Brain Freeze, Seobok, and Agnes are screening as part of the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival that runs Aug. 5 to Aug. 25.
The opening night film at this year’s Fantasia festival is Julian Knafo’s Brain Freeze, a somewhat somber horror comedy surrounding a zombie outbreak stemming from a water supply tainted by a country club’s golf course fertilizer. It is an interesting film tonally, although I’m not sure how successful the balance beam act is. Some aspects of the humor work, as do some of the more serious character development. And it is commendable that the movie takes its time to establish these characters before the plot goes haywire with a legion of mutant zombies.
At the same time, Brain Freeze meanders more than it thrills. The zombie threat itself appears, for the most part, non-threatening. And the most threatening danger in the film, a pair of tactically-trained assassins whose allegiances are difficult to parse, come off more cartoonish in their presentation than anything else. Ultimately, the primary elements separating this from any other zombie movie are an underdeveloped class commentary and a briefcase full of deus ex machina orbs. Neither are particularly compelling components.
Brain Freeze: C
Seobok is a science-fiction-tinged thriller about a terminally ill man (Gong Yoo) tasked with protecting a cloned person (Park Bo-gum) who could save his life. It is a competent action thriller with a few engaging set pieces, mostly early on. The character development is a bit formulaic, but the relationship between the two central characters blossoms nicely, at least enough so that the action contains adequate stakes.
On the other hand, the reflections on mortality make the film long in the tooth, and these reflections don’t come off as profound as I think the script hopes that they will. The pacing issues herein cause the film’s midsection to sag, which is clearly an issue for an action film to have. There might not be enough here to fill a nearly two-hour runtime, but there are short bursts here and there which are compelling.
Mickey Reece’s Agnes is an unpolished gem. It is a possession film with a personality, taking bold choices that the run-of-the-mill possession narrative would not take. Formally, the sound design is eclectic, and occasionally the soundtrack feels anachronistic for the convent setting. The editing, too, is more snappy and rhythmic than the otherwise stuffy setting would suggest.
Then, of course, there is the setting shift. It is a sudden change in time and space which will probably make the reception of this film divisive. I appreciate its ambition more than its execution. There is something off about the second half, and it does not provide a full resolution. Not that it needs to, but the conclusion we get is also strange and platitudinal. (It is also scored by royalty free music, which baffled me to the point of wondering if the print I saw was not the finished film). The final 15 minutes of this deflates a lot of the good will which was built up for me in the previous 75.
Some may take issue with the tone of Agnes, but I found it the most fascinating part. There are genuinely funny moments in this, but there is also a serious undercurrent regarding the complicated connections (spiritual and otherwise) which challenge us. The entire experience of Reece’s film is jarring in a good way. I just wish it had a little bit more runway in its back half.
As always, thanks for reading!