18th Aug2018

Fantasia 2018: ‘Pledge’ & ‘One Cut of the Dead’ Review(s)

by Phil Wheat

[NOTE: To talk about either of the films below too much would spoil the wonderful delights within, so the following reviews are as vague as possible whilst touching on some salient points in both films]

one-cut-dead-pledge

PLEDGE

Stars: Phillip Andre Botello, Erica Boozer, Zachery Byrd, Cameron Cowperthwaite, Aaron Dalla Villa, Jean-Louis Droulers, Joe Gallagher, Jesse Pimentel, Melanie Rothman, Zachary Weiner | Written by Zachary Weiner | Directed by Daniel Robbins

Pledge follows three freshmen pursuing what they think is the ideal college experience. But despite their best efforts, the goofy and likeable David (screenwriter Zack Weiner), Ethan (Phillip Andre Botello) and Justin (Zachary Byrd) get the cold shoulder from the campus frats. They’re ready to throw in the social towel when they meet the gorgeous Rachel (Erica Boozer), who invites them to a party at a mansion in the country. What could possibly go wrong?

Films about fraternities never end well… Well, those that AREN’T comedies that is! If it’s a comedy then you can usual guarantee some kind of new status quo, a nice wrap up that sees everyone “get along” for the greater good. Pledge is the total opposite. It certainly doesn’t have a nice wrap-up, or the typical (and cliched) friendly conclusion between pledges and fraternity brothers. Instead this is a mean-spirtied, grisly look at the hazing process, taken to horrific extremes.

And whilst Pledge ultimately features nothing we haven’t seen before, even the huge “rat” set piece is all-too familiar, it’s all put together so well that it doesn’t matter. It also helps that the pacing of the film is so fast – the pledges are subjected to torment after torment in such quick succession that neither them, nor the audience is given time to pause for breathe… And any lull in the torment only serves to put everyone on edge anyway, expectant of the next piece of cruelty, the next piece of torture. It’s without a doubt the cinematic equivalent of being constantly on tenterhooks!

What really keeps Pledge moving forward and the audience watching, beyond the need to see the next horrible event take place, is the central trio: David, Ethan and Justin. The trio of actors have a real chemistry with each and thanks to the actors perfomances both their friendship and their interactions with each other and those they meet, feel really real. Which helps generate the neccesary empathy come the latter portion of the film as things get nasty… Though props to writer and actor Zack Weiner, for making his character David to dweebish that you both feel for him AND want to see him get his comeuppance too!

A film whose simplistic, familiar, plot actually hides a rather nice surprise, Pledge is like the ‘Saw’ of fraternity movies but with more heart.

***½  3.5/5

Pledge screened as part of Fantasia 2018 on July 24th.

ONE CUT OF THE DEAD

Stars: Mao, Shuhama Harumi, Takayuki Hamatsu , Yuzuki Akiyama, Kazuaki Nagaya, Hiroshi Ichihara | Written and Directed by Shinichiro Ueda

A low-budget zombie movie shot in one take, about a film crew shooting a low budget zombie movie in one take, sounds bad. Add the fact that the indie film crew stumbles across real-life zombies, and One Cut of the Dead sounds worse. But this isn’t just a zombie movie, or even a one-take stunt. Instead, it’s Japan’s smartest comedy of the year, a father-daughter story, a movie about the value of perservance, and a meta-puzzle box that unpacks itself onscreen, one severed limb at a time.

It’s I Survived a Zombie Holocaust all over again isn’t it? At least it seems to be as the events of One Cut of the Dead unfold… But then something happens. The film we’re clearly expecting to be a cliched look at a zombie film within a zombie apocalypse flips the script – literally – and Shinichiro Ueda’s film becomes less about zombies and more about people: specifically about a director, his wife and the daughter to whom he is becoming estranged. Ending up as one of the sweetest, warm-hearted “zombie” movies you’ll ever see. Oh, and did I mention the film also features the kind of zany, off the wall comedy that Far East film fans know and love: scatalogical humour, slapstick, insane characters, crazy behaviour and more!

It will be interesting to see how audiences take to One Cut of the Dead, after all this is actually three “films” in one, each requiring the audience’s patience in different ways; and each segment could prove to be THE one divise point. Especially if those watching don’t have the patience to see the film through to its conclusion, however for those that do stick with Shinichiro Ueda’s film will be richly rewarded – even moreso if you’re a genre fan who’s interest in films extends to the making of them as well, as you’ll find a LOT to love about One Cut of the Dead’s third act…

**** 4/5

One Cut of the Dead screened at this years Fantasia Film Festival on July 26th.

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