Trash Fire: A TADFF 2016 Review

You know, sometimes before even walk into a horror movie you know it’s going to disembowel you. I don’t mean that in the gore sense of horror but mainly in the visceral part of you: right inside your very emotional core.

Writer and director Richard Bates Jr. punches you in the stomach with his horror comedy Trash Fire. His characters don’t pull their punches either. Owen (Adrian Grenier) and Isabelle (Angela Trimbur) are a paradox. They are clearly a dysfunctional couple that appear almost completely unsympathetic. At the same time there is an honesty to their characters that is compelling and for all their cruel words to each other a genuine love. It’s not romantic love but that kind of fierce imploding magnetic force that is just there. It can’t really be explained. It’s like their violent truths cancel or balance rach other out.

Initially the real horror intermixed with sharp and unforgiving witty one liners was watching Owen and Isabelle’s relationship. And then Violet (Fionnula Flannigan), Owen’s cruel and twisted religious fanatic grandmother and Pearl (AnnaLynne McCord), Owen’s reclusive younger sister are introduced in this dynamic.

Isabelle is pregnant and in order to convince her to keep the baby and continue their relationship Owen agrees to reunite with what is left of his estranged family. Owen has seizures based on a fire that killed his parents and covered eighty percent of his sister’s body with third degree burns. He also ran away and abandoned Pearl to their grandmother years ago.

It goes about as well as you can expect.

The characterization in Trash Fire is excellent. Richard Bates Jr. plays with your expectations. Violet is evil and creepy but she is refreshingly hilarious. Pearl is a complex character with her own desires, a sweetness tempered by a degree of creepiness, an incredible awareness, and an anger and sadness towards her scarring and her life rivaling that of the Phantom of the Opera. The slow reveal of just how badly she’s physically disfigured is also subverted. Pearl is actually one of the most compelling LGBTQ characters in a horror movie I’ve seen. The fact that she is shut in a room most of the time, and makes crafts out of the mirrors she breaks says a lot of things. You also learn that her scars don’t even begin to equal the ugliness in the human interactions we see throughout this entire film.

Even Owen and Isabelle, who I thought I’d enjoy seeing killed or maimed became more sympathetic as they spent time at Violet’s house. They seemed worse when surrounded by a flat, ubiquitous one-dimensional world often portrayed by the horror genre as “normal” than when dealing with the honest dysfunctionality and eventual evil of Owen’s family life.

There are some confusing bits of course. Sometimes the character developments are jarring: like they have been written after the fact. Owen’s differing recollections could be the result of PTSD and its screaming distorted segments of his family on fire, and maybe serial killing takes a while to warm up in Violet’s twilight years, but there is literally one character towards the end of the film that goes … nowhere. He comes into the scene and he is gone. It is a minor plot point that could have at least been a death but just does nothing.

All that said, Trash Fire‘s ending hits like a son of a bitch. Richard Bates Jr. couldn’t be at the After Dark screening and in his Director’s Words he said he almost wished he could be there to give the audience a hug. The movie ends as dysfunctionally as it began and I know that I will always remember Trash Fire for it.

TADFF 15 Review: Deathgasm

Deathgasm is hardcore. There is no other way of putting it. Even from its very beginnings, according to the Toronto After Dark’s Q and A with its director Jason Lei Howden and producer Sarah Howden, the film proved just how powerful it could be through a one sentence prompt and treatment that would ultimately allow it to win the Make My Horror Movie contest in 2013 and win the production money that it needed to scream into existence.

It is so loud and clear with what it is that you don’t even have to be a metal expert to enjoy what you see. After a beautiful animated sequence, Deathgasm shows itself to be a story about a group of teenage friends in a conservative town that essentially unlock a demonic power through acquiring and playing sheets of music. These sheets are being hunted by a cult and then by the demonically-possessed citizens of the teenagers’ home town.

Deathgasm Demon

You get what you can expect when you look at how the horror genre has influenced the growth of metal: tons of gore, angst, screaming, demonic zombie destruction, and lots of penises. Certainly the prosthetics and special effects are impressively twisted: especially when you consider that they are all mostly borrowed props. For instance, the audience in the Q and A were told that the penises were taken from Spartacus of all places.

Deathgasm Zakk and Brodie

But this is just the blood and gore that stains the raging metalhead bad ass. In a movie that plays with the age-old theme of anarchy and vulgar defiance against conformity and hypocrisy, you also get some interesting characters for your time. Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) and Zakk (James Blake) play well off and against each other. Zakk himself is a bit of an asshole but somehow manages to also be a friend and even something of an anti-hero: though as you become more aware of the plot, you will begin to see where he is going with all this. And Brodie comes into his own from being in Zakk’s shadow: claiming the song that he used to unleash hell in a fit of angst.

Deathgasm Brodie and Medina

Even the female lead in the film Medina (Kimberly Crossman) has her own excellent character development. She starts off as something of a popular girl at school but already demonstrates that she is kind, real, and open-minded. You actually get invested with seeing her and Brodie’s relationship and how it’s completely reciprocal. It even gets to the point where she rescues the rest of their band with an ax-pun of which Buffy the Vampire Slayer would be proud.

Deathgasm Medina the Slayer

The villains have excellent moments and conflicting agendas and these, along with Brodie, Medina, and Zakk make up for some of the more stereotypical characters that populate the movie. There is just this emotional complexity amid the gore that makes it all the more alive: its dark humour and irreverence for even the hellish powers animating the story far more than any demon ever could. Also, given that this is a metal movie the soundtrack, much of it made by Skullfist, is excellent. In fact, Howden made people aware that they will be releasing Deathgasm‘s music in a double vinyl record.

In the end, Deathgasm is a glorious, musical, blood-splattered journey into hell and the pointlessness of life and the bad-assness of what you can achieve when you stop caring about the things that don’t matter and begin loving the things that ultimately do. Also, you get to watch really bad people get their moral comeuppance in some graphic and disgusting ways. Karma has never been so metal.