With 117 feature films and 14 shorts, this year's Miami International Film Festival presents a challenge to Miami moviegoers: How will you decide which handful of films to see during its ten-day run? Let these reviews of this week's most buzz-worthy selections be your guide.
The Hypnotist: After two Nicholas Sparks adaptations in as many years, Lasse Hallström returns to Sweden with this moody thriller in which a lonely cop (Tobias Zilliacus) and a disgraced, pill-popping hypnotist (Mikael Persbrandt, playing the best kind of hypnotist) team up to stop a serial killer loose in Stockholm. They do not fall in love, and neither of them is Miley Cyrus.
The Hypnotist is, however, based on a novel by Lars Kepler, a distinctly un-Sparksian pseudonymous writer who specializes in Swedish murder. Amid a gloomy barrage of blurred city lights and silhouettes, Zilliacus's lonely cop enlists Persbrandt's hypnotist to retrieve clues from the sole survivor of a family stabbed to death. But when the hypnotist's wife (Hallström's wife, Lena Olin) is drugged and their son is kidnapped, it's only the first in a series of twists piling up like a platter of warm, saucy meatballs.
An anomalous 20-minute sequence of rote procedure threatens to unravel the momentum like a month-old H&M sweater, but otherwise Hallström builds suspense at a simmer, creeping his camera around corners and lingering on the small, private movements — no Björn Borg leaping from the shadows, waving a herring.
Matrimonio: Hollywood filmmakers have made weddings the ultimate goal in romances for so long it almost feels clichéd to note the cliché. With Matrimonio, Argentine director Carlos Jaureguialzo offers a refreshing perspective on what happens long after the wedding. By focusing on a day in the life of one couple, the film reveals a sometimes grim, often humorous, and ultimately affirming observation of aged love.
Esteban (Darío Grandinetti) and Molly (Cecilia Roth) have been married for more than 20 years, and the effort has left them exhausted. Inspired by James Joyce's Ulysses, the film first follows the point of view of Esteban and then that of Molly, who rises from under the bed sheets only once her husband has left home.
As the film dives into dramatic irony, some interesting, if at times heavy-handed, coincidences in their lives occur that seem to subvert their mutually tired feelings. Matrimonio features a few too many precious moments of happenstance, but it does maintain a brisk pace and features a couple of Spanish cinema's wizened delights of acting, as Grandinetti and Roth both bring a charming humility to their roles that only comes with age.
Sanitarium: The three directors of this triptych of chilling tales (Bryan Ramirez, Kerry Valderrama, and Bryan Ortiz) clearly adore their horror movie predecessors such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone. But their trips inside the minds of Sanitarium's steadily unraveling characters lack one thing their heroes perfected: the element of surprise.
Dr. Stenson (Malcolm McDowell), head psychiatrist at the titular institution, guides the film through three descents into madness: An artist begins taking orders from his spooky statues; an abused child is stalked by a monster only he can see; a college professor goes off the doomsday-prepper deep end. There's very little gore in these flicks, with filmmakers preferring to rely on creepy angles and eerie silence in suspense-building scenes.
But that suspense is undermined by the film's simple and predictable plots. (You do know, after all, that the person you're watching winds up in the looney bin.) Wishy-washy performances by most of the cast don't help. McDowell is a bland madhouse ruler who's not quite evil but not quite nice, and John Glover's art savant never makes the transition from quirky to believably murderous. Lou Diamond Phillips turns in a convincingly crazy apocalypse theorist in the third story, but by then, viewers of this midnight movie will probably have fallen asleep.