With the weekend came the crowds, and the action movies, at Fantastic Fest. My day started with the world premiere of Camino (B-), which reunites Raze director Josh Waller and star Zoë Bell. This time, Bell plays a photojournalist who is sent to the Columbian jungle to document a self-proclaimed band of heavily armed “missionaries” led by megalomanaical Spaniard Nacho Vigalondo. Vigalondo, better known as a director, is capable in a role written for him, but does the “charming” bit better than the “psychopath.” Bell, on the other hand, is coming into her own as an actress as well as a stuntwoman, and a brutal, thrilling fight to the death between Bell and a CIA-trained mercenary at the halfway mark forms the centerpiece of the film. The script, however, fails to live up to the promise of that fight, and despite heavily telegraphing its themes in Bond-villain monologues, Camino left many audience members with unanswered questions.
Reactions were similarly mixed to Too Late (C+), as personified by the guy next to me who audibly groaned throughout and the guy behind us who broke into rapturous applause during the end credits. Shot and projected in 35mm, this ’70s-style pulp homage is based around a gimmick, namely that it’s composed of five 20-minute scenes. Each of those scenes consists of a single take, and the camera is surprisingly mobile considering the heft of the equipment. So Too Late is an impressive technical feat, at least. The rest is a mixed bag: John Hawkes stars as a L.A. private eye, and while his performance is predictably good, that just makes some of the supporting players look even weaker. Everyone speaks in painfully witty noir-style banter overstuffed with pop-culture references, so if you’ve ever wanted to see a movie where strippers—and most of the female characters are strippers—quote Bugs Bunny, this is it. Pizzolatto diehards should love it.
There’s less to say about Gridlocked (C-), a clichéd Canadian action flick that also had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest. The characters, from the stoic tough-guy cop to the “two days to retirement” chief (Danny Glover) to the Die Hard villain (Stephen Lang), are hopelessly generic. And while plot contrivances aren’t necessarily a problem in a shoot-’em-up, Gridlocked grinds to a halt in its second act, giving the audience plenty of time to contemplate the same. So it was a relief when The Mind’s Eye (B), whose sodden cast and crew introduced the movie at a whiskey-soaked midnight show, moved along at a brisk 87 minutes. Where Gridlocked draws from direct-to-video ’90s action, The Mind’s Eye draws from SOV horror, complete with synth score and practical effects. (Perhaps a bit too loyal to its retro roots, the film is set in 1990, but attends to its period setting without much care.) The second movie co-starring Lauren Ashley Carter and Larry Fessenden this weekend, The Mind’s Eye also stars Graham Skipper as a powerful telekinetic who falls into the clutches of an evil psychiatrist whose Professor Xavier-style institute for Scanners-esque youngsters has a hidden agenda. That’s simply a setup, however, for an escalating series of splatter scenes, evoking gleeful laughter and applause from the audience with each exploding head and gushing wound. Considering the film’s surely minuscule budget, the gore effects and wire work—the raison d’être of a film like this—were both impressive, making The Mind’s Eye old-fashioned niche gorehound fun.