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Toronto After Dark

Toronto After Dark 2019: ‘Extra Ordinary’ Riffs on the Paranormal

Directors Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman offer laughs and plenty for horror fans to love in a story of ghosts and Satan.

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Accepting the central conceit that ghosts are all around us in our everyday lives, Extra Ordinary mixes a strong cocktail of paranormal activity, the occult, and gross-out humor. In their feature debut, directors Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman take a stab at the horror-comedy genre, and ultimately wind up with a funny riff on The Exorcist and satanic rituals. Though uneven and eventually finding itself going through the motions in order to move the narrative forward, Ahern and Loughman inject enough humor and style into Extra Ordinary to make the film an enjoyable, haunted romp through rural Ireland — as well as provide ample reason to put star Maeve Higgins into every comedy.

After the death of her father, Rose (Higgins) hangs up her hat as a medium and becomes a driving school instructor. Living alone, she quickly finds herself attracted to Martin (Barry Ward), a widowed father who still finds himself living with his deceased wife. Now possessing the entirety of their home, Martin enlists the help of Rose to help rid their house of his wife, and also save his daughter — who is now a floating body being prepared for a satanic ritual, with the motivations and culprit unknown to either of the two. However, the audience is well aware of who is behind it, as they see Christian Winters (Will Forte) attempt to revive his music career after reaching the peak of his fame as a one-hit wonder, utilizing the power of Satan. 

Extra Ordinary

What follows is a fairly standard story of a gifted person realizing that their gifts can be used for good, and they not as useless as previously believed. Despite its plot lacking any real substance, Extra Ordinary leans far heavier on its comedic side than its horror premise. Even if it ultimately goes for broke by the end with some ingenious writing and heavy use of a special effects budget, the horror itself is mostly just played for laughs. This is mostly evident in Will Forte’s character — a man-child resorting to Satanism in order to revive a dead career. As a villain, Forte delivers a one-note performance that still manages to be humorous throughout the entirety of Extra Ordinary. However, he’s stacked against Maeve Higgins, who carries the lackluster plot to a much more entertaining outcome. Her comedic timing alone triumphs greatly over much of the cast, even when Barry Ward’s character is forced to do multiple performances as different characters possessing him.

Entertaining though it is, a lot of the logic does completely fall apart once a joke seems like it can be made, which is largely why Extra Ordinary does not appear interested in its horror. It’s not as cleverly written as something like Tucker and Dale Vs Evil or Housebound, but still provides plenty of humor within the framework of a horror film. However, not until the finale do a lot of the jokes act as subversions to basic horror tropes. Those moments are both funny in premise, but also start picking away at the logic established at the beginning of the film. At that point, Ahern and Loughman focus heavily on keeping the film’s heart and jokes in place while catering to the audience’s horror needs. This is when Extra Ordinary works best, but it takes a while of meandering through vignettes of possessions to get to that point.

Extra Ordinary

Endlessly charming and endearing, Extra Ordinary doesn’t really need to be more than it is. It scratches a lot of itches for horror fans, and makes a great star vehicle for Higgins, who absolutely shines. With its core concept of ghosts being able to possess anything and everything, the film very clearly would work better as a haunting-of-the-week television show than a feature film, but it is a humorous movie in which anyone can find something to enjoy, even if it doesn’t necessarily work as a whole.

The 2019 Toronto After Dark festival runs from October 17-25.

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Chris is a graduate of Communications from Simon Fraser University and resides in Toronto, Ontario. His favorite films include The Big Lebowski, The Raid 2, Alien, and The Thing. You will often find him with a drink in his hand yelling about movies.

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Toronto After Dark

Toronto After Dark 2019: ‘The Wretched’ Leans Heavily on its Inspirations

‘The Wretched’ has neat concepts and serviceable performances, but contains an all-too-familiar narrative that muddles its execution.

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The Wretched

There’s a very fine line between feeling familiar and being reverential or paying homage. The Wretched somehow stumbles into both categories, with a plot that mixes Invasion of the Body Snatchers with Fright Night, but also takes so many tonal cues from the latter that the film loses any originality by its finale. Somehow feeling lackluster despite seeding horror throughout, The Wretched fails to utilize its inspirations as a foundation for its own unique terror.

When a mother and son go out on a hike in the woods and accidentally hit a deer with their truck on the way home, they bring it back to clean it, so as not to let it go to waste. Unbeknownst to them, however, they’ve brought back more than just a deer carcass. As strange things start happening to this family, their neighbors’ son, Ben (John-Paul Howard), begins noticing and snooping around the house to try and figure out what is going on. Unfortunately, The Wretched introduces characters only to make the story into a semi-coming-of-age film that is far less interesting than the horror concepts it leaves behind.

The Wretched

As mentioned, the reverence for the movies that inspire The Wretched far outweighs any of the creative ideas present. Directors Brett and Drew T. Pierce offer twists and hooks that either land with a thud or get dropped in lieu of dipping back into the well of their inspirations. The final twist is a strong contender for being one of the best ideas that has ever been poorly executed. While it doesn’t come out of nowhere, the ramifications will wash over the audience, leaving most blankly staring back at the screen; it’s a genius idea that proves there is something underneath the homages.

The Wretched does maintain some compelling practical effects, however. Extremely macabre in design, there’s some pleasantly grotesque imagery especially toward the end of the film. This is really where most of the budget seems spent, since the first half of The Wretched merely develops the very predictable story of a boy who learns not to take everything for granted or push everyone away. With acting that’s actually decent, it’s a shame that the screenplay feels so borrowed, because everyone here feels deserving of a better film.

The Wretched

Capturing the feeling of another movie is one thing, but if an audience leaves believing they’ve seen this film before, something is wrong. The Wretched offers tantalizing concepts that would have elevated itself had they been fleshed out enough. A theme about being neglected and forgotten tries to play, but with varying degrees of failure, never really landing because the execution is familiar-yet-different. While not a movie completely devoid of enjoyment, The Wretched is a mostly bland affair that holds glimpses of a stronger, more enticing film.

The 2019 Toronto After Dark festival runs from October 17-25.

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Toronto After Dark

Toronto After Dark 2019: ‘Come to Daddy’ is a Darkly Comedic Examination of Masculinity

With a brilliant cast and gleeful levels of violence, Ant Timpson’s feature debut carries its emotional baggage to its climax in a barrage of humor and mayhem.

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Come to Daddy

After receiving a note from his estranged father who has been absent from his life for 30 years, Norval Greenwood (Elijah Wood) attempts to solve the mystery of his father’s departure and why he has suddenly beckoned him to his remote coastal home. Stranger and stranger by the minute, Come to Daddy is a hilarious dark comedy and an incredibly assured feature debut from Ant Timpson. Perfectly cast and never lacking in mystery or tension, the film hides a sinister secret until breaking into a frenetic melange of violence and subsequent teardown of masculinity.

Come to Daddy

Beginning couched in an eerie atmosphere, Norval attempts to rekindle whatever might still be left of his relationship with his father, Gordon (Stephen McHattie). Antagonizing Norval at every turn, Gordon goes through every old trick in the book from teasing the sober Norval with a glass overflowing with red wine, to calling him out on his successful life in the past three years, to even taking stabs at Norval’s masculinity. This final part is where a lot of Come to Daddy hangs its hat. Conversations with his father turn heated quickly, with his father persistently putting Norval’s sexuality on blast. Devilish in his delivery, McHattie embodies the grizzled, disappointed father character only to set him loose upon his cowardly, effeminate son. 

What begins as a two-hander screenplay of a son trying to learn about his father, eventually turns into something much more eccentric, dark, and tense. The cast increases including incredibly fun performances from Michael Smiley and Martin Donovan, each one gleefully tearing into their roles. Seeing them bounce off of Wood’s character is a constant delight. They also shed a lot of their comedic performances for moments of vulnerability that honestly feel genuinely earned amidst the carnage that the second and final act delivers. Watching characters run amok with makeshift weaponry only to stop and reflect upon life itself would seem jarring anywhere else, but because the film exposes masculinity from the outset, those vulnerable moments play into the themes just as effectively as the gleeful violence.

Come to Daddy

Come to Daddy invests in its central father-son relationship and intentionally aggravates both Norval and the audience. The cold-heartedness of Gordon is there to make things seem off-balance and to put its main character at unease. Unsurprising is that the movie eventually loses itself in its violence and themes, eradicating a lot of the work done narratively – specifically the work done in the second act. Still a thrilling piece of dark entertainment, it just loses the thread at some point and all through the final stretch of Come to Daddy I wondered whether it would be able to piece things together. Its subdued ending feels tender but also feels like it is forgotten some of the early details it concocted as roadblocks.

Even with a less-than-satisfying narrative, the emotional weight that Come to Daddy grapples with and eventually lets surface is compelling enough to go on a violent, mysterious journey. At home with many of the films Timpson has produced over the years, his feature debut is rife with great comedic performances and devious amounts of darkness. The story is merely a device to onboard viewers for what’s to come, but makes a hard shift after its set up to demonstrate the many other ways to explore hypermasculinity. Come for the daddy issues and stay for the mayhem.

Toronto After Dark 2019 runs October 17-25th.

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Toronto After Dark

Toronto After Dark 2019: ‘The Mortuary Collection’ Entertains with Tales of the Dead

Clancy Brown tells morbid tales of life before death in this endearing anthology film – each one increasingly more terrifying than the last.

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The Mortuary Collection

As far as anthology films are concerned, it’s easy enough to skate by on the quality of the shorts compiled in them than trying to craft a good enough story to wrap around them. It can be as simple as finding some VHS tapes lying around, or as intricate as weaving characters from the frame narrative into the stories themselves. The Mortuary Collection finds a decent enough middle-point as it regales tales of the dead that are both entertaining and appropriately morbid. Neatly packaged, director Ryan Spindell’s anthology film delivers on its promise of being terrifying and unbelievable, even if it struggles to justify the shorts it picks within the overarching story.

Probably closer in tone to a darker version of this year’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, The Mortuary Collection has several things going for it that prove beneficial. For starters, the movie’s framing device involves a mortician (played by the consistently enjoyable Clancy Brown) telling stories to a young applicant, Sam (Caitlin Custer), about the deceased. The setting itself lends nicely to the concept of an anthology film, with dead bodies passing through the mortuary at the end of their stories. Even the overarching narrative becomes fittingly more ambitious than the shorts themselves by the end. Yet, why those specific short stories are told is barely given more justification than “evil is always out there”. There’s a little more flavor text than that, but The Mortuary Collection isn’t concerned with explaining why the stories were chosen, but instead how entertaining the stories are – which Sam herself acts as an audience surrogate, criticizing them while also begging for more tales of increasing terror levels.

The Mortuary Collection

Where audiences will get their kicks is from the stories within the film. Each one increasingly more disturbing than the last, they are all entertaining at the bare minimum. Even the ones that don’t wholly work still offer visuals that could serve as someone’s nightmare fuel. Each short dabbles in comedy, with some more so than others, but they all offer a horrifying story to tell. Each one also offers a unique hook to it whether its a twist or a set up that pays off by the end. It’s easy to get completely invested in the world of each short, and it’s impressive how well they all work when most anthology films usually carry at least one or two duds. This is likely due to not being subservient to any specific theme or intent, other than that someone dies.

It’s the acting that keeps things even-keeled, with Clancy Brown being the unsurprising standout. He tells the stories with gravitas and brings a presence to his mortician character that makes it easy to see him loving his job in the final resting place for the dead. When Custer’s character gets to be a little more free from being the audience surrogate, she’s a lot of fun, but regretfully spends a lot of time listening to and demanding more stories from Brown’s character. Within the shorts, there are characters that feed into the other stories, including a doctor that just seems to be everywhere. The performances from everyone involved are befitting a movie so devilishly dark with a nice helping of comical undertones.

The Mortuary Collection

Certainly, a movie made from the heart, The Mortuary Collection is consistently endearing. A delightfully macabre anthology film that can easily string audiences along as they’re enveloped by the movie’s sick sense of humor and wonderful storytelling. As each tale doubles down on the levels of dread, it also becomes apparent that the movie hasn’t really justified how many shorts it has, why it picked the ones it did, and how they all link up on a thematic level. They’re just entertaining stories of people dying in horrible ways, which is enough to recommend The Mortuary Collection to anyone craving a solid, terrifying anthology film.

Toronto After Dark 2019 runs October 17-25th.

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