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#TIFF17 Reviews: The Lodgers, Valley of Shadows, Our People Will Be Healed and There is a House Here

September 17, 2017

By John Corrado

The Toronto International Film Festival is on until September 17th, more information on these movies can be found through the links in the film titles.  Enjoy!

The Lodgers – ★★½ (out of 4) Taking place in rural Ireland in the 1920s, The Lodgers is a ghost story that follows orphaned teenaged twins Rachel (Charlotte Vega) and Edward (Bill Milner), who live in a spooky old house and have to adhere to a set of rules in order to not upset an old family curse.  They can’t permanently leave the house, stay out past midnight or accept strangers inside.  While Edward broodingly abides by these rules, Rachel seeks something more and starts seeing a young war veteran (Eugene Simon) outside the house, despite potentially sinister consequences.  The film’s pace is a little too slow-moving for it to ever really become terrifying, and the story is somewhat predictable, but The Lodgers is a mood piece first and foremost, and a pretty good one at that.  Filmed in Loftus Hall, which gives the film an authentically Gothic feel, the production design here is beautiful throughout, heightened by \impressive cinematography and a solid sense of atmosphere.

Valley of Shadows – ★★★ (out of 4) When sheep start being mutilated and killed in a small village in Norway, the young Aslak (Adam Ekeli) comes to believe that a werewolf or some sort of monster is responsible for the carnage.  But when he sets out to track the monster in the forest, and escape his troubled home life, we come to realize that there might be something even more sinister afoot.  Although Valley of Shadows moves at a slow and deliberate pace, the film maintains a strong sense of atmosphere and a foreboding tone throughout, heightened by the darkly beautiful cinematography.  Playing with minimal dialogue and heavy use of shadows, the film often has the feel of a dark fairy tale, designed to both chill us and deliver a cautionary tale.  Adam Ekeli does a nicely understated job of carrying the film, not having to say much to draw us into his world.

Our People Will Be Healed – ★★★ (out of 4) The latest from veteran Canadian documentarian Alanis Obomsawin, Our People Will Be Healed shows us the lives of some of the people living in Norway House, a First Nations Reserve in Manitoba that is doing all they can to preserve their way of life.  While many of the people have faced insurmountable challenges and abuse, including in the Residential School system, the film doesn’t really focus on the darker aspects of their lives, instead offering a refreshingly positive and uncommonly hopeful portrait of this community.  Among other things, we are taken into the school, where the students are encouraged to learn and there is a teacher offering Cree language classes, and are also shown a traditional Sun Dance ceremony in one of the film’s best sequences.  At 85 years old, Alanis Obomsawin has done so much to document the lives and struggles of First Nations peoples in Canada, and the fact that this is her latest in a career spanning nearly fifty years just makes it all the more impressive.  Shot with both grace and beauty, Our People Will Be Healed powerfully shows us the steps being taken within Norway House to decolonize and reclaim their cultural identity.

There is a House Here – ★★★½ (out of 4) After forming an online pen-pal friendship with Inuk singer Lucie Idlout, documentarian Alan Zweig decided to visit her in Nunavut, and take his camera crew along.  The Toronto filmmaker took three trips in the winter, spring and summer, and received varied reactions to his visits from those in the community.  Some of the locals take it as a chance to tell their stories, openly talking about the abuse that many of them endured at the hands of the government in Residential Schools, and wanting to share with him their cultural traditions like seal hunting.  But others grow frustrated with Alan Zweig’s frank style and invasive questions about alcoholism and ways that he can help, seeing him as another outsider coming in and trying to rescue them.

There are some uncomfortable moments in There is a House Here that come from the fact that Alan Zweig is a white filmmaker shooting a documentary about an Inuit community, but these scenes when the director and subjects clash are fascinating to watch unfold and speak volumes about the current state of conversations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.  They don’t need another white saviour coming in and trying to save them, making no secret of the fact that they are only in this situation because of outside interference.  But at the same time, Alan Zweig represents an empathetic outsider who is curious to learn more, even if he is sometimes biased in his questions or opinions.  It’s a challenging film on multiple levels to be sure, but There is a House Here is also an important and moving work from one of our best documentarians, that offers a beautifully filmed portrait of life in Nunavut and how it’s viewed by those outside the community.

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