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SIFF 2006, part 9

SIFF Screenings: June 16

Starfish Hotel

Arisu (Koichi Sato) spends his days as just another white collar office worker and his evenings are marked by a distant wife (Tae Kimura) and thus he reads the mystery novels of Jo Kuroda. After his wife disappears, Arisu finds himself at the center of a real mystery, one where a brothel is burnt down, his wife may lead a second life and he may have set it all into motion with an affair two years ago with the mysterious Kayoko (Kiki) at the Starfish Hotel.

This is an absolutely fascinating film. It appears to be a modern film noir, but has some uncharacteristic plot developments at its core. Just don't make the mistake I did and keep equating Mr Trickster to Frank despite the uncanny similarities. Actually, Starfish Hotel does have a bit in common with Donnie Darko, except it is less about figuring out a puzzle and actually has more in common with Eyes Wide Shut. Arisu has begun on a marvelous journey. I'm not certain what is real and what is fantasy, but in the end, the journey alone was quite satisfying.

And the film looked amazing. I do enjoy a lush looking film with plenty of darkness.

5 of 5

When Cows Attack... Isolation

I don't know how they did it, but director/writer Billy O'Brien managed to create a truly frightening horror film about mutant cow fetuses. I hadn't read much about this film prior to getting tickets, but I expected this Irish film to be a bit more in the spirit of the Swedish vampire flick, Fristbite. How could it not be? The premise is attack by mutant cow fetuses. I expected another self-referential comic horror movie.

Well, Isolation was not a comic horror film. It is set on a small ranch where a scientist is conducting cow genetic experiments. And when one of the cows gives birth, it is evident that something has gone horribly wrong. The action that follows is nerve wracking. Isolation is more easily compared to Alien in tone, tension level and gore. This is a bloody film that took itself and the subject matter very seriously and I was scared. I don't see very many horror films, but when I do, they often are not at all scary. This one is.

As a scientist, I feel that this review would be incomplete if I didn't mention the science behind the terror. I don't think the premise is totally ridiculous. I believe there is likely plenty of genetic experiments ongoing to try to create livestock that is bigger and make better stakes. Now, I do have a problem with the level of fertility observed in Isolation. I am not a developmental biologist and I know as little about that area of biology as I can get away with, but I suspect sexual reproduction to be essential for cows to reproduce. Asexual reproduction seems highly unlikely, but hell, you just never know what that evil scientist was trying to cook up. And Billy O'Brien was smart enough to not attempt to explain what happens in the movie with a bunch of pseudo-science (no mitoclorians to be found). So I review the science as highly implausible, but not annoyingly so. In other words, the mad cows get enthusiastic thumbs up.

And because I would be amused to give the cows a golden space needle, they get 5 of 5. Plus, Isolation was a very affective horror movie.

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