It's been a striking feature of Flare how many horror films are appearing, something I've noticed for the last couple of years. It may simply be (as someone told me) that it's because one of the programmers, Michael Blyth, is partial to horror. Or maybe there is something inherently queer about horror. It's something I've been thinking about, as my own comic horror is about to swing into production. In any case, I kept an eye on the spooky offerings at this year's festival. I have yet to catch up with Closet Monster, which will be out later this year. But, I sat down to watch Sisters of the Plague with much enthusiasm. And rose 73 minutes later thinking, "File under 'What the Fuck?'"
Hmmm. Where to start? Well, it's a first-time director Jorge Torres-Torres, who also co-wrote. It stars Josephine Decker, herself an acclaimed director, though I have not seen her films so had no predisposition toward or against the film. It's just an ungodly mess. No scares. No atmosphere, though it's set in New Orleans, for cripes' sake! Decker plays a tour guide who lives with her girlfriend and her alcoholic, dying father and wants to find out once and for all how her mother died, all those years ago. Beset by nightmarish visions (wisps of black smoke and crap bubbly screen effects), she consults a psychic. Her relationship with her girlfriend unravels, blah, blah. I could have cried with boredom. The last 15 minutes made no sense and I overheard other audience members commenting on the sound design. Yes, it's that bad.
Much more entertaining is Sauna the Dead, a well executed concept short of zombies invading a gay male sauna. The rather obnoxious lead, Jacob, tries to evade them, eventually teaming up with another client he initially shunned. And there is a heartwarming ending, utterly not in keeping with the previous 18 minutes of towel-clad zombies lurching around the cubicles tearing into flesh, which I found hilarious.
Not at all horror-oriented, but rather downbeat is the much heralded Tangerine, which I finally saw and had mixed feelings about. Cleverly shot, brilliantly acted, but rather short on sexual politics. Two transgendered sex workers, Alexandra and Sin-Dee, roam the streets of L.A. in search of the woman Sin-Dee's boyfriend Chester is meant to be seeing behind her back. There are many, many laugh-out-loud moments, usually from the mouths of Alexandra (Mya Taylor) or Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and a bit of a less interesting plot involving an Armenian cab driver whose mother-in-law has come to stay. But, my main misgivings were about the film's treatment of the so-called love rival, Dinah (Mickey O'Hagan), a white cis-gendered sex worker who spends much of the film being abused by either Sin-Dee or Chester.
Is it funny to see women beating up other women? Is it hilarious to see them cutting each other down, seeking male approval? Do we just watch and let it go because well, that's how shit is? Where is the revenge film in which the sex workers gang up on the pimp and fuck him up? I'd definitely watch that one. This film isn't it, though it does pay careful attention to the lives of the two protagonists, which is something.