Fantastic Fest 2022 was a platform for some absolutely brilliant and beautiful films. Through the genre-defying, and defining, lineup there was something nestled in there for everyone. When you review films for a long time it is easy to become jaded, you see so much, and usually, it can lead to being let down. There were two films in the lineup that really stuck out to me for being different and taking a new and interesting approach to a topic, those films were The Elderly and Give Me Pity. These are two films that could not be any more different from each other stylistically or thematically, but they still really succeed at being pieces of art in their own ways. Rather than doing a capsule review, I wanted to take a different approach and look at why I think both films are successful genre films, as well as how they juxtapose each other in doing so.
To start, if you are unfamiliar, The Elderly is a family study between octogenarian Manuel (Zorion Eguileor), his son Mario (Gustavo Salmerón), his punk rock video game-loving granddaughter Naia, and his stepdaughter, Mario’s current partner, Lena (Irene Anula). Manuel moves into Mario’s house after Mario’s mother committed suicide. Battling the woes of dementia Mario is faced with caring for his father, losing the love of Lena, and losing the respect of his daughter. All of this takes place during a record-setting heat wave that is more insidious than it initially seems to be. A mixture of psychological horror and body horror is perfectly woven into a tale of despair and dismay.
On the other hand Give Me Pity! is a more contained, albeit flashy, spectacle. We follow Sissy St. Claire (Sophie von Haselberg) on her journey through her first-ever television special. The special is a vaudevillian nightmare of antagonistic comedy through skits, musical numbers, and an ominous mail bag bit. While I personally think they relied on the gimmick a little too much, Sophie von Haselberg’s performance is absolutely brilliant and really negates any qualms I had with the film. While there is a fair amount of story told through the script, a lot of the storytelling takes place through visuals and physical reactions from Haselberg. I think the best double feature for this film would have to be this and Kuso. It would be an overwhelming sensory overload of pure chaos and destruction.
First, it is important to look through the framing devices and how different, yet effective they are. The framing device for Give Me Pity! is the skit structure of the film. Each skit lasts around four to 10 minutes, roughly, and provides a whole new set and a new character. There is a skit where she makes a very life-altering body change, and it doesn’t carry over to the next one, so there isn’t a carry of continuity between her characters. That leads me to question is Sissy St. Claire just doing one big bit? That’s a whole other can of worms. All of this is to say the framing device here works well because it gives us insight into the characters St. Claire has created, it also really helps with the pace of the film.
The framing device for The Elderly is just as intriguing. Scenes are broken up by rises in temperature. The screen goes black and white letters appear giving us the exact temperature, occasionally the temperature even rises as we watch. Starting at 39.9C (103.82F), to 44.2C (111.56F) all the way to 47.4C (117.32F), and that’s not even the hottest it gets, no spoilers there. Not only do the rising temperatures give an overall sense of anxiety, but it also helps us understand the anger and frustration that is brewing in the family. I mean, my apartment building lost power for 48 hours last summer on a two-day 105F (40.55C) peak, and it damn near turned into Lord of the Flies. The consistent and ever-growing sweat stains act as a conduit for a physical feeling we can all relate to. Even though it was about 55F (12.78C) when I watched this, I was even sweating.
Another standout for both films is their aesthetic, how they handle lighting, and feel through color. The Elderly has muted colors, slowly and methodically changing throughout the film. It starts out with bland blues and hues of orange slipping through the cracks. As the temperature increases the blues start to fade away and give into harsher oranges, and even some reds. By the film’s end, the color is akin to those photos we’ve all seen of the sky in California after wildfires. The color change is very methodical. They could have easily gone over the top with orange from the beginning since it was already sweltering, thankfully they took their time with it. It’s done so well that it really feels like the color orange is the main antagonist. The cinematography of Ignacio Aguilar is cold, calculated, and vicious; Aguilar photographs this picture with effortless beauty.
Conversely the aesthetic of Give Me Pity! is glam rock meets ’70s home workout video, with a 50% gaussian blur on top. It’s colorful and harsh. The almost Predator-like interstitials, or communication malfunctions (?), or alien interruptions (?), whatever you want to say they are, give us a complete shift in aesthetic. Having these soft tones and colors could have easily not worked with the tonal shift from soft to harsh, but somehow it does work. What’s most impressive with a period piece is not only getting the look but the feel. Since we know what TV, and humans, looked like in the ’70s it’s a bit easier to recreate the look, and believable. The problem with most ’70s and ’80s pieces, looking at you Stranger Things, is how overtly they try to recreate that time it feels disingenuous and looks farcical. Give Me Pity! nails the look and feel of the time so much it almost feels like a lost tape of the ’70s. Patrick Meade Jones’ cinematography really adds to the feel of erratic and entertaining camerawork.
One thing these two films share is how coherent, consistent, and purposeful the direction is. Give Me Pity! is written and directed by Amanda Kramer, and it is directed very well. I would be interested to see the screenplay for this film, and desperately want to know how much character work went into this. Kramer’s direction of Sophie von Haselberg is on point and, as I said earlier, Haselberg is a goddamn star! The concept for this film is neat, but it’s the execution that takes this idea to a whole new level. This really feels like a passion project through and through, and it is executed like one, too. Amanda Kramer is an auteur, and I’d fight anyone who said differently.
The Elderly was written by Raúl Cerezo, Rubén Sánchez Trigos, and Javier Trigales and directed by Raúl Cerezo, and Fernando González Gómez. Usually, when there are more than two writers on a film the screenplay can feel a bit slogged and overwritten, but there was no such issue here. The same could also be said for the direction, at no point did it feel like there was a difference in direction between scenes. Cerezo and Gómez’s direction of the actors was fantastic, it definitely helped they had a pretty stacked cast with the standout being Zorion Eguileor whose commanding presence solely made The Platform enjoyable. The direction of this film is deliberate and effective, working hand in hand with an excellent script. The major aspect of this film that stuck out to me is the weaponization of Alzheimer’s; it’s not a new subject in horror, but I don’t think it has been done as effectively as it has with The Elderly. A perfect double feature with this film would HAVE to be Gasper Noe’s Vortex. Get ready to have your emotions wrecked.
Give Me Pity! and The Elderly are two very different films, each succeeding in their own special way by standing out with their originality. It’s gotten to the point where I can’t think of one without thinking of the other. Two impressive genre films, leaving me with different emotions, but ultimately leaving me thrilled, excited, and invigorated. There is a lesson here, somewhere, I’m just not sure what it is. At the very least Fantastic Fest has proven horror is not in decline, despite what a lot of genre fans are saying.