Toronto After Dark 2013 Journal: Day 4 – Silent Retreat / Septic Man / Motivational Growth

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Sunday at TADFF is always a tough day. Generally speaking, from a reporting perspective, it means that you’ve been out until all hours of the morning for the last three nights, probably imbibed a bit more than necessary, lost a lot of sleep, and then spent all of your free time writing reviews, editing interviews, etc. As such, it is almost always the one day that I get to the theater either late, or right before the first movie of the afternoon.

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This year, that first movie was the World Premiere of Silent Retreat, a story about a teenager who gets sent to a rehabilitation camp in the woods where escape attempts lead to encounters with something that lurks beyond the trees. Due to some trouble finding seating in the packed auditorium, I missed the theatrical showing, but I am hoping to be able to get a chance to see it before the festival is over, and if I do, I will update this post with my thoughts. For now, here is the trailer for the film:

UPDATE: Read Eric King’s review here.

Next up was a short film called Under The Neon Lights, which tells an oddball tale of  man’s relationship with his girlfriend; who just so happens to be a mannequin. It’s really hard to say much else about the short, but I can tell you that I got a definite Maniac vibe (the 80s version) from it, and I loved the neon-lit cinematography. As you might imagine, the short doesn’t take itself too seriously either , which definitely works in its favor, as it is quite funny at times. If you get a chance to check it out, I would recommend doing so.

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The short was followed by the Canadian premiere of Septic Man, the new film from Director Jesse T. Cook (Monster Brawl) and writer Tony Burgess (author of Pontypool). The story centers on a plumber who finds himself sucked into a shadowy operation when he is asked to help clear some drainpipes that are contaminating a small town’s water supply. Naturally, he gets stuck in the sewer and begins to mutate into a creature that more resembles the waste he works with than an actual human being. Going into the film, I had heard a lot of buzz that the movie was super gross, so I was bracing for the gooey stuff. What I got instead was a fairly tame picture that failed to keep my interest or entertain me. Sure there are a couple of pretty nasty scenes involving bodily waste, and some people throwing up, but as the father of a two-and-a-half-year-old, I’ve seen much worse on an almost daily basis. In the end, my overall recommendation is that you skip Septic Man, but if it sounds like something that you absolutely must see, then you will be happy to know that Anchor Bay has picked up (at least) the Canadian distribution rights for the film, so you will get a chance in the near future.

The film was followed by a Q&A session with the Cook, Burgess, and two of the main actors, Jason Brown and Julian Richings. To be honest, the session really gave me some insight into why all of the problems I had with the movie probably existed. It seemed like Burgess – who was fairly “happy” at the time of the Q&A, if you follow me – was really going for some very ambiguous, and ultimately nonsensical, thematic material. It was a bit amusing listening to him talk about how high he was, but it didn’t do anything to make me ever want to watch Septic Man again. The trailer is below, if you are interested:

Next up was a charming little short entitled Mood Killer. The film, which tells the story of a young man who can’t seem to hold onto a relationship because of his propensity to find his girlfriends monstrous, was obviously made on the cheap, but it also had a lot of heart behind it. It was nice, light fare, and very well done; especially given the fact that the filmmakers seemed to be pretty young. I would recommend people seek this out if you get a chance.

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Once the short wrapped, we finally got to the film that I have been anticipating for several days now, Motivational Growth, from Writer/Director Don Thacker. Since it’s announcement in the festival lineup, I had been hearing great things about the film, and after talking to Thacker the last few nights at the pub, I was really intrigued to check out his film about a reclusive man who gives up on life after his television set breaks and finds himself befriending a large pile of talking mold that lives in his bathroom. If that sounds weird, it’s because Motivational Growth is a very strange movie. However, unlike the previous feature, it also has a lot to say about the human condition and depression. It’s also funny as hell. And did I mention that The Mold is an animatronic puppet that is voiced by none other than Jeffrey Combs? If that doesn’t give you enough reason to drop what your doing and seek it out, than I don’t know what will. It also has a wonderful 8-bit inspired score and some great acting. Because of all this, it is easily my pick of the day, and probably my second favorite film of the festival so far. I loved it and can’t wait to see it again, so I hope it gets distribution soon…

After the film wrapped, Thacker took the stage for what is easily one of the best Q&A sessions I have ever watched at TADFF. He fielded all sorts of questions and was extremely funny and forthcoming about every aspect of his life and the filmmaking process. I could have listened to him talk for a couple of hours, but sadly, they limited him to about 35 minutes. I’m going to try and get an interview with him at some point, and if I do, I will be sure to get it up on the site. For now, though, check out the trailer for Motivational Growth:

When all was said and done, it was a hit-and-miss kind of day, but the final film of the night made everything worth it. Afterwards, we retreated to the pub where Thacker continued to answer questions and talk to just about anyone who wanted to pick his brain. He’s really quite a great guy, and after seeing his debut feature, I can’t wait for what he has in store next.

Monday night at TADFF is looking to be interesting, as we have the Canadian premiere of Odd Thomas, a Stephen Sommers-directed adaptation of the Dean Koontz book series (I never thought we would get a film from him at TADFF). Also playing is Solo, another girl at camp gets terrorized by monster film that I don’t know much about. I will be sure to report back tomorrow on both.

Until then… Stay Undead!

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