On Wednesday, July 11, 2012, over 700 film fans gathered at the newly refurbished Bloor Cinema for the closing night of Toronto After Dark’s summer screening series. This marks the inaugural year for the programme with the event serving as a way to wet the dark appetites of the horror fanatics who are patiently waiting to attend Toronto After Dark’s 7th annual film festival which is set to run in October.
With lines outside the Bloor stretching around corners to both the immediate east and west of the theatre, it was clear that the crowd was eager for the night to begin, not only because After Dark screenings always feel like a bit of a party, but also because the films on offer for the night were two that were much-anticipated thanks to the their successful runs at both the Sundance and South By Southwest film festivals.
Detention , a quirky genre mash-up that’s been described as The Breakfast Club meets Back to the Future (with just a dash of Scream , Donnie Darko and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World on the side), is a film that’s to be admired for its very eager spirit more than for its content or execution. The story follows a group of high schoolers lead by Marty McFly wannabe Clapton (Josh Hutcherson from The Hunger Games ) and their quest to save the school from annihilation by a time travelling friend with a grudge, all while serving detention, battling a serial killer, fighting off bullies with oddly insect-like qualities and getting ready for prom. It’s crazy, hyperkinetic and very often unlike any teen-centred movie you’ve ever seen before, yet the sheer number of nods and winks at other films in the genre come at you so fast and so furiously it’s often hard to keep up. Still, there’s an odd charm to Joseph Kahn’s clearly loving homage to pretty much every film he’s seen since 1982, even if it does feel like a non-stop assault of unfocused ideas that never let up long enough for a coherent narrative to form for the audience to get to know the characters on more than a surface level. This is the type of film that will be instantly polarizing and may very well gain its own band of devout followers who will declare it a soon-to-be cult classic.
The evening’s big draw (as evidenced by the sell-out crowd) was V/H/S , a film that’s been making the festival rounds garnering quite a few reviews that have declared it the best horror film of the year. A mix of the anthology and found footage horror sub-genres, V/H/S is the brainchild of director Adam Wingard, who also provides the framing device for the film: a set of petty criminals who make money by videotaping themselves sexually assaulting women on the street and smashing up cars (apparently there’s a lucrative market out there for videos featuring both?) break into an old man’s house to retrieve a special VHS tape from his collection of hundreds. They don’t know exactly what they’re looking for so as they peruse the collection, we get to see what’s on five of the mysterious tapes. Each segment is directed by notable contemporary horror director (the most famous being Ti West, whose film The Innkeepers closed out last year’s Toronto After Dark) and is positioned as found footage featuring something horrifying, from a bloodthirsty one-night-stand to a road trip gone awry to trip through a haunted house that has a dark secret in the attic. The film, while occasionally smart in its creative subverting of the found footage genre and impressive in it low-tech effects, is a lazy mish mash of everything that’s wrong with contemporary horror films: shaky cam, torture porn and a shall-we-say lackadaisical approach to telling a compelling story. The film also has an odd frat boy sensibility throughout that falls just short of misogynist ““ disappointing considering the number of women out there who count horror as their favourite genre. The trophy for best horror film of 2012 is definitely still up for grabs.
Toronto After Dark Film Festival runs October 18 ““ 26, 2012. Check their website for more details.