Los Angeles Film Festival Report #1: MIDNIGHTERS & EL VECINO
Film Inquiry Editor in Chief is in LA and reports on the first two films she saw at the Los Angeles Film Festival: Midnighters and El Vecino.
It took me about 36 hours from Australia to get here, but I’m here! In Los Angeles, the city of angels – but primarily of movies! I haven’t seen much of the city yet, but that’s not important – I’ve already met great people and saw my first two movies at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
Making my way from eastern LA, where my friend who’s hosting me lives, all the way to Culver City, was a bit of a hike. Not as much as renting a car and braving this crazy traffic though – coming from a country where they drive on the “other” side of the road, that would be a lot to deal with, but traffic here in general is crazy.
So instead, I’m taking Lyfts to the train station, which then takes me to Culver City. It’s not a quick trip, but at least I know I’m not going to return home with a heart condition because of excessive traffic stress! Amazingly, the people who live here don’t even seem to know about their little train system, or talk about it with scorn, so it’s no surprise it’s relatively calm (compared to any other metro/train system in major cities). When I tell them it’s just $25 for a week of fares, they’re astounded. A regular taxi from the airport runs at $150. And what’s best about taking the train is the chance to watch people and feel like a part of the crowd! I already randomly made friends with a music producer from New York, who, like me, couldn’t find the right train. Giving the lines the almost exact same blue colour doesn’t help distinguish between them. Just saying.
In any case, I got to Culver City and made my way to the ArcLight theater where most of the press screenings are hosted, and picked up my press credentials, conveniently and sort of incidentally at the very first information stall I walked up to. Then I went into my first screening – I’d already prepared for the fact I might miss the first round of screenings because I missed my train, but thankfully one started at 12:15 PM – Midnighters.
Midnighters (Directed by Julius Ramsay)
As the press release states, this is set in a “gothic” New England – which is the first misleading thing you’ll hear about this film. The film is not gothic, although the color grading is aptly bleak and unsaturated, nor does anything place it in New England. This story could have taken place anywhere.
It’s New Year’s eve and a married couple, Lindsey and Jeff (Alex Essoe and Dylan McTee respectively), are leaving Lindsey’s work party. It’s soon established that she is the working woman and Jeff relies on her, and there’s some friction between them. Driving home they talk uncomfortably – there’s little chemistry between the actors and it felt more like watching a first date than a couple that’s been married for a while.
As blatantly foreshadowed, they soon hit a man who randomly stands in the middle of the road, in the middle of the night. He dies in their car, and that’s where they make their first odd choice: they don’t take him to a hospital or call the police, but take him home and cover up what is now manslaughter. It soon turns into a home invasion story, as Lindsey’s sister appears to have stolen something of a more than psychopathic ex (or not ex? Their relationship remains vague and strange).
The script is riddled with unbelievable decision-making and weird, contradictory lines, delivered rather stiffly by the actors. While it’s posited that these people are just working people trying to make a living, redoing their house, it’s quite remarkable how eagerly these people resort to violence – at some point even torture and deliberate murder.
It got quite a few unbelieving snickers from my fellow critics and I too sighed in frustration a couple of times. It’s an odd little film that’s particularly problematic in its screenplay, which should’ve gotten a more thorough, more critical edit, and the direction, which was conventional and unimaginative at best.
All in all, Midnighters is quite average, and more frustrating than thrilling. Least of all is it a horror, another misleading bit of communication.
So this was a bit of an underwhelming start to the LA Film Fest for me. Then, however, I reviewed the screening schedule and headed back into the same cinema, where they were playing the Mexican experimental thriller, El Vecino, or The Neighbor.
El Vecino (The Neighbor, directed by Giancarlo Ruiz)
Paco Mufote plays Raul, who lives in the apartment above Alejandro and Alejandra (really), who are having marital issues. He takes an interest in them and their relationship, but particularly in Alejandra. Soon his interest becomes something more ugly, and he becomes obsessed with Alejandra – tormenting her while Alejandro is away from home, and more.
That plot doesn’t sound like anything new, does it? But what makes this little 75-minute film something absolutely revolutionary is its experimental execution. Writer/director Giancarlo Ruiz, also in charge of cinematography, plays with many lenses and uncomfortable angles, and has Raul record his own footage on a crappy handycam. Raul also secretly records conversations between the couple which he keeps playing backwards and forwards – along with what we see on screen. It is incredibly unsettling to see things happen in slow motion, then fastforwarded and then rewound to see it all again, in different kinds of visual formats – right along with the high pitched squealing of fast forwarding, and listening to conversations backwards. It’s very reminiscent of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.
It’s also a lot like Twin Peaks and Lynch’s other work in its surrealism – often, the conversations you hear and the images you see aren’t synchronised as we’re used to, often hearing what is said before the actors speak, or vice versa, and it’s not always clear if what happens on screen actually happens or is only happening in our protagonist’s broken mind.
All of these techniques lead to a remarkably unnerving whole. It works incredibly well and it’s a unique way to present obsession and mental illness. If you’ve got a spare 75 minutes and you’d like to see something different, see El Vecino, you won’t be disappointed.
That’s it for my first day at the Los Angeles Film Festival, I can’t wait to see what else it’s got in store for me! I’m hoping for less casual violence against women and fewer psychopaths sniffing panties – both of these films did that and it’s weird to see it in one movie, but weirder to see it in two in a row.
Stay tuned for my next report!
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