with this fast-tempo’d thrill ride. Halfway through the film, once the curtain is down and the Wizard is – as you will- at colorful play, the film moves even faster, over-relying on horror and style and less on story. I would have appreciated a little bit more time with it, especially if it meant giving extended insight on certain elements. Yet, the movie still manages to sweep you up, and even if I feel like I’m dropped into a story that’s already got quite a past (something I’d love to see, Hyenas prequel anyone?) I enjoyed the ride.
I won’t give away some of what makes this constitute as a horror because it’s best going in knowing less, but once the movie goes into hyperdrive it is reeling with an pulpy almost video game aesthetic. I really loved the costumes, cinematography and the eye catching detail to color. It’s a bold, intriguing narrative that really soars with the help of the visual flair. It’s atmosphere and location are also both striking and unsettling.
Saloum spins a vibrant combination of genres and tones that makes for a blast of a viewing experience.
Were you able to see either of these? Let me know your thoughts!