The Underside of a Film Festival, Where Some Dark Treasures Dwell

IFC Films

Casey Afleck in “The Killer Inside Me.”

For several weeks now friends have been asking for Tribeca Film Festival advice: What about “My Trip to Al-Qaeda”? Is “Micmacs” any good? How did they make a movie out of “Freakonomics”?

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I’ve had no opinions to offer about those high-toned entries, however, because I’ve been spending all my time with the festival’s seamy underbelly: a rich, fatty layer of horror, crime, martial arts and transgressive comedy. Not every movie can be good for you, after all.

The festival organizers helpfully group some of these films into a series called Cinemania (previously known as Midnight), which this year consists of three Asian genre movies and three boundary-nudging comedies. It feels like a ghetto — a place for works that don’t distinguish themselves in some more respectable fashion — but at least one of the films, “Zonad,” deserves wider attention.

It’s an Irish space-alien sex comedy, except that in this case the alien, played by Simon Delaney, is actually a pudgy escaped convict wearing a red vinyl bodysuit and a bicycle racing helmet. He manages to sell himself as a space voyager to the innocent inhabitants of Ballymoran, and especially to the town’s women — all the town’s women. “Zonad” was written and directed by the brothers John and Kieran Carney, but it’s a far cry from John Carney’s last feature, the quiet musical “Once”; imagine that John Waters had been flown in to consult on a quaint rural farce.

“Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives” and “Spork” belong to a peculiarly American genre, the politically correct comedy of inclusion. Israel Luna’s “Trannies” earned some prefestival publicity when the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said the film was misleading and exploitative and called for it to be withdrawn. It’s hard to argue with “exploitative,” given that the film is quite consciously a Quentin Tarantino-style, mock-exploitation exercise complete with scratchy reel changes. The banter among the transgender heroines is funny; the lurid revenge-fantasy violence, not so much.

“Spork,” written and directed by J. B. Ghuman Jr., is about a 14-year-old hermaphrodite, but her condition is window dressing — it’s an out-there way to make her an outcast. The film sets up the standard contrast between suburban soullessness and trailer-dwelling authenticity, and pits them against each other in a school dance contest; it’s “Step Up” or “Glee” or “High School Musical” with the sensibility of John Cameron Mitchell’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”

On the Asian side of the equation, Lee Yong-ju’s “Possessed” is a standard Korean horror film with one twist: fervent Christianity figures in the story about a girl’s disappearance. Le Thanh Son’s “Clash” is an over-the-top martial-arts crime thriller that luxuriates in that format’s clichés, with special attention paid to beautiful women in low-cut blouses breaking men’s arms. The unusual thing about it, for an American audience, is that it was made in Vietnam rather than Hong Kong or Thailand.

There are genre pleasures to be had outside of the Cinemania series — films that keep better company but still go for the gut. “The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” by the British writer and director J. Blakeson, is a brutally efficient little thriller that’s also a seminar on hostage taking. It delivers queasy thrills like clockwork and contains several neat twists in the relationship among the two male kidnappers and their female victim. It also benefits from excellent performances by Eddie Marsan (“Happy-Go-Lucky”) and Gemma Arterton (“Quantum of Solace”).

Jorge Navas’s “Blood and Rain” will appeal to those who like their thrillers slow moving, dreamy and bummed out. Set during one long, rainy night in Bogotá, Colombia, which here resembles some lower circle of hell, this film tracks the doom-struck movements of a cabbie on a mission of revenge and the beautiful drug addict he happens to pick up. Beyond the cryptic narrative, it’s clear that Mr. Navas is most interested in expressing his anger over the current state of things in Colombia.

The British director Michael Winterbottom takes on pulp-fiction royalty with “The Killer Inside Me,” his adaptation of the most famous novel by the cult hero Jim Thompson. Casey Affleck plays the psychopathic deputy Lou Ford, and Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson are the women he savagely beats up, in scenes that have drawn protests at preview screenings. In the novel Thompson used Ford’s hypnotic interior monologue to draw attention away from the claptrap plot; the challenge in a screen adaptation is to find another way to accomplish that sleight of hand, and Mr. Winterbottom hasn’t quite managed it.

Perhaps the purest expression of genre extremism in this year’s festival is “Tetsuo: The Bullet Man,” Shinya Tsukamoto’s third film about men whose anger slowly turns their bodies into metal. It contains the hallmarks that Mr. Tsukamoto’s cultists expect: the blue-gray-brown palette, the oozing dark liquids, the relentless urban anomie. But this time the metal man is Eurasian and most of the film’s dialogue is in English. Japanese or English, it doesn’t matter: creepiness is the true global language.


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