A Quick Look at SIFF: Citadel, Dragon Pearl, Extraterrestrial

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To quote Whitesnake, here we go again. It’s a beautiful Memorial Day in Seattle, and what better way to spend one of our rare sunny afternoons than crammed into the air-conditioned darkness of a movie theater with a few hundred likeminded film-going compatriots at the Seattle International Film Festival?

As usual, check out the SIFF website for a complete list of films and events.

Citadel

Writer/director Ciaran Foy’s Citadel is the creepiest horror movie I’ve seen in a long time. The film leans heavily on supernatural and religious overtones, but the true frights come from the questions at the heart of the story. After witnessing the brutal attack of his wife, Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) develops a crippling case of agoraphobia. Haunted by violent street urchins, bullied by a local priest, Tommy exists as a victim, afraid of his own shadow. Are these disenfranchised kids, horrific monsters, or, as the priest suggests, demons?

Sinister settings, strong performances, and cinematography that binds you to Tommy, anchor Citadel. The film is wall to wall tension, atmosphere, and sticks with you long after you leave the theater.

Dragon Pearl

Dragon Pearl is a bit disappointing. The film has the potential to be a truly great kids movie, the kind I would have loved and appreciated when I was younger, but it never quite delivers.

There are two things that a great kids movie has to do in my opinion, and, among other problems, Dragon Pearl does neither. First, you have to feel that the kids are legitimately in danger. No matter if there are explosions all around, or if you’re being chased by the Fratellis, there has to be a real sense that things might not automatically work out for the best. Secondly, you can’t have a bunch of adults swoop in at the end, save the day, and make everything better. That’s insulting to the audience. Younger viewers want to imagine that they can save the day, too.

Dragon Pearl isn’t terrible, it’s simply empty, doesn’t go much of anywhere, and lacks the sense of adventure that a story about kids helping an ancient dragon and battling grave robbers should have.

Extraterrestrial

As if waking up after a drunken one-night-stand isn’t awkward enough. There’s the fumbling around to find your clothes strewn all over a dark room, sneaking towards the door, and having to reintroduce yourself. And let’s not forget ushering an equally hungover stranger out of your own apartment so you can shower away the mistakes of the previous evening. That’s all pretty terrible, but the worst is the inevitable morning-after alien invasion.

That’s the premise for Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo’s new sci-fi comedy Extraterrestrial, which he totally pulls off. The humor mixes classic screwball antics with the more modern trend of setting up the most uncomfortable situations possible. And while the presence of the aliens propels the action and hangs over the entire picture, the primary concern is not the invasion. In the middle of all of this, Vigalondo’s film has an undeniable heart, bittersweet romance, and is as smart as it is funny. This is a film, not about the heroes, but the people who hide out during an alien invasion.

A small, simple movie, made on a shoestring budget with a minimum of locations, Extraterrestrial is a prime example of doing a lot with very little. The actors characters carry the show. They’re emotionally complete, personable, and engaging, even when treating each other poorly. A quick, light pace bounce you through, and Extraterrestrial is a fantastic film about what it is to be human, informed by an alien invasion.

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