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A testament to the power of imagination over money, this micro-budget Finnish-Russian horror comedy was shot in just 11 days for around $70,000. A prominent Moscow film critic turned novice movie-maker, Mikhail Brashinsky wrote, produced, directed and edited Shopping Tour in frustration while waiting for another project to emerge from development hell.
A cultish crowd-pleaser at the Turin Film Festival last week, Brashinsky’s second feature opens in Russia next month. Although inevitably a little raw and rudimentary in style, it has some of the irreverent charm and satirical bite of an early George A. Romero or Peter Jackson movie. Made for considerably less than the catering budget on The Hobbit, it should find an appreciative audience on both big and small screen given the apparently insatiable worldwide appetite for zombies, cannibals and vampires.
Building on the found-footage fakery of camcorder thrillers like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, the stylistic conceit of Shopping Tour is that these events are being filmed on a cellphone camera by a sulky teenage boy (Timofey Yeletsky) and his recently widowed young mother (Tatyana Kolganova). Together they embark on a tense coach trip from Saint Petersburg to southern Finland, chiefly to take advantage of the shopping malls just across the border. The old Communist restrictions may be gone, but many Russians clearly still consider western consumer goods superior and western Europeans more cultured.
Brashinsky extracts maximum comic irony from this ingrained inferiority complex when the gullible tourists are invited to a special late-night session at a gleaming new superstore in the Finnish countryside. A slick of blood appears between the aisles, leading to a slumped body. Soon the crazed store employees begin attacking the Russians, sucking their blood and chewing their flesh. After a terrifying chase through the warehouse area, mother and son escape to seek help, but Finland proves to be a less civilized nation than they were expecting. On certain feast days, they discover, eating foreigners is not just permitted but obligatory.
The rest of the film is a series of near misses and grisly encounters, with an ever-present undercurrent of macabre humor. A lakeside picnic with a group of policemen and small-town dignitaries works especially well as deadpan social satire, a sunny snapshot of idealized Scandinavian life with added murder and cannibalism. The chilling finale presents mother and son with a harsh moral dilemma, and features the only obvious break with the film’s carefully maintained aesthetic when a hand-held camera pulls back slowly from the main action.
With limited carnage and modest special effects, Shopping Tour is creepy comedy rather than full-throttle bloodbath. Hardcore gore fans may be disappointed that the overall tone leans more towards early Romero than early Jackson – indeed, Romero originated the satirical shopping-mall allegory in his 1978 zombie thriller Dawn of the Dead.
Brashinsky could also have given sharper emphasis to the film’s underlying critical commentary on consumerism, immigration panic and culture-clash issues between Russia and Europe. But these are fairly minor quibbles about an otherwise impressively resourceful and easily digestible genre piece, which goes down smoother than fava beans and a nice Chianti.
Venue: Turin Film Festival screening, November 24
Production company: Duty-Free Production
Producers: Mikhail Brashinsky, Gennady Mirgorodsky
Cast: Tatyana Kolganova, Timofey Yeletsky, Tanyana Ryabokon, Vladimir Nekrassov
Director: Mikhail Brashinsky
Writer: Mikhail Brashinsky
Cinematographer: Alexander Simonov
Editors: Mikhail Brashinsky, Oleg Malygin, Ivan Lebedev
Sales company: Duty-Free Production
Rating TBC, 70 minutes
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