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Cheapskate: Sydney Sci-Fi Film Festival Report

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One of the benefits of being cheap in real life is that now and then, I get to take a nice vacation.

This year, I’ve gone to Sydney, and I figured I’d drop on on some movies. I initially considered attending the Sydney Indie Film Festival, but when I saw the neighborhood it was being held in, I decided I didn’t really want to hang around there after midnight while carrying an expensive camera and an expensive new cell phone.

Instead, I went to the much nicer suburb of Randwick, to the lovely Art Deco Ritz Cinema, to attend the Sci-Fi Film Festival. I saw four films over two nights, and here’s my report on them.

1. Rupture (dir. Steven Shainberg, starring Noomi Rapace, Peter Stormare, Michael Chiklis)

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Torture porn ahoy! This film is the tale of Noomi Rapace, who gets a throwaway line to explain her French-Canadian accent even though the film is set in Missouri, who’s being spied upon by a Mysterious Organization that abducts her and takes her to their torture warehouse, where a team of torture nurses led by Stormare. How do you get a degree in torture nursing, anyhow?

Their goal is to scare her with scary scary spiders until she Ruptures, whatever that is, but she kinda sorta gets away with the help of her trusty X-Acto knife and creeps through the torture warehouse spying on people in the hopes of discovering the secret.

There isn’t anything in this movie that you haven’t seen before, with the possible exception of the guy who gets tortured by being forced to look at a picture of his father. It succumbs to the plot problem of having everything that appears to go against the villains really be part of the villains’ grand plan after all. The film kind of has a thesis—that fear and love are two sides of the same coin—but it was a real slog to get there. By the time Rupturing is revealed, I didn’t really care what it was. And I wasn’t alone. As I left the theater, I overheard several audience members asking each other if they found the movie scary, and they universally agreed that they weren’t scared.

I can’t fault the actors, who did they best they could with their material. Stormare seems to be channeling his character from his Volkswagen commercials, while Lesley Manville is effective as a strangely motherly torturer. And the film is competently shot and edited. That’s not enough to recommend it, though.

If you really love watching people get hurt, then maybe this is the movie for you, but for the general sci-fi or horror audience, I’d say it isn’t worth your time.

2. This Giant Papier Mache Boulder is Actually Really Heavy (dir. Christian Nicolson, starring Christian Nicholson, Sez Niederer)

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A guy who really likes science fiction, and two of his friends who don’t, get sucked into a very, very cheap sci-fi film from the 60s. Jokes ensue.

This is a labor of love for director Christian Nicholson, who flew in from New Zealand to attend the screening. He’s a painter by trade, not a director (or even an actor: he filled the lead role of Tom after his first choice for the role left the production). And as you would expect from a painter, the comedy in this film revolves mostly around sight gags: spaceships that are clearly blenders, tinfoil uniforms, pratfalls, and so forth. I generally don’t prefer this sort of thing (unless it’s done by somebody like Buster Keaton), but it was usually well-executed, and the audience enjoyed it. There are still some dips into LOL RANDOM territory, though. Nicholson said that many of the jokes were targeted at people who watched British sci-fi as a kid. I didn’t, so I probably missed out.

The biggest problem with the film was that the lead character, Tom, wasn’t really all that likable. He spent most of the film just being a dick to people, and as he wasn’t a sci-fi fan, I’m not sure how the audience full of nerds was supposed to relate to him.

For a first-time director, Nicholson seemed to have a good grasp of pacing, although his desire to have something visually entertaining going on in every shot sometimes distracted from dialogue. Female lead Sez Niederer played a dual role, and was quite convincing in both parts: over-the-top when she needed to be, and subtle when she needed to be.

If this movie is playing at a convention near you, it’s worth a look. It doesn’t compare to Galaxy Quest, which has more style and more substance, but you’ll get some laughs out of it anyway.

3. Los Parecidos (The Similars) (dir. Isaac Ezban, starring Gustavo Sanchez Parra, Cassandra Ciangherotti)

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It’s 1968, and Ulises is stranded in a bus station in rural Mexico. It’s raining harder than he’s ever seen, his wife is having a baby, and he’s stuck at the station with a pregnant woman fleeing her abusive husband, an old woman who doesn’t speak Spanish, two old burnouts who work at the station, a hippie medical student, and a rich woman and her sickly child. Things get worse as the bus station’s occupants start to feel that they are… not themselves.

If you read about this film online, you’ll keep seeing the words “Twilight Zone” used to describe it, and that’s about the best possible description you can give. There’s a smart-alecky narrator filling the Rod Serling role, and the film’s plot draws from at least two episodes of the show I could name (but won’t, lest I spoil the ending). And much like a TV show, the action sticks to one real set: the bus station.

I didn’t get everything out of the script because I had to read it in subtitles, but I was happy with the story it told (except for the epilogue, which dragged out too long). I was genuinely surprised by the plot twists, but they made sense in retrospect. The cinematography gets a lot of praise, and it’s deserved. The film’s washed-out reds and eerie glowing whites look like something Guy Maddin would use to create a dreamlike effect. Santiago Torres, who plays the sickly child, was quite good for a child actor and holds up his end of the plot.

Unless you’re squeamish about blood, I think you ought to track this one down and watch it. It’s not particularly deep or meaningful, but it’s a unique mystery with a good payoff.

4. Morgan (dir. Luke Scott, starring Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy)

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Scientists in upstate New York are developing an artificial person who’s also supposed to be some kind of killing machine, and the project is starting to get out of hand. The corporation sends one of their agents to stop the experiment.

This one’s been out in the States for a while, but the festival served as its Australian premiere. And you know what? It probably should have stayed in the States. I complained that Rupture had no unique ideas, but Morgan has even fewer. This is just another Frankenstein story, but with a teenage girl monster fighting an adult woman monster-killer. Surely they’re both women as sort of an empowerment message and not because someone has a fetish. Right? (Fuckin’ Joss Whedon. I blame him for this.)

There’s another twist ending to this film, but it’s foreshadowed with all the subtlety of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I figured it out at about the ten minute mark, and sighed upon the Big Reveal. Despite the film’s setting at a remote research facility, there are actually too many characters, not too few: the story of the scientists falling in love with their creation is hampered because we don’t really get time to how they relate to the girl individually before they start dying. (Also, it’s not really clear when the scientists taught the girl how to kill people, or how to deliver slasher-movie one-liners to her victims.)

I don’t think there’s much to recommend this one. The footage of upstate New York is pretty, I guess. Skip it.

About the author

Rob the Posting Robot

Rob is a gaming robot that used to live a terrible life of servitude doing nothing but stacking discs for an ungrateful and mean employer. After being freed by Chozo Ninpo, Rob now lives a wonderful life of servitude uploading videos to Channel Zero. We are very grateful to have him and repay him for his hard work with unlimited access to our video games.