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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 1.Sep.23

Founders Day  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
Founders Day
dir Erik Bloomquist
scr Erik Bloomquist, Carson Bloomquist
prd Carson Bloomquist, Erik Bloomquist, Adam Weppler
with Naomi Grace, Devin Druid, Emilia McCarthy, Tyler James White, Olivia Nikkanen, William Russ, Amy Hargreaves, Jayce Bartok, Andrew Stewart-Jones, Catherine Curtin, Adam Weppler, Erik Bloomquist
release US Aug.23 pfff,
UK Aug.23 frf
23/US 1h46


Is it streaming?

Founders Day
Like a 1980s slasher movie on meths, this riotously energetic thriller deploys high-volume grisliness from start to finish. It's sharply shot, played and edited, although the sound and music are what carefully guides the tone, stirring up anxiety exactly as expected. And there are also constant throwaway deadpan comedy moments. Actor-filmmaker Erik Bloomquist packs a lot into this nutty movie, which is sure to keep genre fans happy.
In rural America, an acrimonious mayoral campaign is boiling over as the town's tricentennial celebrations begin. Then a masked killer murders Melissa (Nikkanen), daughter of challenger Harold (Bartok), in front of her girlfriend Allison (Grace). Incumbent Blair (Hargreaves) briefly offers condolences and considers cancelling Founders Day celebrations, but carries on until her daughter Lilly (McCarthy), who was in a romantic triangle with Melissa's brother Adam (Druid) and bad boy Rob (White), turns up dead as well. Police chief Judith (Curtin) and deputy Finn (Weppler) are overwhelmed by all of this. And it's only getting started.
Set up with a nicely played series of everyday scenes establishing the characters and various layers of tensions, the film gleefully doubles down on the death, plot twists and revelations, rarely pausing to take a breath. Killings get increasingly grisly, while political subtext spills out everywhere. Scenes are set up nicely, with hilarious one-line zingers as a counterpoint to the violence. So even if the storytelling is haphazard, a churning musical underscore lets us know exactly where we are.

Everyone has a huge personality to go with their heightened melodramatic interaction. Grace is feisty as the determined teen through whose eyes most of this is seen, and she has nice chemistry with the likeable Druid. Standouts in the ensemble include Curtin as the pithy chief and White as a kid whose reactions makes him look guilty, even though he's not. Or is he? And Russ has an enjoyably loose presence as a teacher who's also a council member and the town's voice of reason.

As the situation spirals out of control, and then some, there are some strong ideas bouncing around that pull the audience into the fray. The way the ugly political battle spills out into teens who refuse to play by the rules is clever. As are the way slasher movie cliches are merrily deployed and subverted at the same time. Although it's hard to imagine how a town can recover from this kind of massacre. Denial can only go so far.

cert 18 themes, language, violence 28.Aug.23 frf

Raging Grace  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
Raging Grace
dir-scr Paris Zarcilla
prd Chi Thai
with Max Eigenmann, Jaeden Boadilla, Leanne Best, David Hayman, Stephanie Connell, Caleb Johnston-Miller, Sophie Morris-Sheppard, Oliver Wellington, Eugenia Low, Jodie Cuaresma
release US Mar.23 sxsw,
UK Aug.23 frf
23/UK 1h39


Is it streaming?

best, eigenmann and hayman
Issues of class and ethnicity run right through this British drama, which draws in elements of farce and horror as its story shifts and twists with pointed intent. Writer-director Paris Zarcilla stirs in details from his Filipino heritage to add some deeper currents of meaning. And even if the storytelling feels a bit undercooked, the settings, music and editing create at atmosphere that's almost too vivid.
Struggling to save up cash to pay for a UK visa, Filipina cleaner Joy (Eigenmann) hides out in her clients' homes with her endlessly mischievous preteen daughter Grace (Boadilla). One day Joy takes a job in a vast manor house working for Katherine (Best), niece of the dying owner Mr Garrett (Hayman). Trying to keep her head down and keep Grace out of sight is tricky, and then Joy realises that Katherine is slowly killing Garrett with meds. So she decides to turn the tables. Except that she hasn’t reckoned with who's really in charge.
All kinds of wrinkles add intrigue, including the fact that Joy has lied to Grace about her father. Or how Garrett was raised by a beloved Filipina nanny himself. Or that there's an embalmed women dressed like an empress in the attic. Combined with whatever nefarious business Katherine is really up to, these things feed into the generally bonkers tone of the film, augmented by slapstick wackiness sparked by Grace's rambunctious behaviour. Meanwhile, almost everyone is also pushing against in their accepted place in the social hierarchy.

Performances are naturalistic, maintaining a sense of humanity even within some extremely heightened moments. Eigenmann has an engaging presence as Joy, a survivor whose every decision hinges around her daughter. It's a gritty performance that nicely juggles her public politeness, private annoyance and struggles with the irrepressible Grace, played with boundless energy by the likeable scene-stealer Boadilla. Meanwhile, Best adds enjoyably sinister overtones to the condescending Katherine, while Hayman has a ball as the shifty master of the house.

With skilful production design, cinematography and editing, Zarcilla vividly captures the perspective of an immigrant who is forced into servitude to survive in a class-based society. Every time someone refers to "you people", it feels like a violent slap in the face. And the way Joy fights against the system is portrayed with some knowingly realistic details. A final-act speech about how entitled people rely on those they oppress is perhaps a bit heavy-handed, but it's delivered with honesty and a kick of raw emotion.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 27.Aug.23 frf

The Winner Takes It All  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

The Winner Takes It All
dir-scr-prd James Demitri
with Maxi Shield, Manuel Kornisiuk, Jack Stratton-Smith, Jessica Marchi, Emily Teede, Adrian Dion Davies, Ollie DS
release Aus Feb.23 mgff,
UK 1.Sep.23
23/Australia 1h18

Is it streaming?

Trashy and absurd, this Australian comedy shamelessly wallows in its low budget production values, blatant product placement and narrative insanity. And since it stars a large drag queen, the spirit of John Waters is very strongly felt here. James Demitri's skills as writer-director are definitely rough around the edges, but his passion for both filmmaking and these characters is clear. And that makes the movie disarmingly endearing.
When wealthy socialite Kiki (Marchi) asks best pal Maxine (Shield) whether she should trust her hunky husband Hunter (Kornisiuk), Maxine reminds her that he's a slutty gigolo. Indeed, Maxine is sleeping with him, worried that he's cheating on her too. Of course he is. When Hunter finds Kiki murdered, he's afraid to call the police. So he hides her body, and tells Maxine to lay low. He also asks his secret pornstar boyfriend Randy (Stratton-Smith) to keep his distance. Then Hunter disappears with Kiki's cash, and both Maxine and Randy set out to find him.
Much of the camerawork is sharp, although the movie feels somewhat unfinished, with some missing elements and typed captions that awkwardly signpost each scene like an episodic crime drama. Choppy editing leaves it often looking like actors weren't actually together on-set, but the musical beats bring things to life, adding energy and an undercurrent of feeling. As a mystery develops, the filmmaking plays up the slight whiff of suspense. And while many scenes feel padded out for comical effect, the plot actually has intriguingly serious edges to it.

There isn't a lot of development in these roles, but the actors go in hard on their singular characteristics. Shield camps it up appropriately as Maxine, wildly overreacting to everything while striking seductive poses in her glamorous revealing outfits. Kornisiuk is likeable as the sweetly dim Hunter, and the hot actor happily strips off for plenty of gratuitous nudity. While aside from a hilarious pastiche prolog, Stratton-Smith spends much of the running time lurking in the background. He and Kornisiuk also find some strong chemistry.

Much of the humour is so deadpan that it elicits a laugh before we know what hit us. While the love square-to-triangle premise remains gurgling in the background, the main focus is on the relentless self-involvement of these people as they spiral into a raucous cocktail of sex, murder and revenge. The film is resolutely nutty and messy, which makes it difficult to engage with. But its twists are a lot of nasty fun, even when what happens is actually rather tragic if you take the time to think about it.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, sexuality 1.Sep.23

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