VIFF Quick Reviews: Guest of Honour, In the Tall Grass, Burning​ Cane, and Hard-Core

The Film Festival is a busy time, and I want to make sure that every film gets its due, so in an effort to catch up, here are quick reviews of four films I saw at VIFF but hadn’t had enough time to write about.

Guest of Honour / VIFF 2019
Guest of Honour / VIFF 2019

Guest of Honour

Guest of Honour is the latest from esteemed Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan. While it’s weird and twisty melodrama with lots of weirdness and twists (seriously, rabbit ears are an important plot point in this film, but only when they’re fried) and some great performances (David Thewlis and Laysla de Oliveira are both 100% committed to their parts even when their characters are being ri-god-damned-diculous), it doesn’t actually really work.

This is a shame because it really should. There are many parts of the film that work really well, but those parts often feel like they’re working despite the movie as a whole and not for it.

The story follows the father and daughter played by Thewlis and de Oliveira through several timelines that sync up in the end. There’s the present in which Thewlis has just passed, the near past, the far past, and the very far past. These are woven together in and out of order, with each serving to illuminate something of what is really going on.

And it almost works. It’s convoluted, but Thewlis and Oliveira are compelling, but not enough to save the story from collapsing in on itself. Yet, at the same time, you can see the intent and that there is merit here.

In the Tall Grass / VIFF 2019
In the Tall Grass / VIFF 2019

In the Tall Grass

Vincenzo Natali knows a thing or two about horror, having directed (among others) Cube and Splice. He has a knack for creepy visuals, and that is back on display here. Two siblings are on their way across the country when they stop near a church and a field of tall grass. One of them, the pregnant Becky (Laysla de Oliveira again, and good again), hears a young boy crying out for help, and they venture into the tall grass to help.

Of course, the tall grass is alive and hungry, and their problems have just begun. Shunting them around in both time and space, they lose all bearing on reality as the boy, his mother, and a deranged Patrick Wilson all come a gunning for them. Wilson, in particular, is great in this. He really leans into the insanity of what’s going on with his character, and whether he’s attacking or singing, he steals every scene he’s in.

Also, the movie is creepy as hell with some effective gore and jump scares and some downright great use of sound design. This​ one is definitely worth your time.

Burning Cane / VIFF 2019
Burning Cane / VIFF 2019

Burning Cane

Burning Cane won big at Tribeca this year, and it’s easy to see why. Wendell Pierce leads the cast in a story told in vignettes about a small rural town in the south that is sweaty from the heat, the humidity, and the despair of their everyday lives. Each of the characters is flawed and broken; each has their own pain to deal with.

It’s a strange film in that it feels like a slow burn despite being less than 90 minutes long, and while it didn’t quite grab me, it is definitely worth seeing when you consider that director Phillip Youman is 19, fresh out of school, and this is his first feature.

Burning Cane will probably be an indie awards darling, and it’s easy to see why. With its quiet, moody tone and timeless feel, it is definitely worth checking out for yourself.

Hard-core / VIFF 2019
Hard-core / VIFF 2019

Hard Core

Hard-Core is about two loser friends who find and befriend a robot while digging for a shogun’s lost horde of gold. This one should be directly up my alley, but thanks to an overstuffed plot that sags under its own weight, it doesn’t really work.

The story is adapted from a manga, and it feels very much like the people making it decided that there were no elements that could be left out. The abundance of plots makes the film convoluted and overlong. It often bounced back and forth between subplots when all I wanted it to do was come back to the robot.

Still, the design of the robot is great, and the resolution is interesting and if you’re a fan of weirdness, then maybe give this one a shot.


So there are four more movies from the festival that I saw. Of course, not everything is gold, and not everything has to be. Some of these movies will work like gangbusters for some of you, though, so as always, I am on team “you should decide for yourself” about all of them.


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