Tuesday, September 13, 2011

TIFF Review 2011: "The Incident"

(Midnight Madness)
(France, 2011, 85 minutes)
Directed by: Alexandre Courtes
Cast: Rupert Evans, Kenny Doughty, Joseph Kennedy, Dave Legeno, Marcus Garvey, Richard Brake

Not likely to end up on CAMH’s recommended viewing list, “The Incident” is basically
“Assault on Precinct 13” with crazy people. Toss in a little “Straw Dogs” and whatever one has retained from “Lord of the Flies” in Grade 8 and you have a mélange that’s not exactly nouvelle cuisine but it still goes down mighty fine as a midnight snack, especially when one has been pretending to understand Godard and von Trier all week (do forgive my admittedly awkward food metaphor--it’s just that the protagonist is a cook, so…)

Set in the US during the 80s (I think the Reagan era is the new “period” horror film setting of choice—cell phones came along and made it a helluva lot more difficult to isolate a cast from hordes of whatever), “”The Incident” is, amazingly, not an American film, but rather the Belgian-shot, French-produced feature debut of big-time music video auteur Alexandre Courtes, who has produced memorable clips for U2 and The White Stripes. It’ll come as no surprise then to learn that the film looks fantastic—all gleaming surfaces and inky shadows and that muted teal hue that signifies doom these days. But Russell Mulcahy made great music videos too, and really, have you ever been able to sit through anything he’s made other than “Highlander”, and maybe “Razorback”? It’s a huge leap to pad out 90 minutes when you’re used to filling just 5—but Courtes works from a script by S. Craig Zahler (an American western novelist of some acclaim—who knew?) and JÈrÙme Fanstenthat takes all the right strategic moves from the Carpenter handbook (although Cortes speaks most fondly of Sam Peckinpah) and the film flies by with a giddy, let’s-piss-everyone-off-vibe…

Exploring the thin line that separates our civilized selves from our inner cavemen (or Minutemen gun nut)—again (and it’s definitely a thin RED line in this film, if you get my drift)—three musician friends are forced to survive by-any-means-and-with-whatever- tools-necessary when the power goes out at the Washington State maximum security asylum where they work as cooks between their very-few gigs. And there’s no Nurse Ratchett to save them…
George (Evans), Max (Doughty) and Ricky (Kennedy) are initially trapped in the secured kitchen after the blackout, and place a lot of faith in the thick, slotted window where they ordinarily dispatch meals to the inmates, most of whom are at best catatonic save for one Harry Green (Brake), who seems to daily will the protective glass to break with his hungry, perverted stare. Eventually, the inmates shatter the window with a prison table, and the band mates must flee, along with head guard J.B. (Legeno) into the unlocked corridors to get to a phone, a generator, an exit door…alive…
While horror buffs might not know the leads or the director, Midnight Madness veterans will give props to the superb editing from “Baxter”, who gave Bustillo and Maury’s À l’intérieur, and Alexandre Aja’s Haute Tension their unique, pulse-pounding vibes…
The hospital’s labyrinthine interior provides the appropriate visual metaphor and opportunities abound for hulking psychopaths to emerge out of the dark, usually toting a new horrible makeshift weapon or the corpse of another poor bastard who didn’t make it (and usually not…intact…), lit and framed for maximum dread by DOP Laurent Tangy,
There’s been much quibbling about the film’s downturn from its character-driven and deliberately-paced first act to its outrageously violent and relentlessly grim second (I’ll avoid the controversial third act twist, other than to say I’m more fine with this one than what I was asked to swallow by Aja’s debut). The lack of backstory, “arcs”, and all that Syd Field stuff works just fine in films of this type, where the viewer is placed, real-time and firmly, in the gore-soaked shoes of the protagonists to experience their own sense of the universe gone mad.
Besides, when was the last time you read that a film was so violent it made not one but TWO viewers faint? This one did—and two Midnight Madness goers, no less…
IFC Midnight has purchased distribution rights to “The Incident” and plans to release it to theatres next year.
©2011 Robert J. Lewis