Critical Focus TIFF21 Rushes: Schrader’s I’m Your Man, Fuqua’s The Guilty. and Karam’s The Humans

by Jacqueline Valencia

I’m Your Man (2021)

Directed by Maria Schrader

A successful, but lonely archaeologist (Marren Eggert), Alma, is talked into test driving a romantic robot companion (Dan Stevens), Tom, for extra funding of one her projects. At first, she barely goes through the motions, but Tom is charmingly persistent. Will Alma finish her assignment or will Tom win her over?

If this film were labelled anything, but a comedy, I would’ve been highly accepting. It works as a romantic drama and not much else. This isn’t to say that Stevens and Eggert aren’t a sight to behold. Their working chemistry is off the charts and it’s probably what kept me watching. However, it’s a predictable story despite its denouement. Science fiction or future casting isn’t played into much so it is hard to really place when the film takes place and how the technology comes about.

Kudos to a comforting score by Tobias Wagner that accentuates the slow burn that is Tom and Alma’s romance. The film is a quiet escape and I recommend it for the subdued pre-Raphaelite Marren Eggert (she glows, despite the isolation she portrays), and Dan Stevens who can go from camp in one film to robot with ease in another.

The Guilty (2021)

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

I don’t know why things get remade (especially to English audiences), but they do. Very rarely is something better than the original. In this case the original was a Danish submission for the 91st Oscars called, Den skyldige. The premise: a 911 dispatcher, Joe, receives a call from a kidnapped woman and thus begins a race against time to save the lives of the woman and her children.

In this remake, Fuqua enlists Jake Gyllenhaal as Joe, and the voices of Riley Keough, and Peter Sarsgaard, among others, for an almost exact copy of the first film. However, as always, Gyllenhaal delivers. His anxiety, frustration, and the ultimate guiltiness of his protagonist is palpable. There’s a fire in a combo of the direction, writing, and acting in this redo that compels the viewer to continue with this almost one man show.

The emotional rollercoaster Joe goes through an emotional rollercoaster, spoken through frantic telephone conversations and the brief interruptions of this co-workers. He’s an officer that’s been placed on this duty until a court hearing the next day. On this last night at dispatch, he’s doing his job while still dealing with the anxiety of, “what is the right thing to do?”

I enjoyed the journey that this film took me through because it hit timely and prescient points that centers it in the now. One man shows in a time of isolation really work and since this is headed for Netflix soon, this will surely do well.

The Humans (2021)

Directed by Stephen Karam

What is a horror film that isn’t billed as a horror, but is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in a long time? This film. Honestly, as someone who loves horror in all its forms, I’ve been posting and deleting a lot about a popular horror film that I despise. But everyone seems to like it, so let people enjoy things, right?

This one I loved.

The Humans is based on Stephen Karam’s 2016 Pulitzer Prize nominated play and it’s his film directorial debut. Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) and Richard (Steven Yeun) have just moved into a run down NYC apartment. They are hosting Thanksgiving dinner for Brigid’s father, Erik (Richard Jenkins), mother Deidre (Jayne Houdyshell), dementia suffering grandmother, Momo (Jane Squibb), and sister, Aimee (Amy Schumer) for the first time. The apartment is barely moved into with a few blowup beds, a dining set, and a sofa. The lights in the building constantly blow up. The neighbours make abrupt noises, particularly the upstairs neighbour that stomps so hard on the floor that the light fixtures go out of place. The laundry and heating pipes are loud as they bang and hiss intermittently.

However, the family does what family does and tries to have a heartwarming time in the obvious decay of the space. Erik looks out into the street through the frosted windows that do not open. Shadowy figures like ghosts outside intrigue him and cause him some fear. He asks Brigid who’s outside, she brushes him off and says it’s probably the landlord or his wife. Deidre goes upstairs to explore with a flashlight, but every time she’s up there something big, a cockroach, a rat, or a spirit attacks her. Dinner is almost ready though, and there is family drama to rehash and reveal. Let’s get back to family.

And boy does it reveal and captivate! It’s not just that everyone does an amazing job at keeping us wondering what the hell is going on, but that the setting itself scares and causes discomfort. The bubbling and sweating of the walls conveys the inner turmoil that the characters hold in. Deidre seeks the respect of her daughters, but can hear them mocking her through the walls. Erik paints himself as the authority on all things spiritual and actual, but is haunted by a big secret and the constant care of a mother who is just a shell of who she used to be. There are moments in this film that will cause great anxiety or sadness, especially, and I hate saying it again, in these lockdown times. It takes place almost entirely in a dark labyrinth-like apartment where things go wrong. I mean, nothing really goes right and everyone keeps consoling each other or says the wrong things, then tries to badly right them. Family is family and these characters only have each other, thus they must stick it out.

The question is, do they? Brigid is highly in debt from a failed artistic dream, and her dad tells her, to just go into retail already, as if it is advice instead of an admonishment. Yet her dad’s secret changes the tide. With the creak of a far off door, the feather of a possibly dead bird by the window, and the emotional rot rendered on the screen, you have here a Thanksgiving horror film. It’s because it is based on a very real present, like a diorama of where we all are now; where nothing is sure, even when we try to be “normal.” When there is no solution, people continue to survive, even in heartache and stagnation. What kind of life is that?

Bleeding walls, family drama, and panic attacks. Hi. It’s 2021 and how long will this go on?

Please watch this film when you can.

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