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by Jay Seaver

"They start 'em on scary movies young in France."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Hostile" is probably the ultimate example of the dilemma one faces when reviewing the independent/amateur films that play festivals, where on the one hand the critic wants to tell potential viewers that they've probably got better options in most cases while on the other hand not wanting to discourage new filmmakers. Writer/director Nathan Ambrosioni was fourteen when making it, after all, which is the very definition of the very start of a career. It's one with potential, even if this first feature is very rough.

It starts out, mostly, framed as the production of an episode of SOS Adoption, a local television program that attempts to document and help with difficult assimilations into new families. The subjects are Meredith Langston (Shelley Ward) and the two sisters she has adopted, 15-year-old Emilie (Julie Venturelli) and nearly-14 Anna (Luna Belan), and the issues seem less psychological than paranormal. Producer/hostess ChloƩ (Anatolia Alleis), feeling out of her league, soon turns to an associate who claims some expertise in these matters (Magali Gouyon).

As much as I expected the production to be kind of feeling its way out, one thing that I was looking forward to is seeing just what a kid that age found scary. That's not necessarily there in general terms - the script bounces from one thing to another and values mystery over ideas that the audience can sink its teeth into in many spots, and goes in for a fair number of standard tropes of demonic possession and devil-worship. One does wonder, though, whether Nathan Ambrosioni himself was adopted, because even setting aside the moments when that becomes a clearly-labeled motivation, the film spends a lot of time shuffling the sisters from one caretaker to another, and there's something interesting to be made of this uncertainty, even if it is mostly subtext.

One thing that does stick out is that young filmmaker kids might be considering the first-person element a more necessary part of horror than their parents: Even though Hostile is not really a found-footage film, there are a lot of cameras in it (and many different types of cameras; I counted four aspect ratios used over the course of the film). It's often awkward enough to be brought up as a problem within the film, and used far too often to be a useful counterpoint to the third-person moments.

Not all of the cast and crew is as young as Amrosioni, although for many the list of prior film credits is nearly as sparse. Fortunately, they're mostly placed in situations where they can succeed: The young actresses, for instance, are able to make the sisters unnerving by mostly staying within a tight range, while few are called upon to do anything they can't handle. Luna Belan does a pretty fair job of switching between Anna being creepy and a potential victim, while Shelley Ward runs with the adoptive mother being freaked out.

Ultimately, there's no escaping that "Hostile" is the work of a talented and enthusiastic teenager: It's good enough that it's not playing genre film festivals strictly as a novelty, but there is clearly a lot of room for improvement. Hopefully he sticks with it; having seen worse from older and more experienced filmmakers, Ambrosioni an probably make something interesting with this sort of a start.

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originally posted: 09/21/15 02:15:01
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Nathan Ambrosioni

Written by
  Nathan Ambrosioni

  Luna Belan
  Julie Venturelli

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