The Gourmet Horror Review: Estonian film ‘November’ (2017) blends magic, dark humor, romance

The Gourmet Horror Review: Estonian film ‘November’ (2017) blends magic, dark humor, romance

We give 'November' 4 out of 5 knives

What’s on the menu for ‘November’:

With apologies to Monty Python: And now for something completely different. If you’re looking for a film that stands apart from anything you’ve seen before, a unique vision artfully expressed, then look no further than November.

Here’s the official synopsis, which scans as weird but fails to capture just how deeply, profoundly weird it really is:

In this tale of love and survival in 19th century Estonia, peasant girl Liina (Rea Lest) longs for village boy Hans (Jörgen Liik), but Hans is inexplicably infatuated by the visiting German baroness (Jette Loona Hermanis) that possesses all that he longs for. For Liina, winning Hans’ requited love proves incredibly complicated in this dark, harsh landscape where spirits, werewolves, plagues, and the devil himself converge, where thievery is rampant, and where souls are highly regarded, but come quite cheap. With alluring black and white cinematography, Rainer Sarnet vividly captures these motley lives as they toil to exist, but must ask if existence is worth anything if it lacks a soul?

 

November is, at its core, a fairy tale. But it’s not the kind you’d ever want to read to your kids at bedtime. It goes far beyond the original darkness of the Brothers Grimm, weaving together bits of traditional Estonian folklore with Freudian imagery, Christian allegories, pandemic apocalypse, werewolves, witches, farts, and a poetic snowman (yes, really). Did we already mention it’s weird?

November is directed with endlessly inventive flair by Rainer Sarnet, who also adapted the screenplay from a novel by Andrus Kivirähk. It marks the first co-production between Estonia, the Netherlands, and Poland. It was featured in a number of festivals last year, including Tribeca in New York, the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, and the Chicago International Film Festival. It officially opens in the U.S. in New York City on February 23rd, and in Los Angeles on March 2nd.

Best scene (spoilery):

The aforementioned poetic snowman is describing some of the beautiful and moving scenes he has witnessed in his previous watery form, observing from lakes, rivers, and streams. We see two powder-wigged lovers on a gondola, traversing what is described as the “canals of Venice,” but looks nothing like it. The man proclaims eternal love to the woman, presenting her with a parting gift, as he must soon leave – forever. She refuses the gift, and drops it in the canal. The camera tilts down and under the gondola, where we see the snowman’s two listeners actually watching what he’s describing as though underwater. It’s a bit hard to properly describe, but it is breathtaking.

Blunders/gaffs:

The time period of the film is supposed to be 19th century rural Estonia, but there are anachronistic flourishes: a talking bicycle seat, for example (yes, really). These really cannot qualify as either blunder or gaff. Sarnet is deploying them intentionally.

Evaluation:

November wastes no time establishing that this will not be your run-of-the-mill film, when a strange mechanical device with a broom for a tail and a large animal skull for a head rolls into frame on three metal legs. This is a kratt, which villagers create out of whatever objects and materials are at hand, then animate by selling their soul to the devil in exchange for a soul for their kratt. The debt is collected when the kratt is destroyed. This first kratt – we will meet several others – steals one farmer’s cow, wrapping it in chains and helicoptoring it away before demanding “give me work!” of its master. Then it squirts something dark and viscous in the master’s eye. You know, the usual kratt stuff.

Told as a string of eerie, dreamlike vignettes – captured by the beautiful black and white cinematography of Mart Taniel – the story emerges of a village beset by plague, which appears in the form of a woman. Or a pig. Or a goat. One method of avoiding the plague: take off your pants and wear them on your head, which will fool the plague into thinking you have two asses and move on.

The daily lives of the villagers are beautifully detailed: their dwellings have comically low ceilings, rough clothing, natural light, the utensils and tools they use are wonderfully specific, and there are liberal helpings of humor, much of it hilariously coarse. People are able to visit and converse with dead friends and family, simply by visiting the cemetery at night and placing a lit candle on their grave. They walk in pure white uniforms, faces white, eyes coal black. It’s creepy and beautiful at the same time. The main story thread, that of the commoner smitten with a beautiful baroness, ignoring the fellow commoner who loves him, takes a decided Gift of the Magi turn at the end – but with far more tragic consequences.

November is impossible to categorize. It has elements of supernatural, fantasy, and horror genres, the moral authority of a classic fairy tale, the lived-in look and feel of a Merchant and Ivory period drama. It’s beautifully acted, by a mixed collection of veteran European talent, newbies, and Estonian amateurs. One thing it is not: predictable. It’s jaw-droppingly inventive cinema, and any true film aficionado needs to experience its spell.

We should also pay close attention to whatever Rainer Sarnet turns his attention to next. He is a true visionary.

 


Connect with ‘November’:

Theatrical run

November begins a limited run in U.S. theaters starting tomorrow (February 23rd, 2018) in New York City, and in Los Angeles a few days later, on March 2nd. There is currently no word of wider release, or of upcoming VOD or streaming services dates.


EFFECTS (1-5): 4
SCORE (1-5): 5
OVERALL (1-5): 4

TITLENovember
YEAR OF RELEASE: 2017
STUDIO: Oscilloscope Laboratories
MPAA RATING: UR (currently)
LENGTH: 115 mins.
DVD? (Y/N): N (not yet)
BLU-RAY? (Y/N): N (not yet)
NETFLIX? (Y/N): N (not yet)
WIDESCREEN? (Y/N) Y
IN THEATERS? (Y/N) Y, as of XXX 2018 (US)
STREAMING DIGITAL/VOD? (Y/N) N (not yet)

WATCH: Soska Sisters, Lauro Chartrand debut Women in Horror Month blood drive PSA ‘Twinpool’

‘Twinpool’ by The Soska Sisters and Lauro Chartrand

This February marks the ninth year of Women in Horror Month. Since “you can’t think horror without thinking blood,” one of its ongoing traditions is a massive blood drive in collaboration with Twisted Twins Productions.  Any horror fan worth their salt knows who the Twisted Twins are: Vancouver, Canada-based identical twins/writers/directors/actors/producers/game show hosts Jen and Sylvia Soska (American Mary, Dead Hooker in a Trunk, Hellevator). The Soskas have joined forces with filmmaker/stunt coordinator/performer Lauro Chartrand (War for the Planet of the Apes) to produce Twinpool, a PSA (Public Service Announcement) in support of their appeal (more of a demand, really) to donate blood – and it uses Marvel antihero Deadpool as a jumping-off point.

WiHM9 Women in Horror Month TwinpoolAnd man, does it ever jump off to some truly strange places. Besides the obvious Deadpool references, there are also nods to Fight Club and Breakfast Club. Frequent Soska co-conspirator Tristan Risk makes a fun cameo appearance. Be forewarned, though: this is R-rated horror, definitely NSFW, with swordplay, gunplay, buckets of blood, spilling entrails, head shots, butt shots, dick shots, fart jokes, extremely foul language, along with lots of pretty impressive stunt work.

It’s a blast. Enjoy. And make the trek to your local Red Cross to donate blood – soon. You really don’t want to piss the Soskas off.

The Gourmet Horror Review: In ‘Before We Vanish’ (2017), alien possession paves way for invasion

The Gourmet Horror Review: In ‘Before We Vanish’ (2017), alien possession paves way for invasion

What’s on the menu for ‘Before We Vanish’:

Three aliens travel to Earth in advance of a mass invasion, taking possession of human bodies as part of the infiltration process. Along the way, their literal job is to collect human conceptions, in the run up to the eventual full-blown invasion. The twist? The act of collecting these conceptions removes them from their human victims’ minds, with devastating results.

Before We Vanish is more a horror/comedy/sci-fi hybrid than pure horror. Japanese horror master Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse, Cure) directs, from a script he adapted with Sachiko Tanaka from a stage play by Tomohiro Maekawa. The film stars Masami NagasawaRyûhei Matsuda, and Hiroki Hasegawa.

Best scene (spoilery):

After disarming and then shooting one cop, an alien-possessed schoolgirl plunges her gun-toting hand through the windshield of the police car to shoot the cop’s partner. She then gazes in fascination as her wrist and hand begins to bleed. It’s both darkly humorous and creepy at the same time, which is as good a capsule description for this film as any.

Blunders/gaffs (also spoilery):

  • A doctor in the beginning looks like he’s about 12 years old (but frankly, so do most doctors I go to these days).
  • Some of the dialogue seems unnecessarily protracted and repetitive. It’s kinda talky, in other words… which is likely due to its stage play origins.
  • There’s an overly sentimental visit to a church where a choir of young children is singing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ (in Japanese, of course), followed by a clergyman attempting to explain what love is to one of the aliens (and talking directly to the camera in a super-distracting manner). It’s just clunky and on-the-nose.
  • At one point late in the film, a possessed teenage boy gets strafed with a submachine gun. Yet he manages to shoot back, get up and drag himself around for another five minutes while bleeding from multiple bullet wounds.
  • The lion’s share of the film’s budget is clearly reserved for the third act, where there are many explosions, a deadly drone, and some pretty good CGI. Pacing could have been helped by spreading some of the action around the rest of the film.

Evaluation:

From the very beginning, it’s obvious we are in the hands of a confident, accomplished director. Kurosawa blocks and shoots scenes with creativity and precision. Before We Vanish opens with the aftermath of a murder, with a schoolgirl regarding her evident handiwork. She touches a blood-dripping hand to her lips to taste the blood, curiously, dispassionately. She then meanders outside to a busy highway, where her careless path eventually causes a violent multiple-vehicle pileup right behind her – and she never even turns around to observe. Instead, she smiles happily at the chaos she’s caused – and walks on.

“When we learn something, they lose their conception of it,” one of the aliens explains, as his host body’s zonked-out parents stare vacantly into space. “I took a lot.” Chilling premise: in the process of understanding, the aliens plunder and erase the information from their victims’ brains.

There is mordant humor throughout, as when two of the aliens interrogate a hapless cop about the concept of self vs. others (it’s borderline slapstick). And then there’s this bit of dialogue where a human and an alien discuss the coming invasion:

“So what happens to Earth?”

“Nothing much, really. Just humanity’s extinction.”

Yusuke Hayashi’s score is elegiac, effective, and for the most part surprisingly Western in nature. The cast is uniformly solid, especially Nagasawa, who builds a compelling character study of a woman who has fallen out of love with her husband, but is then lured back when he changes drastically after being possessed by an alien being. And there’s a late-film meditation on what a human being looks like when the concept of love has been removed from their mind. It will come as no surprise that it is not a pretty sight.

It’s a thoughtful piece of filmmaking. If you’re looking for some mindless slasher distraction, this is not for you. But if you’re any kind of student of Asian cinema, thoughtful science fiction, or contemplations of what it means to be human… well, then this definitely is for you.


Connect with ‘Before We Vanish’:

Theatrical run

Before We Vanish began a limited run in U.S. theaters last Friday (February 2nd). It is also slated for iTunes on May 1st (and we suspect it will be available on many other services at or around the same time).


EFFECTS (1-5): 3
SCORE (1-5): 4
OVERALL (1-5): 3

TITLEBefore We Vanish (original Japanese title Sanpo suru shinryakusha)
YEAR OF RELEASE: 2017
STUDIODjango FilmNikkatsu
MPAA RATING: NR (probably would be PG-13, for some gore and adult language)
LENGTH: 129 mins.
DVD? (Y/N): not yet
BLU-RAY? (Y/N): not yet
NETFLIX? (Y/N): N
WIDESCREEN? (Y/N) Y
IN THEATERS? (Y/N) Y, as of February 2nd, 2018 (US)
STREAMING DIGITAL/VOD? (Y/N) Coming May 1, 2018 to iTunes (pre-order available now)

TRAILER: J-Horror master Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s ‘Before We Vanish,’ out Feb. 2nd

TRAILER: J-Horror master Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s ‘Before We Vanish,’ out Feb. 2nd

What’s on the menu for ‘Before We Vanish’

What’s on the menu, you ask? Alien invasion, body possession, killer Japanese schoolgirls… and marital strife, that’s what. After making the rounds of the festival circuit last year, Before We Vanish is ready for its closeup in North American theaters.
UPDATED: See the Gourmet Horror Review of Before We Vanish here (posted 02.09.18)
Here’s the official synopsis:
In his twentieth film, acclaimed horror director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Cure, Pulse) reinvents the alien movie as a unique and profoundly human tale of love and mystery. Three aliens travel to Earth on a reconnaissance mission in preparation for a mass invasion. Having taken possession of human bodies, the visitors rob the hosts of their essence – good, evil, property, family, belonging – leaving only hollow shells, which are all but unrecognizable to their loved ones. Equally hilarious, thrilling, and profound, Before We Vanish reminds audiences of the continued strength of one of Japanese cinema’s most unique auteurs – and the value of the human spirit.

 

'Before We Vanish' official poster
Before We Vanish opens in select US theaters February 2nd, with wider release to follow. It stars Masami NagasawaRyûhei Matsuda, and Hiroki Hasegawa.

CONNECT WITH ‘BEFORE WE VANISH’:

UPDATE: Read the Gourmet Horror Review of Before We Vanish here.

Scenes from 'Before We Vanish'
High-concept indie thriller ‘Safe Place’ (2018) seeks crowdfunding

High-concept indie thriller ‘Safe Place’ (2018) seeks crowdfunding

TAGLINE FOR SAFE PLACE: “One person’s haven is another person’s Hell.”

WHAT’S ON THE MENU: Safe Place brings together a team with a proven track record (producer Johnny Macabre is the man behind cult fave Be My Cat: A Film for Anne) and a cast featuring two genre veterans: Ashley Mary Nunes (Scary Larry, All Through the House) and the legendary (and always busy) Bill Oberst Jr. (Scream Queens, Take This Lollipop, and many, many more). And the premise sounds especially fertile:

Lori and her friends have their whole lives ahead of them. Or so they think: When art student Lori Hughes sells a piece at her first show, it seems to be the beginning of a promising career. Better still, the purchaser, Chris Craven, is a wealthy eccentric who invites Lori and her friends back to his rustic lodge for a night of celebration and planning for the future. Unbeknownst to the friends, Chris’ homey façade hides an inner torment-a rage against the world following a senseless tragedy that forever altered him. As the evening wears on and memories of the past begin to consume him, Chris resolves to spare Lori and her friends the same suffering that he’s endured in his life-by ending theirs.

Safe Place is currently in pre-production. According to director/co-writer Nick Hunt (this is his feature film debut), the plan is to secure funding and begin filming in the fall of 2017. Eventual release is slated for sometime in 2018.


CONNECT WITH SAFE PLACE: Savor the flavor by digging deeper.

 

Neill Blomkamp’s Oats Studios unleashes nightmare-fueled 22-minute short ‘Zygote’

Neill Blomkamp’s Oats Studios unleashes nightmare-fueled 22-minute short ‘Zygote’

What’s on the Menu…

Zygote beautifully utilizes one of our all-time favorite dramatic scenarios: An isolated group, faced with no choice but to fend for themselves, battles for survival against a seemingly insurmountable foe. As group members get picked off, one by one, the suspense comes from who dies next, and who, if anyone, survives. John Ford staged it in a desert with World War I soldiers in The Lost Patrol (1934). Ridley Scott placed his band of scrappy victims in deep space, battling an iconic extraterrestrial in 1979’s Alien. With Zygote, director and co-writer Neill Blomkamp borrows heavily from the latter, right down to the ceaseless warning beacons and mechanical PA announcements. It also cuts right to the chase, opening after most of the bloodshed has already occurred:

Stranded in an Arctic mine, two lone survivors are forced to fight for their lives, evading and hiding from a new kind of terror.

Evaluation

Zygote stars Blomkamp veteran Jose Pablo Cantillo (Elysium, Chappie) and Dakota Fanning. Cantillo is fine, although his terse, grunting speech – he’s in intense pain for every second he’s onscreen – can be a little hard to understand. But Fanning is incredible, absolutely inhabiting her character’s frazzled, go-for-broke gutsiness. And the film’s set acts as an indispensable third performer: the Diefenbunker, a sprawling, decommissioned Cold War-era fallout shelter originally built by the Canadian government in the small town of Carp, Ontario. It now serves as Canada’s Cold War Museum, and has been featured in The Sum of All Fears, among other films.

As one would expect from Blomkamp, the digital effects are impeccable. Zygote gifts sci-fi/horror fans with a unique and fearsome creature, unlike anything you’ve seen before. And it does not skimp on the gore or violence. If this were a feature, the MPAA would almost certainly slap an ‘R’ rating on it.

Blunders and Gaffes

The film spends just a little too much time in its first setting, the mining operation’s thoroughly trashed mess hall. It gets a little talky in parts. And a scene where the two protagonists must put on breathing masks becomes unintentionally funny when both of their masks instantly cloud up – a lot. Like, “I can’t see a damn thing” a lot.

Release Notes for Zygote

Oats Studios has released free versions of Zygote on its YouTube and Facebook pages, but a deluxe downloadable edition, complete with 3D assets, scripts and digital concept art booklet can be purchased for $4.99 on the Steam gaming platform.

Best of all, the short is billed as Volume 1, indicating an ongoing series. We’ll be anxiously awaiting the next installments.

Connect with Zygote