Notes from the underground

CUFF?continues to bring the best in cult film to Calgary

For seven years running the Calgary Underground Film Festival has brought disturbing offbeat quirky and all-around odd films from around the world to Calgary audiences and this year is no exception. Here’s a look at the first half of this year’s offerings.


Directed by J Blakeson

Plays Tuesday April 13 at 7 p.m.

Some movies wallow in their genre trappings; others transcend them. The Disappearance of Alice Creed a British kidnapping flick from writer-director J Blakeson falls squarely into the latter category. The film opens with Martin Compston and Eddie Marsan meticulously preparing for their crime. They shop for supplies prep their van assemble an escape-proof room all with silent efficiency. Once they get the twentysomething Ms. Creed into the room the film seems on the verge of turning into yet another sadistic exercise in torture and power fetishism but Blakeson has higher goals in mind.

The rest of Disappearance is an intelligent and intense dance of power dynamics as the relationship between the film’s three characters comes into focus. Blakeson’s script earns every one of its abundant twists though with each revelation both advancing the plot and fleshing out the characters. The minimal cast which consists of the two criminals plus Gemma Arterton ( Clash of the Titans ) as the victim gamely rides each of the script’s turns ensuring that the characters are more than just vehicles for plot delivery.

Unlike previous crime-flick revival attempts Disappearance doesn’t rely on Tarantino-style pop culture banter or Guy Ritchie flash. It’s a taut character-based and remarkably efficient effort; and a heck of a calling card for Blakeson.



Directed by Valérie Donzelli

Plays Wednesday April 14 at 7 p.m.

Valérie Donzelli’s La Reine des Pommes ( a.k.a. The Queen of Hearts) can’t be faulted for a lack of ambition or an unwillingness to experiment. Throughout the film Donzelli employs an “anything-goes” approach to her filmmaking seemingly throwing a dart at the big board of possibilities for each scene. The film bounces between absurdist comedy emotional gripper understated musical seedy sex drama and whimsical fantasy. It’s no surprise then that Queen is a bit of a mess but watching Donzelli hop around does hold a certain appeal.

Following a bad breakup with her boyfriend Mathieu (Jérémie Elkaïm) Adèle (Donzelli) moves in with her cousin Rachel (Béatrice De Staël) and tries to get back on her feet. During her recovery Adèle meets a series of men all played by Elkaïm and Donzelli uses these encounters as springboards to her style mashing.

Underneath all the movement there’s a cute story about personal growth and getting over past trauma but this element gets lost in the confusion of film’s awkward restlessness. Donzelli deserves credit for trying as many things as she does but La Reine des Pommes would benefit from a tighter focus.

Watch trailer here.



Directed by Blaine Thurier

Plays Tuesday April 13 at 9:30 p.m.

Blaine Thurier’s A Gun to the Head tells the story of Trevor a former criminal turned family man and his one-night foray back into a less desirable life. Everything goes wrong amazingly quickly of course even for a movie that runs under 90 minutes.

Gun does feature a spate of overacting and one-dimensional zaniness but thankfully it doesn’t derail the entire project. The movie is carried by Tygh Runyan who successfully plays Trevor as a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time and Hrothgar Mathews as Sam an amiable gangster who tries to lighten the mood of a kidnapping with some small talk about his car. It isn’t the most innovative take on the drug dealers and burnouts sub-genre but Thurier proves to have a deft touch with dialogue making the film more than worth a look.



Directed by D. Kelly Prior

Plays Thursday April 15 at 9:30 p.m.

Here’s one way to put a spin on the zombie flick — find another name for the undead. Derived from a musty piece of medieval European folklore a “revenant” is the term of choice for an Iraq War casualty who rises from the grave in this overextended but often satisfyingly sick-minded American horror comedy by D. Kelly Prior a special-effects maestro for such movies as Lost Boys and Bubba Ho-Tep . Heroes’ David Anders is great as Bart the soldier who discovers that he needs fresh human blood to keep himself running lest he expire at sunrise. His stoner buddy Joey (Chris Wylde) decides the best way to maintain the supply is for the two of them to become vigilantes and thereby waste some deserving bad guys. It’s a tidy arrangement that results in an ever-growing pile of corpses but things get complicated as more revenants appear on the scene and threaten to make late-night Los Angeles even more dangerous than it already is. Though slackly paced Prior’s film still delivers an amiable blend of buddy humour and gory fun. And thankfully its novelty value as a zombie movie extends to more than matters of nomenclature.



Directed by Alexandre Franchi

Plays Thursday April 15 at 7 p.m.

Like its subject live-action role-playing (LARPing) The Wild Hunt lures you in with what seem like silly games for grown children before clobbering you with its conviction.

Set in the familiar nameless anomie-inducing industrial city of so many English-language Canadian films the film begins with Erik (Ricky Mabe) saying goodbye to his girlfriend Evelyn (Tiio Horn) as she makes her way to a kind of Disneyland retreat for LARPers — a fully realized medieval community where factions duke it out in character as Celts Vikings and elves. Like Erik’s older brother Bjorn (Mark A. Krupa) Evelyn is leaving behind the responsibility and loneliness that Erik seems shackled by particularly his dying alcoholic father. But when it becomes clear that her involvement in the game includes a more-than in-character attraction to the Celt’s Shaman Murtagh (Trevor Hayes) Erik crashes headlong into the game to get her back.

A dramatic comic and viscerally tragic story about escapism and the unpleasant truths that still find their way into our fantasies Alexandre Franchi’s feature-length debut is disarming dark and ultimately devastating. If Lars von Trier reimagined the Internet sensation The Guild it might look something like this.