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.
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