(Welcome to The Fantastic Fest Diaries, where we will be chronicling every single movie we see at the United States’ largest genre film festival.)

Welcome to Fantastic Fest, day five. In this diary entry: a Brazilian horror movie that doesn’t know what to do with a strong premise, a strange coming-of-age mystery, and a nasty slasher flick starring Seann William Scott as a serial killer.

The Night Shifter Squanders an Incredible Premise for Standard Scares

For about 30 minutes or so, The Night Shifter feels like it could be the heir apparent to The Sixth Sense and the best, most clever “someone can talk to dead people” horror movie in years. Stênio is a coroner can speak to the deceased, an ability he was born with and is never explained, which means he spends his late nights alone in a morgue, chatting with corpses as he examines and repairs their broken bodies. At home, his marriage is falling apart – his wife is having an affair with the owner of a local bakery. So when the corpse of a criminal drops some knowledge about a gangland betrayal, Stênio uses dead man’s secret to set up his otherwise innocent romantic rival for a brutal death. Of course things proceed to go wrong. How could they not?

What a hook! The “hero” at the center of this film is a craven monster, a man who uses his supernatural abilities for selfish, petty ends. When director Dennison Ramalho keeps Stênio on the street and at work, The Night Shifter excels. It feels like a crime movie, a vigilante movie, even, where the hero orchestrates havoc with the help of men who have shuffled off their mortal coil.

So it’s unfortunate that the film takes a hard turn so soon. After his brush with dishing out his unique form of revenge, Stênio finds his home haunted and his family threatened. Mostly by jump scares. The ability to speak to the dead shifts into the background as Stênio protects his family from one haunted house cliche after another, all of which are coated with a thin layer of…well, let’s just say an “unenlightened” view of female characters.

The Night Shifter is fine. It’s creepy. The haunted house stuff works well enough. But what initially feels like a breath of fresh air soon starts to smell like an old tomb – yeah, it’s creepy enough, but we’ve inhaled this flavor of horror in a hundred other movies.

Savage is a Meandering Anti-Mystery

As far as meandering, noir-tinged, coming-of-age anti-mysteries set at French campgrounds where people may or may not be getting killed by a leopard goes, Savage is certainly gets the job done. That sentence certainly suggests a tone: slow, dreamy, and less concerned with plot and more focused on how our young heroine navigates this strange summer filled with dread and growth and man-eating big cats.

As that heroine, Lily-Rose Depp is well-cast – she radiates a natural aloofness, a disenchantment and a disillusionment that should be familiar to anyone who wrestled with teen angst (AKA everyone). It’s her job to wander through this movie and gently bump into a number of oddball narrative threads, including a mystery writer with a strange hobby, an underwear thief, a missing local boy, and some low-key murder accusations. There’s a lot going on in Savage, but not much happens. It’s a weird summer, a transformative one, but not one that’s particularly thrilling.

To be fair, Savage isn’t attempting to be a thriller, but one wishes it had a bit more of a pulse. This is fine when it’s an observational mystery tale intentionally built without a satisfying solution, but it’s not fine when the conclusion grasps for a profundity it did not earn. The film’s dialogue insists that lives where changed forever, but the film itself is never convincing of that. Perhaps it’s a vibe issue. Audiences who can key into what director Vincent Mariette is doing here may find that emotional connection, but the film, like its heroine, is too aloof to meet us halfway.

Bloodline is a Grisly Giallo Riff Starring Seann William Scott, of All People

The only thing filthier than the gore in Bloodline is the synth-heavy, pulsating soundtrack. It gives the film a steady, dangerous pulse and in a sea of other horror scores that aim for a similar target, it’s close to perfect bullseye. Early on, this score suggests you’re in for a slick throwback to Giallo and stylized, trashy Italian slasher flicks. The sequence where we witness a graphic childbirth intercut with a flashback to man literally having his guts removed from his belly seals the deal.

Seann William Scott seems to be chasing career reinvention with his role as a high school social worker who hunts down child abusers and murders the crap out of them with a hunting knife in his secluded serial killer compound. The Dexter comparisons will fly fast and furious, but Bloodline has more in common with Mario Bava and William Lustig than it does with modern Peak TV. This is total sleaze and director Henry Jacobson knows it. He speaks the very specific language of this kind of ’70s trash cinema: knives that shine a little too brightly in dark rooms, leather gloves, killers in stylish raincoats, and rooms that are inexplicably lit in bold reds and blues just because. There are a ton of giallo riffs out there, but Bloodline nails the uncomfortable, sinister, and exploitative tone more than most.

Audiences familiar with the sandbox Bloodline is operating within will probably have a better time than those who don’t. This is a slow-moving wave of blood and and blades and sleaze crashing into an easily eviscerated wall of humanity – people die often and painfully and Jacobson lingers on the killer’s process, his quirks, and how something like a newborn baby’s fever interrupting his specific template for the ideal torture/murder appointment can really ruin the whole thing. At the center of it all is Scott, ditching any shred of his comedic persona and utilizing an empty smile and his all-American good looks to create the kind of blank, empty monster we hear about so often, that guy who just “seemed so nice.”

Bloodline isn’t the kind of movie that’s going to win over a casual audience, but it’s certainly a successful emulation of a subgenre too nasty and politically incorrect to be widespread today. And for some horror buffs, that will be more than enough.

Cool Posts From Around the Web: