SIFF Double Feature – Battledream Chronicle and The Night Stalker
Battledream Chronicle: In the year 2100, life in Alain Bidard’s animated film Battledream Chronicle is mostly lived in a virtual world. Things seem to be going along fine, when a being called Isfet takes control of this digital reality and forces all countries to battle for supremacy in an online game called Battledream. (I’m not really sure why to be honest with you. But it doesn’t really matter to the story in the end; it just is.) Eventually, the Empire of Mortemonde enslaves everyone except for the nation of Sablereve, who are now the last standing independent nation. If they lose their upcoming battle, they will face what millions of other memory-wiped slaves do, being forced to earn XP for Mortemonde every month or die. (I’m not sure what they do with that XP, but once again, it doesn’t really matter.) If they win, there is a chance for freedom. The leaders of Sablereve feel doomed until a young slave from Martinique, Syanna Meridian, discovers a hidden weapon in the Battledream that may help to save them all. Can they overcome impossible odds to survive the Battledream, and what will they have to sacrifice in order to win?
I really liked this film. Bidard wrote, directed, animated, edited, and scored it, and while there are some issues, it won me over in the end. It’s a little too long, which causes it to drag in the middle, and some of the animation is awkward. (Walking is the glitchiest action, but it doesn’t take away much from the film. The drawings themselves are quite lovely.) The women wear a lot of high heels and tiny outfits, and while they are not egregiously sexualized, they could have used more coverage. BUT, this is a woman-centered film, and while I think there are a few folks of the Caucasian persuasion, most everyone appears to be African-adjacent, which was really nice to see in a gaming context. This is a work of Afrofuturism coming out of Martinique, combining Caribbean history, Egyptian mythology and philosophy, video gaming, and probably some references I missed entirely. I’m not really into online gaming, so I wasn’t sure if I was going to find this interesting, but I did. For all the big fighting scenes in this, the film is not really about battles, it’s about hope.
Final Grade: B
Battledream Chronicle plays at the Ark Lodge Cinemas on June 6th and SIFF Cinema Egyptian on June 9th.
The Night Stalker: Oh serial killers movies, why do you draw me in with your siren song? Nothing is guaranteed to freak me out more, while at the same time piquing my interest all the way in. Director Megan Griffiths deals with our fascination/repulsion with serial killers in her new film, The Night Stalker, a fictional account of Richard Ramirez’s (Lou Diamond Phillips) final days before he dies of cancer. Lawyer Kit (Bellamy Young) visits Ramirez in prison, hoping to convince him to confess to a killing for which someone else is on death row. She doesn’t lead with this, but hopes to gain his trust by appearing to want to understand him in a way he never has been before. While they converse, the film flashes back to both their pasts, showing how the events in their lives shaped their identities. Ramirez was strongly influenced by his Cousin Mike, and Kit was a teenager in thrall to the idea of the Night Stalker himself. She prowled the evening streets both hoping and fearing that he would find her. As she faces Ramirez at the end of his life, she needs to come to terms with his impact on her personality and actions.
This is a very interesting idea at the core of a not-so-interesting film. It’s not horrible: the performances are good and Kit’s portrayal is grounded in a realism that few female characters are ever allowed to have. She has a complicated sexuality that does not negatively affect her ability to do her job or live her life. Women in movies who are not “good” girls are often punished for it, but here it’s just a part of who Kit is. It’s in the quid pro quo nature of her relationship with Ramirez that the film sinks into cliché. I don’t actually think Silence of the Lambs holds up over time (Anthony Hopkins I am looking at you, what with your scenery chewing and all.) but its impact on the thriller genre is undeniable. And the relationship between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling is echoed over and over again in popular culture. (See every FBI related television show and movie since 1991.) There’s nothing in the presentation here that gives it a fresh spin, which I found incredibly frustrating because there’s a lot of meat in the film’s central conceit.
Final Grade: C
The Night Stalker Plays June 4th at the SIFF Cinema Uptown and June 5th at AMC Pacific Place 11.