October 3, 2013

Toronto After Dark Spotlight Screenings Review: Europa Report & The Dirties

Last week Toronto After Dark Film Festival wrapped up its pre-festival Spotlight Screening series with sci-fi film Europa Report and first-time feature The Dirties.

Europa Report, the first film of the night, focuses on a current mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, where a crew is sent to investigate the possible existence of alien life within our solar system. After a near-catastrophic technical failure that leads to loss of communication with Earth and the tragic death of a crewmember, the surviving astronauts must overcome the psychological and physical toll of deep space travel, and survive a discovery on Europa more profound than they had ever imagined.

The film is directed by Sebastián Cordero and it features Sharlto Copley, Anamaria Marinca and Michael Nyqvist, among others. Europa Report is actually based on NASA science, which makes this film a treat for space travel aficionados, and it actually makes for a good sci-fi, thriller too.

What works really well in Europa Report is its story; it's pretty basic space exploration with a bit of a twist. I read somewhere that Cordero and team did extensive research for the film; they spoke to various astronauts, and of course, worked with NASA, JPL, SpaceX and others in the scientific community to create a vivid depiction of what this mission would be like. As far as the casting goes, the team works well together on-screen. No one stands out more than anyone else, which to me, makes sense given they're all equal players in this mission.

Another reason this film does well in keeping the audience engrossed with the story is that it creates supsense, and for some, a bit of terror in the unknown that lies ahead. The film unfolds as sort of a found footage story with a bit of a documentary feel as well. Regardless of its style, it is the visuals and tension that kept us wondering what next? - so to speak. The pacing of the film also adds to its tension. Of course, the cinematography and visual effects stand out. The accompanying score also works quite well. Altogether, Europa Report is a cohesive film that will not only satisfy sci-fi fans but also a wider audience. The film will be available on iTunes and DVD/Blu-Ray starting October 8th. You can find more information on the film and its availabilty here.

The Dirties, the second film of the night, tells the story of two friends, Matt (Matt Johnson) and Owen (Owen Williams), who are making a movie about getting revenge on the bullies as part of their high school film class. Except that one of them begins to want to act out the actual movie in real life.

This is the first feature film for director Matt Johnson. The Dirties is filmed in somewhat a documentary style embedded within Matt and Owen's school project. The duo are believable in their respective roles. It also helps that Johnson sprinkled some references to various films, some classic, some not so much, to help in the telling of their film project. Another interesting element of this low-budget film is that it's set in actual high schools in Toronto. Many of the teenagers in the film are actual high school students (who understand their roles in this film within a film), and this adds to the realism Johson and team want to create here.

Where the film lacks, in my opinion, is in the way it handles, or not, the idea of bullying and how it can lead a young man to resort to pure violence to deal with the situation. It does set the premise loud and clear, in a way, but it does not deal with the issue in a direct way. It does create the sense that as an audience member, you and I are silent observers. Yet that is my own inference. The film lacks a bit of lustre, and its tonality does not always work. But overall, the film is a good first effort. The Dirties is currently playing at TIFF Bell Lightbox; for screening times visit tiff.net.

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