Northern Frights

Violence and scares at the Toronto International Film Festival

FESTIVAL REPORT Leave it to me to pack as much violence as possible into my first days at the Toronto International Film Festival. (And that's with only having seen one entry in the horror-heavy Midnight Madness series.) In Spanish spookfest The Orphanage — featuring a Poltergeist shout-out for Zelda Rubenstein fans — fingers are slammed in doors, limbs are snapped, and a few unfortunate, uh, accidents occur. Jodie Foster goes aggro with a cause in The Brave One, poppin' pricks with a pistol (and other handy tools). But the standout gross-outs so far are the Coen brothers' Cormac McCarthy adaptation No Country for Old Men and Dario Argento's long-awaited final entry in his Three Mothers trilogy, Mother of Tears.

"If this ain't the mess," reckons No Country's Texas sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), "it'll do till the mess gets here." The mess, later dubbed a "colossal goatfuck," is indeed a doozy of a rural crime scene, involving gun-shot bodies both fresh and long bloated, a dead dog, a truckload of drugs, much spent ammo, and a missing satchel containing $2 million. Clutching that dough is Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a ne'er-do-well who soon realizes his windfall will also be his downfall — in the form of Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, exquisitely coiffed), a ruthless killer hired to hunt down the cash. No Country for Old Men is certainly the greatest Coen film in a good while — no Tom Hanks joking about waffles here. It's beautifully shot and edited (aside from a maybe too-extended ending), and while there's not much dialogue when Ed Tom's not onscreen, every nugget's worth waiting for. Bardem is particularly golden, but the whole cast is on point.

And yeah, since I know you wanna know, Mother of Tears is likewise certainly the greatest Argento film in a good while. I'm not saying it's a perfect film, but it has all the gnarly stuff you expect from the director of Suspiria, Inferno, Phenomena, and Tenebre: over-the-top occult themes, shrill acting (Asia Argento's the lead, and she turns it out), goth punk gangs of giggling witches, a plot that makes only sporadic sense, Udo Kier (as an exorcist!), a pounding electronic score, and, of course, eye gougings like they're going out of style. Thank goodness they never will. (Cheryl Eddy)

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