Seattle’s 4th annual Maelstrom International Fantastic Film Festival (MIFFF for short) opened its doors on Oct. 4, 2012 at 7:30 pm. The festival’s opener, Mon Ami (2012), played at 8:30 pm at the SIFF Film Center, located at Seattle Center, following a brief introduction from Festival Director Eric Morgret. MIFFF dedicates its programming to independent “genre” films and shorts that are often overlooked by the festival circuit, with an emphasis on action, animation, fantasy, horror and science fiction.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I signed on to review Mon Ami from True Hype Productions. All I knew about the film was from the program description, essentially a black comedy about a kidnapping/ransom gone wrong. From what I knew about the festival I thought it was either going to be brilliant or awful. After all, if many of these films are unique to MIFFF and were left out of other festivals, maybe they’re just not good films. The possibility did cross my mind.
Thankfully, that is not the case with Mon Ami. Written and directed by Rob Grant, the film follows two Canadian slacker buddies, Teddy and Cal, who work dead-end jobs at a hardware store. They are growing increasingly frustrated with their lives until they reach a point of no return. The owner of the store has decided to leave the store to his two obnoxious sons, cutting out Teddy and Cal from any future advancement.
For reasons that aren’t wholly explained the two decide that their best path to advancement is to kidnap the boss’s attractive teenage daughter Cristal, who also works at the hardware store, and hold her for ransom. Which is precisely what they do, in a very brazen and boneheaded way. Cal chases her through the woods and then brutally knocks her out with a blow to the head with a wooden fish club. The two take her back to Cal’s mother’s house and then hold her prisoner with a ball gag in her mouth, continually knocking her out every time she wakes up.
This type of pitch-black comedy, which has been done before of course, is difficult to pull off. If the characters are too brutal then they become no longer sympathetic to the audience, or they are simply not believable. Teddy and Cal are almost at times entirely unsympathetic; they come across as complete assholes. Yet at the same time it’s not a far stretch to picture these chain-smoking, hard drinking screw-ups as just entirely out of touch with reality.
For example, the first part of their plan involves chopping off Cristal’s toe and sending it to her father in a tupperware container. Sound familiar? The idea seems very similar to a scene in The Big Lebowski, perhaps intentionally. Teddy and Cal remind of two earlier slackers, Bob and Doug McKenzie, from the 1983 cult classic Strange Brew. But what if the McKenzie brothers grew up on a steady diet of violent movies and video games and simply lost track of right and wrong?
As Mon Ami progresses Teddy and Cal decide they are in over their head and that they should simply kill Cristal and forget about the plan entirely. They decide the best way to do this is to go back to their own hardware store to purchase supplies to kill Cristal, using their employee discount of course! Neither one of them is entirely heartless in the end, though, and they are unable to go through with various methods of killing, all of which seem very cinematic, and which I feel lend to an interpretation of the pair as a product of modern society and its preoccupation with violent media. Things take a turn for the worse when Cristal escapes and accidentally ends her own life when a replica gun backfires on her.
Teddy and Cal are then left to dispose of Cristal’s body. Which seems to be almost second nature for the pair, as they professionally prepare the room, using methods straight out of Showtime’s Dexter. Not so professionally, they simply dump her remains, wrapped in plastic garbage bags, into garbage containers throughout the city. The killings are far from over, though, as Cristal’s father leads a commando-style raid to get his daughter back. There are plenty of plot twists until the very end, many of which will leave you scratching your head dumbfounded, but in a good way.
Most of the characters in Mon Ami, not just Teddy and Cal, seem drawn to violence in an almost-cartoonish manner. Whether intentional or not, I think it’s fair to view the film through this lense. The characters are violent partially because they are exposed to violence on a daily basis, through TV, movies, video games, and now the Internet as well. But perhaps that’s reading too much into the film.
Most of all, Mon Ami is just plain funny. I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time, for any type of movie. Mon Ami offers great direction and acting and a very clever script. The two protagonists, Teddy and Cal, are expertly played by Mike Kovac and Scott Wallis. The two have great chemistry and come across as entirely believable screw-ups who just didn’t think their plan through.
The editing is good for the most part, although some cuts are a little too quick. The only real weak point I found in this entire film is that the sound has some noticeable drop-outs/fades that are momentarily distracting. Apart from that minor distraction, Mon Ami held my attention for its entire run time. Overall, a very impressive offering, especially considering its $10,000-$15,000 budget and its shooting schedule of only 17 days. I would compare it favorably to other black comedies I’ve seen, mostly Very Bad Things, but also Penn & Teller Get Killed and perhaps Shakes the Clown.
Following the screening Producer Scott Mainwood and actress Teagan Vincze (who plays Teddy’s overbearing girlfriend in the film) answered questions from the audience and from Festival Director Eric Morgret. We learned that the film was shot entirely on a Canon 7D photo camera. Much of the production equipment and resources was loaned from Capilano University in Vancouver, B.C., where many of the people who worked on the film either graduated from or are currently attending.
An audience member asked about Washington state license plates in the film. Apparently, the film is supposed to take place in Washington, as the producers/director thought that change could make the film more marketable. I found this detail to be very amusing, because I would not believe for a second that this was in Washington. Apart from the very strong Canadian accents from most of the actors, the backgrounds simply do not look like the United States. There was time for a few other questions, and then the audience went their separate ways, with many proceeding to McMenamins to grab a beer before the midnight showing at the Uptown.
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