The opening sequence of The Dark Horse depicts Genesis Potini wandering through the rain muttering to himself, intercut with his older brother teaching him the game of chess when they were both children. He stops in a store with a few chessboards set up, and continues his frantic word salad as the shop owners look on nervously. Then, Genesis starts moving the pieces with a preternatural celerity, waxing poetic chess theory, comparing the relative qualities of the Sicilian defense and the Scotch game. The preamble continues until Genesis is discovered by his handler and whisked back to the mental hospital. The title flashes across the screen, and we understand the fundamental themes of The Dark Horse immediately: dealing with mental health, the importance of family and community, and the transformative power of the game of Chess.
John Maclean’s sparse Western film strikes a gorgeous balance between the untamed beauty and the cold indifference of the American frontier. The characters are drawn broadly and have archetypal motivations, the sense of humor is dry and dark, and the ultimate tone of the story is tragic. Slow West takes care to unveil its secrets with a practiced pacing, and always knows when to kick up the excitement or introduce some weirdness to keep the spectator’s attention. Though the film clocks in at under 90 minutes, it boasts the full package of powerful performances, spectacular cinematography, and a patient slow-burn story that will leave any film fan enthralled.
Wisconsin Film Festival Opening Night
New Zealand director Taika Waititi (pronounced Tie-Ka Why-tee-tee) has created a magnificently funny coming-of-age film in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Most known for the HBO series Flight of the Conchords and the mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, Waititi has also directed more standard narrative-based films like Boy and Eagle vs. Shark. Hunt for the Wilderpeople falls in this category, as it tells the story of an orphan named Ricky being introduced to a new foster family on the edge of the New Zealand bush.