Night Visions is one of the coolest film festivals in the Nordics. Playing twice a year in Helsinki, they curate some of the weirdest, wildest, and most interesting films both old and new, and each long weekend is a joy for any film fan. This November the lineup is filled with another long list of winners, and I’ve chosen ten of them that I feel are especially worth your time.
I’m fascinated by documentaries of a bygone era of filmmaking. Even as film expression continues to find more absurd ways to tell stories, the style of filmmaking that Al Adamson and his peers represented has faded into the past. In a few decades, their legacy will be one of mythical proportions. Adamson was a Z-film director with an expertise in sleazy horror, gore, and action films that featured plenty of violence and cheap titillation. He wasn’t a particularly good director, but that didn’t stop him from cultivating a fan base of his own. That is until he disappeared and was murdered under gruesome circumstances that could have come from one of his own films. Director David Gregory, who also made the incredible documentary LOST SOUL about filmmaker Richard Stanley, helms this utterly fascinating look into an underworld too crazy to be anything but absolutely real.
Bong Joon-Ho is one of the seminal talents of Korean cinema, who has also successfully stepped into the Hollywood machine and triumphed. His big budget sci-fi film SNOWPIERCER from 2013 was a rare film of it’s kind; a stark anti-actioner that took Hollywood money and made something exceptionally unique and brilliant. His return is now heralded by one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, the dark satire PARASITE, about homelessness and family ties in South Korea. Hailed as nothing short of profound and lurid, PARASITE promises to continue Boon Joon-Ho’s fascination with societal issues, power structures, and the disease of capitalism in modern day life. This is one of the must see films of the year, and luckily it will also receive a theatrical release in Finland early next year.
Not much is known about SYNCHRONIC, the new film by young auteur team of Benson and Moorhead, except that it’s their first big budget production, it’s sci-fi infused with horror, and it stars Anthony Mackie in one of the leads. Taking place in New Orleans, the lives of two paramedics descend into insanity as they stumble on a series of horrific deaths linked to a drug that induces otherworldly reactions to anyone who imbibes it. Benson and Moorhead have worked the indie circuit for years with low budget, high quality sci-fi films, each better than their last one. Their previous film released just two years ago in 2017, ENDLESS, was an incredible thriller that earned them more than enough goodwill to warrant a blind viewing of anything they make in the future. They’re a talent to watch, especially on the big screen.
Imagine if Arnold Schwarzenegger had an identical twin in every shape and form, and now imagine if neither of them had any charisma at all. Congratulations, you’ve envisioned The Paul Brothers. A bodybuilding duo from the 80s whose one claim to fame was their identical features, and not much else. Who better to exploit that than schlockmeisters Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus of Cannon Films? The result is a hilarious knock-off of CONAN THE BARBARIAN, directed with glee by Ruggero Deodato. It makes very little sense, the acting is a ham and cheese sandwich, and the effects are – to be kind – quaint, but it takes a special kind of grouch not to be enthralled by just how baffling and charming the end product is.
Starting out as a short film that later found funding through Kickstarter, CODE 8 is a triumph of truly independent high concept cinema. The film takes place in a near future where a small percentage of the global population has special powers, and where the fearing masses have come to oppress and abuse them for it. Connor, a young man with powers to control electricity, seeks illegal work to pay for his mother’s growing medical bills, and soon finds himself clashing with a fascist police force when a petty crime spirals out of control. Smartly utilizing modern day technology and sparsely utilized special effects, CODE 8 could easily be the next DISTRICT 9 of the sci-fi genre.
A petty thief breaks into a luxury 4×4 somewhere in South America. He steals the record player, some loose valuables, and out of spite pisses in the backseat. As he tries to leave, the doors won’t open. The windows are one-way, shatter and soundproof glass. Suddenly the smart system in the car turns on, and the owner talks directly to our hapless thief. He knows exactly what’s been happening, and he’ll enjoy watching what comes next. Continuing the fine tradition of claustrophobic horror films, 4×4 follows the intense thrills of films like BURIED, where horrifically cramped spaces become our whole universe for the duration of the ride. Director Mariano Cohn has pulled out all the stops in finding ways to make a ludicrous vehicle like a 4×4 feel even more insane than it already is, and a very game performance from Peter Lanzani sells the situation even as it goes from ridiculous to horrific in a few short moments.
Matvei has a job to do: kill the father of his girlfriend at her request. It’s a good thing that the father in question has just called everyone for dinner. Only Matvei is a screw up, and the father is dangerous, and everyone has a reason for wanting him dead. What follows is a mixture between MAD Magazine, Itchy & Scratchy, and poignant social satire drenched in gallons of blood and pitch black humor. The less you know the better, only remember to leave your good taste at the door, you won’t need it here.
Another in the series of bygone eras, MURDER IN THE FRONT ROW is a fascinating look at the roots of major metal icons like Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax. Featuring not just artists themselves, but recollections from collectors and early fans, who discovered these now world famous acts through re-taped performances on cassette and beta-tapes, and followed their favorites from one club to another by way of flyers and word of mouth. In a world where everything can be found through Facebook and professional personal marketing is a necessity, documentaries like this are nostalgic and beautiful reminders of a simpler time that will never return.
This is a true story, and that’s important. It is by turns tragic, hilarious, erotic, painful, inspiring, and tender. It’s about two hapless guys wanting to make their way into fame as porn performers, only neither of them have what it takes to compete in the vicious, corporatized world of professional sex. So they end up descending into worse and worse fetish companies, each looking to exploit the desperate and naive for a cheap buck. As their spiral becomes worse, and their dreams more far fetched, the story begins to plummet towards a certainty we see coming a mile away and are desperate to prevent. With our modern society being both highly sexualized and extremely puritanical at once, MOPE faces down our hang-ups with fetish subcultures (even as they become more lucrative by the year), and asks us how comfortable we are having others pay the price for our own sexual gratification?
Rian Johnson is a unique modern voice in filmmaking in that he’s navigated not just prime time TV work, independent cinema of multiple genres, and huge blockbuster films without ever sacrificing his personal voice or touch while doing so. His previous film THE LAST JEDI was the eight installment in the hugely successful sci-fi/fantasy franchise, and easily the best one made in the series to date. He now returns to his roots with an Agatha Christie throwback called KNIVES OUT, where a wealthy patriarch has died under mysterious circumstances on his birthday, and everyone at the party is suspect. Sent to investigate is the dainty detective Benoit Blanc, played with relish by Daniel Craig. The cast is a who’s who of great characters actors including legends like Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Shannon. The film has already made the festival circuit in North America and come out with some of the best reviews of the year. If you miss it at the festival, it’ll be released in theaters in Finland on November 29.