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Cinetopia Film Festival 2024 dispatch 2: ‘I’ll Be There’ tries to bring on the tears and ‘The Vourdalak’ goes for the jugular


I’LL BE THERE 

From director Andrew Shea and writer Cindy McCreery, “I’ll Be There” follows the trials and tribulations of Grace (Jasmine Batchelor) and her cancer stricken brother AJ (Ryan Cooper) as they navigate the not so flattering side of recovery and reminiscence about their troubled childhood. Both Grace and AJ come from a complicated blended family (the opening scene awkwardly establishes this dynamic) where a lot of resentment was thrown at the former because she was the only born child of their parents (played by Victoria Kelleher and Dorien Wilson). But AJ and Grace harbored a special bond over the music of Michael Jackson, and it’s that throughline which acts as the guiding light of the movie, especially as the film is set in 2009 and the recently deceased pop star is at the county morgue next to the hospital where AJ is undergoing surgery. 


Batchelor, who I recommend everyone see in the underseen gem “The Surrogate,” manages to ground the movie even as AJ and Grace’s siblings/parents/partners wander all over the place. Throughout the movie, while Grace is in the hospital with AJ, the film intercuts back and forth to their rough childhood years (where Grace was seen as the outsider) and the present in a bid to help contextualize the situation. Except most of the childhood sequences fall flat and struggle to get you invested. As does the inclusion of a janitor (Maynard Bagang) who is supposed to be MJ reincarnated, however, it’s an element of the script that never takes flight. 


“I’ll Be There,” works best when it’s not trying to juggle the obvious family political divide (AJ’s biological father is your stereotypical conservative whose entire personality is muttering racist remarks like: “Are they legal?” when he sees Hispanics in a hospital) and stays focused on AJ and Grace’s relationship. There’s one scene where the two are discussing the possibility of whether or not AJ can have sex after his prostate is removed and reconstructed and it’s the realest scene in the entire movie. Additionally, “I’ll Be There” probably has one of the better poop jokes in recent memory. 


“I’ll Be There,” as was the case with the Cinetopia opening night film, “For When You Get Lost,” is a personal film that deals with an intense family unit, but struggles to keep you tethered to the story. It means well, and there’s a certain element of relatability to anyone who has ever taken care of a sick loved one, but this is a clumsy film that never brings the story together cohesively and, outside of Batchelor, doesn’t have strong enough performances to get it over the finish line. 


Grade: C- 


I’LL BE THERE played at the Cinetopia Film Festival. It will be released later this year. 

 

THE VOURDALAK 

I’m starting to sense a trend within the Cinetopia film festival this year regarding families and how they deal with grief and fraught emotional situations. Albeit, Adrien Beau’s gorgeously made gothic folklore “The Vourdalak” is a much different beast than what festival goers have seen thus far and judging by the walkouts during the late night screening, it could test one’s endurance. Indeed, “The Vourdalak,” which is essentially a vampire movie based on the 1839 French novel “The Family of the Vourdalak” that actually predates Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” is a slow, methodical burn that’s high on atmosphere (it was shot on 16mm) and, at the center of it all, features one unsettling puppet who stands in as the villain. 


Kacey Mottet Klein plays Marquis, a diplomat to the King of France who finds himself seeking refuge with a family after getting lost in the forest. From the onset, it’s clear something is off about the way these folks operate and he swoons over the lovely and mysterious Sdenka (Ariane Labed), but is perplexed by everyone else, which includes vagabond Piotr (Vasilli Schneider), Jegor (Gregoire Colin), Jegor’s wife Anja (Claire Duburcq), and their son Vlad (Gabriel Pavie). 


But “The Vourdalak,” hits its groove when we’re introduced to the patriarch of the family: Grocha, who takes the shape of a life sized, bloodsucking, puppet voiced by Beau. He’s creepy and disturbing and it only adds the film’s overall sense of unease. One could almost suggest this is a film built on vibes: the simplistic yet eerie scenic backdrops, the dense fog that hovers around the forest, and the crunchy sound design lend themselves to some truly nightmarish sequences (including a few gory moments that’ll quench the thirst of gorehounds everywhere). 


It’s the type of movie built for late night festival programming where the audience who shows up will, more than likely, be on its wavelength. Whether or not it stands the test of time outside of these friendly locales remains to be seen, but in the moment, I was hooked. 


Grade: B 


THE VOURDALAK played at the Cinetopia Film Festival and will be released later this summer. 



1 comment

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han gu
han gu
21 มิ.ย.

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