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Night Visions 2012: The Paperboy & The ABCs of Death

Posted on Friday November 2, 2012, 11:38 by Owen Williams in Under The Radar

In context, the biggest mystery in the slow burning, slightly mental literary crime tale The Paperboy is why it's playing at this festival. Lee Daniel's directorial follow-up to Precious, starring Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman and John Cusack, isn't an obvious fit for its horror surroundings, but by the end, in all its deep-south, swamp-gothic murder melodrama, it just about starts to make sense.

Regardless of where it's playing, it's a more-or-less worthwhile, atmospheric film. It feels self-consciously 'quality', but it's not as hammer-blow heavy-handed as Precious, its sultry southern atmosphere is effectively oppressive, and the performances are all-round pretty good, although it's hard to quite take Kidman as white-trash intent on marrying her prison-inmate penpal. Efron takes his shirt off a lot (and, at one point, gets bitten by jellyfish and then peed on by Kidman), McConaughey and David Oyelowo are fractious as the journalist team investigating the possibly wrongful imprisonment of Cusack (horrifying - his best role for ages), and there's support from Macy Gray, playing the housekeeper who also provides a redundant voiceover.

It's a film where everyone has secrets: Oyelowo's background, McConaughey's sexual proclivities, Cusack's guilt or innocence. Not all of them quite cohere, and some plot threads fall by the wayside, but the dark ending is certainly a surprise for those unfamiliar with the source novel. The adaptation is co-written with Daniels by original author Pete Dexter, who also penned the excellent Deadwood (not explicitly anything to do with the HBO series, but not unconnected either) and the extraordinary Paris Trout, with which The Paperboy has much in common. For years this was being developed as a movie by Pedro Almodovar. That makes perfect sense, and you can't help but think it would have been less anonymous in his hands. Ah well.
More obvious as a Night Vision is The ABCs of Death, a bold experiment by the Alamo Drafthouse, comprising 26 short films by 26 international directors, each given $5k and a letter of the alphabet to do with as they wilt. Some are violent, some are eerie, some are surreal, some are abstruse, a surprising number are scatological, and more than one is unpleasantly cruel to animals. Frustratingly though, there are more misses than hits, although with 26 instalments at least the odds dictate that some must stand out.

You can immediately peg the excellent U-For-Unearthed as Ben Wheatley's, given that it shares its cast and its fire-lit woodland setting with Kill List. No complaints there. Xavier Gens' X-For-XXL, about an obese woman taking extreme measures to find her thin inner self, is also great, as are Adrian Garcia Bogliano's B-For-Bigfoot, Adam Wingard's funny Q-For-Quack, and Jake West's S-For-Speed, which starts out like Faster Pussycat-era Russ Meyer and ends as something else entirely.

Kaare Andrews' V-For-Vagitus is curious too, in that it's an immense, FX-heavy dystopian sci-fi. Part of the pleasure of the film is seeing how each director spent their cash. With Vagitus, it's all on the screen. Wingard, it seems possible, went and had some fun in the desert for a day and took the rest of the money down the pub. Still, whatever works.

Most mind-boggling are the appropriately-named W-For-WTF (John Schnepp), which sees its director and producer thrashing out disparate ideas before using them all at once - and the equally mental H-For-Hydro-Electric Diffusion (Thomas Malling) which is like a berserk WWII version of Blacksad. Among the worst are Noboro Iguchi's F-For-Fart and Lee Hardcastle's stop-motion (pun possibly intended) T-For-Toilet: although bizarrely they were the only ones that got applause from the Helsinki audience. Probably most disappointing, given it came from House of the Devil and The Innkeepers director Ti West, is the egregious M-For-Miscarriage.

Good, bad and ugly then. Something for everyone? Possibly. But too many of the entries are just forgettable, and perhaps that's the most damning criticism of them all.

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