By Sean Boelman
Drylongso is the type of smaller, independent film that might go under-the-radar among the month’s higher-profile Criterion releases, but must absolutely not be ignored. Cauleen Smith’s film is an exceptional work of independent filmmaking, with wonderful visuals and a challenging exploration of its themes.
The movie follows a woman who takes up an unorthodox project in her photography class: photographing Black men in the belief that they will soon become extinct. As one would expect from the premise, it’s a film that feels quite politically charged, but not in a way that is overbearing or unpalatable — simply thought-provoking.
Perhaps the most exciting reason for Drylongso to be added to the Criterion Collection is the fact that it is yet another piece of independent Black American cinema from a unique and distinctive voice. Between Drylongso and The Watermelon Woman, it’s nice to see this underseen corner of cinematic history getting the representation it deserves. Smith and Salim Akil’s exploration of Black identity is fascinating and compelling, pulling no punches when it comes to the systemic issues the community faced at the time — some of which still reverberate through society today.
All of this is set against the backdrop of a murder mystery. However, this is not a murder mystery in the Agatha Christie whodunit sort of way, nor even a procedural way, but one that interrogates the system that continues to perpetuate violence against Black people and cause so many senseless and unjust deaths.
The thread that ties the movie together is its tender character work, as well as a beautiful leading performance from Toby Smith. The film has a great deal of nuance in its emotion — even during the romantic plot that hits a few familiar beats — and it allows the movie to feel extraordinarily personal and lived-in.
The film is shot with exquisite 16mm cinematography from Andrew Black, which is lovingly and gorgeously restored in 4K by the folks at Janus Films for this release (as well as a theatrical run that has toured the art house circuit for much of the year). Considering that much of Smith’s work is in multimedia installation art — Drylongso is her first and only feature — it makes sense that this is so exquisitely beautiful.
When it comes to bonus features, the main draw of the Drylongso Criterion Collection edition is a smattering of Smith’s short films: Chronicles of a Lying Spirit by Kelly Gabron, Songs for Earth & Folk, Lessons in Semaphore, Egungun (Ancestor Can’t Find Me), Remote Viewing, and Suffolk. The disc also boasts a new conversation between Smith and scholar Michael B. Gillespie, as well as an essay by scholar Yasmina Price.
Drylongso is the type of Criterion Collection addition whose purpose is to showcase and preserve an important and underseen part of cinema history. Cinephiles should certainly pick this one up and discover an extraordinary piece of independent cinema.
The Criterion Collection edition of Drylongso releases on August 29.
By Cole Groth
Cinequest is back for the first time since 2020! The San Jose film festival has been acclaimed as one of the best in the nation. At disappointment media, we were able to review a small selection of the 253+ films you can catch at this year’s festival!
Simply put, Abruptio is a nightmare. While that may seem like a compliment for a horror movie, this one is grating. The basic premise follows an alcoholic whose sanity slips away after a bomb is implanted in his head. Normally, ugly-looking low-budget movies like this can be excused because of their lack of resources, but this one is so needlessly cruel that it deserves absolutely no forgiveness. There's a drawn-out sequence where the main character brutally executes a family, all while they beg for their lives. Stuff like this is truly evil. If you can somehow get past the disturbing plot, it's still easily the least-appealing movie of the year. Every character is a disturbing-looking puppet, but beyond a grasp at coming across as shocking, this design serves no purpose. The cinematography is boring, the lighting flat, and the editing headache-inducing. There's a moment toward the end where a big twist is revealed, but it makes zero sense within the context of the movie and will make you wonder why you bothered to watch it in the first place. As an aspiring filmmaker myself, it's hard to tear down indie filmmaking, but there's something so deeply reprehensible about Abruptio. Fans of Jordan Peele’s work will be entertained by his cameo, but that's not enough to salvage this film.
Fallen Drive will leave you confused. A series of bizarre script choices turn an otherwise well-made mumblecore drama/thriller into a tonally off-putting mess. In this film, directed by Nick Cassidy and David Rice, we follow a group of former acquaintances renting out an Airbnb for their high school reunion. Beyond the typical small talk, people make at this sort of event, a couple seeks revenge on a former classmate for a dark event in their shared past. Revealing any further details would ruin the most interesting part of the movie, so I'll stop at describing the event as a multifaceted yet unequivocally evil one. There are plenty of technical elements that are adequate. The cinematography and sound design are fine. It's not noticeably ugly, but it's also not a great-looking movie. The script has a lot of good marks, and the performances are good for the most part, but there isn't a characteristic of the movie without a glaring flaw or two. Jacqueline Jandrell, Phillip Andre Botello, and Donald Clark Jr. are all worthy of praise.
Under Water is a little Dutch drama that's slow, unpleasant, and a bit confusing. Here, our lead is Foekje (Elisa Beuger), a woman struggling to make ends meet after finding out her husband is having an affair. In a desperate bid to get money, she develops a scheme to get her mother to sell her house since the government is looking to buy it. The problem is her mom is a doomsday prepper who won't back down easily. For a thankfully brief 72 minutes, we watch the bothersome daughter nag her horrible mother to sell the house. There's not much else to it. It's a surface-level script marred with a boring story and a terrible ending. People who enjoy talky dramas might find something interesting in this, but it wasn't my cup of tea.
Silence 6-9 is a baffling mystery/drama that doesn't have a clear point to it. In a mysteriously half-abandoned town, two people find a close attraction. It's a brief film that feels like an impossible box to open. It's very well-shot and, from what I could tell, had great acting. Beyond that, nothing makes sense. It feels quirky for the sake of being weird and ultimately feels tonally lost. Viewers might click with whatever message this had, and if that happens, this could be a great time. A mean ending and obnoxious characters don't inspire much hope, though.
East Bay is perhaps one of the most tonally confusing films of the year. Written and directed by Daniel Yoon, this film follows an aimless 39-year-old as he makes a movie to find his place in the world. It's an unoriginal idea that suffers many of the problems an indie dramedy like this normally suffers: annoying characters, weak writing, and bad acting. Constance Wu is a notable standout, with her performance being the only one that isn't notably terrible. Yoon's direction is a whiplash of comedic scenes undercut with overbearing music and dramatic scenes ruined with off-putting jokes. It's unfortunately a pretty annoying experience both visually and audibly. There's a deeper message that could resonate with many viewers, but like the other films in this selection, this one didn't connect with me.
Cinequest 2023 runs from August 15 to August 30.
By Dan Skip Allen
The Exorcist is considered one of, if not the scariest horror film of all time. It came out fifty years ago to huge acclaim from critics and fans alike. People were running scared out of the theater throughout the country, and I guess that is a good sign people liked this film. Another sign is that it made a lot of money during its time in theaters in 1973. From personal conversations I have had with people who saw it back then, the reports are very true.
Chris McNeill (Ellen Burstyn) is a mother of a teen girl, Regan (Linda Blair). She is like any other girl, except she starts to get sick and starts to hear things in her room coming from the attic at night. Her mother tries to get her medical help, but when nothing works, she reaches out to the local clergyman in D.C., Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller). He notices something strange in the girl and asks for the help of a specialist in the field of exorcisms, Father Lankester Merrin (Max Von Sydow)
I don't usually get scared from horror films, but this one is very scary. William Friedkin, the director, adapts William Peter Blatty's novel in a way that makes everybody who sees this film scream in terror. There are multiple ways this story freaks out its viewers. The first is it gives the character of Regan, taken over by a demon Pazuzu, vulgar language, the second is she speaks in tongues, and the third is she levitates and spins her head around. These are three perfect ways to freak out any audience.
Friedkin, who was coming off a Best Picture and Director win at the Academy Awards for The French Connection hit another home run with The Exorcist. It is like Jaws and Star Wars, which after it captured the public consciousness. He created a film that everybody was talking about in some way. They went to see it over and over again, and brought their friends and families as well. People were scared out of their minds in a good way.
The ‘70s was a dark era of film. There were a lot of gritty and raw films. The grain used in the film played a big part in that. This decade spawned many great filmmakers, like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola. William Friedkin was one of those filmmakers who had a great career from this point on. His first film was a Sonny and Cher vehicle called Good Times in 1967, and his last film, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, will debut at the Venice Film Festival next month. He had a long and storied career for over five and a half decades.
Ellen Burstyn as the mother in this film is beside herself. She can't believe what has happened to her daughter. She has real emotions about why this happened and how such a thing could happen to her beautiful daughter. Every person she asks for help is useless, until the inevitable must be the answer. The answer is as scary as what has happened to her daughter — that she's been possessed. She uses everything in her acting repertoire to show how she is helpless to stop the situation. She gives a great performance.
Linda Blair is another one in the film who brings everything she has at her disposal. Friedkin gets her to do some of the most reprehensible things as this character while being taken over by Pazuzu. She curses and asks for sex while being possessed. It's not very becoming of a girl her age. And her transformation from the beginning of the film to the end is quite frankly incredible. This is a breakout performance from Blair. The one most people remember her for in her career. She is literally and figuratively beside herself as this character.
Part of what makes this film so good is its score by Mike Oldfield and Jack Nitzsche. It plays a handful of chords at the most inopportune times, but the rest of the score was very menacing and frightening all at the same time. It's a very good score, which is one that is remembered and discussed in the same way as the Halloween score. They are both very memorable in my eyes. Great horror scores don't come around every day either.
Max Von Sydow has had a long and storied career. Arguably, his role as Father Lankester Merrin in The Exorcist is one of his best. The scene where he comes to the McNeill home at night is a very memorable one. The producers turned it into a poster for the film. It's one of the most popular film posters ever. It's so good in so many ways. He is great in this role, even though he isn't in much of the film, making the most of the little screen time he is given.
The Exorcist is one of the greatest horror films of all time. It is the forerunner of this great genre. Burstyn, Blair, and Sydow all give great performances. Friedkin takes Blatty's novel and brings it to vivid life in such a dark and twisted way. The effects and makeup are both very good, transforming Blair into a twisted version of herself. The legacy of this film still remains at fifty years old. People are still freaked out when they see it, and that's because everybody involved did their best to make this happen. This film stands on its own as one of the greatest horror films ever, bar none.
By Sean Boelman
Every year, the Fantasia International Film Festival is a showcase of some of the most exciting genre cinema of the year. From horror to action to thriller and other films that are just downright weird, Fantasia is where genre cinephiles go to make their next big discovery.
We at disappointment media again had the pleasure of covering Fantasia remotely. Here are some quick thoughts on some of the films we saw as part of the lineup.
Korean filmmaker Park Hoon-jung has become something of a mainstay in the Fantasia lineup, best known for his duology of action horror films, The Witch: Part 1 - The Subversion and The Witch: Part 2 - The Other One. His latest work, The Childe, doesn’t have as much of a horror influence, opting instead for more of a gritty crime thriller approach — albeit with Park’s penchant for shocking brutality. Although the action sequences are a ton of fun, the story that surrounds them is overly convoluted and, worse yet, not all that interesting. There are some moments that are inspired and shine very brightly, but it just doesn’t all come together.
Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping’s Femme is the type of movie that is extremely difficult to watch, but in a way that feels necessary and thought-provoking. Following a drag artist who finds a way to get revenge against his assailant after a brutal homophobic attack, this is definitely not your standard revenge thriller. The film creeps under your skin, thanks in part to strong direction by Freeman and Ping, but also from a wonderfully vulnerable performance by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and a truly chilling turn by George MacKay. Although it might be too much for some to stomach, it’s quite effective.
Reiki Tsuno’s Mad Cats is the type of movie where its success will depend heavily on the viewer’s willingness to get onto its absurd wavelength. The film follows an unlikely hero as he goes on a bizarre quest to rescue his missing brother, bringing him up against a group of ferocious warriors who may or may not be cats. It’s a wild concept that has the potential for plenty of wacky, fun moments, but its aggressive quirkiness gets overwhelming at times. The martial arts action sequences are also quite enjoyable. However, despite a bunch of individual elements that work well, the film never congeals as well as it needed to.
Soi Cheang’s Mad Fate is a literal manifestation of the description “your mileage may vary.” The film is a vile cacophony of superstition and violence. It’s extremely unpleasant, but that’s exactly what some audiences will be looking for with a film like this. This story of a fortune teller and the man he foretells to be destined to murder simply doesn’t make a ton of sense. However, regardless of if one connects with the film’s weirdness and brutality, there’s no denying that the film boasts an impressive visual style, as well as more than a few moments that will be etched into your memory — for better or worse.
Stay Online is meritorious in the fact that it’s impressive that it was even able to be made, and its heart is in the right place. As the first Ukrainian fiction film shot during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the film shows the importance of the Ukrainian resistance movement. Unfortunately, the film’s story of a volunteer trying to reunite a young boy with his missing father feels like too much of a tear-jerker to really work. Add in some less-than-impressive performances, and the fact that the director often breaks the film’s Screenlife conceit, and you have a film that is thoroughly frustrating despite its noble intentions.
The 2023 Fantasia Film Festival runs from July 20 to August 9.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.