Fantasia Dispatch: Time of Moulting / Bleed With Me / Undergods
Time of Moulting
Writer-director Sabrina Mertens structures Time of Moulting almost as a series of vignettes, each designed to emulate something close to a still life, a snapshot into a particular moment of a family’s existence. The camera is entirely static, each scene playing out within the confines of the initial setup, making us feel as though we — like Stephanie (played at various ages by Zelda Espenschied and Miriam Schiweck) — are trapped in a box created by another. Mertens crafts the atmosphere to be one of deep unease, though at the cost of narrative development; as the film progresses, we piece together some semblance of understanding of the family dynamics at play, but our grasp on character remains frustratingly obtuse. The decision to hold the audience at such a remove ends up making the film feel stiflingly academic — while an interesting formalistic endeavor, we ultimately don’t have enough to hold on to.
Bleed With Me
Amelia Moses’ slow-burning first feature plays in familiar territory for those versed in the A24-esque genre template: a recovering addict retreats to an isolated and snowy getaway with a couple who may not be as friendly as they appear, while nightmares and nocturnal happenings blur line between dreams and reality. But it quickly becomes clear that the film is, more than anything, a riff on the Dracula legend, infused with the austerity common among low-budget indie horror nowadays. Moses crafts a nicely controlled aesthetic, using the blood inherent to her concept to fine effect in several impressive shots. The small cast (Lee Marshall, Lauren Beatty, and Aris Tyros) do good work in what essentially amounts to a chamber piece — alliances shift, perceptions change, and the audience is kept guessing. Mood eventually wins out over character, but as a slick piece of psychological suspense Bleed With Me puts Moses on the map as a filmmaker to watch.
Undergods — the first feature from writer-director Chino Moya and one of the festival’s most assured debuts — is an oppressively downbeat interconnected anthology about a civilization in decline, a world that already has one foot through a post-apocalyptic world but won’t realize it until it’s too late. Moya frames his stories within the context of an inevitably decrepit urban landscape — it’s never quite clear if any given fable takes place in the past, present, or future, and Moya isn’t interested in cluing you in any further. The temporal confusion is part of what makes the film feel like a series of modern fairy tales, providing obtuse morals and warnings even as most every vignette ends in suffering. Working with cinematographer David Raedeker among others, Moya shows a clear visual confidence, with polished camerawork and varying but not distracting styles that fit each particular story’s mood. There may not be much happiness to be found in the narrative of Undergods, but it’s a pleasure to watch.