For those with only a passing familiarity, the term "independent film" can evoke a stereotype of ploddingly disillusioned characters sharing existential musings in lieu of an actual narrative. The world of independent filmmaking, as evidenced by the eclectic diversity in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, thankfully offers far more than varying degrees of ennui.
Over the run of 18 days, the 2013 MSPIFF represents a global showcase for virtually every cinematic genre. Of the 200 scheduled features, few defy expectations quite like these 10 suspense driven selections, each geared to lure audiences to the edge of their seats and leave them clutching their armrests.
Many of cinema's great thrillers are premised on a protagonist trapped in a confined environment, dodging an assortment of enemies all while pursuing a perilous task. For this riveting chase film from Paraguay, co-directors Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schémbori enlist their teenage hero, Victor, on a mission to deliver seven containers of mysterious (though likely illicit) contents through the congested, maze-like markets of urban Asunción. In the course of his journey, Victor will contend not only with the relentless presence of the police, but the deadly competition of a vengeful rival courier and his equally ruthless gang of thugs. Frenetically cut with visceral action, 7 Boxes has been heralded for capturing the cinematic joys of an adrenalin fueled thrill ride.
Screens April 12 @ 9:15 p.m. and April 15 @ 4:45 p.m.
In 1981, a rising push for Polish democracy was causing serious enough concerns for the Soviet Union, which virtually ruled the country through the so-called Communist Bloc, that martial law was declared. While an important part of the backdrop, however, the political complexities of Polish history are not the primary focus of 80 Million. Prioritizing electrifying anxiety over documentarian balance, the film breathlessly recreates an utterly audacious plot undertaken by Solidarity, Poland's independent trade union, to "steal" 80 million Polish zlotys of their own money before the Soviet-imposed martial-law freezes on assets. These historical circumstances might lend the film a unique gravity, but make no mistake: The stylishly filmed 80 Million delights in being a wickedly entertaining heist. Screens April 14 @ 1:50 p.m. and April 24 @ 4:20 p.m.
"Body horror," a term inextricably associated with the films of David Cronenberg, derives fear from the graphic degeneration of the human body. Antiviral, the debut feature written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg, suggests that a fascination with body horror resides in the family DNA. Reminiscent of his father's earlier work (particularly such gore saturated cult classics as Shivers, Rabid, and Videodrome), Brandon Cronenberg uses Antiviral to imagine celebrity worship taken to a repellant extreme. In a story with undisguised connections to contemporary pop culture, a young doctor finds a profitable enterprise through injecting customers with diseases drawn from their favorite celebrities. Unfortunately for the doctor, these viruses have a way of escaping the petri dish, mutating toward a mass infection. Screens April 19 @ 11:45 p.m. and April 25 @ 10 p.m.
Black Rock's premise is straight out of the exploitation B-movie playbook: Three childhood friends have reunited after a period of estrangement, intent on reconnecting over a camping trip on a remote island off the coast of Maine. The escapade takes a dark turn, however, when the women meet up with three armed men. Flirtation goes too far, a death occurs, and the chase is on. But who is the predator and who is the prey? Director Katie Aselton, working from a script written by husband Mark Duplass, works to subvert gender expectations while creating fresh tension from a classic grindhouse formula.
Screens April 13 @ 11:30 p.m.
Director Zal Batmanglij first garnered attention with 2011's Sound of My Voice which elicited lo-fi suspense from the investigation of an enigmatic cult. Batmanglij's second feature, The East, similarly concerns infiltration into a covert organization. The subversive group is an anarchist collective dedicated to making corporate polluters repent for crimes against the environment. Like Batmanglij's earlier film, The East was co-written with star Brit Marling, but this time the actress is joined by a heavyweight cast consisting of the likes of Patricia Clarkson, Ellen Page, and Alexander Skarsgård. Applauded for a sleek design and complex plotting worthy of espionage thriller traditions, many critics have already championed The East as Batmanglij's breakthrough picture.