By Peter Knegt | Indiewire March 16, 2009 at 4:54AM
The opening weekend of the SXSW Film Festival has come and gone, and it seems the two films people are most intensely discussing aren't even completed yet: Sam Raimi's "Drag Me To Hell," which screened as a "work-in-progress," and Sasha Baron Cohen's "Borat" follow-up, "Bruno," which showed 3 clips totaling 22 minutes. Both films are studio pics - the same studio, Universal Films - and both screened Sunday night in Austin.
"Universal (and the festival) offered a 22 minute sneak peak at a rough assemblage of footage from “Bruno,” the latest from Sasha Baron Cohen," indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez wrote. The film "had the crowd laughing loudly during the brief sneak, which featured three extended scenes that will be cut into the final film. Interstitials included Cohen in an editing room speaking directly to the camera and setting up the narrative of his gay character, Bruno."
Bloggers scrambled to get up first thoughts on the footage.
Spout's Karina Longworth is apprehensive: "This stuff definitely delivers laughs, but in their current incarnation the segments lack that spark that made Borat so exciting, that element of danger."
Anne Thompson wrote: "He adopts a black baby, Madonna-style. In the footage, the very fey Austrian-accented Bruno auditions a series of (real) parents. One after another agrees without flinching to let him do terrible, dangerous things to their children — from extreme dieting and liposuction to letting them pose as Jesus on the cross — just to get a job. Bruno takes his baby on a talk show with a majority of African Americans in the audience. Somehow he manages to outrage them. It's hilarious."
Austin 360's Charles Ealy said that "it’s not clear whether Cohen has really continued to find clueless audiences who will fall for his antics. But it appears that he has. The movie is bound to stir up just as much controversy as Borat. And that’s the point."
David Carlson reported for The Hollywood Reporter in regard to its inevitable comparison to "Borat": "You'll laugh and groan in all the right places, but it will never not feel familiar," he said. "It's funny deja vu, but it's still deja vu."
Cinematical called the footage "comedic bliss": "What's most impressive about the footage is how far Baron Cohen is willing to go for the sake of a joke. Remember the naked hotel wrestling scene in Borat? (Of course you do. The images will haunt your sleep for years to come.) Well, that was a Jane Austen novel compared to what happens in Bruno."
As for "Hell," indieWIRE reported that "critics and bloggers of all stripes were shuttled by the studio from the brief “Bruno” event at Alamo South Lamar across town to the Paramount Theater for the Raimi screening."
“You’re hear to see a Sam Raimi horror film!” bellowed online journalist Harry Knowles said as he introduced Raimi. "For two hours, a full house inside Austin’s Paramount Theater screamed, squirmed and howled with laughter, cheering enthusiastically when the final scene ended," iW's Hernandez wrote. "But, the response at the end of the movie couldn’t match the rousing standing ovation Raimi received prior to the showing."
The response on the web was pretty rousing.
indieWIRE's Eric Kohn said the film "feels like the director blowing off twenty years of steam. The slapstick/horror duality that he mastered with his brilliant “Evil Dead” movies, repeatedly and explicitly referenced in the new feature, marks a crowd-pleasing return to form. At once absurdly cheesy and amazingly self-aware, it’s a reminder of the lunacy that brought acclaim to Raimi in the first place."
"'Drag Me To Hell' may still be a work in progress, but even as is it’s one of the best horror movies this out-of-the-closet horror skeptic has seen this side of the new millennium," said Cinemablend's Josh Tyler. "All the scary, fucked up shit you may have seen in the trailers or even in the now infamous Comic Con clips is just the tip of the boomstick. Raimi gets most of that out of the way in the first 20 minutes. Raimi breathes life into serial killer infested, dried up modern horror genre by showing you things you’ve never, ever seen. It’s scary, it’s gross, it’s unbelievable how far he’s willing to go.
Anne Thompson, who also interviewed Raimi, said of her experience at the screening: "The audience was roaring with pleasurable disgust as various incarnations of a wicked-witch gyspy crone with evil eyes disgorged all sorts of mean nasty ugly things all over sweet ambitious loan agent Alison Lohman. While the movie is silly and over the top, the audience is in on the joke. (An invitation to a cabin the in the woods yields knowing groans.) It's great fun. It will make a mint."
"Raimi has made a joyful romp through his personal horror playground and come up with a very entertaining horror-comedy that gets back to the basics," said Cinematical's Peter Martin. "By that I mean creepy shadows on the wall and things that go bump in the night: all the odd, unexplained sights and sounds that keep anxious children awake at night, hiding under the covers. Any inkling that Raimi's soul might have been irretrievably chewed up by the Hollywood studio machinery -- a well-founded concern after the disappointing Spider-Man 3 -- quickly evaporates once the story gets underway."
Vadim Rizov, writing for Spout, is a little more mixed: "Is this really a Raimi comeback? I don’t think so, but it’s got more than enough to resonate with the converted, if not with newcomers."
Check back later for a roundup of non-Universal Pictures sneak preview highlights from SXSW's first weekend.