The grisly, perverse, and otherwise edgy thrills of the Tribeca Film Festival's "midnight" section begin this year with Thursday's world premiere of Dark Touch, a brooding chiller about children in rural Ireland who are haunted by abuse. The latest from fearless French auteur Marina de Van is a tamer affair than her cringe-inducing dermatological shocker In My Skin, but it continues her penchant for disturbed female protagonists whose pathological baggage manifests as physical abnormality (see also: 2009's Don't Look Back). Here, the unraveling mind belongs to 11-year-old Neve (Marie Missy Keating), a volatile loner who survives the supernatural slaughter of her parents and baby bro, only to face similar terrors within her school and new foster home. The film is more dreamily atmospheric than dramatically weighty, although de Van's gonzo whopper of an ending burns everything to the ground.
Equally femme-centric if not at all feminist, Josh Waller's neo-exploitation action-horror Raze transforms torture porn into a bare-knuckle battle royale, or make that Battle Royale. Stunt performer-cum-actress Zoe Bell (Death Proof) co-produced and headlines as one of several women who has been abducted and imprisoned somewhere underground, then forced to brawl to the death inside a stone silo. (It's like Thunderdome on an indie budget!) The punching, kicking, grappling, and clawing is all expertly choreographed, but by the time of the inevitable escape attempt, the monotony of watching someone else play a videogame sets in -- which isn't helped by a repetition of fight title cards, i.e. "Sabrina vs. Jamie."
Bell hails from New Zealand, as does director Danny Mulheron's exhaustingly manic gore comedy Fresh Meat, which repopulates the cannibal-family procedural We Are What We Are with cartoon thugs straight out of a Guy Richie picture. To escape the police, said criminals hide out in an upper-class Maori family's suburban home, not knowing that their captive hosts (led by scene-stealing paterfamilias Temuera Morrison) have recently changed their diet to human flesh ... for cultural reasons.
Splitting the difference between the faux found-footage of Mr. Jones and The Machine's Mary Shelley-esque saga of a Cold War cyborg, Frankenstein's Army posits to be a lost WWII document of Soviet soldiers who infiltrate a seemingly abandoned Nazi compound and discover, as the title implies, a monstrous horde of resurrected steampunk super-soldiers. Better yet, skip all three and catch V/H/S/2, the improved-upon sequel to last year's horror omnibus V/H/S, and by far the best, scariest, and cleverest of the midnighters.
Though anthology films are patchy by definition, even V/H/S/2's lone weak link -- Hobo with a Shotgun director Jason Eisnener's brief kids-versus-aliens adventure, a puckish ode to Spielberg that's too silly by half -- doesn't kill the buzz. Besides, nothing in the entire midnight section holds a candle to the brilliantly bonkers segment by The Raid's Gareth Huw Evans and Macabre's Timo Tjahjanto, in which investigative journalists venture to Indonesia to interview and expose a Jonestown-like cult leader. Once the air raid sirens wail, so will audiences as an intense, satanic nightmare is birthed out of innocents' blood and outlandish, sick-fuck creativity.
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