Lora Burke

Fantasia Review: For the Sake of Vicious

A tortured father kidnaps a shady businessman and brings him to a nurse’s house. After the businessman calls for help, the trio become entangled in a violent power grab. They will have to band together to survive the night or die trying.

Directors Gabriel Carrer (The Demolisher, In the House of Flies) and Reese Eveneshen (Defective, Dead Genesis) bring their latest film to Fantasia International Film Festival. With a story by Carrer and screenplay by Eveneshen, For the Sake of Vicious wastes no time throwing the audience into suspense. We watch as the tortured father kidnaps the shady businessman and takes him to the nurse’s house in order to keep him alive. From there the filmmakers gradually reveal how these three very different people ended up in the house together and the way they’re all connected. It’s when the businessman is able to call for help that things really take a dire turn. It quickly throws the characters into chaos and blood. The ensuing fight for survival is action-packed, suspenseful, and will keep the audience on the edge of their seats. It’s a generally straightforward plot with great fight sequences to delight the gore hounds. While the action makes for a lot of excitement, the film still stays emotionally grounded with the relationships between the three main characters.

All three leads in For the Sake of Vicious deliver emotionally-driven performances to offset the physical brutality. Lora Burke (Lifechanger, Poor Agnes) plays Romina, the nurse whose home is invaded. As a nurse, it’s obvious Romina has a strong impulse to help others. Burke does a great job of conveying the conflict Romina feels because she can’t decide which of these two men she should really be helping. Nick Smyth (The Covenant, The Flying Man) plays Chris, the tortured father who brings the chaos into Romina’s home. There are two aspects of Smyth’s performance that truly blow me away. First, Chris’s determination to right a wrong comes through so clearly and powerfully. Second, Smyth has a great physicality to his performance. Between showing his emotions with facial expressions and body language to his physical prowess during the fight scenes, Smyth truly gives it his all. Colin Paradine (Defective, Kingdom Come) plays the shady businessman, Alan. Throughout the course of the film, Paradine keeps the audience guessing as to whether or not Alan is the villain of the story or not. Paradine does a perfect balance and cool and collected with a bit of a sinister edge that makes his intentions unclear. Together, this trio helps ground the film with their stellar performances.

Delightful practical effects, production design, and music add to the appeal of this film. Of all the films at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, For the Sake of Vicious stands out as one of the more gore-filled. In the beginning, there are only minor wounds, but when all hell breaks loose the film becomes a bloody, violent nightmare. The practical effects are shockingly well done and had me gasping and maniacally laughing in turn. From the moment the three main characters come together to the shocking end, the film takes place in Romina’s small rental. The small home is a nice, quiet place for the three characters to work through their issues. Yet when the cavalry arrives, it becomes a claustrophobic nightmare as it fills with murderous bad guys. The very well-choreographed fight scenes become even more exciting with the Carpenter-esque musical score by Carrer and Foxgrndr (If a Tree Falls). Each individual artistic element weaves together to make this film even more exciting.

For the Sake of Vicious is a delightfully violent thrill ride from start to finish. Carrer and Eveneshen make a fantastic team and create a simple yet effective story. To make the film even more suspenseful and shocking, the filmmakers utilized a claustrophobic set, an electrifying musical score, fantastic fight choreography, and jaw-dropping practical effects. Throughout all the thrills and gore, the performances from the three leads manage to keep the film rooted at an emotional core, making the film more than just an action thriller. For the Sake of Vicious ends up being a shot of adrenaline to the system.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

Lifechanger

lifechanger

A shapeshifter has the ability to transform into another person, but only at the expense of that person’s life. After existing in different forms for decades, the bodies he takes over are decaying at a much more rapid rate. This shapeshifter’s time is running out. Yet he goes through body after body in an attempt to reconnect with the woman he loves.

Writer and director Justin McConnell (Broken Mile, Collapsed) brings audiences an interesting take on shapeshifters, love, and morality in Lifechanger. There have been films in the past about shapeshifters and things that need to take over the body/life of another human in order to survive. There are aspects of this plot that help to differentiate it from those other films. One way is that the plot is told from the point of view of the shapeshifter, giving us a more empathetic look into the mind and life of this being. The shapeshifter has to kill in order to live, and there is a moral question nagging at the audience as to whether or not he should continue living. Another way this film is different is that the shapeshifting itself isn’t the focus of the story. It does play a very important role, but the film is more about the shapeshifter’s loneliness and desire to be with the one he loves. This plays into the morality issue as well. Is what he does okay because he is doing it for love?

In the third act the film takes a bit of a turn. Without giving too many details, this act changes your perspective of the shapeshifter a bit and makes the audience realize his motives might not be quite what we are lead to believe. I have mixed feelings about how the final moments of this film plays out. Part of me loves it because the end left me with a feeling similar to how the end of The Mist left me. Whether you enjoyed the end of that film or not, you have to admit it packed quite a punch that stuck with you long after the film ended, and Lifechanger ends with a similar impact. It won’t appeal to all viewers, but it is at least thought-provoking. On the other hand, I found the last half of the film, including the final act, almost romanticizes stalking and abusive relationships. I don’t think this was intentional on the part of the filmmakers, but it stands out in my mind when I think about some of the shapeshifter’s actions throughout the film.

Considering how many different actors played the shapeshifter in Lifechanger, there are a number of great performances in this film. While each actor did a great job as the shapeshifter, the standout performances come from Rachel VanDuzer  in her first feature film and Jack Foley (Fugue). We spend the most time with the shapeshifter in these bodies, and both VanDuzer and Foley portray the character in a way that is a combination of cold, lonely, loving, and frightening. The character is able to take on the memories of its victims when he transforms so the portrayals are meant to be a mix of who the person was and who the shapeshifter is. My one qualm is that I wish there had been some personality trait or tick that made a more obvious connection between all the actors playing the shapeshifter. There is an internal voice the audience hears, the love he feels for a woman, and a marble we see him play with in a few scenes. While those help to connected the different actors, they feel external or separate. Another great performance comes from Lora Burke (Poor Agnes) as the love interest, Julia. Burke portrays Julia in a way that she comes across as broken yet extremely personable. She is someone who could become a best friend overnight. It makes it easy to see why the shapeshifter fell in love with her.

There are many interesting visuals throughout the film. The opening sequence has some gorgeous cinematography. There are many scenes shot beautifully, but the opening stands out the most. The filmmakers opted to use primarily practical effects. This works very well and gives the film a timeless look. The effects themselves are used to create the bodies of the shapeshifter’s victims. They go through a bizarre transformation that is somewhat grotesque, but it is also quite eye-catching. The cinematography and the effects work well together in a way that shows the filmmakers took care to make sure the film had quite a bit of visual interest. They also help set the bleak tone of the film.

Lifechanger is a film that holds nothing back as it takes the audience on an unexpected journey with a shapeshifter. The stunning cinematography and the practical effects help to build the dreary reality of a very unique character. Compelling performances from an array of actors allow the audience to understand the shapeshifter on a more human level with an equally compelling performance from Burke as the love interest. Lifechanger has a fascinating plot with a few rough patches, but the only aspect that truly bothers me is the way stalking is used in the film. An element of the unknown will leave some things unanswered in a way that works well. This is a thought-provoking film that is definitely worth checking out.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10