Anthropocene: The Human Epoch
It’s been something, watching Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky meld their visual storytelling from Manufactured Landscapes (2006) to Watermark (2013) to this, completing the trilogy with cinematographer Nicholas de Pencier, an observation of the sublime beauty and horror of human industry. This final film is simply about the nightmare of there being too many of us.
From the most polluted city in Siberia, to lithium mining in Chile, to cadaverous pelicans living off landfills in Kenya, to seawalls in China, to logging in British Columbia, and much more, we see the terrible aesthetic of it all. The massive excavators and the speedy Swiss trains all feel like they’re the product of some grim, Hollywood dystopia—I was reminded of Blade Runner and its sequel more than once—but this is far more frightening. And all narrated by the mellifluous, Swedish-accented Ex Machina tones of Alicia Vikander,
I can’t say I was as beguiled this time as I was by the two before. I enjoyed where it took me, but as my cinepanion said to me when we left, the film too often omits context. It would’ve been helpful to have more information about what is being mined in that enormous, village-swallowing hole in Germany, what is happening in that Russian cave with the tea-sipping workers, what’s the actual state of elephant poaching in Africa, and how many days a year Plaza de San Marco in Venice is flooded. It would be interesting to know how they chose where to go to present this laundry list of human activities changing the planet.
Then, in its final moments, following 90 minutes of gorgeous apocalypse, Vikander offers an offhand remark about how we can maybe change things for the better. That feels pointlessly glib: the real message of this film suggests the sooner humanity completes its inevitable cycle of self-destruction, the better for every other living thing on the planet.
A low-budget anthology feature romcom, I wandered into this thinking about how infrequently films with multiple directors providing self-contained stories in a full feature work out—you usually wind up liking one segment a lot more than all the others, and many a lot less. Delightful, then, to find a seamless continuity here, with the spine of the thing set at a wedding.
Lynda Boyd is the aunt of the bride who runs into her dead husband’s physiotherapist (the always reliable Hugh Thompson) with whom she has awkward history. This kicks off a collection of tales of romantic misadventure told by other women at the reception, some moving, some sad, most quite funny. Susan Kent is especially sharp as the guest who’s in her cups, having run into her recently divorced ex-husband at an adult swimming lesson. The script, by Emily Bridger, Iain MacLeod, and Jay Dahl, sparkles. Full credit to producers Dahl and Bill Niven for bringing it all together, to DP Jeff Wheaton, for years one of Halifax’s most reliable lensers, and to the six directors: Deanne Foley (also of An Audience of Chairs), Ruth Lawrence, Latonia Hartery, Martine Blue, Megan Wennberg, and Stephanie Clattenburg.
The casual veritas aesthetic of the hyper-sharp digital image in Jay Dahl’s films—it was just as much a part of his demonic horror There Are Monsters back in 2013—dupes you into thinking you’re watching some kind of docudrama, and leaves you unprepared for the skill the writer-director-editor-visual-effects engineer (and yes, this was his second feature project screening in a single night at FIN) has for making your skin crawl. What’s just as impressive this time out is that his picture is as funny—in a number of self-referential ways—as is it creepy, even when Dahl admitted when presenting the film that we were seeing an incomplete version.
A viral meme with a countdown asks for the viewer’s deepest fear: Don’t disclose, and it will come true. Rather than being some ambiguous horror, the meme is tied to a deep backstory involving children deformed by a chemical spill and the people who tried to help the kids until they were beyond saving. Amy Groening and computer nerd T Thomason are on the case to make sense of it all before they fall victims to the restless spirits of these monstrous children. The casting is terrific, especially musician Thomason providing just the right note of comedy and fear in support. There Are Monsters should’ve been a global cult hit amongst horror aficionados. Halloween Party should do the trick.