Our coverage of this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival continues with reviews of two world premieres, Poor Agnes and Sequence Break. For tickets and the complete schedule of films, visit fantasiafestival.com. All of our 2017 Fantasia reviews can be found here.
Many horror films focus on kidnapped victims (see: the whole unfortunate “torture porn” sub-genre), but few deal with the actual psychological ramifications of being kept and abused by a kidnapper. What would one do to try to survive through such an ordeal? And what would that constant terror do to one’s mind?
The Canadian production Poor Agnes doesn’t answer all of those questions, but it does portray a rarely-seen abuser/victim relationship, while subverting the gender-roles we’ve come to expect from the genre.
Agnes Poelzl (Lora Burke) is a psychopath, a killer with no empathy and the capacity for unexpected bursts of violence. When she meets a private investigator named Mike (Robert Notman) following up on the disappearance of Agnes’ old boyfriend, she traps him in an isolated home and tortures him, bending him to her will. Between bouts of sex, she commands him to abuse himself, including stabbing himself for food. Her command of Mike is so all-consuming, that he begins to push aside any thoughts of escaping, even when opportunities present themselves. When Agnes decides to add another victim to the party (Will Conlon), Mike must decide where his allegiances lie, while battling the mental and physical anguish he has suffered under Agnes’ hands.
While the film requires some serious leaps of logic, director Navin Ramaswaran seems less concerned with plot minutiae as with portraying Mike’s descent into madness and submission. Beautifully shot in Northern Ontario and featuring a truly chilling performance by Lora Burke as the title character, Poor Agnes is an unsettling watch that will stick with you long after its credits roll.
Poor Agnes screens Wednesday, July 19 at 7:15 pm. Sold out.
On its surface, Graham Skipper’s Sequence Break is the sort of low-budget horror film I should love. It features allusions to Cronenberg and Lovecraft, and really nails down the From Beyond and Re-Animator aesthetic with its practical effects and pulsing electronic score — still, there is a difference between acknowledging one’s influences and making something new with them, which is where Sequence Break falls short of the mark.
Oz (Chase Williamson) is a video-game machine repairman, fixing up the hulking machines that used to line arcades when they still existed. Now a dying art form, Oz spends most of his time alone working in a small shop, where he meets Tess (Fabianne Therese), a fellow retro game enthusiast. As their relationship grows, Oz becomes obsessed with a new video game he discovers at the shop, which seems to be playing tricks on his body and mind (and reality itself).
From there the film becomes a series of disturbing / horrific sequences, as Oz begins physically and mentally bonding with the machine that is obviously more than the kaleidoscopic Space Invaders-like game it appears to be on the surface. There are (dream?) sequences of semen-like oozing circuitboards, man-machine couplings straight out of Cronenberg’s school of body horror, and implications of the entire space-time continuum being turned on its head. But for all the provocative imagery, the film struggles to find a cohesive narrative through line, and the characters we’re supposed to be rooting for get lost in the complex web of nightmarish sequences.
Both leads do a solid job here, and Skipper’s produced something that stylistically fits right in with that prime mid-90’s existential horror feel. It’s just unfortunate that the film feels more like a tribute to its influences, rather than a continuation of them.
Sequence Break screens Wednesday, July 19 at 5:00 pm.