While The Martian continues raking it in at the box office and some families, but not many, seek out Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard in Pan, there are a couple other films for consenting adults to pay attention to. One, a technical marvel, is destined for cult status. And the other is a cult movie lampoon, and one of the smartest comedies of the year.
Comprised of a single shot that nearly lasts the movie's entire 138 run time, Victoria is a technical marvel. But it doesn't play out like a student film. The experiment is lost within a slow-burning thriller that lulls you before the wallop. Astoundingly, the story overtakes the ever-present camera and a real movie comes alive.
Directed by Sebastian Schipper and shot by Sturla Brandth Grøvlen in the early morning hours one night in Berlin, the camera in Victoria moves like a snake, fluidly. It follows the title character, played by the spritely Laia Costa. She's a Spaniard living alone in the German capital and she doesn't speak the language. So when Victoria meets four wild boys while clubbing one night, she goes along when they coax her into accompanying them to their next destination. But the shy girl is walking into something much more dangerous. One of the men, Boxer (Rogowski), has a debt to pay, and his decidedly non-criminal friends are going to help him with a robbery in the next few hours.
One of the guys, Sonne (Lau), flirts with Victoria mercilessly and they manage to break off from the group. Schipper follows them and patiently puts the action on the back burner. Victoria and Sonne connect while she opens her cafe and suddenly there's something at stake when Boxer comes to get them for the task at hand. (Victoria is recruited to drive the car.) The film transitions into a frantic chase as the streets of Berlin seem to tighten around the group, and then Victoria and Sonne, as they try to make their escape.
Victoria is a rarity: an auteur action film. Schipper has achieved something bold and unforgettable. His movie crosses Russian Ark with Run Lola Run and it actually works. But the credit belongs to Victoria's talented cast, who worked off a script of 11 pages while improvising much of the film. Costa is a marvel as Victoria. Her character is one of the year's most tragic and it's heartbreaking watching her innocence fade as the film wears on. Her story may not be based in any semblance of reality, but the drama of the situation comes through because of her.
The Final Girls
Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson and infused with a carnival-like amount of happy energy, The Final Girls is probably the least scary horror film you'll see this year. But it's also one of the funniest. It's an homage and a spoof of '80s slasher films that relies on a gung ho cast, goofy jokes, and some creative storytelling to suck you in. This movie is a blast to watch.
Beginning with a Grindhouse-style trailer a la Tarantino and Rodriguez, The Final Girls takes us to Camp Bloodbath, where a Jason Voorhees clone named Billy Murphy (Dan B. Norris) knocks off sex crazed camp counselors wearing a Tiki-style mask while wielding a machete. The movie stars Amanda Cartwright (Åkerman) as Nancy, who we meet in real life driving with her daughter, Max (Farmiga). In an instant, fake horror becomes real as their car crashes and Amanda dies. Max survives, but is left alone.
Three years later, Max is a high schooler whose friends, Gertie (Shawkat) and Duncan (Middleditch) want her to attend a revival of Camp Bloodbath. Max is hesitant, but agrees eventually and is excited to see her crush, Chris (Ludwig) outside the theater. During the film, however, a confluence of spilled alcohol and discarded ash causes a fire and the entire theater explodes in flames. Max grabs a cosplayer's machete and leads the group of friends, which also includes Chris' obnoxious ex, Vikki (Dobrev), through the movie screen to a back door.
What happens next is never explained but Max and everyone else find themselves inside Camp Bloodbath. They do nothing at first, trying to comprehend what's going on. But Duncan, who loves the film, figures out the reality of the situation when two of the Bloodbath characters, Kurt (DeVine) and Tina (Trimbur), roll up in their bright yellow VW bus. The "new counselors" are too shocked to say anything at first but the bus comes back 92 minutes later, as if the movie is on a continuous reel. Duncan says they have to go with them to the camp and wait the movie out in order to get home.
The Final Girls script, written by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller, is full of this kind of pragmatism. The film's most clever tricks are the flashback sequences that have Inception-like levels of worlds within worlds. In the director's chair, Strauss-Schulson maneuvers these levels expertly, never losing touch with the main narrative. And the movie has scene after scene of great character interactions as Max meets her mom again (although she's in character as Nancy) and Duncan meets his worst nightmare, Billy. The movie has a Bill and Ted feel to it as the real people relate to the movie characters.
The cast carries The Final Girls. Farmiga plays the downy innocent to a tee, even pulling off a sweet melodramatic relationship with her "mom" when they meet. Comedy-wise, Middleditch and DeVine are fantastic. They're the reason the film starts off so well. DeVine does his usual over-the-top frat boy thing, and Middleditch is perfect as the geek superfan who can't help smiling when he's dropped inside the horror show. This is a movie that'll keep you smiling throughout.