I love stop-motion animation. It takes me back to all those holiday specials that I watched as a kid. It is a refined, time-consuming art pioneered by Ray Harryhausen, and one that seems to endure despite all the computer generated animation out these days. Take, for example, Foxed!, a 3 minute short screened at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival directed by James Stewart and written by Nev Bezaire. It tells the tale of Emily, voiced by Athena Karkanis from the Saw series, a wide-eyed little girl who has been kidnapped by sneaky and shifty looking foxes to work in their Blue Goo mines. Sounds kooky, but when you see the film, you are drawn in by Emily’s despair and literally shout for more of the story when it ends. It has a creepy fairytale feel that makes you want to watch at bedtime with the covers pulled up over your nose. Stewart, whose inspiration came from films like Coraline, has stated that there are many themes in the main story, ones of parent-child relationships, finding your individuality and facing personal demons, adding some real depth to Emily’s plight.
The film has made the festival circuit, winning several awards and charming audiences everywhere. Not only is it created with the painstaking stop-motion technique, but it is also the first to use stereoscopic 3-D, which adds depth and cinematic scope to the tiny sets. For really great behind the scenes video, commentary and more, go to the official film site:
and download the film at ITunes : https://itunes.apple.com/ca/movie/foxed!/id922682834
So what happens to Emily? How did these foxes kidnap her? Who are these snaggle-toothed burrowers and what do they want? If you check out the clips on the Foxed! site, Stewart has confirmed a feature-length film coming from this intriguing short, so I think the growing number of fans will get what they want: More!!
Housebound (2014, 1hr 47 mins)
Housebound, this year’s TADFF opener from New Zealand, didn’t initially catch my attention when I was compiling my list for the festival because I am usually wary of horror comedies, but this time, I have to agree with all the hoopla. This Kiwi kicker takes you on a rip-roaring comedy of horrific errors with heart.
Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) is a petty criminal, and after her last botched robbery attempt, she is sentenced to house arrest in her childhood home to benefit from some so-called stability with her nutter of a mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) and mostly mute step dad Graeme (Ross Harper). She is surly, resentful and really difficult to be around. Her mother believes their house is haunted, and of course Kylie scoffs at this until she experiences some strange occurrences herself. With the help of her eager security officer and amateur parapsychology investigator Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), they stumble upon a many layered onion of mayhem that leaves you in stitches.
Housebound was a great vehicle to showcase some brilliant talent from Down Under. O’Reilly, who is apparently a seasoned T.V. actor and comedian, was incredible as the acerbic and basically awful Kylie who hid behind her meanness to protect the fragile girl inside. Waru played the perfect straight-man foil to Kylie, providing us with rapid-fire one-liners that elicited many a belly laugh, and Te Wiata nailed it as her loopy mother that sweetened the deal with her kooky interpretations of the mysterious goings-on. And last but not least, I have to mention the fantastic house itself. The design team did a great job of creating an aging childhood house of horrors seen through the eyes of an adult, like old school paintings, cramped bedrooms, a gross basement and creepy toys that were once beloved playthings.
Director Gerard Johnstone mastered the film’s roller coaster pace, keeping you on the edge of your seat until the last few minutes, and the writing was so clever and engaging that I immediately wanted to see more from this man, and hopefully soon. At the screening, we learned that we almost didn’t have the privilege of seeing this indie horror gem. There was apparently an issue with distribution, but at the 11th hour, Anchor Bay and Raven Banner, two champions of indie horror films picked it up, so do yourself a favour and go see it when it comes out. You won’t be sorry!