Cry Macho

Written by Taylor Baker

55/100

Cry Macho as much as anything else seems to be a lingering look at those sleepy border towns that Westerns like those Clint got his start in are so often framed against. The year is 1978 and shortly after Howard Poak (played dreadfully by Dwight Yoakim) fires his old ranch-hand and bronco buster Mike Milo (played by Clint Eastwood) he barges into Milo’s home. While he stands absently fondling the nonagenarian’s trophies and awards Poak begins hemming and hawing his way through a narrative spew that’s goal is to guilt trip Milo into going down to Mexico to save his son from an alcoholic mother and abusive living situation. This is all predicated on the premise that, “Milo owes him one.” Which holds as much water as a fishing net after previously watching a coffee sipping Milo get fired by Poak in the first 5 minutes of the film.

Ultimately Milo agrees to bring Rafo up from Mexico. And heads south of the border in his old manual truck. There are moments along the multiple road sequences that Ben Davis’ cinematography capture the beauty and illustrious ecology and topography of the region. As he also worked with Chloe Zhao on Marvel’s forthcoming film The Eternals, I suspect that Ben Davis’ name will bring more notoriety in November than it does right now. His exteriors which are what the film is primarily sewed together with bring an ephemeral and majestic look that doesn’t come across as forced, so much as a communication to the audience of the place our characters are in.

Ultimately Milo makes it down to where Rafo is staying and is confronted and propositioned by Rafo’s mother Fernanda Urrejola. After a quick back and forth Milo, saunters on confident he can find the boy. Which he does by capturing and threatening to wring the neck of Macho. Rafo’s fighting chicken. Which eventually leads to a fireside chat where Clint’s Milo utters the seemingly timeless line: “If a man wants to name his cock Macho that’s fine with me.”

These two like in any road movie form an unlikely friendship. One is a man in his 90’s doing a favor for his old boss who fired him, and is now being chased by gunmen. The other, a teenager dreaming of more, unsure of his place in the world, and unsure of his place within his family. Represented clearly by the delineation of a border between the two halves. Eventually the two after some roadside meals and stolen cars end up at a sleepy border town. Where Clint’s Mike helps the townspeople with various ailments to their animals, sets to fixing things that don’t work and begins to swoon for Natalia Traven’s Marta, a local mother and restaurant owner who has taken them in.

Like all road movies eventually what you’re escaping catches up with you and after a nice time with Marta and her family our central characters are back on the road with the police on their heels. Along a small dusty road their pulled over by two officers and their cars luggage is strewn on the ground. It’s seats cut into by a knife. The police officers say they have a tip that these two are running drugs and were ordered to stop them. Which conjures that image of Clint on the roadside behind his truck in The Mule to mind. Ultimately they let the two go, and like the film itself it’s all a bit understated. A bit unceremonious. 

Instead of a classic fetch quest narrative in which a renegade or run down lawman has to make one last trip south of the border to bring a person or object back to America and he along with it, Cry Macho opts instead, for Mike to show Eduardo Minett’s Rafo the North side of the border while he plants his cowboy heels firmly in Mexican soil. Cry Macho is slow road movie, about finding a new home when the old ones done in, and having the where with all to know it and return to it. I’m not ready for it to be Clint’s last film but of the last half dozen I’ve seen while he was an octogenarian it seems this first on the other side of 90 is the most contemplative and ultimately the most content.

Cry Macho Trailer

Cry Macho is currently playing in theatrical wide release and streaming on HBO Max.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: Encounter

Written by Anna Harrison

70/100

Encounter is slippery. It defies easy definition and weaves between genres, though it starts firmly as your average sci-fi thriller, one which sees ex-Marine Malik Kahn (Riz Ahmed) spying a meteor flash through the night sky as it hurtles towards Earth. Upon landing, a wordless montage shows something infecting the insects of our world which in turn infect the humans they bite, evoking memories of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Malik, when he pieces together the information, rushes to save his sons, Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada), a rescue made all the more frantic after the viewers see Malik’s ex-wife, Piya (Janina Gavankar), get bitten by a mosquito and then later rush to the bathroom to vomit during dinner.

The kids think little of this as Malik frames it all as a game and tells them they are going on a road trip; he’s been away for two years, and in the interim has become all the more heroic in his sons’ eyes, especially as they deal with new step-dad, Dylan (Misha Collins). This is a new, grownup adventure, one that gives the boys a sense of self-importance as they set out for a mysterious base Malik knows from his Marine days. Like I said, average sci-fi thriller: father saves his sons from imminent threat, tries to whisk them off to safety, and they all attempt to overcome their differences on the trip there, though Pearce and fellow writer Joe Barton weave in social commentary as well as Malik and his children flee across the lonely desert.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

Then, slowly, another layer to the movie unfurls, until all at once Octavia Spencer’s Hattie, whose role can’t be revealed without spoiling the movie, reveals another side of director Michael Pearce’s movie. The perspective shifts from Malik to those outside him, and as we begin to see the bigger picture, we start to see our protagonists’ flaws and unreliable narration. The anxiety the first third of the film built switches to different sources, but never goes away; in fact, gets only doubled as we start to see Malik as filtered through his sons’ eyes.

Ahmed, as usual, turns in an excellent performance, his every act oozing love for his children while teetering on the edge of reason, and he once again proves his versatility and charisma as a performer. Yet the real stars of the film are Chauhan and Geddada as Malik’s sons, the elder Chauhan in particular; the performances that Pearce coaxes out of his child actors are nothing less than remarkable. Jay watches his father with increasing worry, gradually adopting the mantle of protector as his father grapples with his own demons, and Chauhan displays subtlety and nuance that many actors far beyond his years fail to grasp.

Encounter falters when it moves the focus away from Malik, and while Octavia Spencer is always welcome, her plot could be excised with minimal retooling and just a little more faith in the audience’s ability to suss out the truth; its genre-hopping also hinders the film at times and the gear shifts aren’t as smooth as they could be, though it’s hard to fault a film that’s so ambitious in its tone and scope, even if it does stumble. By the time the film reaches its conclusion, the tears (or at least mine) feel well-earned; it’s an audacious sophomore feature from Pearce and quite worth a bit of patience.

Encounter Trailer

Encounter was screened as part of the Toronto International Film Festival.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Malignant

Written by Alexander Reams

73/100

I can see a young James Wan watching a Giallo film, and thinking “Oh I’m gonna make some weird shit” (kudos to James Gunn and Chris Pratt for giving us that line). Throughout his career, Wan has riffed on many genres, and now we can add Giallo to that list. The iconic Italian horror genre was made popular in the 1970s, particularly by Dario Argento. James Wan takes the iconic genre and mixes it with modern themes and messages. Maddy (Annabelle Wallis) is in an abusive marriage with Derek (Jake Abel), she begins to experience visions of a sinister force and fights to protect herself and her family. 

This is not Annabelle Wallis’ first collaboration with James Wan, she was the lead in the spinoff to The Conjuring. Given that previous history, it seemed to reason that they would work together down the line, and here they offer up a beautiful metaphor for abuse and toxic relationships. Wallis not only conveys the past of her character but also (quite literally) embodies this person who is haunted by past memories and trauma. While she does not fully elevate the script to the iconic female horror leads we know and love, she still does more than the previous female characters in Wan’s repertoire, which is a welcome breath of fresh air. 

Something Wallis and Wan both excel in is the brilliant horror sequences. Allowing for the pair, and DP Michael Burgess to present unique and original sequences which are unlike any I have seen. One in the early parts of the film mixes visual and practical effects to transform a house into another environment, and the metamorphasis is transfixing and spine-chilling. 

Wan’s relationship with Michael Burgess is a relatively new one, however, he has worked with Don Burgess, Michael’s father, many times, and with the younger Burgess just coming off another horror film, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, following it up with a James Wan original just makes sense. Michael Burgess takes the potential shown in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It and flies with it, demonstrating his brilliance as a DP, and a master of framing and camera movement. 

Even with all of this greatness, rarely is a film without flaws, and Wan’s latest offering is not without its faults. Akela Cooper, whose credits include Hell Fest, Luke Cage, and 2 other pictures that struggled in their writing serves as screenwriter. Cooper took a brilliant premise by the husband-wife duo of Wan and Ingrid Bisu and unfortunately wrote in watered down dialogue, which should be heartbreaking and is instead laugh-inducing at times. This half-baked screenplay doesn’t take away from what is happening in front of us. Wan doesn’t need dialogue to convey emotion, and this shines in the final act. Transforming the film into someone mind-bending, and full of heart and emotion. In this writer’s opinion, this is Wan’s most emotionally charged film. From the mother-daughter relationship to the sister relationship, all leading to the most unexpected reveal. Which ends the film on a somewhat positive note that also leaves the door open to future stories in this world, which excites this writer to no end.

Malignant Trailer

Malignant is currently playing in wide theatrical release and available to stream on HBO Max.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Giraffe

Written by Michael Clawson

80/100

Stimulating docu-fiction that contemplates the attachment of history and memory to physical spaces, and what’s lost when those spaces are ignored or destroyed. 

An ethnologist arrives in a seaside community that finds itself on the cusp of significant transformation. A collection of homes are about to be razed to make way for a tunnel that will connect Germany and Denmark, and the ethnologist, Dara, is there to document what the infrastructure project is about to relegate to history. Between interviews with people who have to relocate and visits to dusty, abandoned homes that still hold their previous owner’s intimate possessions, Dara strikes up a relationship with Polish construction worker, a younger man who, like her, is in the area only temporarily for a project. 

Hartman films from a studious remove that draws attention to her precise, often static framing. I was absorbed by her visual exactitude and the coldness in her craft, and love how long she lingers on character’s faces, allowing their humanity to really sink in. Schanelac regular Marren Eggert has a small role, but Hartman appears to have more in common with Helena Wittmann than Schanelac.

Giraffe Trailer

Giraffe is currently awaiting distribution and is not yet available.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021 Review: Baby Money

Written by Maria Athayde

50/100

Baby Money directed by Mikhael Bassilli and Luc Walpoth hangs on a simple premise, a couple down on their luck, facing eviction, and expecting a baby partake in a home robbery gone wrong. This was a competent debut feature and much more subdued than I expected. Like me, if you go into this expecting an all out end to end action packed crime thriller you will certainly be disappointed. However, if you go in with zero-expectations this character-driven suspense piece might be right for you.

What makes Baby Money work in part is Danay Garcia’s Minny. While the acting was competent throughout it is Garcia’s performance that really shone. Garcia carried much of the weight of this movie. The way she was able to expertly balance the emotion, thrills, and fear as the events unfolded were the most thrilling part of the film. Like I emphasized earlier the performances make this more of a character study than an action packed thriller.

Besides Garcia’s performance I also enjoyed how the events unfolded in almost real time. Baby Money would have been a more thrilling ride with a tighter script and additional character development especially in the storyline involving Taja V. Simpson’s and Vernon Taylor III’s respective characters. A good way to boil down and describe the essence of the film would be as Safdie-esque but without their budget, brains, polish, and style.

Baby Money Trailer

Baby Money was screened as part of the Fantasia Film Festival 2021.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: Neptune Frost

Written by Patrick Hao

60/100

Science fiction narratives have always been more a reflection of the present than about the future. Multi-media musician Saul Williams and Rwandan director Anisia Uzeyman use the genre in their collaboration, Neptune Frost, to make an Afro-futurist musical attempting to navigate the state of present-day Rwanda through the exploitation of First World capitalism in the age of modern technology. If that sounds like mouthful, that’s because Neptune Frost is filled with ambition and provocation but sometimes feels burdened by its capital “T” themes.

The film is set in a dystopic Rwandan village in which the population is being exploited by villagers to mine coltan for tech products. One of the miners, Malatusa (Kaya Free), rebels against the harsh treatment of the laborers and attempts a revolution. In this process, Malatusa forms a romantic bond through a cosmic internet-adjacent connection with the intersex leader of a hacker collective, Neptune (played by both Elvis Ngabo and Cheryl Isheja). The two actors playing Neptune are used as a physical manifestation of intersexuality and is one of the many manifestations of abstract concepts throughout the film.

The ideas in the film are rich and ripe for exploration. It makes sense that Williams and Uzeyman chose to tell the story in the form of a musical, in which the music allows its songs to bluntly state the themes. The musical scenes are didactic, but in a film that is swirling with ideas and abstraction, audiences may appreciate the directness.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

The way the interconnectivity of the internet is portrayed in the film seems especially astute. The chants of the protesting miners start a revolution through its reach. The internet is manifested as a world of metal wires and neon hues and serves as a possible utopia for those under global oppression. The world created is akin to an Electric Zoo festival buoyed by the electric synth soundtrack. But, just as soon as the internet is a tool for freedom, it becomes a tool of oppression as well.

The real asset of the film is the retrofuturist costume and set design that grounds the horror of this modern-day dystopia. The ruins of “future tech” are everywhere in the impoverished village and are designed in a way that grounds it to the modern age. This effectively creates a tangibility to this premonition the same way George Miller did in the original Mad Max. The design also speaks to the cyclic nature of the exploitation of the resource rich continent.

There is a palpable anger and frustration felt by the filmmakers that these cycles are still occurring to this day. But this is not necessarily a cynical movie. Rather the vitality of the music and of the performers point to the pride in perseverance of African laborers. Neptune Frost, however, is somewhere in the middle of being too abstract for a mainstream audience but too narrative driven to truly relish in its abstraction. The film does not always hold together, but its complications and richness points to the complexity of the problems it chooses to highlight. It’s hard to condense thousands of years of anger towards the global exploitation of a country into a 100-minute film.

Neptune Frost Trailer

Neptune Frost was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.

The Card Counter

Written by Taylor Baker

70/100


Everyone’s favorite loud mouthed film critic uncle turned director is back with a brash Atlantic City government intrigue gambling film. Schrader once again leans on a heavily burdened middle aged man to communicate a story of penance if not atonement. Oscar Isaac plays that central figure who goes by the name William Tell, which as we come to find out is actually a pseudonym. His real name William Tillich isn’t one he wants to parade about. He’s been tried and convicted in connection with the atrocities of Abu Ghraib. So it’s easy to see why he’d want to avoid any extra attention, as it would doubtlessly not lead to a positive interaction.

Rounding out the players of The Card Counter are Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, and frequent Schrader collaborator Willem Dafoe. Dafoe here is the only supporting player without a weak moment. Which is a shame as he’s only very briefly in the film. Haddish and Sheridan each have moments, but there’s something off balance and out of key when all three (Isaac, Haddish, and Sheridan) end up in a scene together. It’s not simply that the performances are bad, but the tonalities of the characters themselves clash in an almost indescribable way. Undercutting the moment and leaving one focused on the actual acting that each is doing in the moment. Which not only dissipates the narrative value but the film itself.

The Card Counter tells the story of Bill Tell after getting out of Leavenworth Penitentiary. He becomes, you guessed it, a card counter. Surfing the highways, byways, and interstates of America from Casino to Racino collecting modest sums for his efforts along the way. Until one fateful day when he encounters Cirk, played by Tye Sheridan while they’re both watching a presentation by Major Gordo, played by Dafoe. Cirk writes down his phone number as Tell is leaving and asks him to call him. Over the next dozen or so minutes we learn that Cirk’s dad was in Abu Ghraib alongside Tell and that he’d beaten the boy and his mother until one day she left without a word. Shortly after that Cirk’s father shot himself. Leaving Cirk alone, and pondering revenge. Haddish’s La Linda offers Tell with a way to earn a significant sum of money that he could use to set Cirk back on the right path. Paying off his and his mother’s debts with a nest-egg for him to go back and complete his education. Away from vengeance and back toward a future.

Isaac returns to the heights of his abilities as a performer. If you’re familiar with my thoughts on Oscar Isaac, you may know I thought he was one of the best and brightest up and coming performers up through 2015’s Show Me A Hero and Mojave. Then he was waylaid by vapid blockbuster fair like 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse and 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He had a handful of good performances between that stretch and now, in At Eternity’s Gate(alongside Willem Dafoe) and Suburbicon. But by and large the Julliard graduate that took us by storm with Inside Llewyn Davis and Ex Machina seemed to have evaporated. Exchanging complex character performances for larger than life caricatures in movies that sell well but have the nutritional quality of a McDonald’s hamburger. Perhaps like me you’ve been along for the ride since 2006, with Pu-239. Which makes this return to form so thrilling. Isaac’s Bill Tell goes from cheery scallywag to torturer in seconds. He rivets us with his physicality, using posture to enormous effect whenever he’s sitting down, and always seeming withdrawn despite his shoulders lacking so much as a hint of a hunch. Dialogue is spat out like venom or professed breathily like a loosened secret evaporating from his lips. In the scheme of things it’s hard to say if this is a return to form for Isaac or just evidence that with the right project and director he can still act at the very top of the craft.

Schrader is running and gunning, the camera peels back, forward, and along–in hallways, Casino floors, and hotel rooms. There’s a particularly stupefyingly gorgeous scene in which Haddish and Isaac go for a walk in a park adorned and bedecked in lights. But even in the heights of a scene so magnetic and engaging as this aerial light sequence the edges of the project are peeling up in the corners and we can see the tape trying to hold it together. Just before the aforementioned aerial sequence begins Isaac and Haddish are talking, which is moderately okay, as the sound quality of the muxing is rough. But then they turn and face each other as they’re talking and we can see the lines of dialogue they’re delivering don’t line up with the lips moving on screen. This is just one egregious example in a sequence that should have been resplendent of many. The ADR(Automated Dialogue Replacement) throughout the film is often off, which is a real shame because Schrader brought his cards to the table and to see him undercut by a post production snafu that pops up frequently seems unfair. The Card Counter is a sturdy if mishandled hot-blooded drama. But most importantly, it’s a sure sign that Schrader isn’t close to done.

The Card Counter Trailer

The Card Counter is currently in wide theatrical release.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: Benediction

Written by Alexander Reams

98/100

Benediction: (noun) The utterance or bestowing of a blessing, especially at the end of a religious service.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

Numbers 6:24–26

Benedictions are almost always used in Christianity to signify the end of a worship service. The last words you hear before you go out to eat and forget everything, it is said in the hopes that these words will stick with you throughout the week until the next Sunday when you sit in your same seat and listen to another sermon. It is a constant throughout worship services in one form or another. Terence Davies’ study on the poet, soldier, and writer Siegfried Sassoon is not a typical biopic. Davies doesn’t care about informing you about the person, presenting a portrait of a man who could not be with the ones he loved, or could not find the right one to love instead, and how it affects him at different points in his life. In such, putting a benediction, or a look of hope, on Sassoon’s life.

The film begins with a reading of one of Sassoon’s poems, with archive footage of World War I in the background, providing us with his opinion on the war even before we see him on screen. Damning the war, and himself. Then Sassoon appears, not Capaldi, but Jack Lowden, who embodies this character in every frame he appears, every syllable he utters is perfect. As a Peter Capaldi fanboy, I was disappointed that his role is a glorified cameo, however that disappointment was replaced with fascination and heartbreak as Jack Lowden commands the screen in what hopefully will be his breakout role, he has been in high profile films before (Dunkirk and Mary, Queen of Scots). Never before though has he commanded such a quiet presence that riveted me throughout the runtime of the film.

It brings this writer great shame to admit that Davies is a filmmaker who I have never dived into, and after seeing his latest, I want to dive in more. His usage of Sassoon’s poems as a way to show vignettes of his life correlate brilliantly with the usage of archival footage to continually remind us that Sassoon, while he did serve, became disenfranchised with a war he saw as unnecessary and had the guts to speak out against one of the biggest empires on the planet. The film is a message of bravery while also a meditation on heartbreak.

Sassoon’s life was filled with heartbreak. After the war he had a string of lovers, however, the film only shows in detail, 2 of them. Both of them were clearly being destructive for Siegfried and I couldn’t help but feel heartbreak for him. He wants to be loved and he wants to give love, but in a time when 2 men could not love one another how they want. This love he has is one of pure truth. One that seeps throughout the film and nearly bursts through the final shot of the film. Utilizing Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis to show a simple moment but one that is the utmost profound in a film full of deeper meaning and how Sassoon was subjected to this disregard because of who he was as a person. This shot is reminiscent of Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) and its use of Fantasia on a Theme is as heartbreaking as the use of Vivaldi’s Presto from “Summer” in his Four Seasons symphony.

Benediction is one of the finest films to come out this year, a meditative and personal reflection for Davies, while also breaking me emotionally to the point where I could not stop caring for Siegfried Sassoon and only wanted him to be happy in a time where he could not be. Whether due to his own personal drawbacks or the fact that being openly gay at this time in Britain was a criminal offense. I hope this film is widely seen, and that everyone who does see it comes away from it with some version of a message. I know I did, and I rarely take messages from films. Like its title, Benediction is a benediction on the life of Siegfried Sassoon, while also feeling like one for Terence Davies filmography.

Benediction was screened as part of the Toronto International Film Festival.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Flag Day

Written by Taylor Baker

34/100

The melodramatic and forced Flag Day is Sean Penn’s first foray picking up the camera since his critically panned follow up to Into the Wild, The Last Face. It is notably also the first time he’s directed himself in a film. Flag Day itself is an adaptation of Jennifer Vogel’s story (the character Sean’s daughter Dylan Penn plays.) written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth. It pins Sean’s John Vogel as an everyman who’s committing crime to take care of his daughter.

Penn frequently utilizes tight half frame close ups during dialogue scenes. Daniel Moder’s camera has a complimentary fuzzy grain, imagining things a bit more warmly than they actually were. That same grain adorns the natural light with a physical texturous quality that causes the film oftentimes to glow.

It foolishly relies on narration from Dylan’s Rebecca(one recalls the disastrous Blade Runner theatrical cut to mind, with Harrison as a lamenting noir-esque investigator), to instruct us on the experience of her youth and the man her father was. Rather than committing to show us it’s narrative, it tells the viewer unceasingly who these characters are and their experiences. Hopper Penn, Sean’s son briefly appears in the film, and though the Penn children are still young enough to develop, there’s very little put into the film here that seems indicative of a bright future. For either of the Penn siblings.

Flag Day is over edited. With collage sequences, and constant cutting when a weighty moment isn’t occurring. It’s plotted events are too cute, too tightly knit, nothing is afforded a chance to breathe. It forces perspective that doesn’t translate sincerity so much as severity. The well documented severity of by all accounts of a disillusioned Sean Penn who’s tried his hand writing a novel, won the lead actor Oscar Award twice(once for Mystic River in 2004 & once for Milk in 2009.), and now simultaneously has nothing and everything left to prove. A master performer who finds performing close to hollow and is now looking to other avenues of storytelling and unconventional stories to find meaning, purpose, or something of worth.

Despite all these faults Flag Day showcases that Sean does indeed still have it in front of the camera, despite the melodramatic absurdity that accompanies what it is that he is bringing to the table. No lines work as well as his, aside from the brief turns from respective powerhouses Josh Brolin and Eddie Marsan. This paired with Cinematographer Daniel Moder’s rustic American fabric like images demonstrate Flag Day does have some merit. Though it’s themes and narrative ring with as much resonance as a lone drumstick tearing thru a single sheet of paper.

Flag Day Trailer

Flag Day is currently playing in limited theatrical release.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: As In Heaven (Du som er i himlen)

Written by Patrick Hao

63/100

As In Heaven is probably the most unconventional horror film of the year. The scares don’t come from any ghouls, ghosts, or monsters. But rather the oppressive societal and religious norms set upon women.

A veteran director of Danish television, Tea Lindeburg is making her feature film debut with assured style. Based on a 1912 Danish novel, A Night of Death, As in Heaven follows a day in the life of a 19th century teenager, Lise (Flora Ofelia Hofmann Lindahl). Her home is a pastoral farm filled with boisterous children and austere adults. Lise is days away from leaving to go to school, a position not many women in the community have.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

Linderburg is able to shrewdly capture a teenage girl on the cusp of adulthood. She is still young enough to be full of play, but old enough to become desirous. The camera places us into Lise’s perspective, weaving in and out of corridors and fields alongside the children.

Throughout an overwhelming red cloud is cast upon Lise, a very on the nose metaphor of impending doom – the doom being the natural angst created from the tension of strictures of religion and curiosity. This comes to a head as Lise’s pregnant mother begins to have a difficult birth that could end her life.

While the metaphors and themes are on the nose, Lindeburg explores them deftly. She never leaves the POV of Lise as she processes the potential outcomes of her mother’s predicaments. The way Lise views the older adults around her is how we come to view them. From there, the horror develops as the slow realizations of her fate begin to take hold.The 86-minute runtime might be the only thing holding As In Heaven back from being a really great film. Tea Lindeburg packs a lot of ideas into the film, and not all of them get ample amount of time to develop satisfyingly. But, with everything in the news from the vaccination requirement debate to the prevalence of opposition to pro choice rights in Texas, As in Heaven might be one of the most understatedly urgent films at TIFF.

As In Heaven was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.