Tuesday, September 16, 2014

TIFF Review: Teen Lust

Satanic priest Peter (Cary Elwes) prepares to sacrifice Neil (Jesse Carere) while wife Mary (Kristin Bauer van Straten) watches.

2014 was a great year for made-in-Manitoba horror comedies. Any horror comedy from Manitoba is rare, but two such movies appeared at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this year. The Editor, a spoof of Italian giallo movies, premiered in the Midnight Madness program. Teen Lust premiered in the Contemporary World Cinema program.

Teen Lust is directed by Blaine Thurier, who also plays the synthesizer in the indie rock band the new pornographers. His first feature movie, Low Self-Esteem Girl, premiered at the 2000 TIFF.

High school student Neil (Jesse Carere) is supposed to participate in a religious ceremony at his parents’ church. He and his obnoxious friend Matt (Daryl Sabara) talk about the church as if it’s just any ordinary church. His devout parents (played by Emannuelle Vaugier and Jon Dore) insist that he stay chaste and preserve his virginity. As in any high school with hot girls and buff jocks, this devotion to chastity and after-school church events makes Neil a social outcast, unable to date girls. He does have a gal pal, Denise (Annie Clark), but as is usual in these movies, she has no romantic or sexual feelings for him. So far, this seems like a typical high school comedy about getting laid before graduation.

But we quickly discover that the church is a Satanic cult, led by priest John (Cary Elwes) and his wife Mary (Kristin Bauer van Straten from True Blood). Neil soon realizes that his parents have offered him as a human sacrifice to Satan. He escapes from the ceremony and desperately searches for a woman who will have sex with him and thereby disqualify him as a sacrifice. Having Matt help him, of course, doesn’t make his quest any easier.

What makes the Satanic cult funny is how mundane it is. Like any other church, it seeks donations for its bowling club. Its members, far from being mastermind villains, are as incompetent as ordinary churchgoers in anything they do, such as remembering to turn their cell phones and pagers off before a ritual.

Cary Elwes gives the movie’s best performance, as Satanic priest John. He is unrecognizable in his disheveled wig and black robes. He gives the impression of an ordinary man who wants to be evil but is too dimwitted to do so. Kristin Bauer van Straten is also funny as the priest’s wife, annoyed at the incompetence of her husband.

Jesse Carere and Daryl Sabara have both high and low moments as the two teenagers running from the Satanists. One desperately seeks a woman to save his life, and the other obnoxiously gives advice about a subject for which he has no experience. Sometimes their banter is just dull. However, at other times, especially a scene involving a goat, they can be quite funny.
Overall, I liked Teen Lust, as it puts humorous horror spin on the usual teen comedy about losing one’s virginity.

L to R: Director Blaine Thurier, producer Kyle Bornais, and actors Annie Clark and Jesse Carere at a screening of their horror comedy film Teen Lust. Scotiabank Theatre, TIFF, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2014.
I got my photo taken with Jesse Carere...
...and with Annie Clark.

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