It’s Friday at the Chicago International Film Festival, and one big draw this weekend is the big screenings at the drive-in. Get in the Halloween spirit with two genre films screening at Chi-town Movies, or stick to the cinema and explore international films from some of the best filmmakers working today. Case in point, French filmmaker Céline Sciamma’s latest, her follow up to 2019’s masterpiece, Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
From director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) and, perhaps more tellingly, producer Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) comes the grungy, bloody, organically gruesome scare show Antlers, about a middle school teacher (Keri Russell), who moves to the small, crumbling Oregon town where her brother (Jesse Plemons) is the local sheriff. Both of them had a tough upbringing made all the tougher on Plemons when Russell’s character ran away as soon as she could, leaving him to fend off their drunken father. She gets caught up in the family drama of one of her young students (Jeremy T. Thomas), whose father and younger brother have a shared secret back home that sadly involves the elder child in a way that is screwing up his sleep schedule and his already fragile mind, so he comes to school looking like death warmed over and drawing disturbing images of what’s going on in his house. But once we get some clues about what exactly going one with the two (especially the father), Cooper cranks things up considerably, beginning with an opening sequence in a mine shaft that kicks things off with an impactful scare. Based on the short story The Quiet Boy by Nick Antosca, Antlers combines the folklore of the indigenous people of the area with a healthy dose of family drama to keep us terrified and blood soaked. The film drags and gets a bit visually murky near the end, but most of the storytelling and creature makeup design is artful and effective, while Russell and Plemons give us really strong and emotional performances to sell their shared trauma of the past and present. (Steve Prokopy)
Antlers screens Fri., Oct. 15 at 7pm at ChiTown Movies Drive-In and opens theatrically on October 29.
One of the more fascinating genre offerings making its way through the festival circuit this year comes from the the Adams family (Toby Poser, Zelda Adams, and John Adams, The Deeper You Dig), who wrote and directed Hellbender, a heavenly slice of folk horror about a mother and daughter (real-life mother, Poser, and daughter, Zelda Adams, as Izzy). They live alone in the woods, playing in a two-person metal band complete with makeup and costumes; living off the land; and occasionally dabbling into the dark arts that are a rich part of their ancestry (which includes witches in their bloodline being burned hundreds of years earlier, as we see in flashbacks). Izzy is being kept in the dark about the full extend of what her mother’s powers are and what she could learn to do herself, especially after she feasts on living creatures (the two live on twigs and berries, essentially, to keep Iggy’s powers from fully blossoming). But Izzy is a teenager who is growing bored of her life, and she ventures beyond their property and runs into another teenager girl, Amber (Lulu Adams), who finds her new acquaintance a curiosity more than a friend. Before long, Izzy begins to understand her potential and demands that her mother show her the way toward growing into a full-on witch, which is part magical journey/part disturbing coming-of-age story that also digs into the shifting nature of the mother-and-daughter connection. Soon, the mother begins to understand that just because she thinks she raised Izzy to respect nature and the powers it provides them doesn’t mean Izzy plans to use these abilities for good. It’s a complex and ambitious perspective on the witching lifestyle that takes the subject seriously without forgetting to freak us out in the process. (Steve Prokopy)
Hellbender screens Fri., Oct. 15 at 9:30pm at ChiTown Movies Drive-In. The film is part of a double feature with Eyes of Fire, co-presented as part of the Music Box Theatre’s Music Box of Horror: Dawn of the Drive-In event.
Nobody Has to Know
Set in the rolling hills of Scotland, Nobody Has to Know is a grown-up love story that doesn’t shy away from the twists and turns life hands us as relationships, health and family all come and go over the passage of time. In fact writer/director Bouli Lanners (who also stars) embraces these elements as the backbone of an ultimately quite moving story about two people searching for connection, literally and figuratively. Lanners is Phil, a man who’s worked out in the elements his whole life, tending to sheep and mending fences on the farms that employ him. But age and time are catching up with him and after suffering a stroke, he loses all memory of his life before getting sick. It’s a neighbor who comes to his rescue, the nurturing and attentive Millie (Michelle Fairley, “Game of Thrones”); with her help, Phil starts putting his life back together, getting back to work on the farm and reclaiming some semblance of how things used to be. That includes a romance with Millie, the two falling into each other with fresh verve after Millie reminds Phil that they were in love before his stroke. What transpires as the pieces of Phil’s life start to mend again, including a brother traveling to Scotland to check in with him and shed a bit of light on his past, is often understated but quite powerful. Phil and Millie are not teenagers, after all; there are no games to be played here, only two lonely hearts doing whatever they need to do to fill the yearning each harbors in their own way. From the windswept hills to the cozy cottage sitting rooms to the neutral, unfussy costumes, Nobody Has to Know often has the feel of a period piece, transporting us to a moment in time where all that matters is our protagonists and whether they can find their way to each other or not. (Lisa Trifone)
Nobody Has to Know screens Friday, October 15 at 8pm and Friday, October 22 at 5:45pm, both at AMC River East. It is also available to stream virtually.
French filmmaker Celine Sciamma had her work cut out for her in following up her own masterpiece, 2019’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, one of the most sensual, romantic and heartbreaking films of recent memory (not to mention gorgeous to look at, rich in jewel tones and period costumes). To her credit, Sciamma doesn’t try to one-up herself with Petite Maman, a small-scale (but not small) production about mothers, daughters, grief and love. Instead, she ably and beautifully shifts her focus to something entirely different but equally as moving. Set in the present day, Petite Maman follows young Nelly (Joséphine Sanz), who’s just lost her maternal grandmother. She accompanies her parents, known only as Mom and Dad (Nina Meurisse and Stéphane Varupenne, respectively) to the grandmother’s house where they’ll go about the business of sifting through belongings, memories and the minutia of daily life to close up the home and begin the process of moving on. Little Nelly is a bit at sea with it all, aware of the somber nature of the proceedings but not entirely sure how to be there for a mother who’s clearly grieving and distant. Sciamma injects a bit of magic into the proceedings as Nelly goes out to explore the woods around the house where her mother grew up; there, she meets Marion (Joséphine’s real-life twin sister, Gabrielle), a girl seemingly out of another era but nevertheless strikingly familiar. The two young actresses are endlessly captivating, their gentle, fragile emotions alighting their shared facial features with subtlety and sincerity. At just 72 minutes long, Petite Maman still manages to create an unmistakable sense of warmth and understanding, quietly asserting itself as an insightful exploration of the unique relationships between mothers and daughters. (Lisa Trifone)
Petite Maman screens Friday, October 15 at 8:45pm and Wednesday, October 20 at 5:30p, both at AMC River East. It is also available virtually.