Movies · Reviews

Toronto After Dark 2016 Closing Night Lures You Into the Void

By  · Published on October 21st, 2016

We take a look at The Lure and The Void.

Genre film festivals are often among my favorites because they focus on the kind of movies typically absent from theaters ‐ the odd, the disturbing, the foreign. Film lovers in Toronto know what I’m talking about as they’re now on the closing night of the 11th Annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival.

Nine nights of features and shorts celebrating the dark and the weird, and while I’m not there physically I’m there in spirit. The two films playing today are The Lure and The Void, and my reviews are below.

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2016 runs October 13–21, follow our coverage here.

The Lure

Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Golden (Michalina Olszanska) are sisters readying themselves for the haphazard leap into adulthood, and like many teenagers before them their first step in that direction involves musicians. They’re doing it a bit differently though in that before they can take that step they need to exit the river and dry out enough so that their long, scaly, mermaid tails can transform into legs.

Then they join a band.

The nightclub where the band performs takes on the sisters as sexy backup singers who end their set by stripping, jumping into a big bowl of water, and turning back into mermaids before the drunken, awestruck crowd. They’re popular too, but trouble arises when Silver falls for the young, mop-topped bassist. He’s into her too, but her lack of a vagina (or an anus) means he’s not “into her” like he wants to be ‐ she has a slit in her tail, but the less said about that the better. Golden meanwhile eschews matter of the heart except when it comes to seducing men, taking them to a secluded spot, and tearing out their heart for a snack. So yeah, the band’s lineup looks to be changing again soon.

From the illustrated opening credits to the infusion of magical realism into the Warsaw nightclub scene, The Lure makes it abundantly clear that this world exists a little to the left of reality. The addition of musical numbers ‐ musical numbers! ‐ feels like a natural fit. (More musicals should take the magical realism route as it least that could explain how strangers suddenly know all the same lyrics and dance moves.) Some are moody affairs as one sister or the other moves seductively within the frame while the world around them is paused as if in a dream, but others, including a big, jauntily-choreographed clothes-shopping trip fill the screen with energy and color. It all works together to create a dark fairy tale quite unlike any we’ve seen before.

Director Agnieszka Smoczynska, working from Robert Bolesto’s script, delivers a film filled with surprises that alternate from the amusing to the grotesque with plenty of time spent dangerously circling the erogenous zones. The sisters look young (both actresses are in their twenties) and spend much of the film in the nude. To be fair, sometimes they’re all fish from the waist down, but even that adds to their portrayal as nubile creatures. With a tail they’re seductive sirens, and without they’re smooth, hairless (from the neck down) beauties who occasionally grow fangs and speak using clicks inaudible to those around them.

It’s a beautifully-shot tale too with the production design capturing the spirit of ’80s Poland while Smoczynska and cinematographer Jakub Kijowski offer up gorgeous, picturesque shots and scenes. The film’s energy is tightly controlled to roll across the screen in waves as we cycle between terror, comedy, and just plain nuttiness, and there’s no shortage of things here to engage our senses.

The cast is entirely game for the constant stream of absurd situations, and both Mazurek and Olszanska handle both their innocence and savagery convincingly. We’re not given much to grasp onto with either of them emotionally or character-wise ‐ they’ve been to Bulgaria and are planning a swim to the United States, one craves human affection while the other’s just hungry for flesh ‐ but their appearance, behaviors, and breaks into song keep us mesmerized throughout.

I’d be lying if I said I understood everything the film wants to say ‐ an oddly disconnected musical number that appears to be about drug rehab stands out ‐ but it’s unclear if it’s a failure in the script or just a problem for foreigners. Some of it quite possibly could come down to cultural differences. These handful of scenes don’t hurt the film, but we’re forced to simply chalk them up to local absurdities without really grasping their presumed importance.

The Lure is an adult fairy tale that would make the Brothers Grimm blush, but there’s no doubt they’d be secretly proud as well.

[Note: My review of The Lure originally ran during this year’s Sundance Film Festival.]

The Void

The Canadian collective known as Astron-6 makes films, both shorts and features, for viewers with certain… sensibilities. I’m proud to count myself among those viewers with questionable tastes and will happily follow the team’s members down whichever paths they choose to explore onscreen. One of my favorites among their gory, funny, and insane oeuvre is 2011’s epic revenge saga, Father’s Day, and now two of that film’s directors ‐ Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski ‐ have delivered a film removed from the typical Astron-6 fare.

There’s humor to be found in The Void, but it is as far from a comedy as their usual movies are from mainstream acceptance. This is a descent into hell complete with monsters, madmen, and mutilation, and while the whole somewhat misses the mark the parts within are enough to feed our thirst for horrific imagery.

Officer Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) is a low-level cop in a boring stretch of rural America. Nothing happens here, until it does. A drive on a back road reveals a man stumbling in shock and covered in blood that’s not his own. Dan brings him to the nearest hospital ‐ one in the process of shutting down and shifting operations to a bigger one closer to civilization ‐ and settles in alongside a bare-bones, four-person hospital staff and a young pregnant woman there with her grandfather.

Almost immediately, the hospital and its occupants are targeted by competing threats. A pair of shotgun-wielding men arrive intent on killing the man found on the road, and a group of mysterious, cloaked figures armed with large knives encircle the building.

Oh, and then there are the monsters.

The Void is very much a siege film with protagonists trapped in a building with enemies on all sides, but its greatest appeal for horror fans will be the nightmarish creatures developing inside. Practical effects-lovers are rewarded handsomely (and gruesomely) as people begin morphing into monsters that defy easy categorization. Bodies shift and pop, teeth and foul fluids ooze, and the results are creatures that recall beasts from films as diverse as John Carpenter’s The Thing, Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond, and Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. The fantastic effects, and the nods to other horror movies, make for horrific fun even if the film itself is (mostly) deadly serious.

The small cast is convincing throughout led by another personable but intense performance by Poole. He has a terrific every-man quality that serves him as well here as it did in earlier indie horror films like The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh and The Conspiracy. Even more enjoyable though is seeing genre veteran Art Hindle (The Brood, The Octagon) and Ellen Wong, who for some reason hasn’t been cast in every film since Scott Pilgrim like I demanded.

It’s the script (also by Gillespie and Kostanski) that ultimately holds the film back though as the pieces never quite come together in a satisfying way. Certain character motivations are muddled at best, and the connections between the main villain and the narrative’s otherworldly outcomes are equally tenuous leading to an ending that lacks impact when it should be doubling down with the intensity and awe.

Still though, The Void offers more than a few strongly dramatic beats and plenty of visual thrills as violent encounters and monstrous creations paint the walls red. It doesn’t land the destination, but the road to hell is never a dull one.

[Note: My review of The Void originally ran during this year’s Fantastic Fest.]

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2016 runs October 13–21, follow our coverage here.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.