Toronto: Old horrors, new horrors

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Please understand, I take getting scared very seriously. It's the only reaction I have at the movies that dependably reduces me to a childlike state, inspiring deep feelings of appreciation for a director's bag of tricks. (I won't be the first critic to call the thriller the most technically demanding of genres.) Lazy horror bums me out. So let's just say it: George Romero, these days a full-time Torontonian, has made a stultifyingly dull zombie movie in Survival of the Dead. It lumbers. Not in a good way. You have no idea how much it pains me to write such things.

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Filling up the midnight theater to greet their owlish hero, the audience hooted at Romero's digital decapitations, selectively ignoring his film's ridiculous Irish-feud plot (two warring clans duke it out on isolated Plum Island) and awful line readings. There is no deeper symbolism here: no shopping mall, no money-grubbing Dennis Hopper, no class war. Joe Dante, another graying director high in my estimation for making Homecoming and Small Soldiers, fell asleep on the job with The Hole, a semishocker (unnecessarily in 3-D) about a trio of ghost-busting teens who probe their basement for buried psychological terrors. Like Romero, Dante seems to have stepped away from his subversive edge, perhaps to play to a mainstream that operates with more slickness.

These failures prompt a question that I'm almost embarrassed to ask: Is making horror a young person's game? Does upturning the societal applecart—with zombies, plagues, what have you—require a certain youthful idealism, a belief that things can be fixed? Karyn Kusama, 41, the director of Jennifer's Body, doesn't exactly help my argument; she's the weakest link of that middling film. But Australia's punchy Speirig twins (Michael and Peter) have certainly evolved from Undead, their 2003 feature debut, to make the Gattaca-stylish Daybreakers, about a blood epidemic in a vampire-run future. Without ruining anything, I'll say that the movie ends on a note of bona fide revolution, a black Trans Am driving toward the sunrise. It's pretty sweet.

Finally, let's discuss two movies about modern-day monsters: Michael Moore certainly keeps his revolutionary flame burning withCapitalism: A Love Story, greeted with applause even at the normally reserved critics' screening. It scores several big-time, crowd-pleasing moments, especially Moore's juxtapositions of old biblical flicks with today's scares. (Jesus denies helping blind Lazarus by saying: "I can't help you with that preexisting condition.") The doc, vaguely about the selling of the profit motive, is assembled poorly, its through line hard to discern. (And Moore's acts of impromptu theater, like wrapping Wall Street in crime tape, are getting tiresome.) But the guy truly cares, as does Fatih Akin, whom I never thought would be able to make another movie as exuberant as 2004's Head-On. He has, with Soul Kitchen, about the pressures of a running a restaurant but also revising (and revising) a life. Scary stuff, indeed. But thrilling, in the best sense.


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