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FilmWatch Weekly: ‘Sanctuary,’ ‘Moon Garden,’ the Portland Horror Film Festival, and more

Also this week: Northwest Children's Theater screens family-friendly films at The Judy; plus, "Repo Man," "Time Bandits," "The Doom Generation," and "Wild at Heart."

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A little girl wanders a desolate landscape in “Moon Garden”

Two people. One hotel room. One night. From these basic ingredients, an endless buffet of dramatic possibilities can be concocted. Most of them involve power or sex or both. Few of them carry the aroma of psychological combustion that wafts over Sanctuary.

In the opening scene, a woman (Margaret Qualley) arrives at the suite of the son (Christopher Abbott) of a recently deceased hotel tycoon. She starts off interviewing him about his fitness to become the company’s new CEO, but the process quickly morphs into a session between a dominatrix, Rebecca, and her client, Hal. And this isn’t nearly the first time she has dispensed no-contact humiliation in his direction. (Perhaps it’s recency bias, but Hal gives off some Kendall Roy vibes, and I couldn’t help imagining this as some sort of soft-core Succession fanfic.)

Now that Hal has ascended to his final corporate form, however, he has decided he can’t afford to pursue his perversions going forward. He gives Rebecca a wristwatch, thanks her for her services, and tells her they will no longer be needed. Rebecca, it’s fair to say, doesn’t take the news well. The evening devolves quickly into head games, with Qualley exploiting her devilish inscrutability and Abbott adept at appearing quite out of his depth.

This is only director Zachary Wigan’s second feature—his 2014 debut The Heart Machine isn’t available to stream anywhere, but does seem to be available to rent on DVD at Movie Madness. But he demonstrates a confidence in his camera, whether it’s boring in on his actors’ faces or twirling around the confined set. Writer Michael Bloomberg, co-creator of hit scripted podcast Homecoming, has a knack for creating, and maintaining, tension through dialogue.

But, ultimately, Sanctuary is a showcase for its performers, especially Qualley. Though her performances can edge into twitchy-for-twitchy’s sake, her ability to shift her demeanor on a dime and her preternatural physical command of face and body serve her well as this unstable chameleon of a woman. And, yes, she does get to dance in one scene. (Opens Friday, June 2, at Cinema 21 and the Living Room Theaters in Portland, and the Broadway Metro in Eugene, and on Friday, June 9, at the Salem Cinema.)

Reminiscent of Jan Svankmajer’s Alice, and nearly as unsettling, this unique combination of stop-motion and live-action explores similar themes to that Lewis Carroll adaptation. Like Alice, Moon Garden’s young girl protagonist finds herself lost in a strange and surreal underworld, encountering bizarre creatures on her quest to get back home.

Five-year-old Emma (Haven Lee Harris) didn’t just stumble down a hole while chasing a rabbit. Instead, she interrupted a vicious argument between her unhappily married parents, then stumbled down a flight of stairs and ended up in a coma. While her mother (Augie Duke), who struggles with depression, sits by her bedside, Emma runs, crawls, and climbs through a baroque series of elaborate, nightmarish environments, pursued at times by a malevolent figure gnashing its ill-fitting teeth like a diabolical wind-up doll, eager to feast on her tears.

Sponsor

Washougal Art & Music Festival

Moon Garden was a labor of love for director Ryan Stevens Harris (the star’s father) and producer John Michael Elfers. Made over a span of four years, its hallucinatory effects and disturbing visual tone were created entirely without computer effects. Cinematographer Wolfgang Meyer shot the film on 35mm (with some 16mm sequences) using a variety of expired stocks, adding to the film’s chaotic visual poetry. It is, like the work of Svankmajer, the Brothers Quay, and Phil Tippett (Mad God), a testament to the joys and possibilities of purely analog filmmaking.

It’s also, like much of their work, best taken in shorter bursts. Like Mad God, it becomes exhausting in its intensity, as the avalanche of images, each more outlandish than the last, becomes a blur. In addition, poor Emma spends the majority of the film crying in panicked, abject terror as she scrambles through the dystopian underbrush. While director Harris surely shot the film so as not to traumatize his daughter, it’s still grating on a limbic level to mainline that much juvenile distress. (Opens Friday, June 2, at the Cinemagic Theater [on 35mm] and the Living Room Theaters.)

SPECIAL EVENTS:

Cinema at the Judy: The Northwest Children’s Theater has moved into new digs at the former Broadway Metroplex, and they have opted to retain one of the four auditoriums there as a showcase for family-friendly films. That kicks off this weekend with screenings of Encanto, Mary Poppins (the original), and Paddington 2. Check their website for specific showtimes.

The Rooms: Portland stand-up comedian Rosa McKenzie directed this Kickstarter-funded pilot episode for a mockumentary series inspired by her own experiences getting sober through a twelve-step program. (Friday, Hollywood Theatre)

Psychotronic Afterschool Special: The indefatigable Greg Hamilton returns with an all-new edition of his trademarked anthologies of bizarro 16mm finds. What ephemeral delights has he rescued from obscurity this time? The only way to find out is to be there… (Monday, Hollywood Theatre)

Portland Horror Film Festival: This homage to the bloodiest, creepiest, and sometimes goofiest movie genre features nine features and dozens of shirt films spread over five days and two venues. Among the more promising titles are Invoking Yell, a found-footage thriller centered on “the only all-female black-metal band in Chile”; Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls, a supernatural spoof featuring genre mainstays Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton; and Satan Wants You, a documentary about the now-forgotten book that kickstarted the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. Check the festival website for a full schedule. (Wednesday-Friday, Hollywood; Saturday-Sunday, Clinton St.)

ALSO SCREENING THIS WEEK:

The cultiest of cult classics, Repo Man, and Greg Araki’s 1992 breakthrough in nihilism The Doom Generation play all week at the Eugene Art House; Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits is at the Academy; and David Lynch’s Wild at Heart gets a week-long run at the Hollywood Theatre.

Sponsor

Washougal Art & Music Festival

FRIDAY: Raiders of the Lost Ark (Eugene Art House, Sunday & Wednesday); Attack from Space (Darkside Cinema in Corvallis); Hayley Mills in the original The Parent Trap (Kiggins Theatre); Lynn Ramsay’s incredible second feature, Morvern Callar (5th Avenue, through Sunday); Stacy Keach and Pam Grier in the 1990 B-movie Class of 1999 (on VHS, Cinemagic); documentary on the San Francisco thrash metal scene Murder in the Front Row (Hollywood)

SATURDAY: More Hayley Mills in Pollyanna (Kiggins), Jan Haaken’s anti-nuclear documentary Atomic Bamboozle (Kiggins); the racy screwball comedy classic Design for Living (Cinema 21), A Goofy Movie (Cinemagic); 1946 Best Picture winner The Best Years of Our Lives (Hollywood, also Sunday); Bruce Willis, Goldie Hawn, and Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her (on 35mm, Hollywood)

SUNDAY: Brandon Lee in The Crow (Hollywood)

TUESDAY: Highlander 2: The Quickening (Hollywood)

WEDNESDAY: Groundbreaking 1977 Spanish drama Sex Change (Church of Film, Clinton Street); the undead hop mercilessly in the 1995 Hong Kong action-comedy Mr. Vampire (Cinemagic)

THURSDAY: Big Edie and Little Edie in Grey Gardens (Clinton Street)

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Marc Mohan moved to Portland from Wisconsin in 1991, and has been exploring and contributing to the city’s film culture almost ever since, as the manager of the landmark independent video store Trilogy, the owner of Portland’s first DVD-only rental spot, Video Vérité; and as a freelance film critic for The Oregonian for nearly twenty years. Once it became apparent that “newspaper film critic” was no longer a sustainable career option, he pursued a new path, enrolling in the Northwestern School of Law at Lewis & Clark College in the fall of 2017 and graduating cum laude in 2020 with a specialization in Intellectual Property. He now splits his time between his practice with Nine Muses Law and his continuing efforts to spread the word about great (and not-so-great) movies, which include a weekly column at Oregon ArtsWatch.

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