The Hexecutioners (DIR. Jesse Thomas Cook)
By: Shahbaz Khayambashi
If I can give one bit of advice to a first-time attendee of Toronto After Dark, it would be to avoid the festival’s world premieres. In my time of attending this festival, I have had the opportunity to see three world premieres – I’m zero for three. Now, I can say, after having viewed The Hexecutioners, I can chalk up another clunker.
This film is an absolute mess of inept filmmaking and confused storytelling. It is not all bad: the film is fairly well edited and the cinematography is occasionally A-ok. Furthermore, Wil Burd’s performance as Edgar is really creepy and would have had a greater effect in another film.
The film begins problematically enough with the main premise contained within a world where legalized euthanasia leads to legal murder committed by privatized professionals. This quasi-Christian propaganda piece somehow manages to lose this very thread and turns into a haunted house film once our heroine is teamed up with another woman to kill a rich, old man. Not one of the segments seemed to have any coherency with each other. This opens the door for excessive scenes that serve no purpose to the rest of the film; scenes which would give Linda Williams a heart attack. A woman has a housecat whose sole role is to be released into the wilderness, a man strangles a possum, a woman takes off her top, two women share a kiss – there is no reason nor motivation given for any of these events. It’s just a bunch of stuff that happens to move the film along – the film, not the plot.
Seemingly to compensate for this excess, the lead of the film (Liv Collins) seems to have taken acting lessons from Kristen Stewart. She does not show a hint of emotion for the whole 93-minute runtime. By the end of the film, it seems even the filmmakers have given up as Jesse Thomas Cook’s flick tosses in a few awful CGI effects and deus ex machinas to bring the torture to an end. When your serious scenes are funnier than your comedic scenes, you know something went wrong.
Nina Forever (DIR. Ben Blaine & Chris Blaine)
By: Shahbaz Khayambashi
Occasionally, a strange mixture of horror subgenres come together and create a sort of phenomenon in the world of genre cinema. The most recent example of this phenomenon is ghost sex, with a handful of different films – created over a span of about two years – dealing with the connection between the two seemingly unconnected subjects. In order to not be constantly compared, these films need to bring something new to the table. Nina Forever, the feature film debut of the Blaine brothers, does that to some success.
After his girlfriend Nina is killed in a car accident, Rob attempts suicide, which catches the attention of Holly. As their relationship gets heated, it hits a snag in the form of the past returning: every time Holly and Rob have sex, Nina’s blood-soaked corpse comes back, into their bed, to interrupt them, as her and Rob never officially broke up.
If this sounds unlike anything you have ever seen, it is because it is an entirely unique film, made to perfection; the sort of film that is happy and heartbreaking, sexy and disgusting, morbid and lighthearted – all at once. In Toronto After Dark’s second film about letting go, this time it is the past that refuses to leave. Unlike the sex-negativity that comes along with many other ghost sex films, this time, it is the need for monogamy and chastity that causes the haunting. Add to that the film’s red and white colour scheme, and it becomes obvious that there are deeper erotic meanings at work in this sexual fable. The film also would not have worked quite as well as it did if it wasn’t for the distinctly poppy, anti-horror indie soundtrack which scored every gory detail, which somehow makes the gore look beautiful albeit nauseating.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not praise the performances of the main cast. Abigail Hardingham and Cian Barry give great performances as the interrupted lovers, but the show is stolen by the undead and beautifully broken performance of Fiona O’Shaughnessy, both in her presentation of the character of a jealous recently deceased woman and in her bodily movements, which greatly indicate an individual who has recently had her bones broken by asphalt and metal (the two bits of glass forever penetrating her face are a nice touch).
There is a twist late in the third act which kept me from being completely won over, but it still didn’t extinguish my adoration for Ben and Chris Blaine’s freaky flick. Nina Forever needs to be seen to be believed.