Enhanced (DIR. James Mark)
The idea of a low budget superhero film is an undeniably commendable one. Superheroes are incredibly generic, and there is nothing that necessitates the bloated budgets that they tend to cost, so the idea of telling those stories with less waste should be celebrated. Unfortunately, the films that come out of this practice tend to be underwhelming. Case in point: James Mark’s Enhanced.
Enhanced is a take on the X-Men narrative of persecuted mutants trying to live their lives, following Anna (Alanna Bale) as she is chased by both a group of government agents and an all-powerful mutant. Along the way, the film commits just about every cinematic sin it thinks it can get away with.
It should be mentioned that the issue with this film has nothing do with its budget; the issue is a complete lack of storytelling prowess. The film is perpetually in act two, dropping the audience into the middle of the story without any context; only occasionally hinting at what is going on. This subversion of the narrative structure would be admirable if it wasn’t so obvious that it was unintentional. Enchanted poses multiple questions and loose ends that are never be answered; such as “why are these mutants being persecuted?”, “where did they come from?”, “why were they broken out of their prison?” As the story progresses, the more convoluted Enhanced becomes.
Unlike a lot of misfires that have screened at TAD, it should be noted that this one was not politically offensive. James Mark clearly has heart and it shows. What he’s lacking is a vision. And while this film is unquestionably bad, there is a hint of promise – perhaps he needs to work with a different genre next time.
Werewolf (DIR. Adrian Panek)
Atrocities are almost impossible for people to comprehend without going through them. One big misunderstanding that comes with atrocities is the concept of their finality: it is easy to assume that once an end is brought to the torture, the suffering ends. This myth is further perpetuated by our cinema: once the downtrodden are rescued, the credits begin to roll, no mention is made of the marks left and the trauma incurred. Adrian Panek’s Werewolf tells the story of the holocaust from the other side of this temporal divide.
Werewolf follows a small group of children who are liberated from a Nazi concentration camp and then left to their own devices. Placed in a German woman’s home, the children are soon left without supervision as the house is surrounded by the vicious dogs that kill their guardian. This leads to the children going from being trapped within the system, to being trapped outside of it. The dogs are not the only objects of fear, however, as hunger, thirst and lack of mental and physical health also plague the children.
This film’s inclusion in this year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival may seem unusual, but it actually makes perfect sense upon viewing. While the film is not necessarily generic, it absolutely incorporates various elements of horror and fantasy cinema. The sound design is straight out of a horror film, from the music to the penetrating sound of the barking dogs. Werewolf also heavily borrows from fairy tale imagery, particularly in its final scene, which will obviously remain unspoiled.
Ultimately, Werewolf’s concern is with the nature of humanity and how an individual can be dehumanized to a point of no return. However, the film also believes that children are strong. This all results in a film that will stay with you long after you leave the theatre.
The Wretched (DIR. Brett Pierce, Drew Pierce)
A zombie comedy named Deadheads by the Pierce brothers played at Toronto After Dark in 2011. It was a unique take on the zombie film, told in an entertaining way though it added nothing new to the genre. This may be the perfect description of the brothers’ new film The Wretched, a film that does everything “right”, but still misses the mark.
Young Ben leaves his mother to go live with his father for a while. Everything seems normal until the neighbours start acting unusual, after the woman of the house’s body is overtaken by a demonic creature. This creature feeds on children, at the same time making people forget about them. Unfortunately, this is all of the characterization the audience receives about this monster, including a thin explanation of its powers.
The Wretched’s atmosphere is an unusual mixture of modern young adult horror and classic 90s PG-13 horror. While this pastiche has definitely been done before, it works quite well here; turning Ben into an unlikely hero. Perhaps the formalism is the most impressive part of this film. What is less impressive, however, is the convenient ending and the filmmakers’ refusal to take more risks with storytelling.
Ultimately, The Wretched is an endearing film that uses classic horror cues to tell an interesting story. But, at the same time, there is nothing particularly exciting about the movie. You will likely enjoy it in the moment, but forget about it afterwards.
For more information on the festival, visit the official Toronto After Dark website.
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