Richard and CP24 anchor Jamie Gutfreund have a look at the weekend’s new movies,“The Accountant,” starring Ben Affleck as a deadly bookkeeper, “American Honey” starring Sasha Lane, “Unless” with Catherine Keener and “Christine” with Rebecca Hall!
“Unless,” a new film staring Catherine Keener, is a portrait of a family in distress.
Successful author—a “book club darling”—and translator Reta Winters (Keener), her physician partner Tom (Matt Craven) and children are rocked out of their suburban complacency when daughter Norah (Hannah Gross) drops out of society to become a panhandler on the streets of Toronto.
Wrapped in a thick wool blanket, holding a sign that reads “Goodness,” Norah sits, catatonically outside of legendary discount department store Honest Ed’s. Detached and despondent, the young woman sits, quiet as the falling snow that swirls around her as her family struggles to understand why and how she ended up on the street. Is it a breakdown? A protest? A personal revolution? A reckoning of some sort?
Based on Pulitzer Prize winner Carol Shields’s final novel, she passed away in 2003, “Unless” isn’t driven by plot but by Norah’s unhappiness and her family’s reaction to it. Some flowery dialogue occasionally gets in the way—“Sometimes I think that for Norah there’s a bounteous feast going on but she has not been invited.”—but Keener’s keen intelligence and concern provides the emotional core that shapes the thin story into a compelling character study. In the novel Reta’s journey was an internal one and Keener makes it external and as cinematic as possible given the subdued nature of the film.
Although the question of why and how this happened lies at the heart of the film, director Alan Gilsenan is more interested in the effects of Norah’s decision than the decision itself. There is a conclusion, a reason, but the destination in this case is less satisfying than the journey. The trauma that triggered Norah’s inward turn is unsettling, both emotionally and visually as presented in the movie, but doesn’t provide the kind of capper a story like this needs to transcend character. It feels slightly out of balance in its final minutes as it switches focus from Reta to Norah because we realize that this isn’t the story of a woman’s decision to drop out, but the story of a family’s reckoning with the aftermath of that choice.
Canadian horror — and I don’t mean when a Zamboni breaks down just before your ice time, but the kind of scary movies we make — tends to go against the grain. Movies like Ginger Snaps, Cannibal Girls and the squirmy body terror of David Cronenberg bring fresh points of view to established mythologies to breathe new life into old genres.
In 2008 director Bruce McDonald did just that with the bio-terror freakout, Pontypool. The story of a God Bug that turns people into zombies barely gives us a glimpse of the walking dead, instead replacing the gore with brain matter, making it one of the smartest undead movies in years.
He’s genre-bending again, this time in Hellions, a home invasion survival tale with a demonic twist. McDonald says Canadian filmmakers mess with traditional formulas for two reasons. The first is practical.
“The script, when I first read it, read easily like a 40-day shoot, $5-million movie,” he says. “But then you get the news that you only have 20 days and less money. There’s no choice but to subvert and say, ‘We have to now begin with this established premise and show a world we kind of know, but subtly we have to make some different kinds of choices.’
“Hellions was much more of an action picture, in a sense, but you need time to make action. A sequence will work much better in 25 shots than in three shots. That’s the practical nature of handmade Canadian cinema. We don’t have the big machine but we do have some smart people and we know how to do it. That does create a spin on things. You’re outside the gates of Hollywood and when the parents are away the kids will play.”
The second reason? “Canadians are naturally mischievous and like to f— with people,” he laughs.
McDonald’s extensive resume includes Canadian classics like Hard Core Logo and Highway 61, but it’s not heavily weighted to horror, even though he says Oct. 31 gave him his “Mr. Entertainment Gene.”
“I have loved Halloween more than any other holiday since I was young,” he says. “I think it was my first theatre. My first way into this entertainment world I love so much. I wasn’t Catholic so I didn’t get to the ceremonies of the Catholic Church and the robes and the incense and the priests and visions of hell. For a little Protestant kid from the suburbs, Halloween was the best.”
Canadian horror, and I don’t mean Tim Horton’s running out of Timbits just before your coffee break, but the kind of scary movies we make, tends to turn convention on its head.
How many hack comics have joked about the beastly effects of PMS? “Ginger Snaps” takes those jokes one step further in a wickedly humorous feminist werewolf allegory. Other examples of distinctive CanCon horror include “Black Christmas,” a movie shot in Toronto that set the template for most of the slasher films of the 1980s and ’90s, “Cannibal Girls,” an early horror comedy, and don’t even get me started on the squirmy body terror of David Cronenberg.
“Hellions,” a new film that smashes up “The Brood” and “Are You Afraid of the Dark,” is a fresh look at the Devil Child genre.
Chloe Rose is Dora, a pregnant high schooler left home alone on Halloween. She’s waiting for her boyfriend (Luke Bilyk) to come over but before he gets there kids in creepy costumes come to the door. At first it seems harmless, but when the same kids reappear, this time with Dora’s boyfriend’s head in their candy sack, things take a terrifying turn for the macabre.
Director Bruce McDonald, working from a script by “The Colony” screenwriter Pascal Trottier, has made a film hat is short on actual hardcore scares, but long on unease. McDonald uses visual tricks—nightmarish red and pink colour palettes, slow motion and inky darkness—dreamy sequences and a spooky children’s chant to underline Dora’s mounting fear.
“Hellions” isn’t the kind of slice-and-dice movie we’ve come to expect from home invasion movies like “You’re Next.” Instead it’s a loosely plotted, hallucinogenic horror that is more weird than scary.