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TIFF weekend recap: Hard rain, large crowds, unforgettable ‘High-Rise’

It rained during the first weekend of the Toronto International Film Festival. And then it rained some more, soaking the long, long lines of ticket holders and celeb-watchers on the streets of TO.

But amid the raindrops were a number of stunning films. There was even one next-level, hallucinatory masterpiece -- more on that in a moment.

While many of the festival's early favorites premiered at other festivals, their strong showing in Toronto cemented their reputation as ones to watch when they open in Buffalo. I skipped some biggies soon to touch down in Western New York, including Johnny Depp’s “Black Mass” and Matt Damon’s “The Martian.”

Yet my TIFF was one of numerous highs. Some of my personal favorites from the opening weekend include:

--“Son of Saul”: A fiercely original, immersive story about concentration camp inmate’s attempts to give a young boy a traditional Jewish burial, “Saul” is sure to be one of the year’s most talked-about films.

--“The Witch”: This “New England folk tale” about a 17th century family torn about by mysterious forces is the scariest psychological horror film in ages.

--“The Lobster”: If you’ve ever come upon director Yorgos Lanthimos’s “Dogtooth,” you will not be surprised to hear his new film “The Lobster” is strange, startling, darkly hilarious, and genuinely disturbing. Set in a hotel in which residents must find a partner or be turned into an animal (just go with it) is remarkable, as is the lead performance from Colin Farrell.

--“Anomalisa”: Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion comedy about one sad man and his night at a hotel in Cincinnati might be even better than his last effort, “Synecdoche, New York.”

There were other very good films during the course of the weekend, including the award-worthy Brooklyn, while even the so-so likes of “The Danish Girl” and “Youth” offered undeniable pleasures, specifically the performances of Alicia Vikander and Harvey Keitel (in “Girl” and “Youth,” respectively.)

But the weekend’s most boldly brilliant film, was Sunday night’s “High-Rise.” The film’s director Ben Wheatley introduced the film with jocular honesty: “It's a big building, there's lots of sex, violence, swear words, adult content, dancing and it's J.G. Ballard.” Indeed, that is an accurate summary. But it only hints at the complex, ingenious design of a picture equally indebted to Cronenberg, “Clockwork Orange”-era Kubrick, and Abba. (Seriously.)

A ludicrously attractive cast that includes Tom Hiddleston (one of TIFF15’s most popular figures), Sienna Miller, Elisabeth Moss, Luke Evans, and Jeremy Irons topline the glorious rush of sex and ultra-violence, all taking place in a strange, modernist apartment building in '70s Britain.

Tom Hiddlestone stars in "High Rise."

Tom Hiddleston stars in "High Rise," a flick with plenty of sex and violence, staged in '70s Britain.

Exaggerated and lovingly over-the-top, often hilarious and willfully complex, Wheatley’s film made its world-premiere at TIFF, and can therefore be considered a major victory for Toronto in the fall festival wars. It may not earn wide release until 2016, but remember that title.

There is much left to screen through September 20, including the eagerly awaited “Spotlight.” But I can’t see anything topping the mesmerizing, unforgettable“High-Rise,” a film that will haunt your brain -- and make your next walk through the doors of a skyscraper a very paranoid experience.

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