(The always fantastic Fantastic Fest runs September 21-28 in Austin, Texas. Check out Bears Rebecca Fonté’s movie review of The Toxic Avenger which premiered at the fest. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page. )
You could forgive yourself from thinking you’ve stepped through a time warp this weekend, as a Fantastic Fest fully embraces VHS aesthetic with T-shirts that look like blank cassette holders, an opening night party of synth and blacklight, and an opening night film remake from the early days of the video store, The Toxic Avenger.
That’s right, the Troma gem, full of blood, ooze, sludge, and puss, has been reimagined as a gritty superhero origin story, starring Peter Dinklage as the title character. When I say reimagined, it’s more like imagined in the exact same way, but now. Anything you could want from the unforgettable (even if you tried) rental classic is here, down to the practical effects, and the radioactive mop. However, anchored by an heartfelt and honest performance from Dinklage as a single parent stepfather just trying to make enough money to pay for some health care his insurance will not cover, The Toxic Avenger reaches a new height and — dare I say — mass market appeal. Along for the ride is a very smarmy CEO/cult leader wannabe, Kevin Bacon, and an almost cartoon version of Elijah Wood as one of the henchman. In the hands of Director Macon Blair (Blue Ruin, Green Room), the rather silly story of a janitor falling into a vat of radioactive slop and emerging as an indestructible, but continually oozing super hero dances between the super ridiculous, the self-referential, the Easter eggs for hard core Troma fans, and a bit of commentary on consumer medicine and all the good we do for the environment.
Blair is quick to acknowledge that the original film is one of his touchstones, the first film he experienced as a kid that was a truly Independent film so the remake is a bit like repaying that debt. Not that there’s any workmanlike quality to it, but I don’t believe he had any interest in pushing the material into new territory. If the first half of the film sets up a series of strong relationships and understandable backstory, the second half of the film is mostly smashing people’s heads with a radioactive mop and watching skin and blood fly across the screen. Of course, those moments bring cheers from the audience, but what really lands is the complicated relationship between a stepfather and a child going through puberty without any of his original parents. And yes, that is Jacob Tremblay, the little boy from The Room, who seems to be aging in slow motion, playing an awkward highschooler.
The best part about The Toxic Avenger may be that it’s very obvious everyone involved is having a great time. So many of the latest Marvel and DC films have just felt like paycheck opportunities with various boxes checked to set up future installments. With The Toxic Avenger, they are all in from the very beginning. The cold open features the classic gag of somebody being shot over and over and over again and still not dying, along with a goliath of a man wearing a rooster head. This is not a film of subtlety. And yes, there could be a Toxic Avenger Two, and I hope there will be, but the film is so dialed in to its specific satire that even the post credit scene is like a fresh slap in the face. I say, bring on the sludge.
– Bears Rebecca Fonté (@BearsFonte)
Fantastic Fest; Macon Blair; The Toxic Avenger movie review