Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival Reviews: MOPE, IN THE QUARRY, and THE SONATA

The 23rd edition of South Korea’s Bucheon International Film Festival (BIFAN) took place from June 27–July 7, 2019, featuring a bevy of horror, science fiction, thriller, and other genre films from around the globe. Chris Weatherspoon and Joseph Perry attended in person, and here we give our thoughts on some of the festival’s entries.

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Chris Weatherspoon: The title of the dark comedy Mope originates from a term used to describe the performers that exist on the lowest rung of the adult film industry’s social caste system. They’re the guys who do the jobs that respectable performers refuse to do, which can include anything from bizarre fetish and extreme kink shoots, to even cleanup duty. In Lucas Heyne’s film of the same title, our mopes are Steve “Driller” Hill (Nathan Stewart, The Boy Who Would be King) and Tom Dong (Kelly Sry, Awkward), two L.A. losers who quickly bond over their passion for porn after meeting on a bukakke shoot. Tom, a former IT professional who dreams of working in adult films, doesn’t believe an Asian man can become a porn star, and is happy with any film work he can get. Steve, on the other hand, has grand designs to be the next great household name in adult entertainment, and with a persuasive passion that the Devil himself couldn’t resist, he convinces Tom that they can conquer the world of porn together. However, as the two work their way through the industry, Steve’s obsessive nature leads them down a dark path that has tragic consequences. Mope isn’t about the beautiful starlets and glamorous sex often showcased in films that peek behind the scenes of the adult film industry. Instead, Heynes shines a spotlight on the often ignored, unglamorous, yet equally exploitive corner of porn. The world of Mope is sad and filthy, with desaturated colors, run down and poorly maintained locations often filled with garbage, and sleazy characters and sex so unappealing that one wonders why anyone would pay to watch it. In the film, porn producer Eric (Brian Huskey, VEEP), the ringleader who runs the studio, and his sleazy assistant Chris (Max Adler, Glee) give viewers a taste of the kind of people running the industry. David Arquette also appears in the movie to play adult film auteur Rocket, who although he is somehow less sleazy than Eric, is nevertheless still less humane. The chemistry between leads Sry and Stewart is amazing, serving as the film’s anchor to reality as so much of the plot and dialogue are outrageous that one would have a hard time realizing this film is based on a true story. Stewart delivers a convincing performances as viewers watch Steve move from an up and coming go-getter to a maniacal, wild card obsessive. 

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Joseph Perry: Uruguayan thriller In the Quarry (En El Pozo; 2018) is an effective slow burner about four young people spending what is supposed to be a fun, relaxing day at an abandoned quarry. Plans of barbecuing and swimming eventually turn dark and violent for Alicia (Paula Silva), her possessive boyfriend Bruno (Augusto Gordillo), and brothers Tincho (Rafael Beltran) and Tola (Luis Pazos). Everyone except Bruno grew up together in their small town, and they all share fond memories of the quarry. Alicia met Bruno after moving to a large city, and he chides the brothers for their simple country lifestyles. Matters are complicated because Alicia is secretly having an intimate relationship with one of the brothers.

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The film looks at gender roles and expectations, with macho bravado and jealousy leading to a vicious turn of events. The ensemble cast does fine work, and the co-writing/co-directing team of Bernardo Antonaccio and Rafael Antonnacio pace things nicely, keeping things seething and slowly bubbling until an act of brutality unleashes the characters’ true natures.

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 Chris Weatherspoon: In French/U.K./Russian/Latvian coproduction The Sonata, young virtuoso violinist Rose (Freya Tingley, Hemlock Grove) reluctantly decides to visit the mansion that she has inherited after learning of the death of her estranged father. Unbeknownst to the world, including her agent and manager Charles (Simon Akbarian, Don’t Tell Me the Boy Was Mad), Rose’s father was the great Richard Marlow (Rutger Hauer), a brilliant composer who was also destined for greatness, but who instead disappeared from the public eye after succumbing to his own musical obsessions. When Rose discovers a music score with unusual markings, she works with her manager to decipher it in hopes of performing the piece to honor her late father. However, while unraveling the score’s mysterious melody, Rose uncovers secrets about her father’s dark past that reveal the  Sonata’s true sinister purpose. The Sonata examines themes of personal sacrifice and unchecked personal obsessions and will be a treat for anyone that has spent time locked away perfecting any kind of craft.

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Freya Tingley’s take on Rose, as a strong women who resents her father, but who also wants to offer him redemption by completing his final work, gives the story emotional depth, and audiences will root for her to finish even though her goal may have unpleasant consequences. Though he has little screen time, Hauer’s Richard Marlow character manages to maintain a menacing, unseen presence throughout the film. Andrew Desmond (Galaxy of Horror) has masterfully spun a mystery horror film that will keep audiences watching until the end to see if Rose is ever able to perform the somber, haunting sonata in its true form for its intended purpose.