Toronto International Film Festival 2010: Insidious, Super and Rabbit Hole
I've been hitting up Midnight Madness a bit more than usual this year, which may give you some insight into why I've been posting at such odd hours. Coincidentally, the sidebar has also provided a home for some of the festival's most breathlessly reported acquisitions. Deliberate shlock always sells, it seems, even if the movies aren't actually very good.
For instance, I saw James Wan's Insidious last night and less than 12 hours later heard that Sony had acquired it—so let's hope Harvey Weinstein was just at the screening for fun. In any case, you'll soon have a chance to see the first self-styled attempt at mature filmmaking from the director of Saw. Wan introduced the movie as "this generation's Poltergeist," a bold, probably premature label considering that we were the first audience in the world to see it. This story of a comatose child, a haunted house, a forgotten past and a medium's wacky sidekicks shifts radically in tone and style from scene to scene; anyone who complained about the gratuitous boos in John Carpenter's perfectly serviceable The Ward will go into convulsions at the shameless jump tactics and misplaced attempts at slapstick here.
The other big (and more divisive) hit of Midnight Madness has been Super, directed by Slither's James Gunn and picked up by IFC; I caught up with it belatedly today. A vigilante comic-hero movie destined to be confused with Kick-Ass, Super takes a similar glee in its reactionary mayhem but robs its violence of all style as well. Inspired by a masked avenger on evangelical TV to don his own suit and facegear, Rainn Wilson stars as a sad sack who sets out to murder criminals and rescue his estranged wife (Liv Tyler) from her druglord flame (Kevin Bacon, who's never before delivered a performance so worthy of that last name). Instead of Hit Girl, the movie features a likable but demeaned Ellen Page as a 22-year-old comic geek who becomes Wilson's sidekick; when these two are on screen together, not even propane could make sparks fly. Chockablock with ugly vidoegraphy and haphazardly staged to the point where almost all the cars lack license plates, this is just flat-out sloppy filmmaking—oblivious to tone and finally muddled in its last-ditch stab at earnestness.
On the plus side, I didn't take an undue hit of Oscar bait from Rabbit Hole, screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire's adaptation of his acclaimed play. At 92 minutes, it's probably too small to be regarded as the festival anchor it initially seemed to be; essentially, what director John Cameron Mitchell has is powerhouse material—the story involves a couple coping with their child's death from a car accident—and two really fine actors, Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart. All he does is stay out of their way: no more, no less. The results are wrenching at all the moments they intend to be, though you'd never identify it as the work of the man who made Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus.
For those keeping score—Indiewire is compiling grades, and I'm overdue to send in some fresh ones—I think Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan and Danny Boyle's 127 Hours are closest to being named the festival's best in show, although Kelly Reichardt's great Meek's Cutoff could win out when a few more marks are posted. The end is in sight.