The Guilty 2021 Netflix Jake Gyllenhaal

TIFF Report: Reviews of The Guilty, Night Raiders, Earwig and Dashcam

Our second TIFF round-up includes a Netflix thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal, a Canadian sci-fi and a QAnon-adjacent found-footage horror film.

The 2021 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is on in hybrid form from Sept. 9–18.

The Guilty

The Guilty, directed by Antoine Fuqua

It’s almost a stretch to consider Antoine Fuqua’s The Guilty a remake of the 2018 Danish film of the same name; being that the original is a one-location, one-character thriller that unfolds entirely over the phone and that Fuqua’s version practically reuses every beat, it’s closer to being a new production of a play, which means that all of the inherent flaws and qualities of the original are ported over wholesale here. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a cop assigned to 911 duty as he awaits trial for shooting an unarmed suspect. He receives a call from a woman (Riley Keough) who appears to have been abducted by her husband (Peter Sarsgaard), which in turn leads him to discover that the couple’s young daughter has been left home alone. Attempting to piece together not only what happened but where the car might be in order to prevent further horrors, the cop finds himself becoming increasingly engrossed in the case.

Like the original, The Guilty is extremely well put together, with Fuqua adding the chaos and destruction of California wildfires as an additional level of thriller dynamics. Most of the Americanized elements work very well, though Nic Pizzolato’s script also adds levels of superfluous and explicit exposition that wasn’t nearly as obvious in the original. Most of the modifications seem to have been made with Gyllenhaal in mind — he gets more showboat moments and a more sympathetic character than the one played by Jakob Cedegren in the original, but none of it really makes up for the fundamental, across-the-board problem of the film refusing to grapple with the implications of its various twists.

The original version of The Guilty is a flawed film to begin with. It has an irresistible hook that, like most one-location one-character thrillers, eventually peters out into questionable decisions that the film, as taut and effective as it might be, does not seem particularly interested in. Fuqua’s version of The Guilty does not improve on any of the film’s flaws, nor does it enhance any of its qualities. For the most part, it’s the exact same thing.

The Guilty will be released on Netflix on Oct. 1, 2021.

The Guilty, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Riley Keough and Peter Sarsgaard

Night Raiders

Night Raiders, directed by Danis Goulet

Danis Goulet’s Night Raiders has an irresistible sci-fi premise, one that’s as believable as dystopian sci-fi as it is anchored in the real world. Set some 30 years from now, Night Raiders takes place in a world where children are considered the property of the state and held in military-type schools where they learn to conform to a repressive party line. Niska (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) has dedicated her life to keeping her daughter (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart) out of school, which keeps them on the run as fugitives and hunted by government drones every single day. When her daughter is captured, however, Niska finds herself alone against the world.

The parallels between this dystopian world and the plight of First Nations peoples in Canada are obvious and deeply felt. Night Raiders is the rare kind of sci-fi to really find its perfect position vis-à-vis the real world without resorting to endless worldbuilding and far-fetched constructions. What’s most affecting about Night Raiders is that it not only feels possible, it actually happened to generations of First Nations children in the residential school system. Unfortunately, the film draws too heavily on familiar dystopian scenarios and worn-out YA clichés to truly be effective as a thriller.

Once the film establishes its premise, it’s faced with a dicey task: to weave Children of Men-level thrills out of a very modest Canadian budget. The film simply lacks the means to properly convey the scope and breadth of what Goulet is trying to say, and so it winds up relying on clichés we’ve seen dozens of times in the past. It’s definitely an auspicious debut for Goulet, however. The rest of her career should be one to watch.

Night Raiders is slated for a Montreal release on Oct. 8, 2021.

Night Raiders, starring Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Brooklyn Letexier-Hart


Lucile Hadžihalilović Earwig
Earwig, directed by Lucile Hadžihalilović

Dream logic and imagery loom large in Lucile Hadžihalilović’s Earwig, a slow-burn drama that uses overt genre elements to middling effect. Albert (Paul Hilton) is tasked with the guardianship of a young girl (Romane Hemelaers) whose teeth are made of her own frozen spit. Diligently, day after day, Albert tasks himself with the replacement of her teeth, answering a phone call from a mysterious master while an equally mysterious woman with a scarred face (Romola Garai) watches from afar. Where Earwig goes and what it does when it gets there is just about as cryptic as this short summary. It’s a bracingly slow and hallucinatory journey that seems to be more about mood and imagery than anything else. 

Earwig creeps along slowly and opaquely, mostly devoid of dialogue for long stretches of time and sometimes dipping into complete visual abstraction. The foundation of the film is in Gothic horror, but the delivery is so splintered that you’d hardly recognize any of it. In that sense, it resembles the cinema of Peter Strickland in its absolutely fragmented and abstracted approach to genre — though, if I’m being perfectly honest, I respond better to the sense of humour found in Strickland’s work as opposed to the airless and hermetic atmosphere of Earwig. Nevertheless, Hadžihalilović is swinging for the fences here, and it’s hard not to at least respect the hustle.

Earwig does not currently have a Montreal release date.

Earwig, starring Romane Hemelaers, Paul Hilton and Romola Garai


Dashcam, directed by Rob Savage

From the director of last year’s Zoom horror film Host comes Dashcam, a profoundly 2021 found-footage horror film that’s as ingenious as it is tedious. Annie Hardy (of the band Giant Drag) stars as Annie, an abrasive right-wing streamer with a hatred for libtards and COVID-19 protocols. (A cursory glance at Hardy’s social media presence seems to suggest that she shares at least part of those views — though, as the film pretty clearly demonstrates, it’s nearly impossible to parse what’s a put-on and what isn’t.) Annie hosts a show called BandCar in which she improvises raps based on the suggestions of her followers, half of whom seem to hatewatch out of spite. Fed up with quarantine and mask protocols, Annie goes to the U.K. to visit her former bandmate Stretch and winds up (in a series of events that is 100% her fault, to be fair) unleashing adrenochrome demons straight from the minds of the most methed-out QAnon supporter.

As political and social satire, the best thing I can say about Dashcam is that it’s extremely chaotic. It’s unclear whether we’re supposed to laugh with or at Hardy, which is more of a feature than a bug. She’s simply one of the most unlikeable and annoying protagonists I’ve ever seen in a horror film, which seems like an exercise in forcing empathy by director Rob Savage. Dashcam certainly lacks the on-the-nose quality of anemic MAGA horror satires like The Hunt or Ready or Not, but its purposely grating tone and irony-poisoned main character are definitely designed to test your patience. As a found-footage horror film, it’s pretty effective, though it’s so of the moment in every single way that its sell-by date is rapidly approaching.

Dashcam does not currently have a Montreal release date.

Read our first TIFF report here. Check the TIFF website for ticket availabilities for films being screened digitally this year.

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