Toronto: On Hereafter, and aging ungracefully

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After watching George Romero's distressingly dull Survival of the Dead here at the festival last year, I posed a question that I'm still somewhat ashamed of: Is horror a young person's game? Perhaps the stuff of the supernatural is better slung by younger directors readier to take risks of style and content—or maybe it's just that oldsters are sensible enough not to be scared of radioactive zombies or whatever. Clint Eastwood's gawdawful Hereafter, a supremely awkward psychic-powers film with the dubious distinction of having landed the Closing Night slot of the New York Film Festival, lends ammo to this idea. There are few things out of Hollywood I've thrilled to more than the robust filmmaking career of Eastwood. But boy, has Squint stumbled here. Once the movie settles down from its opening scene of CGI destruction (an impressive tidal wave), it actually becomes one of those Dead Zone -type forearm grabbers, in which psychic Matt Damon touches hands with various people and helps them communicate with the dead. Aren't such scripts better left to Brian DePalma's rejection pile (in 1978)? Damon isn't allowed to steer the movie toward humor, even as his Dickens' loving character goes to England and—you can't make this stuff up—meets the real-life Derek Jacobi. Solemnly ridiculous, it's the kind of film that, like The Lovely Bones, requires a gentle and forgiving audience, one that will still be disappointed (if they don't already live in kookyland). But another filmmaker actually managed to disappoint me even more—until I finally saw something extraordinary. Jørgen Leth, 73, is the spry Danish director whom Lars von Trier dueled with in The Five Obstructions, one of the few films I needed to see twice at Toronto, that's how blown away I was. Leth's new film, Erotic Man, had me beyond excited, until I saw it. Charitably called dirty-old-man cinema, it basically involves the director persuading beautiful, young black women in disadvantaged countries to roll around nude on hotel-room beds while he photographs them. Ostensibly a recreation of Leth's past relationships, it certainly celebrates the female form (alternate title: I Like Big Butts and I Cannot Lie ) but also feels ridiculously exploitative, vaguely racist and dunderheaded about its own objectification. Color me shocked that Let Me In, the superb American remake of the Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In, was the film to salvage my mood. Set in a vividly rendered 1983 (do horror films work better as period pieces, like The House of the Devil ?), the movie offers up a sincere, almost-Spielbergian coming-of-age romance with sharp glints of humor about courtship. ("Would you still like me if I wasn't a girl?" asks a 12-year-old vamp of her befuddled suitor.) The two leads, Kick-Ass's Chloë Grace Moretz and The Road 's Kodi Smit-McPhee uncork Haley-Joel Osment-level performances, sensitive and stirring. I'm prepared to call this better than the original, by several lengths. Maybe I'm just reinvigorated by youth.

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the Toronto Film Festival


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