Toronto After Dark 2016: ‘Train to Busan’ and ‘Trash Fire’

Train to Busan (DIR. Yeon Sang-ho)

Sometimes, a film fails at everything – an abject failure.  Sometimes, a film fails at the majority of its goals while succeeding in some, earning a designation of mediocrity.  Then, there are the rare cases of films failing in a majority of ways with a few successes, wherein those successes manage to outshine the failure.  Yeon Sang-ho’s Train to Busan fits into that final example, a film that comes highly but begrudgingly recommended.

Train to Busan tells of a father’s journey to get his daughter to her mother in Busan, in the middle of a zombie-creating viral outbreak.  The film is full of flaws: there is some political commentary that is muddled and incoherent, the characters have little to no motivation for their actions, the women tend to fall into categories of helplessness, and the dramatic sequences are so melodramatic and cheesy that they elicit laughter rather any sense of pathos.  Yeon Sang-ho’s film has enough negative elements to create a terrible cinematic experience.  So, why would I still highly recommended it?

The action sequences in Train to Busan are absolutely unforgettably mad!  In between attempts at familial drama, the film sees brilliantly choreographed zombies running down potential prey, falling through windows, chasing after trains and generally being thrilling and, above all, entertaining.  The term “thrill ride” is overly used, but Train to Busan absolutely warrants its usage.

This is one case where the viewer should abandon thoughtful criticism and simply watch the zombies do their zombie things.


Trash Fire (DIR. Richard Bates Jr.)

If asked to give a quick synopsis of the works of Richard Bates Jr., this is the most concise description imaginable: he writes compelling characters, he is great at creating dysfunctional families, but he cannot write endings.  In his latest film Trash Fire, he continues this streak, creating a notable new work – after the disappointment of Suburban Gothic – that just barely misses the mark.

In this near perfect crossbreeding of cringe comedy, familial tragedy and religious horror, Entourage’s Adrian Grenier goes from insufferable to sympathetic as his dour depressive character decides to grow up by making amends with his sister who was disfigured in a fire which killed their parents and split them up years ago.  The real issue is their religious grandmother who has become the sister’s legal guardian, as well as one of the worst individuals to ever grace the silver screen.  It cannot be overstated how horrendously (read: brilliantly) Fionnula Flanagan plays the role of a grandmother from hell.  Credit also needs to go to AnnaLynne McCord who once again plays an ugly or disfigured character – one of Bates’ favourite activities apparently being to make McCord ugly – while still giving her a healthy dose of sympathy and a healthier dose of creepy.

What follows from this point on in Trash Fire is a series of close interactions between (mainly) four characters who all begin to wear each other down.  There are a lot of great jokes and all the actors have great chemistry with each other.  There is a certain discord between the anti-religious themes and vaguely pro-life language, but that can always be explained away because the basic set pieces work so well.  All these pieces seem set for a great climax, which is why it is so disappointing that the film ends with one of Bates’ usual punchline endings, tossing out a lot of character development for one final explosive moment that ruins any momentum up until that point.

Trash Fire is unquestionably enjoyable, but Bates’ cruel sense of humour will always sabotage his final products.

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


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