Toronto After Dark 2016: ‘As the Gods Will’ and ‘In a Valley of Violence’

As the Gods Will (DIR. Takashi Miike)

Takashi Miike has two modes of filmmaking: a deadly serious style that’s evident in films like Audition, and a goofy, over-the-top style visible in films like Ichi the Killer.  In As the Gods Will, it takes the viewer mere minutes to figure out which category Miike’s latest falls into (for me, it was the moment when a student gets decapitated and bleeds red marbles).

At its base, As the Gods Will is not particularly original.  A mysterious entity is forcing high school students to partake in a contest that will kill the majority of them.  It’s appropriate to automatically think of Battle Royale or The Hunger Games.  However, what sets this film apart from those movies is the absolute lunacy of the contests, and the general design of sets and villains.  The games that the students need to complete are deadly versions of children’s games (the first game is a bloody version of “red light, green light”), and the villains who initiate these games are famous Japanese figurines – modified to be equal parts creepy and baffling.

There are some human connections and love stories throughout, but those are not important details to this story.  As the Gods Will is rather just an elaborate way to mix together equal parts of cute – sometimes sickly so – villains, absurd humour and bloody ultra-violence.  This heady goodness is welcomed, but it’s also the reason why Miike’s film begins to falter towards the end – once things become human, it becomes apparent how much plot is relevant.  The unconventional ending could also drive most viewers looney.

I wouldn’t be surprised if most people denounce As the Gods Will as absolute nonsense.  However, for me, that nonsense was incredibly entertaining, and worthy of a recommendation.


In a Valley of Violence (DIR. Ti West)

Ti West may be the most boring horror filmmaker working today.  His over-reliance on pastiche often leads to humourless, derivative, and overall tedious horror films.  Well, it turns out that his over-reliance on pastiche might not be the problem; perhaps it’s the genre.  Evidence of this is present in his latest film, the worthwhile Ti Western In a Valley of Violence, which sees Ethan Hawke in a wild west town as he attempts to track down and kill four men who caused him and his family harm.

In a Valley of Violence is far from perfect, succumbing to a lot of the downfalls that come with pastiche-laden filmmaking.  Obviously, these productions are heavily reliant on what came before them, meaning everything becomes formulaic, leading to both repetitive elements along with predictable shots and cues.  However, this shift for West seems to have fixed some of his earlier issues.  Pastiche cinema is inherently self-aware and it seems like the switch in genres has unlocked something that was missing from West’s earlier efforts – a strong sense of humour.  For long-time movie goers who are familiar with West, In a Valley of Violence makes us wonder what other untapped genres would look like from the filmmaker.

The moderate success of this film cannot be fully attributed to West, however.  The true voices behind the film are the actors who bring character archetypes to life.  Hawke and villainous sheriff John Travolta perfect the bickering banter, while Taissa Farmiga impressively speaks at a thousand thoughts per minute.  However, the best performance is given by a puppy by the name of Jumpy, who will surely steal the viewer’s heart as Hawke’s canine companion.


For more information on the festival, visit the official TAD webpage here.

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Toronto After Dark: @TADFilmFest
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